‘Reading Times’ Christmas 2018

Reading Times 2018

It’s arrived the annual treat from Helen Smith, Librarian at Eckington School.  Every year she works hard to create her guide to all the festive TV viewing based on books. I’m particularly looking forward to the BBC adaptation of ‘The Long Song’ by Andrea Levy. You can view a trailer here

Helen explains more about her guide:

Behind many good films, there’s often a great book.
This guide to films that are based on books on TV this
Christmas gives a glimpse of the breadth of the human
imagination in the stories that we tell: stories that
comfort and inform us, that entertain and thrill us, that
keep us on the edge of our seats or up late into the night
as we read just one more page… stories that make us
think about ourselves and others, and most often, about
our place in our friendships, our families and society itself.

Your librarians are the real superheroes –
making sure that you are surrounded by stories that can
transport you to new worlds and different times, make
you laugh out loud, scare you silly or even make you cry
(if that’s what you want). Why not go along to your
library and borrow a book for the holidays?
If you’re not sure what to pick, just ask
your librarian for help.

Happy viewing – and reading!

Mrs Smith
Librarian, Eckington School



‘Best Books of 2018’ Survey

Librarians love a good list – especially when it relates to books! The plethora of ‘Best Book’ lists published in the newspapers at the end of the year give us inspiration for Christmas presents and library stock.(see the bottom of this post for some of them). We surveyed our school community to see what staff and students considered their favourite reads of 2018. To keep this as broad as possible we didn’t restrict it to books published in 2018, just books read this year. More responses are coming in so more interesting reading suggestions will be added to this list.

Having read all but one (I’m currently reading ‘Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller so haven’t got on to ‘Circe’ yet) I think it’s a great list already: fiction covering – a YA dystopian trilogy, a gripping realistic thriller with teen protagonists and a re-imagining of a classical story. There is so much to be fascinated by and learn from the 3 factual titles – Trevor Noah entertains whilst telling us so much about apartheid South Africa, Tara Westover bravely shows us her resilience and strength with a remarkable memoir about her extraordinary childhood and Hans Rosling will make you question everything about the way you see the world.

So far the top 3 fiction titles are:

Top 3 non-fiction titles are:

Here’s what one of our staff wrote about ‘Circe’

Circe is the long awaited follow up novel from Madeline “Song of Achilles” Miller.  It was a bit more of a slow burn than its predecessor, but ultimately well worth sticking with; it’s a story about growing up, growing old and learning what it takes to become truly human.

Y9 student Poppy voted for ‘After the Fire’ and wrote:

After the Fire was from a perspective that I have never heard before so I found it completely intriguing. It also revealed lot about human nature and obeying orders. 

You can read a longer review of this gripping novel here

Books of the Year 2018 – lists from a range of newspapers and websites:

Reading round-up

Books and reading news from the Library

 A person who won’t read has no advantage over the person who can’t read

Mark Twain

After the joys of holiday reading, one of the delights of returning to school is hearing staff and students talk about what they’ve read and recommending books to each other.

I encouraged all our staff to try a Young Adult book over the summer as a way of connecting with what their tutees and our students of all ages are reading for pleasure. I created a Padlet with some book suggestions and was delighted to hear that one of our Geography teachers, a 6th form tutor, re-read Holes by Louis Sachar, read ‘After the Fire’ by Will Hill and ‘Rivers of London’ (not strictly of the YA genre but popular with teens and adults alike)

On Monday 3rd September, we saw all the new 3rd form and new students in the 4th form and L6th for Library induction. In tutor groups we had an interesting discussion of their attitudes to reading.

Our survey gives a snapshot of some of our students’ attitudes to reading.

  • The 3rd form boys enjoy fiction more than non-fiction (although they also expressed a liking for autobiographies). Two of the boys in The Hill animatedly told us about their love of Manga comics. However, the L6th boys strongly prefer non-fiction.
  • The majority of 3rd form girls prefer fiction – especially dystopian novels such as the ‘Divergent’ series.
  • E-books: Although many have a Kindle e-reader almost all prefer the real thing, with some listening to audio-books. If you have a long drive with the family I thoroughly recommend the audio-book of Trevor Noah’s biography ‘Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood’ It is narrated by the comedian himself and is hilarious, informative and entertaining. We also have the book in the library.
  • The majority of the 3rd form enjoyed reading ‘The Territory’ our summer read and a number of them went on to read book 2 & 3 of the trilogy during the holidays or asked for the other books at the start of term.

