Books for the more little ones

I remember during teacher training I was told that one of the greatest challenges most English teachers face is knowing which books to recommend to years 7 and 8. As grown-ups, the vast majority of us don’t read kids’ books (I have a few friends who consciously do, despite not being teachers, but I’d put down mostly to personal peculiarities).

I pursued this angle fairly half-heartedly at first, surveying the oft-taught Skellig and Holes, and finding neither riveting enough to teach. I read mainly to look for teaching books that summer.

And then I met my year 7 and 8 students. I was struck by how eager they were to read, and by how clueless I was to guide them. We would stand for ages in the library, a student asking plaintively for a “good book” and I would find myself flailing – the only books I could recommend were trapped on the forbidden “senior fiction” shelves.

Fairly quickly, I tried to remedy this, and I still make a “children’s” book part of my trio of reading: I read in turn a book on education (or for my teaching practice – I cheat lots here), a piece of fiction for grown-ups (I never cheat here), a piece of fiction for children.

Here are a few books I have recommended that students read with fair levels of success.

Patrick Ness: The Knife of Never Letting Go

knife of never letting goAn esteemed colleague of mine believes that this man’s openings are among the best in fiction: she read the opening of another of his books to her class and reluctant readers physically fought over the library’s copies.

One major drawback with this novel is its length: I have had very many students begin it, and very few finish it. Those that did seemed to greatly enjoy it, and many read the next in the series.

Ness has a phenomenal imagination and a great sense of the absurd: this book begins with the killer line: “the first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t go nothing much to say. About anything.” Any language purists will find the informal style grating, but this is a super read for any advanced year 7 or 8 readers.

Jamila Gavin: Coram Boycoram boy

I am a huge fan of Jamila Gavin, whose books are engaging and entertaining, as well as beautifully written in a style stretching for most year 7 and 8 readers. The historical aspects of the story are dealt with clearly, meaning students can grasp the full nature of the story without needing any elucidation. Making use of the trope of intertwining stories of characters from dissimilar walks of life allows for a satisfying ending.

Helen Grant: The Vanishing of Katharina Linden

vanishing of k lThis is one of the many books I have bought on Kindle and regretted – my students are always looking for copies of it. As the title implies, this story has an other-worldly element, yet its tone is entirely realistic. There are plenty of suspenseful moments as you journey with the central character to find answers as the book goes on. 

Morris Gleitzman: Once

A year 7 student recommended this book to me early on in my teaching career, and I made oncethe mistake of reading it on a Friday evening after a long week. I cried lots, and went on to make several other children cry through this novel’s recommendation. It is a much simpler and shorter account of the horrors of the holocaust that several I have encountered, but this makes this text all the more perfect for reluctant young readers.

I’m still improving my knowledge of books suitable for little ones, so I’d be very grateful for any recommendations from lovely readers!


Shakespeare Biographies

I didn’t fully appreciate a good biography until after my History masters. During my undergraduate degree studying English Literature, I had leaned towards a “Practical Criticism” approach. All that other stuff was frankly a distraction for 18-22 year old me.

Indeed, the issue of “did-Shakespeare-write-those-plays-or-was-it-some-richer-bloke?” still galls me. I wrote an essay in my second year essentially screaming “DOES IT MATTER?”

And to a certain extent, I stand by that exclamation. After all, we have no uncorrupted copies of any of Shakespeare’s plays, and the extent to which they were even penned by one person is arguable.

The real benefit of biographies is really about context: a biography showing us Shakespeare’s life and the theatre scenes in the London of the 1600s is invaluable for adding that something extra, something contextual, to our reading of the plays. Also, if you’re a teacher, you probably have to teach something about who Shakespeare was. Here are some biographies of Shakespeare I have read and found useful.

Shakespeare: the biography by Peter Ackroyd

ackroydAckroyd’s is my favourite biography, so I’d like to start here. His style is clear and his ideas concise. This biography is especially strong at linking the plays to the life; bringing us to see the precise links between an Elizabethan man and the drama he was likely to produce.

Early on, for example, Ackroyd brings to us the somewhat surprising truth of the decline of the “old values” and the feudal system of patronage, and the rise of a new, specifically secular, economy: this is by no means a world devoid of the Church, but we need to recognise how in flux the institution was; Ackroyd remarks: “what happens when old concepts of faith and authority are usurped, when old ties of patronage and obligation are sundered? It is the transition from Lear to Goneril and Regan, from Duncan to Macbeth.”

