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Meg and the Romans

This week I’ve been busy reading Meg and the Romans, by Jan Pienkowski and David Walser, to the children.
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We’ve had the usual fun with Meg, Mog and the Owl’s antics and enjoyed the bright, engaging pictures, but we’ve also learned a thing or two. For example, we can now introduce ourselves in Latin thanks to Julius Romanus, we know that the Roman name for Britain was, well, Britannia, and we also can say the Latin name for London (Londinium). But you HAVE to remember to say this with a flourish of the arm, as if raising a sword and ordering your troops to ride on.

Julius Romanus arrives at Dover in a suitable boat but gets his toe pinched by an angry crab (well, you’d be angry too, if you were meant to be cooked for lunch) so Meg sorts him out a ride on a horse called Dobbin. The problem is, Dobbin is a bit of an equus Britannicus and an equus rapidus and likes throwing poor Julian onto the ground or into some water.

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Julius does eventually get to London, however, and bids his new friends farewell with the word ‘Vale’. His golden eagle decides life is better with Meg, Mog and Owl and flies back to their house, declaring ‘Domum dulce domum.’ Home sweet home indeed.

A great book to spark some giggles and teach a few Latin words. The Meg and Mog books are classics for a good reason, and the children were delighted with this new offering from the madcap pair.

(Originally published on http://www.childtasticbooks.com)

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Welcome back to school!

Half term disappeared into the mists of autumn, didn’t it? And now the nights are drawing in sooner, I’m ready to tackle my pile of books to be read. And there are LOTS that will find their way into the library very soon.

Just before the half-term break, I went on a wonderful training session at the British Library (if you’ve never been to this fantastic place, you must – if only for the architecture or even for the Harry Potter History of Magic exhibition which is so popular that tickets are being snapped up). I visited the day of the press launch, when the finishing touches were being added and I am going to go back for a closer look!

Anyway, I digress. Run by the marvellous BookTrust, the event I attended was called Start the Story and was all about inspiring children to love reading. This involves all sorts of activities – from organising book shares and donations and pop-up book shops to promoting reading for pleasure in school and online. Three inspiring women gave talks about how we could achieve this:

Happily, some of the ideas suggested are things we already do but I’ve got some fantastic prompts for further activities to try and will be working on them for the rest of this term. Watch this space!

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Meet Sabeen, one of our Junior Librarians!

Here at St Michael’s we like to involve the older children in the running of the library. It provides them with responsibility and a sense of ownership, which they rise to well. What’s so good is seeing how the older children help and motivate the younger children with their reading. Sabeen, our featured helper in today’s post, comes in when we have a special lunchtime session for Years 1 and 2. She talks to the children about what they like to read and helps them make choices. The younger children love the attention from an older child and Sabeen is an excellent role model.

Sabeen has written a short piece about the library and what she does, so over to her!

The School Library is popular with people who love reading, drawing and much more. It attracts upper key stage 2 because once you are in year 5 and 6 you get a job and help out. I have a job and work on Thursdays with the Y1s and Y2s. It’s for all years and every couple of months there is an event/competition. People are always bursting to come in and and there is normally a crowd at the door. I spoke to Grace in Y1 and she said, “I really like doggy books!”

Sabeen has always been a keen supporter of the library and has participated in many activities. A year or so ago, she was regularly drawing comics and showed she had a tremendous gift at putting funny words to funny pictures. I hope she will continue with this as she definitely has talent. And we’re lucky to have her with us in the library!

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Let’s Celebrate Libraries!

This week is National Libraries’ Week, when people across the UK celebrate everything that is good and great about libraries. And, of course at St Michael’s, we want to join in!

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With libraries becoming increasingly threatened by budget cuts, it is even more important to celebrate the purpose of libraries and the wonderful opportunities they offer their users, from babies at story-times and rhyme-times to adults learning IT skills.

