Monday, 17 September 2018

Snail Story Sack - Featuring ‘Are you A Snail?’ by Judy Allen and Tudor Humphries – Budget Story Sack

Recently my sister who is a Key Stage 1 teacher acquired some Giant African Land Snails as class pets, and as I was instrumental in her decision to have the snails in class, I put together a Snail Story Sack, as an educational resource.

we on SOTB do an array of Story Sack features, and from time to time we do a budget sack to show that they don’t have to be expensive to assemble. This Snail inspired Story Sack is indeed a budget sack, and came in at under £14.00. So before we start here is a reminder at what is included in a Story Sack…

  • A good quality fiction book, (picture book or novel).
  • A non-fiction book related to the story and themes in the chosen picture book. 
  • Toys, (ideally a soft toy for younger children). 
  • A game or activity also related to the theme of the chosen fiction book. 
  • Optional worksheet based on the story and themes off the story sack. 


So firstly I kept my eyes peeled whilst out and about, and in a charity shop I picked up a good condition hardback copy of ‘Are you a Snail?’ by Judy Allen and Tudor Humphries for 50p. This is a beautifully illustrated picture book which is full of facts about snails posed in questions and answers, all accompanied by charming illustrations.

Now, there are oodles of other snail books that you could use as the non-fiction element of the story sack, like ‘Snail and the Whale’ By Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, ‘Watch out Snail’ Gay Hay and Margret Tolland, ‘Snail Trail’ by Ruth Brown or ‘Norman, The Snail with the Silly Shell?’ by Sue Henra to name just a few alternatives. 

For the non-fiction element I chose to get a second hand copy of ‘Snail’ by Karen Hartley and Chris Macro, because it is a full colour picture book, which is fact based but the right level for Key Stage One students. This I got from a second hand book dealer on line for £3.50. In addition I have included a copy of the RSPB’s ‘My First Book of Garden Bugs’ which I also found in a charity shop for 50p, so children can use it to help discover snails in the garden. 

Soft Toys, 
Games & Activities…

Now soft toys are tricky, as snails are not the most snuggly of animal. However I did find a plush snail finger puppet by The Puppet Company for £3.50 which is charming and fun.

For games I managed to pick up a snail puzzle for £1.00 in a budget shop and ‘Little Bug Bingo’ by Orchard Toys for £4.50 from a well-known supermarket. I have paired these with a magnifying glass and plastic bug viewer which I picked up for 25p each from a charity shop. To further ignite interest and curiosity, I found some empty snail shells in the garden, disinfected them and have included them for the children to observe with the use of the aforementioned magnifying glass. 

This story stack should be a fun way to help the children further their understanding about snails, plus also provide a good display to go alongside the class pets. It came in at a modest cost of £14.00. Of course if you have a smaller budget with good buying, you could go for a smaller sack with fewer games, or if you are lucky enough to have a larger budget you could go for the Hansa Plush Snail and possibly the Snail Pace Race Game! Either way there is lots of stuff out there to compile great snail Story Sacks whatever your budget.

Thank you for stopping by, please come back soon!

Sunday, 9 September 2018

August reads - Candy Gourlay, Catherine Gilbert Murdoch, Will Mabbit, Valija Zinck

Bone Talk – Candy Gourlay

Candy Gourlay delves into her own Filippino heritage to bring us Samkad’s thrilling story of life among hilltribes and takes you on a journey to the other side of the world and back over a hundred years.

It’s her supreme storytelling skills that not only bring this rich tale of a primitive existence so vibrantly to life, but make Samkad’s story seem so immediate and relevant.

Samkad’s life is dominated by the landscape, ruled by superstition, strict lore and community. 

To Samkad nothing about his life seems extraordinary, even though violence is commonplace, with tough consequences for anyone not conforming or challenging the ancient ways. A journey to the next village is considered too dangerous to even consider.

But then the local tribe are head-hunters. 

His worries are about rituals and displeasing the ancestors. His dreams are about his status, particularly with the other young men. 

It feels an impeccably researched story of the daily tribulations of a tribal life. Which makes it more shocking when his way of life is so brutally interrupted by the inexorable march of western exploration, with the arrival of Americans.

How utterly alien tribal ways, with their sometimes cruel rituals, must have seemed to those foreigners when they first arrived in the Philippines. The same story could be told of so many colonial explorers who landed on foreign shores feeling dominant, confident in their superior civilised way of life and ready to impose their views.

