Representation and why graphic novels are vital for it.

This week has seen another unnecessary attack on teaching thanks to the vile excuse for a news source that is The Sun (I have no interest in pretending to be impartial) and it has led to some horrific abuse that is completely unwarranted. I won’t post a link in case it makes them think they did something well! Now the article was focusing on changing house names to more modern role models and this led to lots of right wing cretins crawling out of the woodwork and proclaiming how lucky their children were for not going to that school and how we can’t delete history. But then a fascinating secondary wave of attack began, centered aorund the fact that Lee Hill (don’t know him but sounds like a pretty sound bloke based on what he’s done) was tattooed or to quote the article a “heavily tattooed headteacher.” Now how this is relevant to reporting the story I will never know because I’m sure he didn’t look at his tattoos and think you know what this bit of ink is right I should have a Greta Thunberg house but somehow it became relevant. At the end of the day I’m pretty sure children can relate a lot more to her than Nelson ( I’m from Nelson’s county and I wouldn’t care about the switch) so why shouldn’t they switch things up and modernise them? But that is a far bigger debate that I can’t solve here so back to looking at skin markings.

As a tattooed teacher myself I didn’t contemplate his choice of ink to even be an issue but then I dipped into the comments section to see a wave of attacks suggesting that he isn’t good at his job because he had his arm coloured in. This was followed by lots of teachers saying ‘well I’ve got them and it doesn’t make me worse at my job, I can’t believe we are discussing this in today’s age’. But that’s the problem just because lots of people accept them now doesn’t mean that everyone does and we forget that. I am a good example of this, my dad is 66 and loathes every single marking I have chosen to add to my body and I mean loathe. It doesn’t affect our love for each other but he still feels the need to tell me everytime he spots a new one that I shouldn’t get anymore and if he had it his way he would take them off me. My point here is that he is only just at retirement age, how many heads, CEO’s, teachers, professors etc are of a similar age or generation and thinking the same? Just because I love the fact my legs are colourful doesn’t mean my next boss will and actually we need to start thinking that if we want to change these opinions we need to do something not just get more tattoos and hope they start to like them. Otherwise as unfortunate as it is tattoos will have the potential to cause issues in the workplace.

Now obviously I don’t think my teaching is anyway worse because I have a T-Rex on my leg (in fact it used to help appease a tricky pupil in the past) but it also doesn’t make me better at my job. Lots of my colleagues are brilliant and have tattoos just like lots of them are brilliant who don’t have them. I’m sure if Jon Biddle rocked up tomorrow with a full Japanese sleeve he wouldn’t start burning down the library or forgetting how to add because it literally makes no difference to your teaching ability. If you want them great, if you don’t great, do what’s best for you.

This made me think about how we make the perception that they are a choice more obvious, after all we have finally realised that we need to represent all of society in literature rather than just one stereotypical view of life. So surely it is the same in regards to appearance, why shouldn’t children see images of different aesthetics – tall, thin, tattooed, long hair, no hair, piercings? To go further surely as well as looking at ethnicity we should also be looking at different body types and exploring those who have had to overcome other issues such as hearing and sight impairments, wheelchair users, limb amputees etc. If we want to create a more accepting society then we need to represent it more. We need to represent it all not just what we find comfortable.

So after all of this waffle I’ve come to tell you how the answer to this is not only more books but specifically comics and graphic novels. When I tried to think of books where people were represented having to overcome an obstacle to do with their body or simply appearing ‘differently’ (lets be honest there is no normal) I thought of multiple graphic novels that were also hugely popular in the classroom. El Deafo is a brilliant way of teaching readers how hearing loss can affect people, Cardboard Kingdom looks at a range of issues such as gender identification struggles and gender stereotypes. Raina Telgemeier has addressed several big issues but her work showing anxiety in Guts transformed some of the girls in my class who begun to realise it was normal to worry. Coming soon is the book Allergic about a girl who suffers with allergies, as someone who has developed a ridiculous intolerance to items like hand sanitizer, soap and washing up liquid (the pandemic has been interesting for my skin to say the least!) I can’t wait to read it and see how they show an issue some are embarassed of. I myself don’t love showing up to work when my skin is swollen and red but actually the children don’t care because they know why I’m like that and they are really understanding because they have seen it and someone has explained it.

