Lent term newsletter

This term we have been busy, as ever, in our libraries, so for a little extra news about what we’ve been up to, please click on the link below to retrieve our end of term newsletter:

Lent 2017

 

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…

 

World Book Day 2017 at Berkhamsted

wbd reading teachers board castle

We had a lot of fun last Thursday, 2nd March, when celebrating World Book Day!  In our libraries, we put up a display such as this one showing teachers and librarians reading on one side of each picture and then on the other side, we were holding up the books which are currently grabbing our attention.  The displays attracted many visitors as they passed through, on their way to their study tables and computers!

We also welcomed classes into the libraries where they played two reading games and were asked to complete cards telling us what they like to read, which are their favourite books and what they are reading at the moment (their ‘Writes of Passage’, if you will, which we are still taking cards for).

The first game we played was called ‘Crossed Lines’ and was taken from the National Literacy Trust’s website.  We chose a few first lines from really good novels we found in the libraries and then started off a chain of Chinese whispers, loved by boys and girls alike.  We used Charles Kingsley’s The water babies, Patrick Ness’s A monster calls, David Almond’s A song for Ella Grey and Meg Rosoff’s Picture me gone at the girls’ school which worked really well. The titles we read from at the boys’ school were The curious incident of the dog in the night-time (Mark Haddon); Peter Pan (J M Barrie); Stormbreaker (Anthony Horowitz) and To kill a mockingbird (Harper Lee).  This was a sure-fire way to demonstrate how stories evolve with the telling, and how to listen properly!  We enjoyed watching the children’s faces as they were trying to understand how to pass on a simple sentence.

Our second game was ‘Reading Chairs’, the idea for which, again , was borrowed from the National Literacy Trust’s website.  This time we took the children back to the party games from their younger days and played what, in its previous incarnation, was know as musical chairs!  A librarian or teacher read from the beginning of a book and each time he or she stopped reading, a chair was removed from the library.  Whilst everyone was rather competitive, we did manage to maintain a sense of decorum!  The winners received a creme egg…

A good day was had by all, indeed, we carried on the next day since we’d enjoyed it so much!

 

Christmas reading (4)

Our reading journey continues with two entries which are attracting my attention, and which are now on my to-be-read pile!  Mrs Redman, Head of House and English teacher recommended Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent and teacher of Drama, Miss Anderson’s Christmas reading was Before I go to sleep by S J Watson.  Here is what each had to say:

Mrs Redman on The Essex serpent: “I picked it up in Waterstones because it was so beautiful – all rich blues and embossed gold detail.  The rave reviews on the back heralded it as An Essex village is terrorised by a winged leviathan in a gothic Victorian tale crammed with incident, character and plot and they weren’t wrong.  From the start, she creates a creditable Dickensian marshland setting in which grotesques and caricatures live alongside  London cognoscente.  The notion of superstition and a potential force of evil entering their world challenges their feelings towards religion and science.  It’s a page turner with believable and likeable characters facing a predatory menace; who or what the menace really is, and whether it is real or imagined, is the essence of the book.”

Miss Anderson on Before I go to sleep:  “I read “Before I Go To Sleep” by S.J.Watson and it was a fantastic thriller. A woman suffers a brain injury leading to memory issues. She wakes up every day believing she is in her 20s and realises that she is middle-aged and cannot remember any of her life between then and now. She starts to write a diary to aid her day-to-day life and the recovery of her memory. Yet as the days build up, she realises that there are many things her husband isn’t being honest with her about.  It was a great read that had me absolutely gripped.”

Miss Anderson’s choice has been made into a film starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong (more of my favourites!).

Have any of you read these novels?  Please do get in touch, I do like to read others’ thoughts on books which are important to them, especially if featured here.

Berkhamsted School Staff Book Club: winter reads

Three books to curl up with this winter…

It’s been too long, I know, since the library’s last post, but I have resolved this year to write more frequently.  As ever, we are a busy library and busy staff, so trying to meet to discuss our reading is becoming increasingly difficult.  However, we did enjoy our last meeting when we discussed Jane Hawking’s Silent Music, Sophie Nicholl’s new novel, The dress, and The day I lost you by Fionnuala Kearney.  Here are our thoughts:

Silent music by Jane Hawking

Growing up in London in the aftermath of the Second World War, Ruth is an observant and thoughtful child who finds herself in a confusing and mysterious adult world. She seeks refuge in her memories of her idyllic stays with her grandparents in the picturesque East Anglian countryside – which provide comforting visions of a simpler life. As she comes to terms with her surroundings and her own adolescence, Ruth finds the motivation to pursue the tantalizing dream which has governed her childhood. A coming-of-age novel about the unpredictable nature of human behaviour and about taking control of one’s destiny, Silent Music is a timeless portrait of post-war Britain, as well as a lyrical paean to hope and aspiration. (Nielsen Bookdata Online). 

