A Love Letter to…Independent Bookshops

My earliest memory is of being in a bookshop. It’s a fairly vague memory but I do remember the exact location, helped by the fact that the shop in question is still open. It has new owners now but remains to this day an independent Children’s bookshop. It played a small but very significant role in forging my love for reading, for books, and for the little shops that sell them.



My first experience of an independent bookshop was in 1991 when I first stepped foot in what would become home to my earliest happy memory. I was visiting to get a pack of ‘flash cards’ which would, as my dad informed me, help me ‘learn and be grown up and clever’. I was unbelievably excited. I think the reason this memory stuck over any other is that it was made to feel so important, first by my parents and then supported by the adults in the shop who helped me make my choice on cards and recommended a book I could buy. I remember being treated like a grown up, I was even given the money to make my purchases and sent to the till to buy them. How grown up could a 3 year old dream of being?

As I have grown older I have never lost my love for the independent bookshop. It is with this in mind that I write this little love letter of sorts. This is an open letter of thanks to whoever it was who sold me those flash cards and books in Lindley as well as a thank you to the people brave enough to open or run bookshops now even in the face of competition from the likes of Amazon and supermarkets slashing both the prices of books and the love of the books in their charge.

I grew up in a town fairly bereft of good local bookshops. In Halifax we had a small shop called Fred


Wade (now closed down) and not a great deal else. As such, one thing I always looked out for whenever away from home was any sign of a small independent bookshop for me to instantly fall in love with.

When I moved to York as a student I was blessed with the discovery that I could walk from my house or my university to The Little Apple Bookshop. This I did with such regularity that I ended up maxing out my student overdraft long before my fellow students had done similar in the student union. The result of this was me having to work at HMV (which was partnered with Waterstones – sorry!) in order to keep myself in cheese toasties and pints of snakebite for the remaining 3 years of study.

I have discovered other shops I would like to take a moment to recommend here. When on holiday in Cornwall I stumbled upon St Ives Bookseller and loved it and I have for some time found occasion or reason to take a 40 mile round trip commute to Grove Bookshop in Ilkley (it’s lovely and definitely worth the trip) to fulfil my need to buy books from a nice little independent bookshop.

But now to a major inspiration for this little blog post. My hometown FINALLY has an independent bookshop. A real shop full of books. I could not be happier. I would like to take a moment to urge anyone and everyone to visit The Book Corner in the newly renovated and reopened Piece Hall in Halifax. The real joy of this place for me isn’t just that it is a good shop in its own right, or that it is in one of the nicest settings you could ever hope to find, but that it was twinned with (and adjoining) an independent children’s bookshop Bookwormsthe-piece-hall

So, if you’ve read this far, I thank you. Now how about you? Do you have a favourite bookshop? Maybe somewhere you would like to recommend? I am, unsurprisingly, always open to more independent bookshop recommendations.

And, to any bookshop owner, book seller or anyone supporting their local bookshop; thank you.



The Pearl Thief – Elizabeth Wein

cover106136-medium.pngI downloaded this book having honestly never heard of Elizabeth Wein. I’m not even sure what caused me to select this title in all honesty. I then proceeded to leave it in my ‘to-read’ section and more or less forgot all about it. I overlooked this and read many other books in the interim.

I regret that decision.

This book reminded me of so many ‘coming of age’ type books I remember reading myself as a kid. The setting and perhaps also the theme had me picturing ‘The 39 Steps’ and this is no bad thing.

I am stunned at how much I enjoyed this book. I haven’t even read it thinking about possible uses in class, I just got so caught up in the story of it.

I’ll consider class uses for it later, for now, I’m just happy to have been genuinely, pleasantly surprised by a book.

(Based on ARC)

The Dam Keeper – Robert Kondo & Dice Tsutsumi

This is a short but sweet graphic novel which is a follow up to an animated short from a few years ago. This story furthecover106000-medium.pngrs the adventures of the characters of Fox and Pig and sees them growing up a little with Pig reflecting on traumatic events of the past.

The artistic style here, as with the animated short, is interesting in that it kind of looks like a developmental piece that has been brought to life. I found the images were interesting enough for me to complete the book even when the narrative didn’t have much development.

