Review: Flunked (Fairy Tale Reform School)

Flunked (Fairy Tale Reform School #1) by Jen Calonita

This popped up on my suggested Kindle reads the other day when I was purchasing some 21996359other books, and I was intrigued enough to buy it. Having finished Princess Thieves this morning I was keen to continue with my fairy tale theme and chose to read this next.

I really struggled with a suggested age group, I see that on Good reads, it is suggested as a Middle School read (Which I believe is age 11-14 roughly). I thought that there were definite themes that could apply to 14 year olds, every so often it read very simply, and reminded me of the books I read my daughter (6 years old).

Despite this though I really loved this book. It was not so much a retelling of fairy tale but was instead a continuation of multiple well know fairy tales. I think it really goes to show the role of fairy tales in literature, not just having to be for children. Once upon a time has certainly done this lately, and Princess Thieves also offered a nice adult interpretation.

When authors other than Disney take over, we also get to see some of the darkness that was behind the original Grimm brother fairy tales.

I think one of the things that I liked most about Flunked was that the hero was not one of the princesses, but a mere human. Gilly was an awesome heroine. I loved her at the beginning as a common thief, but I possible loved her even more at the end, as she had in fact reformed.

Gilly our heroine was also our narrator, and she felt like a genuine, reliable narrator who also had a great sense of humor. One of the things that I really enjoyed was that this story took you for a fast paced adventure, but still managed to surprise me. It steered away from being cliche and instead offered a beautiful action packed story with a very strong moral message at the end.

Despite it being set for a younger age group than I initially expected I think I will seek out the sequel.

In the classroom, it would be great as part of a fairy tale unit or connections report, for year 9-11 students, especially if paired with some more complex texts, such as episodes of Once Upon A Time, or other novels. So many ideas swirling to make this unit a reality!

Mrs K

Genre: Pre-teen fiction, speculative fiction, fairy tales, adventure, mystery, magic

Review: The Princess Thieves (New Century)

The Princess Thieves (New Century) By Alexander Shaw

download (1)So after my mammoth effort of a few weeks ago I needed a break before I read anything else! (And after reading at least one book a day for nearly two weeks I needed to do things like housework!)

So work finally quietened down and I found myself a new novel. Or rather my husband found me a new novel. (Disclaimer: although both my husband and I are both avid readers, and even tend to read from the same genre we are often at different ends of the genre and rarely read the same books – so if we insist that the other reads something – then it has to be something good.)

The Princess Thieves was originally in audio book format – and that was how my husband ‘read’ the book. I am very pleased though to have read the novel adaption. It has been a long time since I have laughed out loud with a book! (Yeah I was THAT crazy lady!) and was screen-shoting and sending snaps to my friends as fast as I could.

This book has EVERYTHING! As I said it is absolutely laugh out loud funny, but it also offers everything else you could want from a fantasy adventure book. There is a princess, and a bodyguard, they visit Camelot, Robin Hood is there, and while you are busy enjoying all the zany fun along the way suddenly you find yourself at an ending that really leaves you an emotional wreck and questioning everything you know.

I struggled a little bit at the beginning, as we were introduced to each group of people, each group felt a little disconnected and I was left a little confused. However I instantly liked the characters, especially the Princess, Viola, Oberon and Robin.

The fourth wall breaking was an interesting feature, and one that I definitely feel was probably more effective in the audio version. My favorite character over all was actually Viola. I liked that she really seemed to know the balance of looking after the princess but also allowing her to live life and do things that she wanted.

The world that the book takes place in was very well described, some of my favorite moments were the tunnels inside the castle, and the description around there.

I feel like I need to share some of my favorite lines as I really did love them so much!

I felt that there was a really balanced approach to gender in this novel. Something that I really appreciated, this moment below literally had me laughing out loud, it felt so real, yet also real within the world of the book.

“Watch your tone, woman.”

“You just wasted four seconds gawping at my rear” she called back without turning “Toodle-pip”

From the same tone I found this quote below immensely thought provoking.

“I merely decided to harness female energy this time around. It felt like the appropriate course of action in this proud, masculine society. Being a woman felt… right.”

To me it has aspects of being able to go against the norm, and perhaps stand out a little bit. But it also told a story to me about power. As the female characters in the book have so much power, within their masculine world, it shows that you can indeed stand up and be who you want, the world does not have to hold you back.

The quote below really tickled my fancy as an English teacher, so often we get those over written stories about things that happen in a breath-taking flash… I also love though that it felt like Shaw was able to laugh at himself a little bit with lines like this.

In a breath-taking flash…

Absolutely bugger-all happened.

