World Book Day 2018 #inthesnow

Along with many schools around the country, we celebrated World Book Day last week on Thursday 1st March, and managed to squeeze in our celebrations just before the snow hit Berkhamsted!  Both libraries were full much of the day with classes coming in to share with us their favourite books and play a few games associated with reading and learning.

Firstly, we asked everyone (including new members of staff) to tell us about their favourite books on a postcard. There was a prize in each class for the best cards – we judged on the basis of the work put into each card in terms of best review, best reason for liking the book, and best decorated card… Each student undertook this task diligently and put a lot of themselves into their cards, as can be seen by the photographs below:

We then played a word game in which old words not used in common parlance any more were matched to their modern meanings – it was felt that we could bring a few of these back!  It was heartening to see some of the students think hard about what the meanings could be.

We had also lined up a game to test students’ knowledge of ‘Textspeak’ (those abbreviations which we all use, but on the surface look meaningless!), which went down really well. This exercise gave some students the chance to enjoy themselves when they wouldn’t usually,  with books around! Sometimes it’s hard to remember that reading isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, unthinkable though that may be, to most… I think some of the students learnt a thing or two from us librarians during that session!

Finally, when we had time, we asked students to interview each other about what they were reading which was absolutely lovely!  It’s always great to see young people enthuse about what they’re reading and sharing it with others.

We had a great day, and are already looking forward to next year, but will clearly be carrying on the good work with the other things we plan and do, with reader development in the meantime.


Holiday reading (7)

Our seventh post sees a welcome return of the reading of Dr Hundal, another of our lovely biologists, with two titles, again vastly different from each other!  Dr Hundal has sought, this time, to expand his knowledge of another viewpoint of the all-consuming Brexit issue and challenge his own ideas about it with Daniel Hannan‘s book How we invented freedom and why it matters. (Click for a review of the book.)  Dr Hundal says:

“Daniel Hannan is a prominent Eurosceptic and played a key part in the Vote Leave campaign. As someone who is a firm Remainer, I thought it would be a good idea to try and understand the perspective of a Brexiteer.

The book takes a historical look at freedoms, rights and liberty from a very Anglocentric perspective. At times, I found the historical narrative revealing whilst recognising that the perspective is viewed firmly through the lens of ‘English speaking world’.

Nonetheless, Hannan is passionate over his stance and the writing is quite engaging. However, he failed to convince me that Leave is the best option, perhaps, he may persuade you?!”

Clearly, Dr Hundal is still on the Remain side, but it is always good to understand the alternative perspective, if well-written, as opposed to how the issue is portrayed in the popular press!  He is, I feel, more at home with his second choice of book, Sapiens : a brief history of humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari. Of this he writes:

“A sweeping historical account of humankind, taking in 100 000 + years in bite-sized, digestible chapters. The science, coupled to the historical narrative, is very good.

I found the concept of how larger populations, which arose as a result of city-living, required a common, shared value system to maintain order fascinating, particularly with regard to the role of myths and religion as the societal glue.

A great read.”

I’m not sure I am quite ready for Daniel Hannan’s book as yet, but at some point I may give it a go.  I think Yuval Noah Harari’s might be quite the thing… What do you think?  it would be good to hear from those who have read either or both of these titles, let’s keep the debate going!

Holiday reading (6)

Today’s second entry, our sixth in the series, comes from Mrs Green, one of our lovely biologists.  Her book for Christmas was The orchid hunter : a young botanist’s search for happiness by Leif Bersweden.  Mrs Green says:

“I was bought ‘The Orchid Hunter’ by Leif Bersweden for Christmas.

It is the story of a young botanist’s search to find all British species of Orchid within a single season – some science and classification of orchids combined with lovely stories of his hunt to find all 52 species within a very short time period.

It is clearly of interest to people who are interested in plant Biology, but it is also a lovely story of this period in his life.”

