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Books make perfect Christmas presents!
With so many books for children and teenagers published each year it can be hard to make that final choice for a present for young readers. Here at Lovereading4Kids we've read 1,000s of books published this year and filtered that down to the best storybooks, non-fiction and Christmassy stocking fillers. And don't forget most of the titles have a free Opening Extract to let you decide for yourself if the book is perfect.
And for even more choice why not have a look at some of the other special categories and collections on the site.
Our LoveReading4Kids Loves Channel shines a spotlight on some of our favourite authors and recommended series, including The Valentines Trilogy from Holly Smale for 11+, the adorable Isadora Moon series for 5+, and the My Encyclopedia series from DK; a set of 6 hardback compendiums that would make the perfect present for children age 5-8.
Books are great presents for babies and toddlers and you can find a wonderful selection in our 40 Great Bedtime Stories for the Under 5s collection. There are old favourites from Julia Donaldson, Michael Rosen and Jill Murphy and modern classics from Oliver Jeffers, Chris Haughton and Eoin McLaughlin. Some of the editions also come in little library box sets - perfect for a present!
Our Green Reads section has books which are highly topical covering everything from recycling and biodiversity to global warming and eco-tips, both fictional and factual. Perfect gifts for eco-warriors.
Non-fiction books make great presents as they can be read over and over again and are lovely to keep. You'll find all our favourites in our Non-Fiction collection with books on animals, history, famous people and interesting places.
If you're still stuck then take a look at our Book Awards section is positively choking with stunning reads, all winners or shortlisted for big awards announced during 2020.
From the inventive author-illustrator of the award-winning There’s a Bear on My Chair comes this smart sequel, and boy has Ross Collins delivered again. It’s a rollicking, rhyming, visually-pleasing treat in which it turns out that Bear isn’t terribly keen on getting a taste of his own medicine (to begin with, at least). The cause of Bear’s irritation is the presence of Mouse in his house (yes, the very same Mouse on whose chair Bear presumptuously sat in the first book). In Bear’s outraged words, “That rodent can’t live here, oh no! I’ll tell him that he has to go.” Of course, Mouse refuses to leave and proceeds to cause chaos in Bear’s house, before a mob of partying mice turn up. But then - the twist! – when Bear realises “Hey! These mice are nice!” With wonderful interplay between text, illustration and design, this is excellent for reading aloud - the kind of book that will have toddlers urging for it to be read again, and again (and again) while completing the rhymes before adults have chance to read them.
October 2020 Debut of the Month | What a roar-some romp this is! With its read-along rhymes, fun flaps to lift and energetic animals, toddlers will adore grrr-ing, snapping, ooo-ing, hissing and ROARING their way through this jamboree of jungle dwellers. It’s a joy to read aloud, ideally with exuberant accompaniment from little animal lovers. The rhythmic, rhyming text invites readers to engage with larger-than-life animals in their natural habitats - a tiger hiding in tall bamboo, a crocodile lurking in a lilypond, a snake slithering through leaves, a monkey curled in a tree, a lion prowling a plain - while sharing information about their physical characteristics and - of course - the sounds they make. It’s a beautiful book to behold, too - Katerina Kerouli’s style is both bold and understated. Her palette has an elegant mid-century feel, and her animals are oh-so chicly expressive.
Children have been through a lot this year and this lovely book, bursting with hope and reasons to look forward, provides the comfort and reassurance they’ve been needing, plus a sense of the joy that’s been missing for too long. It stars a young sister and brother, plus their sometimes frazzled parents, and describes the creation of a rainbow image for their window. Painting the rainbow brings back good memories as well as some sad ones, but ultimately reminds them of the really important things in life – family and friends – and that “we’ll still have each other/when this rainstorm ends!” Michelle Robinson’s rhyme is on the beat throughout, seamlessly mixing realism, understanding and optimism, while Emily Hamilton’s illustrations have a sense of companionship and energy that makes everything feel better. A great book to read and to look at, and a really useful and important one to share with children.
If ever there was a picture book to be enjoyed in the long winter nights, when there’s a crackle of frost in the air, it’s this one. Snow Ghost comes shimmering out of the air, she soars over hills and woods, darkening as evening draws in, searching for somewhere to settle. Nowhere seems to offer a welcome and she’s lonely and getting tired when on top of a hill she spots a small farm with two happy children in the garden. They all play together in the snow until night falls completely and as the children go in, Snow Ghost settles on the roof, home at last. Snow Ghost is a magical creation in Diana Mayo’s illustrations, floating across the pages almost not there, yet a tangible presence, and we look down with her on the valleys, fields and quiet little town below. The sense of stillness – then joy and hope – is perfectly captured in Tony Mitton’s text which is as graceful and airy as Snow Ghost herself. A perfect story for this time of year, a celebration of hope and belonging. You can find more wintry & festive stories in our Best Books for Kids this Christmas collection!
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month November 2020 | Snowman, snow woman, snowperson? Best-selling illustrator David McKee gives the magic of building a someone out of snow a new twist in this witty, wintry picture book. Waking up to snow, Rupert tells his dad and then his mum that he is going to build a snowman. Why snowman, they ask? Why not a snowperson? But when Kate says she’s building a snow woman both mum and dad think that’s great. But what can Rupert and Kate do when the snow man and snow woman run off together? Luckily they come up with a great solution in is gently non-sexist story.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month September 2020 | Loveable Elmer is back for a new adventure in the land of the elephants. And, as ever, he keeps one step ahead of his friends! Elmer sets off on a long exploring walk with his cousin Wilbur and three other elephants. Elmer’s exploring leads him to finding an amazing palace hidden in the jungle. It’s full of amazing mosaics and wall paintings, it has a huge hall full, a wealth of statues and several fountains. While Elmer and Wilbur admire it all the other elephants are busy playing some very secret games. What are they up to? And who will find the Lost Treasure?? David McKee’s elephants are as delightful and full of character as ever. Visit our Elmer the Elephant feature to find out more about the Elmer books!
Sprinkled with exhilarating onomatopoeic words to relish aloud - the “thwump!” of a snowball, the “shlump” of a tumbling avalanche, the “flooooof!” of a pillow-like plunge of snow - this charming be-careful-what-you-wish-for picture book radiates wintry wonder, and is a dream to read together. Tucked up in their cosy home, a family of bears are looking forward their best Christmas ever. Decorations have set their cabin a-twinkling, delicious smells waft from the oven, and the only thing that could perfect the scene is a sprinkling of snow, so little Button wishes for that very magic to happen. And then it does! Snow begins to fall, and fall, and fall…and fall! So much so, they’re snowed in, the chimney is blocked, and the bear cubs fear Santa won’t be able to deliver the presents. As ever, author-illustrator Jane Chapman’s style is warm, inviting and populated with loveable characters little readers will root for, not least when they strive to save Christmas.
Meg and Ash, two magpies, build a cosy nest in the tallest tree for their four bright blue eggs. But they then start to get worried ‘their nest/ Needed more stuff to make it the best.’ Written in rhyming verse, we stare in amazement at all the things the magpies collect to add to their nest – until there is no hope of seeing the nest, and we can only see the teetering heap of things that have been added on top! Disaster strikes as the tree gives way! Happily, all the animals around help to clear the mess – and create useful homes and shelters out of all the rubbish! A gentle, funny and very beautifully illustrated poem, with a little frisson of anxiety when the tree collapses, about waste and recycling – a good way to introduce children to the idea of recycling useful things. As ever with Emily Gravett – there is a great deal going on in all the illustrations – lots to see and talk about, all beautifully laid out across the double-page spreads. The end papers are particularly fun, containing adverts for some of the items in the book – and also an advert for libraries! I particularly liked the 4 ‘R’s of Recycling right at the back of the book! This will become a class and personal favourite for many people – children and adults alike – and could provide the basis for class projects on recycling, too.
What happens at night when we are all tucked up in bed and dreaming? It’s a question that fascinates children and it’s explored beautifully in this handsome picture book. Double page illustrations show us the people going about their night-time jobs, the trucks rattling down roads packed with the things we need, and even give us a peek into the Royal Mail’s sorting office where busy workers (watched over by a prowling cat) go through bundles of letters and interesting-looking parcels. Meanwhile, out at sea ships cut through the waves under the stars, while the countryside belongs to owls, bats and hares. Text and pictures both are full of memorable images and vivid details, but at the same time brim with a sense of the quiet and magic of the night-time world. It’s beautiful to look at, a glimpse into another world, and will be wonderful to share with young readers, particularly at bedtime.
December 2020 Book of the Month | The arrival of a new baby always turns things upside down even if, like this family, you are robots. Cathode can’t wait to meet her new baby brother but assembling little Flange proves trickier than anyone expected. Her mum and dad have a go before calling Uncle Manifold – Cathode notes he doesn’t follow the instructions or install the updates – and even as more relatives arrive, Flange is still malfunctioning. The chaos grows until Cathode and the family’s dog Sprocket find a way to distract the grown-ups long enough for Cathode to calmly get to work with her toolbox. The story is wonderfully funny and the robot family warm and loving, for all their metal bodies and rivets. As they finally settle down for the night, there’s one last surprise in baby Flange’s box too. Super!
Big, bold and bright, this picture book tells the tale of the red Spots, who live on one side of the hill and avoid at all costs the scary blue Dots who live on the other side of the hill. Wait a minute though, turn it round and it’s actually the tale of the blue Dots, who live on one side of the hill and avoid at all costs the scary red Spots who live on the other side of the hill… Both stories meet in the middle when two babies – a Spot and a Dot – get lost and meet up, only to discover that everything their parents and grandparents believe is wrong. Layout, illustrations and the deliciously clever structure of the story as it proceeds from two different starting points – and two different ends of the book – to reach exactly the same place, serve to point out the absurdity of the Dots’ and Spots’ position. Even the youngest readers will understand exactly what the moral of it all is (once they’ve stopped laughing). Helen Baugh’s rhyming text is perfect in its conciseness and Marion Deuchars’ illustrations a triumph, each spot and dot a character of its own. This is one to shelve with other ingenious picture books that entertain and delight while imparting wisdom such as Jon Agee’s The Wall in the Middle of the Book, Smriti Prasadam-Halls’ The Little Island and David McKee’s Tusk Tusk.
The Twelve Days of Christmas is as much a part of the festive season as sleigh bells jingling and Lara Hawthorne brings the song alive in this gorgeous picture book, filling beautiful scenes with the cavalcade of gifts and giving it all a sense of movement, joy and celebration. The trappings of Christmas are present in each spread – spot the holly, the paper hats, and the Christmas baubles on each page amongst the birds and leaping musicians – but the background outdoor scenes are green fields, particularly suited to her folk-art style illustrations. There’s so much to look at and each turn of the page presents a completely different scene – I particularly liked the ten lords, who go a-leaping right across the roof of a house, so that they’re almost flying across the page. The full lyrics are repeated in the final pages along with a special author’s note about the poem too. A Christmas book to be enjoyed all year round. You can find more wintry & festive stories in our Best Books for Kids this Christmas collection!