This book could certainly be used in schools as it has a lot of elements that could be useful in class. The narrative focuses on friendship, growth, development and coping with loss while the artwork is an interesting style and one children would enjoy trying to emulate in their own work.

(Based on an ARC)

These Dividing Walls – Fran Cooper

This is a lovely quick read character study novella.

These Dividing WallsThere isn’t a mass amount of plot here, but there is a lot of depth packed in to a little space. Just like in the building it describes I suppose. I quite like character studies so I was already likely to enjoy this. If anything, I would suggest it could have delved deeper into some of the feelings of loss experienced by the central characters.

This book is contemporary in its staging and has a very left wing progressive political viewpoint with it. I am open to books offering political stances during the modern era, politics is everywhere and changing constantly (and nowhere less so than in Paris), so it makes sense it should feature in this story. This book does, however, at times sway towards the shout it in your face method of political diatribe which can be a little much.

The brevity of this book means that it is enough of a quick read that it still very much feels like it is worth your while and it is this, that makes this a book I will still recommend.

**I have to end this review with an apology. I was given an ARC of this book to review and I honestly forgot all about it until I recently saw it on sale in Waterstones. – Sorry!**

Mr. Teachlove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love my Job

This week I read reports about ‘Staggeringly High’ numbers of teachers threatening to quit the classroom and couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.

Like, haven’t we heard all this somewhere before?

There are lots of reasons teachers might think of quitting in the current educational climate, and most are well documented. So this isn’t a blog about reasons, or arguments for any particular side. This is just a personal account of how close I came to quitting teaching, then rediscovering my love for it, and then almost losing my job anyway! And, where I’m at today…

So, I started teaching in around 2010. I loved it. All I had ever wanted to do was teach. The dream location and age group I would teach varied over the years but the ‘teaching’ part of the dream stuck with me from age 6 right up to qualifying. I qualified, I was consistently graded ‘outstanding’ and went on to work in a KS2 class. And, I loved it. Then, the leadership changed. We had CCTV in every classroom, planning was rigid and structured. Everything was checked. We were under scrutiny at all hours. Constantly. This was still my first year, in my first job. I started getting stuck in the world of never ending paperwork, observations, progress reports and meetings. And I started, slowly but increasingly, to feel the strain.

I kept working, at one stage I was working from 6am to 3am, sleeping around 3 hours a night. A reminder at this  point that I have epilepsy, lack of sleep and this kind of stress is not ideal. And, the workload caught up with me, the stress and anxiety caught up with me too. I was ill. I had migraines, my seizures were back and I spent most of my time feeling sick and in some weird fog headed state of nothingness. I had no real support structure to fall back on, so I did what people do when they are ill. I went to my GP. They signed me off sick. I was off a a few weeks, went back and was ill again, and got into a cycle of this routine. And then I started to figure it wasn’t happening for me, teaching was not what I had expected. Less than 2 years into teaching I was ready to quit on my dream, having already forgotten everything I had loved about it to begin with.

One day, during a stint of being signed off sick, I was added to a group chat and flooded with messages asking me what it was like at school theses days. The messages were all from people who had quit in my absence and were surprised to learn I was still off work but hadn’t gone elsewhere as they all had. Everyone in this conversation was so positive. It was a million miles away from what my experience of them all at the school had been. These did not seem like the people I had worked with, these people were all so…happy! I was overwhelmed by the amount of them that were now telling me I was the best teacher they had worked with, that they couldn’t believe I had stuck it out so long and that I deserved better. They persuaded me to apply for another job. To not give up.

The short version of the rest of this story is as follows: I applied for another job, I got it, started at the school and was swept up into a world full of positive teaching experiences. Suddenly, I found support. I found a good union rep, a world of EduTwitter types to tune in to (see #teacher5aday and #PrimaryRocks as a starter) and, most importantly, a leadership team who matched my positivity and ambition. My life changed with my setting. I loved (and still love) my job.

I am now mindful of how long this post is. If you read this far, thank you! The next part is super short I promise.

Basically, my doctors mixed up my meds, I had nearly a year off sick while my neurologist sorted my meds back out. My school stood by me. My school supported me. I kept my job, and I am one half term away from completing this year in teaching still healthy and, more importantly, still happy and loving my profession.

