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The books in this section have been given a primary age range of 11+. The reading world now lies wide open. Individual choices of genre become more significant as readers become more discriminating. Readers develop their critical faculties as they weave their way towards the kind of readers they are growing into. The books in this section are suitable for 11-12+ readers. The books in this section might also be given a secondary age range. Some are suitable for 9+ year olds reading above their age. Please note, content & subject matter will be suitable for a 9 year old. Where indicated, less confident teen readers will enjoy the stories. Non-Fiction in this section is often fascinating and educational to a wider age range.
September 2020 Book of the Month | Raw, lingering and stirringly lyrical, October, October had me hooked from opening to end. Conjured in language that crackles and smoulders like an autumn bonfire, this is a book of bones and bark, of frost and flame, captivating in the manner of Skellig or Stig of the Dump as it undulates towards a wondrous homecoming of the heart. “We live in the woods and we are wild… Just us. A pocket of people in a pocket of the world that’s small as a marble. We are tiny and we are everything and we are wild.” October has everything she wants living in the woods in the house her father built. Her mother left when October was four and she’s adamant that, “I don’t want her. She’s not wild like we are.” This year October’s euphoria at the onset of autumn is sullied when she discovers a dead owl and a motherless baby owl: “my heart won’t stop bruising my ribs.” So, she rescues the baby, names it Stig and declares it her first ever friend. Calamity strikes when the woman “who calls herself my mother” arrives as a birthday surprise - her beloved dad breaks his spine after falling from a tree and October must stay with this woman – her mother – in London while he recuperates. In the chaotic city, October is a bird with clipped wings. Torn from her wild world, she implodes, becomes a “firework of fury”, until she strikes up a bond with a boy named Yusef and discovers mudlarking, which makes her once more “a wild animal skulking and prowling for food”, “a pirate hunting for treasure.” An unforgettable story, an unforgettable heroine – it’s no exaggeration to hail this a future classic.
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!
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.
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!
September 2020 Debut of the Month | Elsetime is a wonderfully atmospheric timeslip adventure story with two great characters – three, if you count Magpie, the wise young crow who befriends the two human protagonists. Needle is a mudlark, gathering lost treasures from the river shoreline in the 1860s. Through a mysterious magic, he finds himself fifty years in the future, on the same spot and the eve of a terrible flood that he knows will cause death and destruction (as the real River Thames flood did in 1928). His new friend, talented young apprentice jeweller, Glory, is one of those whose lives is at risk. Can they save the town and their neighbours, and can Needle find a way to return home to his family? The plot swirls and sparkles and will keep readers on tenterhooks; this accomplished historical fantasy adventure is full of treasures for readers.
September 2020 Debut of the Month | Some girls like ballet; some like football; Aveline Jones likes ghosts. And anyone who enjoys a creepy, well-plotted, atmospheric ghost story will love this book. The setting is a little West Country fishing port, where Aveline is staying with her aunt while her mother is away. Hallowe’en is approaching and Aveline is unsettled by the village’s custom of leaving life-size manikins of children outside the houses – it’s seriously spooky. A visit to the local second-hand bookshop begins an adventure that will reveal the reason for the dolls, and one that sees Aveline herself caught up in an old tragedy that still haunts the villagers. It’s deliciously creepy reading, just the thing to add a frisson of fear as the nights draw out and highly recommended!
September 2020 Debut of the Month | If you like books in which ordinary children suddenly have wonderful magical adventures and, in the process, realise just how much adults don’t know, or choose to pretend isn’t real, then you will love The Silver Arrow. Eleven-year-old Kate and her younger brother Tom are gifted an adventure by their rich and totally irresponsible Uncle Herbert. It’s Kate’s mum who labels him irresponsible, Kate and Tom have never even met him until he turns up on Kate’s birthday with an amazing present – a steam locomotive. That night the children climb on board, staying on even as the train starts to move and Uncle Herbert advises them they really should think about jumping off – and there begins the best adventure you could ever hope to have, in which the train turns out to be able to communicate, the passengers are wild animals who climb on and off at the stops, except for a small band including a porcupine, black mamba, fishing cat and a white-bellied heron, who become the children’s special friends. There’s so much that Kate and Tom learn, not just about driving steam trains but about our world, its animals, and humans too. It all makes for the journey of a lifetime, and this is one train adventure-loving readers mustn’t miss. There’s an important environmental message for all youngsters reading the book too, and it’s even better for that.
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.
