Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, November 2018

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Boy Under Water, by Adam Baron. First of all, let me say that this is one of those sad/happy books, but don’t let that put you off. I think it is one of the most interesting books I have read throughout these reviews. I had visions of the Hugh Grant film About a Boyat times during this.

The book follows Cymbeline Igloo (I’m not sure why writers choose names like that, I think it’s something to do with trying to make the book seem mystical and I never think it works... but that’s just a personal observation). It is life seen through a ten-year-old’s eyes. Cymbeline or Cym (which does work better) is trying to make sense of it all and this book captures that sense of struggling to ‘know the unknown without knowing why it’s important’ perfectly. 

Got that? Good. I loved the idea of Cym challenging the school bully to a swimming race when he didn’t know how to swim. It sums up Cym’s frustration and what happens next changes his life completely. Suddenly up pops a mystery, that needs to be solved to understand everything else, but it’s the point of view that makes all the difference. As readers, we struggle along with Cym, because we see it all from his perspective. To stand back would be to permit the reader to wonder why he had never been allowed to go swimming before -  but that is from an adult view point and not his. Strangely, it didn’t occur to me to question it – and other things in the story - until the character does... which is why this book is, in my opinion, one of the best of recent years. 

I recommend you read it, but let me also remind you it has sadness in it. The humour in it works to sweeten the bitterness. So, for a reader of 9/10+ (boy or girl) who is not too sensitive or going through too much in life, with a good sense of humour and an enquiring mind, this is a must read. It is the very essence of empathy. 

We definitely give this a Yellowbird rating of  5 Yellowbirds out of 5.

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Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, October 2018

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Bad Hair Days, by JM Forster (author of The Shadow Jumper)

This book was put forward for all sorts of awards, so I must admit I chose it thinking it might be more hype than substance. However, I was immediately gripped. Mallow (14) has a great deal to cope with. She has alopecia (something that has affected a member of our family, so I know something of the distress caused) and wears wigs to cover it up. If that isn’t enough, she is also faced with being bullied and having to move schools. A new town, a new school, a new start... or so she thinks. She is desperate to keep her secret, but when she starts to receive creepy texts, she realises that someone else must know. The thought of everyone finding out, drives her into a determined search for the identity of the person behind the messages. Unfortunately, she can’t be sure of anyone and this compounds her loneliness.

This is a well-written and sensitive book about issues surrounding hair loss. It’s tied in with important themes on family, friendship and coping with life in general. There are also valid observations on bullying and social media. In fact, it’s all about the problems and stresses of modern life mixed with an intriguing mystery. It has had a lasting impact on me and is a great read for 11+ (perhaps girls more than boys). Teens will love it and I think parents will benefit from reading it too.

There are some major themes in this book, so it’s not for the very young (no matter what their reading age or ability). On that basis, we give this a Yellowbird rating of 5 out of 5 Yellowbirds:

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Interview with Paul Dowswell, author of Wolf Children, the Yellowbird September Book of the Month.

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At Yellowbird Education, we are starting an ‘Meet the Author’ section to complement our Book of the Month section.

September 2018’s featured book is, Wolf Children, by Paul Dowswell. This is a gripping World War II drama set in the dangerous streets of Berlin just after the end of the war. I can’t put it down!

Meanwhile, we are delighted to have secured an interview with the author himself. Paul Dowswell has won many awards for both fiction and non-fiction. He is a leading writer of some of the best Historical Fiction in the UK today. For further information about his books: http://www.pauldowswell.co.uk

Q&A date: July 2018.

Hi Paul,
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us here at Yellowbird Education.

Q. Do your ideas mostly start with a character, time, place or a theme? 

PD. My ideas start with a historical situation which I think a reader will find interesting - for example, what was it like to be a child or a teenager in Berlin immediately after the war ended. It's difficult for us in 2018 to imagine such utter devastation in prosperous Europe.

Q. Do you plan your stories right to the end before you start writing? Is planning important to you?

PD. I always have a good idea where my story is heading because I write a detailed synopsis before I begin to write.

Q. Where do you start when you are visualising a main character?

PD. I find a picture or painting and decide 'THAT is what my character will look like.'

Q. What tip would you give a young writer about writing beginnings?

PD. Your reader has a hundred other things they can do. Why should they read your book? Make the start of your story as intriguing as possible. 

