Reviews from the teacher’s desk

The Messed Up Life of Johnny Moore by Max Toper

Be aware this book is not a comic or graphic novel, however Max seemed like a very keen and enthusiastic young author (He’s not even 20!) who was willing to share his work with someone like me despite it not being in my usual format. It seemed only right if he was willing to give me a chance to do the same myself. 

The messed up life of Johnny Moore focuses on the struggles of the titular character as he tries to deal with reintegrating in mainstream school. Johnny finds this difficult due to his autism, no one seems to understand his needs or provide the support network you would expect for a child who requires additional support. However the provision in his new school is different and Johnny is promised the support he craves. As the story unfolds the reader is informed of a plan to disband this support and the struggles it and its staff have had in the past. 

The plot focuses on Johnny and his struggles to settle into this new system, often choosing to react to adverse situations with violence or refusal, rather than listening to the advice he is offered. Sometimes it feels like Johnny is hard to empathise with due to the speed he is willing to give up and use the threat of violence. However there is a large part of me that realises this is probably due to me not being in those situations myself, I may find them hard to reason with but for those children who have been failed by the system or lacked the support they need, this may be far too relatable. This seems to be a running theme of the book which leans heavily on the idea of schools being too uniformed and putting pressure on the children with additional needs to change rather than changing to support them. Again, as someone who didn’t have this at school it seemed unbelievable that a child could be treated like this but sadly we’ve all heard the horror stories. Just because I didn’t experience it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Being forced out of my comfort zone like this didn’t always make the story flow but actually that was important, it made me take stock and consider how I provide supoort as a teacher. Do I do enough? Do children feel that they are treated fairly by me? Being forced into quite deep reflection was uncomfortable at times but simultaneously beneficial. 

Towards the end Johnny can be seen trying to improve his behaviour and choices whilst remaining true to himself. It’s an important reminder that you shouldn’t lose sight of who you are and try to change your whole personality just to fit in. This compromise allows him to build friendships and brings his family closer together whilst making sure the perfect picture of home life isn’t portrayed. His family struggles throughout and despite trying their hardest his parents find it difficult to know what to do at times. Seeing parents portrayed in this manner is essential as too many often feel wrong or inept when put in this positions but the truth is it’s ok to be unsure and the book communicates this well. 

The book won’t be for everyone and some will prefer the less confrontational nature of a text like can you see me? That being said this text definitely has a place and for those people who have been mistreated in the past or are suffering with it currently, it will help them to feel seen and heard. This kind of inclusion and realism is essential in books. Toper has shown maturity beyond his years to complete this text and hopefully he will continue to hone his craft and carry on addressing matters that don’t receive the attention or representation they deserve.  

 

A Day in the Life of a Caveman, a Queen and Everything in Between by Mike Barfield & Jess Bradley

After the success of A Day in the Life of a Poo, a Gnu and You the dynamic duo of Mike Barfield & Jess Bradley are back with a new book that focuses on history this time. A quick flick through the contents page and a scan of the front cover should tell you enough about how perfect this book is for children and how it will appeal to all readers at some point. The bright imagery immediately catches the eye and the range of topics covered is so vast that there is truly something for everyone. When reading myself I was immediately drawn to the pages on war elephants, samurai swords and (my favourite) Russian beards. But a less war or facial hair interested reader may prefer to read up on the history of cavemen, royalty or important inventions. 

With such a broad range of topics each given one dedicated page of interesting facts and information readers can pick up a lot of information without having to scroll through large amounts of thick text. In fact it’s a book that you can easily pick up and just read a few sections of before putting it back down again. Having a historical book that is so quick and easy to access makes it perfect for the classroom and there is defintiely a lot of scope to use it as a teacher to support learning or develop critical thinking skills as well as it being a superb addition to any bookshelf. It feels like Barfield and Bradley are on to something very special and I truly hope there is more to come from them in this format as they create books that educate and entertain without comprising on quality. Quite simply, if you teach in KS2 this is an essential text to have in your class and one that will prove useful for both teachers and students. 