Opening the pages of this eerie anthology is akin to creeping through creaky doors to explore a haunted house. To wander corridors and halls, rooms and chambers that have been darkly decorated by a host of hallowed writers. Here readers will encounter the skulking terrors of Joseph Delaney’s timeless, gripping The Castle Ghosts. The clever, contemporary creepiness of Robin Jarvis’s The Beach Hut. Then there’s Philip Reeves’s long-lingering, translucently lyrical The Ghost Wood. There are eleven tales in all, each written by a truly top-class writer, among them Matt Haig, Derek Landy, Susan Cooper, Mal Peet, and Jamila Gavin. Some tingle with menace. Others are outright scary. Some are modern, others infused with the terrors of traditional Gothic tales. And all of them are exquisitely executed. Perfect for reading aloud as the nights draw in, the stories here also make excellent introductions to a fine set of writers.
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.
After stories set in jungles and on the Russian steppes, Katherine Rundell has chosen the streets of Prohibition New York for her latest, but it’s just as full of the sense of peril and freedom from rules that characterises her earlier books, with central character Vita facing possibly the greatest danger yet. Newly arrived from England, Vita is determined to win back her family home, the fabulous Hudson Castle, acquired from her grandfather in a distinctly shady way by mob boss Victor Sorrotore. This will involve breaking and entering – and legend has it the castle is impregnable – and safe cracking, but Vita is fortunate enough to have as associates an extremely talented pickpocket and two fearless young circus performers. Rundell revels in setting her characters these kind of challenges and also in exploring the kind of physical and mental daring required to undertake them. She likes to equip her protagonists with right and with love too, the latter proves a formidable weapon for Vita. Beautifully written and full of scenes that both thrill and enchant, The Good Thieves is Rundell at her classy best. Readers who are captivated by Katherine Rundell’s wild children will also enjoy Stop the Train or The Middle of Nowhere by Geraldine McCaughrean, or books by classic children’s writers such as Joan Aiken and Eva Ibbotson.
This emotive, richly-detailed novel illuminates a dark period of history with grace and lyricism through a perfectly-paced plot. England, 1659 – an era of terror and persecution for women who might be accused of witchcraft. One such woman is Mary’s grandmother, the wise woman who raised her, someone the community once turned to in times of birth, sickness and death. But those times have passed. When her grandmother is hanged for witchcraft after a ludicrous trial, Mary fears for her own life, but she’s swiftly and quietly brought to safety by a woman she doesn’t know, with a passage to America arranged for her. In the New World Mary will adopt a new identity and make a new life among Puritans. Mary’s life in Salem is described in evocative detail - the heat that “does not fade with the setting sun”, the fireflies, the “dour” people whose “faces show a history of work and hardship.” But the Puritans find Salem too soft for them, and so they press further into the wilderness, to the Beulah (‘Bride of God’) settlement. Life is strict, and worsens for Mary when old superstitions re-emerge after she uses her healing wisdom. It’s while searching for herbs in the woods that she befriends Jaybird, a Native American boy, and meets his shaman grandfather. The novel tells of their history and spiritual beliefs with an engaging deftness of touch, but since the Puritans regard Native Americans as “the Devil’s instruments”, as people who live “in sin, and in degradation”, Mary’s association with Jaybird adds to their suspicion of her. Presented as pages from Mary’s journal found centuries later, this is an engaging joy from start to cliff-hanger finish. As Witch Child ends, so Sorceress begins...
This captivating sequel sees contemporary Native American Agnes discover deep connections to her ancestress Mary, whose story enchanted readers in Witch Child. Deftly interweaving narratives of the past and present, and laced with atmosphere, authenticity and insights into Native American culture, this is an exhilarating, emotion-driven feast for fans of historical fiction. Agnes is proud of her Native American heritage, though her fellow anthropology students don’t call her by her tribal name, Karonhisake - Searching Sky. After reading the historic diaries of Mary Newbury and being struck by a vision type experience, Agnes feels compelled to contact the researcher who found Mary’s diaries. She has a hunch that Mary might be the young woman she’s heard stories about on her home reservation. As things turn out, her formidable Aunt M, a medicine woman, is already miles ahead of her in knowing this. Bristling with intrigue and ethical commentary on the acquisition and appropriation of Native American objects (“What right they got to any of that stuff? Bunch of grave robbers!”), this tells the remarkable tales of two remarkable young women connected across time.
