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Spalding Grammar School

A change for student reading

All change for student reading

All change for student reading

As you’re all aware, COVID-19 has brought about a number of changes in school. One change that the English department has had to cope with is the fact that we are unable to use the Library for our fortnightly private reading lessons in Key Stage 3. We’ve tackled this by investing in several sets of new class readers – meaning that students won’t miss out on the opportunity to immerse themselves in a book!

When we found out that we wouldn’t be able to use the Library, our first thought was to investigate the reading books we already had available in the English department cupboards. There were some fantastic books in there: classics such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and George Orwell’s Animal Farm, retellings of ancient myths such as Rosemary Sutcliff’s Beowulf: Dragonslayer, and contemporary novels such as Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines and Robert Swindells’ Stone Cold. However, there weren’t enough books to go round all seventeen of our Key Stage 3 English groups. So we had some thinking to do.

One thing we wanted to do was to broaden the range of fiction that students encounter. Diversity has been very much in the news this year, and we wanted to make sure that the books our students read reflect the range of voices out there in the world. We wanted to increase the range of female writers our students read, and include writers from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. We also wanted to include some of the fantastic novels that have been published for young adults over the past decade or so, to bring our curriculum right up to date.

During the lockdown we exchanged ideas about books we’d read and enjoyed, and texts we’d taught in other schools that had gone down well. And I did a lot of reading – twelve books in the space of about three weeks! From this I drew up a list of six titles, all of which are now being read and enjoyed by our Key Stage 3 students.

The Other Side of Truth by Beverley Naidoo is a gripping story of two children from Nigeria who are forced to flee the country after their mother is murdered. They have to navigate life in London as asylum seekers, coping with prejudice, bullying and life in foster care whilst wondering what is happening to their family in Africa. A fantastic novel that opens students’ eyes to the reality of those whose lives are torn apart by conflict.

Coram Boy by Jamila Gavin takes students back to the eighteenth century, and focuses on the shadowy figure of the ‘Coram Man’, who takes unwanted children to an orphanage in London. Or does he? As we read, we find that things aren’t always as they seem …

Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean is another historical novel, this time set on the distant archipelago of St Kilda, off the coast of Scotland. A group of boys and men journey by boat to a remote sea stack to collect seabirds and their eggs, vital food for the islanders. However, the boat that is supposed to collect them never arrives. We find out what happens when isolation hits, and when you are forced to depend for survival on the few resources you ave available to you.

The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan is a very different kind of novel, told as a sequence of poems. It’s narrated by Kasienka, a Polish girl who arrives in Coventry with her mother in search of a better life, her possessions contained in one suitcase and an old laundry bag. It’s a book about not fitting in and finding your own way, making tough decisions and relying on yourself.

Hell and High Water by Tanya Landman is the story of Caleb, a young man whose father is transported to the Colonies for a crime he did not commit. As Caleb struggles to clear his father’s name, he becomes entangled in a web of secrets, finding out about the exploitation and injustice that exist in the world around him – and discovering more about himself in the process.

Finally, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys focuses on 15-year old Lina, who is deported from Lithuania with her mother and brother in 1941. The three of them are put on board a train and sent to a labour camp in Siberia, forced by Stalin’s soldiers to work under punishing conditions in harsh winter weather. Lina’s story of survival is a harrowing but important book that asks readers to consider what keeps us alive when we are faced with the most extreme of circumstances.

Like the sound of any of the books you’ve read about? Give them a read – and let us know what you think!

Dr Atherton, Head of English