Now the beauty of graphic novels is along with all these brilliant examples of showing why these things shouldn’t be an issue there are plenty of books that maybe don’t address one big issue but are filled with pages showing characters breaking sterotypes ( The Breakaways, Primer). Characters from all parts of the world are included and it gives us a chance to explore their culture and traditions. Stargazing and Pashmina show some fascinating insights into Asian culture and obviously Gene Luen Yang is a master of showcasing his upbringing in America but with Asian heritage, as is Kelly Yang with the brilliant Front Desk ( not a graphic novel but truly phenomenal).

Children in my class don’t bat an eyelid at different cultures and ethnicities mixing because they’ve been exposed to lots of it in books so surely the key is to keep doing this and make sure all of society is included. Perhaps if some of the people commenting on the article that sparked this debate had been brought up on a wider variety of literature in various forms they would be more tolerant of others now. All books are important in this but as a man who is passionate about the world of comics and graphic novels I think they can play a huge role in helping destroy people’s misperceptions without them even realising. If they read pages of text and see images showing people teaching with tattoos, women being treated equally, ethnic minorities being given equal opportunities then they won’t grow up expecting anything different. If we hide these things then how can we expect them to accept them?

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Superman Smashes the Klan

Wednesday was an interesting day to say the least, it was our final day of term before a day of trust wide CPD. If I’m honest my motivation was low, energy was low and morale wasn’t at its usual heights. The toll of a tough half term was showing and I think the children in my class were seemingly aware that we needed a break from each other. On my way to work in the morning it had dawned on me that I had nothing prepared for an English lesson as we had finished a week long piece of work the day before. Now most people would make this a priority to sort out immediately, however being the fairly relaxed person that I am, I decided to ignore it and bemoan the fact I was hungry instead. This turned out to be the best decision I’ve made all term.

Come break time my brain finally caught up and realised I still didn’t have a lesson ready and frankly I still didn’t have much motivation. Watching my class deal with wet play told me a lesson of writing may not be as successful as I’d like so I decide comprehension is the route for me. I then decide it’s time to do our first bit of text marking this term, year 5 have never done it, what better day to start? I start combing the shelves for a text and then I came across Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang. Now I love this mini series and despite not being a big Superman fan it really blew me away with how well it covered such a sensitive topic. As I flick through the pages, it dawns on me that we had a discussion about the KKK only a couple of weeks ago because it was referenced in HIgh Rise Mystery. A Youtube comment in the book was from someone who had KKK in their username. The day we read that part of the book we had a really honest but very brief discussion as a class about what the Klan stood for and how it related to the story.

As break time came to an end I’d just managed to photocopy the page (on the furthest away copier because obviously one was broken) and I strolled in ready for either a engaging discussion involving racism or a lesson where I wonder why I thought it would work. As always I started the lesson demonstrating how to mark down your thoughts as you explore the text, using the visualiser they can see how much I manage to extract from one panel. I show the questions, I make it okay to question yourself or be unsure and then in pairs they are let loose. Some of the year fives start looking around wondering what is actually going on and if I’ve lost my mind.

Superman Smashes the Klan (2019-) #1 eBook: Yang, Gene Luen, Gurihiru,  Gurihiru, Gurihiru, Gurihiru: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store

Like most lessons when you permit talking and encourage discussion, no one talks or even thinks about making a noise. At this point the doubt creeps in and then slowly like a miraculous ripple, noise starts to permeate around the room. I hear year six children taking the lead and demonstrating how to approach the work. I watch pairs questioning each other and looking for answers. I also deal with two boys who seem incapable of working together and choose to spend their time blaming each other for not being able to annotate much or come up with ideas.

After about 20 minutes we came back together as a class and we shared our ideas. Children add new ideas or answers to their quesitons in blue pen to show it’s from our discussion. As we go through the page, I slowly feed them subtle clues or question them about the people on the page and what they’re doing. Especially the ones in the weird robes. About half way through the penny drops that these are the bad people we talked about the other week in High Rise Mystery because the person had a username with KKK in it. At the this point the conversation starts to erupt. More children are willing to share ideas, more questions are answered by using the text or the informations we’ve worked out, more children are realising that there was a point to this lesson after all. By the end I barely needed to do anything as another child is nearly always capable of explaining what is happening or answering someone elses question.

