May Book of the Month

The Girl Who Became a Tree by Joseph Coelho

There’s no getting away from the fact that the verse novel is one of my favourite formats at the moment.  Here’s another one for you and this one is beautifully illustrated too, by Kate Milner.  It’s also set in a library so it couldn’t be any more appealing to me.

Daphne is mourning the death of her father and shuts out the grief of the real world by losing herself in her phone and the library.  Her Mum, a nurse, is often working late so she goes to the local library to seek comfort in books.  The librarian knows her and often keeps books to one side for her.  On one particular day, Daphne realises she’s lost her phone and the librarian guides her to a hidden hole in one of the bookcases and there, Daphne starts a journey through a magical forest and finds a creature who wants to keep her with him.

There are lots of different types of poems in the novel, such as pantoums, rondels, limericks and concrete shape poems, and they cleverly interweave the myth of Daphne and Apollo (Daphne was turned into a laurel tree by Apollo) with Daphne’s feelings as she struggles to cope with her loss.

This is an imaginative novel, written with such poetic skill, it takes the verse novel to another level.  Kate Milner’s illustrations add to the intensity and atmosphere of the narrative.

I’d recommend this for all year groups. A heart breaking novel that fuses myth, fantasy and reality and offers hope in the depths of despair.

April Book of the Month

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

 

This is the gripping story of a twelve year old Black boy called Jerome.  He is bullied at his school in Chicago, but befriends the new kid, Carlos who arrives from San Antonio.   Jerome teaches Carlos all that he has learned to avoid the bullies but, inevitably, the bullies find them.  Carlos pulls out a gun, which turns out to be a toy gun, but it serves its purpose and the bullies are scared off.  To thank Jerome for his help in settling in, Carlos gives Jerome the toy gun.  He wants Jerome to play and have fun with it.  Jerome is unsettled with the idea but accepts it, as Carlos is his new friend.  It is whilst playing in the park with the toy gun that Jerome is shot dead by a white police officer.

This story recalls the real life murder of Tamir Rice, a 12 year old Black boy, killed by a white police officer in Ohio in 2014.  There are lots of excellent books written for Young Adults (Senior Fiction) that deal with the racial prejudices and tension that still exist in the USA – This is my America by Kim Johnson, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas or Dear Martin by Nic Stone to name a few.  This story is unusual in that it is written for younger children and it is perfect for Years 7 and 8.  The story allows for discussion about the complex idea of conscious and unconscious racism.

The idea of bearing witness is central to the story.  After death, Jerome joins The Ghost Boys, the ghosts of murdered Black boys, including Emmet Till, who was murdered in 1955 in similar circumstances and whose death kickstarted the Civil rights Movement in the US.  The chapters of the story alternate between the last few days of Jerome’s life, and his after-life, where he observes both his family grieving their loss and the guilt of the police officer’s family.  The Ghost Boys are trying to change the world, to help the dead to speak and will continue to do so until skin colour no longer matters.

Jerome’s story is both a protest for change and a platform to ask people to learn and not to judge.  This is short story and a quick read but it has a big impact.  It’s difficult to say I enjoyed it because of the subject matter, but I do think it’s a book you should all read.

Thank you to the PTA

We’d like to say a huge thank you to the PTA for buying £1000 worth of new books for the library.  That’s 150 new fiction and non-fiction books, all of which reflect the diversity of our student population.  It’s important that our students see themselves represented in the books they read and this is a much needed boost to our collection.

8-5 Enjoying some of the new books the PTA bought

World Book Day Winners

As with everything in the last 12 months World Book Day looked a bit different this year but thanks to everyone who entered the Pupil Librarians’ World Book Day Competition. The variety of submissions really surprised and delighted us. From fan fiction, to songs, dressing up and food entries, we loved them all.

The Year 9 Pupil Librarians met the day after World Book Day (on Teams naturally) and voted on their favourites. It was a difficult choice given that the standard of entry was really high but the winner was clear. Congratulations to Advika W. (7-6), your picture was beautifully executed and perfectly captures the mood of the time.

