Douglas Stuart wins the Booker Prize with ‘Shuggie Bain’

Thursday 19th November 2020 The Booker Prize Winner was announced.

I was delighted to see that this year’s winner was  Douglas Stuart with his incredible debut novel ‘Shuggie Bain’.

We read this novel for the Wellington College Community Book Club and had a fascinating discussion about it. I was, at first, quite reluctant to read such a harrowing and gritty novel set in grinding poverty, hunger and unemployment in Glasgow in the 1980s. However, I’m very glad I did as it was a poignant, touching and beautifully written story of a young boy’s relationship with his mother who was struggling with alcoholism. Shuggie is a a remarkable boy who we travel with as he grows from 5 year old to teenager – fiercely loyal to his mother Agnes. This is a novel which transports the reader to that time and place and once read is never to be forgotten.

20th November 2020: Here are a selection of the latest book reviews and recommendations from the 3rd form:

Factfulness by Hans Rosling (recommended by Harry G)

It is a great book but does seem to drag on a bit with the same idea all the way through but  still a great book and very interesting and really made me think.

Geek Girl by Holly Smale (Lydia R)

I loved this book and how inspiring and interesting it was.

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman (Theo B)

A very emotional book which covers a lot of modern problems

The Territory by Sarah Govett

(Alexander C) The book was very emotional and moving and had all the right things to keep you interested throughout the book.

and another 5 star review for The Territory:

A unique book, the first one I have read that is in a diary form. It has interesting plot development. Even though it has a diary like form, it has great scenery description and also because it is in a diary form, the story was told from one person only, keeping the readers guessing for what the other characters are thinking.

Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah  (Nina G)

I rate this book 5 stars. It was very well written as it was based off a little boy struggling in a new country alone. It made me think about my life and how different it could be. It was quite an emotional book and my thoughts on all the characters changed constantly.

Modern re-tellings of the Greek and Roman myths

Great books – not just for Classicists

This week’s book recommendations focus on the many enthralling re-tellings of Ancient Greek and Roman myths. Have a look at the Library padlet for a wide selection of novels which read like thrillers set in the Ancient World. Natalie Haynes, Madeline Miller and Pat Barker have written powerful and moving versions of the Trojan War and Greek Myths from the point of view of the women whose voices are not normally heard and Emily Wilson created a groundbreaking translation of The Odyssey in 2017 challenging the traditional male focused translations which have gone before. Robert Harris brings the political intrigue of the Roman world to life in his gripping Cicero trilogy – Lustrum, Imperium and Dictator. These are excellent books to broaden students of Classics knowledge of the time, history and personalities but they are exciting and satisfying reads for the interested general reader.

And of course Donna Tartt’s brilliant ‘The Secret History’ is not to be missed.

Additional suggestions welcome!

Here’s an interesting article on LitHub – 10 brilliant retellings of Classical Myths by Female Writers

 

Royal Society Book Prize Shortlist 2020 – winner announced

Winner Announcement

On Tuesday 3rd November the Royal Society held a fascinating live streamed event discussing the importance of popular, accessible science writing which was followed by the winner of the Royal Society Insight Investment Book Prize announcement. This year’s prize was won by Dr Camilla Pang for her book ‘Explaining Humans’

Subtitled – ‘What science can teach us about life, love and relationships.

Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at the age of eight, Dr Camilla Pang struggled to understand the world around her. Desperate for a solution, Camilla asked her mother if there was an instruction manual for humans that she could consult. But, without the blueprint to life she was hoping for, Camilla began to create her own. Now armed with a PhD in biochemistry, Camilla dismantles our obscure social customs and identifies what it really means to be human using her unique expertise and a language she knows best: science.

We are continuing to read and promote the shortlist. Our Academic Support staff are reading ‘Explaining Humans’, a keen Physicist in Y11 is reading ‘The world according to Physics’, I’m thoroughly gripped by Susannah Cahalan’s ‘The Great Pretender’ and our Psychology staff and 6th formers are reading it too. Our Head of Economics read ‘The Double X Economy’ over half-term and wrote that ‘ it made me quite sad, as there are so many distressing stories about women. But equally it is so important that we are aware of what is going on, so I would definitely recommend it’. A biology teacher is reading Gaia Vince’s ‘Transcendence’ so I’m looking forward to hearing feedback on that book too.