Click here for a great review from Isabel Hardman at The Spectator.  Bersweden is indeed a young botanist, having carried out his search for orchids during the gap year between school and university, a year spent in a vastly different manner from those of many students. As a cataloguer of books, I find the idea of a young person classifying  and cataloguing plants, especially ones he has searched for himself, fascinating, but it sounds as though there is much more to this book than that act in itself. Another to add to my ever-increasing to-be-read pile!

orchid hunter

Holiday reading (3)

For our third entry in the Holiday reading series, we are looking at two non-fiction titles of a more worldly nature which were read by our new Economics teacher, Ms Rauh-Wasmund, and our new Head of Sixth Form, Mr Walker.

Firstly, let’s consider Ms Rauh-Wasmund’s choice.  Her book is entitled Traders, guns and money : knowns and unknowns in the dazzling world of derivatives by Satyajit Das.  Ms Rauh-Wasmund says of her Christmas reading:

“Over the holiday I started to read Traders, guns and money by Satyajit Das.  It focuses on simplifying the complexities of derivative trading.”

Nielsen BookData Online has this to add : “A sensational and compelling insider’s view that lifts the lid on the fast-paced and dazzling world of derivatives… ‘Traders, Guns and Money’ is a wickedly comic exposé of the culture, games and pure deceptions played out every day in trading rooms around the world. And played out with other people’s money. This sensational insider’s view of the business of trading and marketing derivatives, explains the frighteningly central role that derivatives and financial products played in the global financial crisis. This worldwide bestseller reveals the truth about derivatives: those financial tools memorably described by Warren Buffett as ‘financial weapons of mass destruction’. ‘Traders, Guns and Money’ will introduce you to the players and the practices and reveals how the real money is made and lost.” (Accessed 26 January 2018.) Sounds like a fascinating business, and this book is the one to introduce you to it…

Mr Walker’s book of the holidays is Daniel H Pink’s title Drive : the surprising truth about what motivates usIt seems that we are not essentially motivated by money, but instead are fundamentally wired to search for a deeper satisfaction, the need to direct our lives.  Mr Walker recommend this book for students of Psychology, but perhaps we could all learn from Pink’s assertion, that we have a need to ‘learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world’. (Click on the link above for more information.)

Reading anything, we learn so much, and one of the best things about writing these blog entries to discover new reading lists and recommendations for others.  I hope that you will be as interested and find something here to make you think.  Do let me know!

Holiday reading (1)

Happy New Year to all readers everywhere!  We have decided that this is the year to start blogging in earnest again and we have plenty of great books to entertain you!  Apologies for our absence for a while, we have been three people running two busy libraries in a split site school, and now, with an eagerly anticipated new member of staff arriving, we hope to return regularly!

As usual, after the Christmas holidays, we asked our well-read members of staff to provide recommendations for the New Year and so we’ll highlight these over a few posts, and would welcome any comments you may have…

The first reflects the holiday readings of our illustrious Head of Economics, Mr Cowie.  He has suggested both fiction and non-fiction and begins with Peter May’s series of books known as The Lewis Trilogy which comprises The blackhouse, The Lewis man and The chessman.  Of these novels, Mr Cowie says:

“Set on the Island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides – three detective novels. Quite dark in terms of the plots and brilliant descriptions of the locality. It always seems to be raining!”

The stories’ central character is Fin Macleod, born and bred on the island, who returns after a time spent working a Detective Inspector in Edinburgh, and finds himself caught up in investigating crimes on the island which take him back into his past and then on into his present…

Mr Cowie’s second and third choices reflect his interest in current affairs and history.  The first of these is entitled The Germans and Europe by Peter Millar.  Mr Cowie’s thoughts invite further investigation by new readers:

“Of interest to the few Germanophiles around. Written from and about 9 German cities – of which 3 are no longer in Germany.” 