WINNER!
Advika W 7-6 – This storm will pass
SECOND PLACE!
Sheena S 7-1 – Hermione from Harry Potter – a picture of her drawn using words that describe her personality. (Just like the saying, a picture is worth 1000 words :))

I have circulated an electronic version of the £1 World Book Day book token on Teams but when we get back in the library, if you’d prefer, you can come and collect a paper token. We also have a limited number of the £1 World Book Day books to buy with your token. You can use the token after the expiry date advertised so you’ll be able to use it when the shops reopen.

Take a look at all the entries. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did:

Staff Entries:

March Book of the Month

The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah

The blossoming of young love across the divide of differing beliefs (or warring families in the case of Romeo and Juliet) is a classic storyline.  In this case, we have Michael on one side, who is dragged along to anti-immigration rallies organised by his parents and Mina, who has survived a long and arduous journey from Afghanistan, a Muslim refugee. 

Michael’s first glimpse of Mina is from the opposing side of an anti-immigration protest. He’s intrigued and his interest is piqued when he sees that Mina is a new student at his (predominately white) school.  Their first exchange is testy and reveals their deep seated differences about Mina’s presence in Australia.  As they get to know each other better Michael struggles to reconcile his feelings for Mina with his family’s publicly outspokenIslamophobic and anti-refugee beliefs.  

This book is a page-turner.  Each chapter is narrated by either Mina or Michael and that allows us to build up a fuller picture of the characters.  In particular, we can see Michael’s growing realisation that his parents’ ideology is flawed and inhumane.  Michael and his classmates are forced to confront their privilege and casual racism as Mina becomes part of their friendship circle.   

I loved the relationship between Mina and her new friend Paula.  They hang out and do regular friend things, like bake and have movie marathons.  This, along with the burgeoning romance between Mina and Michael provide entertaining relief from the anger and hatred Mina and her family face as they are trying to establish their lives in a new home and confront their painful past. 

This is a good read, ideal for Years 9 and 10.  The ending is hopeful and shows how dubious beliefs can be transformed through human relationships. 

World book day competition

Recreate your favourite book character.
You can use any medium you like: write a song, use arts & crafts, food or dress up.
It’s up to you!

Enter the competition to win a book token.

Email your entry to:
library@aggs.bfet.uk by Thursday 4th March

February Book of the Month – Years 9, 10 and 11

Run Rebel by Manjeet Mann

At the end of January, the organisation EmpathyLab launched its Reading for Empathy Booklist.  Each book has been chosen to do a specific job in building up your empathy.  I’ve chosen one of the 20 books in the collection for secondary schools as February’s Book of the Month.  Again, it’s a verse novel.  Along with poetry, I can’t seem to get enough of this style of writing at the moment.  It’s direct and I’m in awe of anyone who can articulate themselves with such brevity and beauty.   

Run Rebel is the story of Amber Rai, an exceptional athlete who is growing up in an Indian household in Britain.  Her father is out-of-work, abusive and drinks too much.  Her mother works long hours in terrible conditions and they are poor.  Neither can read or write in either their mother tongue or in English, so Amber acts as their translator, looking at bills, letters and shopping lists for them.  Their community is misogynistic and, like their mother, Amber and her sister are scared into submission with stories of the terrible things that happen to girls who try to be independent and pursue their education and careers.  Amber is trapped by her father’s violence, the community that spies on her and her own fears.  She loves to run and has the opportunity to represent her County but she will have to rebel against her father in order to do this.  It is whilst studying the Art of Revolution in History that she begins to form a plan to break the cycle of her father’s abuse.  Education as a means to empowerment is one of the main themes of this book. 

The book is plotted well and we follow Amber’s story as she works through each of the eight stages of the anatomy of a revolution.  The way the text looks on the page is interesting too.  The dialogue of each character is written in a different font.  On some pages, letters are highlighted to spell out hidden words which reveal the true feelings that Amber is unable to share with her friends and family. 

This is a powerful read.  The story obviously means a lot to the author, Manjeet Mann, who has started her own organisation called Run the World, which empowers women and girls from marginalised backgrounds through sport and storytelling.  The author’s experiences ensure the authenticity of the characters.  Amber is a complicated and flawed character.  For example, the conflict she feels between her desperation to flee her father and the desperate hope he will change his ways.  She also becomes the bully in order to regain some control of her life and these scenes are difficult to read.   

