Top Texts for September 2021

Barbara Bleiman has chosen some thrilling texts for KS3.

The Weight of Water

by Sarah Crossan

A young Polish girl, Kasienka, moves to England with her mother, who is searching for her father. It is written as a verse novel – a form that Crossan handles beautifully – and this contributes to its fast pace, the intensity of the experiences described and the lyricism and individuality of the girl’s voice. It’s one of those books that draws you in quickly but keeps you thinking, as it explores its richly complex themes and emotions – conflicting feelings about parents, the experience of migration and the struggle to make sense of what life throws at you. I would highly recommend this as a class reader, as it has so much to offer, both stylistically and thematically. Though accessible because of its length, its style and themes are appropriately challenging for KS3.

Where the World Ends

by Geraldine McCaughrean

This compelling historical novel, set in 1727, is everything you’d want a KS3 novel to be. It tells a thrilling story of a small group of boys who are taken each year to a remote St Kilda sea stac to harvest the birds for food and other products. After each stay, a boat comes to collect them and take them home…but not this time. Abandoned on the island, the struggle for survival takes its toll on the group. Will all, or indeed any, of them, ever get home? McCaughrean is an enormously skilled novelist and her deft handling of the plot, her beautiful, lyrical prose style and her creation of deeply engaging young characters caught up in a terrifying situation, seems to me to be a winning combination at KS3. Students will love it for the plot and characters, teachers for the quality and complexity of the narrative and style, that they will be able to tease out with their classes in discussion.

The Infinite

by Patience Agbabi

Highly acclaimed poet, Patience Agbabi, has now turned her talents to children’s fiction and this novel, a time-bending piece of intriguing speculative fiction, has much for both young people and adults to admire. It deals with complex themes about the planet, the impact of present actions on future lives, bullying, family, friendship, responsibility, neurodiversity and much more, all seen through the eyes of twelve-year old Elle Bibi-Imbelé Ifiè, who is a ‘Leapling’, a child born in a leap year with the special gift of being able to jump through time. The book is full of plays on words, complex puzzles, recurring metaphors and inventive ideas. It is also humorous, with comical juxtapositions of modern realism in the depictions of Elle’s relationship with her Nigerian grandmother alongside the futuristic elements of the plot, and comical invented terms and ideas, such as ‘Oops’ moments, when things don’t go right or plans have to be changed. It’s great to read a novel with a heroine of Nigerian heritage, in which this is a very important part of how she is depicted, but incidental to the plot. Elle is centre stage in an action-packed science fiction adventure, a character whose exploits many young readers will thoroughly enjoy.

Barbara Bleiman

About this month's reviewer

Barbara Bleiman is an education consultant at EMC and writer of fiction. Her most recent publications are What Matters in English Teaching (published March 2020, EMC) and a collection of short stories, Kremlinology of Kisses (published Oct 2020). She has written numerous publications for the classroom and leads CPD on secondary English teaching for EMC. In 2019 she was awarded the NATE Award for Outstanding Contribution to English Teaching.