Q.  Do you have a writing motto or mantra?

PD. Bash on! Even when you don't feel like it, something good usually comes out of a day's writing.

Q.  ‘The characters in Wolf Children lead the story through the choices they make.’ Would you agree with this statement?

PD. Yes - there is always a reason to do something. Is it the right one?

Q. Wolf Children is set in Germany after World War II. How did you research this?

PD. I have been to Berlin twice to research books. I love the place. I also read very widely and watched documentaries.

Q. You have written many books. If you were to put all your main characters in a room, do you think they would like you if you walked in?  Why?

PD. No - they would say 'Why did you give me such a terrible time in that story???' I would say 'Sorry - had to keep the reader turning those pages...'

Q. What is the point of writing stories?

PD. Mainly to entertain, but also to educate and to encourage reading - and to pay my gas bill... Reading fiction develops empathy - and I don't think we have enough of this in the world at the moment.

Q. Would you be prepared to visit a school and give a talk about writing?

PD. I visit schools all over the country, and the world, so I'm always happy to visit schools to talk about my books and give writing workshops.

Thank you, Paul. We wish you all the best with your writing. Perhaps, you’ll come and give a talk at one of Yellowbird’s Creative Writing courses soon?

Interviewer: Viv Richardson

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Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, September 2018

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Wolf Children, by Paul Dowswell.

 

The book is set in the months just after the fall of Berlin in 1945. The victorious Russian troops have the city in an iron grip and the orphans of the Third Reich have largely been left to fend for themselves. The story follows a band of children and their struggle to survive; indeed, it opens with Otto and Helene stealing food from the Russians during the curfew hours – an extremely dangerous thing to do in a world where anyone could be shot on sight.

Berlin, at the time, was a cold, dangerous place (even during the summer months) filled with unexploded bombs and booby-traps. Few could be trusted. Is Doktor Holzman all he seems? Then there’s the sinister and mysterious Ernst... but I can say no more.

At its beating heart, this book hints at a love story. However, it’s more a love of life than a love of your life which is both clever of the author and far more acceptable to pre-teens. Otto and Helene hold together a rag-tag band of lost children living in a derelict basement of an old hospital. Their motivation isn’t school or the future, it’s simply to eat and survive. The settings in the book are brilliantly brought to life in a seemingly effortless way that speaks of endless research. Indeed, when I finished the book, I felt as if I had crawled out of the rubble.

For me, however, it’s Ulrich (Otto’s younger brother) who makes this book so good. Children like Ulrich had been brought up to believe in the Nazis. They had been told they were invincible, but by May 1945 their country had been crushed. What was left for the defeated? Here, in the heart of Ulrich, we glimpse the true battle: it wasn’t just a battle to understand right and wrong, it was a battle to understand what right and wrong actually meant. It raged long after the last bullet was fired and it is still (sadly) raging today in the hearts of many around the world. In my opinion, this book is a well-timed warning that nobody wins in war.

There are some major themes in this book: friendship, honesty, self-sufficiency and more. It should be, however, classed as a war story and on that understanding it makes it, in our opinion, suitable for both girls and boys of 12+. We give it a rating of 5 Yellowbirds out of 5!

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Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, August 2018

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The Letter for the King, by Tonke Dragt. This book is talked about more and more in a way that suggests it’s hard to believe it has been so overlooked for so long – and yet it has won all sorts of awards and sold millions! It is a fantasy/sci-fi classic, with a number of themes (courage, loyalty, companionship and initiative to name the main ones) and it has been translated from Dutch by Laura Watkinson (who also illustrated it brilliantly, in my opinion).

 

Antonia ‘Tonke’ Dragt was a brilliant writer... for her time. And here comes the ‘warning’ (for the want of a better word). She was born in 1930 and as a result this book was written for a different generation of children. This is an ‘old-style’ book in terms of the way it was written and it takes it’s time. It is unhurried in its descriptions. It’s challenging in a good way but, in places, could be considered over-long for today’s young audience. It falls between a younger readership in its storyline and an older readership in its written style. In fact, it’s ideal for young-minded adults! My message is: they have to persevere to read it. It also has Tolkien-style moments, that are very vivid and well written, but over-all it’s not quite up there with the Hobbit.