While acknowledging prior theatrical history, Ackroyd argues that Shakespeare also “transcended” it: he speaks of “the Vice” character, a stock medieval “anybody” being newly realised in Richard III; and indeed we can see this figure evolve to the Edgar and Iago of later brilliance. Though Ackroyd also contends that: “in the most sublime reaches of Shakespeare’s art there is no morality at all. There is only the soaring human will in consort with the imagination.”

The chapters in this tome are pleasingly brief, which, like all uses of short chapters, aids understanding and can allow this book to be read over a longer period of time.

Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt

Greenblatt is famous among critics as being foundational in the idea of New Historicism: the greenblattnotion that the text is not only affected by its historical context, but that the text also creates and has an impact on that historical context. It has been noted that the theatre was seen as secondary, unimportant, when Shakespeare began writing; only with his career was it seen as something worthy of being printed and esteemed: a clear example of a writer’s impact on his time.

Greenblatt writes in a warm and welcoming style; he is far from the idea many of us have of an esteemed critic. His book takes a thematic, rather than strictly chronological, look at the life and work of his subject. Greenblatt is also rather more willing to include hearsay and unsubstantiated truths, all with massive caveats, which makes for fun reading. In these nuggets there is always a coral of truth: these legends tell us something about what people wanted to believe of their bard. In addition, this biography is the stronger for its assumptions: we know so very little we can be sure of about Shakespeare, there is some necessity to look at the evidence and make a very good guess: for example, taking a truth from an absence, Greenblatt muses: “from this supremely eloquent man, there have been found no love letters to Anne [Hathaway, his wife], no signs of shared joy or grief, no words of advice, not even any financial transactions.”

This freedom allows Greenblatt to imagine many tenuous considerations: how much did Shakespeare revise his work? Did he in fact hate his wife? Did he have a physical affair with the man to whom the sonnets are addressed? Greenblatt’s long affiliation with the Renaissance allows this freedom; he almost inhabits the world himself, and the result is convincing.

The Genius of Shakespeare by Jonathan Bate

bateI believe that this is the most widely read biography of Shakespeare, so perhaps it goes without exploration. Bate opens his text with an assurance that we can know nothing certainly, as well as reassuring us that, even if we did, “an Elizabethan play was a collaborative work that belonged to the theatrical company which performed it every bit as much as to the dramatist who wrote it.”

This text is especially strong in referencing other Shakespearean critics, from his contemporaries up to today, giving a marvelous overview of what “the book people” have thought about him through the ages. This is particularly strong in the chapter regarding the authorship of “Shakespeare”, where we receive a concise survey of that which scholars have posited.

Bate’s major approach is as a pragmatist: he refuses to romaticise Shakespeare, and instead explores the economic and situational prerogatives which drove him to create.

Shakespeare: the invention of the human by Harold Bloom

Is this, or is this not, the best title of a book ever? Ok – I’m cheating, it’s not a biography. I’m bloomsitting here with three remaining Shakespeare biographies thinking… Hm. I’m not sure how great these are. This, on the other hand, I am willing to recommend.

Harold Bloom, if you aren’t in the know, is a monumentally prolific literary critic. He write books on vast swathes of literature, seemingly refusing to specialise, if you go by his printed output. He writes about almost everything. You’ve probably heard of “the anxiety of influence” – that was Bloom’s baby.

This text is superlative among Shakespeare criticism for its ease of reading and its enormous scope. Bloom takes every single play and writes about it, linking each to Shakespeare’s presumed life and known context. Teachers: this is one book which will serve you all your days.

This is very much, though, Bloom’s book; he doesn’t like to reference other critics. Part of its charm comes from the bombast with which he writes, although I can see how readers might love or hate it.

And so I round up my little trip around some Shakespeare biographies, having enjoyed feeling like a student again, if only for a brief moment.

If you recommend one book

I am in the habit of giving vastly long reading lists, which I do believe are extremely helpful to students who already tend to read. Where this process falls sharply down is when students are not tending to read. I gave a reading list to a new group I was teaching in September, and their groans killed me. These aren’t low ability kids, although they were definitely under-achieving. I was delighted that despite the groans I saw a solitary child with one of the books from the list weeks later, but I’ve been thinking that my plan of attack for creating little readers needs to be more multi-pronged.

