Tag: Literacy

BorrowBox Stats Through the Roof!

Staff and pupils in Falkirk Council have had automatic access to 1000s of eBooks and eAudiobooks through their Glow account since 2018. We provide this service for every school for free and as pupils/staff already have a Glow log-in there are no barriers to joining the library, just download the app and read or listen. It complements our physical collections and we wanted pupils to have access to a wide-range of audiobooks (CDs were on the way out!). Reading books on a device also offers lots of accessibility options like font-size, spacing, dictionary, colour of background etc. and can be used with Immersive Reader.

We started with a small collection and built it up over the years – new content gets added every month and we regularly give the collections an extra boost. The library has always been well-used but lockdowns and the roll-out of Falkirk Connected iPads has seen our numbers of active users and loans soar! Originally content was only for early years and primary, as that is who we provide our service to, but when lockdown struck we started to add teenage content to support our high schools.

From April 2021 to March 2022 we loaned:

17256 Eaudiobooks

23161 Ebooks

It’s makes our librarian hearts sing to see so many children using the service we provide and reading all these books. However, it’s not without challenges, we can have long waiting lists for popular books no matter how many copies we buy. We also need to keep building our teenage content as the service is quickly growing in popularity with older pupils.

Reviews of The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife by Maz Evans from #FalkirkReadingTeachers’ Book Group

The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife by Maz Evans is a fabulously funny story about a girl who has BIG FEELINGS which get her into trouble.

Find out what our #FalkirkReadingTeachers think – Warning! These reviews contain spoilers.

Ages 7-9






Review 1 – 4/5 stars

Scarlett Fife has Big Feelings. And she’s about to get into BIG TROUBLE.

Scarlett is on her last warning from her mum about her temper. She tries very hard to squash down her temper but when she does things start exploding! Scarlett is worried that this will ruin her Aunt’s wedding.

Spoiler Alert!

Scarlett finds out that her gran had the same problem when she was younger. She learns to control her temper a bit better and understand others. She also realises that sometimes it is ok to be angry.

I think lots of children would enjoy this book as it is easy to read with lots of funny parts. It is a good starting point for discussions on dealing with feelings such as anger and disappointment through events which will be relatable to most children e.g., friends making new friends, forgetting packed lunches etc. Reluctant readers may also enjoy this as the book includes lots of illustrations to support the text. The characters in the book also come from a range of backgrounds and family situations which could also open up discussions.

Good for – empathy, inference, reluctant readers, reading for pleasure.

Review 2 – 5/5 stars

Every time Scarlett gets angry things around her explode. She is on her final warning from her mother. She must learn to control her temper for her Aunts wedding or she won’t get to go to her favourite theme park.

Spoiler Alert!

Scarlett begins to learn lots of ways to control her breathing but there are accidents along the way. She learns that her Gran had the same problem as a child. She also learns that sometimes it’s good to be angry.

This book made me giggle from start to finish. I can imagine a lot of pupils will love it simply because of the trouble which Scarlett gets into. However, it also makes a good jumping off point for discussing anger, how we control it and the fact it is a healthy and natural emotion.

Good for – empathy, reluctant readers, curriculum links, reading for pleasure

Review 3 – 5/5 stars

Scarlett is having trouble with her big feelings.  Sometimes she gets so angry it feels like something will explode. She has a new teacher; a new girl has arrived and she’s way too very popular; and mum always seems to be grumpy.  Things just seem so unfair.

Scarlett keeps getting into trouble for being angry and spoiling things.  Maybe she can hold her feelings down and not let them out.  Maybe she can shut her eyes and things will just stop.  Maybe not.

Spoiler Alert!

Scarlett’s best friend Maisie is the voice of reason throughout this book and she tries to help Scarlett to stop being so angry and volatile.  There’s only one problem.  When Scarlett shuts her eyes and squeezes her big feelings down, she make things explode, literally.  Her friend Maisie is the only one who knows (until near the end when Gran notices (and the confides in Scarlett that she’s had the same experience).  Scarlett’s mum is the rock of the patchwork family.  She has a new husband called Jakob and he’s really nice.  Scarlett’s dad is lovely and still has a kind relationship with mum.  Dad is looking for love and Jakob is looking for his job, which he seems to have lost (Xenophobic boss).  Mum is stressed and Scarlett doesn’t want to add to that.

Scarlett’s favourite teacher goes off and she is worried about the new teacher (Miss Pitt-Bull). But, it turns out that she’s actually very kind and insightful.  All the teacher’s names are puns.  A great little device for reading this book to a young audience.  It would be a great class novel for P4 or P5 but, a lovely story for P3 as well.