“Based on a lifetime living in and reporting on Germany and Central Europe, award-winning journalist and author Peter Millar tackles the fascinating and complex story of the people at the heart of our continent. Focusing on nine cities (only six of which are in the Germany of today) he takes us on a zigzag ride back through time via the fall of the Berlin Wall through the horrors of two world wars, the patchwork states of the Middle Ages, to the splendour of Charlemagne and the fall of Rome, with side swipes at everything on the way, from Henry VIII to the Spanish Empire…  Not just a book about Germany but about Europe as a whole and how we got where we are today, and where we might be tomorrow.” (Nielsen Bookdata Online, accessed 23 January 2018).

Finally, we encounter Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution by John Morrill.  Of this, Mr Cowie says:

“The French are always boasting about their ridiculous revolution but ours came first and was far superior. Why it is not taught in the 6th form I shall never understand.”

“John Morrill has been at the forefront of modern attempts to explain the origins, nature and consequences of the English Revolution. These twenty essays — seven either specially written or reproduced from generally inaccessible sources — illustrate the main scholarly debates to which he has so richly contributed: the tension between national and provincial politics; the idea of the English Revolution as “the last of the European Wars of Religion”; its British dimension; and its political sociology. Taken together, they offer a remarkably coherent account of the period as a whole.” (Nielsen Bookdata Online, accessed 23 January 2018).

With such an interesting collection of books for reading during the holidays, I think this takes care of my reading list for next summer!  I believe that I’ll need more than the shorter period we had for these winter days.  If you are a reader of crime novels and interested in well-written history books, here’s a ready-made selection for you.  Do write to us with more suggestions and comments on these, if you have read them as well.

Drop Everything And Read

Another part of our #worldbookday adventures included DEAR Drop Everything And Read. This initiative involved our teachers spending a few minutes at the beginning or end of lessons talking to their classes about reading and literature, and specifically their own favourites, whether from their childhood or adult days.  We have had some lovely feedback, which I give below:

Mrs Livingston

I chatted with my Year 9 boys and girls about their favourite books – both current and from childhood. [They shared] lots of lovely memories of family members reading certain stories to them, hence why they have remained with them as firm favourites.  I brought in The tiger who came to tea by Judith Kerr as I remember it being read to me as a child and I now read it to my boys.  I took my eldest to see a theatre production of it in London last summer and he was engrossed!  It was his first experience of the theatre and to have a favourite story re-told on stage was lovely to watch.

Mrs M Murray

I have to tell you that I had a letter back from a famous author!  Andrew Martin wrote back to me this week after I had sent him a letter saying how much I enjoyed his book Belles and whistlesI have suggested to the children that they could write fan letters to their favourite authors…

Mr Cruickshanks

I did try to convince my Year 10 boys of the wonders of Bernard Cornwell‘s historical novels, especially The last kingdom series  (as televised by the BBC!).  I tried to sell them on the idea that it was like Game of thrones, only based a little more closely on the real world.  They didn’t seem particularly impressed, but at least I gave it a go!! I happen to know of a year 8 boy who is working his way through these and loving them! (librarian)

Mrs Leonard

I certainly did advertise one of my favourites (A town like Alice – Nevil Shute) to all classes, selling it as one of the books with an excellent strong female lead!  I had the book cover and a synopsis on the board and told them I first read it when I was in Year 8 so it could appeal to them.  Lots of them took phones out and photographed the board so hopefully it might catch on!  For Year 13 French students, I recommended Paris by Edward Rutherfurd as a great fiction/history mixture charting the history of Paris from 0AD to present day with historical accuracy but through fictional characters.  He has also written similar tomes on New York, London and so forth. It was lovely to be able to talk about books together and prompted some good discussions in French and Spanish about favourite books and why.