Rating: A day in the life of being a 5/5 book 

 

Ham Helsing by Rich Moyer

I have no shame in admitting that from the moment I saw the name and cover for this book it was going to take something truly horrific for me not to love it. Thankfully Rich Moyer has delivered an absolute triumph of a story and made sure this book is more than just an amazing front cover. Start to finish it is filled with some wonderful imagery and quirky comedy that means there is something here for almost any reader. From rapping chickens to thesaurus wielding rats, turtle flipping bad guys to sword swinging pigs, this story is full of unexpected suprises throughout.

I don’t want to wade too much into the story because it was such a joy to discover the subtle plot twists as I went and Moyer does a brilliant job of subverting your expectations in a variety of ways. It works so well because all of the characters have such clear personalities that compliment their actions throughout, the two rats are reminiscent of the old men from the muppets, Ham is a classic under dog hero, Ronin shows how fierce and strong female characters can be and much more. None of them are forced or boxed into cliches and Moyer really brings the world to life with tiny details and by letting the images do a lot of the talking. Speech is used to further the story or complement the panel, this means the words are all important and help the story flow at a perfect pace. I honestly cannot recommend this enough, End of Year 3 and up will adore this especially if they are fans of The Investigators series. 

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds & Danica Novgorodoff

Ever since it was announced that this book was coming out in graphic novel form I’ve been eagerly anticipating its release. I still haven’t read the original (that will be rectified soon) and everyone kept telling me that it wouldn’t work in graphic novel form. Due to this I thought I would come to the graphic novel new so I could make a genuine judgement rather than one clouded by my opinion of the original. I can appreciate where the fear was coming from, after all they adored the original version and didn’t want to see such a beloved text ruined. However there is an argument to be had that transforming this verse novel into graphic form may attract some readers who previously may have ignored the title because they don’t like poetry … yet.

I’m not saying that’s right but I know when I was younger if someone had offered me a poetry book or a graphic novel I would have chosen the graphic novel every time. Why not have two versions if it gives a greater chance of getting people reading? Especially YA readers who need to be exposed to emotionally challenging texts like this.

Thanks to Faber I was able to get my hands on this a week before release and I’m really glad I did because now I can argue my point about how brilliant this is when it’s officially released. Some people may not deem it necessary  or they may say it doesn’t have the impact the original version did but this book has every right to exist.

The images add harsh reality to the bleak messages portrayed in the tale of William Holloman. Having the imagery of gang violence surrounding the words describing family members taken too soon is incredibly powerful. If you needed a reminder just how real these issues are the supporting images provide it. Nothing is held back, at times it almost wants to make you uncomfortable. from the start to the finish the book is a constant rollercoaster of emotions. The watercolour style of Danica Novgorodoff adds a confused and chaotic vibe to the pages which echoes the poetic words of Jason Reynolds perfectly.

As William struggles to deal with his conscience, the imagery spills out of the panels and slowly drips down the page. Some people would struggle to deal with this seemingly ‘messy’ approach but reading this book with all of the rules adhered to would defeat the entire point of it. In a story that looks at harrowing realities of growing up in certain areas it makes sense for the art to break all the rules. Crisp and clean pages would create a huge juxtaposition that would most likely lessen the impact of everything it stands for.

In many ways the art also helps make the book more relatable to those who haven’t witnessed the scenes described. If we want YA readers to appreciate how difficult life can be, the tragedies that occur or simply the injustice that exists then some will need that visual representation to fully comprehend it. For some it will already be something they’re well aware of, potentially a representation of their life, but others may need the visual realisation that they live in a sheltered existence or a more priveleged position than they realise.

As I worked my way through the book, my mind was constantly thinking about how fortunate I was to grow up knowing I was safe. Imagine the impact it could have on younger readers. For some it could be the catalyst for change or the spark that inspires them to fight for casues close to their heart in the coming years.

