Books Are Powerful

Using books is powerful. Let us just analyse the word powerful. What does that mean? For me a great book has the power to shape and influence a child (and adult) in many ways.

As a teacher, I am blessed to have the unique opportunity to use books to help a child reflect, analyse, challenge and access every emotion possible.

I have been very reflective this academic year about what I use in my classroom. I knew that I wanted to open the eyes of the children to things they haven’t thought about. I decided our Space topic would put Katherine Johnson at the heart of it. The children really engaged with the narrative and the discussions we had (that were not planned) were possibly some of the best I have had in my teaching career.

Using a book to be the heart of a topic has a multifaceted approach. It can excite; inspire; evoke emotion; generate discussion; challenges stereotypes; be powerful.

A good book has the potential to open up dialogue about subjects we often worry about how we tackle. The last few weeks we have been reading Vashti Hardy’s glorious Brightstorm. The discussion we have had surrounding the book have been ‘powerful’ this week. We have discussed gender and can women be leaders? Stereotypes: can a beautiful person be bad? Age: does age matter? Family dynamics: can a kingdom be run by two kings? Pacifism: is Harriet right to not carry weapons in her ship?

All the dialogue we had was generated by the children and things I never thought about they homed in on. So in conclusion, pick a book for your class that is funny and excites 100%, but if you can find one that has the added power to generate and tackle important issues in context, you are onto a winner.

Books are powerful.


Explorer Launch Day!

A few months ago I came across the most wonderful book called Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy. The minute I read it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it and how wonderful it would be to use it to inspire the children. For those unfamiliar with the book, we follow the turbulent adventures of two brave children (Arthur and Maudie) as they set sail on a perilous airship adventure to find their missing father; lost on an expedition to the South Polaris. It is full of excitement, action and colourful characters that fly off the page; precisely the sort of book that would allow a creative approach to our explorers topic. I wasn’t exactly sure where to start but knew the character of Harriet Culpepper would be my inspiration, so began by raiding my craft box to make a hat. As soon as I put it on, I felt one with the character and knew the day would benefit from role play, with the children dressing as explorers.

The ideas started to fall into place after that (as the book makes it easy to plan exciting ideas) and I soon had a format for the day. Key to the day would be lots of planned opportunities just to sit and read and discuss the wonderful vocabulary and plot development.

We started the morning with an explorers parade and photo shoot outside. The children had all thought really carefully about who they had come as and were keen to share. There was a mix of historical explorers, such as Amelia Earhart and Christopher Columbus, and characters from fiction and film. I particularly liked how one child dressed as her big sister, who is an Adventure Scout.

The first activity involved making predictions about the book based solely on the front cover. I decided to use the inference grid previously used in our Flotsam work as it had worked really well. Here are a couple of examples of the writing produced.

Vashti Hardy’s website is fantastic and contains lots of resources to help teachers and children explore the book. We had a look at some of the character from the book on it and were ready to start reading chapter one. The children were instantly hooked.

The second session was a carousel of activities with an explorer/Brightstorm link. Activities included:

1) Making a compass by magnetising a needle.

2) Map reading using the story map, The Great Wide. I really enjoyed making these and the children treated them like precious artefacts so they are all carefully put away ready to use again one day.

3) Origami Aurora airships (taken from Vashti Hardy’s website). 4) Researching historical explorers to make a fact file. 5) Free Art

The session was full of excitement and fun, with learning through role play at the centre. We finished by reading another chapter of the book before dinner time.

The afternoon began with reading another chapter from the book and then was dedicated to creating artwork of the dangerous beasts we learn about in chapter two. The children really enjoyed sketching their own wolves and produced some wonderful work. We finished the day by reading one more chapter and the excitement of the arrival of Parthena was a great moment to end the day on. I recommend this book fully to KS2 teachers, as the sparkly eyes and smiles in eyes of 57 children is a site to behold.

Plastic Pollution Art Project: Year 5


I like to link as many areas of the curriculum, where possible, to the over arching topic and Art and D.T. is a great area to do this. I knew I wanted to create a statement piece of art (to generate a talking point around the issue of plastic pollution) and was inspired by the upsetting imagery of sea creatures swimming among the plastic.

Session One: We began by looking at how plastic is recycled and used by artists to create statements or to simply generate ethical art. I saw a wonderful sketchbook lesson done by the fabulous Gomersal Primary School art blog: It involved researching plastic art with questioning and independent exploration. It was so lovely I decided to directly copy it to start the topic. Many thanks to Gomersal Primary School. I loved how each child tackled it in their own unique interpretation and I listened in to some fantastic conversations discussing which features they liked and why they felt they were effective.