Interest Age Teen Reading Age 9 | Tanya Landman’s storytelling skills shine bright in this potent re-telling of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Specially written to engage reluctant and dyslexic readers, this soars with passion, pinches with the pain of tragic love and brings Brontë’s commentary on social class to the fore. “It just wasn't in me to be the obedient, devoted daughter my father craved,” Cathy states near the start of her story, shortly before her father takes-in beggar boy Heathcliff, with whom she forms a soulful bond that will last a lifetime - and beyond. “The two of us together were bigger than the sky and freer than the wind”, she effuses. They’re wild, and united in their loathing of Cathy’s cruel brother who demotes Heathcliff from family member to servant (and later labourer) when their father dies. When Cathy agrees to marry a well-off suitor, hoping to use his wealth to free Heathcliff from the hellhole Wuthering Heights has become, misfortune after misfortune strikes. But theirs is a love that endures everything, and Landman’s re-telling does a remarkable job of conveying the conflicts and tragedy of the original.
September 2020 Book of the Month | Less than one year ago, until November 2019 in fact, SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus hadn’t infected a single person and was completely unknown to nearly all of us. Now it has changed our whole world, yet most of us still have only a hazy idea of what viruses are, which is where this brilliant little book comes in. The Virus tells you everything there is to know about viruses including of course COVID-19. It explains what viruses are, what they look like and do, why they are so successful at making us ill, what we can do to combat them, and why some of them actually help us. If this sounds a bit technical or heavy going, think again: it’s fascinating stuff and presented in a way that makes it really easy to read and understand. The story of coronavirus as told here is an adventure, full of heroes and villains, facts and figures that will stop you in your tracks, and some good jokes too. I can’t think of a more interesting or relevant book for our times – everyone needs to read this! If you're interested in science you can find many similar titles in our Best Non-Fiction collection.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month September 2020 | Cleverly blending an upbeat story of a girl who loves Superman comics and is determined to be a super sleuth in the style of Lois Lane and a contemporary story of a child being trafficked and held in slavery, The Invisible Boy is a fast-paced read with a strong message. When Nadia’s dog is rescued by a boy she has never seen in the neighbourhood before, she immediately labels him ‘The Invisible Boy’ and is determined to find out who he is. Influenced by the comics she reads Nadia is used to making up dramas, often jumping to the wrong conclusions! How Nadia pieces together the real story of her new friend is a well-crafted drama. Nadia’s shock and horror is powerfully conveyed.
In this anthropomorphic coming-of age tale, Alicía must battle against convention to fulfill her dream of running with the bulls in Pamplona. This book has some brilliant themes in it that I think young readers will enjoy. I thought that Toro was well-written and I liked the diverse cast of characters. The plotline where a character must defy tradition in order to achieve their dreams is engaging and inspirational for young readers and I liked that this message is also teamed up with a strong, Spanish, female lead. Alicía isn’t the only character that has unconventional aspirations, and I think that Toro is a good book for all children as it spreads the message of following your ambition, trailblazing if necessary, while also promoting diversity and individuality within the cast of characters. This book is also a great way for young readers to learn more about Spanish culture, particularly the running of the bulls in San Fermin. This book reminded me a little bit of The Story of Ferdinand, as there is a common message of defying expectations and appearances. This is an entertaining book to share with young readers with an inspirational message of equality and female empowerment at its heart.
Leonard looks like a cat, sounds like a cat and – in lots of ways – behaves like a cat. But Leonard is an alien, an alien who has arrived in the wrong body for a trip to Earth – he was meant to be a Yellowstone Park ranger - and needs to get home. Fortunately, he’s adopted by just about the only human on our planet who can save him. Olive is a young girl, also far from home and lonely. The two form a special friendship and, with the help of two amiable if eccentric grown-ups, embark on an amazing journey of adventure and discovery. Leonard might not get to tick off all the human activities on his to do list – one of which is the ‘preparation and consumption of a cheese sandwich’ – but he and Olive learn the most important things there are to being human, to being alive. It’s a story filled with wonder, but truths too, is often funny, sometimes tense, always enjoyable and has important things to say about home and where we can find it. Readers who love Leonard – and lots will – should also read Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s alien adventure Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth.
