Book review: The Road to Ever After by Moira Young

The Road to Ever After

When the lives of two lonely characters collide, a story of deep sensitivity and personal growth begins. 13-year-old orphan, Davy David ekes out an existence on the fringes of life in the back-water town of Brownvale. Rising early each day from his home in the churchyard yew trees, Davy hides from Mr Kite the gang-master (who patrols the streets for down-and-outs) by sheltering in the local library and movie-theatre.  Things take a turn for the worse when the town’s tyrannical clergyman, Parson Fall, discovers that Davy is the secretive artist who’s been decorating the yards of Brownvale with his drawings of angels. Turning-in Davy to Mr Kite, would give Parson Fall no greater pleasure.

Fortunately, Davy stumbles into the overgrown grounds of a dilapidated museum on the edges of town. Here he meets ancient, decrepit and reclusive Miss Elizabeth Flint. Wanted by Parson Fall, and with little to keep him in Brownvale, Davy accepts an offer of employment with Miss Flint. And so a most miraculous adventure begins.

In a story peppered with references to the silver screen, it is hard not draw parallels to It’s A Wonderful Life and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Of course, to young readers these references will be less apparent and so perhaps the direction of the narrative less certain.

The Road To Ever After is a beautifully crafted tale. The two main characters are given time to develop and we continue to learn about them up to the final pages. Moira Young summons a world of indeterminate time, somewhere in the past and in a place never quite established – both of which add to the sense of mystery in the story.

Keen readers will note the socially pertinent references to a local authority unable to provide for its vulnerable citizens: both young and old. A place where the local library faces closure and the obvious future impact of this on those who seek refuge in the books and warmth of a shared and valued place.

This book is an ideal choice for shared whole-class reading in upper KS2. It offers multitudinous opportunities for discussion about life, death, social care, theft and so much more. With the current KS2 Reading SATs emphasis on vocabulary and inference, this text offers opportunities for teachers to scrutinise the author’s choice of language and how she creates meaning in and between the words she had written.

A special book to be treasured.

Watch the official book trailer here.

The Road to Ever After official trailer

Rachel Clarke, Director Primary English Education

All content on the Primary English website is owned by Rachel Clarke.

Books dealing with loss

This short article considers books to use with children dealing with bereavement.

In a school not too far from me the children, parents and staff are dealing with the loss of a well-loved teacher. She was a delightful lady; a real-life Miss Honey. Hers is a loss that will be felt for many months to come. Sadly, their experience is not unique. I know of too many other schools that have had to face this awful pain. I am by no means qualified to offer bereavement advice and am not going to attempt to do so here. But as homage to a teacher I knew well, and who I know loved children’s books with a heartfelt passion, I can offer some suggestions of books to use with children experiencing loss.

Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley

This gentle and poignant book was written to help young children deal with death. It’s a sensitive but honest portrayal of passing which leaves the reader with hope for the future. By looking at the positive influence that badger had on all of his friend’s lives, the reader is left understanding the legacy that loved ones leave, long after they have passed away. A beautiful book.

Michael Rosen’s Sad Book

Written after the death of his son Eddie, this beautifully honest book deals with the deep, all-consuming sadness that can affect us after the loss of a loved-one. Particularly helpful for those children experiencing despair. One for the older children.

Charlotte’s Web by E B White

My go-to text for dealing with loss is Charlotte’s Web. Chapter 21 deals with Charlotte’s passing but also with her legacy: her unborn children who will ensure her memory lives on, and the lengths to which she went for her friend Wilbur. It is in this chapter that Charlotte utters these most beautiful words that resonate with all of us who experienced friendship that transcends death:


Grandad’s Island by Benji Davies

I adore this book. It evokes the special bond that exists between grandparents and their grandchildren. The story begins with the sort of joyful adventure that only grandparents seem able to provide. It ends with Grandad taking a journey that he must take on his own, and from which he cannot return. A bright, vibrant book aimed at younger readers but suitable for all.

The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

This gentle picture book examines what happens when we bottle-up our feelings after the loss of a loved one. An accessible text for those children struggling to let go of their pent-up emotions.

To my colleagues experiencing the loss of their dear friend, she may have gone but she’ll never be forgotten. Just like Charlotte the spider and Susan Varley’s Badger she has left a legacy;a school full of books and literature at the heart of all that you do.

In remembrance.

Rachel Clarke: Director – Primary English Education.

There are a great many more children’s books that deal with death and loss. For further ideas, I recommend this Guardian article by Holly Webb.

I have begun to curate a collection of PSHE books on Pinterest that you may also find useful.

Dads in books

Dads in Books

With Father’s Day fast approaching here’s a quick round-up of Dads in Books.


My first choice is a book that works well for a whole-school assembly on Dads – My Dad by Anthony Browne. This book is sufficiently accessible to avoid fidgety bottoms from YR and Y1 children and suitably humorous to uncurl the most pre-adolescent of lips in Y6. Try asking the children to draw a picture and write a few sentences about their dad, which you could then scan and make into a rolling PowerPoint for use during the assembly.