Those of us who read Jane Hawking’s book enjoyed it very much. Hers is a gentle storytelling, whilst literary and engaging. She is the former wife of the eminent scientist, Stephen, and she has a PhD in Medieval Spanish Poetry.  Her book, Travelling to infinity : my life with Stephen is behind the screenplay for the film The theory of everything .  If you have enjoyed the film, why not try reading Hawking’s two books?  You might be transported…

The dress by Sophie Nicholls

One member of our group suggested that this was a version of Chocolat (Joanne Harris) but with dresses and yes, the formula is rather similar, but the story was quite arresting.  We mostly enjoyed it as it was well-written and easy to read.  Another compared it with The dressmaker by Rosalie Ham.  Fabia is a dressmaker originally from Iran, who finds herself in York, after travelling around England with her young daughter for many years, trying to settle.  She found her way to England via Paris, where she met her Italian husband and with whom she had Ella, after moving to England, and after he had died in a struggle with a man trying to upset the heavily pregnant Fabia.  Once she arrives in York, some years later, we learn of her passion for dresses, her feel for fabrics and her desire to make a success of her new shop.  Fabia is also concerned about the fact that Ella appears to be struggling to make friends and settling at school… Read the novel to learn more.  The dress, if it takes your fancy, is unputdownable, I know that I enjoyed it a lot.

The day I lost you by Fionnuala Kearney

This was a compelling read which was difficult to put down.  A mother hears from her former husband that their daughter is missing after an avalanche hits her skiing trip.  There are all kinds of family threads which unravel.  The daughter, Anna, has a young daughter of her own and both lived with Anna’s mother, Jess.  A number of characters come into the mix with lots of surprising connections to Anna, and the secrets she had kept.  The story is told from different points of view: Jess’s narrative and entries from Anna’s blog in the first person, with vignettes about the lives of the other characters individually told in the third person.  The story is heart-wrenching and painful but with some strands of hope for the future.

Our book club returns…

Just before our half term holiday, we had our first book club meeting of the year.  It’s so hard, sometimes, to arrange a time to meet in a school as busy as ours, and sometimes you just have to make a date, and hope that people come!   Well, they did and we had a great catch up with what we had read over the past few weeks and reflected on the wonderful day we had had in London back in November at The Reading Agency when we participated in English PEN’s ‘From one reader to another’ event – more of this later.

Please see details below of our reading, in case you feel inspired to take a look:

Persuasion Jane Austen
Reasons to stay alive                      Matt Haig (great exploration of the author’s own experience of depression and how there is a way through, turn to literature and mindfulness)
Sagan, Paris 1954                           

 

Anne Berest (in translation –  about the year when 18 year-old Françoise Sagan published her much-acclaimed novel Bonjour tristesse)
The shock of the fall                        Nathan Filer (great reviews for this debut novel, well-written and observed, about a young man and how his mental health deteriorates, but not all doom and gloom)
The light between oceans             M L Stedman (a boat washes up on the shore of an island containing the body of a dead man and a crying baby, the lighthouse keeper and his wife have to decide what to do).
The age of miracles                         Karen Thompson Walker (the world starts slowing down with days and nights becoming longer: what effect would this phenomenon have on the world?)
Disclaimer                                           Renée Knight (cleverly written thriller, a woman starts reading a book which turns out to be about her, and a secret that only she thought she knew)
The widow                              

 

Fiona Barton (psychological thriller, after a man’s death, his past is dragged up as it is thought that he had abducted a child…)
After you                                             Jojo Moyes (sequel to Moyes’s Me before you, where we follow what happens to Louisa after Will’s death)
The memory book                           Rowan Coleman (well-written novel by local author about a woman who develops early onset Alzheimers, and how her she and her family deal with it, again not all doom and gloom)

The next meeting will be held on Tuesday 15th March when we will be discussing Sarah Waters’s novel The paying guests and Blood ties by Julie Shaw.  I shall report back with our thoughts on these novels shortly afterwards.

On Saturday 14th November, 2015, we were lucky enough to be chosen to participate in a day of reading group activities based at The Free Word Centre in London, hosted jointly by English PEN and The Free Word Centre. ‘From one reader to another’ offered us the opportunity to read two books in translation:

  • Dreams from the endz    Faïza Guène
  • Compartment no. 6         Rosa Liksom

We discussed each book with a different reading group, one based at English PEN itself and the other from a library reading group based in East London.  We had a fascinating discussion and met some interesting people through a mutual love of reading.  We listened to Jessie Burton talk about books which had inspired her to read and then to write her wonderful novel, The miniaturist.  We were treated to a translation duel of a text from its native Polish into English which was exceedingly enjoyable, and then heard about the work of a reading group coordinator based in a prison.  It’s easy to forget how literacy can enable and empower, he was telling us how those who’d participated had found that reading had improved their literacy to such an extent that they felt determined to improve their lives on leaving prison.  We had an amazing experience and would like to thank all at English PEN and The Free Word Centre.

