Books for Sharing is a list of books compiled for use as class readers in Primary and Secondary classrooms by Joan Barker and David Bennett. They are avid sharers of books with their classes and both convinced of the enormous benefits of reading together. Part 1 appeared in July 1984.
Part 6 offers suggestions for the second half of the summer term – titles to complete a year of shared stories. We hope that readers will try out books wherever they are appropriate to their own school situation and will explore and experiment with some of the follow-up work, ideas for which are not intended to be comprehensive but more to give a flavour of what might be done to further excite and engage the readers who share the texts.
The Butty Boy
Jill Paton Walsh, Macmillan, and Piccolo, o.p. but available in libraries
Harriet hates being a girl. Her life in Victorian England is not exciting; she doesn’t even go to school but has lessons at home. Perhaps with a move to a new house things will change. They don’t until ‘Harry’ discovers the canal at the end of the garden and joins a short-handed canal boat; its crew of children desperately trying, in the absence of parents, to deliver the cargo of coal on time to London. The adventure changes her life forever.
Jill Paton Walsh’s books are a delight to read aloud, creating accurate pictures in the minds of the listeners. Her subjects are always well-researched and any class hearing Butty Boy would have a very clear idea of what life was like on the canals in the nineteenth century; and yet it is in no way didactic. Nowhere are the facts allowed to intrude on the enjoyment of a good tale, well told.
The Butty Boy is suitable for any Junior age class but I have chosen to use it here with lower juniors. By the end of the first year they are ready for a longer book and are beginning to be able to see things from other people’s points of view. The summer term is also a good time for a canal visit.
Thing to Do
1. ‘While we lingered on the bridge … brown handkerchief she wore on her head.’ Make a class frieze of the canal scene in paint, crayon, collage – with everyone contributing.
2. Find out as much as you can about canal locks. Draw a cartoon strip showing how the boat went through the first lock. Remember it was going uphill and the lock was full when they reached it.
3. ‘Inside the cabin … the sparkling brass and copper.’ Paint a picture of the boat cabin or make a lace plate from a paper plate-cut holes in the rim and thread with ribbon.
4. ‘She lies as fast as a dog can lick a dish.’ Harry told lies to save them from trouble. Is it all right to tell lies sometimes or should we always tell the truth?
5. In groups act out either the scene where Harry’s family goes to look for her or the scene on the morning she returns.
More to Read
Mouldy’s Orphan Gillian Avery, Puffin, 014 03.1269 2, 95p
Marjorie Darke, Blackie, and Fontana Lion, o.p. but available in libraries
Kipper needs to work to pay for his board and lodging, so when the School Board men catch up with him he has no alternative but to run away. He meets Bet, Silo and Lofty, three homeless urchins, and shares their food and the cellar where they sleep. He soon realises that they are thieves and although he tries to avoid it finds himself trapped into helping them to steal from the jewellery workshop where he used to work. Ashamed of himself he plans to make amends.
An exciting story, painting a vivid picture of what life must have been like for homeless children in the second half of the nineteenth century. Kipper overcomes all obstacles to prove that honesty pays – a worthwhile message for children of any age.
Marjorie Darke writes for a wide age-range and this is a good introduction to an author who will give enjoyment over a number of years.
Things to Do
1. Read the accounts of Kipper’s first view of Lofty and Silo. Paint their portraits.
2. ‘Never borrow a penny, nor owe one neither.’ Is this advice given to Kipper by his father good or not? Discuss this in a group.
3. Act the scene outside the theatre where Silo and Bet are mimicking the passers-by and Lofty is ‘dipping’. (Chap. 3).
4. ‘If yo int with us, yo’re agin us.’ Lofty had him hooked. Have you ever been forced into doing something that you didn’t want to do or you knew was wrong? Talk about it to a partner. Make up a dialogue between you where one is trying to persuade the other to do something they don’t want to.
5. In groups of three, rewrite the episode where the boys break into Mr Repton’s workshop as if you were either Kipper, Lofty or Silo. Read them aloud and compare the differences in the story depending on who is the teller.
More to Read
Fair’s Fair Leon Garfield, ill. Margaret Chamberlain, Macdonald, o.p.
The Courage of Andy Robson
Frederick Grice, Puffin, 014 03.1528 4, 85p
Andy Robson is sent from the pit town of Sleetburn to live with his relatives in Lilburn in the countryside of Northumberland where his uncle is park warden to Lord Hetherington’s estate and so responsible for the well being of the famous wild white cattle.
Andy is, at first, unfamiliar with the country ways: too weak to cut peat, too ‘strong’ to take up knitting, a male pastime in Northumberland, mocked by a sarcastic schoolteacher and bullied by another boy. He is a misfit and can do nothing right in his new environment. However, the wild and unpredictable nature of both the cattle and the countryside itself bring about two disasters and Andy finds himself forced to draw upon reserves of strength and courage he hadn’t realised that he possessed.
