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The stories and novels in this section cover a range of themes from family issues to mystery adventures. You can find stories about the relationships between grandparents and grandchildren, to sibling rivalry and blended families, suitable for the smallest children up to young adults.
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 | Cally and Jimmy are twins but more different people it would be hard to meet. Cally is generally quiet and well-behaved, while Jimmy is anything but (his ADHD doesn’t help). It’s Cally who narrates the four separate stories contained in this very enjoyable new book, and she gives us a really good idea of what it’s like to live with the most-annoying-brother-in-the-whole-wide-world, describing the many times he gets them both into trouble, but she absolutely captures the fun they have together too. There’s a starring role for their wonderful grandma, or Yiayia as they know her (Mum is Greek) and just a lovely sense of this family. Recommended reading and hopefully there’ll be more adventures to come for the twins.
September 2020 Book of the Month | Jeremy is a worrier. We all know one, perhaps we even are one. He imagines risk everywhere, in burnt toast, spotty bananas, squirrels, and especially the wind. His friend Maggie has a much more laid-back approach, “What’s the worst that can happen?” is her motto. Well, one day, Jeremy gets to find out. Of course, in Pamela Butchart’s deliciously zany but reassuring story, the worst turns out to be a wonderful adventure. It’s a story that will make even the most resolute worrier unwind and one that will work its magic on the Maggies of this world too. Kate Hindley’s illustrations are typically expressive, particularly the three wordless spreads that tell the tale of Jeremy’s experience of ‘the worst’. A wonderfully clever and entertaining picture book with a very wide appeal. The overly-anxious will also enjoy Melanie Watt’s Scaredy Squirrel series, which is equally comic. You can find more books on this theme in our Anxiety & Wellbeing collection.
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!
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.
Tom Palmer’s riveting After the War was sparked by the true story of Jewish Polish, Czech and German children who were sent to safety in the Lake District after surviving the horrors of Nazism. Addressing big questions - how does hope, humanity and friendship survive unimaginable horrors? How do we begin again? – in a highly-readable style (as is typical of Palmer and publisher Barrington Stoke), this is a thought-provoking, edifying read. Trevor Avery of the Lake District Holocaust Project sets the context in the book’s foreword: “A group of young people arrived in the Lake District in the summer of 1945 and stayed for a few months, the last of them leaving in early 1946. Although they only spent a short time in the area, it was a profoundly important experience for them, and they made a big impression on those who met them at the time.” A sense of this being a “profoundly important experience” is clear from the outset, as revealed when young Yossi first glimpses England, his imagined paradise: “This was the place where they had been told they would be safe. A place where there would be no German soldiers and no concentration camps.” But despite the peace, despite “the lush green hills under a bright blue sky” and the “huge clusters of trees, swallows flitting above them”, Yossi feels unsettled. The brick buildings remind him of concentration camps, and he’s haunted by terrible memories, disturbed by nightmares, and longs for news from his family - will his father ever be found and come for him? Details of everyday life are strikingly evoked, and springboard deeper insights into the children’s experiences – a bike ride reminds Yossi of when he had to surrender his bike to the Nazis, immediately after he and his dad witnessed a horrific attack. An opportunity to attend a Rosh Hashanah celebration triggers his recollection of the terrifying time the SS destroyed his synagogue. A storm over Lake Windermere reminds him of bomb explosions. This device works perfectly, and Yossi’s enduring trauma is palpable. Then, at his lowest, a memory of his father’s words pulls him from the depths of despair: “if we let ourselves go, the Germans will think that they were right: that we are not human.” An exceptional telling of exceptional true events.
There are life lessons galore for young readers of this hugely appealing picture book. Little dragon Fergal is a bit anxious about going off to summer camp – he’s never been before – and when he arrives, he’s so determined to make his mark that he doesn’t notice he’s being a bit selfish and upsetting the other little dragons. Fortunately, the camp leader can sort things out and give Fergal some useful advice: he needn’t be best at everything, he just needs to relax and be himself and everything else will follow. It’s an important message for all young children and it’s fun to learn it with Fergal and his little friends, as colourful and companionable a group as you could hope to meet. Look out for the first Fergal story too, Fergal is Fuming, which is just as good at prompting conversations about feelings and behaviour.
Robert Starling’s little dragon Fergal has lots of fans and no wonder. His adventures are wonderfully accurate representation of everyday family life and will be recognisable to every toddler and parent. In this story, Fergal has become a big brother but the arrival of baby Fern is making him anxious, unsettled and angry. Things come to a head when a trip he’s been looking forward to has to be cancelled. Fortunately, Dad encourages Fergal to talk about how he’s been feeling and after that everything gets better. There’s a very useful message here and as ever Starling delivers it with charm, humour and sensitivity. This is another excellent book to share and absolutely essential if you’ve got a toddler and new baby.
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!