A key aim this year is to encourage reading and it has been heartening to see many students in the library borrowing books to support subjects new to them in the 6th form such as Psychology and Politics.

Here are a few teacher recommendations for the start of the new school year. Mr Tapley recommends ‘A day in the Life of the brain: The Neuroscience of Consciousness from Dawn Till Dusk’, by Susan Greenfield. Economics teachers are suggesting their students read ‘Talking to my daughter about the economy: a brief history of capitalism’ by Yanis Varoufakis. Mr Atherton proposes ‘Thinking fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman and Mr Hendrick ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ by Yuval Noah Harari. I urge people of all ages to read ‘Factfulness: ten reasons we’re wrong about the world and why things are better than you think’ by Hans Rosling. It challenges all our assumptions about the world, will make you question everything you ever believed and includes fascinating and honest anecdotes about his life as a doctor in rural Africa.


Broaden your literary horizons and embark on ‘Reading around the World’ this summer

Read around the World

I’ve been interested in this idea ever since I heard about Ann Morgan’s  ‘A year of reading the world’

She writes in the opening of her book:  “I glanced up at my bookshelves, the proud record of more than twenty years of reading, and found a host of English and North American greats starting down at me…I had barely touched a work by a foreign language author in years…The awful truth dawned. I was a literary xenophobe.”

She set out to read a book translated into English from each of the world’s 195 UN-recognised countries (plus Taiwan and one extra) in one year. She has recently produced a New TEDx talk: what I learned reading a book from every country

My enthusiasm was revived when English teacher, Jo Wayman mentioned that she is currently reading around the world. It seems to offer so many benefits – from starting a conversation about books with people from different nations or backgrounds to opening our minds to different writing styles, settings and viewpoints. If we read books by authors from our holiday destinations we are likely to gain insights into the culture, history, politics and art of that country. Not to mention that is works well with the international outlook of the IB (International Baccalaureate) and our efforts to encourage diversity.

 As you holiday in a wide range of different countries (books set in destinations within the British Isles are fine too) why not join in with our summer reading challenge?

  •  Read a book set in your destination country
  • Read a book written by an author from your holiday country
  • Read or recommend a book by an author from your home country
  • Homegrown books are still fascinating – Scotland, Northern Ireland,  Eire, Wales, England down to counties, cities, towns, villages…

 Wherever you are we want to hear from you!

Take a picture of yourself reading in front of a landmark in your chosen country.

Share your recommendations via:

Email to library@wellingtoncollege.org.uk 

or Tweet to: @welly_library

Here are a few recommendations – we will be adding to this over the summer holidays.

Afghanistan: ‘The Kite Runner’ or ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini

Germany: ‘Why We Took the Car’ by Wolfgang Herrndorf. Recommended by my German friend as a great and enjoyable novel for teenagers. Or read it in the original German as ‘Tschick’?

India: ‘A Suitable Boy’ by Vikram Seth or Booker Prize winning ‘White Tiger’ by Aravind Adiga

Israel: ‘A pigeon and a boy’ by Meir Shalev recommended by Mrs Wayman’s Israeli friend.

Italy: ‘I’m not scared’ (Io non ho paura)  by Niccolo Ammaniti. A suspenseful novel, moving and with an evocative sense of place – set in Sicily.

Japan: Any of Murakami’s novels. A number of IB classes have read ‘The wind-up bird chronicle’ as one of their works in translation.

Nigeria: ‘Things Fall Apart’ by Chinua Achebe
or for a more contemporary novelist, books by Chimamanda Ngozi  – ‘Purple Hibiscus’ or ‘Half of a yellow sun’ set in the times of the Nigerian civil war.
Pakistan: ‘I am Malala’
South Africa: ‘Fiela’s Child’ by Dalene Matthee (recommended by an U6th student) See a review here

Suggestions and ideas.

We are keen to build up a list of recommended reads from as many countries as possible and create a huge map and display in September.

  • For inspiration you could try an interesting book we have in the library called ‘Reading on Location: Great books set in top travel destinations by Luisa Moncada
  • Here are some suggestions from a Guardian article from 2006 (not recent but it is recommending classic reads) ‘Reading on Location’ ‘Often, the best kind of holiday read is one that’s inspired by the place you’re visiting. James Anthony and Sarah Crown suggest some classic literary accompaniments to your summer escapes’
  • World reading challenge – books around the globe
  • TripFiction is a website to help you find books set in locations – you can search for your destination country and add your own suggestions.

