Catherine Bruton


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Choosing a Quality text is a real joy- and something which needs to be done with the greatest care. Whether linking to another curriculum area- like history or science- or for an English focus, to use for guided reading or as a whole class text, it is so important to select something with lots of appeal and which lends itself to being explored as well as enjoyed. Here are our choices for this year!


When his father, a fisherman, dies, Jabir is left in charge of his mother and his three sisters. When their landlord threatens to evict them, Jabir must find work so he heads for Baghdad, the most fascinating city in the world.

However, Jabir is thrown into prison for stealing food and things look desperate for him. Fortunately, Jabir’s talent for whittling toys means he is rescued by a clockmaker who needs him to carve twelve golden horsemen to decorate a water clock for Caliph Harun Al-Raschid. But someone seems determined to prevent Jabir from completing his task and he and Yasmina, daughter of the clock maker, have to seek help from his mother’s people who live in the desert. Will the clock be finished in time?

Not only is this an amazing adventure story with a pacey plot and excellent characters, but it is perfect for supporting the History curriculum at KS2-’a non-European society that provides contrasts with British history… early Islamic civilization, including a study of Baghdad c. AD 900’. The book is richly detailed and offers much information about Baghdad and life at this time as the fabric of the story, making in invaluable for those choosing to teach this period. The quality of writing, its historical setting and the compelling nature of the story make it an excellent text for using as a focus both both history and English, bringing the period alive and offering many opportunities for drama, writing in a range of genres and contexts, exploring vocabulary and offering a challenging read. It’s length also makes it a very achievable read. This is the type of book that makes me itch to start planning! Fabulous!

The Golden Horsemen of Baghdad Saviour Pirotta

Bloomsbury ISBN: 978-1472955999


Living in the settlement of Kilsgard with her mother, uncle, baby brother and pet wolf, Fenrir, Alva misses her father who is away a-viking. They miss him deeply but her uncle, Magnus, like her father, encourages Alva to read the runes, be inquisitive and explore the world around her. The arrival of men from England searching for treasure disturbs the community’s peace and when one of them is kidnapped, Alva investigates with her uncle.

Perfect for using as a focus text when studying the Vikings, ‘Riddle of the Runes’ is a satisfying adventure story with plenty of mystery to solve alongside Alva as she embarks on her quest. It is full of detail about life in Viking times, customs, traditions and beliefs as well as daily life. The inclusion of runes and a glossary at the end are a great addition to the book. Full of atmospheric illustrations, the beautifully written text offers many opportunities for writing in different genres as well as plenty of chances for drama, art and craft work. Further adventures for Alva are an added bonus!

Riddle of the Runes Janina Ramirez, illustrated by David Wyatt

OUP ISBN: 978-0192766335

You can read another review of this here.

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Sorrell Fallowfield always follows the rules until the day she finds a mysterious packet of ‘Surprising Seeds’ buried under a tree in her back garden. Her mother is often exhausted from working long, boring hours in the freezer factory -the only real employer in their town and Sorrell is desperate to win The Most Obedient Child of the School. When the school playing field- the only bit of green they have- is going to be replaced by a concrete exam hall, not everyone is happy and in spite of her desire to be a good girl, Sorrell develops an uncontrollable urge to plant the Surprising Seeds. And then flowers start to grow from the top of her head…

With its strong environmental message, this book is also full of humour and originality. It considers the importance of taking a stand for what you believe in and celebrating those who have taken action previously. It would be perfect for linking to science work on plants or about caring for the environment and lends itself to writing across the curriculum and debating important issues. It could also be the inspiration for lots of art work or perhaps developing the school’s garden or nature area- enjoying the beauty of green spaces and valuing them, their benefits to our mental well being- all so important. The book is an absolute joy to read!

Bloom Nicola Skinner, illustrated by Flavia Sorrentino

Harper Collins ISBN: 978-0008297381


Shy Pet’s life revolves around her family and the lighthouse which they call home. She loves listening to the legend of the Daughters of Stone which stand on the cliff top and the mysterious Wyrm which lurks beneath the surface of the sea.

When war starts, her life is turned upside down as the coast and the lighthouse becomes a target for air raids. The villagers become suspicious of Pet’s German born mother and neighbours they have known all their lives turn against them. Mutti is sent to an internment camp where the threat of execution for those seen to be traitors hangs over her. As her father and sister start to act suspiciously and everyone seems to be hiding secrets, Pet must draw on all her strength and resources to save her family.

Full of historical detail- much of which is not usually taught in schools, ‘Our Castle By the Sea’ is a beautifully written, compelling adventure story with a mystery to solve. Offering plenty of opportunity for discussing prejudice and intolerance as well as empathy and loyalty, the book also highlights the importance of family. Valuing traditional tales and legends also provides a rich vein to explore with a class. Although the story is set against the backdrop of WWII and is full of historical detail, it is a perfect quality text for use without being part of a history focused topic. Excellent!

Our Castle By the Sea Lucy Strange

Chicken House ISBN: 978-1911077831

You can read another review here


Aya is an asylum seeker from Syria, living in Manchester with her mother and baby brother. A talented ballet dancer, she fears that has all been left behind her in the cold, unfamiliar world she has found herself in where she must care for her mother and brother. However, she is drawn to a ballet class in the community centre whilst they are waiting to see their case worker and her talent is recognised by the dance teacher. The potential to gain a ballet scholarship gives her hope for the future, but her family must fight to be allowed to stay in the country- and to try to find Aya’s father.

