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Great books to curl up with this half term

Thursday 11 Feb 2021

With both the weather and the government encouraging us to stay indoors, this half term week presents a perfect opportunity to curl up in front of the fire with a hot chocolate and a good book. To make it even easier, we’ve spoken to Head of English at the Prep School, Lucy Manning to ask for her recommendations for pupils in years 6, 7 and 8. Head of English at the Senior School, Leo Goldsmith, has also given us his recommendations for older children and adults. Here’s their top picks:

The Girl who Stole an Elephant Nizrana Farook – Years 6, 7 & 8
A tale of adventure and courage, The Girl who Stole an Elephant follows no-nonsense schoolgirl-turned-thief, Chaya, who robs from the rich to lead a beautiful elephant to freedom through the thick overgrowth in Sri Lanka. Her quest to improve the lives of downtrodden villagers will warm the heart as friendships are built and tested in pursuit of fairness.

You Are Awesome Matthew Syed – Years 6, 7 & 8
This powerful collection of inspirational stories is designed to help children understand that success is earned rather than given. It looks at the stories of Mozart, Serena Williams and many other inspirational individuals to help young people understand that belief and hard work are the biggest determinants in how much a person can achieve.

The Goldfish BoyLisa Thompson – Years 6, 7 & 8
The protagonist of this detective novel, Matthew, is confined to his room, penned in by the severity of his OCD. Each day he stares out of the window watching the inhabitants of Chestnut Close go about their daily business. However, his world is turned upside down when the neighbour’s toddler goes missing and it transpires that Matthew was the last person to see him. With a brilliant cast of supporting characters, this remarkable detective story for youngsters looks at overcoming challenges when a situation requires it.

Ella on the OutsideCath Howe – Years 6, 7 & 8
In this charming story of school life, Ella is going through a series of changes as she moves school, struggles with a bout of eczema and learns a huge secret about her family. She is taken under the wing of the ‘most popular girl in her new school’ which leads to Ella having to tackle her own anxieties about the pressure of trying to fit in to entirely unfamiliar surroundings. Ella on the outside is hugely entertaining and a relatable handbook for anyone who has ever felt as though they don’t quite fit.

Clownfish Alan Durant – Years 6, 7 & 8
An off-the-wall story of a boy who loses his father, only to find that he has returned as a goldfish inhabiting the local aquarium. Dak, the main character, returns daily to the aquarium to talk to his dad, but is shocked to discover the aquarium is facing closure. Dak befriends the aquarium owner’s niece and the pair hatch a plan to save the aquarium and, more importantly, Dak’s link to his father. While a book about grief may not sound necessarily uplifting, it is described by Walker Books as: “Gently funny, moving and undoubtedly strange.”

The Best MedicineChristine Hamill – Years 6, 7 & 8
This slice of life novel sees things through the eyes of 12-year-old Philip, who leads a happy life at school, struggling only slightly with girls, teachers and bullies. However, things take a turn for the worse when his mother develops breast cancer and Philip is powerless to do anything but write letters to his hero, comedian Harry Hill. With a host of brilliant supporting characters and hilarious takes on everyday life and the sad challenges of family illness, The Best Medicine takes readers through a wide range of emotions.

Roots Alex Haley – Senior Pupils
Roots is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about an 18th Century African man, Kunta, who is captured as an adolescent and sold into slavery in Africa before being transported to North America. The book brought about a cultural revolution upon its release in1976. Roots explores the horrors of the slave trade and stimulated global interest in African American history. It is described by Mr Goldsmith as: “Without doubt one of the most important and powerful books ever written.

A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles – Senior Pupils
Set during one of the most turbulent periods in Russian history, this novel follows the plight of a fictional Count who is placed under house arrest for 32 years in a hotel in Moscow. The plot follows the gradual rise of communism in the Russian Empire and looks at the goodness of human nature in the bleakest of environments. The novel is ultimately about a significant period in history, which has political lessons for us all, as well as one man’s story of survival in dire times.

Remarkable Creatures – Tracy Chevalier – Senior Pupils
The in-vogue topic of unearthing the past beneath our feet is explored enthrallingly in this quintessentially English novel, set in 1810. The book focusses on two female friends, who find the fossilised skull of a mysterious creature on the South Coast of England and in doing so shake up the male-dominated scientific community of the era. The story handles class, relationships and aspiration with subtlety and nuance and is ultimately a tale about the importance of friendship in weathering even the most violent storms. Mr Higgins said: “On the surface this looks like a book aimed at women, but men really need to read it.”

For younger children, Lucy Manning has given us her favoured website featuring Storytime Online author readings. Downloads are available from site for each age range.

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