Absolutely nothing profound to this quote – other than this is perhaps the best  (and most accurate!) description of beer that I have ever heard in my life!

“A pint of your least uriney beer please, good sir.”

Overall, the ending of the book was the most powerful, it was a nice reminder that change, real genuine change can happen with the smallest little spark. It also showed that a real happily ever after tale, comes about only when you take action and make it happen.

The afterward by the author also nicely linked these ideas to the sometimes scary world that we are currently living in.

In terms of teaching – I love the idea of doing a connections report around fairy tales. There could be some amazing conversation about if the messages are still relevant to children/teenagers today, and how perhaps we could adapt them. A book like this would also go amazingly alongside poetry such as “Leaving Prince Charming Behind”, and looking at other re-tellings of classic fairy tales. I think they still have such a powerful message, and could be so interesting to study as a class.

Overall – you should definitely read this book. Highly recommended!

Mrs K

Genre: Speculative fiction, fairy tales, fiction, adolescent fiction,

Thoughts on Teaching: Passion Vs Enthusiasm

image13I have been thinking a lot about this lately. It initially triggered from our course evaluations. One of the question on them is “Is your teacher passionate about their subject”. I have always been proud of the fact that students tend to say I am extremely passionate.  This in turn led me to contemplate the difference between passion and enthusiasm.

Passion to me is the excitement about your subject. For me, this is why I read so much, I love reading a new book and being able to discuss it with my class or my colleagues. Reading new texts and having these discussions are what fuel my passion for my subject. It is what leads me to constantly research new ways of teaching something, to reflect on how to get better marks and also my passion to see my students succeed. As well as this, Passion goes deeper than just my subject – although it definitely stars there, without English I would be lost. The second part is a passion for teaching. Which is why I have enjoyed working with student teachers and first and second year teachers over the last couple of years. It is important to me to enable them to see teaching not as an isolating job, but as a team sport, something we can help each other with and learn from each



Enthusiasm on the other hand can be faked. To be enthusiasm is the presentation on any given day or lesson, and it changes from one day, or one period to another. This to me is the big difference. Because while at the moment I still have passion for my subject and for teaching (and all the reading I am doing is fueling this). I am lacking enthusiasm. It is the end of the year, I am tired. It is harder to walk in to class and seem enthusiastic.  However I know that my students will learn better and remember the lesson more if there is enthusiasm there. Also – for the students I am not sure that the difference between passion and enthusiasm is as obvious. So for now, I will fake it till I make it. And project enthusiasm to enable my lessons to succeed!


Mrs K

Review: Carnegie Shortlist 2017 round up

Carnegie medal short list

I did it!! I read all the books on the shortlist!! (Probably just in time for next years shortlist to be announced but still I am pretty happy!) I was thinking about my favourite three books from this list. (Because three sounded like a good number) And with my teachers hat on, then Wolf Hollow, Bone Sparrow, and Railhead. But I really want Sputnik in there too because that was a super fun read that I loved!!

Sputnik’s guide to life on Earth: Such a fun book, nothing like an author who can take you on a crazy adventure from your armchair! Full review here.

The Bone Sparrow: This was a beautiful book highlighting the people’s voice from within detention centers, and looking at the nature of storytelling. You can read my full review here.

The Smell of Other people’s houses: A beautifully written coming of age book set in Alaska in the 1970s. There were some great moments and some great lessons in this book. Full review here.

the stars at Oktober Bend: Sadly one of my least enjoyed books due to the nature of the narrative structure through the point of view of Alice. Full review here.

Beck: A nice read, but not one I would recommend for teenagers. Full review here.

Railhead: A jewel heist among a world of Stargates and sentient trains! What is not to love? Read all my gushing here!

Salt to the Sea: A beautiful historical novel that dealt with some of the lesser known stories from WWII. Full review here.

Wolf Hollow: One of my absolute favorites from this list. This was like a modern day To Kill a Mockingbird and would be perfect with a year 9 or 10 class. Full review here.

This was a great reading list to work from and I can’t wait to share some of them with my department!

Mrs K

Edit: I looked up the winner and see that Salt to the Sea was the winner. Great choice! Even though it did not feature in my top three!

Review: The Smell of Other People’s Houses

The Smell of Other People’s Houses Written by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

This was a gorgeous coming of age story, which dealt with how one moment can change a life and about wanting the best for the next generation.

The room is told from the perspective of four different characters, and we get one chapter from each point of view. Although the opening chapters were just focused on Ruth. Ruth was the character and the story that I enjoyed the most. Each narrator was really different, but their stories overlapped which was a nice way to do it. Often I don’t like the point of view by each chapter but this was done really nicely.

