The Secret Life of Cows – Rosamund Young

34210873This is a really tricky book for me to review. It’s a book by a farmer, and I am vegan. I expected this could be a struggle. It sort of is and it isn’t. It’s a book of conflicting ideas and juxtapositions of thought.

The author makes a lot of points I would agree with. This is especially true of the introduction section in which Young states that ‘Bovine needs are in many respects the same as human ones: freedom from stress, adequate shelter, pure food and water, liberty to exercise, to wander about, to go for a walk or just to stand and stare’. I totally agree and that seems reasonable to me. Where I struggle, and this is a recurring difficulty in the book, is in the fact that the author, from years of experience, can make those observations, then draw the conclusion that it is somehow OK to kill them.

We are told that ‘We should presume that every animal has a limitless ability to experience a whole range of emotions’ and subsequently told many short stories showing the range of emotions, caring and intelligence displayed by the animals within them. The book allows you to build an affinity for the animals in each story and believe them to be sentient beings capable of many of the same things any human would be, yet we have to read all this in the knowledge that each character is set to be murdered and that we should feel OK about that.

And here’s the thing, I am not sure that even the writer here believes that it is all that OK to kill the animals in her care. An awful lot of this book is little anecdotes about specific, named, animals. You get a sense that the person writing it really does form an attachment with their animals.It is odd then, to note that so little mention is made of the bit where they have to go away. We get a lot about births, their early life, some of them being parents and the bonds they make, but no mention of sadness or loss. Yet we know that has to be happening.

I give this book credit for the fact that it is readable and has interesting aspects to it. I cannot state that I disliked the book and I am glad that I read it. I struggle to give this a very high score however, because it is lacking in a sense of finality or conclusion. Are we supposed to just read each story and shrug at all the characters being killed after the book is done? I found that a little tricky. I am surprised that isn’t the same conclusion drawn by the author.

Old Misery – James Sage (Due to be published 1.5.18)

36205093This is quite an odd little book. The illustrations are basic but entertaining and should be interesting enough for young readers. The language used and style of writing is what make this book one I would use in education. The actual writing is all very non-standard and this makes it a good jumping off point for children to write their own non-standard works and to play with the language a little. It would be a nice challenge to set children the task of turning some of the phrases in to a more standard formal style. Where this book falls down slightly, is that the narrative is not very strong and this makes it less ideal to use as inspiration for anything like a story map/talk for writing kind of text.

I would use this in class, but I do not think it I would say it is a book everyone would love.

The Snowbear – Sean Taylor

cover124285-medium.pngThis is a lovely little picture book, perfect for the festive season. I am a sucker for a good Christmas picture book in the run up to the holidays and this is ideal for sharing with a class from nursery to year 1 at this time of year.

The illustrations and short story alike feel like they could be from another era with a traditional tone and images that are reminiscent of some of Raymond Briggs’ work (that can only ever be a good thing!)

Not much of this feels unique or original, the premise of something built from snow taking on a life of its own is nothing new, and there are even several books already about snow bears, but does that really matter? Not really, this is the season of tradition after all, and parents, teachers and (most importantly) young children will all love this book. That’s all that really matters.

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.

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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

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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.

Love,

Lee

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.