Once you have digested all of the art and layout changes that come with a verse novel being converted into a graphic novel there is still the debate about whether the text has translated well. Now I do have to admit I find myself rushing through the text at times and my love of imagery can distarct from the incredibly important word play of Reynold’s. However after finishing this book I found myself flicking back through pages to re read sections and playing over certain phrases in my mind. As someone who grew up in a very different environment, the lexical imagery created by Reynold’s had a lasting effect. His repetition of simple statements and constant questioning really resonated with me as a reader. I was completely drawn into the world created and absorbed by the moral dilemma playing out. The use of questions transfers so much ownership onto the reader that it’s almost impossible not to keep thinking about the story long after you’ve finished.

There’s no denying that some of the impact the words have can be lost due to the images and some will argue that the graphic format detracts from the most important part which is the original poetry. However I think it has to be a case of reading the format that works best for you, if you are someone who doesn’t want the visual stimulation then this isn’t the version for you. If you are someone who responds well to it though then this is a book well worth investing in. Following the thoughts and feelings of William as he comes to terms with one of the biggest decisions in his life is an absorbing read that is thought provoking from the very start. In a world where we are clambering for change but often too afraid to actually confront it books like this become vital. Being able to see how dangerous, unfair, inescapable, cyclical or unjust life is for many doesn’t have to be something we accept. More exposure to texts like this at a younger age will give them a better chance of standing up and fighting for what is right. Do we want people to grow up thinking the circle of violence and retribution is their only choice? If the answer is no then we need to provide them with books that show this reality and this is a book that does that in the most powerful and impressive way possible. It would be fair to say that this is a text children should be looking at before they leave high school, the lessons it teaches us stretch way beyond just English.

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Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

This book had been on my to buy list for a long while but everytime I’ve gone to purchase it had been out of stock or I was distracted by something new and shiny. Finally I managed to concentrate long enough and purchase it which turned out to be a brilliant decision on my part. Every bit of praise this book has received is thoroughly deserved. It’s brilliant.

I don’t want to give too much of the book away but it is essentially about a girl called Snapdragon who is struggling socially at school. She lives near a supposed witch and after her dog makes it’s way onto the witches property they end up striking an unexpected friendship. This friendship impacts a range of events in the local town and will change Snapdragon forever in more ways than one.

Not only is the plot genuinely brilliant in the book but it manages to cover lots of important issues as well. Some of these mean the book should only be given to those children that are ready, not because it’s full of inappropriate things but because they need to be mature enough to process what is happening.

One of the main things they need to be able to deal with appropriately is the journey of Louis. he starts off as Snapdragon’s friend but goes on his own journey and transition as the story progresses. The fact that the story makes Louis seem much happier when he puts on a skirt and is called Lulu is exactly how it should be, why should it be a problem when he is happy after all?

Along with covering gender identity and inner happiness the book also looks at homosexual relationships and briefly explores how they used to be deemed inappropriate in the area the story is set. Again this isn’t made into a big fanfare it is portrayed as something completely normal and accepted which is exactly how it should be. As a reader the effort not to make a big fuss of it was brilliant, this way readers won’t perceive as something that could be deemed wrong or different. If it’s made to see normal then people will perceive it as that.

Finally the book looks at developing friendships and not feeling pressured to conform to certain social expectations. Why be unhappy just to fit in? This is obviously a regular problem in schools and society so the more children can be exposed to this message the less likely they are to fall foul of the dreaded peer pressure.

I realise I haven’t explored much of the story but for me the joy was uncovering the next twist or turn first hand, I loved the fact I went in with minimal knowledge. For some that may not be enough but trust me it is worth taking the risk. From the first page I was absolutely hooked and I know it must have been good because when I started Master of Puppets was smashing out my stereo (track 2 on the album for the non metal-heads reading this) and the next thing I knew I had reached the final track and literally could not remember any of the songs playing. You may not know it but that is truly the highest praise it can receive!

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Mr Wolf’s Class: Field Trip by Aron Nels Steinke

I am a huge fan of the Mr Wolf’s Class series and I won’t lie, I was ready to love this book before I’d even read a page. Having since devoured the book in an afternoon sitting I can confirm it is possibly even better than I originally anticipated. I’d go as far to say it’s my favourite in the series so far.