What a cheering tale of festive friendship this is. It’s Christmas morning and, after opening all their presents, Esme and Bear spot a gloriously-wrapped gift left under the tree that isn’t for either of them. Then they notice the tag - “For Little Bunny Boo-Boo, Love Santa.” Thinking Santa must have got his parcels mixed up, they set off to find Little Bunny Boo-Boo who, it turns out, is new to the area and doesn’t have any Christmas presents, or friends… Mark Sperring’s text is a treat to read aloud, evoking just the right amount of peril as Esme and Bear trek along a treacherous path to find Little Bunny Boo-Boo. And Lucy Fleming’s illustrations glow with wintry magic throughout, from her depiction of Esme’s Christmas-y living room, to the snowy woodland she and Bear traverse. Lovely little visual details provide plenty of talking points around the story too, with animals to spot in the woods and signposts to read (and heed). The story unfolds to a warming message when Little Bunny Boo-Boo unwraps the gift to find an empty box (but for a note from Santa) and realises she’s been given exactly what she wanted - friends in the form of the visitors Santa drew to her house.
October 2020 Book of the Month | A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month October 2020 | Award-winning Oliver Jeffers will capture the hearts and minds of children and adults alike with this story of a father and daughter making plans to build a world that will keep them safe in the future. Brimming with hope but not ignoring the possibilities that the world and what happens next in it will present challenges, What We’ll Build is founded in the mundane (almost!) as the father and his daughter assemble building tools including a hammer, saw and drill – and a pig! What they go on to build including a place to store love, a hole to hide in, a wall to keep enemies out and a gate to let them, a tunnel to anywhere, a road to the stars and much more and the reasons why they may need them it is summed up in the briefest of texts and Jeffers magical, vividly coloured story- telling illustrations. Inspired by becoming a father, What We’ll Build is a childhood classic that will be shared over and over again.
There are lots of reasons for getting yourself a copy of this lively, charming picture book! Not only is it a bright, fun way to tell children about different animals, it’s also a bright, fun way to get children moving, stretching and enjoying themselves. Pages of information about animals, from flamingos to chimpanzees, are matched by illustrated encouragements to copy their movements – stretch out your wings like a flamingo, scuttle sideways like a crab, wiggle your bottom like a bee! The text is great for reading aloud with a bouncy rhythm and the pictures are just as full of life. This is guaranteed to get everyone jumping up and joining in!
Deep beneath the waves it’s Christmas Eve and no-one is busier than Shelly the shark. She’s making a very special Santa’s Grotto and inviting in all the little fish. They’re wary though, and think she’s full of tricks so the only visitor is a squid named Sid, who can’t wait to meet Santa … Is Sid safe. Or were the other fish right to keep their distance? Don’t worry, this fishy Christmas tale is full of good cheer and with Sid’s help Shelly really does play Santa Jaws, delivering presents across the ocean floor. For all the silliness there’s a real festive message here about love and trust and finding the best in people. It makes a real change to spend Christmas underwater and the illustrations are full of details while the rhyming text bobs along swimmingly. Fishy, festive fun for all!
Eric and Terry Fan are renowned author illustrators with such gems as The Night Gardener and the Kate Greenaway shortlisted Ocean Meets Sky. For this collaboration they have been joined by brother Devin for the first time. Stunningly beautiful images are what we have come to expect, and this is no exception. The enticing, mysterious cover spotlights a little creature in a bell jar. Beneath the jacket the cover looks like a blackboard covered with code, double helixes and creature sketches. The endpapers are design files to start and shelves of completed products at the end. We know then that this is about creating things. We meet our little creature again and we are shown the contrast between the naturalistic wold and an ordinary shop – Perfect Pets- on an ordinary street, but far below there is an underground world and a laboratory where they make the perfect pets and where they put the Failed Projects like Barnabus. Alerted of impending recycling doom, by his friend Patrick the cockroach, who has been entrancing him with stories of the natural world above, Barnabus and fellow Failed Projects work together on a daring and thrilling escape and find refuge hiding in plain sight in a nearby park. Being a team and supporting each other is crucial to their success. A multi-layered story that will appeal to a wide range of ages and prompt much discussion and debate about ethics and freedom. In a world where young people are constantly bombarded with social media that promotes artificial standards of perfection, this empowering fable has an important message to share.
December 2020 Book of the Month | A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month November 2020 | In the best traditions of mythology, The Three Wishes is a tough but ultimately lyrical version of the story that explains how Father Christmas can visit so many children in one night and why he has a red coat. Set long ago in a country that is far off in the frozen north where there is a strong community of families who live by hunting and foraging while their children look after the reindeer, it tells how a young boy, lost in deep snow in the forest, is saved from death by finding a mysterious cave full of magic and wonder from another world. Once a year the boy returns to his own world, checking on his family and taking them presents. One year, he arrives on a magical flying sleigh and his family give him a beautiful red outfit all lined with fun. From that day on, on one night of the year he rides around the world taking gifts to children everywhere. Evocative, timeless illustrations bring this imaginative story vividly to life. You can find more wintry & festive stories in our Best Books for Kids this Christmas collection!
A Circle of Life Story | Life is everywhere, we read at the close of this exceptional picture information book, and every page prior is brimming with it, so vividly depicted in Daniel Egnéus’ illustrations that you can almost hear the yapping and gekkering of the fox cubs, their mother’s barks, and all the constant bustle and hum of the natural world. Even in death we see there is life: the mother fox is hit and killed by a car but immediately tiny creatures get to work. As the seasons roll round and winter turns to spring, new life grows again and the particles that made up the fox become something else. Text and illustration together explain the circle of life with an extraordinary clarity while retaining a sense of the sheer wonder of it all. Share this with children who want to know what happens when something dies, or who just want to understand our world better. You can find more wintry & festive stories in our Best Books for Kids this Christmas collection!
Press the note to hear Saint-Saens' music | Discover the magical world of Carnival of the Animals in this musical reimagining of this celebrated suite for children - push the button in each breathtaking scene to hear the vivid sound of an orchestra playing from Camille Saint-Saens' score. You can find more wintry & festive stories in our Best Books for Kids this Christmas collection!
Explore the world of dinosaurs with your magic three colour lens | Even the most expert, hardest to impress young palaeontologist will be awe-struck by this book, which gives the closest experience within printed pages yet to walking amongst dinosaurs. Huge double-pages take readers around the globe and back through time to when dinosaurs roamed the planet. Look at the brightly coloured pages through the special lenses provided and 3D scenes spring into life. A red lens reveals the ‘terrible lizards’ that would have lived in each location, from America’s ‘A listers’, the T Rex, Triceratops, Brachiosaurus, to lesser known but equally impressive giants such as Africa’s Massospondylus. A green lens brings the locations into focus while looking through the blue lens uncovers the plants and pre-historic animals that lived alongside the dinosaurs. Each of the Observation Decks, as the 3D pages are called, are followed by fact-filled pages of black and white diagrams and text. Innovative, engaging and information-packed, it’s an eye-opening journey of discovery.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month October 2020 | Katherine Rundell’s brief introduction which explains why hope is so important and why we should look for it in stories and illustrations sets a context for the wonderful range of very short stories, poems, thoughts and illustrations which will certainly give hope as well as laughs and surprises to readers of all ages. Perfect for dipping into, the anthology is a treasure trove of story treats starting with Michael Morpurgo’s uplifting ‘A Song of Gladness’ and ending with Rundell’s own ‘The Young Bird-Catcher’. Lauren Child, Axel Scheffler, Chris Riddell and Jackie Morris are just some of the wonderful artists whose black and white illustrations light up the pages of this hand this handsome volume. Dedicated to all the workers in the NHS and with proceeds going to NHS Charities Together, The Book of Hopes will certainly bring hope to all.
Radiating warmth through words and pictures as it lays bare wonders of the world, this extended picture book was inspired by the author’s meetings with children from around the globe as a supporter of UNICEF and Save the Children. Framed as a letter to interplanetary guests (“Dear visitor from Outer Space, if you come to Earth, here’s what you need to know”), it takes in the big and the small with huge heart and wisdom. The whole of life is here, from recognising and celebrating human difference (“Each of us is different. But all of us are amazing. And, together, we share one beautiful planet”), to portraying the animals of the sea, land and air that grace Earth. It also shows how we communicate through words, signs, music and art, and gently points out that while we sometimes hurt each other, “it’s better when we help each other.” And the mysteries of existence are touched on too - “There are lots of things we don’t know. We don’t know where we were before we were born, or where we go when we die. But right this minute we are here together on this beautiful planet.” What a wonderful gift-to-treasure this will make - a delight to read aloud and share thoughts about.
November 2020 Book of the Month | Michael Morpurgo is the consummate storyteller and this little tale, perfectly illustrated by Polly Dunbar, reveals how even as a child he had storytelling at his fingertips. The narrative is based on his own memories of childhood and of performing in the school’s Christmas production of Edward Lear’s poem The Owl and the Pussycat. Michael loved the poem and was chosen to play the Owl. Excitement rises as the performance approaches especially as Belinda, his first love, is chosen to play the Pussycat. Adults will appreciate the book’s delicate sense of memories of past life, while children will love it for the humour, the drama and the sheer joy that comes from calamity turned to triumph. It is quite beautifully told, and Polly Dunbar’s illustrations exactly capture all that readers will find in the story. If it inspires you to read Lear’s poem, as well it might, there are picture book versions gorgeously illustrated by Ian Beck and Charlotte Voake, while Julia Donaldson has written a glorious sequel also illustrated by Voake. Read more about Michael Morpurgo, our Guest Editor for September 2020, here.
September 2020 Book of the Month | Viking voyagers. Arctic adventurers. Female fossil-hunters. A professional pirate queen - this inspirational encyclopaedia is a feast of facts for inquisitive 5+ year-olds. Divided into sections covering explorers and discoverers, scientists and inventors, trailblazers and pioneers, builders, creators and thinkers, and daredevils and risk-takers, this covers all corners of the globe through history. What’s more, the appealing visuals (a mix of photos, drawings and funky graphics) draw young readers in and will surely spark plenty of off-the-page exploring. There’s excellent coverage of inspirational female and BAME trailblazers, from 16-year-old Idris Galcia Welsh who embarked on an epic round-the-world driving trip in 1922, to Emily Roebling, who completed the construction of New York’s Brooklyn Bridge in the late 1800s. Then there’s Harriet Tubman, an abolitionist and political activist who risked her life helping slaves flee their owners, and dare-devil pilot Bessie Coleman, who made history when she became the first African American – male or female – to gain a pilot’s licence in 1921. All in all, this is a great gift that will keep on giving.
