Drop Everything And Read (2)

For our second Drop Everything And Read post, we hear from one of our English teachers, Mr Harrison, who writes about his choices for the day: Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie, The diary of a young girl by Anne Frank, and The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald:

“I read the opening of the final chapter of ‘Cider with Rosie’ to my Lower 6th students  – here is a snippet of Lee’s wistful conclusion to one of my favourite narratives of all time:

“The last days of my childhood were also the last days of the village. I belonged to that generation which saw, by chance, the end of a thousand years’ life…Myself, my family, my generation, were born in a world of silence; a world of hard work and necessary patience, of backs bent to the ground, hands massaging the crops, of waiting on weather and growth; of villages like ships in the empty landscapes and the long walking distances between them; of white narrow roads, rutted by hooves and cartwheels, innocent of oil or petrol, down which people passed rarely, and almost never for pleasure, and the horse was the fastest thing moving. Man and horse were all the power we had – abetted by levers and pulleys.” 

My Year 11 boys listened to the final diary entry of Anne Frank… they related so much to Anne’s musings on adolescence: ‘I know exactly how I’d like to be, how I am… on the inside. But unfortunately I’m only like that with myself…’  

 My Year 9 boys were treated to the ‘whisperings and the champagne and the stars’ with the much-celebrated opening of Chapter 3 from Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’.

All wonderful books to read, and beautifully described…  Each makes me want to read them again.

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Enjoy indeed!

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Drop Everything And Read (1)

For World Book Day, we asked members of staff to tell us what they would recommend to their classes and each other on World Book Day, Thursday 1st March.  It seems like an age ago now, but to librarians World Book Day happens every day and we like to share, especially when the books are not necessarily on our radar.  It was a snowy day, and the following day, when we hoped to continue the celebrations, our school was closed so unfortunately we weren’t able to share as much as we’d liked…  Here are a selection that we received:

Mr Moore, History teacher said: “I had a great time with my year 8 History class who told me their favourite books. I read the opening of True grit by Charles Portis (my favourite book) and for good measure showed them the trailer to the recent film adaption. Hopefully I have converted a few Year 8’s to trying a western!”

Mr Ottaway, who teaches Economics and is a Head of Sixth Form House at Berkhamsted replied: “I am reading, and have recommended to Economics Society, the following book: The black swan by Nassim Taleb.”

Mr Cowie, Head of Economics, is further increasing his knowledge of twentieth century history, particularly World War II: “… not much reading at present,  but tucking into ‘The War in the West’ Volumes 1 and 2 by James Holland.”

All fascinating titles, and good reading – of this I am certain.  Do let us know what you think.

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More Spring reading…

Mrs Braint, who works at Berkhamsted as a Teaching Assistant, has recommended a novel which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2015, Anthony Doerr’s All the light we cannot see.   Here are her thoughts when I first asked her what she was reading:

“It is set in the beginning of WWII and the chapters oscillate between Werner, a very bright German orphan, and Marie-Laure  who has been blind since the age of 6. The writing is so clever because it is very descriptive but he draws on all your senses to imagine the scenes, he doesn’t  just describe the sights. I think this is ingenious  because  one of the characters is blind. I’m only a third of the way through and obviously don’t know where the plot is going to go, nevertheless I would highly  recommend this book….”

And when she finished the book, she continued:

“[I] loved it! I would definitely recommend it. It’s his style of writing, I was utterly immersed in the story and setting.”

Other readers I know have also enjoyed Doerr’s book immensely and so, naturally, it will be on my tbr list for the forthcoming Easter holidays.

all the light we cannot see

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 (5)

For our next instalment of our ‘Holiday reading’ series, we are considering two books read by possibly the two most avid readers I know: Ms Wylie (Drama) and  Mr Harrison (English).  They have each enjoyed reading very different novels during the holidays; Ms Wylie’s recommendation being A little life by Hanya Yanagihara and Mr Harrison’s, A pocketful of crows by Joanne Harris.

Ms Wylie describes A little life as “one of the best books I have ever read” and this is echoed in reviews of the book in newspapers and book review sites such as Goodreads… Such reviews have provoked much weighty discussion and forthright views! Here’s a synopsis:

 “When four graduates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome – but that will define his life forever.” (Picador, accessed 31 January 2018.)

