The Raqqa Diaries: Escape from Islamic State – Samer

cover.jpgI picked this up completely at random in Waterstones. I have absolutely no idea what attracted me to it. But I’m glad something did.

This is a fantastic little book. I read this in a very short single sitting, but it will stay with me a great deal longer. Poignant, painful, sorrowful and heartbreaking though it all is, this is a show of defiance and an important work.

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.

Super Stan – Matt Robertson

29767222Read this with my year 1 class. It proved very popular. The pictures are very bright an packed with colour. The book has some funny moments children can enjoy and one of their favourite things is getting the chance to join in with screams/shouts as we read together, this fulfilled that requirement.

Select quotes from my class:

‘This is the best book we’ve read this year’
‘I liked it when the baby had a fight and beat a lion!’
‘You can learn a lot about being a brother and that you shouldn’t race cheetahs or lions if you don’t have super powers’

As always, we review by a thumbs up, sideways or down system. This received 27 thumbs up and 3 sideways out of 30. This makes it the second most popular book with my class so far this year. As such, I can thoroughly recommend it.

Death Need Not Be Fatal – Malachy McCourt (due to be published 16.5.17)

download1Despite the rather weighty subject matter, I felt like I was able to speed through this book like it was a lighthearted and cheerful read.

I am not like Malachy McCourt, I do fear death. It sometimes becomes a bit of an obsession for me and it can even be terrifying. But in ‘Death Need Not Be Fatal’ McCourt succeeds in making even me feel a little more cheery about the least cheery of subjects. I mean, you could have this as a light holiday read, yet it’s about dying. It somehow feels like I could read this on the beach relaxing and raise the odd smile and laugh, but, it’s about dying! How unusual. I suppose that is what creates the book’s charm.

This is a quick, quirky, witty and decent read.

(based on ARC)

The President’s Garden – Muhsin Al-Ramli (Due to be published 20.4.17)

cover108335-medium.pngI don’t know exactly where to start in trying to review this book. I am saddened to have finished it. I want to be able to go back to it and start again.

This is an absolutely beautiful read from start to finish. I cannot think of another modern novel I can compare it to that would fully do justice to this book. The obvious comparison is probably ‘The Kite Runner’ and while I enjoyed that book a great deal, this is far superior in depth and beauty. The only other comparisons I can draw are with the folk stories of ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ but even here it is a comparison that falls short because this is just altogether faster paced and more interesting to read.

I cannot even begin to discuss the narrative as is here, it is too deep, too layered and has too many subtle touches to be reviewed without this turning into a full blown essay.

I have not bought into characters and their heartbreak and struggles to the extent I did here in a very long time, if ever. I want to go buy the hard copy now just so that I can read it again, close the cover and stare at it for a while in awe.

And…***SPOILER*** I have never been so horrified to be left with so many questions unanswered. I have read a review of this book which mentions it leaves without an ending, I expected an open ending, I did not anticipate a ‘to be continued’. I don’t know if I am relieved or devastated. Will I get to read more? I am willing to pay big to do so if it means I get to return to this stunningly crafted world though any wait will be agony. Just please don’t leave it open like this!

This is a certifiable 5 star classic. Astonishing.

(Based on ARC)

Argyle Fox – Marie Letourneau (ARC – due to be published 14.3.17)

ArgyleFox_Cover_high-minI love the illustrations in this book. It helps that I love foxes (how could anyone not?) but they are also so detailed and filled with little treasures for children to find when they’re reading.

This is a short book, but it is long enough that it would suit being adapted for Talk for Writing style work with a class. In fact, I think I might use it for just that with my year 1 class next year.

The story is quite repetitive but without being too dull. This makes it perfect for young children to join in with and edit/adapt to make it their own.