A Story Told in Poems | Joseph Coehlo is a poet who has been in the situation of ‘the one to watch’ because he has been producing lots of wonderful work that has made an impact from picture books to teen reads. This is his most ground-breaking and powerful exploration of poetry as a form and as a story-telling medium to date. Based on the legend of Daphne – she was a Naiad-nymph who was loved by the god Apollo who pursued her until she grew exhausted and called on Gaia for help. She was transformed into a laurel tree which Apollo then adopted as his sacred plant. This creates a clever and intriguing interweaving of the ancient legend with the reaction and feelings of a girl, also called Daphne, who is coping with the grief caused by the loss of her father. She turns to her phone for aid, and her local library as she tries to sort out the past and find a way to build connections again. The verse is heart-breaking, powerful, totally involving, and engrossing to read. The layers of meaning enlighten the story in this rich poetic exploration – a tour de force – full of energy and a rich palette of language. This is not to disregard the evocative and powerful illustrations from one of our most innovative and prize-winning illustrators to add stylish, edgy and thought-provoking illustrations. The whole package is an experience that will cause discussion and deep thought in every reader.
This is a reinvention of the most radiant, vital kind; an inspirational re-working of The Twelve Dancing Princesses to devour over and over, and to share aloud. Following the death of his wife, Queen Laurelia, King Alberto “became the sort of person who ate a whole cake without offering anyone else a slice, and who punished his girls for things that weren’t their fault at all.” While Queen Laurelia had “been the one watching them, nurturing their imaginations, their educations”, the King takes away his daughters’ freedoms in the name of keeping them safe. The palace is transformed into a tomb, and “only melancholy was allowed to illuminate the girls’ days”. But brave, clever Frida stands up to her father. “This isn’t fair, and you know it,” she protests. “You cannot tell us how to grieve”. And then, with the grace and strength of a lioness and the potency of her imagination, Frida leads her sisters in a fight to re-find life. The writing pirouettes with the lithe power of a devoted dancer, with Angela Barrett’s elegant illustrations in perfect accord. What a sumptuous, stirring celebration of sisterhood this is. For more books with a feminist feel check out Work it Girl - Inspiring and Informative Books on Feminism.
How to Earn It, Save It, Spend It, Grow It, Give It | Given that we are looking down the barrel of the worst recession since records began, this book could not be more topical, or of more interest to young people and will no doubt teach adults, like me, a thing or two (about Bitcoin for example!). The author tells us she loves to take big ideas and make them accessible and she has fulfilled that ambition with flying colours and created a book that should be in every school as an invaluable tool for teaching financial literacy. There have been many books which have covered the history and origins of money, but nothing which has dealt so clearly with the ‘why it matters’ and encouraged us to think about needs versus wants, the concept of value and, even more importantly, why it matters how you use your money and how you can use it to do good. When you have successfully grown your money it also explains why you should give some of it away. Brilliantly illustrated and designed with ‘in a nutshell’ sections and quizzes, real life stories and a lively, witty and accessible style that explains, but never patronises and uses examples that make sense in a children’s world. So, for example, when you understand the ‘superhero sweetie’ of compound interest, you will never make the common error of picking a ‘1 million today’ prize instead of ‘1p which doubles every day’ (making 5.3 million in just 30 days) Perfectly pitched yet sophisticated and challenging enough to intrigue teens as well as tweens, this is a superb information text that I cannot recommend highly enough.
The Periodic Table Personified | Colin Stuart is a renowned astronomy speaker, a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and a well-regarded writer across a wide variety of media, hence this book comes with an impeccable pedigree. The delight of it is that it has taken a rather solemn and serious subject and – by presenting all the information in infographics – created a bright, very informative introduction to the periodic table! Each element in the Periodic table has a whole page devoted to the information about it – which includes a delightful host of weird and wonderful characters playing the elements! Each element is presented as a figure (host) with symbols showing its state at room temperature i.e. solid, liquid or gas, then where on earth it can be found. There are symbols for whether it is harmful to humans or not and any special use it is put to. A picture of the electron shell formation is included, its atomic mass and also the elements’ rankings i.e. its density, melting point and boiling point. This plus the date of discovery, and a short paragraph on typical usage of the element make this a valuable and informative look at the Periodic table. I feel sure the interesting approach and the fun illustrations will help some young chemists find a way into the topic perhaps earlier than usual. It will also have real benefit in aiding those of us who may otherwise struggle with Chemistry – me included!
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.
Winner of the Wainwright Prize 2020 | Winner of the 2020 Wainwright Prize, Diary of a Young Naturalist chronicles the turning of Dara McAnulty's world, from spring to summer, autumn to winter, on his home patch, at school, in the wild and in his head. Evocative, raw and beautifully written, this very special book vividly explores the natural world from the perspective of an autistic teenager juggling homework, exams and friendships alongside his life as a conservationist and environmental activist. With a sense of awe and wonder, Dara describes in meticulous detail encounters in his garden and the wild, with blackbirds, whooper swans, red kites, hen harriers, frogs, dandelions, skylarks, bats, cuckoo flowers, Irish hares and many more species. The power and warmth of his words also draw an affectionate and moving portrait of a close-knit family making their way in the world.
