Top Texts for November

This month’s Top Texts are brought to us by Charlotte Raby, who has over 20 years in teaching, educational publishing and training.

Du iz Tak?

This book is not from another culture but from another species: insects! Du iz Tak? is an almost wordless book, the only text being the dialogue of the insects in ‘insect’! We are invited to see the world in insect-view and puzzle out what the insects think and feel. The lack of familiar words helps the reader dive fully into the insect sensibilities and relationships. The story begins with an almost empty page – just a log on the ground, three insects and a green shoot which has emerged from the earth and is coiled with possibility. One insect asks, “Du iz tak?” to which the other replies, “Ma nazoot”. And so, the story and plant grow alongside each other. We become privy to the insect world as life scuttles on. The plant grows, becomes a home to some insects, is colonised by a spider and finally blooms: the insects proclaim it is a gladdenboot. And we celebrate its brief gladdening bloom with the enchanting insects. As time passes, the gladdenboot, now past its peak, withers and falls to the ground. The insects that loved it so leave and winter arrives. Gorgeous moths dance in the night sky; snow covers the earth thickly and at last it is spring again. We see tiny green shoots; another insect who asks “Du iz tak?”

Duck, Death and the Tulip

The joyous thing about books in translation is that we are offered a fresh perspective from another culture. Not many English picture books deal quite so directly with death, but Wolf Erlbruch has written a clear-eyed and kind book with Death as a central character. Before you leap out and buy this book and read it to your class, I need to be very clear; this book comes with a warning: it is not for everyone and is NOT a classroom read aloud. But instead it is a rather special book for very specific occasions. The story is about Duck who one day realises she is not alone. “Good,” said Death, “you finally noticed me. I am Death.” And so begins a truly compassionate relationship between Duck and Death, as Duck comes to terms with its mortality, and Death patiently looks over Duck as it moves closer to its end. And in the end, which is inevitable, Duck embraces Death as a friend. Death eased Duck into the great river, places the tulip on its chest as it watches Duck float away. I have never read this book without shedding a tear, yet it brings immense comfort. It remains the book I buy most often for friends. So, I urge you to read this book and learn an eternal truth. One day it will be the perfect read for one of your children and their family.

Alive Again

I have always thought that the mark of a great book is the way it refuses to leave your mind and Alive Again pestered me for days afterwards. Yet it is barely a story. A child looks at the blossoms after they have fallen from the trees and asks, “When the blossom goes, does the word blossom die? Can there ever be blossom again?” The question is repeated for rain, wheat and journey. But then, spring comes again and with it new blossom, and so the word blossom is born, the word becomes alive again. The idea of a word dying was so powerful for me. I wondered if the book was a thought experiment helping us to imagine the limitations of our language; or what it is like to be a child and not know the cyclical nature of life. And then I thought about how the words we use do get born and do die: we use words to describe our world: each spring blossom is born as we use the word, and then it dies as it is not used. I wondered which words would die forever if the animal or plant didn’t reappear. Will we lose the words that describe the natural world as it changes, as we destroy it? You don’t need me to tell you that this book is a perfect pairing with the Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris. I can also see the two books creating a powerful stimulus for debate and writing about the words we are not prepared to lose or to discover the words we have already lost. I find it amazing that a simple book can be so powerful. Each word that Ahmadreza uses is perfect and this book is a perfect read.


About this month's reviewer

Charlotte supports schools and advises organisations on how to ensure excellence in teaching Primary English. She is joint Series Editor of the new Collins Big Cat Phonics for Letters and Sounds and author of over 50 educational teacher resources, programmes and learn to read books. Her most recent work focusing on closing the word gap is published by Rising Stars. Charlotte is also the lead lecturer in English at Essex and Thames Primary SCITT and loves sharing her love of children’s literature with her students. Find her on Twitter @charlotteraby or