The story follows Mr Wolf and his class as they embark on a residential trip. During the trip the usual events take place that any teacher will be able to relate to or recall their own harrowing experiences of. On their trip the class make new friends with another school and engage in a range of social activities with them. They also embark on their own learning sessions as a class which are mixture of exploring outside and learning about the world around them.

Part of what makes this book so special is how relevant and important the learning is. Without being preachy or forcing an agenda, the book manages to cover current issues such as climate change and reducing litter/waste. At all times the message feels natural and just part of the story but reinforces so many important issues that children today need to be aware of. Along with highlighting these it also shows how children can have an impact on them and the demonstration of how to be pro active is so important.

Currently, my class could probably be split into two sides: Those that want to help change things and those who will just say it’s not their fault. Books like this that show characters actively making choices to try and improve the world around them as well as encouraging others to follow suit are more important than ever. They can not only help demonstrate the importance of participating but also show that it’s never too late to start.

Although these aren’t the only messages the book promotes they were the ones I felt resonated the most. The story also covers dealing with friendship issues, making new friends, being responsible and coping with anxiety. None of the themes or messages covered are laid on too strong though and all are weaved so naturally into the plot that it makes them all seem what they are. Normal things. It shows readers that it’s okay to be anxious, it’s okay to be upset and it’s normal to have disagreements. How we deal with them is the important part.

It seems with each book that the Mr Wolf series goes from strength to strength. The stories continue to be fun, light hearted and full of realism that children and adults alike can relate to. As a teacher there’s the extra level of realism added with Mr Wolf’s thoughts and again all of them were incredibly accurate and relatable to. I’ve only been on one residential as a teacher and could already identify with nearly everything that happened and Mr Wolf’s thoughts about it. If you haven’t got any of the series in your school yet I can’t recommend them enough for KS2, I currently have year 6 children reading the books for their third or fourth time because they love them so dearly. This entry will be no different I am sure, the first child to get their hands on it in my class had read it by the next day and was upset she had to pass it on because she wanted to read it all again.

Field Trip (Mr. Wolf's Class #4), Volume 4: Amazon.co.uk: Steinke, Aron  Nels: Books

 

InvestiGATORS by John Patrick Green

This book is going to be big, really big, any class that has it is going to struggle to keep it on the shelves. It’s perfect for year 3/4 especially those who may be less confident or enthused when it comes to reading. Year 5/6 will love it as well though and to be honest most adults will take pleasure from some of the pun work at the very least. InvestiGATORS is a book that would be brilliant shared between adults and children because some of the jokes are probably going to escape younger readers but the chance to discuss and explain them will create an excellent collaborative reading experience. Fans of 70’s – 90’s action films or police procedurals will love the nods to genre cliches and stereotypes.

The story revolves around a missing chef that Mango and Brash (the investigators) are hired to find. The fact they are alligators bothers no one in the story and the complete acceptance of this by all humans only adds to their charm. As they work the case, past issues arise along with a whole manner of wonderful cliches. This sounds like I’m being negative but trust me it is a huge selling point and I took great joy reading about a case going wrong when it was supposed to be that character’s last job before retiring. The InvestiGATORS knows what it is and steers brilliantly into all of the cliches and fun that can be had when you are self aware. There’s no attempt to reinvent the investigative genre, puns are used to maximum effect and throughout it just feels like a book that wants to be fun. It succeeds.

Personally I loved it but more importantly kids will adore it. It seems like a natural progression for those fans of Dog Man (which is a smash hit in my school) but it’s a brilliant book for anyone that wants a light hearted and action packed read. This book will appeal to all but you can easily see how it could be a stepping stone for those who struggle to engage with reading and it may just help them light their reading fire. 5/5, 10/10, must buy, whatever your rating system is this book smashes it and is something that should be in all KS2 classrooms as far as I’m concerned.

InvestiGators: Amazon.co.uk: Green, John Patrick: Books

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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