Top Texts for May

Bob Cox has chosen a wonderful selection of classic texts for May

Children of the Stone City

by Beverley Naidoo

As so often, Beverley Naidoo writes in beautiful, fluent prose with an underlying tone of menace  as she describes a dystopian world of Permitteds – the ruling class – and Nons. This is a page-turner which manages to be both contemporary and timeless in its themes. In Adam, Zac and Leila she creates characters all young readers will want to follow, though I think ages 11-14 would get most out of it. It could be a very effective transition unit. There is huge potential for teaching about narrative technique through the lens of the Nons and how we hear their story.

This book is a masterclass in writing a tale which laces all its parts into a climax of a music concert where Adam must play his grandfather’s violin. Through some fairly edgy moments for the protagonists in ‘Stone City’, hope bubbles near the surface, often via the power of music to link with the past and bring unity to the present:

‘The bow flies over the strings and his violin sings…..He’s flying bareback over ancient hills, like Grandfather Tomas in the Time Before’

Who Let the Words Out

by Joshua Seigal

I have had the pleasure of seeing Joshua perform his poems twice. He is quite brilliant, getting huge responses from teachers, and of course pupils, to the way he delivers his words which seek out meaning and echo through the mind in a range of emotions. If you can’t find a way to invite him in, you will find this anthology allows you to explore with your class a whole variety of styles and clever twists. Word power is everything and you can move from pun to innuendo to nonsense to haiku and much, much more! I’m always encouraging teachers to include poetry in ‘story time’ and here is your chance to do it.

I think many poems will make you laugh like ‘Never’ which begins ‘never lick a cactus’ but others need reflection and discussion with your pupils like ‘gifted’ which ends:

‘They call me gifted

But I can’t untie the bow

That keeps me wrapped tight.’

You won’t just have fun unwrapping Joshua’s talent; you will also find much potential for teaching in the clever endings, ambiguities and witty phrases in this excellent collection.

The Little Prince

by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

About 140 million copies of this classic allegory on the human condition have been sold. It’s written by a French pilot who sadly died a year after publication. Why has it been so successful? It’s ostensibly a children’s fantasy about a little prince from a distant planet learning about life across the universe and landing on Earth to meet the narrator whose plane is stuck in the Sahara Desert. The prince describes his travels as a kind of odyssey. My favourite planet is the one inhabited by a businessman who owns over five million stars. The little prince, who questions everything of course, asks:

‘And what use is it to you to own the stars?’

‘It makes me rich.’

‘And what is the point of being rich?’

‘It enables me to buy other stars’

The enduring appeal of ‘The Little Prince’ lies in these philosophical explorations which are delivered as an unconventional tale full of fables, ambiguities, mysteries and one or two very poignant moments like when the fox teaches him, ‘It is only with one’s heart that one can see clearly’.

If you want your pupils to write creatively then they need to be introduced to some texts like this as models for stretching the bounds of possibility; and be sure to get an edition which includes de Saint-Exupery’s illustrations which complement the puzzles and divergent thinking in the book. As the little prince tells us:

‘Straight ahead of oneself, one cannot go very far…..’

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About this month's reviewer

Bob Cox is the award-winning writer of the ‘Opening Doors’ series of books which support the inclusion of every learner in ambitious English. He taught for 23 years and his team now works with schools and trusts across the UK. This year, he will be speaking at the UKLA International conference in Brighton and the Education Festival at Wellington College.