What a great book! Pass the tissues please…

There are five books that have broken me in the last year or so. I have sat and sobbed, waterfalls from eyes, closed throat sobbing, and they’re all ‘middle grade’ books. For anyone not familiar with the term that means Upper Key Stage 2 – Lower Key Stage 3, or 9 – 12 years old. And, they couldn’t be more different.

• Looking at the Stars by Jo Cotterill is the story of two sisters navigating their war torn home country to a refugee camp.
• There May Be A Castle by Piers Torday is a tale of a family setting out on Christmas Eve to stay with their grandparents for Christmas.
• The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange, that looks at the treatment of mental health in the aftermath of World War I.
• Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson is a mystery surrounding the disappearance of a child in an every Day cul-de-sac told from the perspective of a child with OCD.
• Just Call Me Spaghetti Hoop Boy by Lara Williamson is an adopted boy’s search to find who he his.

There are other books that have made me laugh out loud that have also pulled at my heartstrings.

• Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard left me with a deep sense of unease about Novak’s safety.
• At the end of Who Let The Gods Out by Maz Evans, I couldn’t help but feel Call Me Graham had let Elliot down.

They really couldn’t be more different, but each one moved me deeply. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve cried or laughed at other books, but not in the same way. These called out to me in a way that made me want to question why? They made me want to reach out and protect the children, to stop life from hurting them.

Now, all of them are on my bookshelf, but few children come away with the heart-wrenching sense that I did. What they do come away with though is questions. Lots and lots of questions.

“Does that really happen?”
“How do people live like that?”
“How did they think they were helping?”
“Why did it take them so long to find him?”
“Do you think he’s happy now?”
“Why didn’t anyone notice?”
“Why didn’t anyone help?”
“How do we stop it happening to someone else?”
“If that was someone in my class, how could I help/how would I know/how do I make it better?”

And so, in a different way, they are just as deeply affected by what they read. They just don’t have the same outlook on life, the same parental, responsible adult experiences. They can’t have. They’re children. But, the affect each book has is just as profound. It shows just how important books are. Any book that makes children question life, empathise with others, and open their eyes beyond their personal experience can only be a good thing.

Books really are a gateway to unlocking a better future. They help children imagine lives beyond their own comprehension. And, with that, they can imagine how to make this world a friendlier place. And we need this generation to do just that. To imagine a better world, to empathise with others beyond their own experience. Only then can they begin to make it better.

I’m honest with children and tell them if a book’s made me cry. To start with some looked at me sideways muttering “Nah, nothing makes you cry, you’re always happy.” I get that. As anyone working in a school knows, whatever happens, you’re there for the children. It’s like acting every single day, without the Hollywood salary. I’m also the adult that asks whether they’ve damaged the playground while ripping their knee open. (And the one who asks a crying child if they need a ‘mum hug’, but only ever in front of other children/adults).

Now though, I get, “I felt sad when…” or “I bet you cried at…”. And that’s brilliant, because not only are they connecting with the book, they’re imagining the effect on another reader, without a guided reading sheet or comprehension test in front of them. They are true readers. They are taking something of value to them from each book, questioning the world they live in, discussing it with their friends, but most of all enjoying books and coming away with more than having enjoyed a great stor.

I’m really looking forward to putting My Brother’s Secret by Dan Smith on my bookshelf on Monday. While it didn’t leave me sobbing, it did raise so many parallels with today’s world. Can’t wait to see what children make of it, and the questions they ask.

Oh, as as for Beetle Queen by M.G. Leonard, Novak has gone straight from a CAF to a CIN.


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