 

Having said all that, I loved the story (perhaps because I’m old-style too). In brief, this is a story about a boy entrusted with a secret. When sixteen-year-old Tiuri is given a letter by a mysterious servant, he finds himself on a dangerous mission. The message is for the Black Knight with the White Shield, but unfortunately events over take him. The Knight is murdered by the Red Riders and Tiuri is left to carry the message over the Great Mountains to the King. His quest is to deliver a secret letter, save the kingdom and do it all in secret. He must never reveal what is written in the letter...

 

This is a stand along story in a series of books by the same author and Netflix have picked it up too. It is well-worth reading (not least because it is on most school reading lists) and it is suitable for competent readers of 11+. However, it isn’t quite a modern ‘teen’ book, so don’t be surprised if they prefer to watch it rather than read it! For that reason, we give this a Yellowbird rating of 4.5 out of 5.

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Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, July 2018

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The Light Jar, by Lisa Thompson.  

This book is by the same author as Goldfish Boy. I must admit that I haven’t read Goldfish Boy and I really only picked this up because of the reviews and the subject matter. However, having read it, I will certainly be reading more of Lisa Thompson’s books in the future.

This is the story about Nate and his mother (but mostly Nate) and it starts when they are forced to make a hasty escape from everyday life. There is good reason behind their sudden  flit, but this isn’t explained very clearly to Nate by his mum. They go to a house in the middle of nowhere, a place Nate has spent holidays before (which ties in later with the mysterious girl in the woods). The house is safe, but they need food and when Nate’s mum goes to stock up, she doesn’t return.

Alone, Nate has to face uncertainty and fear, as well as some more mundane things (watch out for the cameo appearance of the pooing chicken). He relies on his predicting ball for answers that never quite come. He defeats the shadows with a light in a jar, but as hours turn to days it is the reappearance of his old friend, Sam, that helps most. Sam is his imaginary friend of old. The mysterious Kitty appears and refuses to leave Nate alone. At this point two mysteries become entwined to provide a book full of intrigue and suspense. It is easy to spoil the surprises, so I will say no more on this.

It is worth noting that there are a number of themes in this book that are definitely challenging. Gary is emotionally abusive towards Nate’s mum and sometimes this can feel very painful. Having said that, it is sensitively handled by the author and integral to the plot.

As the book goes on, however, I was filled with a sense of hope for the characters. It shows the need to hang in there and have faith. 

Owing to the serious themes in the book, this isn’t one for the very young (whatever their reading ability). So 10+ and all the way up. We give this a Yellowbird rating of 5 Yellowbirds:

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Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, June 2018

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The 1,000 Year Old Boy, by Ross Welford (author of Time Travelling with my Hamster and What Not to do if you Turn Invisible).

 

Alfie is a 13-year-old Viking boy who has the extraordinary ability to live forever... as a 13-year-old. He’s frozen at that age. Sounds good, on the face of it, but there are serious drawbacks to eternal life. However, once Alfred Monk, the Viking boy, has swallowed a magic pearl, there’s no going back OR forward. He lives with his mum until disaster strikes her and Alfie’s quiet, endless existence becomes more difficult for him. After all, it’s hard to avoid notice if your appearance never changes for years and years.

 

The clever part here is, that Alfie doesn’t want to stop living, but that he wants to start. In other words, he wants to grow up and go on to enjoy the rest of his life, something he has been unable to do. That makes a big difference and I must admit when I picked up the book, I did wonder how the author was going to get around the idea of Alfie not wanting to go on... for obvious reasons. The result is well-handled and poignant in parts. Moreover, the plot is engaging and intriguing, it’s a page-turner with some humour thrown in - so that should appeal to boys.

 

The cover notes offer some serious accolades for this book by famous people, most of which I agree with. I must admit to preferring Time Travelling with my Hamster. However, if your child has read that then this is the next best thing from Ross Welford.

 

Suitable for 10+ (no younger, in my opinion because of the themes and the length of 400 pages). Ideal for both boys and girls of 11+. We give this book a Yellowbird rating of 4 "Yellowbirds" out of 5!

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NEW 11 PLUS EXAM PROCEDURE, CHANGES TO THE GIRLS CONSORTIUM

This week the team at Yellowbird and Janie Richardson School Search and Placement attended a Forum on preparing for the 11+, with guest speakers Lucy Elphinstone, Head of Frances Holland, Sloane Square, and Jill Walker, Head of St Nicholas Prep School. The main thrust of the talk concerned the proposed changes to the 11+ examination by the North London Girls’ Schools Consortium (now to be known as The London 11+ Consortium - in the hope of allowing co-ed and boys schools into the club). These changes to the exams are due to come into effect for the January 2019 exams.
 