I send many thanks to my teaching colleagues for these reports – and will try to chase up a few more…


Christmas reading (5)

Welcome to our fifth exploration of the Christmas reading of members of staff from our school.  This post discusses two very different books read by Mrs Ewart, our Library Assistant.  One book is the second novel by Jessie Burton, The muse, and the other is by Richard Venables QPM, A life in death, concerning a vital part of his career in the Police Force in the field of Disaster Victim Identification.  Both sound intriguing and fascinating.  Mrs Ewart says:

The Muse by Jessie Burton: I really enjoyed this novel as much as her first historical novel, The miniaturist. The two books are completely different, although both are historical fiction. The Muse is set in Spain in the 1930s and Britain in the 1960s. The story revolves around a painting and the characters embroiled in its creation and destiny. Great storytelling. If you like Tracy Chevalier, I think you will enjoy Jessie Burton’s books…”

A Life in Death by Richard Venables QPM, a retired Police Detective Inspector. This was a gripping autobiograpy  about disaster victim identification, a part of policing that we rarely – if ever – think about. Venables shows compassion, humanity and respect in dealing with the victims. Yet there are touches of humour too. It has been nominated for the People’s Book prize for non – fiction. I strongly recommend that you read it – and then vote for it!”

Christmas reading (3)

Mrs Grant, our Safety and Environment Manager, was the next person to write to me, telling of the book she read during our Christmas break.  She read the début novel of writer Geoffrey GudgionSaxon’s Bane, and says:

  “I read ‘Saxon’s Bane’, by Geoffrey Gudgion.  He is a local author who came and spoke at our WI, although I sadly missed his visit!  I loved the book. It seemed to have everything: historical interest, village politics, suspense, death, adventure and mystery, with the themes of good vs evil, the Church vs paganism and even a bit of a love story running through it.  I always think the best way to judge a book is whether you actually care about the characters and if you find yourself wondering what they are doing whilst you are not reading the book. Geoffrey Gudgion has achieved this: when I finished Saxon’s Bane I felt I knew them so well I wanted to go and find the fictional village and have a drink and chat with them all.”

I like the way Mrs Grant talks of the way in which she views a book, and then subsequently was able to put her ideas into practice with this one.  A good endorsement, I think.  In a later message, she told me that this wouldn’t usually have fitted with her preferred reading style or genre,which should encourage us all to break out of our comfort zone once in a while, something which we are always advising students to do!

Mr Petty, our Head of Sixth Form, was the next reader to write to me. He had just finished Stephen Graubard’s book The Presidents : the transformation of the American Presidency from Theodore Roosevelt to Barack Obama.  This book was published in 2009, when the author was 85.  Mr Petty says this about it:

“Over the holidays I very much enjoyed re-reading ‘The Presidents:  the Transformation of the American Presidency from Theodore Roosevelt to Barack Obama’ by Stephen Graubard.  I thought it was a good time to remind myself of some of the brilliant, bold, brave, and frankly bonkers people who have occupied the White House, and this is a masterful book with which to do this.  This wonderful survey – there around 40 pages on each featured President – reminds one how there are limits to how far each President can change the USA, but also brought to mind how greatly I had under-appreciated two presidents in particular.  They are not exactly unsung heroes, but Theodore Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson are simply fascinating figures who knew what they wanted, and were unlikely to be thwarted in their very different ambitions.  I’d heartily recommend this work, even if one simply dips in to it to read about one or two presidents.”

After reading this review, I immediately ordered a copy and sent it to my daughter who is studying American politics as a module of her first degree at Birmingham University.  We have been much more interested in the politics of the USA since our visit to Washington DC last summer, and enjoyed visiting the fantastic museums as well as Capitol Hill and the Library of Congress.  We were fortunate enough to attend a session in the House of Represenatives, which brought everything so much more alive for us.

School projects and the Library: part 2

As mentioned in our previous post, we are also working on a History project with our Year 7 students.  For the past few weeks,they have been learning about life in a Medieval castle and are now in a position to carry out some research into how people lived during the Middle Ages, their task being to write a diary entry for a date to be selected by them during the period between 1066 and 1485, but for the date that they choose,  their writing must be historically accurate!

