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 (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 Christmas Reads… (1)

We are all great readers here, as you may expect, and members of staff from all disciplines are represented in our staff book club.  Our Head of Science, Mr Robinson, wrote to me this morning to tell me about a series of books which he’s just finished reading.  This was no mean achievement, given that there are 28, yes, 28 books which complete the series!

This series of books was written by Alexander Kent and recalls the exciting tales of Richard and Adam Bolitho, sailors in the Royal Navy during the eighteenth century.  The first novel in this series is To Glory We Steer.  Here’s what Mr Robinson has to say:

“I finished off a series of  28 books over the Christmas holidays. They are the ‘Bolitho’ novels by Alexander Kent, a nom de plume for Douglas Reeman. I must confess to finding the books rather addictive and as I was reading on a Kindle, it was so easy to buy the next book once I had finished one except for two novels in the series which irritatingly were not on Kindle and I had to buy proper books with real pages to read these!  (Good! What would he have done without the print copies?! ed.) The books are about the life and career of a Naval officer in the time of Nelson. The books were all quite formulaic and I did get a bit frustrated about the constant complexities of his love life and the ever present incompetent senior officer. This said, I got quite hooked and felt totally bereft when I finished the series.”

If you like reading historical stories of fascinating sailors and high seas, these are for you!  To find out more, click here.  Douglas Reeman also writes under his own name, on naval action during the twentieth century.  His main interest focuses on the British Royal Navy.  I wonder whether Mr Robinson will begin his next reading marathon with these more modern texts soon!

to glory we steer

 

 

 

Berkhamsted School Staff Book Club, latest meeting notes…

At our last meeting, we discussed three novels, all very different in style and content.  First on our list was the challenge of a male member of the club: ‘Women don’t read John le Carré’, so we read le Carré’s novel A Murder of Quality.  Given that the majority of us are women, we took up the challenge!  On the whole, we enjoyed the novel very much, despite the unattractive group of characters and the dismal time of year when the murder took place.  We felt it was cleverly written, its spare, minimalist prose built up the tension and drama.  It left us wondering whose side is le Carré on…  Smiley is acting in a more detective-like role, but is nonetheless as effective as when he is the spy.

Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle was a completely different genre.  Some found it bizarrely compelling, with others not liking it at all.  It was well-written but clearly a reflection of Jackson’s turbulent mind, with the symbiotic relationships between the sisters, and other characters.  The tale portrays small town America in an unfavourable light, however the descriptions of the surroundings of the castle are almost poetic.

Our third novel was The Secret Place by Tana French.  Most readers enjoyed it very much, although the supernatural element to the tale appeared superfluous.  The story revolves around the relationships between girls at an independent girls’ boarding school in Dublin and the murder of a boy from the corresponding boys’ school, on the grounds of the former school.  We are told the story both from the girls’ perspective and that of the young male detective, who is striving to make his mark in the murder squad.  Interesting, strange and holds the attention.

We also discussed other books which we had read over the summer and I include these for your reference as books which you may wish to include on your Christmas lists:

 

  1. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand click here for a link to a website dedicated to this book.  Hilary recommended it and Sarah read it during the break.   Discussion of the novel was very interesting with Patrick and Hilary representing opposing views about Rand and her theories, philosophies and ideas on economics and the workings of the world.  Fascinating stuff!
  2. The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurin – (read in translation from the French). Again,  the book has its own website, click on the book title to go there.  This was a great little book about the positive impact that François Mitterand’s hat has on the lives of four different individuals after they have worn it… A light but entertaining read!
  3. We are all completely besides ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler – this was another curious summer read for Beth and me, well-written story, although a bit strange. It’s very different from The Jane Austen book club, one of the author’s previous works.
  4. Shadowlands by William Nicholson: Kafka-esque.
  5. Probably nothing : a diary of not-your-average nine months by Matilda Tristram. A graphic novel written by a woman who had been diagnosed with cancer, about her experiences
  6. Novels by the late P D James
  7. Books by Antonia Senior
  8. Books by Philippa Gregory
  9. Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  10. Books by Gerald Seymour
  11. The house we grew up in by Lisa Jewell
  12. Books by Louis Theroux

We won’t be meeting again until after Christmas – so here’s wishing all the greetings of the season and enjoy the holidays!