Ann Morgan on her blog gives some excellent advice about starting out on this venture:

  • Be curious and open to changing your ideas Reading the world requires you to let go of your assumptions about many things – from morality and history to what counts as a book in the first place. This can be challenging but also hugely rewarding. As far as possible, try to keep an open mind.
  • Make the quest your own Many of the people I hear from tell me that they’re using my list as a guide. It’s great to know that it’s useful and I hope that the Book of the month reviews help keep it fresh. However, there are so many amazing books out there and a huge amount has changed since I read the world in 2012. Thousands of brilliant new translations have been published, in some cases opening up the literature of countries that had nothing available in English during my quest.
  • Go at your own pace You don’t have to read the world in a year. You don’t have to read it in ten years. It’s much better to go at a pace that you can sustain rather than to drive yourself frantic by trying to cram reading into every spare moment and turning it into a chore. Instead, find a window of time (even if it’s just 15 minutes a day) that you can dedicate to reading and stick to that. And if you find yourself wanting to spend more time reading as you go along – great!
  • Use libraries and other reading resources to read for free Reading can be expensive. Even with the generous book gifts I received from strangers, my original quest cost me several thousand pounds. This can be prohibitive, especially if you live in a part of the world where books are relatively expensive. There aren’t always easy solutions. However, where they exist, libraries can be a fabulous resource for bookworms. Not only do they make books freely available, but they will also often order in titles you request. For people in particularly difficult circumstances, there are charities such as Book Aid working to supply books.
  • Be patient and use your initiative It’s very difficult when you come to a country that has no commercially available literature in English. What you do about this will depend on how much time and energy you have. During my quest (as you’ll see if you read the posts for the ComorosPanama and São Tomé and Príncipe, to name a few), I resorted to all sorts  of outlandish things to try to source texts, including contacting charities, academics and students working in the region, and tracking translators down through social media. There is no magic solution to ticking off these countries. However, the good news is, it’s getting easier. Since my project, literature from several previously off-limits nations, including Madagascar and Guinea-Bissau, has been released in English. I’m hopeful it won’t be long before every UN-recognised nation has something available in the world’s most-published language. I’ll do my best to keep you informed. Watch this space!


Cracking reads for World Book Day 2018

For World Book Day 2018 we’ve been asking the library team, students and staff for their cracking reading recommendations. We’ve been putting together a list of those books that grip the reader and you can’t tear yourself away from the page. We’re hoping that students who don’t consider themselves keen readers might try a book and get hooked!

This is a work in progress. What books would you add to this list? Here’s a our start:


Snow Falling on Cedars – David Guterson

I’m not Scared – Niccolo Ammaniti

Papillon – Henri Charrière

The Giordano Bruno murder mysteries – historical thrillers starting with Heresy (then Prophecy, Sacrilege, Treachery, Conspiracy) each novel is set in a different city the first in Oxford the second in London. The research is impressive, Bruno a great maverick and the plots tense.

Pompeii – Robert Harris (and any of his books including  The Cicero Trilogy – Imperium, Lustrum and Dictator)

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

Before I go to sleep – S.J. Watson

The Godfather – Mario Puzo

Revolver – Marcus Sedgwick

The Beach – Alex Garland

The Bunker Diary – Kevin Brooks – Very bleak YA thriller – only read if you are feeling strong and like a harrowing read!

If you liked Bunker Diary you might like – The Chocolate Wars – Robert Cormier

Just great plot-twisting-page-turner-lose-a-weekend novels:

The Husband’s Secret – Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty

Letter for the King and sequel The Secrets of the Wild Wood by Tonke Dragt

Young Adult Fiction (many are fantasy or dystopian fiction)

Holes – Louis Sachar – Plenty of humour combined with two great stories. (enjoy the film once you’ve read the fantastic book!)

Moonrise – Sarah Crossan

One – Sarah Crossan (The moving story of conjoined teenage girls written in free verse. A super quick and affecting read. Definitely a one-sitting book for a snowy weekend!)

Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetys

Gone series – Michael Grant

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian – Alexie Sherman

Mortal Engines – Philip Reeve

The Outsiders – S.E. Hinton

Blood Red Road – Moira Young

Uglies – Scot Westerfeld

Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card

Delirium – Lauren Oliver

Stolen – Lucy Christopher

The Territory – Sarah Govett

I am Number Four and the Lorien Legacy series by Pittacus Lore

We were liars – E.H. Lockhart

Humour combined with police procedure and fantasy! Sounds weird but widely enjoyed and was London City Read in 2015

Rivers of London –  Ben Aaronovitch (four books in the series)


Letter for the King and sequel The Secrets of the Wild Wood by Tonke Dragt Lose yourself in these gripping, spellbinding adventures.

The Bees – Laline Paull

Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card

His Dark Materials Trilogy – Philip Pullman

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

The Old Kingdom  by Garth Nix (Sabriel , Lirael Abhorsen,   ClarielGoldenhand )


The Call

Life stories/adventure

Touching the Void by Joe Simpson

Various good reads!

Ready Player One – This has proved very popular with staff and our teenage boys. One for computer game fans.

The help – Kathryn Stockett

The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd

Student recommendation to the Head of English – who loved this – Fiela’s Child – Dalene Matthee

Simon vs the Homosapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli

Call me by your name – Andre Aciman

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams


Reading Challenges and making more time for reading in 2018

I have a new strategy for making more time for reading. I have banned my phone and hence Twitter and other distractions from the bedroom.  I now leave my smartphone with all the wonderful time-wasting apps and distractions downstairs and take my ‘dummy’ phone upstairs. This is the phone for listening to audio books and accessing all the delights of BBC iPlayer radio or podcasts (it still functions as an alarm too). I’ve disabled or deleted superfluous apps or hidden them. The phone has no SIM but has wifi enabled. This set up just makes me work a lot harder to get at those distractions so I immediately reach for my book!

Despite good intentions to write down all the books I read with a brief review I am notoriously bad about this. I recently joined ‘Good Reads’ so that I can record my year’s reading and create To Be Read lists and find this much easier to keep up to date. It is also a good place to find book challenges and connect with other readers.

What’s app groups make a fun way to share book recommendations too.  My cousin posted a couple of favourite recent reads to my family group and a flurry of good book suggestions ensued. Now my TBR pile is even bigger!

January is also the time I start thinking about my reading plans for the year ahead and the time when a plethora of Reading Challenges pop up on Twitter and book blogs.

If you are interested in trying a reading challenge have a look at this blog for some suggestions. Generally the aim of the challenge is to encourage you to read outside your usual book habits and try new themes, styles, authors and genres. Penguin have a Classic Book Reading Challenge for 2018. They are spurring people to get around to those classics they always meant to read and recommend a particular classic each month.

I’d love to see some tutor groups taking on a reading challenge this year! We’d be happy to join you and help with buying the books.

Please drop into the library to chat about reading plans or suggest books for stock.


Best books and most borrowed books from Wellington College Library 2017

Popular books from 2017 – Library borrowing lists

Canny library users know that one of the best places to find inspiration for their next read is the ‘Returned Books’ shelf in any library; in fact we often have a display of ‘Recently returned books’ as this effectively serves as recommendations from fellow students and staff.

I enjoyed browsing the titles of most popular books borrowed from the New York Public Library over the Christmas holidays – interesting to see how they differ from the most popular and talked about books in the UK.

Top 10 Books Systemwide (NYPL)

  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The Underground Railroad: A Novel by Colson Whitehead
  • Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  • The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
  • The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • Commonwealth: A Novel by Ann Patchett​

Some of my favourite books from 2017 were:


  • La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume 1 by Philip Pullman – The first book in the planned fantasy trilogy this time set when protagonist Lyra is a baby. Beautiful writing with wonderful characters and plot. A treat for all ages after many years waiting!
  • My Name is Leon by Kit De Waal. Funny and touching story of a little boy with themes of adoption, fostering and sibling love.
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Instructions for a heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell
  • The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
  • The Power by Naomi Alderman
  • Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
  • Mom and Me and Mom by Maya Angelou
  • The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
  • Heresy by S.J. Parris

Graphic novels:

We have an ever expanding collection of graphic novels in the library – many of them on history and a great way to absorb lots of information quickly and in an enjoyable format.