Ice Cooper and the Depton Shadelings is a charming story that mixes family and mystery with fantasy and the topical subject of fracking. I think that this book would be enjoyed by readers aged 9-13, it’s fast paced and includes elements of mystery and fantasy that is engaging to the reader while also exploring the topical subject of fracking. Ice is an intuitive and endearing character (with an amazing name) that has to deal with the worries of moving to a new town and a new school, concerns about her parents and their work as well as the curious creatures that have appeared in her dreams all her life and now seem to be appearing more and more in her waking world. Ice, her brother and her friends handle all of the issues they face (excluding the dinner tray incident) with a degree of maturity and understanding that I enjoyed. I liked the tension and the mystery that builds throughout the book and I was intrigued to see how each nuance was going to be resolved. I like how things were concluded (no spoilers here) and I think that there may even be more to come from Ice Cooper. I think that this is a great fast paced read for any confident reader that likes fantasy and mystery all still firmly rooted in a world we are familiar with.
The Keeper of the Stones is an absorbing tale of time travel. Beautifully illustrated in black and white, the opening page sets the scene and poses questions even before the story begins. There’s mystery as we follow Lizzie and Daniel on their adventure back in time to the Bronze Age. Not only is this book packed full of intrigue as Lizzie works to save her brother, it also quietly educates on archaeology and history. I think children aged 9-12 will enjoy this book, especially if they love animals as the animal characters in the book play an important role, and Lizzie’s knowledge from helping out on her family farm is vital for those in peril. I used to read the Sheltie books at that age and reading this felt similar in some places. I also quite liked that the sister is the one to save the day, holding her own as she helps the other characters and saves her brother. I think that The Keeper of Stones is very well-written and I was able to sit back and enjoy the story without feeling the need to make notes. There’s strong description, good characterisation and humour to alleviate the tension throughout this adventure story. There’s lots packed into just under 200 pages and I’m sure there’s more of Lizzie’s story to come, I wonder where she’ll end up next?
20 lessons on how to wake up, take action, and do the work | This has 20 colourful chapters which slowly build to give a full picture of identities, histories and anti-racism work in the USA, Australia and UK. It is aimed at students (mainly) with the intention to make them feel empowered to challenge racism and stand up for what they believe in. Having said that – it is a powerful and accessible read for everyone. Tiffany Jewell is an anti-racist, anti-bias educationalist who uses a very carefully chosen vocabulary so that no-one is excluded, supported by the wonderful bright colour illustrations and layout it makes an inviting read on a sometimes difficult topic. Each chapter is a chance for the reader to look at their own beliefs, their power, or their lack of it, and consider what might be possible to change. The chapters are arranged in groupings under the headings of Understanding and growing Identities; Making sense of the world; Taking action and responding to racism; Working in solidarity against racism. If taken as the basis of a series of study this could provide a fascinating term’s work (at least) as it covers so much in such a short book. This makes it sound rather didactic – it isn’t, this is a very readable, very informative, very thought-provoking book. Just what we need in this radicalized and strife-ridden world. Buy copies for your school – you won’t regret it!
A moving historical story inspired by the Foundling Museum, written by acclaimed children's author Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Michael Foreman. From award-winning master storyteller Michael Morpurgo, author of the acclaimed War Horse, comes a moving historical story inspired by the Foundling Museum.
Highly Commended for the Klaus Flugge Prize 2020 | Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2020 | Sabina Radeva combines her two passions and talents, as a molecular biologist and illustrator, to produce this infectiously engaging and accessible adaptation of Charles Darwin’s famous work for a younger audience. It is a stylishly and highly informative account, that skilfully combines a re-telling with Darwin’s own words. The Klaus Flugge judge Mini Grey said: “It’s a work of ingenious inspiration that is able to take a complicated idea and make it visually simple, and that’s what On the Origin of Species does. Elegant illustrations help us venture deeper into the concepts and work on many levels: for example, showing the evolution of the eye, and convergent evolution. This beautifully produced book celebrates nature and the voice of Darwin.”