Session Two:

Session two was a glorious free art exercise, where the children could just let their imaginations run wild. I showed them a slide show I had created highlighting the issues of plastic pollution and told them they will be recycling plastic waste to give it a new life. It was wonderful to just see them busily collect materials to free create and reminded me of my days in EYFS, where I would observe the children accessing a variety of materials independently to just build and explore.


Session Three: In the next lesson we recapped previous learning and I explained to the children that we would be sewing our own sea creature. The children immediately went into panic mode. and I quickly discovered only 4 children in the class had ever sewn before. I had already countered this by planning in a session to develop their sewing skills on scrap material. I taught them the running stitch, back stitch and blanket stitch so they could decide which one they wanted to use in their final designs. To ensure the lesson ran as smoothly as possible, I created each child a sewing pack with their needle already threaded and knotted ready to use. They really enjoyed it and although they found it a challenge, relished the opportunity to try a new skill.


Session Four: 

I ran a weaving exercise alongside to create a background home for their sewn creatures. I attached various threads of plastic and nylon ribbon to a chicken wire frame and just left them to create. They really enjoyed the exercise and the fact it was a collaborative class project created a buzz and sense of belonging with the children. birdimg_4747-1


The actual designs produced by the children varied greatly, although the majestic sea turtle did prove to be extremely popular. They generated a design criteria (e.g. strong, small stitches spaces closely together) and also generated step by step instructions for the design process.


Session five:

This was the final creation session and had various stages to it. The first part involved making a template for their designs, pinning it to fabric and cutting out. I actually broke this session up and carried out this part the day before so everything was set up and ready to sew in the main creation session. To ensure the session was a stress free as possible, I again used their sewing packs and threaded their needles and did the first two stitches for them. I find preparation is the key to managing whole class sewing projects.


The children amazed me with how they tackled the sewing in the final session. Children who had struggled in the practice sessions remembered what they did wrong (like forgetting to hold onto the needle when they pulled it through the material) and all worked extremely hard. I know sewing can sound daunting but the satisfaction and pride on the faces of the children makes it all worth while.

The final element to the project is for the children to evaluate their worked based on  their design criteria.




My adventure into using wordless picture books began in earnest this term. Having never used one before, I did at first wonder how to make it work, but the book Flotsam by David Wiesner set my imagination running as soon as I opened it. I have thoroughly enjoyed using it and will definitely be exploring how to incorporate other wordless picture books in future planning.

You can read all about how I planned and structured my lessons and see some of the work my wonderful class did with it in my guest blog here for Books For Topics was a huge honour to be asked and I feel very proud my blog is part of that fantastic website celebrating and promoting books.

Make The Time

I am very lucky, as both my parents love books. I was read to every night and encouraged to develop an individual preference for specific genres through exposure to a wide range of reading materials. I did incidentally follow in my father’s footsteps and seek out fantasy and science fiction, but I embrace any book if recommended by a friend, colleague or in a specific book review post.

On top of this family love, I had a teacher at school who valued books above everything. He loved books, lived books and even wrote books. He would take time to have book chats with me and made discussing books as normal as discussing the weather.

Lots of children do not have this family background to nurture a love of literature so we are the flag bearers as teachers and librarians, waving the banner sky high. We can make children feel the way I felt about books as a child if we take time to give it the platform it deserves. More and more I see reading for pleasure being championed and celebrated; if Teacher Twitter is a reflection of current UK teaching classrooms, we are shining a light for a future of passionate readers.

One thing I love to do to shine this spotlight in my class is to copy my old teacher and make time to chat about books; get to know what my children are interested in so I can recommend books to them. Today I had tears as a recommendation led to a special moment.

I have a little girl in my class who is an avid reader and seeks out advanced literature and can grasp complex themes. I immediately knew Thornhill by Pam Smy would be perfect for her so asked her mum if she would mind me lending her my copy. The next day she brought this thank you card in as she was loving the book. She will never know how I will treasure that card. I hope one day she sits back and remembers me as the teacher who made discussing books as normal as discussing the weather.


Starting with a sparkle!


For my first ever post, I want to share this image. I adore reading; always have and always will. I try my hardest to help that love of reading flourish in the children I teach, but ultimately feel I have to model that love daily for them to buy into it.

A9853F23-E321-40BB-9432-DA6825D672F1.jpeg I was presented with this in class by a child who said ‘I made you this last night as I know you love reading.’ My heart fluttered a lot and I genuinely felt very proud and emotional. My blog posts won’t be here necessarily to teach you how to do something new. They will be here to remind you why you do it. The glitter and sparkle of our job needs to shine over the negatives.