Packed with ideas, tips and starting points, this activity book is guaranteed to spark inventiveness and the creation of art. Marion Deuchars takes readers through a variety of different techniques, from block and string printing to how to create optical patterns, mazes and mosaics, and much more. Her instructions are easy to follow and her enthusiasm is contagious. If you want to paint like Mondrian, or design papertile patterns like a master, this is the place to start. A really effective and enjoyable how-to book.
This Might Get Messy | Get a copy of this book if your kids think all artists live in cities, or that art has to be made by a certain type of person only and out of paint. Because it tells them loud and clear that artists are anywhere and anyone, and that art most often grows out of MESS! By this point, they’ll already understand that we can all be artists and the book goes on to deliver some invaluable advice about how to see off you your inner critic: make stuff, it says, and enjoy yourself while you’re at it. It concludes with a list of the jobs grown up artists can do, and a final page suggests lots of fun, inspiring ideas for everyday art projects. A bright, lively way to encourage any young artists in your circle.
Featuring animal adventures by top writers for younger readers - among them Guy Bass, Holly Webb, Penny Dolan, Malachy Doyle and Narinder Dhami - this anthology of winter warmers is a delight to snuggle up with as a treat before bedtime. Here we encounter little Pip the Penguin, prickling with excitement ahead of taking part in the Christmas Day Penguin Parade - can he step up when Santa needs help? Then there’s Bigfoot who gets lost in a sparkling, snowy wood, and Chookie the husky pup who must overcome her nerves to pull a sledge for the very first time. Fans of wilder animals will especially love Narinder Dhami’s Tiger in the Night, a peril-packed adventure featuring a trio of mischievous Siberian tiger cubs. With ten tales in all, this is perfect for reading aloud to little animal lovers, or for newly-independent readers to enjoy alone, with Alison Edgson’s evocative illustrations enhancing the wintry wonder.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month November 2020 | Perfect for all readers who love the world of ballet, A Dancer’s Dream is an inspiring story of a Stana, a young student at the Imperial Ballet School in St Petersburg, who is chosen to dance the role of Clara on the very first night that the new ballet, The Nutcracker Suite, is performed. Stana’s luck in being picked for the part and how much it matters to her is cleverly interwoven to a touching family story about her very ill sister. Drawing on the true story of the origins of the now much-loved Nutcracker Suite and including a charming introduction to Tchaikovsky who composed the ballet’s music, A Dancer’s Dream is a delightful mix of fact and fiction.
The multi award-winning past Children’s Laureate demonstrated, with her best-selling Charlie and Lola series, that she has an exquisite touch in depicting family dynamics, sibling relationships, how children’s minds work and how they talk to each other. In this brilliant new book, her unerring eye might even cause a little discomfort in some families and classrooms. Caregivers and teachers may recognise that they have unconsciously developed a certain narrative about certain children. Chirton Krauss is a very good child by inclination and his kind nature. His sister Myrtle is never described as good and in a self-fulfilling prophesy, continues not to be good. Her behaviour has consequences (not invited to any parties) but generally she ‘gets away’ with it so that others can have a quiet life. But the glances and body language of the siblings that Child captures so well, show us very clearly that this is not the whole story. Chirton begins to question the unfairness of this situation since he really, really does not like broccoli (I love how Child captures in many of her books the heightened significance we have given vegetables in our children’s lives). The consequences of his acting out mean that Myrtle gets a chance to be good (and attend a party for a child, new to the neighbourhood, who does not know her reputation) and in delicious irony gets given a Goody Bag! We realise that Myrtle has been unjustly compartmentalised just as much as Chirton has a reputation to live up to. This clever and amusing tale will prompt plenty of discussion about behaviour and fairness and it absolutely defends the rights of the child to be themselves and not just our vision of them, as befits a book written by a Unesco Artist for Peace. Find out more about Lauren Child, her books, characters and inspirations in our Guest Editor feature.
September 2020 Non-Fiction Book of the Month | This is a non-fiction book with a difference! Using his amazing ‘tranimalator’ machine, which, he tells us, translates animals’ sounds into words, author Andy Seed ‘interviews’ a horde or scary animals, including a tiger, a fierce honey badger and a snow leopard. He asks them some really interesting questions too and we learn all sorts of things – why humans are scared of wolves, how a massive animal like a giant anteater survives eating teeny little insects, what lionesses think of male lions (not much actually!). It’s quirky and lots of fun – some of these animal celebs have wicked senses of humour – but genuinely informative (I had no idea that jaguars eat caimans, or that giant armadillos build new dens every couple of days, or that sloths have mould growing on them!). It reminds us how many of these animals are threatened too and what we can do to help. The illustrations match the tone and it’s bright and engaging throughout. This is a book that children will be keen to share and to return to.
If you want to know the facts and the stats behind Virgil Van Dijk, Liverpool star, UEFA Men’s Player of the Year 2018 – 2019, then this is the book for you. They're all there – the number of goals scored for teams and country, the number of clean sheets kept. You’ll also learn lots about Van Dijk the man, his early life growing up in the Netherlands and playing football non-stop, his dreams of playing like Ronaldinho and how a late growth spurt turned him into the football giant he is today. It’s told in such a lively, accessible style, with lots of humour and asides from writer and illustrator (they appear in the illustrations, slipping in extra jokes and football facts). Readers can test their memory at the back with a quiz and this is a winner for any young footballer, whatever side they support.
With all the sparkle of her jewel-encrusted costumes, this terrific book is an access all areas biography of one of the most high-profile, high-achieving women in the world today, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. It begins at her first public performance, age 7, at a school talent contest. Despite her nerves, Beyoncé stole the show and won the competition – the first of many awards she would receive (23 Grammys at the last count). But as the book explains, Beyoncé’s was anything but overnight success – wow, has she worked hard, pouring everything into her career. It’s a fascinating and inspiring story and told so that readers will feel they are there with her, experiencing the stage-fright, the disappointment of losing her first record deal and her determination to make her way on her own terms.It’s super-readable, helped by black and white illustrations on every page, including lots of Beyoncé, in which she addresses us direct. With real insight as well as all the facts, this is a great series and Ms Knowles-Carter’s story a terrific addition to it.
How many adventures will be started by this quirky activity book? With all of us currently spending more time in our homes than we ever expected, it’s perfect for now, full not only of interesting facts about our houses and furniture (from information on the first bed to Le Corbusier’s ideas), but also with activity ideas inspired by the place where we live. These range from making architectural plans to designing a chair (with a nod to Bauhaus), to creating a board game à la Cluedo. Attractively designed, fun and fact-filled, this will expand the walls of your home and make it a place of quiet adventure for children – perfect.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month September 2020 | Beautifully presented, this is a fabulous anthology of poems greatly enhanced by wonderful illustrations and a sumptuous binding – including a very useful marker ribbon! Subtitled “An animal poem for every day of the year”, it includes poems which introduce a huge range of animals from around the world. Some are familiar but most are refreshingly new. Some examples I loved are: May 1st, Song about the Reindeer, Musk Oxen, Women, and Men who want to show off, an Innuit song and September 7th The Manatee by Jack Prelutsky – “I’m partial to the manatee,/ which emanates no vanity./ It swims amidst anemones/ and hasn’t any enemies.” This anthology really does include something for everyone!
Winner of 2020 CLiPPA | At a time when children need nature more than they ever have, Cherry Moon is a book to treasure. It contains one hundred short poems – intense bursts of colour, sound and sensation, all inspired by the natural world – a plum tree coming into fruit , the moon in a rosy twilight sky, that noise your feet make walking through mud... Though they seem over in a moment, there’s a thoughtfulness and depth to the poems that will make you pause and images that will stay with you, so that you’ll find yourself returning to them again and again. It’s a superb introduction to poetry for the very young and a wonderful book to share; beautiful to look at too, thanks to Junli Song’s stunning screen print illustrations.
Pippi and her friends, Tommy and Annika, have great fun together, at the circus, at the sweets in the sweet shop and having an adventure at sea. But when Pippi's long-lost father comes to visit, will Pippi sail away to sea with him and leave Tommy and Annika behind? Pippi Longstocking is one of the most popular children's characters, wonderfully brought to life by Lauren Child's superb illustrations. Find out more about Lauren Child, her books, characters and inspirations in our Guest Editor feature.
This enchanting reinvention of a Natural History of Fairies written by botanist Professor Elsie Arbour in the 1920s glows with timeless charm and the magic of nature. What’s more, author Emily Hawkins’s message about protecting fairies’ natural habitats has important real-world resonance, such as this: “human actions are putting fairies’ habitats at risk. When forests and woodland are cut down to make space for farmland…then fairies’ homes are destroyed.” Fairy enthusiasts will delight in the detail of the softly-radiant illustrations that present fairy anatomy and life cycles in the manner of natural history books, replete with labels and descriptions. Throughout, the book is suffused with a thrilling feeling that fairies might be found - if you know what you’re looking for, and where to look. The section on language and secret scripts will undoubtedly inspire young readers to write their own fairy codes, while coverage of a huge range of habitats - from meadows, gardens and woodlands, to mountains, marine environments and jungles - gives a satisfying global feel. Alongside providing fairy-lovers with much fodder for exploration, this coverage of habitats, and information on the likes of leaves, plants and animals, might also spark a wider love of nature. Sumptuously presented, with a silk bookmark, and gold edging and cover foil supplementing Jessica Roux’s illustrations, this book’s style is every bit as charming as its content, which makes it a gift to treasure.
What We Know & What We Don't | This substantial, gifty, and compellingly browsable kids encyclopedia takes Britannica's reputation for authentic, trustworthy information and brings it to a whole new audience. The gorgeous volume explores a wide range of child-friendly topics, using text, illustrations, infographics, and photography.
December 2020 Book of the Month | Congratulations to Konnie Huq and co-author James Kay who with illustrator Rikin Parekh have taken the best-loved fairy tales, shaken them up, and brought them uproariously into the 21st century. All your favourites are here, recognisable, but turned into something fresh, new and very funny (often with a pointed message or moral). Thus Sleeping Beauty is now Sleeping Brainy, a maths-mad princess who grows up to be the most successful Chancellor of the Exchequer in history, while simultaneously inventing the computer, the internet and Wikipedia (‘all in a good nine thousand six hundred and eighteen days’ work’ she concludes, happily). Pity the three bears who here have to put up with Mouldysocks, a boy too busy playing computer games to tidy up or wash, but cheer for The Pickled Mermaid, who puts her blog out on Plaicebook, Finstagram and Snapperchat, thereby reaching millions of readers and effecting real change on pollution in the oceans. Then there’s Robin Hoodlum and his boss, the Baron of Bottybum; Spinocchio, a TV news anchor; and a surprisingly familiar looking, bad-tempered little orange man called Trumplestiltskin … The stories are told with real dash and energy and will have children and parents alike roaring with laughter.
