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Christmas Recommended Reads: For the person who teaches, encourages, and tries to lead the way

Written by Maisie Jeynes, 13th December 2021

Christmas is just 12 days away! Need some inspiration when it comes to gift giving? We've put our heads together to create a selection of recommended reads to give - and receive - this festive season.

Here, we've picked the perfect books to give to someone who teaches, encourages, and tries to lead the way...

The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings by James Baldwin, recommended by Jane


The most read book of the year for me has to be James Baldwin’s The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings, edited by Randall Kenan. I bought the book because I wanted to spend some time reading the essay ‘Why I Stopped Hating Shakespeare’. In that essay, Baldwin starts by saying he, like many others, was a victim ‘of that loveless education which causes so many schoolboys to detest Shakespeare’. Later on in life he challenged himself to overcome that detestation and, because was committed to truth, he began to realise that one of the reasons he hated Shakespeare was that he was afraid of him, and he was afraid that the greatness of Shakespeare threatened his own place as a writer. He does however reach a point when he acknowledges Shakespeare as ‘the greatest poet in English language’ and says, wonderfully, ‘[Shakespeare] found his poetry where poetry is found, in the lives of the people. He could have done this only through love, which is not the same thing as understanding…’ That’s also true of Baldwin – much of the time in his writing he trying to address his fellow human creatures in a loving way. He ends the essay by saying that Shakespeare as a poet was called upon to ‘defeat all labels and complicate all battles by insisting on the human riddle.’ For me, returning to this essay many times over the last year, that line has been a fantastic call to action. The title essay is also brilliant and the whole collection is highly recommended.


The Book of Hopes edited by Katherine Rundell, recommended by Frank Cottrell-Boyce in Issue 73 of The Reader magazine

During the first 2020 lockdown – when hope was in short supply – Katharine Rundell had the idea of commissioning her fellow children’s authors and illustrators to contribute a ‘hope’. This could be a story or a drawing or a thought, not so much on the theme of Hope, but pieces that would be ‘hopes’ in themselves.  Quite often this kind of anthology trips over its own good intentions and drowns in a pool of worthiness.  By some grace this is not what happened this time.  Many of the people that Katharine approached were feeling – like everyone else – bewildered, anxious, unable to focus. The invitation to forget about all that and do write something positive was inspired and inspiring.  A lot of the writers and artists have written out of their skin and produced totally unexpected work.  One of the brightest stars of the book, for instance, is Catherine Johnson, who is best known for writing wonderfully accessible stories and histories. Her contribution is a joyously catchy poem about an axolotl that is worthy of Edward Lear.  It begins:

Never give your axolotl chocolate in a botl

Serve it in a tiny eggcup, not to cold and not too hotl.

Then tuck him - very gently - in his hand-carved wooden cotl.’

Joseph Elliot’s parable – Bag for Life – instantly became part of my mental software and in fact it is already being turned into a short film. Lissa Evan’s piece is a set of fantastic story prompts. The book was originally available to read free online but I heartily recommend Bloomsbury’s hard copy. They have really gone to town on the production values so that the work of a constellation of illustrators shine from the pages.  It’s a book to keep on your bedside table whatever age you are. If you’re a carer or a teacher, it’s a great sampler of and introduction to the best of current children’s writers and artists.  I could do worse than quote Katherine Rundell’s introduction: ‘Real, true hope isn’t the promise that everything will be all right, but it’s a belief that the world has so many strangenesses and possibilities that giving up would be a mistake; that we live in a universe shot with the unexpected.”  This book has something unexpected on every page.  (The profits from sales go to a range of NHS charities)


Remembering by Wendell Berry, recommended in Issue 72 of The Reader magazine


Andy Catlett, a Kentucky farmer, has lost a hand in an accident and subsequently sunk into depression. He has reached a spiritual and psychological crisis. His marriage is failing and the whole meaning of his life, now he can no longer farm, is in question. As Andy struggles with anger and bitterness, his past life is very present to him as a loss, but Wendell Berry asks us to consider how memory might work as an aid to recovery, holding the foundations of a sense of self and future purpose.


Hike by Pete Oswald, recommended by The Storybarn team in Issue 73 of The Reader magazine

Age range: 4-8 years


At The Storybarn we love a story without words. There’s a wonderful sense of ritual and tradition in Pete Oswald’s Hike. What exactly do this parent and child duo have planned? The clues are there to indicate to us that this is an expedition of some significance and all becomes clear as the hike goes on. The illustrations are terrific, a tremendous sense of scale is created in breath-taking spreads of vistas and valleys, plus a playful use of perspective makes clear how small we are amid the enormity of the great outdoors.


Michael Rosen’s Book of Play by Michael Rosen, recommended by The Storybarn team in Issue 71 of The Reader magazine


Given the spirit of The Storybarn, we were extremely excited to find this book. Written in response to reports that children and adults have less and less time available for imaginative play, this is an exploration of why play matters; how it contributes to an individual’s creativity, builds resilience and has a key role to play in nurturing our sense of well-being.  We love the interactive prompts for activities and the inviting doodle pages.  In a culture increasingly dominated by screens and solitary activities, this book is truly refreshing.

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