9th October 2020 update. Our copies of the Shortlisted books have just arrived and we have an eye-catching display in the library. 5th and 6th form Scientists (and interested others!) are encouraged to borrow a copy and read it over the half-term break. Science Society will be leading this and we look forward to some lively discussions of the shortlisted books. I’m going to start with ‘The Great Pretender’ by Susannah Cahalan. Review here

We have e-books of 3 of the titles on our VLeBooks platform.

The Royal Society Science Book Prize Shortlist for 2020 has just been announced. As in previous years we are looking forward to reading the 6 shortlisted books with Science Society and other interested 6th formers.  The books are billed as ‘representing the very best in popular science writing from around the world for a non-specialist audience’.  From past experience the books are engaging, fascinating and informative and have enthused our students to extend their reading in academic subjects. As well as Physics and Biology being represented this year there is a book of interest to Economists – ‘The Double X Economy’ by Linda Scott. This book is considered ‘the first book to demonstrate the true impact of women’s economic exclusion – and map out the exciting potential for change. Psychology students and the curious general reader can explore ‘The Great Pretender’ by Susannah Cahalan which uses detective work to explore the famous 1973 Stanford study of psychiatric hospitals. She asks the questions ‘what if that ground-breaking and now-famous experiment was itself deeply flawed? And what does that mean for our understanding of mental illness today?’

We have e-books of ‘The Double X Economy’ by Linda Scott and ‘The world according to Physics’ by Jim Al-Khalili and ‘The Great Pretender’ by Susannah Cahalan on our VLeBooks platform which can be read immediately. ‘Explaining Humans’ by Dr Camila Pang and ‘The Body’ by Bill Bryson are already available in print form from the library.

You can view all the past winners here  Many of them are available to borrow from the Library.

The winner will be announced on 3rd November 2020. We look forward to our discussion meeting where students have the opportunity to champion the book they read if they feel it is a strong contended for the prize.

Wellington College Big Summer Read 2020

We are eagerly anticipating our first ever whole school Reading Week from 15th – 19th June 2020.

We have chosen a fascinating and thought-provoking book as our Big Summer Read and are encouraging all students, staff and parents to read it and discuss it. The reading will start in the penultimate week of term when everyone will be expected to read daily and there will be a range of book related activities connected to the book. Reading will be completed over the summer holidays with follow up discussions, events and activities in September.

Factfulness: The stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts.

An apt and positive book for the current times, subtitled ‘Ten reasons we’re wrong about the world – and why things are better than you think’. Factfulness challenges all our assumptions about the world and includes fascinating and honest anecdotes about Rosling’s life as a doctor in rural Africa. Test yourself with the 13 question quiz at the front of the book – how much do you know about the world? The book is relevant to so many subjects – politics, geography, health and medicine, international development, economics, global citizenship and maths but is also very readable and engaging.

Hans Rosling co-founded gapminder to help people understand world health and development. Have a look at Rosling’s famous TED Talks, HERE He was a unique character with a passion for sword-swallowing in his spare time!

To order your copy:

If you’d like to help support independent bookshops you can order online from:

hive.co.uk   £9.09 for the paperback or £4.99 for an ebook (epub) version for immediate download

£8.99 paperback from Waterstones

 

 

Graphic novels for History

One of the joys of being a school librarian is chatting to staff and students about books and hearing their latest recommendations. I was particularly happy to find out that one of our Y11 girls had discovered the wonders of graphic novels to support her History GCSE course. She was eagerly broadening her knowledge of  the history topics in the course in a quick and accessible way. The book which started this process was Marcelino Truong’s biographical graphic novel set in Vietnam ‘Such a lovely little War: Saigon 1961 – 1963’ and the sequel ‘Saigon Calling: London 1963-75’. This beautiful, gripping graphic memoir tells the story of Marco, the son of a Vietnamese diplomat and a his French wife, during the early years of the Vietnam War. They are visually stunning books and emotionally involving as the reader learns of the details of family life as well as the impact and events of the war closing in.
We’ve built up a diverse collection of graphic novels and particularly focused on historical events and biographies.

Here are a few suggestions:

March (3 Books) by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. ‘With March, Congressman John Lewis takes us behind the scenes of some of the most pivotal moments of the Civil Rights Movement. In graphic novel form, his first-hand account makes thiese historic events both accessible and relevant to an entire new generation… LeVar Burton

Maus (Book l and ll) by Art Spiegelman. Pulitzer prize-winning graphic novel – the moving narrative of the Holocaust portraying Spiegelman’s father’s experiences of the Holocaust.