 

More winter reading from Berkhamsted School…

One of our super English teachers, Miss Brims, has sent me reviews of two books which she has enjoyed recently.  Miss Brims writes:

The Beauty of Humanity Movement is the next book from award winning Canadian writer Camilla Gibb. Set in a modern Vietnam, the story charts lives of a family torn apart, joined by food and love, not blood,  and an ancient tale of old lost love.

Vietnam has seen many changes in one lifetime, and Old Man Hung has seen them all. His pho is as legendary as it is nourishing, as coveted as it is illegal, and as unifying as it was devisive.  When Maggie returns to the country of her birth, she arrives with all the ideals and modern mentalities in accordance with her upbringing in the USA, but she must keep the best of her present and her past in order to unravel the secrets of her families history.

Tu’ has grown up with Old Man Hung and posivitivity and good nature are inextricably entwined with both Hung, Maggie, and their fight for justice, truth, love and survival.

A beautiful, bitter sweet story which will live in your thoughts for days.

Greame Simpson’s loveable duo of Don and Rosie Tillman return in The Rosie Effect, a heart wrenching tale of a couple in their first year of marriage. Everything is going well for the new couple, the Wife Project has come to a successful conclusion, Rosie and Don have moved to New York and Don is learning to compromise, despite the obvious financial and logistical disadvantages. But when Rosie discovers she is pregnant, Don doesn’t respond as she hopes he will, driving a wedge between the couple which threatens their marriage (though Don is rather blissfully unaware of this). As ever, his intentions are good, and the reader is rooting for this loveable, nearly perfect man throughout his hilarious mis-steps.

If you loved The Rosie Project, you will love this too. Just be prepared to have the tissues ready for both laughter and heart break.”

We loved The Rosie Project as a staff reading group, please see the review here.

Us (David Nicholls)

us

Another January read was David Nicholls‘s superb latest offering, Us.  I loved this novel, and enjoyed it so much more than the author’s previous bestseller, One Day.  

It tells the story, through the eyes of Douglas Petersen, of a marriage: from its unlikely beginnings and the birth and upbringing of a son, through to the moment when Douglas’s wife wakes him during the night to tell him that the marriage is over. He comes across as a stereotypical non-romantic research scientist to begin with, but as we journey with him on this last family holiday upon which he embarks with his wife and their now teenage son, we discover a man who is coming to terms with the loss of a way of life, the family unit as he knew it and the possibility of starting again.  During the course of the novel, he understands where he has made mistakes in his relationships with his wife and son, and has learnt that it isn’t too late to change things at the same time as moving on from a life which he thought was his, familiar and believed to be one whose values his wife had shared.  This is a poignant tale but one peppered with excitement and a lot of fun (the description of the scrapes Douglas gets himself into when searching for his son in Europe positively had me laughing out loud!), and very moving scenes, as well as a positive recognition that times have changed and it is possible to begin again after the ending of an important relationship, and connect with the son he thought he knew, but didn’t understand.

I would recommend this novel wholeheartedly, especially for those who have similarly experienced the ending of a significant relationship.  It is well-written and extremely thought-provoking.

The Memory Book (Rowan Coleman)

I very much enjoyed reading local author (to Berkhamsted), Rowan Coleman’s latest novel, The Memory Book, recently.  I was lucky enough to have a little time around New Year and so read it in a couple of days!

The novel tells the story of a woman who develops early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease in her forties, and how her teenage and toddler daughters, together with her new husband and mother manage the disease and their own feelings as they watch Claire gradually descend into a state when little makes sense to her any more.  To make the most of Claire’s diminishing number of days of lucidity, they decide to start writing in a book of memories, mainly filled by Claire’s own memories of her life and experiences, but also those of her husband, Greg, elder daughter, Caitlin and mother, Ruth.  At times, it seems as though the only person who truly understands Claire is toddler Esther.  The story is eloquently told and, as a reader, one gets  a sense of all the emotions felt by each member of the family and those with whom Claire is in touch outside the home.  Memories are not only recorded, they are are created, and forge new feelings of connection between the main characters.  There are many wonderful, yet poignant, moments, which are often punctuated with a good sense of humour.  The novel ends on an upbeat level with the promise of new beginnings… Read it and enjoy!

memory book

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