The Ice Cream Girls (Dorothy Koomson) and The Junior Officers’ Reading Club (Patrick Hennessey)

We had a small but very good gathering on Tuesday 30th April in our Common Room.

We discussed two books:  The Ice Cream Girls by Dorothy Koomson and Patrick Hennessey’s The Junior Officers’ Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars.

Some of us had read both books and the rest of us, just one.  Those who had read The Ice Cream Girls, had, on the whole, enjoyed it and thought of it as a bit of a page-turner.  It was an easy read, despite the difficult subject matter: two girls were accused of killing a young teacher who had coerced them into having sexual relationships with him during a period of a year, when they were fifteen and sixteen years old.  Due to his persuasive nature, they believed that he was truly in love with them and complied with his demands, even when he became violent.  The book begins some seventeen years later when one of the girls has served a prison sentence for his murder and the other has been able to create a new successful life for herself (although the memories of her past and the reappearance of the other girl are destined to bring it all up again).  It’s well-written and moves at a fast pace but we did find the ending somewhat disappointing.  Read it and see if you agree!  You may have seen the recent dramatisation on ITV – read, watch, then compare!   I listened to a very interesting programme on BBC Radio 4 yesterday which featured a case of two women in very similar circumstances whereby they explain how they were indeed drawn in in this way by a favourite teacher (click here to learn more), the showing of the ITV drama is very timely.

ice-cream-girls dorothy koomson


The Junior Officers’ Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars saw Patrick Hennessey mature from a precocious Berkhamsted schoolboy to a gung-ho army officer through to a reflective young man who has seen war.  It is interesting to read of his schooldays and recognise characters in his book, mostly unnamed, which is probably a good thing!  It follows his time at Sandhurst and then onto war.  Patrick has subsequently written Kandak: Fighting with Afghans about his time in Afghanistan spent forging bonds and friendships with local soldiers.  He has visited our school twice in the last three years to speak to our Year 12 students as part of their tutorial programme and been well-received both times.  He has now left the army and is a writer and Human Rights lawyer based in London.

Poster "The camp library is yours - Read ...
Poster “The camp library is yours – Read to win the war. You will find popular books for fighting men in the recreational buildings and at other points in this camp. Free. No red tape. Open every day. Good reading will help you advance. Library War Service, American Library Association.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Great House (Nicole Krauss)

Cover of "Great House: A Novel"
Cover of Great House: A Novel

At our Reading Group meeting on Tuesday 13th March, we discussed Nicole Krauss‘s latest novel Great House.

We had another lovely meeting  after school which, (I think!), was enjoyed by all.  I was the only person who confessed to liking the book which I have yet to finish, but we still had a lively debate about how each individual story tied in with all the others to make a whole.  We felt that we almost needed a notebook to hand during our reading of this book in order that we could record all the details as we went along and thereby remember and make the connections!  Even though most said that they didn’t like it, we still talked for a good amount of time about this book.  I had chosen it, having loved Krauss’s first book (The History of Love), as I’d wanted to read it a while ago, but I’ll open the floor for everyone to choose in the future!  Some of us felt that with this book and The Finkler Question from our first meeting,  we were on the outside looking in on this world that we do not belong to.  This said, there did seem to be a consensus that whilst the book appeared self-indulgent, it was well-written and the author has skilfully employed the English language to tell her story.

Krauss’s novel tells the tale of a desk, which passes through the homes of various people at different periods of the twentieth century.  It crosses continents as we follow its journey from Budapest to London, from there to Chile, then to New York and finally to Israel and in travelling this journey with the desk, we learn how the lives of those in whose care it lies, intertwine and connect. I feel that it is a great piece of writing but the wonderful thing about Reading Group meetings is the sharing of ideas and how we can each add to the discussion with our own interpretations.

World Book Day 2012: Celebrations in School, part 1

Here in Berkhamsted we celebrated World Book Day yesterday, Thursday 1st March, by participating in DEAR (Drop Everything And Read).  We asked our teaching colleagues to share a favourite or current book with their classes, read an extract perhaps, and talk with students about why they are passionate about reading and what it means to them.  We also asked non-teaching staff to share with us what they like to read and, similarly, to tell us why they enjoy it as a pastime.  We have had some lovely responses so far and I’m hoping that more will get in touch.  Please read what we’ve written and let us know what you think…

Let’s begin with Mrs Ferguson, Head of Art :

“I spoke to Year 11 boys, Year 13 artists and Year 10 boys about Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I explained where my own love of reading sprang from – influenced by my mother (an avid reader) and a wonderful A-level English course, leading onto an English degree (I think some were quite surprised by this last fact!). I went on to talk about how I quite often discover new writers through their short stories and then go on to reading novels by the same writer, although with Marquez this was the other way round; the first book I read by him was Love in the Time of Cholera. I gave them a bit of biographical context and then the extract that I read out was from The Third Resignation – an early piece very much in the magical realist style and describing the first-hand experiences of a boy who is a living corpse kept by his family in a coffin. Judging from their faces, all the pupils I read this out to were suitably transfixed by what is a magnificently sensual evocation of a waking nightmare!”

Next we talked with Mrs Bailey, PA to the Head of Girls and Mrs Koulouris, one of our librarians:

“Just finished Me Before You Jojo Moyes! Fantastic book…  Heart-wrenching, believable story line.  If you don’t cry over this you haven’t got a heart”.  Mrs Koulouris says that they didn’t cry over the same parts of the story but nonetheless both equally enjoyed it.  She has just started Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowers which is another lovely story.

Thirdly, Mr Binnie, a Chemistry teacher, contacted us saying:

“I read my Year 7 science class a small section of Stephen Hawking’s book The Grand Design. The passage included reference to multi universes existing which they found fascinating.  They had loads of questions and asked about aliens, evolution and all sorts of stuff. I had an exciting practical prepared for them which they always enjoy so I asked them after 20 minutes of discussion whether they wanted to do the practical. About 75% wanted to continue with the discussion so we did and there were about 5 hands up at all times in the lesson and we talked about all aspects of science.

We did this for the whole hour lesson and they really enjoyed it and I did too.”

I find it so refreshing that teachers and staff from all areas have been in touch to talk about the pleasure gained from reading, whether it be fiction or non-fiction; books, newspapers or magazines, and the fact that staff and pupils alike borrow many books from here, is extremely satisfying!