This guest article is brought to you by Kate Heap.
We are in the midst of a renaissance of high-quality children’s literature in the United Kingdom!
Children, parents, teachers and all lovers of timeless stories are absolutely spoilt for choice when looking for their next great read.
Here are my top five books to share with children in the classroom.
1. Brightstorm, Darkwhispers & Wildspark by Vashti Hardy
You get three recommendations for the price of one when it comes to books by Vashti Hardy. These steampunk, technology-rich adventures are the best classroom books to come along in a very long time.
In Brightstorm and its sequel, Darkwhispers, twelve-year-old twins rthur and Maudie Brightstorm embark on incredible expeditions that test their character and strength. In Wildspark, twelve-year-old Prue hides her true identity to train as an apprentice in a city of cutting-edge design and creativity. While there, she learns far more than she ever imagined.
These books hold endless opportunities for invention, airship design, lessons in survival, character creation and all sorts of exciting writing. Take a look at vashtihardy.com for ideas from teachers.
2. The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson
Based on Russian folklore, The Girl Who Speaks Bear is a magnificent book about discovering your identity, being true to yourself and valuing your loved ones.
Twelve-year-old Yanka was found abandoned in a bear cave when she was tiny. Never knowing the full story of her family, Yanka goes on an extraordinary journey to find out who she really is.
The most wonderful thing about this book is the seamless integration of Yanka’s narrative with the Russian Folktales that give her clues to her past. Beautiful page borders surround the folktales, making the change in writing very clear.
In the classroom, this unique story gives teachers an opportunity to explore a different kind of traditional tale and address numerous PSHE concepts with children: belonging, friendship, acceptance, loss and love.
3. The Highland Falcon Thief by M.G Leonard & Sam Sedgman
The Highland Falcon Thief is a wonderful mix of classic trains and modern mystery.
Eleven-year-old Hal Beck is invited to go on an incredible railway journey with his uncle. The legendary train, the Highland Falcon, is taking its final journey around the country with some very special passengers.
Surrounded by royalty, celebrities and wealthy business-people, Hal soon finds himself in the middle of a classic train mystery worthy of the Orient Express. Jewels are stolen and it’s up to Hal and his new friend Lenny to solve the case.
This book is a celebration of British engineering and the development of the railways from the Industrial Revolution to present day. The level of detail about how a steam engine works, the elements of a train and the roles of those who work on the rails is magnificent. The reader can’t help but take away so much knowledge.
Opportunities to link this book with the school curriculum are endless. The excellent model of a mystery story, the science of steam engines, the history of the railway, the A4 Pacific land speed record and links to the Mallard – these are just the beginnings of so many exciting lessons based on this story.
4. The Last Spell Breather by Julie Pike
The Last Spell Breather by Julie Pike is a unique, spell-binding story of love, family and truth.
Eleven-year-old Rayne lives with her mother in their quiet village. Bound by the magic of her family’s past, she is destined to become a spell breather, just like her mother. However, Rayne would much rather be out with her friends, living a “normal” life.
Then, one day, a stranger approaches the village and Rayne’s life changes forever. Accompanied by her friend, Tom, and an unusual fox named Frank, Rayne goes on a quest to save her mother, her village and the life she treasures.
Words are everything in this story – they contain power and magic, they can build up, affirm and love but they can also hurt and destroy. Throughout this story, the power of words is incredibly clear. Synonyms and layers of meaning craft imaginative, living, breathing spells that take power from their lexicon. This richness of language provides so many opportunities for the story to be used in schools.
Right down to the Spell Making Tool Kit at the back of the book, The Last Spell Breather is what every teacher strives for – the opportunity to create word magic with children.
5. Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll
Letters from the Lighthouse is an incredible historical adventure that keeps readers on the edge of their seats.
Set amidst the air raids of 1941 Britain, twelve-year-old Olive is thrust into the middle of a mystery where the consequences are life and death. After the disappearance of their older sister, the discovery of a coded message and evacuation to the Devonshire coast, Olive and her brother Cliff must do all they can to bring their family back together and save those in danger.
This captivating story is a fantastic way into the Second World War in the classroom. Children will journey with Olive and take to heart the issues she must face. Teachers will find it is the perfect jumping off point for studying the historical, geographical and cultural aspects of the time, with endless opportunities for writing in-role, characterisation and debate.