We covered a delicate subject, gained a greater understanding of it and then I did my best to help the class with their inquisitiveness about it. Now this last one means my headteacher probably has some strange search results coming his way because unsurpisingly I didn’t exactly have a photo of a cross burning to hand. But it was important that they realised this story was all too familiar for a lot of people. Maybe not us, but too many people had suffered for me to just say they were bad people and leave it at that.

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The class responded well to this and expressed their shock and disgust that so many people could be so cruel. It pleased me that my class was appalled by it but it also shows that in order to prevent these issues continuing to plague society we have a responsibility as teachers to keep educating pupils about them. If we choose to ignore or downplay thr atrocities of the world to children then they won’t be able to grow up fully comprehending why things are happening or even what is happening. Yes we need to deal with these matters delicately and at the right time, but this summer has shown that they have to be raised or history will continue to repeat itself.

Is bruv standard English?

After marking some less than inspiring SPAG tests last week I decided to try and modify my teaching this week to not only incorporate more opportunities to address gaps but also to cover them in different way. In order to make the learning purposeful, all of the work was related to our current English text High Rise Mystery. On Thursday we looked at the books use of non-standard English especially in regards to the character George. The class grasped the idea fairly well but for many it was not a concept they were as familiar with as they should be. After being asked by one pupil if ‘bruv’ and ‘oi’ were considered standard forms it dawned on me that one lesson wasn’t going to be enough. Friday was a good chance to consolidate learning rather than leaping forward onto something else.

Thursday’s lesson used text from High Rise Mystery but I wanted to try and vary their interaction with non standard forms so I turned to a few graphic novels for Friday. Looking forward in my planning allowed me to see using speech was looming on the horizon so I decided to get a little head start on that as well.

We started off with a quick task to see how confident they were with standard English after Thursday’s lesson. Using a page from New Kid by Jerry Craft, they had to identify where the non-standard forms where and then change them into standard form. This was more of a warm up exercise than anything else but it did present a few misconceptions that I was able to correct early. The easiest example was how some mistook Jordan’s use of the word ‘kay for a name and not a shortened form of okay or who’s meaning who was not who is.

A page from New Kid by Jerry Craft used to start the lesson. This task highlighted several misconceptions and also required a reminder for some that capital letters should still be applied, too many followed the pattern of this example and thought a less formal task meant capitals didn’t matter.

After refreshing their brains and reminding them of the need for correct punctuation we moved on to looking at a page from Southern Bastards by Jason Aaron. The name alone should tell you this isn’t a book for younger readers but just in case it doesn’t please don’t buy this for your class unless you want a lot of parents at your door. That being said it is a brilliant read for adults.

Southern Bastards is set in the south of America so it’s full of non-standard English throughout, the only challenge was finding a page that didn’t have swearwords littered throughout. I settled on a page that featured Jad, a young boy who uses ain’t repeatedly. Perfect.

Before turning the words of Jad and protagonist Earl into a standard form, we covered the rules of punctuating speech. This time rather than simply annotating the panels the children would turn them into written speech between the two characters. This would provide a further opportunity to reinforce the rules of standard English and after being out of school for so long it would give a lot of the class a chance to recap writing speech again.

Although it wasn’t always perfect the majority of the class were able to convert the pages into standard English and by the end they were starting to punctuate the conversation correctly. Using graphic novels rather than the plain text from High Rise Mystery made the speech punctation easier for many to pick up again after a while away. It allowed them to see clearly which words were said by the character and who said them. This should prepare them well for their upcoming work where they will be using High Rise Mystery to inspire their own writing and they will be expected to use dialogue in it to progress the story. Thankfully by the end of the lesson everyone agreed that bruv was non-standard.

Amulet list poetry

Like most schools around the country we have been looking at Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers during the first two weeks back. Having the chance to talk about lots of important issues was vital and for some children it was the first time they have had the opportunity to discuss some of the big issues in the world.

After working on human rights and thinking about the protests over the past few months it made me think of some work I’d seen online (http://cbldf.org/2014/09/using-graphic-novels-in-education-amulet/) about using Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi to discuss what you would do if you could turn back time. In Amulet the character Silas says “the power of the Amulet can give power to turn back time…the power to shape your world.” Which led to me posing the question what might you go back in time for and what might you change? This linked well with Here We Are as the book talks about savouring life and trying to appreciate it before it flies by.