An introduction to the subject was made by Mr Petty. Following this, Jill Walker spoke on behalf of the majority of the independent schools who will be continuing to use the existing established system of testing, comprising of the traditional comprehension, composition, verbal and non-verbal reasoning, Maths and formal interview. This was an opportunity for us to find out more about the new and added exam process for some of the girls’ schools.
 
We are in total agreement that anything that reduces the stress and general anxiety in the exam process is a great thing for both children and parents. We have always believed English should be taught as a life skill and that tutoring is best used to field extra problems or issues rather than a means to an end goal. We spend a great deal of our time trying to reassure parents and believe far too much school time is taken up in the preparation for exams. So, when a new idea comes along that has the intention of reducing stress then we are definitely all ears.
 
Lucy Elphinstone spoke on behalf of the 12 girls’ schools in The London 11+ Consortium with her proposal to try a different way of testing. She is very much the driving force in this.
 
The London 11+ Consortium will now be one group with one exam, the schools in the group are: Francis Holland School (Regents Park), Francis Holland School (Sloane Square), Notting Hill & Ealing High School, Queen’s College, St. Helen’s School, South Hampstead High School, Channing School, More House, Northwood College, Queen’s Gate School, The Godolphin and Latymer School, St James Senior Girls’ School
 
This is their mission statement:
The aim of the consortium will be to provide an admission process that will be fair, clear and robust which is accessible to all children from all schools and backgrounds.


The Consortium is concerned about pressure that the current 11+ process system places on young children and the damage to learning that relentlessly teaches to the test produces, they therefore seek to simplify the process and reduce the number of examinations the children sit whilst providing a better type of assessment to find the information that can match candidates to schools that best fit their profile.


Initiating this change for the well-being of children, they hope that it can reduce the stress of the 11 plus examination process and send a clear message that they do not merely assess children on academic performance.
 
Their aim is to see Year 5 and Year 6 teachers teach the curriculum throughout all subjects. Expect an improvement in genuinely imaginative and mature creative writing and a confident mathematical problem solving. They hope that other schools will join them.
 
 The consortium will introduce a three-tier process. All of equal weight.
 
1) Current Heads reference. (November). This will be completed when your child is in their first term of Year 6. There will be a grade from 1-4 for creative writing. They will ask your child’s current Head teacher to complete this.
The reference will ask for grading the child on: Numeracy, problems solving, creative writing, response to literacy text, enthusiasm for reading, comprehension skills, handwriting, speaking and listening, organisational skills, ability to complete work on time, resilience in the face of unfamiliar tasks, independence of thought, curiosity, creativity, application, team work, leadership, punctuality, attendance. Then there is a section on character: kind, tolerant, courteous, confident, perseverance. Then a section on participation in teams, areas of responsibility, concerts, drama, chess, special educational needs and support, family background, EAL and so the list goes on. It was noted that the crucial difference in this reference system is the emphasis on the specific questions about creativity and creative writing. It’s a long list – phew, quite pleased I am no longer completing these forms!
 
2) Cognitive Ability Test (CAT). January 11th 2018. which will be bespoke to the consortium and should not, nor can be tutored for. This will be done on paper, it will be multiply choice only and 75 minutes long (the girls will have a break in the middle). Testing in Verbal, Non-Verbal, Maths and Skills/information and tasks. Tutoring for this? Recent studies have shown that it will do almost nothing, but familiarisation with the test will help, practicing under timed conditions. The CAT test will give scores in different areas, plus weaknesses and strengths. Verbal score may come out lower for non-English speaking child. Lucy commented on high non-verbal score as the interesting score, these children will be creative, innovative, and may be the entrepreneurs, those are the types of young people this country will need. She wants them in her school. High NV score are often emotionally intelligent and have wonderful people skills that schools are looking for. They will be looking at children who meet their potential.
 
2) Creative interview. This will consist of a group lesson/work/activity and an individual interview. But each school will have their own take on this interview process. Problem solving will be included in the interview, creativity and thinking outside of the box, being able to work out a challenge. It will be likely that collaborative/team work will be an element in all the schools, looking at how a child will work with others, looking at their character as well as engineerity, intelligence, are they confident enough to put their hand up and ask a question. A master class may be taught to the children, the children are then observed as to how there are responding in that class, will they give an opinion, will they take a risk to ask a question, this is an element they will be looking at. Comments are made by the teachers. The interview will carry more weight now.
 
Through this new process the schools are hoping to gain a rounded picture of the child instead of a snap-shot on one particular day. They want to take all elements in to account.
 
It was noted that there is no significance as to which school your child sits the exam. Your child can sit in any school and you can choose the school closest to you. This will not matter to the application process.
 
It has been agreed that there will not be any writing involved during the test. The Consortium’s website is going on-line in the next fortnight, so for further details of the actual changes, I would direct you to the horse’s mouth (as it were).
 
In general, the talk, itself was excellent, well-presented and informative...to a point. It may be that the Consortium’s website will soon fill in all the missing details, but I must admit that we left with more questions than answers. At the risk of raising blood-pressure, I would describe it as a bit of ‘Brexit moment’: the aim is known (whether agreed with or not) but no one really knows how it will all work out in practice. It is going to take time to know if the process works properly. For example, when will the schools actually know for sure if they have got it right? Probably when the first group of children tested in this way finish their A levels.
 
The emphasis will be on three parts to the application, a cognitive test, interview system and school reference. All with equal value. The latter of the three, neatly transfers the onus of testing English back to the prep school on the basis that ‘they know the child best’. For example, competence in creative writing will be assessed over time and a report then sent to the secondary school of choice. Examples of writing may be asked for from the Prep schools.
 
On the face of it, this seems to make sense. However, two questions immediately arise: what are the criteria for good English and creative writing and who is responsible for assessing the child’s ability over that extended period of time given that heads and teachers change regularly? It’s hard to see how this will be measured accurately and equally throughout each school.
 
This doesn’t even address the crucial question as to whether this system would actually test English at all. For example, my children regularly gain full marks in a spelling test, only to misspell the same words when they put them into a written piece. Testing written English in the same way as Maths is a big leap in the dark.
 
Having said that, we, at Yellowbird, would welcome a change like this, because we have long been championing English writing as something to be learned over time rather than just an area to be brushed up for exams. However, from a parent’s point of view, we fear it could be far more stressful.
 
How are we to know that the right level is being achieved continuously for the school of our choice? (And remember this is about parents choosing the right school for their child, not the school choosing the child to suits its targets.) So, one big question would be, how subjective is this? What actually are the rules to make it a level playing field - especially for a state school that might lack the time and resources to make the reference work for the child.
 
Also, far from removing the need for tutoring, there is a danger that it will increase it just because parents need to be certain their child is maintaining a constantly good level. What is at the moment a Year 5/6 issue, would morph quickly into a Year 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 problem.
 
As a parent, I would be constantly wanting to know how that reference was building up over the years. I would want progress reports specific to the Year 6 reference, so I could rectify any problems that might arise and ensure the best reference at the end. Stress levels would immediately arise when a teacher goes on maternity leave or a new head suddenly arrives - we usually have very little warning of those sort of events. Will a change of head affect these assessments? I’m beginning to wonder if the premise Lucy Elphinstone is building this on is actually the right one. After all, if it goes wrong the secondary school can just turn around to the parents and say that the child’s primary head teacher misled them in the reference.
 
However, the devil, as they say, will be in the detail and also in how easy it will be for schools to run a parallel testing system together with the one in place in general. It will take a few years to know the answer to this, so I would expect the other schools to watch and wait. After all, there’s no hurry with the numbers applying to London Day schools and it wasn’t so long ago that the Consortium hailed the change to mainly discursive writing pieces as the answer - now that initiative (which we considered a good one, not least from a general knowledge point of view) has been dropped.
 
In the end, it will come down to interviews. These, to paraphrase Lucy Elphinstone, ‘will be less formulaic and predictable’ so the true child will be seen. Does this secrecy make it any less stressful for the children and parents? I know how I would feel about that on the day my child goes in. Each school will be in control of their own interview process and will interview each and every girl at this stage (with the exception of South Hampstead).
 
Finding the right school for the right child is vital to all in our industry. I think the danger is that parents will see that there is little to lose in the scattergun approach. Why not apply to a number of schools using the existing system (because the requirements are known) but when it comes to the consortium – if you have the money, just apply to all twelve on the list. After all, it’s a one test fits all system and that way the reference is bound to fit at least one of them. It would be a matter of trusting to the interview then. If that’s the way it goes, in our opinion, those waiting lists after the exams will only grow even longer as the schools try to sift through the applications to see which child fits which school – and that process is already stressful enough as it is.
 
In the meantime, many girls will now be practicing for a newly added exam processes as well as for those schools who will continue with the old process.
 
Best regards
 
Janie and Viv Richardson

Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, May 2018

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The Many Worlds of Albie Bright, by Christopher Edge.

I’ve just finished reading The Infinite Lives of Masie Day by the same author and was about to review it, when I realised it would be better to start at the beginning here. These books (there are three of them) are excellent, so I’m starting with Albie Bright.  I haven’t yet read The Jamie Drake Equation, but I will and I’m sure I won’t be disappointed.

In this book, Christopher Edge manages to drag us away from the endless diet of magic and into the world of science. It’s this blend of rational thought and emotion that makes these books so readable for me and, I believe, ideal for both boys and girls. In The Many Worlds of Albie Bright, the loss of a parent is sensitively handled (but be aware that this is integral to the story).

Somewhere, in a parallel universe, Albie’s mum is alive - or so his dad says. It’s a statement designed to comfort, but Albie, being Albie, sets out to find her. He uses Quantum Banana Theory and his mum’s old computer to reach beyond the veil. It’s a little bit slow to begin with, but I urge you to stay with it because it’s well worth it. There’s so much in here that’s both educational and entertaining. It’ll bring a tear to your eye, but in a good way.

Ideal for Year 5/6. Buy all three for those summer reads!

We give this book a Yellowbird rating of 5 "Yellowbirds" out of 5!

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Join us at Cupcake Fulham- May 16th

We are thrilled that Janie Richardson is running an exclusive workshop for Cupcake members on Wednesday 16th May at 11am at the club.

Janie is one of the most experienced school search consultants in London given her background as Head in top London Prep schools.  Janie and her highly experienced team are able to offer expert, confidential advice and support to families on all aspects of education. 

This workshop is designed to be informative and will address many frequently asked questions:

  • Which nursery structure is best for my child? 
  • What is the Montessori approach? 
  • When is the best age to start nursery education?
  • How many sessions should my child be offered and at what age?
  • When should I register my child for Reception entry into school?
  • State v’s independent schooling
  • What is the process of admissions at Reception age?
  • Do certain nurseries have relationships with Prep schools?

https://www.cupcakefamilyclub.com

11 Heathmans Road, Parsons Green, London, SW6 4TJ

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Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, April 2018

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Flamingo Boy, By Michael Morpurgo.

Now, at first sight the plot seems to borrow a great deal from the classic story The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico. And in a way it does, but then Michael Morpugo works his magic. I often find his books almost painfully sad, but sad in the right sort of ways. To achieve the level of emotion in a reader (that he achieves) is no small feat of writing. 

It’s written up as ‘a landmark new novel from the nation’s favourite storyteller’. Well, yes and yes... I think it is an excellent story, that explores some interesting themes (such as, not all the Germans were bad people in the war. This is shown through the character of Willi Brenner). To do this, the author has counter-balanced the ‘real world’ with a boy who lives predominantly in his own. In effect, this is the pure natural thought of an autistic child meets the mindless thoughtlessness of so-called grown-ups and the Nazi war machine.

It is set in the Camargue in the South of France (down at the bottom of France in the Rhone delta). This is another watery salt marsh setting (the wilds of Essex were already used by Gallico) but it is the perfect setting for this story as it unfolds in the troubled days of World War 2 in Vichy, France. It’s about resistance (both physically and in the mind) full of action, interest and, of course, Morpurgo’s trade-mark emotion.

This is suitable for competent readers of 10+, but there are some themes that may be tough for younger-minded readers. So to be safe: 11+.

I definitely give this story 5 "Yellowbirds" out of 5!

 

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Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, March 2018

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The Nowhere Emporium, by Ross Mackenzie.

            If you missed this book when it came out - as I did - it won the Blue Peter Best Story Award 2016, the Scottish Children's Book Award 2016 and the North East Book Award 2015, so it’s well worth taking a look at it now. This is a stand-alone story, so there’s no need to search out the rest of a trilogy.