What a special person Marcus Rashford is, on and off the pitch. With a focus on his football, this excellent little biography also gives readers a good idea of his life and how he’s got to where he is today. The stats of course speak for themselves, he’s a brilliant footballer and the book provides some analysis of why he scores so many goals. It also tells us about his early football games, playing in his tiny back garden with brothers Dwaine and Dane, before joining the youth academy at Manchester United (born in Wythenshawe, he’s always been a fan). No matter how successful he’s been, he’s never forgotten the community he grew up in as the book explains, and its final stat, after all those goals, penalties and assists, is the money he’s raised for charity FareShare: £20 million. Author and illustrator write with all the enthusiasm of real football fans, peppering the pages with jokes and extra football facts, making this very appealing and super-readable. There’s a quiz at the end to test the reader’s memory and a useful glossary too.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month November 2020 | Time travelling with Alex and Ruby is always the greatest fun. This time this time they fall through Aunt Joanna’s magic mirror and find themselves about to celebrate Christmas in 1873. There’s lots to learn about just what a Victorian Christmas might be like including cutting down your own Christmas tree from the wood and playing a completely different kind of charades. And there is also an exciting family adventure as Ruby uses her modern knowledge, gleaned on a school trip, to prevent Cousin Edith being sent to a terrible school where is might die! Sally Nicholls story dashes along, brim-full of action and with a huge cast of characters. The result is an exciting read with never a dull moment! You can find more wintry & festive stories in our Best Books for Kids this Christmas collection!
An Encyclopedia of Mythical Beasts and Their Magical Tales | Monsters, gods, tricksters and shapeshifters, you’ll find them all in this encyclopedia of myths. The descriptions, in words and full colour illustrations over double page spreads, are awe-inspiring and no wonder, mythical creatures have been stalking the imaginations of man for thousands of years. From the Americas, we meet the feathered Quetzalcoatl, the god of light, who protects humans from danger, and also the monstrous Mapinguari, who roams through the undergrowth of the Amazon. From the other side of the world, Shenlong, the Spirit Dragon, controls the wind and clouds, majestic and benign. The entries are interspersed with the old stories, which explain our world or show us the best ways to behave. It’s a wonderful way of bringing the world together and the tales told are as fascinating today as they have ever been. Handsomely illustrated this is an eye-opening, inspiring reference book.
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2021 | A picture-book biography of celebrated poet Gwendolyn Brooks, the first Black person to win the Pulitzer Prize Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) is known for her poems about real life. She wrote about love, loneliness, family, and poverty-showing readers how just about anything could become a beautiful poem.
The first of a great new series featuring Suzy and the magical delivery express for the Union of Impossible Places. It’s not every day that a magical train drives through your hallway but that’s what happens to Suzy at the opening of this terrific adventure story. She discovers it’s the Impossible Postal Express, responsible for making deliveries throughout the Union of Impossible Places. Being something of a scientist, and deeply inquisitive, Suzy can’t let this opportunity pass and climbs aboard. It’s not long before she’s been deputized as a Postal Operative (by the troll in charge), which in turn embroils her in an even bigger adventure, and one of those magical good versus evil power struggles that are central to all the best fantasy adventures. This rattles along at top-speed and features one of the most varied cast of characters since Hogwarts welcomed young Potter. Fans of magical stories mustn’t miss this train! Shortlisted for The Branford Boase Award 2019 | January 2019 Debut of the Month One to recommend to fans of Nevermoor and The Last Chance Hotel. Books in The Train to Impossible Places Series: 1. The Train to Impossible Places 2. The Great Brain Robbery 3. Delivery to the Lost City
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month October 2020 | Thea’s Christmas visit to Norway to try and connect with her absent father, Henry, looks set to be a disaster. Despite her hopes that her father will understand her yearning to be a writer and her need for a typewriter, Henry seems only interested in his new family and his woodwork. All Thea’s hopes are dashed. How she longs to go home to her mum and all their family Christmas traditions. But when Thea befriends a sleeping bear whom she has disturbed she unleashes a wonderful, wintery adventure. Finding friends who understand her love for the bear and her belief that it is harmless, Thea works out an ambitious plan to confuse the hunters and save the bear. The result is a many layered adventure story of courage, love and imagination. You can find more wintry & festive stories in our Best Books for Kids this Christmas collection.
Interest Age 8+ Reading Age 8 | Blue Peter Book Award winner Vashti Hardy joins the excellent Barrington Stoke list with this new book and concisely delivers an exciting sci-fi adventure in just 100 pages. 13-year-old Grace is frustrated that as the youngest member of her family she’s not allowed to run solo missions for their magical warden operation, which protects the people of Moreland. So when the alarm bell rings and she’s the only one in the office, she answers the call anyway, jumping into their transporter with her companion, clockwork raven Watson, and climbing out into what turns out to be some treacherous goings on. Will Grace need rescuing by her family, or will it be the other way round? It’s a great bit of adventure, with recognisable characters and family relationships and a vividly drawn other-world. More please!
For Aiden, Chloe, Ava and Josh, holidays at their grandparents' cottage mean wild beaches, no curfew, Bella the dog, and most of all - adventure! The lead actress in Frost Castle's winter play is sure she's cursed! A break-in, a car accident, and now her precious locket is missing. But the cousins suspect a ruthless thief. With a blizzard raging outside and a legendary ghost in the castle corridors, unmasking this villain will take all their bravery and skill... Fleur Hitchcock is famous for her excellent thrillers for beginners . This action-packed series takes 7+ readers on fantastic, realistic adventures.
December 2020 Audio Book of the Month | Like its hero, the story Peter Pan will never grow old and retains all its power to enchant, tempt and enthral readers; how wonderful that this new audiobook version should be available for Christmas, as it is magical family listening. A host of stars take turns to narrate but it’s a particular passion project for Joanna Lumley, who is directly involved in the recent transformation of author J.M. Barrie’s childhood home, Moat Brae, into a new national centre for children’s literature and storytelling. She reads the opening chapters and therefore sets the tone beautifully for the story that follows. Young listeners will be captivated by the joyful sense of freedom and rebellion, while adults will hear the strains of melancholy and loss of innocence beneath. A story to resonate with everyone, whatever their age, and especially when it is told as well as it is here. Listen to an extract, the opening chapter from Peter Pan, read by Joanna Lumley.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month October 2020 | Swirling magic, cascading invention and a welter of invented folklore traditions propel this headlong fairy tale story from its opening moments. Brought up in huge castle that was once home to her Royal relatives, and much influenced by her grandmother who is a great believer in old magic, Olia has always known that she also has the gift of believing in magic and so making it work. When the old palace is under threat from a violent force, it is Olia who must find the magical doorway that will take her into another land. Olia needs courage, imagination and the power of her love for her family and everything in their world to embark on her roller coaster adventure. Full of surprises and fuelled by love this is an exciting and heart-warming story.
October 2020 Book of the Month | This new episode in The Unmapped Chronicles series plunges readers head-first into heart-stopping adventure deep in a rain forest closely modelled on the Amazon, but thrillingly, magically different. Twins Fox and Fibber Petty-Squabble (fabulous names are one of the hallmarks of Elphinstone’s writing) find themselves in Jungledrop, one of the Unmapped Kingdoms, and in a vital race against time with the thoroughly villainous harpy Morg; for the first time in their eleven years, the two siblings will have to work together if they’re going to secure the future of two worlds. This is a hugely satisfying fantasy adventure filled with everything that makes the hearts of young readers sing. Readers who enjoy Jungledrop should look out for Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor series or Dominique Valente’s sparkling Starfell books.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month October 2020 | Starting with a timeline that stretches from the ‘Big Bang’ to ‘The Modern Age (1940- the present day)’ this is a largely pictorial history covering physical and social developments in big, bold outlines which convey the main messages which are then fleshed out in much greater depth through detailed, fact-filled captions. The topics covered in each of the double-page spreads include ‘Our Home in Space’, ‘The Dinosaur Age’ , ‘Cities, Civilizations and Empires’ and ‘Technology’. The illustrations that convey them determinedly simple which gives the book a welcome, distinctively different look. Find out more about Anna and another of her books, The Mermaid Atlas, in this Q&A.
November 2020 Book of the Month | A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month November 2020 | Everything that is wonderful about Christmas (and some things that aren’t!) is thrillingly spun about in this deliciously magical and madcap adventure. Homeless Blanche has never had any real Christmas but when the mysterious Rinki gives her a magical bauble and some mince pies on Christmas Day everything changes. Rinki and Blanche are firm friends forever and together they are about to rewrite the Santa story. Santa Claus, elf magic, delicious Christmas food and drink, and a wonderful sleigh ride are all thrown into the mix as a very merry Christmas for all – except the sinister Mr Krampus – follows. You can find more wintry & festive stories in our Best Books for Kids this Christmas collection.
A Complete (and Completely Disgusting) Guide to the Human Body | This is an information text that will be read with great pleasure and is actually as unputdownable as a novel. It is very apparent that the multimillion-copy selling author and medical doctor has never grown out of his gleeful fascination with the human machine and has a real knack for presenting complex facts both clearly and concisely while making the reader laugh out loud. Similarly, the illustrations by Henry Parker combine accurate explanatory diagrams and zany amusing cartoons, often on the same page. Much of the humour is, of course, derived from the more disgusting aspects of the internal and external body and to making fun of the complicated language and terminology doctors and scientists use, but nonetheless using and explaining all those terms. Indeed the book concludes with a brilliantly educative glossary (and even the jokes are indexed!) A running gag is Clive and the ‘naming committee’ responsible for naming body parts, as is the continued references to the author’s dog Pippin, but always in a way which enhances an explanation or a description and develops understanding. Chapters cover all the organs and systems of the body as well as reproduction, life and death and germs (including COVID-19) and include Kay’s Kwestions (another running gag about needing a replacement Q on his keyboard) and True or Poo sections which answer the sort of questions inquisitive children will be dying to ask and expose the myths, misinformation and old wives tales that you might have heard. He does not shrink from difficult topics or giving unpopular advice – junk food, smoking and drinking really are bad for you and washing your hands properly is important. As genuinely useful as any textbook or revision guide, I would suggest multiple copies will be needed to satisfy demand in any school library.
