The Final Year by Matt Goodfellow (Otter-Barry, 2023)
Published last month, Matt Goodfellow's new verse novel, The Final Year, is being justly celebrated. It offers us a snapshot of Nate's life as he negotiates his 'final year' at primary school and lays out, with clear-eyed empathy, the pressures and problems that exist in the pre-teen's world today. Illustrated throughout by the inimitable Joe Todd-Stanton, the pictures interact beautifully with the words to tell Nate's very moving story.
With compulsive plotting, The Final Year is at once an empathy-builder, a guide to navigating those tricky years, and a green light to the power of the imagination. Most important of all, Nate's story is destined to capture the hearts of everyone fortunate to encounter a copy.
And just as unique as those hearts are, each reader is sure encounter their own connections and pose their own questions. As starting points, I've put together a few prompts below that I hope will help young readers to explore the depths of this extraordinary book together.
- Look up what the three brothers' names mean: Nate, Jaxon, Dylan. What connections can you find? Do you think the choice of names was deliberate?
- Nate's primary school is called 'Poppy Field'. Is this significant? Where have you heard about Poppy Fields before?
- Is 'The Beast' a character in the story or simply a name?
Major characters in the novel include:
Nate, Jax, Dylan, Mum, Auntie San, Mr Joshua, Caleb, PS, Turner.
- Give one word that first comes to mind when you think of some of these characters.
- Put the names of these characters on cards. Pair up the characters/cards choosing your own reasons for the pairings.
- There will be one character left out of your pairings each time you do this - does this tell you anything about that character?
- How do you feel about PS?
- Make a list of all the things Mr Joshua teaches the children in his class. When you've done this, read it through. What does the list tell you about Mr Joshua?
- Why is Turner in the story?
- Which words are used that combine to create Nate's voice? Make a list of these.
- Try reading some of the poems out loud. Can you hear Nate's voice speaking the poems? Which parts in particular could you strongly hear his voice?
- Do any of the other characters have a 'voice' of their own in the novel - Auntie San? Mr Joshua? Dylan...? What makes them so recognisable?
- How does the shape of certain poems tell us 'a deeper meaning' that is going on? As an example to think about, look at "I only hear two names" and the poem on the previous page to that.
- Look at the use of 'white space' throughout the book. Does it have any particular importance to certain poems?
- Are the titles of the poems just 'titles'?
- What do you think of Joe Todd-Stanton's depiction of 'The Beast'? Find all the pictures of 'The Beast' and read them from the earliest one to the last. What is the illustrator telling us?
- Why has a whole double page been filled with a picture of Windermere?
- There are no words on that page, either. Why not?
- Which characters appear in the illustrations the most? Make a tally - are there any surprises for you?
- What is special about the cover? What stories are being told? What messages are hidden there?
- Nate discovers a bond with David Almond and his work: "He writes about people like me" (page 65). Find out about David Almond's life and the sorts of stories he writes.
- Joe Todd-Stanton's cover for The Final Year echoes that of Skellig. Why has the illustrator decided to make that connection from the moment you see the book?
- If you know Skellig, does it matter if you read The Final Year but haven't read Almond's novel?
The Final Year is published by Otter-Barry and is available from all good bookshops. Huge thanks to the publishers for sending me an advance copy of the book in preparation of this blog.