With everything we had discussed during that second week it seemed like every child had at least one big thing they would like to change or redo but it gave us a chance to actually look at some smaller events as well. Some of the things we could probably change now if we thought more about them, like not hitting our brother every day or being more polite. I raised the point that we often leave things too late or ignore them completely and only realise much later that we should have dealt with them differently. The prior week my dad had been in and out of hospital with heart trouble which had led to me reflecting on our years of wasted time arguing over the most petulant matters. I explained to the class that if I could turn back time I’d learn to leave the little things alone instead of going out of my way to argue about why Metallica needed to come out of my speakers at full volume in order to be appreciated properly (hopefully with hindsight he has realised I was right.)

After sharing this real life example the class discussed ideas together and some were very honest in recalling times they shouldn’t have been afraid or times they had been stubborn and regretted wasting their time sulking. Eventually we had to start turning down anecdotes otherwise we could have sat there all day hearing about the time they only went on the zip slide with five minutes left at the park!

After sharing lots of examples we constructed a brief list poem together on the board using some of their experiences. I started the poem and they were given advice on structure with most choosing to start every other line with the phrase “If I could turn back time” some chose to just write this at the start and surprisingly none of them chose the easy option of just using it as a title and then writing the bare minimum below it.

I better check with her Grandad if this tea promise has been fulfilled at all.

Using Amulet on the visualiser and comparing it with some of the imagery and themes we had been discussing in Here We are really helped to create some emotive writing and prevented the usual ‘I can’t think of anything to say’ approach. Having the contrasting images of a quiet countryside and then the business of New York in Here We Are really helped to get across the point that life moves fast. Every child was able to complete the task and some were desperate to write as much as possible. Using the format of a list poem took away the fear some children feel when writing poetry, proved that poetry really doesn’t have to rhyme like some claimed and meant those that are less confident writers didn’t have to worry about filling pages of A4 with their memories. A few ideas and the handy trick of repeating the same line allowed them to create powerful work that they could be proud of.

This was written by a year 5 child who often struggles to express herself in front of others but has tapped into some powerful emotions here.

Zatanna and the House of Secrets by Matthew Cody & Yoshi Yoshitani.

They say don’t judge a book by its cover but I definitely purchased this book based solely on the cover. In fact I was debating whether to buy this or Anti/hero and I chose this because something about the cover was so alluring. In a cruel twist of fate there is a preview of Anti/hero in the back of this book and now I’m desperate to read that as well so I might as well have purchased both there and then.

Zatanna is a very enjoyable read and my favourite thing about it is that I know my class are going to truly love it. I enjoyed it but I’m not the main target audience and you can see how there will be so many children who are going to be fully enveloped by the story of Zatanna. As I worked my way through the mysteries of the book I could already picture those kids who would simply devour the story. Then a talking rabbit entered the fray and several more names immediately popped up. Without giving too much of the book away Zatanna is a child who possesses more power than she knows and ends up in a position where only she can save the day with a little help from Pocus the rabbit.  Her dad is not necessarily who he seems and her family history is certainly not the same as Zatanna has been told. While dealing with all of this, Zatanna still has to deal with the trials and tribulations of growing up and settling in at school. Of course there is a lot more to it than that but it’s a story where you take great joy from each reveal and twist that is delivered, I would be cruel to remove that joy from your reading experience.

Zatanna and the House of Secrets (2020) | Read All Comics Online ...

The story is a mixture of mystery and fast paced action but also manages to work in important themes such as dealing with friendships, self confidence and the importance of being respectful. For me it felt like a book that fans of Raina Telgemeier would enjoy as despite it’s fantasy/magic elements the characters deal with a lot of real life issues. Common issues that we all go through while growing up. Despite all of the emotional depth the book still manages to pack in action at a great pace so those who may struggle to focus will be entertained as well. In regards to age this is an all ages book but I would say Year 4 and up will be the readers that can get the most out of it. It’s a worthy addition to any KS2 class and is another example of an excellent book from DC for kids.

