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Empathy – and where to read about it

Today is Empathy Day, and what better way to learn about what it is and why it is important than through children’s books?

What I love about children’s books is that they can convey very important messages and morals without sounding preachy or authoritarian. That’s a pretty impressive skill and one that perhaps isn’t always celebrated when considering the impact and effect children’s literature can have on its readers. I know of many examples of books that portray difficult emotions and conditions exceptionally well, from grief and sadness to anger and frustration. These needn’t be ‘special’ books either – ones that have been written for children dealing with bereavement or social anxiety, for example. Their strength lies in their ability to inspire or soothe, explain or question. Children learn through osmosis – they understand what’s in front of them without it having to be made explicit.

For today’s post, I will concentrate on Empathy since it’s celebrating its own special day! But I will return to other emotions soon!

Great  books for talking/learning about empathy:

The Lumberjack’s Beard and The Bear Who Stared

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Duncan Beedie’s recent creations deal with empathy in a humorous yet effective way. In The Lumberjack’s Beard, the titular lumberjack suddenly realises what effect his tree-unfriendly actions have on the environment and tries to put it right. In The Bear Who Stares, the bear doesn’t understand why everyone he meets gets angry with him… until a friendly frog sets him straight and tells him that staring isn’t the best idea when trying to get on with others. Both books have wonderful illustrations that enhance the story and which children never tire of seeing.

Dave’s Rock

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Frann Preston-Gannon’s second book featuring caveman Dave is a great look at the importance of sharing and getting along with others. In it, Dave is competing with Jon to see whose rock is better, but all it leads to is frustration and annoyance. However, in the end, the two find a way for them both to be happy, by understanding how each other feels. This makes them feel better than winning any competition.

The Cow Who Fell to Earth

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Nadia Shireen’s new book, The Cow Who Fell to Earth, takes a very bizarre situation and makes a heartwarming comedy from it. Poor Woo has landed on Earth and no one can understand a word she says. To make matters worse, the sheep assume she is a he and call her Dave. When Woo starts crying tears of sadness and frustration, the sheep work hard to make her feel better and get her back home. A hilarious and sweet book about the importance of helping others, even if they speak a different language!

Odd Dog Out

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In Rob Biddulph’s humorous story, being out of place seems like the worst thing in the world, until Odd Dog discovers that it’s kind of cool to be different. When she decides to be true to herself, she realises that plenty more dogs want to be their own dog and sets a trend. This is great for teaching children acceptance of other people’s differences and to be happy in themselves.

Mr Stink

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It’s not very nice to be stinky but there’s often a reason behind it, as Chloe discovers in David Walliams’s Mr Stink. The two characters soon forge a firm friendship based on their experiences of being bullied and misunderstood, and find ways to help each other out of sadness andloneliness.

Matilda

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On a similar theme of not belonging, Roald Dahl introduces us to Matilda, a clever young girl who seems to have been born into the wrong family. Preferring books to television and education to laziness, Matilda finally finds a kindred spirit in Miss Honey, who turns out to be the niece of the very wicked Miss Trunchbull. Even though life becomes very difficult for the two, the fact that they have found each other makes it much more bearable.

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Congratulations, Lauren Child!

While the country heads out to vote today, yesterday a huge announcement was made in the world of children’s literature: Lauren Child became the new (and tenth!) Children’s Laureate, taking over from illustrator and writer Chris Riddell, who held the post for the last two years.

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What is the Children’s Laureate?

According to the Children’s Laureate website:

The idea for the Children’s Laureate originated from a conversation between (the then) Poet Laureate Ted Hughes and children’s writer Michael Morpurgo. They considered it an appropriate and timely way to combine the celebration of excellence in writing and illustration for children with honouring individuals who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the world of children’s books.

Quentin Blake was the first Children’s Laureate (1999-2001), followed by Anne Fine (2001-2003), Michael Morpurgo (2003-2005), Jacqueline Wilson (2005-2007), Michael Rosen (2007-2009), Anthony Browne (2009-2011), Julia Donaldson (2011-2013), Malorie Blackman (2013-2015), Chris Riddell (2015-2017) and now Lauren Child (2017-19).

Each Children’s Laureate has taken the opportunity to promote particular aspects of children’s books. These have included visual literacy, readers with disabilities, poetry, storytelling, illustration, drama, writing for young adults and more.

You can read about the history of the Children’s Laureate in theis article from the Guardian.

Supporting school libraries

I think it’s wonderful that children’s literature is celebrated in this way and that we have such fantastic ambassadors championing the importance of all aspects of reading for the youngest members of society. Chris Riddell in particular made school libraries a focus for his work in a time when many schools do not have the money, space or resources for this area of school life. This drawing sums up his beliefs well:

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Chris Riddell

We are lucky…

Here at St Michael’s we are so lucky to have the amazing resources that we do. Our library is, in comparison to many schools, huge and very well stocked, thanks to provision made in our budget and generous donations by parents – past and present. We are also incredibly fortunate to have all you wonderful parents, family and friends supporting everything we do, from book fairs (which raise money so we can buy even more books for the library!) to our weird and wacky competitions to celebrate reading for pleasure. We are truly grateful for everything that you do for us.