I know I am biased but I believe that their importance in schools cannot be overstated. A school library should be a place where children can:

  • explore a wide variety of books – from new, old and favourite authors and illustrators
  • ask questions about books and reading
  • think creatively about the books – we often do this through themed or related activities (we made our own Supertatoes from real potatoes, then planted them in a pot to grow baby Supertatoes!)
  • discover books they might not have considered and find out about new topics
  • share their thoughts on the books they read and recommend them to others (or not!)
  • write book reviews, blog posts and letters to authors
  • draw their own comics and picture books (we have a whole folder of fantastic creations!)
  • find peace and quiet in the midst of a busy school day. Some pupils visit the library to have some time out when they need to recharge
  • meet authors and illustrators in person and learn about their jobs (we’ve been lucky to host Peter Bently, Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Duncan Beedie in the last couple of years alone)
  • read for pleasure rather than skill and ability. I try to encourage the children to read what interests them and break down barriers that state, for example, that children shouldn’t read picture books above a certain age (I’m over 40 and still buy and read them!) or that books featuring girls can’t be read by boys.

Lucky librarian

I am fortunate enough to work in a fantastic school, where reading (especially for pleasure) is prized so highly that the room that used to be dedicated to IT was turned three years ago into the Library where I now work. Walls that used to have computers running along them are now covered in bookcases. We have so many books, that the cases are full-to-bursting.

We also have incredibly supportive parents, who buy books from our book fairs (which then helps us to buy books for the library) and who give us kind donations so we can invest in keeping the library the lovely place that it is.

What the children say

I’ve never been in a school where reading is such a key part of its identity – to the point where, if a class misses its weekly, hour-long library slot, the children get quite upset and demand when they can catch up!

When I chatted to the children this week about Libraries’ Week, they gave me a whole raft of reasons why libraries are important, such as:

“Because you can read lots of books and then return them and get more books out.”

“You don’t have to pay for the books, like you do in bookshops, so you can read lots.”

“You read stories and then return them so that other children can read them after you. I like that – that others read what I’ve borrowed. It’s nice.”

“The [school] library is my favourite place. It’s fun.”

When I explained to the children that some libraries were closing down, they said it was sad. Many use local libraries outside of school time on a regular basis and couldn’t imagine not having access to it. One boy told me today that every Saturday, he cycles to his swimming lesson, then has lunch and then goes to his local library in the afternoon and enjoys arts and crafts there and borrowing books. This was obviously a much-treasured weekend routine and a time when the family enjoyed doing something together.

I think this is one of the key benefits of libraries, especially to families with younger children. They offer people a free, or at least inexpensive, opportunity to share time together doing something fun and enriching. They open doors to new worlds inside the covers of the books they stock, be they non-fiction books about space or a mystery series starring favourite characters. They boost language ability; they spark creativity.

When I posed the luckily unlikely ‘what if’ scenario of our school library closing, the children first of all looked horrified – eyes wide in shock, little mouths open in disbelief – then grimly determined. One child said:

“I would go all the way to London to Buckingham Palace and demand the Queen give me enough money, and then I would come back to Oxford and give the money to the school so the library could open again.”

… while another shook her head and said:

“I would go back to my country and never return.”

A third promised he would get his dad and granddad to build a new library free of charge so that we would have a place to share books once again.

At St Michael’s I think it’s very clear that the children love their library. And this librarian loves sharing it with them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Happy World Teachers’ Day!

Apparently, today is World Teachers’ Day, so make sure you’re extra nice to them!

This is a perfect opportunity to look at the best and worst teachers in children’s books.

The first lovely teacher that springs to my mind is Miss Honey (even her name is gorgeous) from Roald Dahl’s Matilda (incidentally my favourite book by the master storyteller). She’s kind, she’s patient, and she even has a fantastic way of spelling the word ‘difficulty’.

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Of course, her arch enemy is the dreaded Miss Trunchbull – the child-hating, child-swinging bully who locks people up in the Chokey if they dare do anything to annoy her. Why she ever became a headmistress, I’ll never know.

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When I asked the children for some examples of teachers from the books they’d read, the staffroom from Hogwarts immediately came to mind – here are a few examples:

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They all look remarkably different to all of us here at St Michael’s! And we teach more mundane subjects such as English, maths, science, art, etc rather than the weird and wonderful subjects covered in the syllabus in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

Gillian Cross’s The Demon Headmaster certainly lives up to his name. Ruled by a desire to take over the world, he hides his bright green eyes under sunglasses until he’s ready to hypnotise his victims (pupils) with their piercing glare.