The new girl, Polly is annoyingly nice, and she got the best part in the school play, and she’s popular….  However, it turns out that Polly’s dad has died and that makes Scarlett change her mind about Polly. 

Just wait until Polly’s mum get’s together with Scarlett’s Dad!

This book is an excellent vehicle for exploring relationships and pent-up feelings.  Scarlett is dealing with divorced parents who have had a “kind” divorce (not like Kevin’s parents).  Mum’s husband has lost his job and is going through a court case.  Dad is lonely (he also has a disability).  Aunty Rosa and Aunty Amara are getting married.  Mum’s working long hours and Scarlett feels neglected.

Although there are many facets to this story, you could have lots of great class discussions.  From a HWB perspective there is a lot to go through.  Scarlett’s feelings but, also all the things in her life that make it rich and varied and also a bit complicated.

From a literacy perspective there are lots of neat little passages to explore the meaning of all those odd phrases that adults use (and don’t really understand).

The concept of making things explode with your feelings just makes for such a fun story.

Good for – HWB, empathy, diversity

Reviews of Hag Storm by Victoria Williamson #FalkirkReadingTeachers’ Book Group


Hag Storm by Victoria Williamson is a spooky tale based on the atmospheric poem Tam O’Shanter by Robert Burns. It imagines his life as a boy growing up on a farm in Ayrshire and how he may have been inspired to write the famous poem. A perfect tie-in for Burns Night.

Find out what some our #FalkirkReadingTeachers think – Warning! These reviews contain spoilers.






Review 1 – 5/5 stars

12 year old Rab spends his time doing backbreaking work on his father’s farm. He misses his old life where he was able to attend school. One day he finds a Hag Stone in the field. When he looks through the stone, he can see witches gathering. He befriends a young maid working in town who warns him the witches will be after his sisters. Rab soon grows suspicious of his old cousin and is determined to stop her before Halloween.

Spoiler Alert!

Rab is wrong in his suspicions and the young maid is in fact the real witch. His cousin has been trying to protect the family all along.

Rab and his brother save his sisters in the nick of time!

This would be an excellent book to share with a class in the lead up to Burns’ Day. The story is inspired by the events in Tam O’Shanter and the links to the poem are clear.  (My current class loved listening to and retelling the story of Tam O’Shanter this year and I think this book would have been a good addition to the learning). The story is exciting and has a spooky element that I think older children would enjoy.

Good for – Inference, curriculum links, reading for enjoyment.

Review 2 – 4/5 stars

Rab works hard on his family’s farm.  Strange things start to happen when he discovers and strange stone which has the power to show him things he doesn’t want to see.  Rab starts to suspect witchcraft is afoot.  He needs help to fend off the evil forces but, who should he turn to.  The young maid from the big house seems to know about these things, maybe she can help Rab before his family are put in mortal danger.

Spoiler Alert!

Rab sees his mum’s old cousin, Betty, behaving very strangely in the lead up to Halloween.  She’s making dolls, chanting and going to the old ruined kirk.  She’s been like a granny to him, could she really be a witch?  She cursed the factor and now he’s ill…it must be true.  Things are starting to go wrong for Rab’s family and Halloween is fast approaching.

Rab and his family have been befriended by Morven, the new maid from the big house.  She’s lovely and they welcome her into their family.  She’s trying to help Rab uncover the truth about Betty.

Big spoiler.  Morven is actually the witch not cousin Betty.  Rab finds out just in the nick of time.  Maybe if he’d spent more time listening to cousin Betty’s cautionary tales, he’d have been more aware of what was really happening.

The story is structured around the events set out in Tam O’Shanter.  It’s draws on all the little stories wrapped up in the poem and suggests how Burns (Rab) might have neen inspired.  It’s a great tale for Halloween or Burns week. Great for discussing Burns and the folklore of his day.  Opens up the whole subject really well. It also gives a good platform for discussing the historic perspective of life in Burns’s time. What was it like?  How tough was it?  The novel actually contains a lot of solid historic facts about the Burns family and their migration from Alloway to Mount Oliphant.  It exposes the troubled relationships that his family had with their landlords and factors.

There are quite a lot of old scots words but, it’s not over done.  There is enough to start a conversation but, not so many that it becomes hard work.

There are also some great passages for discussing the relationships between siblings.  Do we have favourites?  Do we treat people how we want to be treated?  Are we always fair?

This is also a great witchcraft story.  It’s perfect for Halloween.