Read the Laureates!

We are fortunate to have books by all the Children’s Laureates in the Library, so please do check them out:

Quentin Blake (1999-2001) – we have several of his picture books and, of course, most if not all of the Roald Dahl books he illustrated

Anne Fine (2001-2003) – we have her novels for younger and older children, including the famous Madame Doubtfire and Killer Cat

Michael Morpurgo (2003-2005) and Jacqueline Wilson (2005-2007) – we have entire bookshelves devoted to each of these writers and, needless to say, they are amongst the most frequently borrowed books in the library!

Michael Rosen (2007-2009) – we have books of his poetry to browse through as well as the old favourite We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

Anthony Browne (2009-2011) – we have a selection of Anthony Browne’s picture books, including Willy the Wizard, which is one of our children’s favourites for storytime

Julia Donaldson (2011-2013) – one of our most borrowed authors, I think we have almost everything written by this popular lady!

Malorie Blackman (2013-2015) – her books live in our special section for Years 5 and 6

Chris Riddell (2015-2017) -we have the Ottoline and Goth Girl books and of course plenty of other authors’ books Chris has illustrated

Lauren Child (2017-19) – the children at school know all about Charlie and Lola of course and Clarice Bean and they are still popular for storytimes. We have a large selection of these books in the library.

This week we will be dedicating our Library Lunchtimes to creating a display on Lauren Child’s work. Watch this space for pictures!

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We’re getting ready for the LOLLIES!

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Yesterday, this year’s shortlisted books for Scholastic’s LOLLIES awards were announced, and I am delighted to say that we will be shadowing them in the Library!

Last year, we voted for ourfavourite title in the picture book category – the ever-popular I Need a Wee by Sue Hendra, which won overall in its category. This book is still rarely on our shelves which is proof of how children love it.

This year, we have a range of different books to choose from, as follows:

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Picture book category:

  • The Prince of Pants – by Alan MacDonald and Sarah McIntyre
  • Eat Your People! – by Lou Kuenzler and David Wojtowycz
  • Oi Dog! – by Kes and Claire Gray and Jim Field
  • Danny McGee – by Andy Stanton and Neal Layton

You can watch Michael Rosen announcing the shortlist here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xV_GkxOemIs

6-8 category:

  • Future Ratboy and the Invasion of the Nom Noms – by Jim Smith
  • Eddy Stone and the Epic Holiday Mash-Up – by Simon Cherry
  • Thimble Monkey Superstar – by Jon Blake and Martin Chatterton
  • Hamish and the Neverpeople – by Danny Wallace and Jamie Littler

You can watch Katie Thistleton announcing the shortlist here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKkUpsBNxXs

9-13 category:

  • AniMalcom – by David Baddiel and Jim Field
  • I Don’t Like Poetry – by Joshua Seigal
  • The Best Medicine – by Christine Hamill
  • My Gym Teacher is an Alien Overlord – by David Solomons

You can watch Nicolette Jones announcing the shortlist here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qsd5_mgxMZo

We are waiting for the titles to be delivered so watch this space! I’d love as many people as possible to get involved so I’ll look at arranging some lunchtime sessions where we can take a look at them altogether.

If you’ve already read some of these – or maybe ALL of these – come to see me and tell me what you thought!

 

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Happy World Book Day!

Hello everyone and Happy World Book Day!

As you probably know, we celebrated our World Book Day yesterday with the amazing author and illustrator Duncan Beedie. He visited our school and managed to give four different talks and even a drawing masterclass – he must have been exhausted at the end!

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All our children loved the day – and I’ll be posting pictures soon of all our fun, once I’ve managed to work out how to download them from the digital camera…

Year 2 summed up what they enjoyed most about yesterday:

  • “The best bit was when Duncan Beedie came to talk to us.”
  • “It was good when we talked to Duncan Beedie about gardening in Gardening Club.”
  • “I liked dressing up as a fox, it was really good.”
  • “I liked reading books because they were unusual fiction books.”

In honour of Duncan’s visit, one of the fir tree seeds he sent us with his new book The Lumberjack’s Beard had actually sprouted! The Gardening Club were, rightly, very proud of their efforts.

I would like to thank all the children and staff who made huge efforts to dress up for the day, and for parents for putting in so much time and energy. I don’t think I have ever seen so many lumberjacks in one place before, and today we all feel rather bare without our beards. Narelle, our cook, really went to town on her costume but assured us that she did not cook with her magnificent beard on!