One of Bone Talk’s strengths is that it doesn’t take a romanticised view of a complex, enduring way of life – nor of the strangers who first encountered it.

Following individual desires rather than the strict rules and displeasing the elders can be met with a brutal response. Women must know their place. There are no equal chances for success and happiness. But it's a sustainable existence that has changed little, but endured.

It’s a strong twist that the first American Samkad meets plays an important part in the story, befriending the tribespeople and bringing some modern benefits, such as medicine. 
It all heralds the winds that bring inevitable change.

It’s the superlative storytelling that crosses both time and geography to connect with Samkad’s story. But it’s the plea for tolerance and understanding, rather than fear of what we don’t know and understand, which make this such a brilliant story for our times.

I can’t wait to see it on the Carnegie short-list as it so deserves to be, it would make a perfect book for shadowing.

The Book of Boy - Catherine Gilbert Murdoch

Known only as Boy, this is the story of a kindly young goatherd, who is taken on as a servant by a strange pilgrim on a long journey to track down the scattered bones of a saint.

This is the fourteenth century where anything connected to a saint is prized and has enormous value. The income of whole towns can depend on the visitors who come to pray to the saint for anything from answering wishes to cures. Rivalries for more authentic relics are rife. But it’s all down to belief, with plenty of openings for fraudsters.

The reader is plunged into the sight, smells and politics of the medieval world. Boy has been regularly taunted and called a monster in the manor where he was brought up because he has a humped back. But his disability doesn’t impair his agility at all. He a terrific climber – and he has another brilliant skill used with great comic effect throughout the story – he is able to talk to animals.

This means that although the book is mostly about religion, it’s a fun and playful read, at times a rollicking adventure, full of doubt and danger as Boy realises lengths his new master will go to and his mission gets more desperate. The lines between good and evil blur and with an extraordinary blend of history, religion and fantasy, this really is a book like no other. 

The Embassy of the Dead – Will Mabbit

When Jake accidentally accepts a gift from a ghost his troubles quickly spiral to very dangerous levels, in this quirky comedy story of the spooky underworld. 

Jake can see ghosts, which is how he got into trouble in the first place, but now only ghosts can save him. He has broken the complicated bureaucratic rules of the Embassy of the Dead and there is no way to call off the grim reaper who is coming after Jake.

With the help of an odd assortment of the long-dead (including a cute dead pet!) Jake learns quickly about the people who work for the Embassy to solve all sorts of the ghostly problems and mysteries of those departed, but who have not successfully passed to the other side.

But most importantly he must work out the mystery of why the creepy relic that has fallen into his possession is so important . . .and see if he can outwit the several baddies on his tale and save himself a horrible fate – all while pretending to his parents that he is spending a few days on a geography field trip.

Such a fast-paced, fun story. The ghostly set-up is really imaginative and the mysteries of why ghosts might end up haunting is really well realised (and promises sequels!). This is a page-turning adventure story with a great twist; good ghostly characters and worldbuilding and plenty of shocks and laughs in equal measure along the way. A thoroughly entertaining read.
Really hope to see more of Jake and his ghostly goings-on.

A Tangle of Magic - Valija Zinck

Penelope has always felt herself to be strange and different, and not just the fact that she is ten-years-old and has grey hair.

But when her hair suddenly turns red, Penelope knows it is not the only thing in life that has changed. She feels a totally different person, suddenly full of not just energy. Penelope realises she has powers.
But she has no-one around to teach her about magic. 

Valija Zinck’s ‘A Tangle of Magic’ is such an enjoyable story about someone who discovers they are magic but has to learn all by themselves, with plenty of room for fun and adventure as Penelope experiments and tries to work out what she can and can’t do – and how it is all connected to her hair.
What are her powers? How do they work? Has she has inherited powers from her missing father? And are there other magical people in the world?

Penelope is such a great character, adventurous and curious, kindly, popular and independent in spirit. She lives on the edge of the swamp forest with her lovely family, her doting mother, a grandmother who can’t cook and a loyal cat called Coco.

There are many ways this book is both unexpected and zany – like the fact that the only magic Penelope seems to be able to do is to talk to the road! 

Her mother is bitter about Penelope’s father abandoning them suddenly and why he sends them weird post every month. But this gives Penelope the glimmer of an idea and she starts to hatch a complicated plan to deceive her mother and see if she can find out more about her father.
It’s both a warm and intriguing story where the menace builds quite unexpectedly.