Then, my mentor and inspiration (Ms Moran), told me about an amazing thing she had been doing with her classes to foster a reading culture. She would stop the lesson five minutes before the end, and talk about the book she was reading. What genius. She’d put the front cover up on a slide, or read aloud to the students from the first page. The effect was unbelievable – students were clambering to read the books she was talking about.

I’m not saying I’ve never talked about what I’m reading with students. But it has usually tended to be spurred by them asking, or me carelessly leaving a reading book on my desk. I haven’t pre-planned these chats, and with sixth form, I have often had to castigate myself for “wasting their learning time” with the lengthy chats about books. The conversations are definitely worthwhile, but I do think a planned approach is safer.

With this in mind, I’m going to outline three great books I have read in the past year, which are my number one recommends for the three secondary key stages right now.


KS3 (year 7 or 8): A Monster Calls

a monster callsI’m beginning with the book which began Ms Moran’s new policy. As she says, “no-one writes an opening like Ness.” I’ve recommended The Knife of Never Letting Go to high ability students in year 8, but even truly reluctant readers in year 9 are drawn in by the style and content of the opening.

A Monster Calls is a little over 200 pages, and looks manageable for, I would say, all but beginning readers. Ness’s characters in this book have the slightly other-worldly feel of David Almond’s; they speak to each other and it sounds plausible, but not familiar. That aside, the content and style are what sell this book.

The basic plot-line is that a tree-monster wakes a child up and scares him lots, but also teaches him lots, especially about the very difficult trials he is going through with an extremely ill mother. This isn’t a book about death though, or really even suffering. It’s a book about resilience and faith against the odds.

KS4: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

At open evening in my new school, I got chatting with a parent about books and she recommended that I read this one. (Parent, please send your child to my school!) This booka tree grows in brooklyn has already rocketed into my all-time top ten.

The story follows Francie, who grows up in the 1900s in a Brooklyn slum. But the nuances are miraculous – so much is withheld; we see through Francie’s eyes, and if the blurb hadn’t given the setting away, we might have little idea she is living in poverty until some time into the book.

The novel is full of anecdotes; rivers of stories which make up the sea of human experience. It feels timeless and massive. I’m not too sure about reading the opening of this to hook students, but I would recommend a paragraph 14 pages in, where the main character observes an old man. Smith writes:

“He is old. He must be past seventy. He was born about the time Abraham Lincoln was living and getting himself ready to be president. Williamsburg must have been a little country place then and maybe Indians were still living in Flatbush. That was so long ago.” She kept staring at his feet. “He was a baby once. He must have been sweet and clean and his mother kissed his little pink toes. Maybe when it thundered at night she came to his crib and fixed his blanket better and whispered that he mustn’t be afraid, that mother was there. Then she picked him up and put her cheek on his head and said that he was her own sweet baby. He might have been a boy like my brother, running in and out of the house and slamming the door. And while his mother scolded him she was thinking that maybe he’ll be president some day. Then he was a young man, strong and happy. When he walked down the street, the girls smiled and turned to watch him. He smiled back and maybe he winked at the prettiest one. I guess he must have married and had children and they thought he was the most wonderful papa in the world the way he worked hard and bought them toys for Christmas. Now his children are getting old too, like him, and they have children and nobody wants the old man any more and they are waiting for him to die. But he doesn’t want to die. He wants to keep on living even though he’s so old and there’s nothing to be happy about anymore.”


KS5: Bright Shiny Morning

bright-shiny-morning “Welcome to LA. City of contradictions” reads the blurb of James Frey’s masterpiece. This book is a gem for the sixth form: modern and realistic in its scope, but also creatively told with modernist sensibilities – dialogue without punctuation, and the stories interwoven with paragraph-long excerpts of the history of the city.

There are elements of comedy and tragedy in this epic tome, but there is also truth and hope. The characters are sketched but somehow they live more truly for that sketch-quality. Their stories are built up slowly, and this draws you in the more fully. They don’t all interlink, because that isn’t true to life. We have the homeless man, the child inter-state migrants, the rich and famous. We have all of human life at its extremes and in its non-extreme normality made beautiful.

The Book Whisperer

Before I took on the post of Head of English at my school, I knew that the main thing I needed to do was get children reading for pleasure. Six weeks in, when mock Ofsted came into our department, that was one of very few recommendations made for our improvement: get children reading for pleasure.

So, why haven’t I?