What I liked about this book was that I could instantly see how I could use it in class. It focuses on windy weather conditions and specifically on playing games in the wind. Instantly I could see lessons based around science (materials/habitats), maths (measurements/seasons/shape/counting), art/D&T (sketches, collages or even making our own kites!), story writing (TFW), and just about everything in between. Given the bright and lovely images throughout, this could make for some lovely displays too, now we’re really into teacher geekiness!

All in all, a solid 4 star book which could easily be adapted and used for Early Years or right the way through KS1.

Geekerella – Ashley Poston (Advance Reading Copy – expected publication date 4.4.17)

Geekerella_72dpiI am definitely not the target audience for this book. The cover screams YA teenange/tweenage ‘chick lit’ (I can’t say I’m a fan of that term, but it kind of just jumped out at me from the cover image, sorry!). And so, I started out reading it thinking it seemed like a book I already had an audience in mind for. It seemed like a book I could hope to read and then be able to recommend to certain children. In short, I in no way expected to like this book myself anywhere near as much as I actually did. It felt slightly odd in fact, just how much I enjoyed this.

Essentially, I wasn’t far off the mark in expecting it to be a book that would suit certain children I have taught. There are certain types of children that could find it to be very relatable. The book is also current, quirky and geeky in all the right ways. The surprise in this book for me was how much I enjoyed it myself!

‘Geekerella’ centres around two different narrators, both of whom are outsiders, and both of whom relate mainly with the characters of a fictional sci-fi show named ‘Starfield’. In a nice sort of circular way, this is a book that will quite likely speak to its audience in the same way their fictional show speaks to the characters within it. It’s nice to read a book for younger people which makes it clear it is OK to be geeky or different (I could have done with that kind of book myself as a teenager!).

The narrative is pretty clear from the off. Don’t expect massive shock twists. You know Cinderella, you probably know there’s already a lot of similar stories that follow this formula, so you already know what to expect. Where ‘Geekerella’ differs and ensures it stands out enough is in its use of fandoms and cultural references that never fail to raise a smile to the reader. As I expected, I will be recommending this to some of the children I have taught, but I might be recommending it to a slightly larger audience than I had initially expected.

Cast No Shadow – Nick Tapalansky

I was drawn in by the premise of this book and as such was delighted to be able to read an advance reading copy of it. I do think that as an idea, it has the foundations on which to build something good. 25689013

‘Cast No Shadow’ covers a pretty wide range of topics if you wanted to use it as a starting point for any sort of discussion. This is a book in which a young reader is confronted with issues of; morals, loss, grief, spirituality, duality of existence, social norms, relationships and, well, almost everything else besides.

The idea of making a graphic novel which deals with quite open questions which can engage a young reader is certainly a good one. I can’t knock this book for trying to do that.

However, the book jumps rapidly from one thing to the next without much linking anything together. In essence, the narrative isn’t strong enough to hold together so many ideas all at once. While I admire and praise Nick Tapalansky for choosing to tackle subjects not always seen in books for younger readers (and specifically in graphic novel format) I suspect this is a case of too many things being challenged and looked at all at once.

I will not give up on this writer, nor the ideas behind the book. This could lead somewhere very good in the future in a similar genre, but I could not in all honesty say that I would recommend this particular book to any of the children I teach, and that is never a great sign.

Can You Become a Teacher if you have Epilepsy? (An advice piece)

The reason I’m writing this blog post is very simple; I searched for the answer to this very question myself about seven years ago.

The short answer is yes. The lovely people over at Epilepsy Action state as much and give some advice on the legal aspects of that, such as the fact that any employer (or university) which rejects you on the basis that you have epilepsy is likely committing disability discrimination. Of course, there are a few caveats to that answer.

Before you can get a realistic answer on whether or not you could become a teacher you need to ask yourself a few questions.

1. How often do you have seizures?

This is a huge factor in making any decision. When I first started teaching I had relatively few seizures. The amount I have now is way higher. As such, I have had to get a lot of support in place to be able to do my job (more on that later). If you’re having a lot of seizures (like daily) then this might not be the perfect line of work for you. Schools can make ‘reasonable adjustments’ but you have to remember they have to be just that; reasonable. It’s not all that realistic to expect a school to cover you every single day .