This comic picture book cleverly demonstrates the dangers of being swayed by popular opinion. New boy Peter is quickly branded the baddest boy in school and it does indeed seem that he’s given to doing naughty things. So when the school’s pet rat goes missing from his cage, everyone assumes Peter is responsible. Only one person knows the truth, and that Peter’s bad behaviour is not what it seems either. The book explores the dynamics of any classroom while also showing us that strange or different doesn’t equal bad and that categorising people on assumptions is never a good idea. Peter is a very charming little character, with his cape, fangs and lacy collar, and the story is beautifully told by its mystery narrator. Original, memorable, and lots of fun.
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.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month September 2020 | When Abi’s newly forged family moves to an eccentric new home which is totally covered in ivy, strange things begin to happen to her and to her step-brothers Louis and Max. With their parents either away or too busy to notice, Abi finds herself falling into the books she is reading – she can feel the damp of the sea and taste the salt on her fingers - while Louie tempts an unusual and dangerous animal companion into his bedroom from the ivy. Can Abi and Max help Louie get rid of his dangerous new friend and will things get back to normal when their parents come home? Hilary McKay’s storytelling is vivid; she makes magic seem real while also showing why believing in it is so important.
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.
Feisty Clarice Bean is back for new adventures. A bit older and a bit wiser, she is also thinking about all the things that she should be worrying about. To help, she makes a list of all her worries like ‘change’, ‘can one live of toast alone’ and ‘having to go back to school after the holidays’. Everyone will recognise Clarice’s anxieties and enjoy her resolution of them. Stories in the Clarice Bean Series for 7+ Utterly Me, Clarice Bean Clarice Bean Spells Trouble Clarice Bean, Don't Look Now
Funny, action-packed and full of great characters, I can recommend Serena Patel’s new story to anyone – indeed, everyone – who’s at primary school. They’ll giggle with recognition at the setting and be thoroughly caught up in the story. In this new adventure, the second in a series, our hero Anisha is set to show off her volcano project at the science fair and has high hopes of winning the prize and a trip to the national space centre. But disaster strikes when her volcano erupts prematurely and floods the school. Anisha is disqualified and begins to suspect sabotage. With the help of her best friend Milo and his pet rat, she sets out to find the culprit. Anisha’s family are as much a part of the story as her schoolmates and readers will put down the book feeling they have increased their circle of friends considerably. Illustrations throughout by Emma McCann add to the overall liveliness of the telling. Great stuff! This is one to recommend to fans of Konnie Huq’s Cookie books which also feature a direct talking, lively, science-obsessed central character and are just as much fun to read. Some of our Kids Reader Review Panel were lucky enough to review the first in the series, Anisha, Accidental Detective - read their reviews here!
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.
Third in a now established collection of stories which encourage young children to relate to and appreciate the natural world. Young readers will enjoy following the journey from tiny seed to fat, orange pumpkin, as the two protagonists grow a pumpkin in time for Halloween. Will the pumpkin ripen in time?
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.
Winner of the Klaus Flugge Prize 2020 | Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2020 | Everyone, children too, knows what it’s like when sadness unexpectedly comes to call, that sense of gloom that is hard to explain, and almost impossible to shake off. The situation is very skilfully depicted in this picture book, which also provides ideas and strategies for ways to cope. A young child is shown opening the door to a doleful, shapeless creature and the two become so close they are almost one. But the invisible narrator has suggestions for ways to help Sadness, so that one day, when the child wakes, it’s gone. The story is very affecting and will be useful to children who have a particular sadness in their lives as well as those who feel it for no reason they can articulate. An important and rather beautiful book. The Klaus Flugge judges said: ‘beautifully simple and pared back; the page layouts seem sparse and crisp but the work the illustrations are doing is quite extraordinary in terms of the message that sadness is something we might have to live with.’
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.
Britta Teckentrup has established herself as one of the most popular children's book authors today. Her vibrant, collage- based illustrations have made her books a favorite in homes, schools, and libraries. And her character, Oskar, based on her family cat of the same name, is the perfect companion for young readers.
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, September 2020, Michael Morpurgo, MBE | A extraordinary story, exquisitely written, with unforgettable passages of dialogue and description, that confronts the dilemma of our relationship with farm animals. Witty, and in places, desperately sad this is a book where animals talk yet remain who they are, themselves. A book to make you cry. - Michael Morpurgo Magical, this timeless farmyard story tells of the power of friendship. When the runty little piglet is saved from an early death, he grows into a fine and handsome pig. And the farmer wants to kill him. Can Charlotte, the spider who has grown to love him, save his life?
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 | 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.
Interest Age Teen Reading Age 8 | From acclaimed author Eve Ainsworth comes this new novella that packs a powerful punch in its openhearted, honest account of a teen girl trying her hardest to cope with her mum’s alcoholism. Violet has always seen her mum as being “strong, funny and in control”, as a “pretty, glamorous and confident” person who firmly believes, “You have to give a good impression at all times.” In contrast, Violet is “the quiet one …I’m the worrier who can never be confident.” But since her mum’s boyfriend left, Mum’s “it’s just one glass” of wine is starting to have an affect on their family life, with Violet increasingly having to pick-up caring for her little brother when Mum’s too hung-over to get out of bed. As Violet finds more empty bottles around the house, and finds herself having to lie to cover her mum, matters come to a scary head and she knows she has to be brave and seek help. Truly brilliant at capturing Violet’s conflicted feelings – an excruciating pull between love and anger – this compelling, moving story will engross fans of true-to-life fiction, while casting sensitive light on a tough subject. And, since this is published by the ever-brilliant Barrington Stoke, this book is especially suitable for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers, with its expert attention to vocabulary, layout, font and paper.
