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A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month February 2020 | February 2020 Book of the Month | A spellbinding and warm-hearted sequel to A Pinch of Magic with the three Widdershins sisters Betty, Charlie and Fliss, now free from the curse that has held them prisoners on a remote island, back for a new thrilling adventure. This time the sisters have to deal with a mysterious stranger who comes with her own will-o’-the-wisp and a secret island which isn’t even on any map. And they have to find Charlie when she goes missing. As ever, the sisters are clever and brave and adept at managing the magic that surrounds them.
February 2020 Book of the Month | Expect this whimsical and gorgeously illustrated picture book to infect children with an urge to go exploring, if not bird-spotting. Otto’s family are obsessive bird-spotters, indeed, so deep is their passion that they’ve turned their home into a hide. Otto though loves exploring and it’s on one of his trips that he finds, and secretly brings home, a very unusual baby bird. He’s able to hide it from his family because his new friend proves surprisingly good at camouflage. But, as the bird grows (and grows), Otto realises that it’s missing its family and recruits his own to help track them down. There’s lots to enjoy in the story and Graham Carter’s glowing illustrations are full of treats too, the camouflage scenes are particularly delightful. A funny, original story with satisfying underlying themes of adventure, friendship and family.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month February 2020 | | Award-winning Axel Scheffler’s familiar illustrations are a great introduction to simple concepts for the very young. Fox, Rabbit, Bear and Pig, four friends from Acorn Wood explore Colours, Counting, Friends and Opposites in these four small scale and highly durable board books which are neatly held together in a min-library box.
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2020 | Another insightful and compassionate free verse novel from the queen of this increasingly admired form, this time exploring the transformative relationship between an abused runaway teenager and an elderly lady with dementia. Allison has grown up “stepping on eggshells” to circumvent her father’s violence. While she often wonders whether his behaviour was “all my fault”, one of his outbursts compels her to run away. With nowhere to go, she finds sanctuary in the house of an elderly woman called Marla. Marla has dementia and thinks Allison is Toffee, her best friend from childhood. After spending some time in Marla’s company, Allison decides to “stop correcting her… I like the idea of being sweet and hard, a girl with a name for people to chew on.” Moreover, in meeting Marla, Allison has found an unlikely kindred spirit: “I am not who I say I am. Marla isn’t who she thinks she is… Here, in this house, I am so much happier than I have ever been”. Returning the favour, Allison enriches Marla’s life – she listens, she indulges Marla’s desire to dance - while Marla’s carer and son show no real regard for her happiness, as if she’s beyond life, which makes Allison’s attentiveness all the more heart warming. Both vulnerable, they find strength through each other. With incredibly moving insight, Marla says of Allison’s dad, “none of it was about you. It was about him. It’s always about him. Surely you know that.” The writing is compellingly fluid, flowing freely between Allison’s precarious present and the tragic, abusive circumstances that sent her careering down this path. While fleeting, the impact of their time together is monumental, and I felt privileged to have spent time in their company.
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2020 | | Jeanne Willis is a latter-day Hilaire Belloc creating cautionary tales for modern youth that are both hilarious and full of sensible advice. Desperate to win more ‘likes’ for her posts, Goldilocks is driven to find ever more daring activities to share, which is why she takes a selfie breaking in to the bears’ cottage, and - #pipinghot! – one of her eating their porridge. It all ends in tears of course, and community service, but what’s worse for Goldilocks is that her posts are there forever, depicting her as a horrid porridge thief and leading to the moral: ‘So please, think twice before you send!’ Tony Ross’s illustrations, sharp and full of life and wit, are the perfect complement to the rhyme. Brilliance all round!
A cheeky, free-wheeling young monkey is the star of Michael Foreman’s new picturebook, which bursts with energy and fun. Milo is determined mot to miss the cycle race as it comes through his town and has no idea of the devastation he leaves behind him as he races to the finishing line – most of it caused by the banana skin he casually chucks over his shoulder as he starts his pell-mell progress. Children will love the scenes of chaos, and the wonderful way in which Milo’s repeated ‘I didn’t do it!’ becomes a triumphant ‘I did it!’ via a surprise ending. Beautiful to look at, simple to read, and it neatly delivers a very satisfying story too. Hear, hear for Milo!
Following the success of The King Who Banned the Dark, Emily Haworth-Booth has created another timely, beautiful and enthralling fable. As the best stories do, it starts ‘Once upon a time …’ A group of friends looking for somewhere to live choose a peaceful forest, but the longer they live there, the more trees they cut down, and the loss of the trees leads to all sorts of problems. Fortunately, the children of the settlement choose to quietly protect the last tree, and from there rebuild a caring and happy society for themselves and their parents. The artwork, mostly retro green and black, feels timeless and deliberately child-like, but the story is urgent, contemporary and thought-provoking, and will speak direct to readers of all ages.
Renée Watson’s remarkable What Momma Left Me is a wise and nourishing story rooted in themes of resilience, healing and love. With high school on the horizon, African American Serenity is struggling to piece her life back together following the brutal death of her beloved momma and the loss of her dad. Amidst this sensitively evoked maelstrom, Serenity finds hope in the form of her wholesome grandparents, church (where Grandpa is a pastor), brother Danny and new friend and confidante Maria, a bright beam of light who harbours her own bleak secrets. Serenity handles her grief, set-backs and challenging dilemmas with dignity, her grandparents a constant, calming presence as they impart wisdom, such as this nod to Maya Angelou’s ‘Still I Rise’ poem: “That’s why we say ‘we rise’, children. There have been lots of things that have tried to keep us down. But we’ve got resilience running through these veins.”Empathetically charting Serenity’s grief, first romance and growing up (what Serenity does to save Maria from an unsafe situation shows strength and wisdom way beyond her years), this huge-hearted novel comes highly recommended for its honesty, depth and engaging readability, along with Watson’s Piecing Me Together and Watch Us Rise (the latter co-authored with Ellen Hagan).
The title of this highly empathetic and nuanced novel continues to cleverly resonate when we see chapters headed “the bulimic,” “the cool girl,” “the girlfriend,” “the popular girl”, “the best friend” and so on. At first, we do not identify these first-person narrators, but they soon begin to mesh and enable us to have a real depth of understanding of the main characters and emphasises the conflicting roles that girls feel themselves forced to inhabit. Taking place over a timeline that spans just a week, a high school is rocked and divided by the revelation that Mike, a popular high achiever and ‘golden boy’ student, has given his girlfriend, Maya, a black eye. Subsequent rumours result in split opinions about Maya: some believe that Mike should be expelled, while others think he might not have been her abuser. Maya’s best friend, Junie, from whom she’s become distanced due to Mike’s isolating behaviour, is also dealing with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder which she copes with by cutting and Maya’s relationship anxiety has also prompted bulimia. This is an unflinching, hard-hitting novel which certainly does not glamorise disordered behaviour, but enables us to understand how these negative coping mechanisms arise and to appreciate the challenges the girls face as they learn to trust and help each other again. Ultimately this is an empowering novel which advocates honesty, self-belief and the value of friendship. It will resonate deeply and provoke valuable discussion of important real-life issues.
Boy meets boy. Boys become friends. Boys fall in love. An LGBTQ+ graphic novel about life, love, and everything that happens in between: this is the third volume of HEARTSTOPPER, for fans of The Art of Being Normal, Holly Bourne and Love, Simon. Charlie didn't think Nick could ever like him back, but now they're officially boyfriends. Nick's even found the courage to come out to his mum. But coming out isn't just something that happens once - there's Nick's older brother, and a school trip to Paris, not to mention all the other friends and family - and life can be hard, even with someone who loves you by your side. As their feelings get more serious, Charlie and Nick will need each other more than ever before. Heartstopper is about love, friendship, loyalty and mental illness. It encompasses all the small stories of Nick and Charlie's lives that together make up something larger, which speaks to all of us. This is the third volume of Heartstopper, which has now been optioned for television by See-Saw Films.
Four very different characters take centre stage in this unusual and beautifully illustrated book. There’s a horse, wise and reliable; a boy, Christopher Robin-like in his curiosity and kindness; a mole, driven by an optimism, and love of cake; and a fox, vulnerable and in need of love and understanding. The story of their friendship is told through Charlie Mackesy’s evocative pen and ink sketches. Most but not all are accompanied by three or four lines of text, not so much a narrative but rather meditations, little flashes of insight into the human condition: “We have such a long way to go,” sighed the boy. “Yes, but look how far we’ve come,” said the horse. It’s a book full of tenderness and compassion, with much to make readers smile and more yet to prompt a sense of forgiveness, even of ourselves. Though simple enough for the youngest children, words and pictures will resonate just as much with adult readers. A very special book.
A Kirkus Reviews Best Picture Book of 2019 | Six-year-old Bilal is excited to help his dad make his favorite food of all-time: daal! The slow-cooked lentil dish from South Asia requires lots of ingredients and a whole lot of waiting. Bilal wants to introduce his friends to daal. They've never tried it! As the day goes on, the daal continues to simmer, and more kids join Bilal and his family, waiting to try the tasty dish. And as time passes, Bilal begins to wonder: Will his friends like it as much as he does? This debut picture book by Aisha Saeed, with charming illustrations by Anoosha Syed, uses food as a means of bringing a community together to share in each other's family traditions.
Interest Age 5-8 | There’s poignancy as well as humour in this new story from Jonathan Meres. Young Frank is desperate for a new bike, but he knows that money doesn’t grow on trees, so when his big sister offers to pay him to help with her paper round, he agrees. Despite the 6.00am starts, it’s actually good fun and both Frank and Lottie are excited when they make friends with an old lady as they deliver papers to her care home. Their friendship proves very important as the story reaches its end. There’s lots to enjoy here, the story is short but very rewarding and Meres’ understanding of his readers is spot on.
This is the fifth book in this terrific series for young readers, and Sam Wu has already conquered his fear of ghosts, sharks, the dark and spiders (with the help of his friends of course) but zombies – in fact, zombie-werewolves – that’s a whole new kettle of scariness. They happen to be living in the basement in his arch-nemesis Ralph Zinkerman’s home too. Can Sam overcome his fear and save the day? There are surprises and mishaps galore before a terrific climax that sees zombies (or are they?) rampaging all over the local museum. Great adventure, great fun and wonderful to look at too thanks to Nathan Reed’s illustrations.
When Melvin Pebbles moves to the town of Donut Island, he has no idea what’s in store: before he’s even unpacked his vast collection of toy bags (unopened, toys still inside to preserve the mystery), he’s been adopted into the Daily Donut Club by new friend, Rhubarb Plonsky, and by the end of the book, together with third Donut Club member Yoshi Fujikawa, will have foiled an alien invasion and bid to brainwash his new neighbours. As you’d expect from the creator of the inimitable Barry Loser series, this is a blissfully surreal mystery adventure, as weird as it is wonderful, and certain to have readers laughing out loud from beginning to end. Jim Smith’s illustrations are as playful as the plot, and make the whole package even more of a treat. Comic genius!