The title of this story really drew me in. I love the way that other people’s houses smell, and the differences between each house and person.  While the book did not constantly look at the smell of people’s houses I did enjoy that it thought about things based on smell, a sense hat is often forgotten in literature.

The story was set in Alaska in the 1970s. While some aspects of the story were really predictable, others still managed to take you by surprise. There were certainly enough twists to keep you reading and interested.

There really are beautiful themes in this book. It’s about growing up; it’s about following one’s dreams; it’s about imperfect families; and it’s about forgiveness.

While I am happy to admit this was a beautiful well written book, it did not leave me feeling enthusiastic enough to want to rush out and make others read it, or to teach it to my classes.

Mrs K

Genre: Historical Fiction, Adolescent Fiction, Coming of Age, Family

Review: Wolf Hollow

Wolf Hollow. Written by Lauren Wolk

Wow. I loved loved loved this book! It reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird, but in a way that was more relate-able to a younger generation today.

Annabelle the main character was very believable and relate-able. She desperately wanted to do what was right, and you could see and feel the struggle that she had to determine in a world of grey what exactly right was.

She framed the story well in the prologue where she said:

The year I turned twelve, I learned how to lie.

The book dealt with several really big themes. The first was about the nature of truth. Knowing what was right, and when perhaps, learning how to lie was the right thing, and when it was the wrong thing. Annabelle as a character was an extremely reliable narrator and was genuine in her words.

The second theme was about not judging people before you know them This was the case for the German man in the town. (During WWII) and also for Toby himself. Perhaps the nicest way the lesson that was learnt was at the end with Aunt Lily, perhaps proving that it is never too late to learn this lesson.

The other theme that comes through strongly is the idea of human kindness. The characters live in a small town, one where they look out for each other, know each others business, but primarily use this to be kind.

“And that’s when I felt the first wave of sorrow that came from keeping a new secret.”

In the end it is Annabelle’s kindness which changes her parents and then her families perspectives, and reminds them the importance of this lesson.

“The year I turned twelve, I learned that what I said and what I did mattered. So much, sometimes, that I wasn’t sure I wanted such a burden. But I took it anyway, and I carried it as best I could.”

I really appreciated the parents in the story, and the way that they showed that they knew their daughter. They trusted her, and allowed her voice to be heard, which is so important to see modeled in literature.

The very amateur photographer in me loved the role of the camera in the text. The camera was a symbol for being able to see things from a different perspective. But also still tied in with the theme of kindness. Where other men were quick to shoot things with a gun, Toby shot them with a camera, offering a different perspective. At the end there is a nice moment of metaphorically ‘passing the torch’.

Overall I thought this was a phenomenal book. I would love to teach it to year 9 or 10 students, I think that the themes in particular would come through strongly. And as I said at the beginning I see this as a modern To Kill a Mockingbird. This was a great story.

Mrs K

Genre: Adolescent fiction, historical fiction,

Review: Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth

9781509819973Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth written by Frank Cottrell Boyce.

After a couple of disappointing reads over the weekend man am I pleased I picked up this book. It is by the same author as Millions. And this was the kind of read that makes you totally forget the world around you and any problems you might have!

This book draws you in and then takes you on a wild adventure that leaves you questioning what really does make this planet that we live on so amazing. It is zany, and madcap, but also the end will tug at your heart strings! Also – you may just wonder about an egg in a way that you never have before!

As an avid list maker it is safe to say that I was drawn in from the very first sentence!

Before you start anything, make a list. That’s what my grandad says. If you’re making a cake, make a list. If you’re moving house, make a list. If you’re running away to sea, make a list. At least that’s what he used to say.

The book deals with the main character Prez. Everything about Prez currently is temporary. He is with a temporary family, and his overall desire is to find his grandfather and resume their ‘normal’ life. That is – until Sputnik comes along. Sputnik, which in a nice twist, means companion, offers Prez a person who gets him. A person that is his, something that makes him think he has won the lottery.

Sputnik was definitely a character that did not care what others though, he really ran his own way, and that was awesome, especially among the more boring and responsible characters in the book.  Sputnik also ends up leaving Prez with another desire – he now needs to save the planet as well!

It is fascinating to see our planet through Sputnik’s eyes. He is quite confused whether humans or dogs are in control, and as such sometimes he gets his wires confused. But he also really manages to hit the nail on the head multiple times:

You get homesick? But you said you didn’t have a home.” “You don’t have to have a home to get homesick. You just have to want one. The whole history of your wee planet is nothing but people looking for a home.