Good for – This is a great way to introduce pupils to the ideas and the story of Tam O’Shanter.  If the P7s are tackling Burns and Burns Suppers, then this would be a great read at Halloween or, even when in P6.  It’s a neat segue from the novel into the poetry.   It makes all the old scots a little less intimidating. There are some very clever passages where there are clues given as to what is going on.  That meta processing is something that you can go back and tackle afterwards.  This is a much easier introduction to Burns than diving straight into the poetry.

Review 3 – 5/5 stars

This book is based on the life of Robert Burns and inspiration taken from his poem Tam O’Shanter.

The book follows the story of a 12-year-old Rab who lives in Ayrshire on his family’s farm. He works hard to help his family make a living in hard times. When out clearing a field of stones one day he finds a strange stone in the field and his life takes on a strange turn of events. Looking through the stone, he is sure he can see witches and he’s now not sure his cousin Betty is all she seems!

Don’t judge a book by its cover! Don’t jump to assumptions! The mystery of the witch(es) will keep a reader hooked as will the reveal of the true identity of the witch, especially if the reader has guessed correctly. Yes, its’s a piece of historical fiction, but also a great adventure book.

I didn’t read the blurb before reading this – simply picked up the book as it was written by Victoria Williamson, one of my favourite children’s authors. I devoured the book on a cold and windy Sunday morning. I was immediately transported to 18th century Scotland; Victoria’s narrative voice and characters are very authentic and easy to read. For these reasons, I think even reluctant readers would enjoy it. It is a great story with a fab twist at the end that keen readers will spot but it’s also a good teaching point for prediction and inference. There’s obviously been a lot of research put into writing the book which adds to its authenticity so pupils would be able to get a lot of information about life in Scotland in the time of Robert Burns, or what life as a country farmer might have been like, in an accessible and interesting way.

My class also watched the live event with Victoria Williamson available through her publishers (Cranachan) website on Burns Night which they enjoyed as we’re also reading another of Victoria’s books. They enjoyed seeing their ‘author’. We have also entered the Magic Spell competition which was inspired by events in the book.

Truly, you could do a whole IDL topic on this book. You could investigate the Witch Trials in Scotland or America (second level) and follow this through to look at prejudices and stereotypes in modern society. Lots of scope for literacy activities from instructional writing, creative writing, poetry… You could view it all from a more historical angle looking at the reliability and variety of sources used to investigate the past and the use of artefacts in recreating past societies. You could compare rural and city living and jobs available today or in the past.

I cannot recommend the book and author enough. Read it to your class!

Good for – reluctant readers, curriculum links, inference, narrative, reading for pleasure

Review 4 – 5/5 stars

Based on Tam O’Shanter and the life of Robert Burns. 12-year-old Rab spends all his time doing back breaking work on his family’s farm instead of attending school. Rab gets fed up with the work and misses his old life and school but knows he has responsibilities to his family. Rab finds a Hag stone in the field and realises that the witches are coming for his family.

Spoiler Alert!

Rab misreads the situation and is taken in by a young witch who convinces him his old Aunt is the one putting his family at risk. Rab uses all his wits and knowledge to save his two sisters and triumphs in the end.

Good for – curriculum links

A terrific way to introduce the pupils to Robert Burns and Scottish literature but also contains a lot of useful information about life in rural Scotland at the time. Would sit well with a Scottish Topic as well as learning about Rabbie Burns.

YOTO Carnegie and Greenaway medals – longlist announced!



The UK’s longest running and best-loved book awards for children and young people, the Yoto Carnegie Greenaway Awards, have announced the longlists for 2022.

33 books have been selected in total – 18 for the Yoto Carnegie Medal and 15 for the Yoto Kate Greenaway Medal – with themes of community and connection, shared humanity and friendship all explored in the titles.

The Awards celebrate outstanding achievement in children’s writing and illustration respectively and are unique in being judged by children’s librarians, with the Shadowers’ Choice Award voted for by children and young people.

#Falkirk Reading Teachers’ Early Years Book Group: STEM Focus

Our Early Years Book Group has been looking at new picture books that can be used for STEM. Picture books are fantastic for stimulating learning and many are wonderful for a STEM Through Stories focus. The Falkirk STEM Officers support us by providing story planners for each book to give teachers and practitioners a starting point but our members always find creative ways to use the books and bring the learning to life.

King of the Swamp by Catherine Emmett and Ben Mantle

King of the Swamp Plan

McDarkly lives all on his own, growing orchids in his dank swamp, until one day his peace is disturbed by an arrogant king who wants to turn the swamp into a roller-skate park. This story is brilliant for looking at nature, minibeasts and environmental issues.

