Tag Archives: school

Book Review: Stargazing for Beginners by Jenny Mclachlan

Published 6th April 2017 by Bloomsbury.

32021893Goodreads Synopsis: Science geek Meg is left to look after her little sister for ten days after her free-spirited mum leaves suddenly to follow up yet another of her Big Important Causes. But while Meg may understand how the universe was formed, baby Elsa is a complete mystery to her.
And Mum’s disappearance has come at the worst time: Meg is desperate to win a competition to get the chance to visit NASA headquarters, but to do this she has to beat close rival Ed. Can Meg pull off this double life of caring for Elsa and following her own dreams? She’ll need a miracle of cosmic proportions…

My Review: I’ll admit I’m one to judge a book by its cover. Though I hadn’t read any of McLachlan’s books previously, I was really drawn to this. How beautiful is it?! Anyway, I’m glad I did decide to give it a go because this is now definitely up there in my favourite reads of 2017 so far.

Stargazing for Beginners tells the story of Meg, an teenage aspiring Astronaut, who is hesitantly entering a competition to go to Houston. Just two weeks away from her competition, Meg’s mother suddenly leaves for a humanitarian cause, rendering Meg in a difficult situation, juggling school, her aspirations and her baby sister. It’s a crazy concept, but I absolutely adored it. I became really emotionally invested in the story; I didn’t expect to become so attached.

I cannot fault McLachlan’s characterisation at all: it’s fantastic. Every person in the book felt so real to me, from Meg and her quirky family members to the pupils at her school. I particularly loved reading about Meg developing a relationship with her baby sister, in light of her mum leaving. So much of this book was unexpectedly poignant and beautifully written.

One of the things I loved most about Stargazing for Beginners is it’s portrayal of feeling like an outcast at school. Meg sticks out, being overly passionate about science and labelled a geek. She’s such a relatable character, appealing to read about for anyone who’s ever been through the horrible experience of Secondary school 🙂 It was really moving to see Meg develop a network of friends over the course of the story. And, of course, it was fantastic that one of those friends was portrayed with Cerebral Palsy, a physical disability affecting movement. Disabled characters seem to be pretty underrepresented, particularly in terms of genuine portrayals – so this was really awesome to see.

Stargazing for Beginners has such a wide appeal. Its themes of family and space are written about so wonderfully, it’s hard not to fall in love with the story. I tend to read books with darker or slightly older themes, so I wasn’t sure how much this would appeal to me, but I fell in love with it. The story is so uplifting and touching, I can’t imagine that any kind of reader would dislike it.

Overall, I would definitely recommend Stargazing for Beginners. It’s perfect for anyone, of any age, looking for a feel-good read. Witty, moving and memorable, this is bound to sweep you up as it did with me. Having really enjoyed this, I’m very excited to see what McLachlan writes next!

My Rating:

I received a copy of Stargazing for Beginners via the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Reading and Revising: How I’m Balancing Both in Year 11

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Most people probably know, because I moan about it enough on this blog and social media – I’m in year eleven. And exam season is approaching. And that’s pretty scary.

Whilst I’m so eager to revise lots and get my grades, because they mean a lot – I’m also eager to read lots and get blog posts up, because to me, that’s an equally big part of my life (and the more fun part). Last year, I took a couple of GCSEs early, and found it incredibly hard to just put those books down and revise, dammit. I spent the entirety of April/May of 2015 either revising and being annoyed that I wasn’t reading, or reading and being annoyed that I wasn’t revising. A vicious cycle, you’ll agree, but an unavoidable struggle for any bookworm.

As the majority of my GCSEs (and the most important ones, to me) are happening this year, I’ve decided that I need to approach exam season with a healthy, balanced way of doing both what I love, and what I need to do. Many people are great at making schedules and timetables, but I find it hard to stick to allocated times, and would panic if I didn’t commit to a set order.

I realised (after tumblring about my revision methods and a lot of people saying it was useful) that it may be worth sharing my goals, tips and ideas on how to balance reading and revising. Hopefully, this might come in handy to you, if you’re taking exams!