World Book Day 2014: celebrations in school (2)

Welcome to part two of our posts about our celebrations for World Book Day 2014.  We took our lead from the World Book Day 2014 website  and decided to create our own ‘Writes of Passage’ noticeboard.  We had a banner made for each of our school libraries and placed them close to, or at the top of, a noticeboard.  We then invited as many people as possible to complete blank postcards with details of books which had meant a lot to them as they were reading them.  We had a terrific response!  Many were colourful and some contained entire illustrations.  Many congratulations and thanks to all who participated!

We were delighted that so many people participated – we received 322 cards and the majority of books shared were shared by only one person, and amongst them, there were only a few adults represented, thus providing an overwhelming impression that our children are reading and reading so diversely!  The children also voted outstandingly in favour of print editions over electronic versions of books.  Hooray!  Our top ten books, (including series) are as follows:

1.     The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins

2.    The Fault in Our Stars John Green

3.     To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee

4.     Harry Potter series J K Rowling

5.     The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas John Boyne

6.     The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time Mark Haddon

7.     The Book Thief Markus Zusak

8.     The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared Jonas Jonasson

9.     The Inheritance Cycle Christopher Paolini

10.   The Perks of Being a Wallflower Stephen Chbosky

Interesting that our top four also rank in the top four on the World Book Day 2014 list!

The Orange Prize 2012 shortlist

Here in Berkhamsted School Library, we are trying so hard not to put through an order for our own copies of this year’s shortlisted books as we would like to share them with you all!  I cannot wait to get started on these titles, they all look like thoroughly good reads, especially for those long summer holidays…

The shortlist for 2012 looks like a particular well-chosen collection of books with some fascinating stories to keep our reading brains tuned in over the next few weeks.  It’s good to see Esi Edugyan‘s Half Blood Blues on the shortlist after she wasn’t successful in winning the Man Booker Prize of 2011 after being shortlisted for that prize too:

“From Weimar Berlin to the fall of Paris, and on to the present day, danger, jealousy and inspiration combine to tempt a man to a secret betrayal. The aftermath of the fall of Paris, 1940. Hieronymous Falk, a rising star on the cabaret scene, was arrested in a cafe and never heard from again. He was twenty years old. He was a German citizen. And he was black. Fifty years later, Sid, Hiero’s bandmate and the only witness that day, is going back to Berlin. Persuaded by his old friend Chip, Sid discovers there’s more to the journey than he thought when Chip shares a mysterious letter, bringing to the surface secrets buried since Hiero’s fate was settled. In “Half Blood Blues”, Esi Edugyan weaves the horror of betrayal, the burden of loyalty and the possibility that, if you don’t tell your story, someone else might tell it for you. And they just might tell it wrong… ”  Nielsen BookData Online

Anne Enright‘s new novel, The Forgotten Waltz, will hopefully be as successful as her previous book, The Gathering, winner of the Man Booker Prize 2007, it certainly looks like it’s an excellent book to read:

“If it hadn’t been for the child then none of this might have happened. She saw me kissing her father. She saw her father kissing me. The fact that a child got mixed up in it all made us feel that it mattered, that there was no going back. “The Forgotten Waltz” is that rare thing: the literary page turner…It is an acutely tender depiction of the complex familial bonds joining us, a delicate portrait of love, loss and hope, from a formidably talented writer”. (Claire Kilroy, “Financial Times”).”  Nielsen BookData Online

Painter of Silence is Georgina Harding’s fifth book and third novel.  From the synopsis below, it makes for a superb story:

“Iasi, Romania, the early 1950s. A nameless man is found on the steps of a hospital. Deaf and mute, he is unable to communicate until a young nurse called Safta brings paper and pencils with which he can draw. Slowly, painstakingly, memories appear on the page. The memories are Safta’s also. For the man is Augustin, son of the cook at the manor house which was Safta’s family home. Born six months apart, they grew up with a connection that bypassed words. But while Augustin’s world remained the same size Safta’s expanded to embrace languages, society – and a fleeting love, one long, hot summer. But then came war, and in its wake a brutal Stalinist regime, and nothing would remain the same.”  Nielsen BookData Online

It’s always gratifying when a writer’s debut novel appears on literary prize shortlists, and  here we welcome the efforts of Madeline Miller. Her work, The Song of Achillesis a re-telling of the Iliad:

“Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their differences, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’s mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear. ”  Nielsen BookData Online

Cynthia Ozick, a well-known American author, whose work appears here for the first time, has written critically acclaimed and award-winning short stories and literary essays.  Her new novel, Foreign Bodies, should be an intriguing book to read:

“The collapse of her brief marriage has stalled Bea Nightingale’s life, leaving her middle-aged and alone, teaching in an impoverished borough of 1950s New York. A plea from her estranged brother gives Bea the excuse to escape, by leaving for Paris to retrieve a nephew she barely knows; but the siren call of Europe threatens to deafen Bea to the dangers of entangling herself in the lives of her brother’s family. By one of America’s great living writers, Foreign Bodies is a truly virtuosic novel. The story of Bea’s travails on the continent is a fierce and heartbreaking insight into the curious nature of love: how it can be commanded and abused; earned and cherished; or even lost altogether.”   Nielsen BookData Online

Finally, we come to a previous winner of the 2002 Orange Prize for her novel Bel Canto, Anne Patchett.  Her latest offering, State of Wonder, seems to be a fascinating thriller:

“There were people on the banks of the river. Among the tangled waterways and giant anacondas of the Brazilian Rio Negro, an enigmatic scientist is developing a drug that could alter the lives of women for ever. Dr Annick Swenson’s work is shrouded in mystery; she refuses to report on her progress, especially to her investors, whose patience is fast running out. Anders Eckman, a mild-mannered lab researcher, is sent to investigate. A curt letter reporting his untimely death is all that returns. Now Marina Singh, Anders’ colleague and once a student of the mighty Dr Swenson, is their last hope. Compelled by the pleas of Anders’s wife, who refuses to accept that her husband is not coming home, Marina leaves the snowy plains of Minnesota and retraces her friend’s steps into the heart of the South American darkness, determined to track down Dr. Swenson and uncover the secrets being jealously guarded among the remotest tribes of the rainforest. What Marina does not yet know is that, in this ancient corner of the jungle, where the muddy waters and susurrating grasses hide countless unknown perils and temptations, she will face challenges beyond her wildest imagination. Marina is no longer the student, but only time will tell if she has learnt enough.”  Nielsen BookData Online

I hope that these short overviews will inspire you all to read these works of fiction and if you have read them already, please let us know what you think.  As I’ve mentioned at the beginning of this post, I am waiting for the summer holidays to arrive before I can begin!

Berkhamsted School plays host to two really good authors for children, part 2: Paul Dowswell

Paul Dowswell, a children’s author, spoke to Year 7 and Year 8 boys on the  research he carried out to assist him in his writing of his historical novel Auslander.  Set against the backdrop of Hitler and the Second World War, Paul examined what it was like for the Germans who were against Hitler’s regime and against Nazism.  He captures  the essence of their fear whilst highlighting the true bravery and courage shown by  German individuals . It’s a superb novel suitable for both children and adults alike.

Within the presentation Paul spoke to the boys on what German life was like under Hitler. The control he exercised across all areas of life including babies’ first books, the family unit, a doll’s house, children’s games and political postcards: all examples of primary sources which he came across whilst carrying out his research in Berlin . The slides in the photos hone in on specific examples of the control, manipulation and propaganda which was cloaked across Germany.  Although the boys are not specifically focussing on this period of History they did impress Paul with their knowledge  and their engagement during the event was a joy to the eyes.