The Arab of the Future by Riad Sattouf ( 3 books)  This is a graphic memoir of a childhood in the Middle East, 1978 – 1984, Book 2 1984-1985 and Book 3 1985 – 1987). Riad Sattouf is a bestselling cartoonist who grew up in Syria and Libya. These books are funny, sad and brilliantly observed.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi ‘The intelligent and outspoken child of radical Marxists, and the great-grandaughter of Iran’s last emperor, Satrapi bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country. Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. This is a beautiful and intimate story full of tragedy and humour – raw, honest and incredibly illuminating.’

How to understand Israel in 60 days of less by Sarah Glidden

Malcolm X a graphic biography by Andrew Helfer and Randy DuBurke

Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation by David Polonsky Published in 2018 this is the first graphic adaptation of Anne Frank’s Diary.

Trinity : a graphic history of the first atomic bomb : graphic novel by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm

Nat Turner : graphic novel by Kyle Baker

Safe area Gorazde : the war in Eastern Bosnia, 1992-95 : graphic novel by Joe Sacco

Gettysburg – the graphic novel written and illustrated by C.M. Butler

 

Little White Duck – A Childhood in China by Na Liu and Andres Vera Martinez

Marzi – A memoir by Marzena Sowa. Told from a young gir’s viewpoint ‘Marzi’ is a coming-of-age story which portrays the tough life behind the Iron Curtain whilst exploring the daily life of an ordinary girl in turbulent times.

The Battle of the Bulge by Wayne Vansant. A graphic history of the Allied victory in teh Adrenne, 1944 – 1945.

Che: A graphic biography by Spain Rodriguez.

Line of Fire: Diary of an unknown soldier by Barroux. Introduced by Michael Morpurgo

Trotsky: A graphic biography by Rick Geary

Barefoot Gen Volume 1 A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima by Keiji Nakazawa

Barefoot Gen – The Day After Volume ll by Keiji Nakazawa

The Last day in Vietnam by Will Eisner.  This fictional memoir, drew on Eisner’s time in Korea and Vietnam involved with  military service.

Castro – A graphic novel by Reinhard Kleist

Don’t forget we also have a recently established collection of Historical Fiction in the History Department to provide another source of enjoyable and informative history themed reading.

We have other non-fiction graphic novels too:

Economics:

  • Economix – How our Economy works (and doesn’t work) in words and pictures by Michael Goodwin, illustrated by Dan E. Burr

Art:

  • Basquiat – Script by Julian Voloj, illustrations by Soren Mosdal

Science:

  • Radioactive – Marie & Pierre Curie: A tale of love and fallout by Lauren Redniss.
  • Feynman by Ottaviani & Myrick

 

 

Reading Times – Christmas 2019

Reading Times 2019 TV

The eagerly awaited Reading Times 2019 TV has just arrived. Every year we are grateful for the hard work Mrs Smith, Librarian at Eckington School puts into creating a guide to all the holiday viewing based on books. A highlight for me this year is the animation of Judith Kerr’s wonderful picture book ‘The tiger who came to tea’ (Ch4 7.30pm on 24th December). The perennial Dickens’ favourites including ‘A Christmas Carol’, ‘Oliver Twist’ and ‘Scrooge’ are available. Plenty of other classics on offer too including  George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’, ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’ based on Alexandre Dumas’ ‘The Vicomte de Bragelonne, Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Kidnapped’, ‘Dracula’, ‘The Great Gatsby’,’Pride and Prejudice’. More recently  two very moving books came out ‘Lion’ by Saroo Brierley and ‘The boy who harnessed the wind’ by William Kamkwamba. These books are available from the library and the films are on on Netflix.

For YA book fans you can watch ‘The Fault in our stars’ and ‘Looking for Alaska’ based on John Green’s books, ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘The Twilight Saga’, Divergent and Mazerunner. The ‘His Dark Materials’ series on the BBC currently (available on iPlayer) is fantastic and it’s well worth reading the trilogy if you haven’t read it before.

I’m particularly looking forward to watching ‘Elizabeth is Missing’ but want to re-read the book by Emma Healey first!

