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Teachers and librarians share their top books for holiday reading

PUBLISHED: 16:47 23 March 2015

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Getty Images/FogStock

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A+ Education asked teachers and librarians for their suggestions of good books to read over the holidays

Once by Morris Gleitzman | Age: 6 - 8

Once is one of my all-time favourite books for young people, it’s an inspiring novel on so many levels. It is exceptionally well crafted by one of Australia’s leading authors of fiction for young people and in my years of experience working in a school library, appeals to both boys and girls. Set in the Second World War, it tells the tale of a young Polish Jewish boy – Felix, abandoned by his parents for safety in a Catholic orphanage, his inevitable escape and quest to find his parents. It’s an adventure, a historical novel and more importantly it’s a thought-provoking child’s eye view of the ravages of war. Once is the first in a series of four books, after reading it I have never met a child who didn’t want to find out what happens next.

Suggested by: Yve Akehurst, Library Resource Centre Manager, Burgess Hill School for Girls, West Sussex

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The Arrival by Shaun Tan | Age: everyone

It may seem strange for an English teacher to choose a book with no words in it at all, but I still find this a profoundly strange and moving text. It tells the story of a man, forced to leave his home and set up in a new, unfamiliar land. Things get surreal when he encounters a strange creature in his newly rented room. Told entirely through Tan’s beautiful sepia illustrations, The Arrival is a wonderfully relevant and moving book that had me enchanted from the first page. I defy anyone, of any age, not to get something from this book. I’ve owned The Arrival for a few years and I still recommend it to everyone. It is, quite simply, beautiful.

Suggested by: John Doy, Head of English, Seaford College, West Sussex

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The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier | Age: 9-13

This story is about a family living in Poland during the Second World War and the hardships and deprivations they went through. The children are separated from their parents when the Nazis take over their town and they have to fend for themselves. The story follows their adventures as they travel through war torn Europe and eventually escape to safety in Switzerland. The children grow up quickly due to their experiences. The book makes you understand what it was like for children who lived in occupied countries during the Second World War and shows you the worst of humanity and the best. It is very exciting from start to finish and especially interesting if you like history. I read it when I was about 11 years old and I couldn’t put it down.

Suggested by: Caroline Jennings, teacher, Cranmore Prep, West Horsley, Surrey

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Slouching Towards Kalamazoo by Peter de Vries | Age: Sixth Form and adult
This is a book, written by a master of satire and cutting wit, which deals with ‘scrambling conventional wisdom for comic effect’. Peter de Vries’ hallmark is to be ruthlessly acerbic about society and uses intricate word play and delicate phraseology to craft a thoroughly enjoyable read. The under-achieving, adolescent subject, Anthony, spends too much time reading Joyce, Eliot and Dylan Thomas and too little studying history or maths. Told from his perspective, De Vries displays Andrew’s pretension perfectly through a blend of erudite humour and silliness. This is not a long book and it will not take you long to read at all – it’s hard to put it down once page one is read. I found it utterly hilarious and it has ignited my interest in a writer I knew nothing about. There is no doubt in my mind that Peter De Vries is rightly considered as one of America’s most interesting writers of the 20th century.

Suggested by: Chris Davenport, Head of English, Sutton Valence School, Maidstone, Kent

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Trash by Andy Mulligan | Age: 11-14

Trash is a breath of fresh air in children’s fiction. It’s the tale of three orphaned children who live on a rubbish dump in South America and whose lives are changed forever by a discovery as exciting as it is terrifying. Trash, which has also just been made into a film, is a fast-paced story with a clever plot that stays with you long after you’ve finished reading it. The book will naturally appeal to lovers of action adventure, but it also has a depth of characterisation and social commentary that is unusual in this genre. Cranleigh is lucky enough to have the author working with us in the English Department for two terms this year.

Suggested by: Christine Allison, English Teacher and Assistant Head of Admissions, Cranleigh School, Kent

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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt | Age: Adult

I have been a member of a book club for over 10 years and this was a recent read. A huge book of over 800 pages, but don’t let that put you off, it’s a real page turner. It tells the story of Theo a 13-year-old boy who is caught in an explosion whilst visiting an art gallery. His mother dies, he walks off with a priceless painting, which he fails to return and delivers a ring to the loved one of an old man he comforts in the wreckage. The story takes us from New York to Las Vegas and finally Amsterdam with lots of colourful characters on the way. The ending wasn’t quite what I was hoping for but well worth a read.

Suggested by: Jane Rawlins, Careers Advisor, Greenacre School for Girls, Banstead, Surrey

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Shane by Jack Shaefer | Age: 13+

I read this book when I was about 14 or 15 and was gripped from the first page. Shane is an instantly memorable and mysterious character, a stranger who rides into a valley in Wyoming in 1889 and is asked to help the homesteaders who are being persecuted by a ruthless cattle rancher. I loved the book for Schaefer’s ability to capture a world that was so different from the one in which I was growing up.

Suggested by: Marcus Chapman, English teacher, Cranmore Prep, West Horsley, Surrey

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Portrait of a Lady by Henry James | Age: 15-18
Portrait of a Lady is the sensitively written story of Isobel Archer, the feisty, attractive heroine whose life does not turn out quite as she had imagined. It is achingly sad to watch the innocent, idealistic girl make the wrong choices for all the right reasons, not least her putting her faith in the wrong man, then struggling to respond with integrity to the consequences. I first read it as a student, and it struck a chord, and I still love it after having taught it as an exam text to a group of sixth form boys. Exquisitely written by Henry James, on one level it is a reflection of the differences between the ‘new’ world and the old - although the protagonists are American, it is set predominantly in Europe. More engagingly it is a compelling story about interesting people against a backdrop of beautiful settings. The book is far superior to any film.
Suggested by: Antonia Beary, Headmistress, St Leonards-Mayfield School, East Sussex

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The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar by Roald Dahl | Age: 11-12

In terms of packing those last-minute essentials for your holiday, Roald Dahl’s Wonderful World of Henry Sugar is as vital as your Factor 50. How could you go wrong with a collection of humorous, rather macabre, cleverly written short stories? Try a new psychological adventure for every day of the holiday to avoid hours of boredom. The book is filled with seven complete enthralling tales about an assortment of intriguing characters that will have most 11 and 12-year-old boys and girls transfixed from beginning to end, from the story about the ‘ratty-faced man with grey teeth’ a cunning hitchhiker, in possession of some rather dextrous finger skills to the story about the man with capped teeth who was unmarried because he was ‘too selfish to share any of his money with a wife’.

Suggested by: Bronwen Jervois, English Coordinator, Holmewood House School, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

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