Your Tour of the Universe | Marvel at the ways that humans have explored our solar system, and beyond, with space shuttles, rockets and probes. There is a whole wide universe out there, with secrets and mysteries to solve. Grab your telescope and get ready for the intergalactic journey of a lifetime!
October 2020 Debut of the Month | At once a moving adventure and a thrilling multi-layered mystery, Kereen Getten’s dazzling debut When Life Gives You Mangoes is set in the close-knit community of Sycamore Hill, Jamaica, where Clara spends her days playing ‘pick leaf’, having fun at the river and avoiding the wrath of moody Ms Gee. She used to love surfing, but now she’s scared of the sea and she can’t remember why. In fact, Clara can’t remember anything about last summer. She also can’t explain why her best friend Gaynah is being mean to her, and no one will tell her why Pastor Brown has turned the entire town against her Uncle Eldorath. Despite these unsettling mysteries, the superbly-evoked Sycamore Hill is a steady kind of place. In Clara’s words, “You live and you die here. No one leaves and no one new comes in. Sometimes that’s a good thing because you know everyone, and everyone knows you. Other times you get tired of seeing the same faces and want something new.” And then something new happens in the form of Rudy, a cool, confident girl from Britain who turns out to be Ms Gee’s granddaughter. At Rudy’s arrival, “the entire village is buzzing. This is the most excitement we have ever had,” and it’s not long before the girls strike up a beautiful bond. Soon enough, Clara is enjoying escapades her parents wouldn’t entirely approve of because “there is something magnetic about Rudy and her adventures.” As Clara’s memory begins to return in tempestuous flashbacks, hurricane season brings a devastating storm that coincides with everything changing - truths are laid bare, ghosts are laid to rest, and a new landscape is left in the wake of the upheavals. Poignant on friendship, family and community, in all their tricky, complicated, life-affirming forms, this Middle Grade wonder also makes pertinent reference to police prejudice in the UK. “Where I live...there are some bad kids, but there are a lot more good kids, but the police think we’re all the same,” Rudy remarks. Clara’s huge-hearted story had me hooked and charmed from start to finish.
Julia Golding is a gifted storyteller and her new book has everything you want in an adventure. Sahara Clive arrives in London an orphan, friendless except for the two tigers her family were escorting from India to their new home in the Tower’s famous menagerie. Her English father and Indian mother died on the journey and it is quickly assumed she would be an embarrassment to her English family. It’s the nineteenth century, Wellington is Prime Minister (and makes some cameo appearances) and Sahira is placed in an orphanage run with the casual cruelty familiar from other famous orphan stories. Sahira though is as fierce and proud as her tigers and not to be pushed around. Sustained by courage and poetry and with the help of some good people and more than a few animals, she overcomes prejudice, greed and ignorance to secure a new home. Elegantly told, this is a real box of delights, an adventure that is exciting, heartwarming, moving and inspiring. One to recommend to fans of A Little Princess or modern historical adventures by Jacqueline Wilson or Robin Stevens.
November 2020 Book of the Month | Book 7 Chronicles of Ancient Darkness This seventh book in Michelle Paver’s awe-inspiring Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series that began with Wolf Brother is a triumph of storytelling that myth-loving readers will wolf down (pun entirely intended). The sense of adventure and human spirit is exhilarating, and Paver’s passion for nature, for wildlife, for the world’s wondrous wilds is an immersive joy. Torak and Renn have been in the Forest with their Wolf Brother for two summers when Renn leaves him without word. Though realising that “she would have had to deceive Torak for days into order to prepare for her journey”, accomplished tracker Torak does what he must, and what he does best: he and Wolf embark on a quest to the Edge of the World beyond the Far North to find their friend. Alongside dealing with the ominous threat of ice bears and the “beyond good and evil” Sea Mother, Torak is desperate to discover what drove Renn to this place. The sense of demonic danger is powerfully palpable, the writing rich, yet exquisitely sparse and smoothly readable, and the entirety of this enthralling adventure is laced with an uplifting sense of camaraderie, love and legend.
A boy with a special talent, a girl transformed into a rat by magic, and a fire-breathing young dracogriff (half dragon, half griffin) – three friends, three unlikely heroes! In S A Patrick’s sparkling fantasy adventure they face sorcerers, bandits, imprisonment and mercenary armies, plus betrayal by the people they should be able to trust the most, and they face them all with courage, loyalty to each other and humour. Their arch enemy is the legendary Pied Piper no less, supposedly imprisoned for what he did in Hamelyn, but actually free and planning more wickedness against humans and dragons alike. It’s a story full of adventure and excitement, as well as characters readers will root for from the first – and best of all, there’s a sequel! Readers who enjoy Patch, Wren and Barver’s adventures will also enjoy Abi Elphinstone’s Rumblestar series and Michelle Harrison’s Widdershins Adventures.
An irresistible new edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone created with ultra-talented designers MinaLima, the design magicians behind the gorgeous visual graphic style of the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts films. This is where the adventure begins, as Harry Potter discovers that he is no ordinary boy but a wizard of great reknown, as well as expected at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Moreover, at Hogwarts, he encounters "He Who Must Not Be Named", a master of magic whose ambition is more dark and terrifying than Harry can possibly imagine.
November 2020 Book of the Month | Hot on the hilarious heels of The Fowl Twins, this second instalment of Eoin Colfer’s new Artemis Fowl series is a boisterous banquet of entertaining, fantastical adventure. Colfer is a master when it comes to compelling his readers to turn the pages at breakneck speed while making them splutter with laughter. All manner of mayhem (and serious menace) is unleashed when Artemis Fowl’s younger twin brothers Myles and Beckett take the Fowl Jet for an unauthorized spin and end up having to ditch it in the Atlantic. Unsurprisingly, Artemis Senior isn’t best pleased. In fact, as a result of their “missile crisis”, he bans the boys from all “fairy-related antics”, and from “fraternising with known criminals except myself”, and they’re placed under house arrest. But despite being out of sight, they’re certainly not out of mind and Myles is abducted, resulting in Beckett and pixie-elf hybrid Lazuli embarking on a tense trans-continental chase. Meanwhile, it falls to brainier brother Myles to figure out what’s really going on. Fuelled by razor-sharp dialogue and ingenious plotting, this second book in the second-gen Artemis Fowl series is as fresh and funny as the criminal mastermind’s very first adventures. The contrast between the twins makes for a whole lot of laughs, and Lazuli is a dream of a larger-than-life character (notwithstanding her small stature!).
This book is a treat for anyone who dreams of spending a Christmas at Hogwarts. Using images and scenes from the films, it reminds us of all the magical things that are part of a Hogwarts Christmas – the decorations, the special presents, the ghosts, the gorgeous snowy scenes and, of course, the Yule Ball. There are all sorts of unexpected extras too including stickers, bookmarks and pull-outs, not to mention fascinating insights into the making of the films (I love the fact that the costume department kept a dedicated knitter busy producing Molly Weasley’s jumpers and scarves). It’s just the thing to transport you into Harry’s world at the most magical time of year, no matter what real life has to offer.
September 2020 Book of the Month | This sparkling adventure melds life as a young refugee with literary lore. The warm magic of Omar’s Lilliputian sojourn will captivate young readers, while his experience as a refugee will surely inspire compassion and empathy - deeply vital for our times. Known as Tiny in his rural village, Omar’s life is overturned when war breaks out and an air strike kills his dad and many friends. When his sister goes missing, Omar and his mum move to a refugee camp. But it’s not long before Mum decides it would be safer to join a group of sea-bound refugees. They walk for a year and reach the coast, but Omar’s mum only has enough money to pay for one passage. So, armed only with the address of his Uncle Said in England, Omar boards the overcrowded boat. When it sinks, he wakes to find himself on an island populated by tiny people. The warm welcome of the Lilliputians serves as a powerful allegory. They “spoke with their hearts” and make Omar feel like he belongs as he learns their language, their history, their culture. But worried his mum might be waiting for him in England, Omar sets off again, with hope in his heart and special companions aboard his new boat. Shot-through with a powerful message about offering help and hope to those in need, this is classic Morpurgo, with wonderfully warm illustrations by Michael Foreman. Read more about Michael Morpurgo, our Guest Editor for September 2020, here.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month November 2020 | Nature is full of record-breaking adventures which are brought to life in the detailed and dramatic illustrations that fill every inch of the large scale book. Global in its reach, it is a gold mine of information as it takes readers on a world tour of astonishing achievements. There’s the fastest land animal – the cheetah from Botswana, the hottest place on Earth – Ethiopia, The Longest-erupting Volcano – Italy and many more. Across thirty gloriously bold spreads readers will discover wonderful and surprising facts about all kinds of aspects of the planet.
Two phenomenally talented people are united in this book, and it is hard to know which of them – poet A.F. Harrold or illustrator Mini Grey – had the most fun creating it. Either way, the end product is glorious, an entirely essential collection of poems offering unforgettable advice on an extraordinary range of subjects. Scanning through the index will give you an idea of the topics covered, and how: the entry for banana, for example, reads how to identify a … while that for pencil case is why you shouldn’t muddle one up with a lunchbox … There are three entries for tiger, referring you to very useful poems, including the one that explains just how many tigers it takes to spoil a picnic. Harrold is a master of the absurd, taking ideas or phrases and turning them quite round about and Mini Grey illustrates his poems with an equal delight in the possibilities he conjures up. Most of the poems are wonderfully comic, but there’s space for quiet, thoughtful verse too. It’s a book to fire the imagination and to make you see things in a whole new way, like a poet in fact.
Wolves, wildness and freedom are at the heart of this thrilling story. Wolf wilders are employed to reintroduce wolves unfortunate enough to be brought up as pets in rich households back into the wild, and they’re easy to spot: they’ll be missing a piece of finger, the lobe of an ear, a toe or two. Feo and her mother are wolf wilders, content deep in the forest, at least until the arrival of General Rakov and the imperial army. Rakov treats their wolves with the same brutal contempt he shows to the peasants, and despite her reclusiveness, Feo finds herself fighting alongside her neighbours for what is right. ‘Wolves, like children, are not born to lead calm lives’ we are told and this a marvellous adventure, original, beautifully written, and full of scenes and ideas that will excite and inspire young readers.
