It seems to have been raining, grey and cold forever. However, I have photographic evidence of a bright Monday’s visit to Chelsea Physic Garden. There, I removed my coat and felt the promise of sun on my skin. 

Schools organise academic years through seasons; autumn to spring to summer. Britain’s sleet grey winter days preclude their own school term because a ‘carrot lure’ of spring is too important.

As a teacher, I was startled by the change evident in my students at this time of the year. They grew physically, while their learning and growing independence were noticeable. It’s the same with the garden. We spent a soggy Tuesday afternoon stocking and replacing essentials for this year’s work. Our determination is to grow vegetables that will thrive and we like to eat, and flowers that encourage wildlife and pollinators.

Barnaby Lenon, Chair of the independent Schools’ Council and former Headmaster of Harrow School hit the headlines recently. He proposed that GCSE and/or A-level students should have a 7- hour a day study routine in place over the spring holiday:- Advice to revise seven hours a day over the holiday.  While an educator, I encouraged families to regroup during public holidays. Games, food, projects and times together, revive and reinforce.  We are all healthier through periods of leisure, a chance ‘to breathe’. Teaching and learning are constant throughout our lives. Cramming or ‘propping up’ have no place in children’s education.

Spring into some books

Billy’s learning is supported by an obsession with Sir David Attenborough and a daily swim. These conceal concerns about his mother’s health and fears of Jamie Watts’ bullying in the masterful Fish Boy. I took ages to read this title, recommended for readers aged from 10 years. Rather like a talking mackerel, it worries and lingers.

Holidays, especially at this time of the year, suggest a need to read deeply. I am amidst another title by Laura Amy Schlitz at the moment; Mr Bookwagon accused me of ‘ adoring my new discovery.’ However, we ‘adore’ every writer of books on our shelves.

A welcome return of two favourites

One is Jan Fearnley. This writer accepted my invitation to lead two school workshops at two different schools. They were riotous and wonderful. Her books are joyous, clever, and so satisfying, rather like the food she includes, often. Her latest picture book title we present proudly is:- Oh me, oh my, a PIE!

Like Mrs Bear, I’ve been baking over the holiday, but brownies, rather than pies. It was an obstacle course to find cake tins in my kitchen cupboards. They do not contain magic tricks, unlike the tin found by Francis and Alex in Heather Dyer’s captivating The Boy in the Biscuit Tin. It is really gratifying to rediscover this author. Like Jan Fearnley, she was a welcome guest to a school in which I worked at the time of publication of another of her titles, The Girl With the Broken Wing.  .

Initiating Bookwagon, a priority was to find quality books for newer readers, those aged from 6 or 7or 8. Too often, the most popular titles are repetitive, disrespectful or reliant on lame jokes. Heather Dyer’s books are imaginative and satisfying.

Adding quality books for newer readers to our wagon

We’re proud of the range we’ve developed in our newer readers’ category. Another recent inclusion is Attack of the Woolly Jumper: A Roman Garstang Adventure by Mark Lowery. Mr Bookwagon was really tickled by the first book of this series, The Jam Doughnut That Ruined My Life and keen to read on.

I was similarly enthralled by Sarah Lean’s series about Tiger Days. We join this character in Tiger Days and the Secret Cat as she gets to know her grandmother, May Days, long absent through African wildlife work. Now May Days is restoring a neglected woodland home, which offers Tiger opportunities to explore. It is a gentle, interesting series. The second book, Tiger Days and the Midnight Foxes continues with Tiger’s discoveries from the opening book. All four books are available from Bookwagon.

Teaching, I recommended Diana Hendry’s books to readers frequently. It is a pleasure to see her return with a great new series. Oliver Coggins lives with his eccentric family in Dizzy Perch, high above a small seaside village. In Out of the Clouds Oliver recovers his overlong absent researcher Pa from the Scottish wilderness. In Whoever You Are  Oliver, alone, is suspicious of the visitor claiming to be Ma’s favourite writer. He is determined to reveal her while protecting his father from an old adversary.

Non-fiction reports

There have been tremendous developments in non-fiction writing for children. We were excited to take delivery of The Zoological Times: The Animal Kingdom’s Wildest Newspaper, a newspaper style animal information book. It offers ample opportunity to revisit, learn and reinforce understanding. It includes facts, anecdotes and puzzles. This is a sustaining title for newer readers aged from 7 or 8 or 9 years.

Readers of this age and older will love Rescue and Jessica: A Life- Changing Friendship. This true story reveals the training of Rescue, a black Labrador, alongside the recovery of Jessica, injured in the Boston Marathon bomb attack, whom Rescue supports. This is a satisfying story, lovingly and bravely told.

Mr Bookwagon enjoyed Gareth P. Jones’ The Thornthwaite Inheritance, ideal for readers aged from 9 or 10 years with an appreciation of an Addams’ family, black humoured plot! Further gore is available through The Yark. The title creature hungers for a scrumptious, beautifully behaved child. When he tracks one down finally, he’s perturbed to find she trusts him, despite his base instincts!. With crafty, Carroll- like vocabulary and Packham style illustrations, ‘ The Yark‘ is reminiscent of works from the Victorian age. 

Words, words, words

The studied interpretations, presentation and forensic wordplay offered in Apes to Zebras An A-Z of Shape Poems by Liz Brownlee, Sue Hardy- Dawson and Roger Stevens are bewitching. This is a ‘forever’ poetry book to hold the interest of even the poetry shy. 

I spent an afternoon reading What a Wonderful Word. This includes  a selection of about thirty unique, untranslatable words from around the world, examining their background and setting, and curious usage.

Daniel Egnaeus’ magnificent picture book These Are Animals offers animal sounds, habitat and movements of its subjects in an original and wonderful manner. It’s like onomatopoeia in pictures and facts! This picture book is an ideal gift for infant and younger readers. 

Once the gloom lifts and we can get outside, I’ll take Carter Higgins and Emily Hughes’ advice to ‘take time and look at the sky’. In Everything You Need for a Treehouse, they encourage readers to contemplate the true potential of a treehouse. We are drawn beyond the grim reality into something inspirational and tingling. I love Emily Hughes’ picture books. We have waited for her latest title for some time. It is beyond my expectations. This book is for those readers who know that space and dreaming and wonder are what makes the world goes round. We are reminded of this through hints of spring, and during holidays.

Happy reading.