Holiday reading (4)

Today, as part 4 of our Holiday reading series, we are looking at books read and recommended by Ms Rossington, one of our inspiring English teachers.  She enjoyed Sarah Perry‘s second novel, The Essex serpent,  and Zana Fraillon‘s book which was nominated for the Carnegie Medal for children’s literature 2017The bone sparrow.

Of both novels Ms Rossington says:

“I thought the first was an extraordinary piece of writing and the second made me cry. Quite a lot.”

Ms Rossington has since recommended the latter to girls in their library reading lesson. I have been meaning to read both of these titles for ages, and now feel spurred on to do so.  Here’s a little more information on each:

The Essex serpent

“London, 1893. When Cora Seaborne’s controlling husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness. Along with her son Francis – a curious, obsessive boy – she leaves town for Essex, in the hope that fresh air and open space will provide refuge.

On arrival, rumours reach them that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming lives, has returned to the coastal parish of Aldwinter. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist with no patience for superstition, is enthralled, convinced that what the local people think is a magical beast may be a yet-undiscovered species.” Serpent’s Tail, publisher, accessed 29 January 2018.

The bone sparrow

“Born in a refugee camp, all Subhi knows of the world is that he’s at least 19 fence diamonds high, and that the nice Jackets never stay long. But his world is far bigger than that—every night, the magical Night Sea from his mother’s stories brings him gifts, the faraway whales sing to him, and the birds tell their stories. And as he grows, his imagination threatens to burst beyond the limits of his containment.

The most vivid story of all, however, is the one that arrives one night in the form of Jimmie—a scruffy, impatient girl who appears on the other side of the wire fence. She carries a notebook that she’s unable to read and wearing a sparrow made of bone around her neck – both talismans of her family’s past and the mother she’s lost – Jimmie strikes up an unlikely friendship with Subhi beyond the fence. As he reads aloud the tale of how Jimmie’s family came to be, both children discover the importance of their own stories in writing their futures.” Zana Fraillon, accessed 29 January 2018.

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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.

 

Berkhamsted School Staff Book Club meets again…

We had a lively and interesting meeting last Tuesday (17th May), and discussed two books Katherine Webb’s The legacy and Father’s Day by Simon van Booy.

the legacyGenerally we all enjoyed the books to some extent, but had more to say individually.  Katherine Webb’s novel was felt to have been well-written and a good read, with plenty of plot and storyline, however some felt that the ending needed a clearer definition: there were interesting threads which we as readers knew to be part of the story but the protagonist seemed to feel satisfied that they were not brought together for her; of course, this is purely the preference of two of the readers.  Some members of the group felt that this fact made it more realistic because in life, things aren’t always resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, but we others, whilst recognising this, felt that here, somehow, it would have made for a better ending for everything to be tied up.  The characterisation was good and the settings were interesting.  Our thanks go to HarperCollins for a copy to review.

Father's Day

Father’s Day was generally liked very much.  For a novel whose story involves travelling between the past and the present, generally we felt that this was done seamlessly with items signifying  good or important memories invoking events from the past between the two protagonists.  The story was told simply and not  sentimentally, we felt, although one member of the group disagreed.  The back story was intriguing and provided a good deal to question and talk about. The characters were likeable and interesting, with their story, whilst dramatic in itself, told calmly and almost gently. We should like to say thank you to One World Publications for the advance copy.

As usual, we then had a discussion of books which we’d recently read and enjoyed, please see the list below:

Missing, presumed – Susie Steiner

My map of you – Isabelle Broom

Maestra – L S Hilton

You sent me a letter – Lucy Dawson

The boy on the wooden box – Leon Leyson

Am I normal yet? – Holly Bourne

The storyteller – Jodi Picoult

Faces in the smoke – Josef Perl

The girl on the train – Paula Hawkins

Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

All the light we cannot see – Anthony Doerr

A book which looks absolutely fascinating and which I would love to read this summer is A life discarded by Alexander Masters (author of Stuart : a life backwards).  He found some diaries in a skip outside a house which was being cleared in Cambridge, and which were written by one hand spanning five decades.  Apparently they reveal an ordinary life lived but one which is, at times, shocking, poignant, and hilarious…

If you have read any of these fantastic novels, please do get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.

Finally, we hope, as a group, to see the long-awaited film adaptation of a favourite book of ours, Jojo Moyes’s Me before you, which is out on general release in cinemas from Friday 3rd June…Check out this blog for a review!

 

 

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 (3)

Part three of the Christmas reading project features a selection from Mrs Kelly, one of my fellow librarians, of novels which she read during the holidays.  She read two of these in translation in her native Polish, despite being fluent in English!  The first, however, was originally written and read in English.  It’s Matthew Thomas’s novel entitled We are not ourselves:

“[This is] a very compelling novel of a family (Irish emigrants in America) dealing with challenging circumstances. A very intimate portrait of a daughter, wife, mother, nurse, alcoholic. Interestingly, written by a man!”

The author appears to have put so much into the consideration of his characters, which is appealing to a reader… One more for my list!  The next on Mrs Kelly’s, is Yann Martel‘s first novel, Self.  She says:

” [This was] interesting but [I] had some mixed feelings.  A fictional auto-biography of a Canadian-born traveller and writer. Initially, rather funny, but I was disappointed with the way the gender issues were portrayed. Definitely an adult content.”

It is always good to have some topical issues to discuss, perhaps this one should be on our reading group list.  Her final choice is Rakesh Satyal’s Blue Boy:

“A lovely story about a boy, who certainly is a bit of an outcast amongst his male peers – loves pink, girls’ toys and secretly uses mum’s make up. A novel about searching for an answer to the question: Who am I? And it is all in the colourful Indian world.”

