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…

 

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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.

Berkhamsted_Castle

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.

Christmas reading at Berkhamsted (4)

This, the fourth episode in our Christmas reading journey, sees three more, very different books read by Dr Hundal, Head of a Sixth Form House and biologist, and me.  Dr Hundal’s chosen novel is entitled Butcher’s Crossing, and was written by John Williams in 1960.  Williams’s book Stoner enjoyed renewed success in 2013, forty eight years after it was written, perhaps Butcher’s Crossing will too, some fifty five years later!  Dr Hundal says:

“A terrific read which is set in the 1870s. It is written with a simple but engaging descriptive prose. The story’s central character is a young East Coast man going out West in search of adventure. After teaming up to hunt down one of the largest buffalo herds remaining, he finds he has taken on more than he bargained for.  The tension between the main characters is at the heart of the book. I enjoyed the wonderful description of the wide, open and, at times, mountainous wilderness. Well recommended.”

The book was reviewed in The Guardian newspaper on 7th January 2014 by Nicholas Lezard and, he, too, was impressed by the novel. Click here to read more.

The two books which I spent my holidays reading are Jane Austen’s timeless Persuasion and Matt Haig’s current and most recently published Reasons for living.  Both were read with different expectations.

Persuasion is my favourite of Austen’s novels, and thinking that I would have the time to do it justice, I began to read.  Having read so many modern novels of various genres lately and not reading the great classics for a good few years, I found it took a little time for my brain to settle and focus on the language, manners and expressions.  I had thought that I would be able to slip into it again, and the fact that I didn’t, and felt that I had to engage my brain physically to do so, made me think that this could  be an excellent brain exercise! I was justly rewarded and reminded of what a great novel it is.  I have recently seen an article which considers Persuasion the poorest of Austen’s work but I’m sure I don’t agree.  Perhaps I am not viewing it critically and just enjoying the story, the setting and language.  That’s good enough for me!  It’s a wonderful novel about true friendship, the nature of families, love, and the way life turns out – not so different from many modern novels but also a commentary on its time, where making good marriages did count for some. we learn how a man could establish himself as a naval officer and earn the respect and wealth which goes with hard work, and, interestingly, become rich through being a captain in times of war.  Give me a Captain Wentworth any day!

I chose my next book having read a review somewhere (I really must start making notes of where I read such things!), and felt the need to take a look at Matt Haig‘s book to understand exactly what he went through as a young man of 24 who found himself extremely depressed with very little hope about what the future may bring. He tells how he came through his darkest times and discusses how mindfulness has become a key part of his recovery.  The more I learn of this idea, the more I like, and can see how beneficial it can be.  I had heard of Haig as an author of children’s and young adult fiction, and wanted to know more about him.  I truly appreciated this book and learned more from it than I have from other sources, produced by clinicians.  It is an honest account of how he has come through and taught me a few things:

“That’s the odd thing about depression and anxiety.  It acts like an intense fear of happiness, even as you yourself consciously want that happiness more than anything…”

His list of reasons for staying alive halfway through the book makes so much sense to me, even as a non-sufferer. This book helps those who love people who are.

I’d be interested in reading your thoughts, if you have read any of these books, do let me know!

Christmas reading at Berkhamsted (2)

In part two of our Christmas reading project we have three books offered by our School Archivist, Mrs Koulouris.

The first is a book by the Irish author, Cecelia AhernThe Marble Collector.  Mrs Koulouris says this about the book:

“A family story about a collection of marbles and the story that the daughter unravels about her Father and his past.  Not bad.”

Her second novel is Dawn French’s latest offering, According to yes, which she enjoyed very much:

“[I] loved this, primary teacher Rosie Kitto goes to Manhattan to work for a family.”

Mrs Koulouris’s final choice is the reflective and intriguing book, Chance developments, by Alexander McCall Smith; it is a different style of writing from his previous work, and has certainly piqued my interest.  Mrs Koulouris had this to say:

“[I] really loved this … He [McCall Smith] produces stories around a random set of photographs, not knowing anything about the people or places in the snaps.”