My Dad, the Earth Warrior uses a fantastical story in order to explore, introduce and examine a range of topics including global warming and the effects of climate change. This chapter book is lighthearted and entertaining while also delivering an important message about the impact our actions are having on the Earth. A bump to the head leads Hero’s Dad to believe he is an Earth Warrior, with the sole mission of protecting Mother Earth. With advice from the doctors to wait the episode out; Hero, his grandma and his friends are thrust into the spotlight and head to head with a ruthless energy tycoon. The illustrations on the front cover remind me of Quentin Blake or Tony Ross in style. There are smaller images at the start of each chapter and lots of different fonts used to bring the story to life and add an extra level of interest for younger readers. The book covers a range of events, such as heatwaves, flash flooding, fracking, and protests in a way that informs while also encouraging the reader to ask questions. For example, I liked the additional detail of the heatwave being named Bertha, which echoed the naming of storms. This then sparked my curiosity and imagination as to why we name storms, and if we would reach a point in time where other weather patterns become so severe they would require naming in the same way. Terra Firma and Grandma are both quirky, eccentric characters, with Dad Eddie’s alter ego playing off a Tarzan stereotype of appearance (although in Union Jack flip flops). With equally eccentric supporting characters such as Mr Bugwell, readers will easily engage and differentiate between the characters. I also liked the inclusion of facts and resources at the back to help readers understand more about the topics covered in the book. I think that this is a lighthearted book with an important message for readers.
A recommendation from our Guest Editor, Michael Morpurgo MBE | A book for children from 8 to 80. It’s the tale of one man’s dedication to planting trees and how it has a profound effect on a region of South-east France. I love the humanity of this story and how one man’s efforts can change the future for so many. It’s a real message of hope. - Michael Morpurgo
A recommendation from our Guest Editor, September 2020, Michael Morpurgo, MBE | This is a much-loved favourite classic. Here are the thoughts of three favourite authors: Michael Morpurgo, September 2020, Guest Editor : 'A terrifically exciting tale of a dead man’s map, mutinous pirates, skulduggery and buried treasure that will be thoroughly enjoyed by a child if read aloud to them from the age of 5 upwards. It’s such a gripping adventure that children are sure to pick it up again to read alone when they’re a little older. It’s the story of Jim Hawkins who discovers a map in an old sea chest but little does he know of the danger and excitement which lie ahead when sets sail for Treasure Island in search of treasure. 'This was the first proper book I read for myself. Jim Hawkins was the first character in a book I identified with totally. I was Jim Hawkins. I lived Treasure Island as I read it. And I loved it. Still do. I wish I'd written it.' Tim Bowler, February 2011 Guest Editor: "All right, another sea story, but it's one of the best ever. I first read it at the age of ten and I've read it countless times since. It's a book I would love to have written myself. It's got everything – pirates, treasure, a sea voyage, a desert island, danger, treachery, courage, comradeship, humour, and a cast that includes some of the most memorable characters in fiction: Jim Hawkins, Squire Trelawney, Ben Gunn and Long John Silver. Every time I read this novel, it gets better. There are very few books you can say that about." March 2010 Guest Editor Michael Foreman's special memories of this book: "One of our teachers, Oscar Outlaw, realised that most of the class had no books at home. He started bringing in his own books and reading to us on Friday afternoons if it was too wet for games. First he read The Wind in the Willows. And then, Treasure Island. What a treat! We looked forward to rain." Treasure Island in a nutshell: Black spot moment. Sea dog dies. Jim finds map. Ship sets sail. Pirates on board. Island is found. Madman in cave. Two rival camps. Battle for map. Dig up chest. Treasure is gone. Gunn has gold. Head back home. Silver runs off.Jim writes book. Just click here to view our range of Children’s Classics.
A recommendation from our Guest Editor, September 2020, Michael Morpurgo, MBE | A life-enhancing book and even more amazing because this is the late author's own story, telling of her and her family's flight from Nazi Germany from their home and everything they knew to become refugees, first in Switzerland and then in Paris. - Michael Morpurgo This unforgettable story of a Jewish family fleeing Germany before the Second World War, is now available in a special hardback edition to celebrate the 90th birthday of its author Judith Kerr, with a reproduction of the original illustrated cover.
Delivering big-hearted, big sisterly insights through smartly entertaining escapism - no mean feat, and something Holly Smale is brilliant at - Happy Girl Lucky is a riveting read-in-one-sitting page-turner. Just like Hope herself, Hope’s story fizzes with heart, humour and a sprinkling of Hollywood stardust, and kicks-off The Valentines series in style. Fizzily enthusiastic Hope Valentine is prone to malapropisms, and loves horoscopes and romantic movies. Oh, and she’s part of “one of the most famous families on the planet. A dynasty of movie stars stretching back four generations.” Hope cannot wait to turn sixteen, when she’ll finally be allowed into the glitzy public life her older siblings already enjoy. Maybe they’ll pay attention to her then - both her family, and the rest of the world. But right now, her director dad is away working in Hollywood and “Mum’s in rehab”, which has attracted the attention of the paparazzi - to Hope’s glee, and to the chagrin of her esteemed actress grandmother who’s compelled to remind her grandchildren that, “We are not reality-television celebrities or popular musicians. We are not Beauty Loggers or what they call Tubers. We do not air our dirty laundry in public for the entertainment of the masses.” Everything Hope thinks (and hopes for) is done via the endearingly comic internal romantic movie that plays out in her head - and on the page - including her whirlwind week in London with a cute Californian boy who rescued her from entrapment in train doors. When he returns to LA, where Hope’s dad happens to be directing his latest movie – what a coincidence! What an alignment of their stars! - she has to follow him. Against a Hollywood backdrop, it’s not long before Hope’s ultimate romance looks set to descend into a farce. But then, amidst a maelstrom of romantic and family strife, she has an epiphany: “life is not a romance. It’s not a thriller or a comedy; it’s not a tragedy or a horror or a crime story… Life is every genre, all mixed up together: the scary bits and the funny bits and the sweet bits and the sad bits and the angry bits and the bits that hurt and the bits you want to rush through and the bits you want to hold on to forever.” This book is an absolute blast. Find out more as Holly Smale talks to us about her fabulous new trilogy!
Not since Adrian Mole opened his diary have the thoughts and innermost feelings of an adolescent boy been examined so precisely or with such heart. Stan is twelve, shy and a worrier, so the thought of a holiday in Italy with his friend Felix and Felix’s family freaks him out. He’s going though: we meet him at the airport drawing up a ‘duck-it’ list of things he hopes he’ll never have to do. Little does he know that he’ll tick off six out of ten of them on his holiday, and enjoy it too. The first-person narrative lets us in on all Stan’s thoughts, but he’s a good observer of others so we learn loads about the others in the holiday party too, kids and grown-ups. There are laugh-out-loud scenes and moments of pure agony, and through it all Stan is learning loads about himself and life in general. Honest, revealing, compassionate and so entertaining, this is a must read for all the Stans out there – adults, give yourselves a treat and read it too.
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.
Kindred in spirit to The Lost Words but fresh in its form, The Lost Spells is a pocket-sized treasure that introduces a beautiful new set of natural spell-poems and artwork by beloved creative duo Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris. Each spell conjures an animal, bird, tree or flower -- from Barn Owl to Red Fox, Grey Seal to Silver Birch, Jay to Jackdaw -- with which we share our lives and landscapes.
Love Yourself and Grow Up Fearless | It is worrying to think that most girls feel dissatisfied with their bodies, and that this can lead to serious problems including depression and eating disorders. Can some of those body image worries be eased? Body image expert and psychology professor Dr Charlotte Markey helps girls aged 9-15 to understand, accept, and appreciate their bodies. She provides all the facts on puberty, mental health, self-care, why diets are bad news, dealing with social media, and everything in-between. Girls will find answers to questions they always wanted to ask, the truth behind many body image myths, and real-life stories from girls who share their own experiences. Through this easy-to-read and beautifully illustrated guide, Dr Markey teaches girls how to nurture both mental and physical heath to improve their own body image, shows the positive impact they can have on others, and enables them to go out into the world feeling fearless!
Highly Commended in the Branford Boase Award 2020 | Ten-year-old Frank loves code and numbers; they’re a way to make sense of the world, as well as providing secret languages to share with his friends and his mum. Frank’s five-year-old brother Max is autistic and for him the world is often a scary place, when anything unexpected, too loud or too bright can cause him to have a meltdown. The story is narrated by Frank and every reader will understand his frustration at the unfairness of life. We know that he loves Max, but we know too how hard Max makes life for all the family. Frank is then faced with something even more terrible when tragedy strikes. With the help of those around him we watch Frank find a way to make sense of what has happened and the bravery to cope with the different world. Katya Balen has worked with neuro-divergent children and there’s a powerful sense of truth and understanding in her beautifully told story. If they like Wonder by R. J. Palacio they'll love The Space We're In.
Patrick Neate’s Small Town Hero melds a sensitive handling of real-life loss with alternate world weirdness to create a surprising, unique novel. There’s grief and gaming, family secrets and football, and the interwoven themes of loss and science will appeal to readers who liked Christopher Edge’s The Many Worlds of Albie Bright and are now a little older. Everything changed for thirteen-year-old Gabe when his dad died in a car accident. First there’s his grief, which has created a “black hole inside me.” Then there’s his unsettling new ability: “the stories I imagine become real.” Reeling with grief and confusion, Gabe finds he’s not entirely alone when he spends more time with his estranged Uncle Jesse, writer of an online game called Small Town Hero, which - to make matters even weirder – appears to echo Gabe’s life. Jesse believes “there aren’t just a few realities, but a countless number” and explains that when Gabe shifts realities and sees alternate versions of his present and future life, he’s crossing something called an “event horizon”. As Gabe’s reality-shifting plays out, he also falls out with his best friend. Still, he has Soccer School to look forward to, and here Gabe takes on pertinent football wisdom from one his Watford icons: “Football’s a game of moments. You get the ball, you choose a pass and, whether you chose right or wrong and did it well or badly, the moment’s gone and you gotta move on…the game makes you live in the here and now – you can’t change what’s gone and you can’t see what’s coming.” For similar books you can find an exciting and varied selection in our new Gritty Reads section
A thrilling, ecological adventure that starts in Wales but mostly takes place in the Amazon jungle, My Name is River demonstrates just how connected we all are, to each other, and our planet. Dylan is devastated when he learns the family farm that he loves so much is going to be sold. He can’t imagine a life anywhere else. His only hope is to speak to the CEO of the company that’s buying the land and try and stop the sale, even though that means flying to Brazil. He’s helped by his friend Floyd, whose father and little brother are coincidentally also in Salvador. In the best fiction of course, coincidences are always significant, and the two boys discover some strange things going on at the company’s secret jungle laboratories, and that Floyd’s father is in real danger. With courage, conviction and the help of an equally brave and principled street kid, Dylan learns that you can save what matters, and that the world is both bigger and smaller than he’d realised. A satisfying, thoroughly engaging adventure, recommended for fans of Cloudburst or The Girl Who Stole an Elephant. You can find more books on this theme in our selection of Ecological and Environmental Fiction.
It’s more than 150 years since the publication of Alice in Wonderland and it is delighting today’s readers as much as it ever has. Both a tribute to and a celebration of Lewis Carroll’s story, this collection includes new adventures by eleven favourite contemporary children’s authors, each of whom has been inspired by Alice. With such an extraordinary set of characters and scenes to take as starting points, the stories are wonderfully varied. Pamela Butchart chooses to write about the Queen of Hearts in a follow up story, while Swapna Haddow picks the Mock Turtle. There’s an environmental message in Lauren St John’s lively story ‘Plum Cakes at Dawn’, while Robin Stevens puts the real Alice into her Oxford set story. Together they make for a sparkling collection, one well worth tumbling back down the rabbit hole to enjoy.
August 2020 Debut of the Month | Will Levine has two passions in his life, the local wildlife reserve behind his school and the turtles he has found there. The rest of his life is a bit of a disaster in his eyes – he is given an unkind nickname at school, due to a facial difference, he has to cope with an upcoming Bar Mitzvah, and he has a community service he needs to fulfil for a boy who is confined to a hospital room. Then, to make matters worse, the county plans to sell off the nature reserve. Plus, there is a looming surgical procedure for Will – who hates having blood tests, never mind anything else. How can he make these things work for him – how can he survive it all, when all he really wants to do is look after his turtles and hide away. Slowly Will responds to the needs of RJ who is stuck in the hospital, and they build a strong and wildly adventurous friendship that takes Will away from his comfort zone and helps RJ experience things he would never have chance to do himself. As well as the obvious empathy the book elicits from its readers there is a wonderful amount of humour, and some passing knowledge gained about turtles too! A wonderful story for all of life’s outsiders – offering hope and new perspectives.
The ninth and final novel in the number-one bestselling, award-winning Murder Most Unladylike series. Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are in Egypt, taking a cruise along the Nile. They are hoping to see some ancient temples and a mummy or two; what they get, instead, is murder. Also travelling on the SS Hatshepsut is a mysterious society called the Breath of Life: a group of genteel English ladies and gentlemen, who believe themselves to be reincarnations of the ancient pharaohs. Three days into the cruise their leader is found dead in her cabin, stabbed during the night. It soon becomes clear to Daisy and Hazel that the victim's timid daughter is being framed - and they begin to investigate their most difficult case yet. But there is danger all around, and only one of the Detective Society will make it home alive...
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.