There’s a lot to learn about ourselves here too.  Amber’s PE teacher cannot understand why Amber’s parents would let her squander her talent and why Amber can’t persuade them otherwise.  “You don’t even understand that rebellion is a privilege” Amber retorts. 

Without giving too much away, the story has a satisfying and hopeful finale.  I found the final scenesplayed out between Amber, her Mum and her sister particularly moving.  This book, and the others on the Read for Empathy booklist, help us to understand the lives of those experiencing tough situations and in doing so, hopefully, can make us all better people. 

Recommended for Years 9, 10 and 11 

February Book of the Month – Years 7 & 8

When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jameson and Omar Mohamed

At the end of January, the organisation EmpathyLab launched its Reading for Empathy Booklist.  Each book has been chosen to do a specific job in building up your empathy.  I’ve chosen one of the 20 books in the collection for secondary schools as February’s Book of the Month. 

When Stars are Scattered is a graphic novel based on the true story of Omar Mohamed who was forced to flee, with his younger brother Hassan, from his home in Somalia to a Kenyan Refugee Camp called Dadaab.  There, they live with an elderly woman, Fatuma, who has been assigned to look after them in the camp.  The book covers six years of their lives in the camp as they, and all the other refugees, try to gain legitimate passage out of the camp for resettlement to another country. 

It’s written and illustrated in a beautiful and simple way which makes it accessible but belies the importance of the message.  This page is a great example of what I mean: 

The story opens a window on a world far away, one that is all too easy to forget exists.   When a foreign TV crew turn up to film the camp, Omar wonders “if anyone ever watched these shows back in England or Australia or America?  And if people did watch them, why wasn’t anyone helping us?”  If the news reports aren’t enough to spur us into action then this story might just do it.  Through Omar we see the trauma and uncertainty of refugee life.  We also see the love and support the refugees show to each other.  You cannot fail to be moved by the heartache and sorrow expressed in this story.  I was certainly not prepared for it and read the final few pages in tears.  This is a story that will stay with you for a long time.   

Highly recommended for Years 7 and 8.  (Have a box of tissues close by when you read it!) 

 

January 2021 Book of the Month

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

Liz decides to run for Prom Queen so that she can win a scholarship which will enable her to attend her dream college.  She believes she isn’t Prom Queen material and so she has to figure out how to put herself out there, in the glare of social media, a position in which she feels very uncomfortable.  She is funny and smart but also anxious. 

When I was reading this, I was reminded so much of the films I watched as a teenager, like Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club.  In fact, Molly Ringwald, everybody’s favourite actress of the time, is even name checked in the book.  The films seemed fresh and unique, not least because a story told from the female perspective (see also Dirty Dancing) was a rare thing and, in the absence of books written specifically for young adults, these films were the only way we could see ourselves in stories.  There is so much to love about these films and though it feels disrespectful to my teenage self to criticize them, there’s no doubt that if I revisited them now they would feel problematic, almost certainly chauvinistic and definitely lacking in diversity. 

We’ve come a long way in society to become more inclusive but we still have a long way to go.  The idea of feeling other and angry and afraid and isolated as a teenager is timeless.  You Should See Me In a Crown perfectly reflects the complexity of where we stand today: Liz is gay, Black girl living in small town America.  Yes, we have all the high school tropes, the mean girl, the platonic boy/girl friendship, the romance, the misunderstanding, the Prom night.  However, like the best films from my school days, this book stands out because it takes Liz and her friends’ feelings and dilemmas seriously.   

This is a heart-warming, life-affirming and utterly delightful take on the high school romantic comedy.  I’ve no doubt that if this had been in the cinema during the 1980s, I’d have been there with my friends, on my feet, clapping and cheering as the final credits rolled. 

Recommended for all fans of the RomCom but especially Years 8 and 9. 

Year 9 Library Loyalty Scheme

Congratulations to Charley W and Chi-Yan N of 9-5 who were the first pupils to get a bar of chocolate from the Year 9 Library Loyalty Scheme. Since their English class visited the library on December 1st, they’ve returned 4 more times to take out books. If you are in Year 9 and haven’t yet got a Loyalty Card, drop in on Wednesdays at Rec or Friday lunchtime to get yours. You’ll get a bar of chocolate on every 5th visit to take out books. (Terms and Conditions apply!)