Dads in Books

My Dad by Anthony Browne.

This blog from Dad Info lists several children’s books where dads play a prominent role. It’s organised by year group which makes it useful for thinking about books that will interest children in each year group. There are also some good suggestions in this list, including My Dad by Anthony Browne.

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It’s all about the preparation

Preparing a stimulating transition project based on book trailers and quality children’s literature.

The idea for this blog post has been in my head for a while but I was struggling to write it as I couldn’t find a suitable hook on which to hang my ideas. That was until yesterday when I had one of those over the garden fence exchanges with my next door neighbour Derek. For the past few days I’ve been renovating our garden furniture. It’s been quite a job. I’ve sanded it back to the bare wood. Treated it with wood renovator to remove that nasty grey hue that older wooded furniture acquires, and now I’ve begun to stain and seal the furniture. I’m not finished yet but it’s looking fabulous. Dare I say it: as good as new. Now Derek had been watching this labour of furniture love unfurl and during our garden fence conference said (with just the tiniest hint of irony) that I should write a blog about my efforts. Voila! There it was, the hook I’d been looking for. My renovation project has been a success due to the simple act of good preparation.

It's all about the preparation.

It’s all about the preparation.

Transition day has a habit of creeping up on us and catching us unawares. All of a sudden we’re waving this year’s class off for a morning with Mrs So-and-So and ferreting around for something suitable to do with the new recruits who don’t yet understand the golden rules of not fiddling with the table trays, not swinging on their chairs or uttering the mildly irritating, “But our teacher always says/does/has/let’s us do that.” Ah the joy.

Finding out about your new class by asking them to create “All About Me” bunting or a “Family Coat of Arms” is fine but it’s not the most stimulating way to spend a morning with your new class, the potential for good-quality display is limited and it does seem to stand alone. Transition is about movement, passage or change from one position to another. So when we embark on a transition project with children we should really be looking for something that spans the ‘moving up day’ and the beginning of the new academic year. Doing this well requires a little bit of preparation but the results are so much more rewarding for all involved.

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Spooky stories: Things that go bump in the night

So, it’s Halloween. The time of the year when it’s legitimate to knock on the doors of strangers and demand they hand over the goodies or risk a trick.It may not sound like it, but I do quite like Halloween. I like the focus on children, the fun and the inevitable hauls of sticky sweets and far-from healthy treats. I am though, no expert in ‘doing Halloween with style and panache’. I may just about scrape out a pumpkin and buy a few ‘funsize’ chocolate bars for those inevitable ‘after dark visitors’ but that is just about as far as my Halloween preparations and celebrations go. Charlotte, my fellow founder of Primary English was  brilliant at making any event one to remember; and her efforts for Halloween were simply ‘spooktacular’. So, today I revisit an old blog post by Charlotte where she shared her passion for spooky books.

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#FocusOnReading – No3. Children’s Book Awards

This week, as part of our #FocusOnReading we hosted a Reading Conference featuring reading expert James Clements. The event was attended by English Subject Leaders, Leaders of Reading and Senior Leaders from schools across Coventry and Warwickshire. They have unanimously told us that it was an inspirational day which has left them with a multitude of ideas to apply back in school. One area of reading practice that James drew our delegates’ attention to was the role of the literary competitions in helping to promote a love of reading in a school. Primary English has a long history of promoting children’s book awards so this advice from James fell on very welcome ears indeed.

Here in Coventry we have the annual Coventry Inspiration Book Awards. These awards cater for all ages and tastes from birth to 80+. Just like the national book awards there is a website with voting facilities, shadowing events in schools and a lavish award ceremony attended by dignitaries and lovers of literature. We’re immensely proud that for several years we were part of the shortlisting committee for the school-age categories of this fabulous book award and that our director Charlotte Reed has presented awards to winners several times over the years.

So, in the week that the UKLA 2015 Book Awards Longlist has been released and in the month when the Coventry Inspiration Book Awards reach the classrooms of Coventry we turn our attention to one book that has found its way onto both of these lists, Blackberry Blue and Other Fairy Tales by Jamila Gavin.


Our Director, Charlotte Reed gives us this short insight into why she recommends this book for use with children in Upper Key Stage 2.

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Where the Wild Things Are: 10 teaching ideas

Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are is a modern classic. Much loved in KS1 classrooms, this text is also a great model of a voyage and return story,  which could be used alongside a longer text such as The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe in KS2. There is also now a film version available but as it is quite dark (and younger children may find it frightening) think very carefully before using this is KS1.

Here are 10 teaching ideas for using Where the Wild Things Are in the classroom:

  1. Start with a trigger before reading the text If you were sent to bed with no dinner, what would you do?” or What might you have done to get sent to bed with no dinner?”