So, what’s the lesson here? I guess the answer really is, I can’t say for sure. Everyone has a different reason for wanting to quit. My only advice comes from my own experience. Before you give up on the profession, be sure it’s the profession and not just the current circumstances that are the problem. Don’t forget, other schools are out there, other professionals who want to help you are out there too. Changes in education are always just on the horizon, and, with new elections, anything could happen!

For now, I’m happy, I hope anyone who reads this is too. But I guess you’ll all know about it if anything changes with me. And if you’re not happy, would you like to talk about it?

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life – James Patterson

9798177.jpgThere’s a poster for this series of books on the wall outside my classroom. I pass it everyday yet I’d never read any of them (I teach Y1 and these are obviously aimed at a few years higher).

However, a Y4 child asked me which one was my favourite and I had to admit that despite them basically being advertised on my classroom, that I’d not actually read any of them. They were shocked as apparently these books a ‘so funny!’. Decided I should probably get around to reading at least one of them.

The first few pages made me feel a little awkward. I kind of felt like the writer was just trying way too hard to be cool/clever here and it just didn’t always feel realistic because of this. After a while though, and helped along by the fantastic illustrations, I found I’d quite happily bought into the story and the narrator of it. In fact, I quite forgot that I wasn’t 9 anymore and found myself speeding through this in the same happy manner I read ‘Adrian Mole’ books back when I was around that age bracket.

I can completely see how this would appeal to ages 7-13(ish) as it is humorous but has elements of thought provoking sidesteps.

I can now say that I have read the first one, I will likely read more, and that I am happy these books are advertised outside my classroom.

Super Stan – Matt Robertson

29767222Read this with my year 1 class. It proved very popular. The pictures are very bright an packed with colour. The book has some funny moments children can enjoy and one of their favourite things is getting the chance to join in with screams/shouts as we read together, this fulfilled that requirement.

Select quotes from my class:

‘This is the best book we’ve read this year’
‘I liked it when the baby had a fight and beat a lion!’
‘You can learn a lot about being a brother and that you shouldn’t race cheetahs or lions if you don’t have super powers’

As always, we review by a thumbs up, sideways or down system. This received 27 thumbs up and 3 sideways out of 30. This makes it the second most popular book with my class so far this year. As such, I can thoroughly recommend it.

Death Need Not Be Fatal – Malachy McCourt (due to be published 16.5.17)

download1Despite the rather weighty subject matter, I felt like I was able to speed through this book like it was a lighthearted and cheerful read.

I am not like Malachy McCourt, I do fear death. It sometimes becomes a bit of an obsession for me and it can even be terrifying. But in ‘Death Need Not Be Fatal’ McCourt succeeds in making even me feel a little more cheery about the least cheery of subjects. I mean, you could have this as a light holiday read, yet it’s about dying. It somehow feels like I could read this on the beach relaxing and raise the odd smile and laugh, but, it’s about dying! How unusual. I suppose that is what creates the book’s charm.

This is a quick, quirky, witty and decent read.

(based on ARC)

The President’s Garden – Muhsin Al-Ramli (Due to be published 20.4.17)

cover108335-medium.pngI don’t know exactly where to start in trying to review this book. I am saddened to have finished it. I want to be able to go back to it and start again.

This is an absolutely beautiful read from start to finish. I cannot think of another modern novel I can compare it to that would fully do justice to this book. The obvious comparison is probably ‘The Kite Runner’ and while I enjoyed that book a great deal, this is far superior in depth and beauty. The only other comparisons I can draw are with the folk stories of ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ but even here it is a comparison that falls short because this is just altogether faster paced and more interesting to read.

I cannot even begin to discuss the narrative as is here, it is too deep, too layered and has too many subtle touches to be reviewed without this turning into a full blown essay.

I have not bought into characters and their heartbreak and struggles to the extent I did here in a very long time, if ever. I want to go buy the hard copy now just so that I can read it again, close the cover and stare at it for a while in awe.

And…***SPOILER*** I have never been so horrified to be left with so many questions unanswered. I have read a review of this book which mentions it leaves without an ending, I expected an open ending, I did not anticipate a ‘to be continued’. I don’t know if I am relieved or devastated. Will I get to read more? I am willing to pay big to do so if it means I get to return to this stunningly crafted world though any wait will be agony. Just please don’t leave it open like this!

This is a certifiable 5 star classic. Astonishing.

(Based on ARC)