Of his choice, Mr Harrison says:

One of my favourite books over the Christmas holidays was  A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne Harris – an enchanting tale which structurally follows the seasons of the timeless English countryside. The central figure is a ‘wild girl’, one of ‘the travelling folk’, who falls in love with a man of ‘our world’. It is the most graceful evocation of woodland folklore entwined with the agony of heartbreak. The composition is a dark fairy tale based loosely on one of the legendary ‘Child Ballads’. The hypnotising illustrations by Bonnie Helen Hawkins of hares, foxes and stags are as delightful as the prose. If you are someone who finds beauty in nature, wonder in storytelling and mystery in white magic, I recommend this. Best enjoyed by the fireside with a hearty chalice of mulled wine and guitar melodies dreamily serenading you… “

Two intriguing novels, vastly different from each other, but equally arresting – which one to choose first?  Possibly A little life, with A pocketful of crows as a respite to follow? Do tell us what you think.

The Staff Book Club enjoys the first meeting of term…

We had our first meeting of the term yesterday and, since we were lucky enough to receive ten copies of The Chilbury ladies’ choir by Jennifer Ryan, together with a bottle of Plymouth gin, angostura bitters, oat butter cookies, and bunting, balloons and messerschmidt aeroplanes from HarperCollins to decorate, we had a party!   We held the party in the Chapel at our King’s Road campus…

Chilbury party

Generally, members of the club enjoyed the book, saying it was a relaxing read: humorous, warm, and a little bit shocking, but then we remembered that Chilbury was right in the firing line from Hitler’s air force, times were desperate and really quite awful, especially when the bomb landed. A couple of members didn’t like the novel and felt it was unrealistic in terms of the events described, and attitudes of the characters.  They believed it to be too saccharine at times and felt that we had lost sight of the choir by the end.  They also felt that the ending was predictable.

This being said, we liked the idea of the story being told in diary, journal and letter entries, and felt that this was an effective way to get across multiple versions of the events, getting a full picture of how each individual saw how the story unfolded.  Telling a story in this way somehow seems to make it feel that we are more intimately involved in it by reading the personal writings of an individual.

We felt that the midwife, Edwina Paltrey, should never be forgiven for her actions, being the cold-hearted, calculating creature that she was.  However harsh her background, and despite the forgiveness she was seeking from her sister by trying to make things right between them, her actions were completely reprehensible!

Elements of the story described rather accurately the class system and attitude towards women which persisted at the time, with particular reference to the Brigadier and his treatment of his daughters and wife.

Some members felt that more could have been made of the choir, and felt that more could have been made of its importance after Hattie and Prim died, but the overwhelming feeling that making the music was a joyous act, unifying all those women, and strengthening their resolve to get through the war in a supportive and caring environment.  One also felt that they had gained in confidence themselves.

Read this novel if you like stories such as Call the midwife…

chilbury

 

 

Berkhamsted School Staff Book Club

We held our first meeting of the year this week!   Yes, I know, we’re approaching the end of March already but, here in Berkhamsted, life has simply been too busy for everyone to meet, indeed, this meeting was postponed and rearranged three times!

We had an animated and very enjoyable meeting, nevertheless, despite the fact that we were still a couple of members short.  We discussed Jacqueline Woodson‘s novel Another Brooklyn, published by Oneworld Publications and other books which we have recently enjoyed reading.

We all had differing views about Another Brooklyn, and came to the meeting feeling that we either liked or disliked it.  The discussion was interesting because we shared initial thoughts, then answered the questions which the book’s publisher had sent, and, through discussion, some of us changed the way we had thought about the book and saw it in a new light (or aspects of it at least!).  The story tells of a woman who, at the beginning of the novel, is present at the funeral of her father, and is catching up with her brother and his news, after spending time abroad as part of her job and looking after their father before he died.  After bidding goodbye to her brother, she encounters another woman on the train with whom she, and two others, had shared a particularly close friendship during their adolescence.  This group of four girls gradually disintegrated as the girls grew up and apart, seeking different dreams from each other.  The story is told in the form of a prose poem, and as such, is lyrical in tone, and is set in the mid to late 1970s in the then dangerous world of Brooklyn.  It covers the themes of memory, death, religion and race as well as the concept of close friendship. We ended the meeting less divided in opinion than at the beginning, but remained in one camp or the other, some liked it and others didn’t! I did…

another brooklyn

Recommended reading from the group includes the following books this month:

  • A death in Tuscany by Michele Giuttari
  • Catilina’s riddle by Stephen Saylor
  • The last of the great storytellers : tales from the heart of Morocco by Richard Hamilton
  • The breakdown by B A Paris
  • Quiet : the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain
  • In the unlikely event by Judy Blume
  • My husband next door by Catherine Alliott
  • The return by Victoria Hislop
  • The thread by Victoria Hislop
  • All the bright places by Jennifer Niven
  • The marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris
  • The other half of my heart by Stephanie Butland
  • A nun’s story by Sister Agatha
  • Nice cup of tea and a sit down (Nicey and Wifey)
  • Mrs Poe by Lynne Cullen
  • My sweet revenge by Jane Fallon
  • Pushing perfect by Michelle Falkoff
  • A secret garden by Katie Fforde

This list demonstrates a wide and varied selection of reading tastes.  If you have read any of the titles on here, please do get in touch and let me know what you think.

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 (6)

The Christmas reading recommendations are still coming in!  Mrs Kelly, one of our Assistant Librarians, read three books: two in English and a third in her mother tongue of Polish, our second novel from foreign literature discussed in this series.

Mrs Kelly’s first novel is The good liar by Nicholas Searle.  She says:

“Nicholas Searle’s first novel, The Good Liar, is a story principally about Roy (one among his various identities), a conman, who is planning to pull off his final financial scam. He hooks up with a wealthy widow and plans to run away with her life savings.

The structure takes you backwards and forwards, revealing Roy’s life bit by bit, starting in contemporary Britain, and then reverting back to 1938 Berlin.  I must admit, I was considering giving up at the beginning, as I simply couldn’t get into the story, but I am so glad I persevered! Loved it! The story unfolds, culminating in a fabulous ending.”

Sounds like an arresting story (no pun intended)… One I’d very much like to read, and, although my to-be-read list keeps growing, I have already started on one of the previous recommendations (S J Watson’s Before I go to sleep, after comments by Miss Anderson made it so intriguing).  Book number two on Mrs Kelly’s list is Austin Wright’s Tony and Susan:

“It grabbed me straight from the beginning! The story is about Susan, an English University lecturer, who receives a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward, requesting an honest opinion. Since Edward’s ambition of becoming a writer was partly to blame for the breaking of their marriage, Susan is anxious about reading it. She does, however, and submerges herself into the novel, titled Nocturnal Animals. The reader then is drawn into yet another novel; very dramatic and gripping, about some tragic events in a life of Tony – a maths professor. Both stories interchange with one another, keeping you on your toes! Excellent read. Nocturnal Animals was actually adapted into the 2016 film, of the same title, by Tom Ford, its director.”

Oh no, the more reviews I read, my list increases in size!  And the third novel is one I’d like to read in translation.  Mrs Kelly says this about Bokserka by Grazyna Plebanek:

“It’s a multi-layered story about women, their desires, and breaking the stereotypes (the protagonist, Lu, fights in the boxing ring, whilst working in an embassy in Brussels, at the same time). The novel also discusses the whole generation of current thirty year-olds – people who are not afraid of many things and know no barriers. It did annoyed me at times, however, as it seems to portray feminism in the way I would not necessarily agree with. Glad I read it though!”

Many thanks, go to Mrs Kelly and all our readers, for their contributions.  It will soon be too late to feature Christmas reading so as and when we read more books and I receive more reviews, I will post them immediately.  In the libraries we are busy with History projects covering World War I and the Elizabethans, we are learning as much as the children from their fantastic teachers.

Further reading:

The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle review – a thriller that will trip you up

Tony & Susan by Austin Wright

Grazyna Plebanak

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!”