Whilst I’ve written about the books I’ve been aiming to read over the summer for the past few years, I never looked back and reflected on how it went. I find the challenge of choosing twelve books quite exciting: I love trying to find a balance of books that meet my interests, yet stretch and inspire, and open up my horizons. I hope for the books to be exciting in themselves but also really get the creativity going for the new academic year.
This year’s selection was perhaps the most enjoyable thus far. Maybe it is a few years of experience in getting the balance right, or maybe it was including graphic novels, audiobooks and using the kindle. I’m not sure! Whatever it was below, are my reflections on each text. I hope they might inspire you in your own reading journey.
October, October – Katya Balen
[The award-winning one] October, October is a story about a girl who has grown up in the woods and is now being taken to live outside of her comfort zone. The storyline itself is shockingly simple; the quality of narration is what makes this stand out. The neurodivergent first-person narrator is excellent, it was like being in her head – rattling around her thoughts and seeing through her eyes. The descriptions lifted off the page, every scene vividly coming to life. I can see why it won this year’s Carnegie book award.
The Beast Warrior – Nahoko Uehashi
[The sequel to one I’ve already enjoyed] I read The Beast Player back in 2018 and its character-driven, world-building beauty made it a stand-out tale, perhaps one of the best stories I’ve read. The idea it was originally written in Japanese and translated stunned me as the quality of prose was phenomenal. I was excited yet nervous to read this sequel, The Beast Warrior: Would it stand up, could it? Thankfully, it more than did. Set ten years after the ending of the previous book. it built on the first whilst being a complete tale on its own merit. The writing is wonderful yet again and I found myself highlighting brilliant examples to share with my class. It completed the narrative arc and in doing so cemented my love of this two-book series and the author Nahoko Uehashi. Cannot recommend it enough.
Your New Playlist: The Student’s Guide to Tapping into the Superpower of Mindset – Jon Acuff with L.E Acuff and Mcrae Acuff.
[The self-improvement one] Whilst there have been many ‘mindfulness’ and self-improvement books aimed at teens written by authors such as Matthew Syed and Marcus Rashford (or whatever ghostwriter he is using), Your New Playlist excels in having a youthful voice through Jon’s teenage daughters L.E and Mcrae. This gives it authenticity other texts so often lack and means that the book walks with the reader rather than talking down to them. It is packed full of practicality, I was highlighting so much of the text as I read through it as it’s jammed full of so much wisdom. Whilst this book is aimed at teens (‘Soundtracks’ by Jon Acuff is the original created for adults and is a fantastic read if you don’t fall in that bracket) I enjoyed its style, the humour and the instruction found in Your New Playlist. It is certainly something those I teach would benefit from.
The Lion Above the Door – Onjali Q Raúf
[The one I might read to read to my class] I zoomed through this book! It had wonderfully presented characters with big hearts and lots of themes (including tolerance, racism and bullying) with events that could be unpacked with a group of children. At the end of the day, it’s also a really good read with a well-paced and adventurous storyline. I was quite sad to get to the end and would have happily continued reading about the protagonists and their future adventures. The missing histories of WWII and the real-life content that comes at the end of the book certainly make this a book I’ll be sharing with my class next year.
The Judge’s List – John Grisham
[The guilty pleasure one] It had some twists and turns (though it was less about twists and slightly more procedural than I expected). Though it isn’t a Grisham “classic” it was a perfect summer holiday page-turner with the balance of intrigue, mystery and action I’ve come to expect. Perfect escapist material.
In Between – J.M.Sandford
[The one written by someone I know] I’m told it can be hard to be objective when you know the person who wrote something, but I loved reading this book: excellent narrative structure, fab world-building and great storytelling. Very much reminded me of something C.S.Lewis would have written if, indeed, he’d lived in the modern US. The themes of loss, the adventures between worlds and the descriptive prose made this a story that kept popping back into mind weeks after finishing.
Long Way Down – Jason Reynolds & Danica Novgorodoff
[The graphic novel one] This was an extraordinary text. Danica Novgorodoff took Jason Reynolds’s text from 2018 and made it all the more poignant; verse and paratext combining to become more than the sum of the parts. It was extremely poignant, following the journey of a boy setting out for revenge after the shooting of his brother. I read through it at speed and then went back and explored it again slowly, taking in all the incredible detail.
Note: Whilst this is a graphic novel, the content is certainly not suitable for children
She is fierce – Ana Sampson
[The poetry one] The short biographies and theme introductions were particularly interesting and framed the poems in the way too few anthologies attempt. As with any anthology, the range of poems is both the strength and weakness of the collection. I have loved reading a more diverse range of voices and I also came across poems that I didn’t feel a connection. Thankfully, the latter didn’t crop up too often and this is one of the strongest collections I’ve come across in a long time. There were a number of favourite voices in this collection, Sylvia Plath, Carol Ann Duffy, Margaret Atwood, and Maya Angelou to name but a few. I also found many new to me; Liz Lochhead, Shukria Rezaei, Kate Tempest and Moya Cannon’s contributions proved especially poignant. This is certainly a collection I’ll be revisiting and sharing well into the future.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams
[The ‘I’ve read it before, I’ll read it again’ one] Many years ago I would have thought that audiobooks “don’t count” when doing a reading challenge but a great article by Jon Acuff opened up my definitions and I’m glad he did! Stephen Mangan is the perfect narrator for the sublime absurdity of a tale that weaves and winds, drawing strings of narrative together with seeming ease! I laughed out loud a few times, appreciated the drama, and loved that I could get the cooking done at the same time. Safe to say, the second Dirk Gently book, “The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul” is already playing.
The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham
[The classic one] A story that reads like a nightmare and is perhaps one of the best science fiction books ever written. Whilst the author may have borrowed some ideas from War of the Worlds, I feel that Wyndham’s prose and the story reach a higher echelon. This tale of a world struck by blindness has lots to say about society and technological development. My favourite element is the first-person narrative – it really allows the reader to experience and feel more and adds a level of tension that simply doesn’t exist in the third person.
Black AND British – David Olusoga
[The educational one] I’ve appreciated the work that David Olusoga has done for History and his writings have inspired me to research and explore a more diverse history curriculum for the school. The more I have explored history, the more surprised I’ve become about the narrow approaches taken in some forms of education by this wonderfully broad discipline. This particular text looks at Black History in Britain from Roman times to the modern day. It is very easy to read, packed full of information and is worthy of study in itself as well as informing about periods of history. I think that books like this, and a move to ensure that schools are including more diversity within their curricula, are an important step in fighting the racism that still exists in British society. I’ll be using some extended extracts in whole class reading for sure.
The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman
[The ‘I feel like I should read it but haven’t gotten around to it’ one] I enjoyed this book, and while I wouldn’t label it a classic, it was certainly very entertaining and highly readable. The plot was fun and twisty, like a death in paradise episode set in an old people’s home. The sequels will certainly be on my read list, if only because I found the main characters very interesting and will be excited to see where Osman takes them next.
Great list Andy! I will definitely pinch some book ideas for myself! Brilliant reviews, thanks x