One of the great things is the hints about a much wider magical world that Penelope knows nothing about. Her grandmother is definitely hiding secrets and knows more than she is letting on! 
And there are hints about magical people being very menacing and a sinister organisation that trains them, which hopefully means there are many more stories about Penelope to come.

Nicki Thornton  @nicki_thornton

Monday, 3 September 2018

Firebird – Elizabeth Wein – Barrington Stoke – Review

People say that books are doorways into other worlds, but Historical Fiction doesn’t just open up another world, but also shines a light on parts of history that as lesser known, often forgotten entirely.

We all know about WWII, for people of my generation (I’m right on the cusp of Generation X and Millennial) we grew up amongst people that lived through it, both my grandparents on one side were in the RAF and had medals, my Gran refused to collect hers, and my granddad (twice shot down over enemy tertiary) refused to talk about it. My other grandparents worked the land and were in the Home Guard and saw action discovering a crashed German bomber. My neighbour was evacuated from London during the blitz to rural Oxfordshire, never to return.

Not only were we surrounded by people who survived the war, we were also immersed in literature about it, reading Michael Morpurgo, the Narnia series, and The Diary of Anne Frank, (even watching her father break down in tears on Blue Peter). And watching it, John Boreman’s Hope and Glory, Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, and Goodnight Mister Tom. It’s a part of history we know well, from the troops on the front, the espionage and code breaking, to the way affected civilians in the UK, Europe and the US. Younger generations, may not be surrounded by people that were there, but they are still very well versed on the war experience from the perspective of the allied forces and nations. That is apart from Russia. Russia that fought on our side.

Russia and her people’s experiences and trials through the war have been barely mentioned, much like the German and Japanese’s experiences of the war (Grave of the Fireflies excluded). This is probably due to trust issues as a result of the Russian revolution, after all the Csar Nicholas II, the brutal execution of his children, and then the following cold War. So Historical Fiction really can expand our understanding of historical events by exploring these less written and filmed aspects of our past, and this is exactly what Elizabeth Wein has done with Firebird.

Firebird is the story of Anastasia Viktorovana , as told by her to a tribunal as she stands trial for treason. The first chapter is difficult reading, she is a true Communist, her parents were there at the beginning, fighting in the Red Army alongside Lenin, and her father drove the wagon transporting the corpses of Czar Nicholas II and his family. Anastasia known of Nastia was brought up fighting for the cause, learning to shoot a gun before she could walk. Nastia’s frank and unremorseful talk of these events are hard to read, but there is something that lies between her words that resonates deeply and demands empathy, the fact she is a loyal young girl, who fights for her beliefs but also is very loving and loyal to her family and friends.

Nastia a flight instructor for the Leningrad Youth Aeroclub, and is the only woman except for the Chief instructor. But on the advent of war, Natstia is devastated when she and her fellow instructors go to sign on for active duty, and she is the only one not accepted to fly fighters, despite her greater experience and more flight hours, the men are sent to the war, and she and Chief are left to train a procession of new male pilots. 

The Chief, a formidable woman with short cropped hair, who wears men’s clothes and does her makeup like mask, and (rumour has it) has an taste for expensive French corsets. Is the person who got Nastia her job within the Areoclub, due to her friendship with Nastia’s father. Nastia knows that the chief and her father are close friends, close enough that the Chief to have picked Nastia’s name, but she is an enigma, and Nastia knows nothing about her. All Nastia knows for sure is that her father met Chief around the time of the Csar was overthrown.

Under The Chief guidance Nastia along with a selection of other female instructors train other pilots biding their time until it the females are called on to fly fighters. The night before her first mission Nastia receives news that both her parents have died leaving the Chief as the closest thing she has to family. Loyally Nastia goes in to battle as the Chief’s wingman, but when Chief’s plane is damaged and is under fire she is left with an impossible dilemma leave Chief behind or fall back from the fight and face a treason charge.

When the fight is over Nastia learns the truth about The Chief’s identity and in doing so reveals more about her father and the notion of loyalty itself.

Firebird, really opens a doorway into an aspect of history which is not often discussed, and does so with unflinching directness, whilst empathising and bringing out the universal aspects of the human nature; that most people fight for love and loyalty. But by blurring with the lines between fact and fiction Wein has woven an ending with a twist that is both elegant and poignant that’s akin to the closing scenes of Bernardo Bertolucci's 1987 Oscar winning epic ‘the Last Emperor’. Firebird is an engaging intelligent read, and well deserves to get on the shortlist for next year’s CLIP Carnegie.