I choose this book because it is sensitively written and deals with situations such as bullying, coping with a new home, a sadistic teacher and making `adult’ decisions: the type of worrying circumstances that are the concern of many children. Subsidiary characters are not strongly drawn for it is essentially the story of Andy Robson, the main character, but this does not detract from the skilful story telling and excellent descriptive passages which enhance the tale.
Things to Do
1. ‘This was the longest train journey he had ever done, and the first he had done on his own’ (p 9-10). Map journeys which children have made. How many have made a,’ journey on their own? What did they think about, worry about on the journey? Poetry writing ‘Journeying Alone’.
2. ‘He was a big boy … bun’ (p 20). Paint a portrait of the boy.
3. ‘Mr Charlton … dirty puddles’ (p 37). In pairs, act out this paragraph. Take it in turns to be Andrew and Billy Craggs. Then discuss how it feels to be each boy and why Billy behaves the way he does.
4. ‘Andrew sat on his cracket knitting…’ (p 56). Children could take up something that they don’t normally do to see how quickly they can master it. Perhaps children who already have the skill could do the initial teaching: knitting, weaving, bike maintenance, plastic kit modelling.
5. ‘…his uncle, face downward and half buried in the snow’ (p 107). Discuss what the children would do if they were Andy at this point.
More to Read
The Bonnie Pit Laddie
Frederick Grice, Puffin, 0 14 03 1190 4, £1.50
Goodnight Mr Tom
Michelle Magorian, Puffin, 0 14 03 1541 1, £1.50
SECONDARY YEAR 1
Another Fine Mess
Jan Needle, Fontana Lions, 0 00 671978 3, £1.25
Here’s a longish, quite complex and very busy last novel for this age group, which takes a treatment as over-the-top as its zany contents. Most pupils would benefit from a who’s who as they go along and with adequate preparation it can be easily abridged and serialized, with plenty of cliff-hangers to keep pupils anxious for the next reading.
George, Cynthia and Prof. from The Size Spies fetch up in Elizabethan England due to the vagaries of the Cheap Day Return Transferer in unholy alliance with the self-opinionated Thinks Computer – only the Snark keeps them from grim death at the hand of the charlatan Swipe-me Bob . Meanwhile, Jugears and Mophead are trying to effect a rescue back in the Twentieth Century – intrigued? The whole book is like a riotous cartoon strip, very visual in its description and colourfully humorous in its language, which, with a suitable dramatic reading, children love.
Things to Do
1. If you got hold of Prof.’s telephone into the future, what date would you ‘phone and what would the conversation sound like? What date would you like to ‘phone into the past? – A History/English collaboration?
2. Write an eye-witness account of Da Corobano’s performance for rich visitors (p 84-87) – perhaps a letter to a relative. Make his posters for the show.
3. Elizabethan T.V. A.M. reports on the strange events at the theatre Chaps. 23/24). Interview a Puritan and introduce bias. Then go on to No. 4.
4. ‘The Police?’ said Cynthia. ‘Now I know you’re crazy. There’s no such thing, remember?’ (p 109). Discuss anachronism. Make up a worksheet with anachronisms for other pupils to spot – either in drawings or stories about the characters in the book.
5. The plot has many twists and turns. Try to construct a flow diagram which traces the main characters’ actions chapter by chapter through the book. Discuss how Needle takes up and leaves threads of the plot and carefully constructs last sentences to create suspense.
More to Read
The Size Spies
Fontana Lions, 0 00 671701 2, £1.00 (Precursor to Another Fine Mess)
Fulvio Testa, Abelard-Schuman, 0 200 72768 0, £4.95 – an intriguing picture book, full of visual anachronisms. Also other books by Jan Needle.
ed. Jean Russell, Magnet, 0 416 46120 4, £1.25
The last half term is often a shambles with all the comings and goings. Consequently short stories are a good idea to escape the problems caused by lack of continuity of lessons. This collection is commendable because the contributors are well regarded and there’s a very wide variety on offer, so it forms a valuable introduction to some important authors along with a wealth of valuable, imaginative material.
The stories can be grouped quite successfully for valuable comparison and contrast work – sinister pets (Black Dog, The Parrot, The Passing of Puddy); people to avoid (The Dollmaker, Mister Mushrooms); troublesome possessions (Miss Hooting’s Legacy, The Book of the Black Arts). Otherwise, take them in isolation and explore their sinister elements, characterization, plotting etc., e.g. Dangleboots and the Day After Tomorrow.
Bookshop purchases and library borrowing indicates that sinister stories have a wide appeal with children; at least these are well-written and on original unlike many which in itself makes them worth highlighting in the classroom.
Things to Do
1. Design and describe helots for specific tasks e.g. decorator helots, car-cleaning helots and write an adventure for them – with your family perhaps, or the Armitages again.
2. Discuss and theorise what might have been the writers’ original sources of inspiration for some of the stories.
3. At the end of The Book of the Magic Arts there’s a suggestion that more volumes might exist – use the last paragraph as a story telling stimulus prior to reading Patricia Miles’ story.