Christmas reading lists and books of the year 2019

It’s that exciting time of year when everywhere you look people are sharing their ‘Best books’ lists from 2019. This is a brilliant opportunity to be reminded of the great books you might have missed or stocking up on holiday reading or Christmas present ideas. The winter is a perfect time to cosy up with an enjoyable book. I firmly believe it is vital that our young people are reading, for so many crucial reasons – developing focus and sustained concentration, expanding vocabulary and developing reading skills, widening subject knowledge, building empathy by learning about other cultures and situations. Fiction helps us empathise with characters struggling with difficulties and can help us resolve our own issues. Research has shown that children and teenagers who read for pleasure are more successful in life. See the National Literacy Trust Report on this subject and p6 Reading is a form of mindfulness – a calming absorbed time to escape from daily pressures and worries. Aside from all the worthy and important stuff it’s fun and escapist to lose yourself in a grand adventure or story of your choosing. For anyone interested in the subject of how the digital world is affecting our deep reading and concentration I recommend Maryanne Wolf’s book ‘Reader, Come Home’.

Waterstones have announced their book and author of the year. These are voted for by Waterstones booksellers and represent books they consistently love and recommend to customers.

Charlie Mackesy won Book of the Year with his charming The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse and Greta Thunberg was voted Author of the Year for her book ‘ No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference.

In October The Independent newspaper has pages of best books on themes including ‘best plastic-free living books’ 

100 novels that shaped our world

I’m looking forward to exploring the BBC’s recent list of ‘100 novels that shaped our world’ You can also watch the accompanying programmes ‘Novels that shaped our world’ on BBC iPlayer .There are 3 episodes exploring class, the novel’s link to the rise and fall of the British Empire and women as readers and writers.

Here is the Guardian Best Books of the Year list  

Here are the Best Books of the Year 2019 chosen by writers

Best thrillers of the year

The FT Business Books of the Year Won by Caroline Criado Perez with ‘Invisible Women: Exposing data bias in a world designed for men’ (which also won the Royal Society Science Book Prize 2019)

The Telegraph 50 Best Books of 2019

New York Times Critics’ Top Books of 2019 

NYT best children’s and YA books of 2019

For a view from America here are the New York Public Library’s favourites from this year – arranged in  5 categories You can explore the Library’s top 10 books in five categories: kids, Spanish-language kids, teens, adults, and poetry.

Here are the ‘Five Books’ website Best books of 2019This excellent website interviews experts in many areas of expertise and asks them to pick the best 5 books in their field. This creates a vast bank of suggestions on many topics from Science to Crime Fiction, Business to Poetry. A bookish delight!

Browsing all the lists, a novel which keeps featuring is Olive, again’ Elizabeth Strout’s sequel to ‘Olive Kitteridge’. This highly regarded and frequently recommended novel has somehow passed me by so I’m looking forward to reading them both.

Costa Book Awards Shortlists 2019

The Costa Book Award category shortlists have recently been announced. Many of these books feature prominently on books of the year lists. Some great reading suggestions in these lists too. The categories are for Novel, First Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children’s book and the ultimate Costa Book of the Year will be announced on 6th January 2020. Here is the list of past winners and shortlists.  I’ve bought the shortlists for library stock so we can read and join the conversation about this titles.

Our most popular fiction of this term so far has been the ‘Scythe’ trilogy by Neal Shusterman. This has proved incredibily popular and has caught on further as students have seen many of their friends walking around with this book. It’s a dystopian series which is ideal for ‘Hunger Games’ fans. It has also been popular with English teachers and librarians and my 19 and 21 year old children. I sent them the final book ‘The Toll’ at University and it is so gripping they are getting distracted from all else!

Our top 4 fiction titles this term are:

  • Scythe Book 1 by Neal Shusterman
  • The Territory (Book 1) by Sarah Govett (previously our visiting author)
  • Burial Rites by Hanah Kent (Wellington Community Book Club read)
  • Joint 5th Divergent by Veronica Roth, The Hit by Melvin Burgess and Thunderhead (Scythe Book 2) by Neal Shusterman

Our top 5 non-fiction titles were:

  • Clearing the air: the beginning and end of air pollution by Tim Smedley
  • Talking to strangers: what we should know about the people we don’t know by Malcom Gladwell
  • Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall
  • Factfulness by Hans Rosling
  • The Body: a guide for occupants by Bill Bryson

Non-Fiction November and Science Book Discussions

This November I have been prompted to read non-fiction on a Science theme. A number of our students  and science teachers keen on Science have been reading the Royal Society Science Book Prize Shortlist. I read ‘Clearing the Air’ by Tim Smedley and listened to the audio book of ‘Invisible Women: Exposing data bias in a world designed for men’ by Caroline Criado Perez. This won the 2019 prize and is a thought-provoking and hugely important book for all of us to read.

The students particularly enjoyed reading ‘The remarkable life of the skin’ by Monty Lyman. Dr Wright, Head of Biology was also very impressed and found the far-reaching scope of the book fascinating as it looks at the skin through the lens of sociology and history as well as science.

As the Royal Society website points out:

‘Dr Monty Lyman leads us on a journey across our most underrated and unexplored organ and reveals how the skin is far stranger and more complex than you’ve ever imagined.’

One of our L6th students was surprised at how readable and gripping Paul Steinhardt’s book ‘The second kind of impossible’ was. He found it read like an adventure as Steinhardt undertook a quest to prove the existence of quasicrystals.

It was impressive to see two of our Y10s explaining what they’d learnt from John Gibbin’s ‘Six Impossible Things’ and ‘The unexpected truth about animals’ by Lucy Cooke (from last year’s shortlist).

Not a frequent reader of non-fiction I was pleased that I had the double prompt of the Science Book Chat and non-fiction November to spur me to read two of the shortlist. I learnt so much about air pollution I am recommending Tim Smedley’s book to everyone and banging on about it to anyone who will listen!

Before all the excitement of Christmas arrives don’t miss the display of wide-ranging non-fiction in the library from inspirational biographies to accessible politics, psychology, books on the environment and activism to inspire you to reduce your dependence on plastic. There is something for everyone!

New Historical Fiction Collection

When Mr Macleod, Acting Head of History, came to me proposing the development of a Historical Fiction collection in the History Department Library, I  jumped at the chance to bring some excellent and very readable fiction to a wider audience. Historical Fiction is a great way to become engrossed in a gripping plot, learn more about the real historical figures and expand your knowledge of a particular historical event or time period without it feeling like hard work. Many historical fiction writers have carried out meticulous research and some give detailed bibliographies of historical sources.  Whilst important to remember the novels are fiction they help give context and background to historical time periods and topics and may act as a stepping stone to reading non-fiction.

The History Dept came up with some of their favourite titles and we added our library team suggestions. There are many more historical fiction titles in the main library too.

We now have a core collection which can be expanded and developed. It’s a bit weighty in the World War ll and Tudors area – so we welcome suggestions for different time periods and locations. Eventually we plan to link the suggested reading to the curriculum topics.

When I asked our Head of College for his favourite book in the summer he told me ‘Azincourt’ by Bernard Cornwell. This book spurred his enthusiasm for studying History.

Two memorable historical fiction titles which made a dramatic impact on me are ‘The Siege’ by Helen Dunmore and ‘The things they carried’ by Tim O’Brien. Both are harrowing, emotional reads.’The  Siege’  is set during the first winter of the siege of Leningrad by the Germans during World War ll. It is a moving story of love and survival written so well it’s hard not to feel the emotions of the characters experiencing it.

‘The things they carried’ is a book of interconnected short stories about the experiences of a platoon of U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War. It is a blurring of fiction and non-fiction as the narrator is modelled on the author and has his name, Tim O’Brien, despite being a fictional character. The book is partly based on the author’s own experiences.

Many of us – staff and students alike are big fans of Robert Harris. He is a master storyteller who brings historical times to life with great plotting. We have his books in print form in the library and also many of them as e-books on Browns VLeBooks.

Why not try a historical novel for the half-term holidays?

Science Book Discussion Group

In another collaboration between the Library and Academic Departments we are reading the 6 shortlisted books on the Royal Society Book Prize Shortlist 2019.

In conjunction with the Science Department and Science Society the idea is that 5th and 6th formers read one of the titles and feed back on what they thought of it and what they learnt at a Science Book Discussion evening in the library on 21st November. If none of this year’s shortlist are available then we have copies of previous winnners and shortlisted titles.

I’m looking forward to reading ‘Clearing the Air’ by Tim Smedley and I’m currently listening to the audiobook of ‘Invisible Women: Exposing data bias in a world designed for men’ by Caroline Criado Perez. This year’s winning book is an incredible piece of research highlighting the gender data gap in so many areas of life – a vital read for everyone.