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Literacy Time PLUS Book Reviews - September/October 2009

To read our July/August reviews click here

Connectors

Jill Eggleton
(Scholastic, various ISBNs)

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Reviewed by Jean Bews — Teacher and Literacy Coordinator, St Leonard’s Primary School, Bridgnorth

The Connectors series is spot on. Aimed at experienced Y4 readers and above, it can also be used with more able Y3s in their final term.

The principles and methods of reciprocal reading are very clearly and simply stated in Stage 1 of the teacher resource book and the text is a pleasure to read. It explains that reading comprehension is improved through the reciprocal reading strategies of predicting, clarifying, questioning and summarising. Through independent group discussions, teamwork and speaking and listening skills are encouraged. One child is given a leadership role within the group, which encourages responsibility and organizational skills. To anyone new to reciprocal reading this is all the explanation you are going to need, relevant and up to date. Stage 2 of the resource book gives suggestions on how to get started, including grouping, resources and goals.

I particularly like the ‘bright ideas’ sections, with suggestions such as, ‘establish a prediction board and choose children to make predictions each day.’ These ideas are short, to the point and very manageable. I shall certainly try some out. I also like the ‘questions’ section with prompt cards for children to cut out and use during group discussions. There is a section on assessment and evaluation, feedback about next steps and improving learning, as well as an observation template. Optional photocopiable worksheets are at the end, one for each reading book.

The Connectors series of non-fiction reading books are shared among a small group of pupils for independent group reading and peer-reading. Independently of the teacher or TA they can analyse the text, making connections, sharing opinions and evaluating together.

The author states that the books can be chosen randomly, which is useful. In my own case, An Idea Seed links very well to our theme of Inventions, and Extreme Environments with our recent topic on hot and cold climates. Other exciting titles include Treasures, Civilisations: Yesterday, Today and The Wonder of the Wind (to name just a few). The reading books are vibrant with large appealing and informative photographs. The text holds just the right air of mystery and wonder at the world, combined with scientific and technological explanation.

I shall be leading a staff meeting on reciprocal reading early next term and I shall use these materials to explain and promote it, and hopefully buy in more titles. I enjoyed reading about the author Jill Eggleton and her prolific writing. This work must surely be one of her best as I am most impressed. Nobody need think, ‘oh no, another initiative’ on hearing about reciprocal reading if they invest in these materials. The writing is some of the clearest I have read.


The Dragons of Ordinary Farm

Tad Williams and Deborah Beal
Quercus, hb £9.99, 978 18472 48213

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Reviewed by Ruby Daniels, age 9.

The Dragons of Ordinary Farm is a book that has two children, Tyler and Lucinda, as the main characters. They live in the city with their Mum and know as much about farm work as we do about Pluto’s moons…..zilch! But all that is about to change when their summer becomes like no other.

On the average farm there are chickens, horses, cows and pigs whereas Ordinary Farm boasts unicorns, dragons, flying monkeys and much more. If you are sensitive to villains, liars, strange languages, grizzly bears and dead people, then beware, as this story contains exactly that with fantasy, mysteries and COOL creatures too. The writing style reminds me of C S Lewis’ Narnia and you have to let yourself get into the book without expecting the laugh a minute banter found in a Harry Hill joke book.

This book could appear to be slightly daunting at first, but please don’t be put off. Once you get into the first few chapters, you will find it hard to put down. I will go as far as saying that this is one of the best books I have ever read, and I don’t doubt that it will be a best-seller.

Well done Tad Williams and Deborah Beal, this a truly phenomenal book and I only have praise to give it.


Who am I? The Family Tree Explorer

Anthony Adolph
Quercus, hb £14.99, 978 18472 45090

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‘The more you find out about your ancestors, the better you can answer the question ‘who am I?’’ says Anthony Adolph, author of this great book to help children trace their family history.

From asking grandparents for oral history recounts, to tracing your family name, this book is packed with fascinating facts, history, photos and loads of activities. Told in a chatty, accessible style, Who am I? delivers huge amounts of information, without becoming dry or boring. Varied text types develop history, literacy and research skills – as children discover their ancestry they’ll be learning without realising!

Read an extract from Chapter 11 of Who am I? on ‘How to decode a surname’ plus an author interview on the Literacy Time PLUS website.


A Child’s Day series

Various authors
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, various ISBNs

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Reviewed by Jake Maiden.

With some titles recently issued in paperback, the Child’s Day series, with its fantastic photography, will teach children about the lives of their counterparts in other countries, and how their cultures differ. Although mostly picture-based, these beautifully presented books are supplemented with facts about the country, a glossary, some typical words and phrases in the language and a pronunciation guide.

Perfect for any teacher wanting to explore other cultures with younger students, the series provides an insight into the lives of children living in many different countries including Lapland, South Africa, Vietnam, Peru and Brazil.


21st Century Boys: How Modern Life Is Driving Them Off The Rails And How We Can Get Them Back On Track

Sue Palmer
Orion Books, pb £14.99, 978 07528 90111

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Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood looks at the issues currently confronting boys, who face a growing tide of detachment and disaffection. From birth to leaving school, and explains how they develop and how parents and teachers can protect them from the damaging effects of modern life and help to make them healthy, resilient and normal adults.

Chapters cover the effects of mothers and mentors, how big business undermines parental authority and boys’ need for freedom, boisterous play and quests. Palmer also looks at the impact schooling can have on boys, discussing the reason why literacy is vital to their development, but shouldn’t be started too early, and how education and marketers battle for control of boys’ minds.