I love this quote and this idea – Sputnik does a lot to ‘normalize’ Prez, and the above quote is a good example of that, where he simply puts into perspective the desire we all have to belong.

There is a lot to take from this novel. Either a madcap adventure, or a more serious nature about belonging, but either way you will love it. I think one thing Frank Cottrell Boyce is able to do is write for multiple ages at once. It is one of the things that makes him a compelling author.

Year 9 and 10 students would absolutely love this book!

Mrs K

Genre: Adolescent Fiction, adventure, fantasy

Review: The Dazzling Heights

The Dazzling Heights by Katherine McGee

This is the second book in the series. Still set in New York in 2118 and looking at the lives of the elite who live there.

When I finished The Thousandth Floor I was content with the end of the book. I suspect that I should have taken that feeling as a sign not to read the second. However the school library had it and I figured I would read it.

It was much the same as the first book. In fact, deals with the same characters, and is set not too much after the end of the first book. For me though while I enjoyed the first book, this one was just too much. There was no real development or growth in any of the characters and I was left feeling frustrated.

I did enjoy the addition of Calliope, however that story left me unsatisfied with the resolution.

I would have liked it to be set in the same world, but to have shown different parts of that world, perhaps with a whole new range of characters. It would certainly have been interesting to see what life was like for others in this world they have created.

It was an enjoyable read but I won’t be going back for the third book in the series!

Mrs K

Genre: Contemporary fiction, speculative fiction, Romance

Review: the stars at oktober bend.

the stars at oktober bend. Written by Glenda Millard

The Stars at Oktober Bend | FRONT COVER (20 October 2015)

This is the fifth book that I have read of the Carnegie Shortlist for 2017. It genuinely makes me sad, but this is the first book that I really have not enjoyed. The first 150 pages were a real struggle for me. And more than once I thought that this would make the very small list of books that I have been unable to finish.

I am pleased that I stuck it out. It was good at the end, but even the ending wasn’t enough to help me forget the struggle of the start.

The narrative style is very unique. The first thing that struck me was the lack of capitalization and the erratic sentence structure. After awhile, you understand why – because of the brain injury of the main character this is her trying to find the words again. She expresses herself well, and some of her poetry is absolutely beautiful.

dot point facts are

easy found, hard

to form

saywords come

slow and slurred

sound stupid

but heartwords fly

from the pen

There is a nice message here about the power of writing, both as a healing nature and as an opportunity to express yourself.

The book  probably got better for me as Alice made friends, and their world expanded, with this her language got better and easier to follow, and you also found out more about what happened to her that led to her being forever twelve.

The ending was bittersweet but left me feeling content.

I was disappointed that I did not enjoy this more. I also feel that most students/teenagers would also struggle.

Mrs K

Genre: contemporary fiction, Adolescent fiction,

Review: The Bone Sparrow

The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon.


Ah. My old friend hope.

This book was amazing. This book was the type of book we need more of. The type of book that we need our young people to read. So that they understand what is happening in the world around them and so that in their own way they become activists to change the future. I can certainly see why it was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal 2017.

The story is about Subhi (DAR-1) The first baby to be born in an Australian permanent detention center after his mother and sister left the violence in their homeland. Subhi’s whole life has been at the mercy of the ‘Jackets’ and bordered by the high fences. However his imagination does not keep him there, stories of the magical Night Sea expands his world, and the Jimmie, a young girl who lost her mother finds her way into the fences and a friendship can indeed set you free.

The book is narrated by Subhi, a ten year old boy who has very little understanding of the broader situation which he finds himself in. It is through a range of clues that the reader is able to put together the reality of Subhi’s life. However once you get through the slower exposition the story takes off.

There are certainly things that I would have liked, the female characters in particular could have been fleshed out a lot, and would have made some really interesting stories. However I can also understand why they were not. The focus of this story was just on Subhi, and I think that is why characters were not fleshed out as much as I would have liked.

I think the two things that really stuck out to me were the nature of story telling within the story, and as a part of that the power of words. Subhi’s stories make his world much more bearable, and when Jimmie joins him, the stories take on a healing nature.  In the later part of the book I also really liked the component that was emphasized of letting go of the past, in order to move forward.

The really obvious connection is with Boy in the Striped pajamas. However I also think you could do some really nice comparisons with Rabbit Proof Fence. One of the themes we teach to our year 9 and 10 students is “In the Melting Pot” looking at the number of different people who make up NZ  – although set in Australia this could definitely fall into that theme, and as I said at the beginning, may help build empathy in our students as they realize what is really happening in the world around them.

Mrs K

Genre: Adolscent Fiction, Refugees, Contemporary Fiction