ZATANNA AND THE HOUSE OF SECRETS | DC

 

RuinWorld by Derek Laufman

From the first page to the last, RuinWorld is a book that draws you into its universe and makes you desperate to stay there as long as possible. It is truly superb. At no point does the book feel oversaturated with unnecessary dialogue, the pacing is perfect and the action is sprinkled effectively throughout to keep you on the edge of your seat. I came to this book ready to like it, everyone had told me it was great and I had been toying with buying it for months. However, I wasn’t prepared for how much I was going to love it. Everything about it seemed perfect for me as a reader and the illustrative style of Laufman really supported the quality of his writing.

The story in simple terms is a classic adventure where a group of adventurous types meet and form a team in a bid to stop an evil enemy gaining dangerous levels of power. Despite following a classic format of the action genre, the book never feels cliched or predictable. All of the characters have their own personal reasons for being involved and these are developed or responsible for choices along the way. Again, this is done naturally rather than just shoved in because that’s what happens in adventure stories.

You’ll meet lots of characters throughout the book but the real stars of the show are Pogo and Rex. At times they feel like a modern version of Sam and Frodo but they develop at a much quicker rate and have less conversations about potatoes. Rex is the bold and brash heroic one of the pair while Pogo is nervous and often only one tentative decision away from causing disaster. Others join them in their quest but these two really steal the show.

RuinWorld is one of the books that feels like an essential in all classrooms, it’s not a risky pick where you wonder if this years class will appreciate it. There will be children in your class who will adore it and chances are once a few start reading it most of the class will because the joy this book gives the reader is infectious. As soon as I had finished it I needed to speak to people about it, whether they had read it or not. Laufman has created a truly brilliant book and we can only hope that he is going to revisit this universe more in the future.

6/5 – It is that good and that essential, if you teach Year 4 and above you need it.

RuinWorld: Eye for an Eye SC: Amazon.co.uk: Derek Laufman: Books

The Boy Who Became A Dragon: A Bruce Lee Story by Jim Di Bartolo

Bruce Lee is a name known round the world and often one of the first people mentioned when thinking about martial arts. He remains increidibly famous despite dying 47 years ago, yet how much do people really know about his life? Before reading this book my knowledge was limited to the following: he fought Chuck Norris, his son was The Crow and Brad Pitt’s character fought him in the latest Tarantino film. I was quite frankly uneducated and ignorant to the journey Lee went through in his 32 years on this Earth. However thanks to this fantastic telling of his youth from Jim Di Bartolo I now know significantly more.

The story focuses primarily on Lee’s formative years  and the struggles he endured. Academic, physical and political isues all arose for him consistently. From the start the book is honest and isn’t afraid to showcase how unfair things were in Hong Kong as Japan took over and seized control. Along with highlighting how these issues affected the people in the country it explores the knock on effect it had on the economy and the wealth of Hong Kong citizens. Racism plays a part throughout and shows how despite being seen nowadays as an Asian star, Lee often found himself outcast due to his mother being half German. Repeatedly we see his struggle to understand where he fits in with society.

As the story progresses you begin to realise that this book isn’t here to portray Lee as a man who was just naturally brilliant and succeeded at everything because of genetics. If anything it’s the opposite. Di Bartolo brilliantly showcases how hard it was for Lee to focus, how he didn’t know what his passion was and then when he found it how hard he had to work in order to become the legendary name he is today. This isn’t your classic turns up for one session and is better than everyone by the end. As a reader you see Lee deal with setbacks and obstacles continously but the key is he doesn’t let them stop him. As a role model he is everything we preach about in the teaching industry, resilient and robust. Willing to make the sacrifice required to achieve his dreams even when others are actively stopping him.

The story of Bruce Lee will ring bells with teachers across the world of a student who showcases potential and ability but can’t direct it appropriately. They might be the student who gives up before they’ve really tried, they might say nothing interests them or it may be that they always blame something else for stopping them. This is the perfect book to show them.

Bruce Lee battled through adversity, he struggled in school, he was always in trouble but when he found the passion for something he pushed himself as hard as he could to be the best he could. Personally I think this message is vital for children to see especially as they prepare to transition to secondary school and the fear of not being good enough or popular is often amplified. It also shows that you can turn things around, a reputation can be changed and you control your own destiny. Yes there are some artisitc liberties taken in places but the author acknowledges that himself in his notes at the end, however the core values are present throughout and it’s hard not to resonate with the never give up attitude of Lee even when he’s being dragged home by the police on a regular basis!