February 2020 Book of the Month | This gripping must-read for sports fans fizzes with a powerful message about picking yourself up and self-belief, and a poignant portrayal of gang culture coercion. I cannot praise Dan Freeman’s compassion-rich writing enough. Life’s not easy for twin fourteen-year-olds Kaine and Roxy growing up on their London estate. Their dad’s lost his job and mum works all hours. But Roxy and Kaine aren’t your average teenagers. He’s a super-talented footballer with Premier League potential, and she’s an outstanding tennis player, tipped for the top. Oh, and they can’t stand each other. After being close as kids, they’ve grown apart, with Roxy loathing the fact that Kaine’s always in trouble, and Kaine hating the way Roxy gets all the attention and support, overlooked even when a scout for a Premier League club comes to watch him. Both a bundle of frustration, Kaine is tempted into dangerous territory. If only Mamma, their Barbados-born grandmother, was around to keep Kaine on the right track. Mamma’s warm, wise presence is felt throughout the novel. She was the person Kaine turned to in times of need. She’d feed him soul food, remind him that he’s special, urge him to “do the extraordinary.” Sage advice comes from Kaine’s supportive PE teacher too, who counsels “There are paths in life, there are choices. And you are at one of those crossroads now”. When tragedy strikes as Kaine loses his way it takes a whole lot of soul-searching for him to turns things round and become the extraordinary young man he is. And Roxy tackles her profoundly life-changing situation with heartrending courage too. With overriding messages of hope, compassion, doing the right thing and staying true to yourself, this is an absolute galáctico, Grand Slam winner of a novel.
This was an interesting book which reminded me a bit of the Harry Potter series. The storyline is very original, although I did find it rather lengthy and a bit complex at times: it might be difficult for some children to keep up with all the characters and the action. However, despite its complexity, it is very well-written. I like that the main character, Cricket, is different, and that her difference helps her in her quest. I think children will relate to the friendship between Cricket and her friend Penny who are likeable characters. Penny understands that Cricket is different from the other children but celebrates this difference with Cricket. Each chapter is illustrated and I love these, they are so detailed and original. I'm sure this book will appeal to its target audience and I think it will easily widen out into a series of adventures for Cricket and Penny. Pauline Braisher, A LoveReading4Kids Ambassador
25% Illness, 25% Friends, 25% Kindness, 25% BatPig | Twelve-year-old Ross is dealt a devastating blow when he’s told he has an extremely rare form of eye cancer and is likely to lose sight in both eyes. Based on author Rob Harrell’s personal experience of eye cancer, and spiced with his cool comic-strips of Ross’s Battbutt and Batpig characters, Wink has all the freshness and pitch-perfect narrative voice of a Louis Sachar story, with its own unique warmth and wit.As Ross struggles with the strangeness of undergoing immediate radiation treatment, he also faces a terrible time at school. Cruelly called the “Cancer Cowboy” on account of having to wear a hat, he’s also the subject of malicious memes. While Ross’s personal plight is at the huge heart of this novel, it’s equally as powerful in its portrayal of the wider impact of devastating diagnoses, most poignantly when Ross’s friend Isaac distances himself from their Oreo-sealed friendship pact. But as Isaac retreats, he makes life-changing new friends as a result of his treatment. First there’s fellow patient Jerry, a wise-cracking old guy who rebuffs Ross’s desire to be normal. According to Jerry, “Different moves the needle. Different is where the good stuff happens. There’s strength in difference.” Then there’s Frank, the adorable radiation tech guy who teaches Ross to play guitar, which has tear-jerkingly transformational effects.What an authentic, emotional, amusing and all-round awesome read this is.
Stylish and beautifully conceived, this entertaining new picture book by artist/ designer Marion Deuchars is a visual treat as well as a strong story about artistic competition - and collaboration. Bob loves making art and is very jealous when everyone starts talking about Roy, the amazing new artist in town. His work is apparently fantastic! Who is this new artist and what is so special about his work? Why is he the best in town? Bob does everything he can to compete with Roy until he realises that working together might be more fun!
Iris takes refuge with her grandma, Mimi, to escape the chaos at home, caused by her two-year old twin siblings and her dad’s DIY repairs. There’s a different kind of disorder in Mimi’s house which is chock full of items collected over the years, chiefly boxes of photos she’s taken and developed. Among the photographs of other people’s weddings are family portraits and its one of these that sets Iris on a hunt to unravel an old mystery, even as Mimi’s memories are fading. The story is beautifully told, as much about Iris and her search for order and happiness as it is about Mimi and her struggle with dementia. A poignant, thoughtful examination of family relationships, memory and loss, that ends on a note of hope and renewal.
Eva Eland has a way with pictures and words that, although deceptively simple, actually deals with the big matters of life in a very accessible and encouraging way. Her previous book When Sadness Comes to Call gained many outstandingly positive reviews and this follow up book on happiness is going to get the same response. Very expressive, clear illustrations in mainly blues and a wonderful fluorescent pink make this a happy experience to read. Eland looks at the ways we may chase happiness or happiness may just creep up on us but finishes with the phrase ‘Happiness begins with you.’ Definitely a book for classrooms, libraries and PHSE lessons – it will encourage empathy as children start to understand their own and the emotions of others, as well as being a satisfying book to read.
March 2020 Book of the Month | The novel of The Crossover is a Newberry Medal Winner, and a Coretta Scott King Award Winner in the US and was Shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in the UK. This graphic novel version is the whole story complete with large and small two-coloured illustrations gracing every page. This is a deceptively simple read – a novel in verse about siblings getting through middle school, their lives, their crushes, their family interactions, and basketball. The boys are twins Josh and Jordan Bell, sons of a famous basketball player, and aiming to make a mark in the world of basketball. There are rivalries between the boys, they revel in their differences, but family holds them together whatever the world throws at them. The words and pictures work so well together, you will be on the edge of your seat, rooting for the team as they play and crying with the twins when thigs go awry. To tell such a complex story with so few words, with such emotional depth – Alexander is a master of devastating and uplifting storytelling. Anyabwile’s illustrations enhance a superb story – adding expressions and movement to an already great novel.
Like When We Collided and Open Road Summer, The Map from Here to There demonstrates Emery Lord’s talent for capturing the exhilaration and angst of characters on the cusp of adulthood. “I was beginning to think that half of growing up was figuring out when to let go and when to hold on,” Paige muses partway through her story journey, but being an anxiety prone over-thinker, that’s not an easy conundrum to crack. After the pain of her first boyfriend passing away a few years back, life has taken an upward turn. She has a set of supportive friends, she’s excited by the prospect of studying screenwriting, and she’s besotted with her new boyfriend Max. But having such an active life – working shifts at a cinema, applying to college, taking on a theatre internship, wanting to spend time with Max and her friends - begins to take its toll. Paige wants it all, but big decisions must be made, and the trouble is, saying yes to one thing (like choosing where to go to college) means saying no to another. When fatalism kicks in and affects her close relationships, Paige takes heart from her mom’s wise words: “As much as I love a pro-and-con list – and you know I do – sometimes you have to ignore all of that. Your gut instinct can say a lot.” Authentic, honest and shot through with empathy, this offers a helping hand to young adults navigating similarly confusing crossroads, alongside being an out and out entertaining story.
March 2020 Debut of the Month | This debut novel was inspired by the author’s work creating Run the World, an organisation that empowers women and girls from marginalised backgrounds through sport and storytelling and the authenticity of this, at times harrowing story, is palpably evident. As is the skill of the accomplished writing which makes great use of typography and layout to really make every word count. This speeds the reader through the narrative, but it also cuts deep to reveal the emotions experienced by our narrator. Amber Rai is only ‘truly alive’ when running and shows great potential. But her alcoholic, abusive, misogynistic father refuses to allow her on the track. She has seen her older sister Ruby denied university and married off against her will and her downtrodden, abused mother is literally powerless to help, trapped as much by illiteracy and lack of English as the violence of her equally illiterate, unemployed husband. Amber has friends and teachers who believe in her, but she cannot explain what really goes on at home. She is a complex and believable character with very real flaws that she painfully recognises: ‘inflicting pain on others/halves your own hurt’. But the story is cleverly structured on The Anatomy of a Revolution and inspired by her reading about revolutions for history, Amber, Ruby and her mother gradually empower each other to take small steps to freedom. This is an important, rewarding, highly empathetic read which, despite the dark subject matter, offers hope but no simplistic solutions.
March 2020 Debut of the Month | The author has revealed just how much of this searing novel is based upon her own experiences at school which lends credibility and authenticity to the situations described, but she has also created utterly believable and relatable characters with truly authentic teen voices and dialogue. Within a few pages we are thrust into the raw pain of grief and utter disbelief in the aftermath of a teen suicide. The narration alternates between 15-year-old Nathan, the younger brother who discovered Al’s body and Megan the school friend who shared Al’s passion for art, but each chapter is cleverly introduced by the voice of Al himself. Both Nathan and Megan are wracked with guilt, blaming themselves for letting Al down. Nathan, by not picking up the call from Al on that fateful afternoon and Megan by sticking with the ‘cool’ kids and not acknowledging Al as a friend. Nathan wants to understand why Al was driven to suicide and Megan wants to prove to the world how special he was. Gradually we develop a deep and nuanced understanding of their growing relationship and of all the characters involved: be they friends, family or even ‘villains’. There are no cardboard cyphers here. The thought provoking, intelligent writing also reveals the overwhelming influence of social media on the lives of young people. Megan can use Instagram and Facebook to positively celebrate Al’s artwork, but together they discover the extremes of cyberbullying he had been exposed to and which ultimately pushed Al over the edge, helped by the casual spite which colours so much daily interaction on social media. This devastating, truthful and important novel is an essential school purchase, and will no doubt provoke valuable discussion both in classrooms and between peers.
From New York Times bestselling author Nic Stone comes a middle-grade road-trip story through American race relations past and present, perfect for fans of Ross Welford and Jason Reynolds. How to Go on an Unplanned Road Trip with Your Grandma: - Grab a Suitcase: Prepacked from the big spring break trip that got CANCELLED. - Fasten Your Seatbelt: G'ma's never conventional, so this trip won't be either. - Use the Green Book: G'ma's most treasured possession. It holds history, memories, and most important, the way home. What Not to Bring: - A Phone: Avoid contact with Dad at all costs. Even when G'ma starts acting stranger than usual. Set against the backdrop of the segregation history of the American South, take a trip with New York Times bestselling Nic Stone and an eleven-year-old boy who is about to discover that the world hasn't always been a welcoming place for kids like him, and things aren't always what they seem - his G'ma included.
My mummy looks normal, like any other mummy . . . but she's not. Because she can turn into a fairy. All she has to do is stamp her feet three times, clap her hands, wiggle her bottom and say 'Marshmallow' . . . and POOF! She's Mummy Fairy. Ella's family has a BIG secret - her mummy is a fairy! But sometimes Mummy Fairy's magic goes wrong, and then it's up to Ella to help. In this book of enchanting adventures, Mummy Fairy and Ella decorate the kitchen with magic colouring pencils, catch a robber on Ella's school trip - and swim with real mermaids! The fourth book in this magical series for 5-7 year olds, from global bestselling author Sophie Kinsella.
The year is 1921. Ireland has been at war for two years. Communities are torn apart by bitter hatred - and now a hard border splits the island. In Belfast, Helen's Hope hostel is a progessive space where young women live and work together - a haven of tolerance and diversity in a fractured city. But some people hate Helen's Hope and its values. Another pitch-perfect historical novel from the prize-winning author of Star by Star.
Anisha Mistry is all set to be a bridesmaid at her Aunty Bindi's wedding tomorrow...until she finds a note in her family's letterbox. Bindi's groom has been kidnapped and will only be released IF THE WEDDING IS CALLED OFF! With best friend Milo, a mischievous granny, a runaway lobster, a giant chauffeur, and some super sleuthing skills, it's up to Anisha Mistry to find her uncle and save THE big Indian Wedding of the year.