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One of my favourite depictions of how a child sees his or her teachers is in Peter Brown’s hilarious picture book My Teacher is Monster:

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This book deals with the embarrassing scenario of meeting your teacher outside of school boundaries. It always makes me chuckle how very little children assume we sort of stay here all the time, as in this book:

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… and they can’t quite take it in when they see us in other surroundings (though I must say all of the St Michael’s children I’ve seen have always been chatty and friendly!). Bobby in this book thinks his teacher is a monster because all she does is yell at the class to be quiet and take away their paper airplanes.

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When he sees her sitting in the park one day, the sense of awkwardness leaps off the page:

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Neither one seems terribly happy to see the other but it all comes out OK in the end.

Teachers are perfect characters for children’s literature though. They are:

  • authority figures who need to have their eyes opened to the evils of the school
  • symbols of an adult world that seeks to thwart the best intentions of a child
  • a perfect target for practical jokes (see Enid Blyton’s boarding school stories, and the havoc the girls wreak on the Mamzelles in particular)

Admittedly, the rebellion mainly comes later in books aimed at older children – in picture books, a more friendly, nurturing soul is encountered, else no one would turn up – they’d be scared rigid.

So who are your favourite teachers in children’s books? Friend or foe? Ally or enemy? Let me know!

 

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Our poetry

What? Two posts in ONE day? Well, it IS National Poetry Day after all so we need to celebrate it!

Today, our year 6 children had a go at a difficult task. I printed off random images from the internet, popped them into a bag, and asked them to choose one. The selected picture would be their visual prompt for a poem they had to write in ten minutes.

You should have heard the groans of despair. The ‘I can’t do this, Miss!’ and the ‘Do I have to?s’. But THEY DID! And these are some of the results. I am dead impressed and hope you are too.

The Shining Ball, by Alfie

The sun

Glistening

Off the delicate

Glass ball

The feathers

Are burning

Yellows

The wet

Grass

Shining  from

The Sun

 

Charlie Cooper, by Duke

National Galleries of Scotland

Charlie Cooper

Was a skater

But he had to go to tea a bit later.

He was off in a hurry

To get some coffee

Before he was off to the ice rink.

Like an elegant swan he skated

Stopping for a break, he gloated

About how great he was.

 

Pufferfish, by Luke

Pufferfish

Human in the

Ocean

Top of the food chain, they eat

Octopuses, they

Smell like

Overweight

Poo.

Flying

All over the

Internet’s

Locker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s National Poetry Day!

Today is National Poetry Day, and I’m pretty excited about it. I love poetry, from the dreaminess of the Romantics to the silliness of Spike Milligan and Edward Lear.

Children love poetry, too, particularly poems that rhyme. In fact, sometimes we have to gently encourage them not to always write a poem around the rhyme as it can sound a little forced! That was why last week’s read of Michael Rosen’s ‘Chocolate Cake’ was so great – the children learned that there are other ways of writing poetry and it can be just as effective! (The children are STILL begging me to read that book this week.)

However, rhyme is important in other ways. It helps children learn the rhythm and cadence of language and it’s also wonderful for helping with their prediction skills. Yesterday, I introduced our new Reception children to the delights of Peter Bently’s Dustbin Dad and, even though none of them had read it before, they accurately guessed the end rhymes much of the time (and had a great laugh in doing so).

Poems are a wonderful way to share emotions with children, too. Sadness, silliness, happiness and joy can be found everywhere in children’s poetry, as can wonder at the natural world and consolation when times are tough. Pop into our library and take a look at our poetry collection and tell me your favourites!

I’ll leave you now with some poems and excerpts to enjoy. Happy National Poetry Day!

A lovely, hilarious rhyming couplet from Roald Dahl’s Revolting Nursery Rhymes (Little Red, in case you didn’t know!)

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From Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech

And finally, one of my all-time favourites:

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