Nothing is higher profile or more topical currently than concern for the planet, making this subject an excellent choice for the next topic to get the highly successful Kate Pankhurst treatment. Continuing her quest to pay tribute to the often-overlooked female pioneers in any field of human endeavour with her mission to provide accessible and engaging non- fiction, Fantastically Great Women Who Saved the Planet does all that and more. Once again, I was struck by the fascinating and diverse choices of the featured women and girls. Some are relatively well-known: such as Anita Roddick who founded the Body Shop and Jane Goodall and her pioneering research and protection work with chimpanzees. But I had never heard of Edith Farkas who discovered the ozone hole in the Antarctic or Mária Telkes and her pioneering work on solar power. Even more inspiring is the evidence that everyone, however humble, can make a difference. Such as Isatou Geesay in the Gambia and her fight against plastic pollution or the Chipko movement in India, village women literally hugging trees to prevent the deforestation of their land and the floods and landslides which would follow. Each double-page spread has accessible paragraphs of text and lively cartoon illustrations and speech bubbles to tell the story concisely and clearly. This visual style is very engaging to young readers and has great shelf appeal. A useful glossary of terms and a page of inspiring calls to action complete the book. Another triumph of information presentation. Highly recommended.
The magical world of J.K. Rowling's Fantastic Beasts meets the real-world experts of the world-famous Natural History Museum, in an awe-inspiring exhibition devoted to the wonders of nature, science and adventure - and their fictional counterparts from Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts.
Shortlisted for the Costa Children's Book Award 2020 | September 2020 Book of the Month | I challenge any reader, young or old, not to want to devour this book in one delicious sitting. Once started upon the story of Lotti and Ben, two orphans living in the aftermath of World War 1 and who could not be more different in temperament or background, it is impossible to put down. Initially and understandably wary, they gradually become each other’s best friend and staunch allies in their respective quests for family and a safe haven for an increasing number of dogs. Their odyssey takes them, in the faithful old narrowboat which has been Ben’s home, across the stormy channel to France, with a vengeful, deceitful uncle and a steadfast policeman hot on their heels. But there is nothing far fetched in their survival, they do need and even eventually welcome the support of friendly adults on both sides of the channel and they learn to work together and to counteract each other’s failings. They never lose hope in even the darkest moments and neither does the reader, despite some heart-stopping tension. These are characters who will dwell long in your memory and indeed leave you wanting to know more, including about some of the fascinating minor characters. The authentic period detail and dialogue captures the spirit of an age where children may seem, to a modern audience, to have a thrilling level of agency and independence, but only because they are largely ignored or neglected rather than protected by society. A standalone, middle grade adventure that is as well written as this, is pure gold dust with which to captivate young readers and a perfect class read. But be warned, they may not want to go home!
Shortlisted for the Costa Children's Book Award 2020 | Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2021 | May 2020 Debut of the Month | There aren’t many books that can have you laughing out loud one minute, and tearing up the next, but The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates is one. When Freddie sets off on a secret journey that will take him half-way across the country, his two best friends come too; they have their own reasons for wanting to escape home for a bit. Together the three get into and out of some extraordinary scrapes, inadvertently becoming heroes in the process, and Freddie experiences an actual miracle. Freddie, Ben and Charlie are great characters and their incredible journey – which variously involves sheep, a tandem, superhero outfits and stolen treasure - both hilarious and gripping. The ending proves that the world is a wonderful place, particularly for those who go looking for adventure. Don’t miss. One to recommend to fans of Frank Cottrell Boyce’s The Astounding Broccoli Boy, or David Solomons’ My Brother is a Superhero series.
October 2020 Debut of the Month | A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month October 2020 | Imogen’s life at home is not all perfect so it’s no surprise that she follows the strange silver moth that arrives from nowhere – even when it leads her through a door in a tree! And there’s no stopping her little sister Marie from following…Like any magic opening, the door leads the two girls into an extraordinary world where almost anything can – and will – happen! As in the best traditions of children’s stories, Imogen and Marie meet a wealth of larger-than-life characters including a spoiled prince and a dancing bear as they journey through a richly-imagined world of possibilities. Chris Riddell’s illustrations bring the magic to life perfectly.
Profiles of each broom feature stunning new photography of the original props; statistics; insights from the cast and crew; and other film-making secrets from the Warner Bros. archive. In addition to individual photographic profiles of each broom, this book also includes blueprints and concept art as well as entries on the high-flying game of Quidditch and related props. Delve deep into what makes flying brooms the beloved mode of transportation for witches and wizards everywhere! Destined to be a must-have collectable for fans of Harry Potter, this book also includes a 6-page fold-out.
Use Your Future to Change the World | Companion to We Are All Greta, Green Nation Revolution sets out impactful steps young citizens of the new Green Nation can take “in the immediate future to shape their destiny and help make the Earth a safer place for everyone”. Rich in data, case studies and strategies for bringing about lasting positive social, economic and environmental change, this is a punch-packing must-read for teen readers who are keen to get more involved with youth-led green movements. After opening with the positive context of how much the impetus for change has grown in the past two years, with an almost ten-fold increase in Climate Strike participants, the authors define the Green Nation as “a state with no entry or exit barriers, in which people are united by a deep sense of responsibility towards the planet”. And the citizens of the Green Nation are the millions of schoolchildren who “think beyond geographical borders and do not see themselves as belonging to a specific country in the world, but to something new and highly responsive”. Whether discussing the circular economy, regenerative agriculture, renewable energy, smart cities, sustainable tourism, or Green Nation jobs (“We do not need superheroes to save the planet; we need engineers, economists, scientists, biologists, environmentalists, architects and designers"), the authors are always upfront with - and respectful of - their young readers. Accompanied by crisp, contemporary illustrations, this accessible, inspiring toolkit for creating true long-term change is smart in style and content.
November 2020 Book of the Month | Ayesha Harruna Attah’s The Deep Blue Between, her debut for younger readers, is a rich historical, dual-narrative story of the unbreakable bonds of sisterhood. With a steady, captivating style, it’s rich in details of everyday life in late-nineteenth-century West Africa and Brazil, and the broader cultural landscapes of the Gold Coast and South America. It’s a thoughtful - and thought-provoking - novel, threaded with love, hope and determination. “In 1892, when I was ten, I was forced to live on a land where the trees grew so close together, they sucked out my voice.” So Hassana sets the scene at the start of her story. Following a raid on her home, she’s been separated from her twin sister, Husseina, but senses they’ll find one another again. Even more so when she finds the protection of a stranger: “I was learning things from Richard that I was sure would make it easier to find Husseina. Richard had been in what he called “the Gold Coast” to study plants to find out what could be used to treat sicknesses. He was going to put everything he found in a book.” But the sisters’ paths take hugely divergent turns. While Hassana makes it to Accra, Husseina flees to Brazil, way across the deep blue ocean they both dream of. Fans of Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone will relish reading about West African religion and culture in this context, and it’s also highly recommended for readers who love Jamila Gavin’s elegant, character-driven historic fiction. It provides vital insights into the impacts of European imperialism, and the connections between Africans and Brazilians of African descent, through a distinctly moving human story.
September 2020 Book of the Month | Opening with a heartfelt “Dear sister” address that invites aspiring witches to step into its beautifully-designed pages, this compendium dispels many myths about spell-makers as its modern-day witch authors seek to “retell and reclaim our identity”. One such myth is the distinction between “white” and “black” magic – the authors note that “magic is magic and the only difference lies within our intentions and how we choose to use it.” But what is magic? They point out links between nature and magic, and share information about ancient priestesses and oracles who read signs in nature and understood the power of plants and the planets. Moving through history, readers will discover that distrust of magic emerged in the Middle Ages, which led to the persecution of female practitioners of magic and the murderous witch-hunts of the 15th-17th centuries. After learning about the positive revival of witches in the twentieth-century (such as ecology-oriented Wiccans, and feminist activist witches), the book explores witches in popular culture, magical symbols, and concludes with practical guidance on herb magic, stone magic, crystal magic and making your own talisman. This is a perfect primer for girls interested in magic and witches, and gorgeously-presented too, with a gold-foiled cover, red ribbons and evocative illustrations on every page.
August 2020 Book of the Month | Hot on the heels of Happy Girl Lucky comes this second book in Holly Smale’s The Valentines series – a wildly entertaining tale in which aspiring actress Faith seems to have it all, before realising she needs to shirk off the shackles of impossible standards and speak from her own script. Stunning and wealthy, with a mega-famous musician boyfriend – what more could a girl want? And coming from a line of talented actresses, Faith’s future as a major movie star is laid out before her like a red carpet. In her grandmother’s words, “You are a Valentine, darling…The entire world has been handed to you on a plate. All you have to do is not screw it up.” But, despite Faith’s privilege, not screwing up is an impossible task when - also in her grandmother’s words, “there is no intermission, Faith. For us, the curtains are always up.” Constantly in the public eye, everything Faith says or does is scrutinised, often wilfully misinterpreted and, when the truth isn’t juicy enough, the press invents their own. Desperate to keep everyone happy, Faith always says what’s she’s supposed to, but that backfires too: “The Daily Mail has once more referred to you as aloof and an Ice Queen. Darling, if you were a man, that would be a way of saying enigmatic. As a woman, it just means nightmare. You must try to come across as warmer. But not so warm that you look desperate, obviously.” Quite simply, Faith can’t win. What’s more, her auditions aren’t going well either, and it’s not long before everything starts to unravel. Faith’s journey really is an additive rollercoaster – she’s someone to root for, and all the characters are fabulously formed. Readers will truly love “I’ll-do-and-say-and-eat-what-I-want, when-I-want” Scarlett who offers Faith a life-changing sisterly hand. With the novel’s exposure of double standards - and impossible standards - seamlessly thread through the pacey plot, this is feminist fiction at its most thoughtful, thrilling and funny. Find out more as Holly Smale talks to us about her fabulous new trilogy!
Larabelle Fox is an orphan, a tosher who searches the sewers for any ‘treasure’ she can find, in the sewer system under Kings Haven. She is ranged against rival toshing gangs who want to rob her, as well as the powerful King’s Witch who wants to revive the Evernight in a bid to gain total power for herself. Unbeknownst to Lara she has found exactly what the King’s Witch and her awesomely scary djinn Shadow Jack are looking for – a box, long lost in the sewers. Can Lara discover what she can do with the box and its contents before the world succumbs to the evil of the Evernight? This is a wild magical delight of a story. The bad guys are wickedly bad and seemingly undefeatable, whilst Lara and her friend Joe Littlefoot seem small and powerless. But they have quick wits and goodness on their side, as well as the witches, though it will mainly be down to Lara that a defence is put up to the Evernight.This is the sort of book that will create a buzz of enjoyment, the fantasy world is well built, believable, cinematic and child friendly. The magic is fun, the friendship believable, the story is refreshing, and the feisty heroine is a delight to follow. I shall look forward to more books in this series.
