Bite-Size Python: An Introduction to Python Programming

(April Speight, Wiley, £18.99)
Learning a programming language, especially a text-based one like Python, can be hard going. While it’s possible to start using graphical programming languages straight away, without knowing hardly any technical terminology at all, Python demands such knowledge from the outset. With that in mind, this book features an impressive structure and layout. First, a concept is introduced and explained. There then follows a mini project that makes use of that concept.

On the face of it, the book’s pages come across as very simple, to the point where you could be forgiven for thinking that its target audience is rather young. Yet the language used, combined with the way in which the projects gradually build up in complexity, serve to dispel those early impressions. ‘Checkpoints’ placed throughout provide useful guides to what should have been learnt in each chapter, complete with full answers and a very useful index at the back.
Reviewed by Terry Freedman

Concrete Rose

(Angie Thomas, Walker Books, £7.99)
Angie Thomas’ third novel is a prequel to her multi award-winning debut, The Hate U Give. Concrete Rose returns to the impoverished inner-city ghetto of Garden Heights (modelled on Mississippi’s Georgetown) to tell the story of 17 year-old Maverick Carter – a member of the King Lord gang who’s ‘slinging’ drugs to pay the bills while his dad is in prison. Ably taking care of his family and girlfriend, he feels he’s mastered the boyhood to manhood transition, up until the shock discovery that he himself is a father.

Worlds collide as Maverick proceeds to juggle the complexities of child-raising, drug dealing, gang loyalty and the brutal murder of a loved one, all whilst finishing high school.

Thomas’ nuanced style is raw, yet delicate, conjuring the brutal reality of coming of age in a world where black lives really do matter. YA Fiction that’s as vital as it is compelling.
Recommended by Read for Good

The Game Weavers

(Rebecca Zahabi, ZunTold, £9.99)
This gripping fantasy novel throws readers into a judgemental and illiberal alternate reality Britain. We follow 20-year-old Seo, who’s competing in the world championships of a macho national sport called Twine, which combines magic and hyper-aggression. Having grown up with his brother in a South Korean orphanage, his impending fame and riches seem to be the solution to all his troubles – but then his sexuality, carefully concealed for years, is outed by the press…

Zahabi brilliantly portrays the struggles, confusion, and newfound freedoms that come with adulthood, while exploring the role of the press in shaping views of women, LGBTQ+ representation and ethnic minorities in wider society. The novel’s message is one of hope; given the intolerance we continue to see in the media and real life more generally, portrayals of characters like Seo seem more important that ever.
Reviewed by Ollie Wells

Find out what our regular student reviewer, Oliver Minter-King (Y13) has been reading this month…

Myface

(Kevin Landt, Ripland Publishing, £5.59)
Celebrities and social media seem made for one another – the glamorous lives of these famous personalities perfect for platforms that help you broadcast yourself to an audience. In this story of narcissism, drama and suspense, however, Kevin Landt explores how social media can be wielded with malicious intent…

Desperation strikes Sebastian Schafer – a previously successful LA car salesman, reduced to a crushing low. With next to no income, he uses the titular social media platform Myface to fabricate the identity of Angela Fox, a Hollywood socialite whose ‘association’ with Schafer convinces a new employer to hire him. His ruse quickly spirals outwards, however, forming a convoluted web of deceit that entangles the lives of a select few, with fatal consequences.

Throughout Myface, Landt excels at building up memorable characters with interesting and satisfying arcs, whilst jabbing at topics like the invasiveness of social media, self-image and catfishing, making for a short, yet effective story.

No Shame

(Tom Allen, Hodder Studio, £20)
What are the published recollections of the comedian, presenter and frequent panel show guest Tom Allen doing here? Put simply, a substantial portion of No Shame is given over to a highly entertaining and acutely observed study of educational attitudes and teenage psychology.

That’s partly a function of the author’s age, of course, but a fair few teachers in their late 30s and 40s will find much to enjoy in the vividly drawn 90s-era school corridors, classrooms and dining hall against which Allen’s memories of his teenage flamboyance and solitude play out. Is it one for the school library? Well, you might not necessarily want your Y8s to be poring over it, but Allen’s frank and honest discussion of growing up gay and feeling isolated at school may well speak in a powerful way to some of your Y11s and sixth formers.

Fear is the Mind Killer

(James Mannion and Kate McAllister, John Catt, £16)
From its arresting title (cribbed from Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel Dune) down to its structure (a forensically detailed case study, preceded by a brief theoretical history lesson and a critique of its own central premise presented as a mock trial), Fear is the Mind Killer isn’t your standard professional development book.

Mannion and McAllister set themselves the task of explaining why schools should embrace Learning to Learn – the idea that as well as imparting knowledge, schools have a role to play in teaching children how to learn and acquire knowledge for themselves, in a way that can set them on the path to becoming more confident, independent and less fearful learners. Written in a friendly and approachable tone, the book does a great job of guiding readers through a series of dense, complex ideas that the authors don’t shy away from analysing and interrogating. Highly recommended.

Meet the author – James Mannion

What were yours and Kate McAllister’s reasons for wanting to write the book?
We wanted the book to tell the story of the work we’ve been immersed in for the last 10 years, designing, teaching and evaluating a Learning Skills curriculum.

I did an 8-year evaluation for my PhD, which found that the Learning Skills curriculum led to significant gains in subject learning across the curriculum, and that it was especially beneficial for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. How to close the disadvantage gap is the question that’s been on everyone’s lips for the last 10 years or so, so that seemed to us to be a story worth telling.

What motivated your interest in wanting to explore Learning Skills in particular?
We felt that schools are good at some things – teaching children how to read and write, teaching them subject knowledge – but not very good at teaching children how to become really confident, proactive, self-regulated learners, which is what you need to succeed in life. We wanted to see whether we could address that agenda within the context of a busy secondary school. And our research to date suggests that you absolutely can.

What did your approach involve?
Our approach was that of a complex intervention, rather than a single ‘thing’ aimed at making kids more independent. This multilayered approach came in part from my background in medicine and neuroscience, where complex interventions are widespread in health literature – but they’re almost absent from thinking around education, where people still tend to focus on the notion of one-shot ideas and silver bullets.

We wanted to put together a big, complex package based around marginal gains – that individual gains from different ideas will stack up, producing a bigger effect size overall.

What we did boiled down to three key ideas – metacognition (the monitoring and controlling of thought processes), self-regulation (the same again, but focusing on emotions, feelings and behaviours) and oracy (speaking and listening). Each of which will set learners free in different ways, by giving them knowledge of self, knowledge of subjects, the ability to find their voice and the confidence to go out and take their place in the world.

For more information, visit rethinking-ed.org or follow @RethinkingJames