THE long-running debate over collective worship has been in the
news again this summer. Elsewhere in this supplement there are
significant contributions to the discussion. Since nothing is
likely to change any time soon, however, in schools all over the
country thoughts are turning to assembly themes for the year.
Assembly leaders are desperate for any kind of material that will
captivate an audience - even in the most apathetic
Malcolm Muggeridge once said that there were only five basic
jokes. You've Been Framed as the banana-skin joke is one;
and Captain Mainwaring in Dad's Army, along with General
Melchett in Blackadder Goes Forth, exemplars of the gulf
between their perception of themselves and the reality, is
In the same way, perhaps, there are only five assemblies and
five themes that are at the heart of what we should be trying to
achieve. There is a common vehicle - which is, of course, a story.
Since Jesus himself was a master storyteller, that is no surprise.
Here is a selection of the best to inspire us all to face a new
The Selfish Crocodile, by Faustin Charles and
Michael Terry (Bloomsbury Books, £6.99 (£6.30)), features
a loud and vexatious crocodile yelling to all and sundry "Stay away
from my river! It's my river! If you come in my river, I'll eat you
At some stage during the assembly cycle, we would expect schools
to consider the global dimension and the interdependence of nations
in the modern world. This rich theme is beautifully presented in
this classic story, when an insignificant little mouse comes to the
aid of a socially inept crocodile. It is a small world, now, and it
will not always be those who shout loudest who come out on top. In
God's world, the first will not always be first. Try the Rich Fool
from Luke 12 as a back-up - although, it has to be said, he did not
have the chance to learn from his mistakes. We have.
A Squash and a Squeeze, by Julia Donaldson
(Macmillan, £6.99 (£6.30)), is not perhaps the most
obvious Donaldson choice. The doyenne of children's storybooks is
perhaps best known for The Gruffalo, but this story
develops from an elderly lady's complaint that "There's not enough
room in my house", and has everything to say about perception.
It teaches us not to covet our neighbour's house, or garden. How
things are will so often depend on the way we perceive them. The
world is a wonderful place as it is. On one occasion, Jesus touched
a blind man's eyes, and asked him what he could see. "I see trees,
but they look like trees walking about," was his initial response,
before Jesus touched his eyes a second time, and healed him.
If you need another delightful story which says much the same
thing, go for the "smelly old blanket" in Kipper,
by Mick Inkpen (Hodder, £5.99 (£5.40)). Another proven
We could develop our third theme through Marvin Wanted
More, by Joseph Theobald (Bloomsbury, £6.99
(£6.30)). This story of a sheep, who is so unhappy with
his body shape that he decides to take desperate measures, is
perhaps the most important message of all for the 2014
The moment where Marvin explodes, and is violently sick, never
fails to amuse children of all ages. But the message is deadly
serious. Marvin's friends look on helplessly as he almost destroys
himself. Self-harm, eating disorders, and low self-esteem hover
unstated in the background as this assembly is delivered. Marvin
has to learn to like himself and appreciate his unique place in the
The church school can add the rationale that God loves us as we
are. Being famous, being rich, and even being slim are not the
Christian definition of success.
In Ambrose Goes for Gold, by Tor Freeman
(Macmillan, £5.99 (£5.40)), our hero is confident that he
can do pretty much anything in the Great Insect Games. But he
can't; it is not until he accepts his limitations as a termite that
he wins the twig-eating competition. He concludes triumphantly:
"Everybody really is good at something!" And it is to that end that
teachers devote energy and effort in the search to find out what it
is, for every child.
Gerald, the hero in Giraffes Can't Dance, by
Giles Andreae (Orchard Books, £6.99 (£6.30)), is convinced
that he is no good at anything, especially dancing. He is laughed
at because, physically, he does not fit the norm, and there is an
undertone of bullying. It is not until he has coaching from a
sympathetic cricket that Gerald has any faith in himself. "But
sometimes when you're different, you just need a different song."
Come on Gerald, you can do it - even with special needs. An
Finally, there are times of trouble. Frog is
Frightened, by Max Velthuijs (Andersen, £6.99
(£6.30)), is part of a much-loved series. Much loved,
perhaps, because Frog is unquestionably cute - I am told that
children love his shorts. Fear of the dark, fear of death, fear of
loss, fear of failure; at the heart of this lovely story is the
support we can get from friends at such times. Church schools will
wish to add the God dimension to times such as these.
The above books have no direct biblical content, but the
recently published 8 Bible-themed Journey
Days for Primary Schools, by Barbara Meardon and Verity
Holloway (Barnabas in Schools, £9.99 (£9)), could provide
a useful complement, especially in church schools.
Using the theme of journeys, the book is based on the concept of
activity days, where a class, year group, or even a vertical
grouping spend the day exploring biblical themes. The material is
practical, comprehensive, and imaginative. It is also very much
activity-based. Ambitious, in that it envisages the local church
and the school working together, its success will depend on the
commitment that the leaders can give in terms of time and energy.
Schools will find the days linked to the great festivals the most