Personally I loved this book and can’t recommend it enough for year 5/6. It can teach the reader lots on a personal level along with lots of historical information that they are unlikely to know at all. For some this will be the inspiration they need to push themselves while for others it’s a fantastic opportunity to read about a different culture and a character who compares very differently to the so called modern ‘celebrity’, 5 stars for sure.

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When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson & Omar Mohamed

Buy this book. If you take only one thing from this review then let it be that message. In simple terms books like these need to be in every UKS2/LKS3 classroom up and down the country. The messages and values displayed throughout are so important for children to read about especially if they have come from a very priveleged or secure background. Much like Illegal by Eoin Colfer, WSAS isn’t designed to make being a refugee seem more light hearted or a plight that people exaggerate, it is designed to give you an accurate and honest portrayal of how difficult life in a refugee camp can be. Not every refugee will have the same story and that is an important point raised throughout, even in camps designed for safety no refugee has the same experience or treatment.

The main story of WSAS follows Omar and Hassan, two brothers who have fled Somalia after their dad was killed. Along with losing their father, the boys have been separated from their mum and have no idea if she has survived or not. As the reader we get to see the boys grow up and deal with problems that many of us would never experience, at times they have to go without food for a day and school is a luxury that Omar is almost made to feel guilty for. Hassan has seizures but there is no help with medicine or guidance on supporting these. As the story progresses both the boys have their own battles to fight but the goal is always to try and secure a new life in America. A safe life.

I don’t want to say much else about the story as the rollercoaster of emotions that come with reading it shouldn’t be spoilt. Instead I want to focus on why this book is so important. Throughout the story the character’s in the camp showcase a range of important values. Omar shows exceptional resilience, maturity, responsibility, humility and he has a fantastic work ethic. The whole camp has an excellent attitude to school but the female characters Nimo and Maryam in particular set a phenomenal example that a lot of children could learn from. No matter what prejudice is thrown against them they try their very best to achieve as much as possible in school. They don’t settle for less than their best at any point. Despite the difficult situation all the characters are placed in there are never any excuses offered for poor choices or attitudes.

Having a chance to see people in such a diffiult situation but still full of aspiration is something that classrooms need. Speaking personally I know a lot of children in my class would be unaware of how tough the life of a refugee can be and are often prone to acting like they are the only ones finding things tough in life. Being able to share a story like this with them would really open their eyes and show them how they actually have a lot to be thankful for. Saying the story of Omar and Hassan is inspirational feels frankly a little underwhelming but it’s the best I can offer. WSAS is a brilliantly story that is brought to life by beautiful illustrations that help support the messages being conveyed. It covers a topic that many people are still ignorant of and is often misrepresented in the press. Despite being 2020 and technology giving us more access to the world than ever people still act like refugees are just here to take and not give. Such biased and unwelcome views are the reason books like this need to exist as they will help to enlighten readers about some of the atrocities refugees have been forced to endure before even gaining the opportunity to settle in a new country. Being based on a true story only enhances the power of the book and makes it one that should be talked about for years to come. The content is suitable for year 4 up but I would suggest pushing it more at year 5 as the length and content may be difficult for the average year 4 reader to sustain.

When Stars Are Scattered: Amazon.co.uk: Victoria Jamieson: Books

 

Donut the Destroyer review – Sarah Graley & Stef Purenins

In a bid to keep myself sane and carry on talking about all things graphic novel I’ve decided to write a few reviews. These are all based on books I’ve purchased and intend to use in my classroom when things return to a more normal state. None of them have been gifted to me so you can be assured what I say is my genuine opinion.

Donut the Destroyer is the latest book from Sarah Graley who has previously written Minecraft and Glitch. Glitch has been so popular in my school that I’ve had children from five or six different classes borrowing my copy and it’s been read so much in the last year that it will need replacing soon. You know how it is, the type of replacing that tells you the book has been loved byt hose who’ve read it rather than the replacing you do when someone spilt their water bottle on it.