Partly it is because starting at a new school, in particular in a new role, is so exhaustingly difficult it’s hard to move beyond fire-fighting. And partly because every mistake I have made so far (and believe me, there have been many) has been linked to my tendency to make decisions too quickly. This is something I want to get right. I am taking my time.

Actually, I felt as if I’d almost cracked it when I read Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer about a week ago, and then I had to do some more thinking. The subtitle is “Awakening the inner reader in every child”, so I knew before I opened it that I would love it.

It is, without a doubt, inspiring, in the vein of Rafe Esquith and KIPP stories from the US. Teachers going above and beyond, but also around and in a peculiar swirly motion we’re not sure will work – but, yes, it does.

Miller’s initial prompting to decide her students should read forty books in an academic year is not grounded in evidence based research, but rather a moral certitude that this stuff if good for them. She glosses over some radically improved test results, but doesn’t make a song and dance about the improvement in the data – that’s not what this is about. Miller wants her children to be readers. And I would guess around 100% of English teachers want the same for their students; not to mention parents.

The problem is: how do we get there? It’s fair to say that the curriculum in the UK, while far from perfect, is a very far cry from the mish-mash of methods going on in American classrooms, where many teachers (if you go by the popular education literature) seem to be able to not only set what they are teaching but also decide how it is assessed. There are few schools I have visited that would allow teachers to go ahead and do what they like in the sanctuary of their classrooms.

Miller lets her students start from where they are, reading what they like. Through careful use of feedback, including surveys, she nudges them towards ever harder and more challenging tomes which will suit their interests. She doesn’t seem to ask them to write analytical essays on these texts, however, it is all about the mighty book review.

This is fine, perhaps, at KS2; I am finding it hard to see how such an approach would work, or is in fact right, at KS3 and beyond. Yes, I want my children to be readers, but more than that they need to be literary critics. Engaging with literature critically is a great joy, and no amount of reading can shake my belief in that.

That said, Miller has given me so much food for thought I cannot but recommend this book for English teachers.

Among ideas she has prompted are:

  • How much class time should I set aside for personal reading?
  • How should this change between years?
  • How far should I try to influence or control student choice of reading material?
  • Should I see reading a class text as something different from private reading?

I’ve written before about teaching Dickens to Year 7 (here). That first term was blissful, but we didn’t study full texts. This term, “A Christmas Carol” is markedly harder. The students are enjoying it, but if I’m honest mine aren’t really getting it. I mean, they understand the words, but there isn’t the time for that understanding and that critical evaluation, unless I want us to use the entire academic year to read the thing properly. Year 7 read slowly. Therein lies the rub.

A fabulous colleague of mine has come up with a lovely compromise, and I’d appreciate any thoughts English teachers have: give them the text, give them two or three weeks. During those lessons they read. During their homework for those weeks, they read. They read the entire text. We perhaps do some kind of writing or literacy activity one in every four lessons, to catch those who really do need to spend time on writing skills. But then, after they have read, we go back and select passages, and teach the critical and analytical skills then.

I feel like in not allowing students to just read, I’m pretty much wasting their time in a novel-teaching unit. But I’d be delighted to hear what other schools do.

To conclude, The Book Whisperer is inspiring and thought provoking, and not completely right. Well worth a read.

book whisperer


Many months ago, I was taking part in a focus group on challenges students face in our current education system and I remember posing a question to the group.

What I want to know, I remember saying, is what makes this kid different. Plenty of my students face immense challenges, and they fail. How is this one, who has faced every challenge imaginable, thriving?

At that discussion, my question was swept away – perhaps it was too big, or too vague; certainly it seemed to the panel too little connected to our remit.

Let me be specific here in a way I wasn’t then. What I want to know is this: how has her unimaginably deprived upbringing and lack of parental involvement somehow led to the most impressive vocabulary in my year 11 class, and the most advanced understanding of literature? How are her difficulties translated into A*s, and other students’ difficulties aren’t?

The woman next to me wrote two words on my notepad as the discussion continued: Mindset. Dweck.

I had heard of this book; indeed I felt I had based my educational beliefs on its central premise without even reading it: all children can learn, all children can grow their intelligence. The ability to attain academically is created, not inherent.

When I finally got round to reading this book, then, I confess I was already willing it to be great. And, if you strip away two thirds of the anecdotes, it really really is.