The young person's guide to a plant-based lifestyle | Full of information and sensible advice, this is an excellent guidebook for any young person who is considering turning vegan, or who just wants to cut back on meat and dairy. For one thing, it is packed with delicious and faff-free vegan recipes, easy to follow, easy to make and certain to be a hit with everyone in the family, even dyed-in-the-wool carnivores; but it’s also full of equally useful and appealing information on the whys of being vegan. Niki Webster explains it all in a way that feels friendly and do-able, making sure to answer FAQs on getting enough protein and vitamins as well as on the best vegan substitutes, and laying out clearly, but with a sense of passion, why veganism is about more than just food and diet. The illustrations and design make this look good enough to eat, and it successfully provides lots of food for thought too.
December 2020 Book of the Month | Jacqueline Wilson writes about young teenage girls with real understanding, sensitivity and affection, and she’s at her best in the story of Frankie, who finds herself head over heels in love with, of all people, the girl she thought was her worst enemy. As with most thirteen-going-on-fourteen year olds, Frankie is a mess of emotions, resenting her dad for leaving her mum, but needing him too; happy with her childhood friend Sam, but alarmed when he seems to want to change their relationship into something else; and above all confused by her new feelings for Sally. Sally is even more mixed up and her desperate need for love and attention puts Frankie at risk of real hurt. Wilson creates a loving family the support her heroine though and, like so many of her characters, Frankie develops the strength to be honest about who she is and therefore emerges unscathed. Her story is everything you expect from this writer – real, moving and enormously satisfying. Go to Jacqueline's Instagram for Love Frankie videos and links!
October 2020 Debut of the Month | Winner of the Wainwright Prize for UK Nature Writing 2020 | Diary of a Young Naturalist recounts a year in the life of an autistic and highly gifted 15 year old, struggling with school, bullies, moving house and fearing the decline of the natural world whilst rejoicing in it. Dara McAnulty is clearly an extraordinary person and a beautiful and mature writer. His descriptions of his adventures in nature are inspiring for children, but also sure to brighten the souls of many an adult too. The intensity with which nature presents itself to the author is overwhelming, and his ability to share this with the reader is enthralling. It’s a rollercoaster ride being in the head of this young man, but the book has the magic to open our eyes and ears to what beauty is around us each and every day - if only we looked! McAnulty's knowledge of wildlife and nature is simply extraordinary. His autism is a burden but also a super-power, providing him with piercing insight to a world that simply cannot be ignored with all its truth, tragedy and hope pouring out of every hedgerow, pond and dry stone wall. This is a diary which highlights our essential connection with the natural world, the landscape and our history embedded within it - but more importantly, it is also about our futures. Dara McAnulty is on a mission, and if the quality of this book is anything to go by, he will have a huge impact. For many children, this book will be the beginning of a wondrous journey. ~ Greg Hackett Greg Hackett is the Founder & Director of the London Mountain Film Festival
‘Every story is the sound of a storyteller begging to stay alive’, says Khosrou – or Daniel as he’s known to his new classmates in Oklahoma - the narrator of the many wonderful stories that make up this book. Central of course is his own story, how with his mother and sister he had to flee his home in Iran, leaving his father behind, but there are also the stories of his grandparents and great-grandparents, plus the myths that he’s grown up with. Horribly picked on at school and tormented at home by his new step-father, he shares his stories Scheherazade-like with his class and with us, the lucky readers, and because of that we know that one day he will be whole again. Poignant, touching, funny and heart-breaking, this is a book in a million, a story that will connect with every person who reads it and become part of their own.
Shot-through with a vital message about the importance of giving voice and rightful representation to women who’ve been silenced by centuries of patriarchy, this smart novel melds an intriguing art history mystery with Parisian amour. While Khayyam is clear about what she wants to do with her life - become a respected art historian - her identity is more complex. She’s “French American. Indian American. Muslim American. Biracial. Interfaith.” As such, “Others look at me and try to shove me into their own narrative to define who and what I am. But I’m not a blank page that everyone else gets to write on. I have my own voice.” This statement weaves through the whole novel, which sees Khayyam in Paris for the summer, still reeling from a relationship gone awry back home in Chicago, and from her Young Scholar Prize essay being dismissed as “the work of a dilettante, not a future art historian”. When she happens to run into a cute Parisian boy, who happens to be a descendent of bi-racial French writer Alexandre Dumas, Khayyam and said cute boy (also called Alexandre) embark on an intellectual voyage that leads them to Leila, a nineteenth-century Muslim woman connected to Dumas and Byron. Leila’s forgotten life and silenced voice is revealed through her letters, with Khayyam frequently asserting her desire to right the wrong of “the entire world dehumanizing and erasing this woman who had a life, who mattered.” Through Khayyam the novel also addresses issues around representation and cultural appropriation as she wrestles with determining who has the right to tell Leila’s story, including herself. As Khayyam’s findings hot up, so too does her love life. First there’s the spark between her and Alexandre, then there’s the simmering presence of her Chicagoan ex. With Paris vibrantly evoked as her stage - its history, architecture, secret gardens and food - Leila’s personal life and intellectual prowess combine to create a life-changing summer. This comes hugely commended - and recommended - for its portrayal of an intelligent young woman who refuses to bow to expectations, and who’s determined to give voice to the voiceless. Like Khayyam, it’s smart, thoughtful and inspirational. For more books with a strong, feminist theme, visit our Girl Power feature.
An inspirational history of the LGBTQ+ movement | With activist and founder of LGBT History Month and Schools OUT UK, Susan Sanders, as consultant, you can be confident that the information in this essential resource is reliable as well as being engaging and highly readable. The foreword by celebrity actor Layton Williams and the Why I Have Pride vignettes interspersed throughout the book, featuring young people from across the whole spectrum of the LBGTQ+ community, will ensure a high level of interest from young people and provide empowering messages for them to read. Starting from the evidence of acceptance in ancient history through the growth of persecution as Christianity flourishes in Europe, the brutality of the Inquisition, the recurrence of the death penalty for homosexuality around the world and the disaster of the Aids epidemic, this book does not hide the darker side of the history of the LGBTQ+ movement, but the emphasis is very much on the brave people who took on the fight against discrimination, prejudice and injustice. So, although agonising setbacks occurred, the overall progress has been upwards and the overall impact of the book is to inspire and celebrate. Helped, no doubt, by the rainbow coloured cover and vibrant illustrations. The timeline of milestones, comprehensive index and glossary and guide to sources of further information add value as a reference tool, but this is very much a book that will be read with pleasure and I hope with pride!
August 2020 Book of the Month | “Don’t take things for granted – challenge everything. That means challenging big business and your governments and, most of all, challenging yourself to act now and save the planet,” so writes activist author Blue Sandford, the seventeen-year-old founding member of Extinction Rebellion Youth London, in her inspiring call-to-action introduction to Challenge Everything. The only official handbook from Extinction Rebellion, this youth-driven, youth-oriented manifesto speaks loud and clear to the legions of young people who feel disenchanted with world leaders, and angry at the greed of big business dictating the downward direction of the world, all enhanced by strikingly designed slogans and illustrations. At the book’s heart is the powerful message that, “you are responsible for your own actions.” For example, “every time you take an uber, go on holiday on a plane, buy new trainers, even turn on the lights and heating, you’re contributing to climate and ecological collapse, you’re indirectly destroying rainforests and wildernesses.” This is typical of the book’s punch-packing perspective. Above all else, the author seeks to empower her readers with a change of mindset, one that challenges all aspects of the status quo, with the ultimate aim of saving the planet. Covering everything from the destructive effects of flying and the fast fashion industry, to the importance of re-wilding and reconnecting with nature, this potently persuasive manifesto also has a powerful practical emphasis, with details on the forms challenges might take, such as boycotting, non-violent direct action, campaigning and government lobbying. For more books on an eco theme try our Green Reads.
November 2020 Book of the Month | The Silent Stars Go By is a riveting read-in-one-sitting experience driven by compelling characters who leap off the page, not least the young woman at its heart, an unmarried secretarial student who’s forced to give up her baby during WWI. The novel is also underpinned by a superb sense of social history, with evocative details of post-war village life nestling within the bigger story, and - as might be expected of the author of Things a Bright Girl Can Do - it’s threaded with feminist themes. It’s 1919, Christmas is on the horizon and two years have passed since nineteen-year-old Margot was forced to give up her baby for her parents to raise as their own. She was only fifteen when she and Harry fell madly in love ahead of him being called up. The magic of their time together is evoked in all its tingling passion, contrasting with Margot’s present-day torments. It hurts when little James calls her mother “Mummy”, and she doesn’t know how she can continue to keep James a secret from Harry, who’s returned to the village after recuperating on the Isle of Wight. The flashbacks to Margot’s time on the maternity ward are particularly poignant and, of course, the reason she has to endure this unbearable situation is due to the fact that she lives in a world in which “the girl is the one whose honour is defiled or whatever rot they spout” whereas “the boy is just being a boy”. Coupled with that wider context, Margot’s vicar father is a man who “forgave drunks and tramps and fallen women and the men who tried to steal the lead from the church roof. But he couldn’t forgive her.” Realising that “things couldn’t go on like this,” Margot decides to confront her fears amidst the rare glamour of a ball on New Year’s Eve. You can find more wintry & festive stories in our Best Books for Kids this Christmas collection.
The duo that produced the cultural phenomenon that took the publishing world by storm in 2017, winning awards and sparking dozens of fundraising campaigns to get The Lost Words into every primary school, have now produced a book very different in form, but absolutely kindred in spirit and every bit as essential a purchase. This is a pocket-sized treasure containing twenty-one new ‘spells’- poems inspired by the natural world around us. These animals, birds, trees and flowers may be relatively common but are often underappreciated and ignored. Whereas The Lost Words had a formal triptych structure to its spells, this collection is freer and ranges from celebratory to elegiac and sorrowful. As the introduction says “Loss is the tune of our age, hard to miss and hard to bear.... But there has always been singing in dark times—and wonder is needed now more than ever.” Acrostic poems with the letters picked out in gold, feature most in this collection, as does the poet’s amazing facility with kennings and descriptive word play shown to great comic effect in Woodpecker “Chisel-gouger, head-banger, bark-stripper, nerve-shredder” Structured as a dialogue with badger one can see how much this lends itself to reading and performing aloud as indeed is the author’s intention with all the collection. The lyrical consonant tones or staccato beats of these beautiful spells is absolutely matched by the harmonious fluidity of the watercolour images that grace each page. From the challenging gaze of the red fox to the eyelike whorls of silver birch bark to the balletic wings of the swift wrapping around the words, the images fix the words indelibly into your mind. Lockdown saw a widespread recognition of the necessity for contact with the natural world to maintain health and well-being. This book is the perfect walking companion with a glossary identifying each species depicted, allowing this small but powerful book to do double-duty as an artful field guide. As Macfarlane writes In Goldfinch, apparently composed while sitting at his grandmother’s deathbed, "God knows the world needs all the good it can get right now“.