We also had trees, birds, forest animals, woodland nymphs and Aragog from The Lord of the Rings (who people kept thinking was Darth Vader, so a two-in-one costume!). There was an amazing porcupine in Reception, with realistic quills sticking out his back.

Today the children exchanged their £1 book tokens for a World Book Day book, unless they wanted to go into a bookshop for a further browse. As predicted, David Walliams’ Blob went down well, as did The Famoud Five, Horrid Henry and Jacqueline Wilson’s Butterfly Beach.

I’ll be back soon with the photos … watch this space.

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The Runaway Schoolhouse

Today Arfah in Year 4 has written a review of Maria Matthews’ book The Runaway Schoolhouse for us!

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What is the book about?

A schoolhouse called Clearie is one hundred years old and fed up. So many times he has helped children get educated but his reward has been nothing but fuss. How much he hates the school! He dreams to go to France instead but doesn’t know how because he’s a house.

Did you like the book?

Yes, I enjoyed the book because it was really adventurous. It was also funny too when Clearie tried to move and fell apart and bits of crab came out of him!

How many stars?

5 out of 5!

Thank you, Arfah, and I am glad you liked the book!

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Review of Clover Moon

Today, Abby in Year 5 is reviewing Clover Moon by Jacqueline Wilson.

Published by Random House Children’s Publishers

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The book is about a girl called Clover who loves to play with her sister Megs, especially when her cruel stepmother is being horrible. But when Scarlet Fever takes Meg away, Clover seeks the help of Mr Dolly and his artist friend, Mr Rivers.

I loved this book because Jacqueline Wilson let Hetty Feather meet Clover and I love how she linked it. It also has lots of ADVENTURE!! I would give it 9/10 stars and say it is suitable from age 10 because there is a sad bit in it.

 

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Seasons Readings

We’ve been busy reading Christmas stories in the Library this week. Below are a few that the children have enjoyed!

Merry Christmas, Splat! by Rob Scotton

Published by Harper Collins Children’s Books

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The popular, manic-furred cat Splat is back in this seasonal tale (or should I say ‘tail’?) and this time, he’s worried that he’s not been good enough for Santa to bring him a massive present. (His teasing sister doesn’t help matters by stoking the flames.) Splat therefore decides to be as helpful as possible around the house to ensure that he’s in Father Christmas’s good books, much to his mother’s chagrin. Splat washes clean dishes, over-decorates the Christmas tree and, in an attempt to clear snow from the path to the front door, actually only succeeds in letting the snow in the front door. When Splat goes to bed on Christmas Eve, he waits up all night to see if he’s done enough…

The children loved this story, with its crazy drawings (Splat is just so ‘in your face’!) and his well-intended by misguided attempts to prove what a good cat he is. We used the story as a basis for an activity to guess what Splat wanted for a big present and the following were some of the suggestions:

 

  • robots (suggested twice – I think these must be on some of the children’s Christmas lists this year)
  • a giant mouse that Splat can eat (poor Seymour must be quaking in his Santa hat)
  • a giant mouse woolly toy for cats
  • a starfish
  • a woolly mammoth
  • a photo box with coloured photos

 

Here’s a small selection of drawings from the children:

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Madeline’s Christmas, by Ludwig Bemelmans

Published by Puffin Books

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The mischievous, sweet-natured convent girl Madeline is the only one who’s feeling fine in the old house in Paris that was covered in vines, for everyone in the house, even the mouse, has gone down with a terrible cold. She’s cleaning and cooking and waiting on everyone, even Miss Clavell, when a mysterious rug merchant appears at the door with, fortuitously, 12 rugs that Madeline purchases to keep everyone’s feet warm in bed. However, the rug merchant is not so lucky and becomes frozen without his wares. He is forced to return to ask for them back and, in exchange, he helps Madeline give everyone a Christmas they will all remember.

This book is a joy to read aloud. The children loved the rhymes (and when they stared at me when I prompted them for the end rhyme, and I suggested ‘Bob’ at random, this was also hilarious). Most of the children were familiar with the story from the film version so I hope they have gone away with a desire to read more about the adventures of Madeline in other books.

The Smelly Sprout, by Allan Plenderleith

Published by Ravette Publishing Limited

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I haven’t seen this book in many bookshops but it’s a firm favourite in our Library. Poor Little Sprout has been chucked out of his house at Christmas because no one likes him, so he goes on a quest to find his destiny. Along the way, he encounters a grumpy Christmas tree, an irritable snowman and a greedy fox, who all reject him with the rhyming refrain, “Out, smelly sprout!” In the end, the sprout meets another lonely soul who looks relieved to see him. Will they be best of friends?

The children love this. Many say they hate sprouts, and like to join in with the refrain, but they’re glad by the end of the story. I’m not sure that this will make them eat their sprouts on Christmas Day or at any other time, but it’s worth a try if you want them to see sprouts as anything except an evil vegetable. I still won’t eat them though…