These Christmas posts are manifesting some very different types of stories and show the versatility of a reading mind.  I like the fact that they are not all new books, just released as well, showing the enduring nature of reading as a pastime. Contact us with your views…

 

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.

I was here (Gayle Forman)

Gayle Forman’s latest publication, I was here, tells the heartbreaking story of a young woman who has to cope with the loss of her best friend to suicide.  The book takes her on a journey of realisation that there was absolutely nothing she could have done to save her friend from her fate.  The author adroitly delves into the mysterious and dangerous territory of internet chat rooms, exploring how they can draw young people in and encourage them to take their conversations offline.  The idea that vulnerable young adults can be influenced and actively encouraged to take their own lives is discussed and brought to the fore.  As Cody progresses along her path to discover why and how Megan makes her decision to commit suicide, devastated as she is, she looks at her own life, thinks about the state of her own mental health and comes to understand that life isn’t like that for everyone, and that people can, with the right support, move on from such a tragedy.  The story is an important one for teens to to read, (although I would recommend this book for the more emotionally resilient), and the subject matter is handled delicately and thoughtfully.  I found that it could possibly help a young person facing these issues, and wish very much that Gayle Forman had written the novel when I was writing my master’s dissertation on how bibliotherapy can help people from this age group.

iwashere

Berkhamsted School Christmas Reads… (2)

Welcome to part two of our Christmas Reads.  I have just heard from one of our wonderful Art Technicians, (a very accomplished artist in her own right), who read an intriguing biography during the Christmas break.  Mrs Murray read Sofka Zinovieff’s book The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and me.  She writes:

“She [Zinovieff] tells the story of Lord Berners as he composes and carouses with her grandfather, Robert Heber-Percy, in fashionable upper class society between the wars: dying the doves rainbow colours, and horses drinking tea in the sitting room. Cecil Beaton and Evelyn Waugh all pop by regularly for weekend house parties…  So entertaining, and such a twist at the end… I do love a biography!”

And this one sounds gripping, one that I will definitely look out for in the bookshops or public library.  Rachel Cooke, writing for The Observer on Sunday 19th October 2014 says at the end of her article:

“The result is a book that is unputdownable and – thanks to her publisher – gloriously lavish, something fascinating to gaze at on every page…”  Ms Cooke clearly enjoyed the book as well, to read her thoughts on the book, click on the link to The Observer above.

mad boy, lord berners

 

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 Rosie Project (part 2!) (Graeme Simsion)

The_Rosie_Project_jktFollowing on from my last blog post, we have now had a book group meeting where we discussed Graeme Simsion’s novel, The Rosie Project.  We all enjoyed it so much, and could easily identify with the characters, recognising traits of Dr Don Tillman in all of us (some more than others!).  One member of the group even professed to be Don!  Some amongst us had been to meet the author at Chorleywood Library on Thursday 13th February and were treated to a very entertaining evening. Graeme Simsion talked about how he had come to write the book (originally conceived as a screenplay for a film), where he drew his inspiration from and how he has indeed, just turned the novel into a screenplay. He has also completed a sequel.  Both the film and second novel will be eagerly awaited by us!  The novel made us laugh out loud, as we did when we heard him speak.

At the back of the book, there are some cocktail recipes which Don memorises for a reunion of the medics who were contemporaries of Rosie’s mother, which look quite fun to try.  You should also take the test to see whether you are compatible with Don and would make a good wife for this Professor who likes to live his life according to schedules and regimes!  If you are male, you could view this as a test to see whether you are Don!  Why not look at the website for the book and see which character you are most like?  Click here to find out.  Four of us tried the Wife Project quiz and one of us was very nearly a good match…

We also discussed Damian Barr’s book, Maggie and me. This memoir is an account of Damian’s difficult and poverty-stricken upbringing in suburban Glasgow close to the Ravenscraig Steelworks during the era of the Thatcher government.  The views of our reading group were quite varied: ‘I didn’t like the content, but found it compelling and couldn’t put it down’; ‘It was very interesting, if uncomfortable, reading’; ‘I enjoyed it.  It is very different from the books which we usually read.  It was not as dark as it could have been, Damian kept it fairly jovial considering what he was going through’.  Definitely one for the ‘to-read’ shelf…

maggie and me

Two of our members also found the time to read Capital Punishment by Robert Wilson:

Beautiful Alyshia D’Cruz has grown up in London and Mumbai wanting for nothing. But one night she takes the wrong cab home. Charles Boxer, expert in high-stakes kidnap resolution, teams up with his ex-partner, investigative cop Mercy Danquah, who’s battling with their rebellious teenage daughter. Alyshia’s father hires Boxer, who knows all about the tycoon’s colourful career, which has made him plenty of enemies. But despite the vast D’Cruz fortune, the kidnappers don’t want cash, instead favouring a cruel and lethal game…To save Alyshia, Boxer must dodge religious fanatics, Indian mobsters and London’s homegrown crimelords. CAPITAL PUNISHMENT is a journey to the dark side of people and places that lie just out of view, waiting for the moment to tear a life apart.   Neilsen Bookdata Online.

Our members really enjoyed it and found it good to read a book from the crime genre.  One said: ‘I have also finished Capital Punishment which I loved also. Enjoyed reading an English crime novel for a change. Loved that it was based in London so I could actually visualise where they were! Liked the characters’.  The other commented that it was a good thriller and kept him turning the pages.  It’s certainly on my pile to read next.

capital punishmentHappy reading!