Beautiful, powerful writing encouraging empathy and compassion, ‘No Ballet Shoes in Syria’ would make an excellent quality text for inspiring work in class. Offering plenty of opportunities for developing writing, drama and debating skills, using a rich vocabulary and adding the colour of dance and its ability to express emotion. It is a glorious read!

No Ballet Shoes in Syria Catherine Bruton

Nosy Crow ISBN: 978-1788004503

You can read another review here


The daily life of the new lighthouse keeper is explored in pictures and words in this glorious book. His solitary life changes when he is joined by his wife. Together, they save sailors from shipwreck, battle illness, have a baby and see a new light fitted to the lighthouse which means it will no longer be their home.

The author’s note at the end of the book includes additional details about a light house keeper’s job and how electric lights eventually made them redundant. The beautiful illustrations are full of charm and detail, making them the perfect starting point for writing, role play and art activities. Perfect for use with any age group, it is an exquisite book and offers a window to a life style that no longer exists. Research into the less idyllic aspects of this life style and mysteries connected with lighthouses (for example the Flannan Isles Lighthouse) could be investigated depending on the age of the children. A gorgeous book with much to recommend it!

Hello Lighthouse Sophie Blackall

Little, Brown Books ISBN: 978-0316362382

Wonderful books- each and every one- and the next six will be reviewed tomorrow!

Catherine Bruton


There was great excitement at school this afternoon as Catherine Bruton, author of the wonderful ‘No Ballet Shoes in Syria’, came to talk to our Y5 and 6 children.


Speaking of her love of ballet, Catherine told us about the books she enjoyed reading as a child- ‘Ballet Shoes’, ‘The Swish of the Curtain’ and ‘A Dream of Sadlers Wells’- and then those her mother gave her to broaden her reading- ‘The Silver Sword’, ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ and ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’. Catherine also spoke about having heard Judith Kerr speak at the Bath Festival, particularly poignant given today’s sad news.


Catherine explained how as a writer she wanted to make sure the the details she included about Aya’s life were accurate so she visited Bath Welcomes Refugees and other organisations which support refugees where she shared her work, taking advice about changes which needed to be made. Sharing a section from her book, she made the characters laugh and dance in front of our eyes as she used accents, gesture and enthusiasm for her reading. It was a real joy to hear her!


She then made us all ‘warm up our writing muscles’ by writing from a sentence starter which she gave us. Catherine called out objects for the children to include in their writing and they rose to the occasion with enthusiasm. When asked who would like to share their ideas, hands flew up and some wonderful pieces were read for all to enjoy. Catherine talked about how to link an object to a time, place or person and once again, set us all off to our writing. And once again, the results were inspiring.

Catherine patiently answered the many questions showered on her by the children’s curiosity and enthusiasm. Her manner was delightful and her enthusiasm infectious. Adults and children were inspired by her talk and was lovely to hear so many conversations about her as the children went out afterwards to do their daily mile.

‘No Ballet Shoes in Syria’ is a wonderful. moving story which I can’t recommend highly enough. And having met the author, I can’t recommend her highly enough either! A huge thank you to Catherine for her visit with us today and for her visit to another of our schools tomorrow.

You can read our review of ‘No Ballet Shoes in Syria’ here.

No Ballet Shoes in Syria


Eleven year old Aya has just arrived in England with her mother and baby brother. Being asylum seekers, fleeing the war in Syria, Aya finds herself with her family at the community centre, waiting to see their caseworker. Whilst there, she finds herself drawn to the music of a dance class where the ballet teacher recognises her exceptional dance talent. The chance for a place at a prestigious ballet school offers Aya hope and happiness for the future, but first she and her family must fight to be allowed to remain in England and must continue to seek for her father, who was separated from the family during their flight from Syria.

Combining the present with flashbacks from the past, Aya’s story unfolds with great sensitivity and compassion. Her feelings of disorientation and anxiety are brilliantly portrayed and through her eyes, the reader can feel the impact that the thoughtless words and deeds of others can have. Small acts of kindness are also celebrated throughout the story, offering hope and acceptance. The reader learns of the very ‘normal’ life Aya had before war came to her country, before her world was torn apart, before she became an asylum seeker- how her life was similar in so many ways to that of others.

The story is not just that of Aya and her family. Her ballet teacher, Miss Helena, was also a refugee, reminding the reader that victims of war and persecution have been seeking safety for generations. Her story is also painful to hear, yet told with great empathy. That such stories should be told is essential and this book is a very powerful, moving way of doing just that.

Full of ballet language and technical detail, this is a book which can still be enjoyed by everyone, not just ballet fans. The dance scenes are seamlessly woven into the fabric of the story, adding to its colour and interest.

‘No Ballet Shoes in Syria’ is a beautiful story, in turns heart breaking and heart warming. Highly recommended, it is a must read for everyone.

No Ballet Shoes in Syria Catherine Bruton

Nosy Crow ISBN: 978-1788004503

Published 2nd May 2019