From Fact to Fiction

We invited Paul in specifically to fit in with a forthcoming Library research project embedded in their scheme of work.  Year 8 will be involved in carrying out a History research project on Elizabethan life. Although this author does not write about the Elizabethans he does very successfully include historical facts into a wonderful and thrilling story and it is this which is the key, as we want our boys to do something similar. When the project lessons  begin next term, we will be able to look back and discuss his process of research, sources he used and finally how he uses those facts in his story. We hope that this will help the boys when they come to write their own historical diaries.

Berkhamsted School plays host to two really good authors for children, part 1: Mary Hooper

Mary Hooper visited the School on 8th November to speak to all the girls in Year 8 about how she writes a book. Mary is a prolific and very popular author. She has written contemporary and historical fiction for children and young adults, but her love is history. Her talk included many of her novels, focusing on her Tudor fiction since this is a period of history that Year 8 is looking at this year. Her illustrated talk took the girls on a fascinating literary journey, from the initial idea for a novel to editing the final copy. Along the way Mary revealed some remarkable pieces of history – from bills of mortality to photographs of a Victorian steam laundry. Her talk was both informative and an inspiration for all budding novelists; offering an insight into many and varied aspects of British history. The girls responded with lots of questions and by scurrying at is conclusion to buy her books, clearly inspired to read and enjoy more.  Mary’s latest book is called Velvet and is about an orphan of the same name as the novel who is a laundress in a Victorian steam laundry.  It is billed as a ‘romantic and thrillingly exciting new novel’ (NielsenBookdataOnline) – one for the library, I think!

2011 Man Booker Prize shortlisted books now in Castle Library! (part 2)

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan:

“The aftermath of the fall of Paris, 1940. Hieronymous Falk, a rising star on the cabaret scene, was arrested in a cafe and never heard from again. He was twenty years old. He was a German citizen. And he was black. Fifty years later, Sid, Hiero’s bandmate and the only witness that day, is going back to Berlin. Persuaded by his old friend Chip, Sid discovers there’s more to the journey than he thought when Chip shares a mysterious letter, bringing to the surface secrets buried since Hiero’s fate was settled. In Half Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan weaves the horror of betrayal, the burden of loyalty and the possibility that, if you don’t tell your story, someone else might tell it for you. And they just might tell it wrong…”  http://www.themanbookerprize.com/prize/books/459

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman:

“Newly arrived from Ghana with his mother and older sister, eleven-year-old Harrison Opoku lives on the ninth floor of a block of flats on an inner-city housing estate. The second best runner in the whole of Year 7, Harri races through his new life in his personalised trainers – the Adidas stripes drawn on with marker pen – blissfully unaware of the very real threat all around him. With equal fascination for the local gang – the Dell Farm Crew – and the pigeon who visits his balcony, Harri absorbs the many strange elements of his new life in England: watching, listening, and learning the tricks of inner-city survival. But when a boy is knifed to death on the high street and a police appeal for witnesses draws only silence, Harri decides to start a murder investigation of his own. In doing so, he unwittingly endangers the fragile web his mother has spun around her family to try and keep them safe. A story of innocence and experience, hope and harsh reality, Pigeon English is a spellbinding portrayal of a boy balancing on the edge of manhood and of the forces around him that try to shape the way he falls.”  http://www.themanbookerprize.com/prize/books/448

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick De Witt:

“Oregon, 1851. Eli and Charlie Sisters, notorious professional killers, are on their way to California to kill a man named Hermann Kermit Warm. On the way, the brothers have a series of unsettling and violent experiences in the Darwinian landscape of Gold Rush America. Charlie makes money and kills anyone who stands in his way; Eli doubts his vocation and falls in love. And they bicker a lot. Then they get to California, and discover that Warm is an inventor who has come up with a magical formula, which could make all of them very rich. What happens next is utterly gripping, strange and sad. Told in deWitt’s darkly comic and arresting style, The Sisters Brothers is the kind of western the Coen Brothers might write – stark, unsettling and with a keen eye for the perversity of human motivation.”  http://www.themanbookerprize.com/prize/books/452