Early on, these anecdotes are useful and illustrative; for example when exploring the approach of young children who seemed to enjoy tackling hard problems and failing, for the sole reason that, to their minds “they didn’t even think they were failing. They thought they were learning.” I would love my year 9 to approach English like this: we had an impromptu discussion about mindset after I had read the book and the students conceded that “we could learn more if we stayed focused… But it’s just too hard.”

This is just one example of the limits of mindset: yes, it is vital; but there are many other factors to consider when analysing the way children respond to education. My year 9 also felt their creative and sporting talents were fixed and unable to be improved. As one heart-breakingly put it: “I’m in bottom set for everything. I know I’m dumb.”

This statement clearly reveals the student’s mindset; what it does not reveal, however, is what has happened in the past to cause this student to be in set 5: not lack of intelligence, but lack of effort. What has happened in her education that she hasn’t put that effort in; hasn’t wanted to put that effort in? What challenges has she faced that students in the higher sets have not?

Dweck does acknowledge these and other limits, for example when discussing depression. Of course depression is caused by more than a fixed mindset, however she chooses to view the idea through this small prism, and in its own way it contributes to psychological discourse without seeking to define it.

One other caveat which is useful is her acknowledgement that people with resources, such as the safety net of money, will inevitably “take more risks and keep going longer until they succeed.” Moreover, “people with easy access to a good education, people with a network of influential friends, people who know how to be in the right place at the right time, all stand a better chance of having their effort pay off.”

This is a text all about work, and anyone who knows me will attest that work is my favourite thing. The central premise of this text was transformative for me: if more effort leads to more success, we’re just hours (perhaps ten thousand?) away from really amazing things.

More valuable than this, of course, are the implications for my students. I have long found that time spent convincing kids they can do something will always pay off. This book gives plenty of help on rephrasing your praise to be more growth orientated (although I draw the line at Dweck’s self-flagellation for accidentally saying her husband was “brilliant” – it’s fine; sometimes language needs to be more fluid than this).

So, back to the challenges facing students in education. Perhaps it would not be the worst thing in the world to spend some time investigating how best to grow a growth mindset in our most challenged students. If we cannot cure the social ills that plague our students, can we at least prevent the certainty that they will hold these kids back from achieving their full potential.

Finally, one of the surprising outcomes of reading this book was a personal one. When deciding whether to take on more responsibility as an educator, my initial response was: “no. I’m not ready. I will probably fail, so trying would be stupid.” Like my year 9, I sought approval: I wanted to be the best at what I was doing. Yet reading Dweck’s words had a profound impact on me: “people in a growth mindset don’t just seek challenge, they thrive on it. The bigger the challenge, the more they stretch.”

Yes, I might fail, but also yes – I would become a better educator for that experience. As one anecdote reads: “if you only go through life doing stuff that’s easy, shame on you.” Shame on me. Let’s see how I fail better next time.


In Praise of ‘Of Mice and Men’

I’m aware that this post’s title alone may have caused a not insignificant number of readers, in particular those teaching English, to pull at their hair shouting “doom! Never make me read this again!” Also, hands up if you studied this for your GCSEs? I am imagining lots of hands. AQA, I would love a statistic on just how many children have studied this novel and taken an exam in it.

More than ten years ago, I was taught this novel by the most knowledgeable and charismatic teacher you can imagine. At that time, this was undeniably the best book I had ever read, although I think I only know that in hindsight (my taste was all over the place – my 15 year old self would probably have said Orwell’s “Keep the Aspidistra Flying”, a book I have since discovered is one of his most derided works).

The themes in the novel are epic: life, death, hope, dreams, power, powerlessness – I could go on, but I am trusting that 90% of readers can fill in the blanks themselves.

What really struck me about this novel was that when I came to prepare to teach it 11 years later, it still got me in a big way. Sitting on my sofa one sad, exhausted Friday, I ploughed through the entire thing, only to find myself weeping uncontrollably by the final pages. Why did this happen?

There is a fabulous essay, which I made my year 11 read, by Thomas Scarseth called “A Teachable Good Book”, in which he discourses at length on the nature of tragedy and whether this book is one. Unarguably, catharsis is a key component of tragedy, and if my sniveling, hysterical reaction is anything to go by, this book is one.

It is a tragedy of another kind, however: of both the ordinary man, and the unlucky man. In our comparatively caring society, the modern reader pities Lennie and sees him as this force for general good, albeit one liable to make mistakes. Through Steinbeck’s narration, we come to empathise with him, even as he commits the most horrific acts. We are made to understand why, and made to feel intense pity. The narrative comes crashing towards its tragically inevitable climax and we find ourselves wondering “how could this happen? How could it have been changed?”, much like, I would argue, in the closing scenes of many a Shakespeare play.