Donut the Destroyer (Dtd) is a story about a character called Donut who is a member of notoriously evil parents, has a best friend who’s evil and is expected to attend the evil Skullfire academy. Instead she follows her heart and attends the heroic Lionheart school. It is all about the choice and battle of good versus evil. However it deals with the topic in a very new and refreshing manner that will ensure readers not only have an action packed story to read but will be presented with examples throughout of how they can control their actions and choices.

Covering the choice between being good or being evil could have ended with lots of moral lectures or very bland story telling that just wanted to make sure readers got the point. Graley steers clear of this though and delivers scenarios that allow an engaging story to flow while also demonstrating how responsible we all are for our own behaviour. Donut should be evil, her parents are world famous villains yet at no point does she think it’s the right thing for her to do. She always follows her heart and tries to do what she thinks is right in a situation. She tries not to give into peer pressure, she chooses friends that respect her for who she is rather than changing her behaviour to fit in. Her desire to be a prefect shows aspiration and when things don’t go her way she picks herself up and tries again, there’s no room for her to give up or throw a tantrum just because she didn’t ger her own way. These lessons are vital for younger readers to engage with as they set a brilliant example for them to follow. As I read it I immediately thought of several members in my class who would either adore the story or would benefit from seeing a strong role model like this, who was willing to fight for what they believe in. A personality trait that is hugely important but can so easily be dismissed by people who simply claim someone is ‘easily led’ as if that makes it acceptable.

Clocking in at 189 pages and packed full of well written dialogue, Dtd will be a challenging read for year four children but one they should be capable of. Year five and six will devour this story and be begging for more I am sure of it. As an adult the book reminded me of The Good Place. I’m not suggesting at all that Graley copied the T.V series but I had the same feeling of inspiration when reading how she had managed to put her own spin on a very saturated topic. As the story progresses it would be easy to throw in cliches or follow tired character arcs but Graley ensures her characters stick to what they believe in and proves that you should always fight for what you believe in. After all we tell children to follow their heart so the books they read should definitely be preaching the same message.

If you teach in UKS2 I have no doubt this will be a hugely popular addition to your library and a title well worth investing in. Glitch was a well written story that I enjoyed but I would argue this is an even better read.

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Vital books for the current climate.

Current events have raised the ongoing issue in British schools regarding BAME representation in literature. This topic has been rumbling for a few years now and although many people have tried to ensure their library provision provides a mixture of all cultures, many are oblivious to the one sided view they offer of the world. I know at my school we had fallen foul of this and it took a deep survey of our library by Jon Biddle to realise we weren’t providing the diversity our children needed. This wasn’t an intentional issue and we had both discussed previously how we had tried to buy a more diverse range of books for our own classes but it was never going to be enough to balance things up when you consider how often publishers stick to what they know.

Over the past two years our school has made a conscious effort to really improve the diversity and choice of literature available to all ages, in all formats. We have definitely got a larger selection of books showcasing BAME characters, cultures and beliefs from around the world but our shelves are far from the finished article. There still is and always will be more texts that require purchasing to ensure children leave with a balanced view of the world and it’s inhabitants. It is particularly important for our children because Norfolk can be very archaic and in places incredibly whitewashed. Casual racism is often tossed about and justified with ‘it’s just a joke’ or ‘that’s what people used to say’ and if you try to correct it you can easily be chastised for trying to ruin a joke.

Personally it has never made any sense to me and never will, perhaps it’s because my parent’s originated from London and therefore had experienced a lot more than some people who have been stuck in Norfolk all their lives. Perhaps it’s just because it never has and never will make any sense to me to make friends based on appearance. Why hang around with someone just because of how they look? If someone is a prick, they will always be one no matter what they look like! However I have to be realistic and realise this is an ongoing battle and just because I’m not racist doesn’t mean other people aren’t. The question is how do we change this?

The answer starts with books and honest discussions.

After reading the brilliant post by Ed Finch (if you haven’t read it, you must! – https://mrefinch.wordpress.com/blog/) I thought about how I could contribute to helping my school follow this example. I love nothing more than talking about the merit of graphic novels as you probably know, if you don’t you soon will. Thinking about literature that refelected other ethnicities, cultures or beliefs made me think about how graphic novels are actually ahead of the game with it. They haven’t always been but they do currently offer a range of stories from big name publishers that have BAME main characters and most importantly promote them and their culture positively.  If you look back historically at work like The X-men, a lot of those stories were about everyone being equal no matter what qualities they possessed. Not everyone spends their time reading graphic novels, so here is my guide to some that will work brilliantly in a primary school and that due to current events have become more important than ever.