Useful chapter summaries draw out the key points in Palmer’s narrative, backed up with suggestions for actions that parents and teachers can take, as well as changes that she believes politicians need to make. Her engaging and readable style presents complex issues and studies in an accessible way, while her experience as a head teacher and educational consultant makes her suggestions relevant to teachers as well as parents.

For more information about Sue Palmer and her work, visit www.suepalmer.co.uk


I Wonder Why Records Are Broken

Simon Adams Macmillan, pb £5.99, 978 07534 17744

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Written in a conversational style, this book delivers child-friendly answers to the questions that young readers ask about the world around them. Offering solid non-fiction information in a natural, amusing and imaginative way, I Wonder Why Records Are Broken takes a look at the biggest, the smallest, the highest, the lowest, the fastest, the slowest – and many other facts, figures, records and measurements. A whole range of topics are covered, from both the natural world and the fields of human achievement, from science and engineering to sport, history, nature, exploration and space travel.


Brother William’s Year: A Monk at Westminster Abbey

Jan Pancheri
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, hb £11.99, 978 18450 79536

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Brother William is a kind-hearted 14th-century monk gardener at Westminster Abbey. This interesting picture book follows a year in his life, showing events month by month. Recipes and factual information accompany the simple but colourful illustrations. Author and illustrator Jan Pancheri is herself Head Gardener at Westminster Abbey, and her love for the Abbey, its history and gardens shines through in this charming and unusual title. As well as Literacy, the book lends itself to work on both RE, including festivals such as Easter and to history, or perhaps even as a prelude for a visit to a medieval site.


We went to the Animal Park today

Garry Slack Sausage Dog Publishing, 978 09554 93263

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This quirky and funny story tells us, in both rhyming written English and signs taken directly from British Sign Language, about a visit to the zoo by a little girl and her daddy. As they meet each of the charmingly illustrated animals, we learn the sign for their name and the little girl is keen to make friends with them – but her dad knows they won’t respond – or will they?

The book will be released in October to coincide with Learn to Sign Week and is suitable for both deaf and hearing children.

For more information on using sign language with children, read Garry Slack’s article in the July 2009 issue of Literacy Time PLUS.


Ripping Things to do: The Best Games and Ideas from Children’s Books

Jane Brocket
Hodder & Stoughton, hb £17.99, 978 03409 80965

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Jane Brocket uses the adventures enjoyed by fictional children in a variety of classic books to inspire games and activities for today’s children. Taking the ‘I Want To Do That’ moments from books as diverse as Pippi Longstocking and Just William, she suggests ‘ripping things’ to make and do that will entertain both boys and girls of all ages!

Step-by-step illustrations for the more practical skills, such as building a tree house or learning semaphore, accompany introductions to the stories that inspired them. A great way to share some of the books you loved as a child and to show children that reading doesn’t just have to be a solitary, sedentary habit but can lead to worlds of adventure.


Oxford School Dictionary of Word Origins: The curious twists and turns of the cool and weird words we use

John Ayto
OUP, hb £10.99, 978 01991 12210

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Unravel the absorbing and fascinating history of thousands of words and phrases. From chortle to marshmallow, etymological expert John Ayto takes a fresh look at the words we use and tells us about their origins. A central section focuses on over 40 extended topics including derivations of countries’ and people’s names, words about space, food and supernatural creatures.

Although the dictionary follows the usual layout conventions, occasional character flashes draw children in to words that are ‘A bit yucky!’, ‘mind-boggling’ or ‘so funny’. This is a great reference book which should be a definite for the school library shelves for children of 9 and above.

Oxford Children’s Books are offering a copy of the Oxford School Dictionary of Word Origins to the first 10 lucky readers drawn. For details of how to enter, visit the Literacy Time PLUS website and click on ‘Giveaways’.


The TV Time Travellers

Pete Johnson
Corgi Yearling, pb £4.99, 978 04408 68620

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Reviewed by Jake Maiden

Zac and Izzy win a place on a reality TV show, but they have no idea where they’re going or what to expect… Five children are taken to a remote Devon farm where they must live as if it’s 1939, the start of World War Two. One by one they will be voted out by the viewing public. It’s a hard life and, desperate to be the final winner, problems occur. When the live final arrives, the contestants and audience will all be stunned by what happens…

Another great, humorous book from critically acclaimed Pete Johnson, winner of the 2006 Calderdale Children’s Book of the Year. An exciting story perfect for boys and girls aged eleven and over.


The Long Walk to Freedom

Chris van Wyk
Macmillan, 978 14050 91886

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Tell your class the story of Nelson Mandela’s life and his struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Perfect for project work in Black History month in October, this beautifully-illustrated picture book based on Nelson Mandela’s powerful autobiography tells his story in simple yet poetic text.

Macmillan is offering the chance to win one of five copies of this book. To be in with a chance of winning, enter our draw using the ‘giveaways’ section on the Literacy Time PLUS website.


Seven Sorcerors

Caro King
Quercus, hb £9.99, 978 18472 48381

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Nin wakes up one Wednesday to find that her younger brother has ceased to exist! Her quest to rescue Toby takes her to the Drift, a dying land where she is pursued by Skerridge the Bogeyman. With the help of Jonas, who was kidnapped many years ago but managed to escape, she must find her brother and find her memory pearl – without it no-one in our world will remember her.

Definitely not your run-of-the-mill fantasy quest tale, with a well-written, clever plot, Caro King’s story is inventive and absorbing, with action, suspense and humour to keep you hooked.

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