Mrs Koulouris has subsequently written to me saying that one book she’d like to read soon is Tom Michell’s The penguin lessons:

“A true story by Tom Michell, who was a teacher in Argentina who adopted a penguin as a pet.”

It seems that the penguin is reluctant to return to the sea , having been rescued from an oil slick by the author and cleaned up.  Michell takes him back to the boarding school, where he works as a teacher, and the penguin naturally becomes an invaluable member of the school!

I would very much like to read all of these, and they shall all be on my TBR list!  if you have read these books, please let me know what you think, it’s always good to hear from other readers.

Christmas reading at Berkhamsted (1)

Welcome to the first Berkhamsted School Library post of 2016!  Over the next few posts, we will be looking at books which were read by members of staff at Berkhamsted who were finally able to put aside reports, sporting fixtures, outdoor education and many other activities which take place during the school term, in the Christmas holidays, to enjoy a book.  I hope that you find these posts entertaining and that they inspire you to pick up a volume or two!

We will begin with our Vice Principal of Education: Mr Bond’s choice (he was the first off the mark to send in his book!).  The book is entitled The bone clocks by David Mitchell.  Mr Bond says:

“It’s an intriguing book that weaves a fascinating narrative across a 60 year (from the 1980s to 2040s) period with a supernatural theme interwoven through it as well. It’s main strength (in my opinion) is its depth of characterisation – the individuals are richly portrayed throughout.”

The book certainly received great reviews from the broadsheets and, indeed, Mrs Redman, (Head of a Sixth Form House), whose personal choice follows this, says that she also loved it.

Mrs Redman decided to read My Àntonia by Willa Cather.  She says:

“I read My Ántonia, a beautifully-observed account of the fortunes of a young immigrant to Nebraska at the end of the 20th Century as seen through the romantic eyes of a young boy who grows up on the neighbouring farm.  Her early life is one of seemingly unending drudgery in a bleak, unforgiving landscape, but Jim only sees how strong, confident and lovely Ántonia becomes as a result.  It is a glimpse at a frontier world which shows how identities are shaped not only by the harsh realities of the present and dreams for a better future but, most importantly, by our heritage.  Read it for the vivid descriptions of the Nebraskan scenery alone.”

One of a very different nature, I imagine, but as well-written, I am sure.

The final book in this post is a recommendation from Mr Petty, our Head of Sixth Form.  As a historian, this book provides not only a deeper insight into his subject but also a keen personal interest. Mr Petty reports:

 “One of the books I particularly enjoyed over the break was Robert Dallek’s JFK:  An Unfinished Life.  This is such an accomplished biography which covers the key moments in American History c.1930-1963 with panache, rigour and insight – the sections on the Cuban Missiles Crisis and Kennedy’s election to the Senate, and then the Presidency, are particularly riveting. Two surprises for me from the book:  being made aware of how long-established the Kennedys were as a major force in north-eastern American politics, such that they long preceded JFK’s father, Joseph, who is often assumed to be the man who brought them to fame and fortune; and just how entrenched the Kennedy administration was in the deepening crisis in Vietnam, despite escaping censure from historians for the growing problems there.  Dallek is fair-minded, and ranks Kennedy as a potentially great President.  Even though the reader knows the ultimately tragic outcome of this astonishing narrative, one is still somehow shocked and enthralled by the unfolding of the assassination.  A superb account of a remarkable life.”

Three great books, which I am sure will engender debate and further reading.  Have any of you read them?  Please do get in touch and share your thoughts, we would love to hear from you.

This Star Won’t Go Out (Esther Earl) and The Fault In Our Stars (John Green)

I felt that it was about time that, having seen the film, The Fault In Our Stars, this librarian read the book by John Green and delved a little deeper into the story behind the novel.  Many of our readers here at Berkhamsted already knew the book, told us that John was their favourite author and asked us whether we could wait to see the film… So, being one of the slower librarians on the uptake, I have finally read the novel (which I loved), seen the film and looked more closely into the background, which our students may not know too much about.  I quickly found that John was inspired to write the novel after meeting and getting to know Esther Grace Earl at LeakyCon 2009 (now known as GeekyCon, originally a Harry Potter fan-orientated convention based in the USA and Canada, now embracing all kinds of geeky things, music from rock bands ‘Harry and the Potters‘ and ‘The Whomping Willows‘, to name but two, nerdfighters and so much more…).