  • Hostage by Guy DeLisle
  • Illegal by Eoin Colfer
  • How to understand Israel in 60 days or less by Sarah Glidden

Young Adult Fiction:

  • Moonrise by Sarah Crossan
  • We come apart by Sarah Crossan
  • Beck by Mal Peet

Most borrowed fiction from Wellington College Library during the Michaelmas Term  (September to December 2017)

  • The woman in black by Susan Hill
  • The outsiders S.E Hinton
  • One by Sarah Crossan
  • Moonrise by Sarah Crossan
  • The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
  • She is not invisible by Marcus Sedgwick
  • Gone by Michael Grant
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  • The husband’s Secret Moriarty by Liane Moriarty
  • The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
  • Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
  • Big little lies by Liane Moriarty

Top non-fiction last term:

  • Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden  by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
  • Periodic tales : the curious lives of the elements by Hugh Aldersey-Williams
  • Other minds : the octopus, the sea and the deep origins of consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith


Read the book of the film this Christmas!

Every year, school librarians eagerly await Helen Smith’s (Librarian at Eckington School) ‘Christmas Reading Times’. It is a labour of love – Helen scours the Freeview channel Christmas film and TV listings and makes the book to film connections for us all. It’s a fascinating booklet – I discover new film and TV dramas based on books each year. The back page alerts us to a dozen book adaptations to look out for in 2018 including the hugely anticipated ‘Mortal Engines’ film based on Philip Reeve’s fantasy novels with screen play by the author and directed by Peter Jackson. Also coming up in 2018 is the film adaptation of Ian McEwan’s ‘On Chesil Beach’ with screen play by the author.

There are plenty of classics on TV from ‘The Great Gatsby’ to Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’ and Susan Hill’s ‘Woman in Black. I’m looking forward to the adaptation of the ghostly story ‘The Signalman’ also by Charles Dickens. For fantasy fans there is’Eragon’ and ‘The Hobbit’ and plenty of Harry Potter! For history buffs if you missed the amazing ‘Dunkirk’ (based on ‘The Big Pick-Up’ by Elleston Trevor  and ‘Dunkirk’ by Ewan Hunter and J. S. Bradford) it is on ITV4 on Christmas Eve. It’s definitely worth reading Laura Hillenbrand’s inspirational story of Louis Samperini in ‘Unbroken’ before watching the film. Olympic runner Zamperini enlisted in the United States Air Corps in 1941. His plane was searching for lost airmen in the Pacific when his plane crashed. He survived 47 days on a raft at sea and two and a half years in  desperately harsh Japanese prisoner of war camps. His resilience and determination to survive are inspirational.

Why not enjoy reading the great books behind the films this Christmas holiday?

View it here.

Many thanks to Helen Smith for this yearly treat!

More celebrations of non-fiction with staff picks!

We are continuing to celebrate National Non-Fiction November and have been gathering a wonderfully eclectic mix of favourite books from staff and students. They range from the discovery of longitude to advice on how to prepare for your perfect triathlon race and from an important and witty look at the history of sanitation to what makes a psychopath. There really is something for everyone in this developing reading list and plenty of fascinating knowledge to be absorbed. Do you have a factual book recommendation?

The books in bold are currently available in the Library and the rest are coming soon!

  • The War on Women by Sue Lloyd-Roberts
  • The Looting Machine by Tom Burgis
  • Worse Than War – The Assault on Humanity by DJ Goldhagen
  • Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy by Gabrielle Coleman
  • The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power (volume 1) by Robert Caro
  • The Team of Rivals:  the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks 
  • Into thin air by Jon Krakauer
  • Time Bends by Arthur Miller
  • The Hall of Uselessness by Simon Leys
  • A Brief History of the Philosophy of Time by Adrian Bardon
  • Molecules at an Exhibition by John Emsley
  • To the Finish Line: A World Champion Triathlete’s Guide To Your Perfect Race by Chrissie Wellington
  • Longitude by Dava Sobel
  • Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall
  • Nature via Nurture: Genes, Experience and what makes us Human by Matt Ridley
  • Rosalind Franklin. The Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox
  • A People’s Tragedy by Orlando Figes
  • The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
  • New ideas from dead economists by Todd G. Buchholz
  • Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years by Jared Diamond
  • The map that changed the world by Simon Winchester
  • Bad Science by Ben Goldacre
  • Mao’s last dancer by Li Cunxin
  • Alive by Piers Paul Read
  • Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  • A short book about drawing by Andrew Marr
  • The sound of a wild snail eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
  • The Wonder Garden by Jenny Broom
  • The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane, illustrated by Jackie Morris
  • The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
  • The Big Necessity by Rose George
  • The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson