We made it!

It’s the end of yet another year; of four terms worth of assessment, reports, staff meetings and working out who is best sat next to whom. At this time of year, it can be easy to give in to exhaustion and forget about everything we’ve accomplished over the year, but, at the risk of sounding like yet another self-help column, I encourage you to think about five things you’re proud of this year. If nothing else, I always thought that learning 150 new names every year was an achievement!

This month’s blog has some great reads for both you and your students, maybe even gift suggestions if you’re still struggling on that front.

Many of us are familiar with Philippa Gregory from her historical fiction but, among a particular generation of women, she’s best known for the Princess Florizella stories. Gregory originally wrote these tales for her daughter, and they have now been updated for her grandchildren. They star the Princess Florizella, who isn’t very good at following the Princess Rules, being much more concerned with going on adventures and picnics, and having no interest in looking pretty or being rescued. The updated stories have been collected together into one book called The Princess Rules and include lovely illustrations. A great addition to home, classroom or library shelves.

Our Planet is truly a book for everyone from 5 to 105. This absolutely stunning work is based on the Netflix series of the same name and covers different climate regions. With amazing photographs from the TV series and beautiful illustrations, there is something to capture everyone’s interest. I know I’ve found it difficult to put down every time I’ve picked it up for a brief flip through. This book would be a great way to engage kids who find it easier to engage with texts visually, as well as being a great starting point for projects and investigation, as it is a mine of information as well as containing lovely images.

On Swift Horses is one of those quiet novels that creeps up on you and then totally overwhelms you with the power of its writing and its message. It’s 1956 and the rise of the middle class means that everyone has a shot at the American Dream. But what does that look like? And if you’re 21, a woman, and the product of an unconventional upbringing, what can you do to make it happen? On the other hand, if you’re a newly discharged member of the armed forces, who loves to gamble, both with cards and with love, are you allowed to make your version of the great aspiration come true? This book is so hard to pin down: it’s about the secrets we all keep, both from ourselves and those around us; it’s about taking chances; it’s about small moments of happiness and triumph; and, it’s about living in the margins, being outside looking in. An engrossing book, this is compelling reading for yourself, or possibly great extension or related material for senior students.

Read of the Month – In many ways, The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters is a light-hearted family drama. Sisters Rajni, Jezmeena and Shirina are fulfilling their mother’s dying wish of going on a pilgrimage across India; a country that has given them their identity, but that, as English-born women they have never really known.

The sisters are quite different in both temperament and ambition, and so they haven’t been particularly close in recent years. They each go into their shared pilgrimage desperately trying to hide the fact that their lives are not going to plan, and find it particularly difficult to connect with each other and to carry out their mother’s wishes.

This is where the book becomes more than another family saga – although it’s still a great read if that’s all you want from it. Balli Kaur Jaswal uses current events to examine the treatment of women, generally, as well as the cultural expectations of women of Indian heritage. This plays out in many ways, from taxi drivers who blatantly stare at the sisters’ breasts; to Reclaim the Streets marches going on during their visit; through to a discussion by the women of the horrifying statistics around female infanticide and its consequences.

As the journey goes on, the sisters’ secrets start to unravel, those from their pasts – why their mother felt she could never return to India herself – and those from their presents. Many of those secrets have life-changing consequences for the sisters, both individually and as a family.

I enjoyed this book so much, and I’m not usually a fan of family drama. I appreciated the exploration of a culture I don’t know a lot about, and the way that some of the sisters’ secrets were uncovered quickly, while others were slowly revealed across the course of the novel to great effect. I also found the conclusion of the novel particularly satisfying; it was a (reasonably) realistic and believable ending to a story that had explored some confronting issues.

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