This Star Won’t Go Out is a book by Esther and her family, and includes pages from her journal and recollections from Esther’s parents, Lori and Wayne Earl, about her diagnosis as a sufferer of thyroid cancer, aged 12, how she coped and managed her illness, and her thoughts about life and how it was, to suffer in this way.  It is a wonderful book, and whilst desperately moving, Esther’s sense of fun, thoughtfulness on her illness as well as for others and how they were affected by it, shines throughout.  She doesn’t say much about what she achieves and how she reaches out to others, but the testament of her parents and friends, both IRL (in real life!) and online, speak volumes about her ability to encourage others to pull through in the face of adversity.  One thing thing which struck me when reading this book was very much the positive aspects of online social media.  The best of support chatrooms, YouTube videos, and blogs is apparent and the help these media can offer to young people who are suffering is immense.  In an age where we are encouraged to be very wary of the worst aspects of social media, it was enlightening to find so many examples of the best.  John Green wrote the introduction to the book, and I was moved to read how she was the inspiration (although not the basis) for Hazel Grace Lancaster, his heroine.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Fault In Our Stars tooreading it solidly in between working and family life, in a very short time.  I found it moving, devastating, amusing (the sense of humour exhibited by the young cancer sufferers made me think about things which go wrong in my life and how it is possible to see chinks of humour in almost any situation), and uplifting.  I feel that the author clearly understands how teenagers work and how they think, let alone how they may feel about things that happen to them, and, by the popularity of his writing, teens agree with this.  I also loved that the film’s storyline was so close to the novel, making it resonate for readers, who are so often disappointed by such adaptations.  The acting was superb and a testament to the abilities of the cast, particularly its younger members: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort and Nat Wolff.

In our libraries we have copies of both books, so now I am going to display them both together, I’m sure that they will fly off the shelves, as The Fault In Our Stars does permanently!

I would like to share the following links with you, in case you’d like to learn more about Esther Earl and John Green:

Esther’s parents have founded a charity of the same name as their book: This Star Won’t Go Out, click on this title to visit their website.  The charity does important work in helping to support the families of young cancer sufferers, as well as the children themselves.

To follow John Green on Facebook: click here, twitter: here, tumblr: here and finally on his own website here.  John also creates videoblogs together with his brother, Hank, and they are well-worth watching, they’re fun and educational: https://www.youtube.com/vlogbrothers

The surgeon of Crowthorne (Simon Winchester)

This is such a fascinating book.  Prior to reading it, I had no knowledge of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, of the mammoth task of compiling an authoritative list of all words used in the English language, citing printed examples of the use of each word… And in a time long before the advent of computers!  I loved reading about the history of dictionary-making, including Samuel Johnson’s contributions to the task he set himself a century earlier than James Murray was asked to take on the role by the Philological Society in the late nineteenth century.  The very idea that volunteers were recruited to carry out the enormous task of collecting words, and written evidence of their existence in quotations is simply incredible, when we consider the already vast collection of books printed by the end of the 1800s.

When we learn about the life and work of one of the most important contributors, William Minors, the story of the origin of one of the biggest dictionaries of the English language in the world becomes one of fascination, intrigue and grisly horror!  Minors adds to the work of James Murray and his office staff whilst a patient in Broadmoor, built in 1863 and still a high security psychiatric hospital today.  We read of Minor’s deeply troubled mind, how events in his past affected, and may have contributed to, his mental health, and how his sharp intelligence and well-read brain assisted him in his tireless work on the dictionary. He was actively encouraged in his labours by the hospital staff and governor, until he could no longer work due to illness, and his subsequent release and return to his family in America.  So much is contained in the wonderful slim volume, I would definitely benefit from reading it again at some point.

surgeon