Practitioners took the book with them on a visit to the local woods and it stimulated lots of role-play and den building. One child commented that they didn’t want them to ‘take away our green stuff’ when they saw building work happening nearby.


Tad: a big story about a brave minibeast by Benji Davies

Tad Plan

Tad is the smallest tadpole in the pond and she is scared of ‘Big Blub’. When the other tadpoles start to disappear she worries ‘Big Blub’ has got them. This story is brilliant for looking at life cycles and feelings.

The children loved this story and found it very engaging. They walked to a local pond to see some real tadpoles and practitioners felt it would be best to use this at spring time.


Tiny Little Rocket by David Fickling and Richard Collingridge

Tiny Little Rocket Plan

A little rocket takes you on an adventure to space. This book is great for looking at space, rockets and technology.

This was a strong favourite of the children who loved to pour over the pages together with friends. The black background makes the pictures bold and attention-grabbing and encourages the children to learn about space. The children took their interest outside to see the moon and this lead to lots of discussion about what’s in the sky.


Izzy Gismo by Pip Jones and Sarah Ogilvie

Izzy loves to invent but her inventions don’t always go to plan. This story is good for looking at inventions, technology, block play and developing a growth mindset. Izzy is also a strong, diverse role-model for getting girls into STEM.

A planner wasn’t created for Izzy as the STEM Officers felt it was the perfect book to inspire free and creative play in children. Practitioners felt it is a good book to leave in the building area to inspire children. They loved the rhyming text and the pictures have a lot of detail for children to pour over.


Learning for Sustainability Resource Boxes

We have been working with the Falkirk STEM Officers, Laura McCafferty and Barbara Hanning, to extend our range of STEM resources and develop new resources to support STEM Through Stories. This year’s COP26 in Glasgow has meant many schools are covering Learning for Sustainability and we have produced new resource boxes to support this at early, 1st and 2nd levels.

Each box has a story book with a planner developed by the STEM Officers:

Early Level

Somebody Swallowed Stanley by Sarah Roberts

Somebody Swallowed Stanley Plan





1st Level

Eco-wolf and the three pigs by Laurence Anholt

Eco Wolf and the Three Pigs






2nd Level

Song of the dolphin boy by Elizabeth Laird

The Song of the Dolphin Boy







Class sets of the books and the resource boxes are available to borrow from us.

#Falkirk Reading Teachers’ Book Group

Our teacher book group is continuing to read, discuss and review a range of new books for children and we want to share this as widely as possible. Here we review ‘When the sky falls’ by Phil Earle and ‘The small things’ by Lisa Thompson

#FalkirkReadingTeachers′ Book Group

Challenging Gender Stereotypes in Picture Books

You Can Be Campaign – Book Audit | Zero Tolerance

The You Can Be Book Audit is a chance for ELCs and nurseries to win £100 worth of books by taking part in an audit of their book collections. The idea is to bring greater gender balance and challenge old-fashioned gender stereotypes that can be harmful to children and stop them achieving their full potential.

Check out the link above for more information and book ideas.

We have also put together book recommendations that challenge the gender stereotypes:

Go to this Sway


Early Years Picture Book Group

Inclusive Stories

Our last round of books focused on LGBT+ families and inclusive stories. All children deserve to see their own lives represented in the stories we share and books are a fantastic way to build empathy and understanding of others.

The discussion was very positive and one of the most interesting points raised  was that the LGBT+ family books were just accepted by the children as books about families in general and that we, as adults, can put our own preconceptions onto books. The children didn’t see a label, they just saw families and children like them.

My Friends and Me by Stephanie Stansbie is wonderful as it shows a whole range of different families: LGBT+, single parents, foster parents, step families and many more.

Ketchup on your Reindeer by Nick Sharratt

Another absolute winner from the brilliant Nick Sharratt. With split pages so the children can make up their own crazy story combinations. The children adored sharing this book with each other—a real Christmas cracker!



Too Much Stuff by Emily Gravett

Children loved this gentle story about consumerism, advertising and the desire we have to accumulate ‘stuff’.  When the magpies lay eggs they feel they need to get lots of things to make their family perfect when all they really need is each other. Heart-warming and sweet with beautiful illustrations.

Up Next

We are very excited as our next focus is STEM through stories and the group are working with RAISE Falkirk to develop resources around the books.

Maggie Burns, Librarian

Learning Resource Service