2. What sort of things trigger your seizures?

This can be pretty important. I love teaching, it’s the best job in the world, but it is still pretty demanding. If your seizures are triggered or worsened by things like stress, overworking, lack of sleep or anything similar then you should consider this carefully. I’m not saying avoid teaching, only that you will need to take care over your wellbeing, find the best ways to do things and look seriously at the different ways to become a teacher. I completed a PGCE at level 7. If I was doing it again now, I’m not sure I could manage the workload with my current level of health, but there are other ways of getting into teaching!

3. What is the severity of your seizures and how much recovery time do you need?

This comes back to the ‘reasonable adjustments’ part. If you have partial seizures, it might not take as much to adjust for you as if you have tonic-clonic for example. I have both. I still teach. So it can be done, but it is certainly more difficult with certain kinds of seizure, and let me just stress now that I am VERY lucky to be at the school I am at with how understanding they were when I was off work for almost a year due to heightened seizures and huge recovery times.
My advice here is,speak to your neurologist or epilepsy nurse.

4. Do you have a care plan in place?

My advice here is speak to your neurologist or epilepsy nurse. My neurologist at the time I started a PGCE helped ease my universities concerns and I worked with the disability support section of the university to draw up a care plan I could use for school placements.
It is possible, and advisable, to try to get something in place before you start applying for any teaching courses or training.
In my current job, my epilepsy nurse was more than happy to work with the school to help get a care plan in place that worked for both me and the school.

Ok, so, if you’re still reading now then there’s a good chance you feel like you could still manage in teaching. Good. Next, here’s some ideas of things you could look in to which may help you to get into teaching more easily or might help support you when you’re teaching:

Support workers – A government scheme called ‘Access To Work’ (ATW) is the starting point here. They will assess your needs if you feel your epilepsy could hinder your opportunities in teaching. When I started, I needed no help. Now, I have a support worker who comes into school in the afternoons when I am more prone to seizures. My support worker helps by putting up displays that are high up (I’m not allowed to use ladders), recapping me on lessons if I have a seizure and helping me recover safely.

Help with travel – You are likely entitled to a free bus pass and 1/3 off rail costs if you are not eligible to drive because of your epilepsy. You may also find that ATW are willing to pay for additional costs of travel if they arise (e.g. if you live in an area where there are no bus routes and you need taxis), it’s worth asking!

Plan your ‘safe seizure’ strategy WITH the children you teach! – This is my number 1 recommendation for anyone starting teaching who has epilepsy. In my experience, adults are far more likely to worry about your seizures than children are. When I tell teaching assistants I have epilepsy they tend to react with worry (‘what do I do if you have a seizure? I’ll just panic!’ etc), but children tend to be brilliant about it. Children take things in their stride and are usually amazingly resilient when dealing with things like this. I was incredibly nervous about telling a room full of children I had epilepsy for the first time. I told year 3/4. They were amazing. They came up with their own ideas of what they might do. By the end of the discussion we had planned that if I had a seizure, the class would return to their seats (so they were all safe) and that 2 children would take a card stuck to the door to the nearest adult (if there was not another adult in the room), this card would simply inform the adult that I needed help. In short, the children were brilliant, they planned a perfect way of dealing with any seizure I might have, and not one of them was anxious about it. The year 3/4 children I spoke to asked a few questions, and some of them chose to research it further for themselves.
Since then, I have told a year 1 class the same information. I have had seizures when working with this class of children aged 5-6 years old. It has not bothered them at all. I feel a little awkward about it, but the children I teach are supportive, kind and wonderful. I need never have worried.

Hopefully this is of some use to at least some people. I am always open to helping and supporting anyone interested in getting into teaching, whether they have epilepsy or not. If you have read this and still have any questions, please feel free to ask! Comment below or contact me via Twitter.

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