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.
Beautiful Sophie, with lips as red as blood, skin as pale as snow, and hair as dark as night, is about to come of age and inherit her father's throne. But Sophie's stepmother wants rid of her - beautiful she may be, but too weak and foolish to reign. And Sophie believes her, as she believes all the things that have been said about her - all the poisonous words people use to keep girls like her from becoming too powerful, too strong. When the huntsman carries out his orders of killing Sophie, she finds a fire burning inside her that will not be extinguished, and sets off to reclaim what was taken from her. Jennifer Donnelly turns her feminist eye to this most delicious of fairy tales and shows Snow White as she's never been seen before.
A beautifully illustrated story, written with a light and humorous touch, that celebrates nontraditional families and captures exactly what lies at the heart of family life - love. 'Elvi, which one is your mum?' 'They're both my mum.' 'But which one's your real mum?' When Nicholas wants to know which of Elvi's two mums is her real mum, she gives him lots of clues. Her real mum is a circus performer, and a pirate, and she even teaches spiders the art of web. But Nicholas still can't work it out! Luckily, Elvi knows just how to explain it to her friend.
Plans for Our Together Future | From renowned, internationally bestselling picture-book creator and visual artist, Oliver Jeffers, comes this rare and enduring story about a parent's boundless love, life's endless opportunities and all we need to build a together future.
The Spots live on one side of the hill. The Dots live on the other. Both are fearful and suspicious of the other, but are they really all that different? When a young Spot and a young Dot meet at the top of the hill, they are about to find out... Flip the book upside down and choose whether to read from the perspective of the Spots or the Dots, right up until the middle, where the two communities collide. Find the similarities in others, discover that fear is often based on ignorance, and celebrate difference in this stunning picture book with artwork from award-winning illustrator Marion Deuchars.
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.
August 2020 Book of the Month | Interest Age 8+ Reading Age 8 | Laura Dockrill packs a really big story into this compact little book and though she tackles some big issues too, she keeps them specific to her set of characters, so that even quite young readers will understand. Sequin’s mum is a dressmaker, sewing gowns and fabulous outfits for the stars. She never takes any credit though, preferring to stay in the background and in fact, she’s literally hiding herself away in the family’s flat at the top of a tower block. When Sequin does a school presentation about her mum, no-one believes her. It makes Sequin angry with her mum, but then a terrible danger threatens them and they both have to face their real fears. It’s a story that readers will absolutely love, with a twist that they’ll want to return to again and again. Particularly suitable for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers aged 8+
Best friends Betty and Maud love doing everything together. And they are sure that their favourite toys, Duck and Penguin do too. But Duck and Penguin do NOT! While Betty and Maud share playing in the sandpit, taking turns on the swings, painting and baking, Duck and Penguin push each other off the swings, crush each other’s sandcastles, and cover each other with paint and cake mix. Can they ever be friends? Luckily they can! Julia Woolf conveys this witty story about friendship – or not – most effectively through the venomous scowls and frowns and ferocious looks between the two soft toys in contrast to the brilliant warm smiles of Betty and Maud.
From the creator of I Swapped My Brother On The Internet comes this fizzily energetic feast of fun that sees aspiring inventor Keith get more than he bargained for after entering a Junior Mega Brain Quiz and winding up competing against his genius sister. Keith is one of life’s dreamers, and something of an underdog readers will really root for. He has his sights set on going to an Inventors’ Fair in Paris, but his mum and dad just don’t have the cash. Never one to let a problem stand in his way, Keith observes how his super-smart sister Minerva (appropriately named after the Roman goddess of wisdom) has won money for some of her many achievements. And so, while “there was no Roman god Keith”, our ever-hopeful hero hits on the idea of inventing a machine to steal Min’s brain so he can win a Junior Mega Brain Quiz and use the prize money to pay for Paris. From attempting to drink coffee while wearing a child-genius outfit (black leggings, black polo neck and giant sunglasses), to becoming an instant TV hit with a hashtag and band of devoted followers, Keith’s story is a hilarious, heart-warming delight from start to finish, and a great read for readers who loved David Solomons’s My Brother is a Superhero series.
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
Bear and Squirrel are best friends and do everything together. Bear describes it beautifully: ‘Like peas in a pod, you and I fit/ Like strawberries and cream, we are a hit’. The pictures however are telling a different story and we can all see that sometimes – quite often in fact – Squirrel is more than a little irritated by Bear, not to mention squashed, bashed and accidentally knocked about! When it all gets too much, Squirrel tells Bear he needs space and Bear, being a really good friend, understands. Check the illustrations again though, and we can see that life without Bear just isn’t the same. Steve Small’s illustrations are full of humour but poignant too and Smiriti Hall’s rhyming text a delight to read aloud; this is a virtuoso portrayal of what friendship means.