  2. Make an emotions chart or graph of Max’s feeling throughout the story.

  3. Look carefully at the pictures – what happens as you move through the book? They start small and they grow to become full page before reducing again. Does this signify Max’s world experience getting bigger?

  4. Due to the predominance of the illustrations the descriptive text in the book could be further enhanced; so can the children describe the Wild Things, or the setting?

  5. Speech punctuation features quite heavily at the start of the book. Use this as a model for teaching speech conventions.  Then with the later pictures write what characters may be saying to each other .

  6. Use the pattern of they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth etc’ as a model and rewrite the phrase using different words to create alternate effects…‘they whispered their twinkly squeals and licked their luscious lips’

  7. Challenge children to write a ‘Quick Write’ poem about Max: 1 Noun, 2 Verbs, 3 Adjectives/Adverbs, e.g

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Once upon an ordinary school day

Once upon an ordinary a day an ordinary teacher was looking for an ordinary book to read with her ordinary children during their ordinary guided reading lesson, when..she stumbled across a quite extraordinary book indeed: Once Upon an Ordinary School Day by Colin McNaughton and Satoshi Kitamura.

The ordinary teacher sat down in her ordinary chair, put on her ordinary glasses and started to read the book. She liked it. In fact she loved it and she realised that it would make a perfect text for guided reading with Y2 children.

The first thing that the ordinary teacher did was to make a word cloud using the text from the book. As she expected the largest word was ordinary; and school was quite large too. She knew that this word cloud would make a really extraordinary pre-reading activity for her children and that it would allow them to make predictions about the text that they were going to explore.

The next thing that the ordinary teacher did was to find a way of turning her ordinary children into detectives. Like every good teacher she delved into her ‘bag of magic’, rummaged around for a while and pulled out her very ordinary looking ball of elastic bands. She peeled off elastic bands and wrapped them around her copies of Once Upon an Ordinary Boy so that the children would be unable to open them past the phrase,

Then, something quite out of the ordinary happened…”.

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The Selfish Giant – Guided Reading Resource

Here at Primary English HQ we LOVE guided reading and if you read our posts regularly you’ll know that we write about it frequently.

What the national curriculum says

We’ve just finished a round of training and conference workshops where we looked at the place of guided reading in the new national curriculum. Yes, we know guided reading’s not a statutory requirement but when the national curriculum document itself recognises how ‘reading opens up a treasure-house of wonder and joy for young minds’  we know that guided reading needs to be central to your school provision. (Our blog post Guided Reading discusses the importance of quality and enjoyable texts for guided reading.)


Our literary heritage

In our recent work we’ve taken a particular look at the Y5 ad Y6 requirement for children to ‘read books from our literary heritage’. You may currently be reading books by significant children’s authors and older children’s literature with your children; and this new objective is not really so different – so long as you remember that it is about older children’s literature. We emphasis the children’s bit of that statement as on our travels we’ve unearthed a few ‘grown-up’ classic texts with some rather ‘adult‘ content finding their way into primary classrooms. By all means use the classics with children, but do make sure you know the texts well enough to avoid unsuitable themes. Even better still, use some of the fabulous abridged versions available from many of the educational publishers.


The Selfish Giant

By keeping one eye on accessibility and the other on engagement, the text that we’ve been using in our workshops is The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde – written in 1888. If you’re unfamiliar with this text it is a rich and evocative story of selfishness and rebirth. It is packed with figurative language and has sufficient challenge to engage the most demanding of Y6s. The version we’ve been using is the Puffin Picture version (illustrated by Michael Foreman and Freire Wright) as the illustrations add a useful scaffold for children who may otherwise struggle to access the syntactical and linguistic challenges of an older text. You can though, use any version or find the text online as it should remain unchanged.


Guided reading activities

Our conference delegates have enjoyed working on reading activities including: making predictions about the text from a word cloud; analysing the text using Aiden Chambers’ Tell me’ structure; and thinking about giants in a variety of children’s literature using our ‘same but different’ thinking frames. We linked each of these activities to the aims statements from the new national curriculum as a way of ensuring that not only were aims met, but they were done so in an engaging and creative manner.

The Selfish Giant is a wonderful text from our literary heritage that we’re certain your children will love reading as a guided group text. Our Selfish Giant – Guided Reading Resource is now available to purchase from our resources area. Just click here

Rachel Clarke – Director, Primary English Education Consultancy Limited


The Polar Express

Using The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg for primary school literacy

Primary English The Polar Express

The Polar Express. Image: Primary English Education Consultancy Limited.

Creating a really worthwhile unit of work, whilst still marking Christmas, is one of my favourite activities of the festive season. In this short article I look at a few ways to use a high quality Christmas picture book as a vehicle for good literacy teaching and learning. The book I’ve chosen is ‘The Polar Express’ by Chris Van Allsburg. I haven’t added age groups to the activities as many are generic but I hope there are sufficient to meet the specific needs of children from across the school.

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