Set a realistic reading goal:

If I neglect reading for ages, I only get into a reading slump, which saddens me more than anything else. Over the past few years, I’ve read 2/3 books a week on average. This exam season, I’m restricting myself to one book/graphic novel/etc a week. A manageable number for me, and it’ll keep me kinda sane whilst studying and sitting exams.

Use reading as a reward:

 I read this thing online where you can treat yourself with something small like a jelly baby or a piece of chocolate for every page of a textbook you revise from. I try to eat on revision breaks instead (otherwise I just stare blankly at a page while stuffing my face with chocolate) so I’m replacing the edible reward with a chapter of a book. I’m a person who has to write out stuff in order to revise – so for example with my science revision, I’ll let myself read a chapter once I’ve written out the key info, or answered example questions, for one topic.

Use online time wisely:

I have online science, maths and languages work on apps such as Duolingo, and blogging is always the much more fun alternative, so I’ll procrastinate online work by doing that (cough, definitely not what I’m doing by writing this post – oh the irony, cough). I’ve set myself a goal for each online revision app I have, and for my blog. At the time of writing this, my current goal is to write a blog post a week, and visit each revision app once a day. It’s working so far!

Novellas!

Over the past few months, I’ve been hoarding saving some short reads for the next couple of months. If I start a really long book just before an exam, I know I’ll just binge-read it instead of getting some crucial revision in. With novellas, I find that I usually read them quite quickly, and I know that I can put them down and just finish them in a second or third sitting. This also applies to graphic novels and comics – I’m hoping to buy a lot of series I’ve been behind on (Ms Marvel!!) so I can read issues between studying.

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If you’re also currently studying – how are you balancing it with your hobbies? What methods do you use to make sure you’re studying enough, but also enjoying your hobbies?

GCSE English Literature | A Call for Diversity on the Curriculum

NOTE: Although this post references the English Lit syllabus as a whole, I have not researched fully into the poetry and short stories lists so cannot comment on these.

I really enjoy studying English Literature at GCSE – many people detest dissecting fiction and digging for deeper meanings – but more often than not, I actually find it quite interesting.

I’m in year eleven and the two books I’m studying are Of Mice and Men and An Inspector Calls (the only other pieces of literature I have studied at GCSE are two Shakespeare plays). I enjoy the books outside of the classroom – I think they’re important, touch on interesting themes, and are unforgettable.

However, recently I started thinking about what I would have loved to study, alternatively, at GCSE. Out of curiosity, I checked out all of the prose and drama books on the syllabus on the BBC Bitesize website and made a list of the writers currently on the curriculum.

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These stats are quite sad. And the curriculum is subject to change for the next exam series, but it is in fact reducing the amount of foreign literature.

I know that the literary works on the syllabus are all there for very valid reasons – many are life-changing, controversial and important books to talk about. Of the ones I’ve have read, they’re fantastic – take An Inspector Calls, which might well be my favourite 20th Century work.

However, the diversity is really lacking. For example – schools in England and Wales couldn’t even talk about LGBT* books until 2003, when Section 28, barring ‘positive portrayal’ of homosexuality, was repealed. Sadly, it’s clear that the English curriculum hasn’t made huge steps to become more inclusive after this.

There are so many books that could make the syllabus better. I know that most teenagers in my school and others dislike studying English Lit. Would the enjoyment and engagement in the classroom not be improved if we changed it up a bit?

How fantastic would it be to see some modern YA fiction? More books by PoC and LGBT* authors – and/or books with these minority characters as protagonists? Most works on the curriculum, although yes, incredibly important books and plays, all fall into very similar categories in that they are largely 20th Century / Shakespeare / written by people of similar backgrounds.

I talked to some friends in my English class about what they thought, and everyone seems to share the same opinion: if we had a more diverse range of books, students would be more interested in the classroom. Having a wider range of fiction available to study could make a huge impact. Everybody knows that representation of different groups of people can get more students interested in reading, as people can relate to and resonate with writers and stories – which can encourage people to enjoy literature outside of the classroom and later in life. And, at least in my school, I’m aware that people would like to study more books from recent years.

Isn’t it time we looked at some books that would be awesome in classrooms?

I took to Twitter and asked for suggestions. Here’s the fantastic responses! (The picture below is hyperlinked to my original tweet, in case people have replied after I put these together)

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(yes i like drop shadows fight me)

Of the ones suggested that’s I’ve read, I 100% agree. I think if I had the power to put any book on the curriculum, I would choose Lies We tell Ourselves by Robin Talley. Lies We Tell Ourselves is a stunning, conversation-starting book about race and sexuality in the 1950’s, which would be fantastic to write about and discuss in class.

I would love to know your opinion on the English Curriculum, as I think it’s a topic worth discussing more. Do leave a comment, or contribute on Twitter!

Thanks to Ellen for providing feedback and some facts about Section 28.

Graphic Novel Review: Confessions of a Blabbermouth

By Mike and Louise Carey, illustrated by Aaron Alexovich.

Published in 2007 by Minx.

1335621Goodreads Synopsis: After her mom brings home an annoying boyfriend, Tasha’s dysfunctional family is headed for a complete mental meltdown. But Tashas blog is her ultimate weapon–and shes not afraid to use it. Mike Carey (“LUCIFER, Hellblazer”) teams with his teenage daughter Louise for this tale of teen angst.

My Review: At the talk with comics writer Mike Carey I went to a few weeks ago, this book was briefly talked about. There were lots of graphic novels I was excited to read after hearing about them at the event, but this one stood out the most for me, as Carey wrote it with his fifteen year old daughter! I was in the library earlier this week, not actually looking for this book, but as soon as I saw it I knew I had to borrow and read it. I’m so glad I found it. I really enjoyed it!

Confessions of a Blabbermouth is centered around Tasha, a teenage girl who writes about her crazy life on her blog, Blabbermouth. Her mum’s prone to bringing home lots of boyfriends, and when her latest one turns up, so does his daughter. Tasha instantly grows to hate Chloe- but on an unpredictable journey she discovers something about her.

I really liked the story. It’s funny at points, pretty emotional at others. It was pretty crazy and I found some parts a bit strange, but it’s a great contemporary plot. While some bits are pretty wild, it’s a story I think lots of people will relate to, with the family drama and the stereotypical school bullies.

I loved the fact that Tasha had a blog! There are text boxes that narrate the story, that are parts of her blog posts. I really liked that. I also loved how the website plays a really unpredictable part in the outcome.  Tasha was a very cool main character. She’s a bit quirky, gets very angry a lot with her mum and her new, horrid, boyfriend Jed, but she was easy to like. Chloe, who is effectively Tasha’s new stepsister, was a really three dimensional character. She develops a lot throughout the story- More than Tasha, and there are hints about Chloe’s secret laced all through the book, that all make sense at the end! (Also Chloe looked scarily like me. Double awesomeness :D)

The art was really great I liked the style. It’s really unique, and it suited the story.  I really wanted to read some more comics illustrated by Alexovich now!

Overall, Confessions of a Blabbermouth was a fun, quirky read. I really enjoyed the story. I think even people who aren’t fans of comics will really enjoy it. The characters are relatable and three dimensional and the plot’s a crazy, dramatic ride. And, obviously, the art is really eye catching. I loved reading it! I’m hoping to look out for more books published by Minx in the future.

My Rating:

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I borrowed a copy of Confessions of a Blabbermouth from my local library.

Review-Graphic: GOOSE by Dawn O’Porter

I really loved Goose! It was the sequel to Paper Aeroplanes, which I really enjoyed last year. I decided to a graphic for this review, though it’s not as cool as I hoped it would be… I hope you enjoy it! Goose, even though it’s the second book, also works as a standalone too… And both titles are definitely worth picking up!

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I received a copy of Goose from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.