Another reason I wanted to blog about this book was because I am an examiner for an GCSE Literature paper, and as part of my duties I read the alternative modern texts for this exam. Only a few struck me as enjoyable, the others I struggled through, and none bore the hallmark of great literature in the way that Steinbeck’s novel does.

If we want students to become readers of literature, they surely must study the greatest literature; not just books which are conduits for discussing a writer’s techniques. We wonder why this book is so omnipresent on the English curriculum, but have we really looked at the alternatives? I would rather teach a truly great novel, even if it means repetition for me.

Finally, this novel opens the most gifted students up to the greatness of Steinbeck. Many of my year 11s also read The Grapes of Wrath; one even read East of Eden. It also primes them for a wider and more advanced study of American Literature at A-level, containing, as it does, the most crucial themes and some of the most pertinent contextual facts of that nation.

All in all: yes, we teach it to death; no, there are no better alternatives currently; but yes, this is undeniably a towering work of fiction.

Born to Rise

​Deborah Kenny is the founder of Harlem Village Academies, a chain of charter schools based in one of Manhattan’s poorest neighbourhoods.

Kenny’s book does not spare the reader some shocking statistics; in 2008 in the area of Harlem where she proposed opening her first school, 78% of 8th graders were failing reading and 87% were failing Maths; students in their catchment area had only an 8% chance of attending university; and in 2002 only 16% of 8th grade Harlem students could read at grade level.

HVA was founded on a simple principal, and one that many educators would endorse: what would I want for my own children? Kenny observed teachers in countless charter schools, and although she saw some flashy lessons, for example fun ways to remember Mathematics formulae, she felt that she wouldn’t want her own students to be taught like that: she wanted her kids to love Maths. Similarly, HVA was set up with no system of rewards – instead, Kenny wanted students to behave because they wanted to learn. Succeeding academically was the reward.

What also marks HVA out is its emphasis on teaching and cultivating brilliant teachers. As a teacher myself, I find this hard to argue with. Teachers need to be granted freedom and trust to carry out their duties to the best of their capabilities. Kenny even recognises this in herself, noting that while she had fully trusted her “rock-star teachers” one of the initial failings of the schools was that she had found it harder to grant those same freedoms to struggling teachers.

Yet Kenny redeems herself even in this, describing teachers who struggled in her schools and how she challenged herself to not give up on them, instead working collaboratively to help them to improve. This is surely the dream in education: we have all become teachers for similar, value-laden reasons, yet often other factors (both within ourselves and outreaching contexts) contribute to the success or lack of success of our classes. Rather than writing teachers off, Kenny’s programme of formative assessment of observed lessons and team planning to improve delivery ensures that no teacher is left behind.

I love this idea, for it helps teachers everywhere on the spectrum. The most “outstanding” teachers I have the privilege of working with impress me everyday with the simple fact that they focus not on what they have done, but how they can improve it in the future; including improving outstanding lessons.

Rather than a summative grade, which could arguably encourage coasting, surely a more effective way of keeping teachers engaged is surely working together to improve on a curriculum or lesson plan, acknowledging greatness but also building on it.

(HVA’s website, which is worth a visit, states that: “The freedom we enjoy at HVA is guided by purposeful collaboration with the rest of the team, so that we become better teachers and leaders every day. HVA is a lively laboratory of co-planning, co-grading, and co-observations followed up with genuine conversations. There’s no formula or magic bullet; just old-fashioned, hard questions like, “How could that section of the lesson have been more engaging?” As educators, we love the feeling of continually improving our craft.”)

What I enjoyed also about this book was the personal touch. To begin with, I was confused by Kenny’s inclusion of her very personal family and faith inclusions, however as the book went on I understood their importance to her charter school vision.

Moreover, these personal elements mirrored the personal dream of the schools as a place where professionals are also friends. Kenny’s warm love for her teachers shines through the book, as much as her frankly expressed love of her students.

The bottom line of this book is that we need to be ambitious when it comes to our children’s futures, and we need to face up to the fact that what works in the short term doesn’t always mean the education we would want for our own children. Children from low-income homes are all of our responsibility; they are all our children, and we need to build a school system that reflects that.