            Daniel Holmes finds the Nowhere Emporium almost by accident. Daniel is an orphan living in the city of Glasgow and he is soon entranced by the mystery of this wonderful shop.  Its owner, Mr Silver, draws him in and reveals a world filled with enchantment. The Emporium is a huge maze of passageways and rooms and Daniel soon begins learning its magical secrets. Each room can contain unlimited imaginings; he only has to write them into the Book of Wonders for them to become real.

            Daniel’s weary life is transformed. He becomes Mr Silver's apprentice and all goes well. He meets Ellie, Mr Silver’s daughter, who believes that she can’t leave the Emporium. Soon, however, the past catches up with the present and when Mr Silver disappears, disaster threatens in the form of Vindictus Sharp (Mr Silver’s nemesis). It’s up to Daniel and Ellie to save the ever-moving Emporium before it is destroyed for all eternity.

The action moves at a good clip, going back and forth between the present and the past, revealing the history of the Emporium and the relationship between Mr Silver and Vindictus Sharp. The author lets his imagination run riot and has created a page-turning adventure that will appeal to Neil Gaiman fans. It could have gone a little further in terms of themes, but that would have, perhaps, lost something in the pace of it...

As it stands, it’s a great read for competent 8 year olds. Ideal for the 9-12 age range and we give it a Yellowbird rating of 4.5 "Yellowbirds" out of 5!        

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Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, February 2018

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Gordo, by Jasper Cooper.

This is a good page-turner for the dark months of February after the blue moon. It’s by the same author as the King of Gems Trilogy, which I quite enjoyed but I consider this much better (only because I’m a little tired of the magic stuff). It’s a stand-alone story that is based on a true event in the 1950s: the first monkey in space. In the story, Jamie, who is 13 years old, befriends a squirrel monkey where he lives. To his amazement, he soon discovers he has the ability to communicate with the monkey and, along with his cousin Rachel, they have a series of adventures with the cheeky Gordo. However, the monkey soon draws the attention of the rich and unscrupulous - people like Mr McMurphy who is the head of Cape Canaveral Space Centre in Florida. Gordo is too valuable to ignore and Jamie and Rachel realise the danger the monkey is in. It’s an unscrupulous world and people aren’t about to let a couple of kids get in the way of the space race...

Gordo is funny and gripping. It is action-packed, but it also makes a point. Even if the themes have been explored a few times before, it still seems fresh. The real star is Gordo, so if animals are your child’s thing then this one is perfect. It is also illustrated by the author. I would recommend this book for competent readers of 9+ (although 10-13 is probably ideal).

We recommend this book for both boys and girls and give this book a Yellowbird rating of:         

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Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, January 2018

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Finance 101 for Kids, by Walter Andal.

 

My BoM for the New Year is more practical than imaginative. I chose this book because I was looking to introduce the concepts behind money to our own children. It is an ideal introduction to a subject that is encroaching increasingly on young lives.

 

Talking about money tends to be put off until later and by then it’s much harder to get teens enthused when they’d rather be in bed sleeping. So start them young, when they have the interest and energy, by giving them an insight into how finance fits into their lives. It’s too important just to leave it to Kidzania!

 

Walter Andal has put together the information in an entertaining way that will appeal to kids and will help parents talk things through little by little.

In fact, I think the subject is so important I would like Yellowbird to add a ‘Kidscoin’ course to our range of courses in 2018. Watch this space.

 

This book is suitable for children of 10+. We give it a Yellowbird rating out of 5:


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Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, December 2017

The Book of Dust Series. Volume 1. La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman.

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First let me explain that I liked Northern Lights (Book 1 in His Dark Materials trilogy) right up to the penultimate chapter. After that I found the end a bit disappointing, mainly because I felt that Philip Pullman had his eye too much on writing the series rather than a novel that would work well in itself. I know I’m probably in the minority, but I found the subsequent books in the series didn’t have the same magic as that brilliant parts in the Jordan College and at Oxford.

Having said that, this prequel to the His Dark Materials trilogy tells how Lyra ended up in Oxford. It’s fast paced and carries the reader along (so it’s good for boys as well as girls). It also has a boy as a main character. Malcolm Polstead (and his dæmon, Asta) both live with his parents at the Trout Inn near Oxford. So the book is set on the River Thames, where Malcolm has a boat called La Belle Sauvage. He soon discovers that the nuns in Godstow Priory, on the other side of the river, have a guest: a baby by the name of Lyra Belacqua.