4. The vicar’s own version of Welcome Yule and what happened on Midsummer’s Eve? – Drama and discussion.
5. A Balloon Debate involving a group of matched characters. Which one must jump (or leave the story)? e.g. Brigine, Auntie Avril, Mister Mushrooms and Miss Hooting/Cousin Elspeth, Caroline and Colin.
More to Read
In this same series look at:
The Magnet Book of Survivors Molly Perham, 0 416 45880 7, £1.25
The Magnet Book of Strange Tales ed. Jean Russell, 0 416 21100 9, £1.00
The Magnet Book of Spine Chillers ed. Lance Salway, 0 416 25560 4, £1.00
The Golden Seal
J Vance Marshall, Granada, 0 583 30719 1, £1.25 (also A River Ran Out of Eden, Heinemann, 0 435 12110 3, £1.15; Heinemann Guided Readers, 0 435 27054 0, 90p)
A recent film and a new cover should lead to a well-deserved renewal of interest in this tale. Walkabout, by the same author, is widely used in schools and this shorter tale shares its qualities of intelligence in theme and style, and most importantly in the sheer craftsmanship of its language. It would serve well anywhere in upper secondary but I place it here as a useful link between lower school literature study and the more rigorous approach we aim at for exam work. As such it is more suitable for able children but a sensitive mediation should make it accessible to others too.
Jim Lee, a disfigured, elderly trapper and his young squaw wife Tania, set up home on the bleakly beautiful island of Unimak, where they raise two children. The relative idyll of their existence is over-shadowed by Jim’s long-standing craving to capture a rare golden-furred seal. On the same stormy night both his coveted prize and another such man as himself, yet more devil-like and ruthless, are cast onto the Eden of the island and a tussle ensues from which there can be no winners, only losers.
Things to Do
1. Beginning with the Biblical creation story will probably create a slight stir but to trace the echoes of that story in Marshall’s tale makes a valuable inroad into source, symbol, allegory and allusion. A matching game of quote to Biblical reference might be devised. The jolliest bits of Paradise Lost might be attempted!
2. Drama. The inquest into Crawford’s death or what Tania and Jim tell the Aleuts when they return with Crawford’s boat.
3. Soliloquy-The unwritten thoughts of main characters at key points. E.g. Chapter 10 when Jim couldn’t pull the trigger; chapter 11 as Crawford returns to the Barabara; Tania at the end of chapter 15.
4. Using references about the island’s geography and an atlas, draw the island pinpointing the location of key scenes.
5. Marshall’s use of simile and appropriate vocabulary, and his careful use of pace to create drama and impact are well worth exploring – create a reference-book commentary on Marshall’s style and craftsmanship as exemplified by this story.
Other novels by the same author:
A Walk in the Hills of the Dreamtime Heinemann, 0 435 12255 X, £1.75
My Boy John that went to Sea Heinemann, 0 435 12233 9, £1.50
Walkabout Puffin, 0 14 03.1292 7, £1.25
I also see parallels between this and Paul Gallico’s Snowgoose.
Ann Schlee, Magnet, 0 416 28640 2, £1.50
In case readers thought it was all going to be social realism, here’s an intelligent and intriguing, futuristic fantasy novel as an antidote. Forget the pretty boy on the cover and lunge straight into a novel which suggests that mankind’s memory and his inherited feelings for the rhythms of the seasons, almost pagan instincts, can never be fully repressed. The book portrays a future where the past is considered painful enough to destroy within hours of it having been experienced and the people’s ultra-hygienic lives are controlled by The Drink,which effectively reduces them to zombies, the danger of which few can appreciate enough to rebel against. But, a rebel does exist in the person of 16-year-old Paul Simonds, whose principal felony is to give way to the passing of the seasons and try to grow a real tree. This longish novel won the Guardian Award in 1979.
Things to Do
1. Predict the contents of a novel from which these quotes come: ‘New Enlightenment’; ‘People don’t just go for walks’; ‘We have to be very careful about letting paper out of the controlled environment of school. It’s tricky stuff; ‘Special Investigations Clinic’; ‘Nothing lost matters’.
2. Use a good diary to match Calendar Days to Paul’s actions between the onset of the book and the death of the Parrot. Research New Year customs and Harvesting customs.
3. A Time Traveller’s Guide to the customs and attitudes of the Age of New Enlightenment.
4. If you had to submit to The Memory what ten memories from your life would you choose to retain?
5. Make a dramatised or cartoon version of any key episode from the book, e.g. The Shrub and the girl; Beating the bounds; Harvesting; the Parrot’s death.
More to Read
Novels on a similar theme are:
King Creature Come
J R Townsend, Oxford, 0 19 271441 4, £4.50
Robert Westall, Kestrel, 0 7226 5880 X, £5.95; Puffin Plus, 014 03.1641 8, £1.75