December 2020 Book of the Month | Holly Black writes amazing fantasy set in the land of Faerie. She has thrilled us with The Folk of the Air Trilogy – but this delightful novella takes a deeper look at the early life of the cruel King Cardan from the trilogy – offering some insights as to why he becomes the adult he is and how his early influences contributed. For such a short book (only 173 pages) it is filled with high romance, terrifying danger and touches of humour that will appeal to both established fans and new readers alike. Starting in Cardan’s childhood - where he is a faerie child with a heart of stone and an eye for wicked mischief - the story takes us through his various meetings with the Troll Aslog of the West and the variations on the “boy with the stone heart” story and how these contribute to his eventual character. Pair this with Rovina Cai’s amazing illustrations and this is a jewel of a book. Using a wonderfully earthy, shadowy palette Cai creates a marvellous picture of the world of Faerie. The generous number of illustrations, with detail and depth to them, draws the reader further and further into the story. Definitely a book not to be missed!
Following the critically acclaimed Stepsister, this is the Carnegie medal winning authors second ‘ feminist’ fairytale and one that could not be more pertinent to our times. The heart is a powerful symbol and princess Sophie has continually been told that she is too weak, too kind-hearted, too emotional to ever be queen. This is the ‘poison’ which has been constantly dripped into her ear sapping her confidence and self-belief. So far, so familiar, but what makes this tale so psychologically engrossing is that we see the effect of ‘poison’ on the wicked stepmother too. The author refuses to believe that an all-powerful queen would really be bothered by the trifling concerns of beauty and the question to the mirror becomes ‘who will bring about my fall?’ Adelaide is herself the victim of patriarchy and a cruel childhood and it is the King of Crows, the embodiment of Fear, that speaks to her from the mirror and manipulates the attacks on Sophie. With the familiar elements of the fairy tale fleshed out and the alternative 17th century Germanic setting vividly peopled by creatures both whimsical and deadly and with marvellous new characters like Will the archer and Arno the grave robber to educate Sophie about social justice and to support her quest to become the true queen to protect her people, this is a hugely engrossing and beautifully written tale. Its message that kindness and love have the power to defeat cruelty and pain empowers all girls to value their own strength and to let no one’s poisonous words destroy them. Highly recommended.
Ada Lovelace: Rebel. Genius. Visionary | At once a passionate portrait of a scientifically seminal young woman, and a fascinating account of the lives of well-to-women in the early 19th-century, I Ada lays bare the many faces of Ada Lovelace. Ada the inquisitive. Ada the adventuress. Ada the visionary genius who defied convention to become the world’s first computer programmer, the seeds of which are sown in this portrayal of her early life. Driven by drama and a spirit of affection, this is as lively as it is informative. Fathered by flamboyant, notorious Lord Byron, it’s perhaps no wonder how easily Ada slips “into the unbordered realms of the imagination” as a child living on her grandparents’ country estate. Ada thinks of him often, and wonders why her mother speaks little of him. But then, Ada’s relationship with her strict, distant mother is often strained. Ada’s flighty tendencies jar with Lady Byron’s more rigid intellectual outlook. But they’re both inspired by their Grand Tour of Europe - Lady Byron seizes an opportunity to research ideas for her progressive school, while Ada’s mind is opened to a world of possibilities. Back in England, Ada’s desires are constrained by societal conventions, though female thinkers and mathematicians are among her circle, and then she meets a revolutionary inventor whose work chimes with her own innovative scientific ideas…
Shortlisted for the Costa Children's Book Award 2020 | February 2020 Debut of the Month | Set in a world that’s become “a walking graveyard”, this edge-of-your-seat thriller teems with cinematic chills and the tender love between two teenage boys. Indeed, author Darren Charlton has hit the nail on the head in describing his debut as The Walking Dead meets Brokeback Mountain. “Clock it. Kill it. Rid the world of it” - this is how encounters with the zombie Restless Ones must be handled, a mantra soon-to-be-sixteen-year-old Peter struggles to follow. Too trusting, and infinitely better with a darning needle than an axe or gun, he’s something of a liability to the community, especially as another winter sets in, for “winter was the one season every Lake Lander feared. Not because Montana was about to get colder than an eagle’s gaze. But because the Dead could make it across the lake’s frozen waters.” When the community comes under serious threat during their annual First Fall party, Peter winds up as zombie bait with his at-one-with-the-wilds boyfriend Connor responsible for wrangling the Restless Ones like a post-apocalyptic cowboy. On the mainland, the young lovers uncover an earth-shattering secret and it’s not long before Connor’s situation is seriously comprised, leading to Peter stepping-up and standing tall. Gripping and graphically gory, this dynamic debut is dystopian horror with a difference, for it pulsates not only with terror and visceral violence, but also with love, affection and emotional atmosphere.
Shortlisted for the Costa Children's Book Award 2020 | July 2020 Book of the Month | With characteristic vision and grace Meg Rosoff has done it again in this exquisite novel that merits a place alongside I Capture the Castle, Bonjour Tristesse and The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes) for its coming-of-age, loss-of-innocence excellence. Though contemporary, it feels timeless and elementally affecting, much like the Great Godden’s impact on the family whose story it tells. With an idyllic seaside summer stretching ahead, the tingling anticipation of The Great Godden’s unnamed teenage narrator is deliciously palpable: “This year is going to be the best ever: the best weather, the best food, the best fun. The actors assembled, the summer begins.” But there are still two more actors to take to the stage - enter the Godden brothers in a shiny black car. The narrator’s older sister Mattie is immediately smitten by magnetic, handsome, self-assured Kit: “She was desperate to lose her virginity, and what sort of person would say no to Mattie? Surely not some movie star’s kid, fresh off the plane?” Though Mattie is certainly attractive, it’s obvious that charmer Kit has the upper hand of any situation, but might he also be a trouble-maker, as his curt, less-of-a-looker brother warns? Such wonderings underpin some of this novel’s essence. With the stage fully set and summer speeding towards the climax of a wedding, it poses fundamental questions about motivation, and the nature of agency, of lust, of the desire to be seen for who you are. Quivering with unease, passion and paranoia, it also reveals how past experiences engrave themselves upon us, creating fault-lines that may crack and cause future ructions. Sophisticated, seductive and smoothly readable, this is a summer story par excellence, and a coming-of-age tale for all times.
As Tough Women’s subtitle declares, these are “stories of grit, courage and determination”. True tales from twenty-two tough women who undertake awe-inspiring adventures across the globe, from canoeing the Canadian wilderness, to hiking Pakistan, to cycling South America. Its editor is the intrepid Jenny Tough, a Canadian mountaineering expert who notes in her introduction that “the outdoor industry is actually fully of women, but when it comes to the highest level of media…the demographic dwindles to one”. Fortunately, this sexist state of affairs could be on the verge of changing - through giving voice to the “badass outdoorswomen” who here tell their extraordinary stories, this book might just change that narrow narrative and inspire new generations of female adventuresses. Each account enthrals like the best kind of travel writing. There are dazzling evocations of, for example, rugged Himalayan mountain-scapes, lush South American jungles, and howling Norwegian glacial valleys. Many of the women’s stories reveal monumental physical and emotional challenges - challenges tackled and overcome with super-human strength and resilience - and all of them underpinned by a joyously life-affirming spirit of curiosity. For more books with a strong, feminist theme, visit our Girl Power feature.
December 2020 YA Book of the Month | Imparting wisdom from across two decades, Philip Pullman’s Dæmon Voices shares a generous banquet of thought-provoking insights into the art of story-telling and Pullman’s personal processes and passions. As the book’s editor, Simon Mason, writes in his introduction, Pullman is “interested in, above all, human nature, how we live and love and fight and betray and console one another. How we explain ourselves to ourselves,” and this all-encompassing ethos is reflected here, with essays covering everything from the responsibilities of the storyteller, how stories work, and authors’ intentions, to William Blake, Oliver Twist, and writing fantasy realistically. The tone is lively, ablaze with clear-sighted wit, no matter how complex the subject, with many pieces having been delivered at conferences. One of my personal favourites is “Let’s Write it in Red” which begins with an anecdote about a train journey during which the author witnessed children demonstrating the “two great principles of storytelling”. The first principle is that there are rules - among them stories must begin and have unity, and storytellers mustn’t be afraid of the obvious. Stories must have a destination too, and storytellers “must design the path so that it leads to the destination most surely, and with the maximum effect.” The second principle relates to form: “if the story is a path, then to follow it you have to ignore quite ruthlessly all the things that tempt you away from it. Your business as a storyteller is with the path, not the wood.” To these, Pullman adds a third - knowledge. Storytellers should “become more interested in your subject-matter than in the way you appear to others to be dealing with it.” With each of the 32 essays embodying these astute principles, Dæmon Voices is a trove of enlightenment, and entertaining to boot. Recommended for 16+ readers.
September 2020 Book of the Month | Co-written by award-winning novelist Ibi Zoboi and Dr Yusef Salaam, a prison reform activist, poet and one of the Exonerated Five, Punching the Air is a timely, heartachingly powerful free verse novel. Through its shatteringly succinct lyricism, Amal’s story is a mighty call to action that rouses readers to question the deep-rooted and damaging consequences of racially biased societal systems, while radiating the light and hope of art and Amal himself. Sixteen-year-old Amal is a talented poet and artist, but even at his liberal arts college, he’s victimised by destructive preconceptions, deemed disruptive by people who “made themselves a whole other boy in their minds and replaced me with him.” Amal’s budding life careers off-course when he’s wrongfully convicted of a crime in a gentrified area. Even in the courtroom it feels to him “like everything that I am, that I’ve ever been, counts as being guilty”. Standing before judgemental eyes in his specially chosen grey suit, he’s aware that “no matter how many marches or Twitter hashtags or Justice for So-and-So our mind’s eyes and our eyes’ minds see the world as they want to/Everything already illustrated in black and white.” In the detention centre, Amal considers his African ancestry: “I am shackled again,” he says. “Maybe these are the same chains that bind me to my ancestors. Maybe these are the same chains that bind me to my father and my father’s father and all the men that came before.” He expresses society’s double standards with searing clarity too - Black boys are “a mob/a gang ghetto/a pack of wolves animals/thugs hoodlums men” while white boys “were kids having fun home loved supported protected full of potential boys.” But through the beatings and despair, through anger and frustration, Amal finds solace in the supportive letters he receives from a girl in his school, and his “poet, educator and activist” teacher. By turns soul-stirring and inspiring, this sharp exposure of injustice and testament to the transformative power of art comes highly recommended for readers who love the work of Jason Reynolds and Elizabeth Acevedo. Find a selection of recommended books that celebrate difference in our blog, Diverse Voices.