They have to assume the character of one of the following: a Lord or nobleman, Lady or noblewoman, squire or knight, a cook or an armourer; they then choose a special event to write about: a joust, a banquet or feast, a wedding or a festival.  Finally, they should incorporate daily routines from the life of their chosen character such as mealtimes and food, schooling and education, work and leisure, and clothes.  That’s a pretty detailed piece of writing, and, as well as this, they have to draw a plan of a castle with a key to the various parts and themselves in character.

Our part in this is to help them use books, yes, real books (!) within the library space, and guide them to use specific websites which have been carefully selected for content and which are guaranteed (as far as possible) to be available.  We then help them to start creating their own bibliography, listing books and websites used, in the correct order and format.  We explain concepts such as key words, contents and index pages, and glossaries, and emphasize the need to credit the work that other people have done, and which they use as inspiration.  So far, these classes are proceeding well and we feel that our approach has made it as easy for them as can be, especially given the ground they are required to cover.  The final project is to be printed or written on parchment paper, to encourage an authentic feel!  In past years, we have received tea-stained copies with burnt edges, pages tied together with raffia… Lovely!

If any of our readers are carrying out similar project work, we would love to hear from you. Sharing good practice is one of our goals.


This is a photograph of our very own castle here in Berkhamsted. It was begun in 1066 and became a very important castle in its day, as William the Conqueror visited and received the submission of England here after the Battle of Hastings.  Past occupants have included Thomas Becket and Geoffrey Chaucer.  To discover more, click here.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons; originally submitted to Flickr by Anne Thorniley.


Christmas reading at Berkhamsted (5)

Mr Cowie, Head of Economics, is an avid reader and has written to me about three books which he read over the Christmas holidays.  I should like to share them with you here.  The books cover various periods in British history, and focus on very different subjects.  I have also read one of these, the first mentioned below.

It is renowned author and journalist Ben MacIntyre‘s telling of the story of one of the country’s most intriguing spies of World War II, Eddie Chapman.  Here’s what Mr Cowie has to say about Agent Zigzag : a true story of Nazi espionage, love and betrayal :

“The tale of a WW2 double-agent called Eddie Chapman. A total cad but not a complete and utter rotter – in fact, something of a hero.”

I would wholeheartedly agree with the second sentence here.  Chapman’s story could not have been dreamt up by the most inventive or imaginative of novelists, however, I am sure that it would inspire authors of the spy genre. From his humble beginnings of a petty crook from one of the poorer areas of London, Eddie discovered, as a young man, that he had a talent for learning languages quickly and soon found himself attracting the attention of German soldiers in Jersey at the time of occupation… It’s a great story.

The second volume offered by Mr Cowie is something completely different. Mod : from Bebop to Britpop by Richard Weight shows the story of the Mod, his music, style and mode of transport from his origin right up to his more modern equivalent in the time of Britpop.  Mr Cowie says:

“A history of Mod culture – British and working class – from the late 50s, through Swinging London, Northern Soul, the late-70s revival, and Britpop. Short for ‘modernists’ (obv) and interested in black American music, French film, and Italian fashion.”

For those of us who are at a certain stage in our lives, this book will educate about, and remind us of, popular culture prevalent when we were growing up, a great recommendation.

Finally, he recommends John Darwin’s book, Unfinished empire : the global expansion of Britain:

“an intelligent and nuanced study”.

A writer for Nielsen Bookdata Online has this to say about it, and, I must say, it sounds like an important chronicle of the history of the British empire:

” This is a both controversial and comprehensive historical analysis of how the British Empire worked, from Wolfson Prize-winning author and historian John Darwin. The British Empire shaped the world in countless ways: repopulating continents, carving out nations, imposing its own language, technology and values. For perhaps two centuries its expansion and final collapse were the single largest determinant of historical events, and it remains surrounded by myth, misconception and controversy today. John Darwin’s provocative and richly enjoyable book shows how diverse, contradictory and in many ways chaotic the British Empire really was, controlled by interests that were often at loggerheads, and as much driven on by others’ weaknesses as by its own strength.”

We welcome any comments or thoughts you may have about any of the books featured here, so please do contact us and start a discussion.