The action follows Malcolm, Alice and Lyra as they grow older. There is a mysterious place known as Oakley Street, and the League of St Alexander opens up a number of side themes to help the series later; I cannot say more about either of these without spoiling the read.

This is not ‘more of the same’ (although the daemons lose some of their originality because of Dark Materials) and it keeps you reading right up to the end... where, once again, I found it a little bit frustrating for the same reason as above.

The book is suitable for all readers of 10 years+ and we give it a Yellowbird rating of: 4½ yellowbirds out of 5.
                                   

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Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, November 2017

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The Explorer, by Katerine Rundell. 

Let me begin by saying that I loved this book. It's a mystery set in the Amazonian rain forest. This is a great alternative to Journey to the River Sea and much more likely to entertain... especially boys. Gripping, yes.  Full of atmosphere, yes.  Poignant, definitely.

After an Indiana Jones-style moment in a pre-war aeroplane, Fred, Lila, Con and Max crash-land in the jungle. They are forced to adapt quickly to their new surroundings in order to stay alive. You name it, they face it: piranhas, wild animals, ants, fire... The children need to get out of there fast; the only question is – how?

This doesn’t turn out to be too distressing (it isn’t a Lord of the Flies style book) so no need to worry about content for younger children with an older reading age. Great characters (I like Con) and beautiful descriptions of a wonderful (but sadly endangered) place. It’s clear that the author knows her stuff in that regard. The descriptions of the rainforest are vivid and detailed. There’s all the adventure of trapping animals, spearing fish and generally surviving the wild, but at the centre of this book is the mysterious explorer. On this I must remain silent, except to say this adds another rich theme to the book.

This should grab young readers and not let them go. Suitable for all nature-loving, action-loving children aged 10+ with the added bonus that they’ll learn about the rainforest too.

Yellowbird Education rating out of five:

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Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, October 2017

The Snow Goose, by Paul Gallico.

I’m going back to a classic this month with the Snow Goose mainly because this has been the ‘Dunkirk Year’. This is a story set in the wilds of the Great Essex Marsh just before and during WW2. It is often used as a source for comprehensions.

A lonely hermit, Philip Rhayader, lives alone in a tumbledown lighthouse (the author lived in a lighthouse too) rejected by local society because of his scary looks. One day a young girl called Fritha finds a wounded snow goose on the marsh. Not knowing what else to do, she takes the bird to the hermit. At first she is frightened of him, but as he cares for the goose she sees a different side of him.

Fritha begins to visit the marsh regularly until the snow goose flies north for the summer. Once the bird has gone, Fritha no longer needs to come and the hermit feels his loneliness again. The following winter, however, the bird returns to the lighthouse and Fritha comes back. As time passes, Fritha realises that she has fallen for the strange, lonely man on the marsh.

However, war comes and in 1940 Rhayader answers the call to sail his boat to Dunkirk to help the soldiers that are trapped on the beaches. It is a sad, poignant story (worthy of Michael Morpurgo in content and poignancy) and well worth reading... and reading again if you’ve already read it.

This version includes a second short story THE SMALL MIRACLE about a boy’s love for his dangerously ill donkey. However, watch out for the version illustrated by Angela Barrett. The illustrations are stunning.

 

Suitable for readers aged 10+.

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Yellowbird Education Book of the Month, September 2017

Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories. by R J Palacio.

I had to recommend this book! It’s great. As I’m sure you know, the film Wonder has been out over the summer and these stories are a great follow up to it. I read Wonder some time ago and Auggie (the main character with the ‘interesting’ face) has remained with me ever since. So if you - like me - read Wonder and you were left wanting to read more...then here it is.

First published only in ebook format, these three stories have been complied in book form and are now out in paperback. Auggie’s story continues in three stories through the eyes of three main characters: Julian (the bully) Christopher (Auggie's oldest friend) and Charlotte (Auggie's new friend at school). The action mainly takes place just before Auggie starts school and during his first year at Beecher Prep. It’s interesting to see the different points of view and the characters seem to jump off the page. It isn’t always easy to walk at Auggie’s side, but it certainly is an experience and one I would recommend.

Age range: competent readers of 9 and beyond that for readers of 10 – 100. 

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