New Kid – Year 4 onwards. Not only is New Kid a fantastically written story but it covers vital issues. Jordan moves to a new school and as the new kid he finds out that the culture at his new school is very different. He is one of the only African American students at the school which causes quite a culture shock for him. This book is hugely popular in all UKS2 classrooms and it’s messages are more important than ever.

New Kid Cover.jpg

Superman Smashes the Klan – I have let my year 5 children read this but I spoke to the whole class first about the delicate subject matter and would advise issuing it with caution. This story covers some of the issues asian immigrants suffered in America at the hands of the KKK. Brilliant story telling from Gene Luen Yang and a gripping read.

Superman Smashes the Klan (2019-) #3 eBook: Yang, Gene Luen ...

Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur – A brilliant all ages comic that is a huge hit with year 5 & 6 in my school especially my current class. This story is about a child genius named Luna who loves Science and is academically years ahead of where she needs to be. It’s full of action but also covers many life lessons that most ten year olds will go through at some point especially in regards to friendship and not fitting in.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Vol. 1 BFF: Amazon.co.uk: Amy Reeder ...

Akissi – Another all ages hit that works well in KS1 & KS2. The tales of a mischevious girl (Akissi) growing up in Africa. It’s light hearted throughout but helps to show how different life is in Africa compared to many people in this country.

Akissi: Tales of Mischief: Akissi Book 1: Abouet, Marguerite ...

Cardboard Kingdom – Perfect for Year 4 onwards. This story shows a group of children trying to entertain themselves throughout the summer holiday. The story ensures a range of problems and ethnicities are included throughout instead of just focusing on middle class white kids from suburbia. It’s a must have for any UKS2 classroom.

The Cardboard Kingdom: Amazon.co.uk: Chad Sell: Books

Spiderman: Miles Morales – Year 5/6 (some slightly inappropriate words) I love this series and so do the children in my class. If you have seen Into the Spiderverse (Watch it now if you haven’t!) then you will know that the story of Miles is similar to that of Jordan in New Kid. Thrust into a new school that he struggles to feel comfotable in, Miles also has to deal with the responsibility of becoming Spiderman. A refreshing take on the superhero genre that does a lot more than just solve crimes.

Miles Morales: Spider-Man (Trade Paperback) | Comic Issues | Comic ...

Stargazing – Year 5 onwards. A truly brilliant story that really pulls on the heartstrings. The story is about two characters who grow up in a Chinese-American suburb and form a strong friendship despite the difficulties they are presented with along the way.

Stargazing: Amazon.co.uk: Jen Wang: Books

Mia Mayhem is a Superhero – UKS1 onwards – A tale suitable for younger readers but no less important. Mia is a seemingly normal 8 year old girl until one day she finds out she is a superhero. Soon she has to begin her superhero training despite always thinking she was anything but super before.

The Witch Boy series – Year 5 onwards. A truly beautiful series that raises some really important points about growing up and accepting yourself for who you truly are. These have been very popular with my current class.

Meg,Jo,Beth and Amy: A modern retelling of Little Women. – Primarily Year 6 and up this story offers a fresh take on the classic story of Little Women. It looks at the day to day struggles of sisters and the issues they go through inculding struggles with sexuality (hence year 6 only in primary.)

The Nameless City – Year 5 onwards. This story looks at the idea of ancient tribes battling for control of a city that has changed hands so many times it doesn’t have a name. It explores the idea of rituals belonging to certain tribes and how different cultures clash. A really engaging story full of action that creates some truly emotional moments for the reader.

Nameless City, The (The Nameless City): Amazon.co.uk: Hicks, Erin ...

 

As children get older and move onto Secondary there are lots of superheroe books that also represent BAME characters brilliantly. Falcon, Storm, Black Panther, Ironheart and America Chavez are staples of Marvel now. Some have primary suitable stories but some don’t so you should read them yourself first before putting them in your classroom. A series I haven’t read but have heard is vital for older children is the March books so that’s another to look out for.