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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.
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.
Rabbit and Bear: Book 4 | Rabbit is worried: trees in their forest are disappearing and, worse still, the stream has moved – even unflappable Bear declares herself ‘close to being slightly worried’ at that. The cause is the arrival of Castor Canadensis, a beaver, who is delighted with engineering as a means of building ‘New, Bigger and Better things’ in the name of ‘Progress’. It suits some of the animals, but definitely not all. Fortunately, Bear finds a way to get the animals working together, so that Castor’s hard work benefits them all, himself included. As ever, there’s as much insight as humour, and it’s a superb read aloud story. Gough and Field make creating books this good look simple, because they’re both masters at what they do. Treat yourself, and buy all four books.
A reassuring read that explores the ways in which all things, whether teeth, a bad mood, music or nits, come to an end – except one. Alemagna’s distinctive drawings are overlaid with tracing paper in a way that allows elements of the pictures to disappear and reappear.
The latest novel from Newbery medal winning novelist Kelly is inspired by Filipino folktales but is set upon the entirely fictional island of Sangalita where people live under foreboding Mount Kahna and the strict control of the all-powerful menyoro. Generations of men, including twelve-year-old Lalani Sarita’s father, have tried to sail across the Veiled Sea to reach the legendary paradise of Mount Isa but none have returned. Lalani is just an ordinary girl who is desperate to help the drought-stricken islanders. When she ventures up the forbidden mountain to pray for rain, she discovers the pitfalls of magic and trickery of magical creatures and the deluge which follows causes a terrible landslide. Blaming herself for the death and destruction and seeking a remedy for her fatally ill mother she feels that she has no choice but to set off for Mount Isa to seek the flower that could save everyone. Her epic journey is full of danger and mystery, but it is her pure motives and the faith and hope that she carries that just might see her through. Although Lalani is the worthy protagonist, a strong cast of secondary characters, particularly her best friend Veyda and Veyda’s brother Hetsbi, are crucial to the story, making the novel more complex as characters deal with bullying, abuse of power, and other problems which are clearly relevant to the real world too. The story is skilfully constructed with short, beautifully illustrated vignettes allowing readers into the minds of the mythical creatures Lalani encounters, adding yet another layer of depth and fantasy to this triumphant tale about fighting for the people one loves and staying true to oneself.
January 2020 Debut of the Month | There’s love, friendship and challenging prejudice aplenty in this debut novel by a LGBTQ+ parenting expert. Introverted Izzy has just started Year 8 and is wildly excited when her favourite teacher announces auditions for a Christmas production of Guys and Dolls. Though shy, she’s come to love acting because on stage she “could be whoever I wanted.” And Izzy’s not the only member of her family who wants - and needs - to be who they really are, as she discovers when her dad tells the family he’s transgender and is about to begin transitioning. Though he gently explains, “It’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s nothing dirty, I’m not ill”, Izzy’s older sister reacts angrily, her little brother accepts it in the same way he understands Spider Man and Peter Parker’s different identities, while Izzy feels quiet worry about how their lives will change. The family’s journey is honestly and sensitively portrayed as they endure hurtful prejudice alongside many heart-melting moments, such as the gorgeous scene in which the three siblings think-up their new name for Dad. This is at once an important support tool for children in similar situations, and a barrier-breaking, empathy-inducing story for all.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month January 2020 | Award-winning illustrator and commentator Posy Simmonds is brilliantly entertaining in this touching story about the death of a pet. Sophie and Nick love their cat Fred very much. They and all the neighbours remember him fondly as one of the laziest cats in the world. Now he’s died and Nick and Sophie discover there is a whole other side to their beloved cat. Far from sleeping all the time, it turns out that he is one of the most famous cats in the world! That night, as all the cat’s in the neighbourhood come out to give Fred a rousing send off, Nick and Sophie learn the true story of their beloved pet. A review from Andrea Reece; This is a really special book, three cheers for Andersen Press for bringing out this new edition! Sophie and Nick are sad when their cat Fred dies and in a poignant scene, the family buries him in the garden. As far as they knew, Fred was a lazy old thing who spent most of his time asleep. Not so! Sophie and Nick find out who Fred really was that night, when they’re woken by the neighbourhood cats who have come to give ‘Famous Fred’ a proper send-off. The two children join in with the cats’ tribute – a wonderful ‘caterwauley-wailey-woe’ – and dance all night at the wake. It’s all described in Simmonds’ sparkling, beautifully observed comic-strip and is funny, touching and true. An anthem to the secret life of cats, this is also a meditation on loss and the importance of sharing memories.
Twice winner of the Carnegie Medal, Berlie Doherty is one of our finest writers for young people and Deep Secret is a beautifully told story of people, place, changing times and lasting memories. At its heart are two young girls, identical twins Grace and Madeleine, but it’s just as much the story of their community, the people of a small Derbyshire village. It’s 1945, a time of change for the whole country but particularly for the characters in the book: the valley in which they live is to be flooded for a reservoir and they must all leave their homes. Even before the waters arrive, stories float to the surface and we learn so much about the people of the valley and their history. It’s a wonderfully touching description of a lost way of life, and when a tragic event occurs drama and pain follows before finally acceptance and understanding. This is the kind of story that resonates with readers long after the final page, and highly recommended.
Endearingly authentic, Ro Snow is a character who stirs tenderness, empathy and much urging to survive and thrive. As a result of mum Bonnie’s extreme hoarding habit (every room of their house is a mountain of paper and pointless Amazon purchases), Ro has isolated herself, fearing that if anyone saw the squalor she and Bonnie live in, Social Services would intervene. Ro’s self-centered, insensitive dad has a new family and is no use whatsoever, which means she and Bonnie have reversed roles, with Ro keeping an eye on their bank balance while Bonnie shops and watches TV by day and earns a living as a singer by night. As this role reversal takes its toll on Ro, a fairy godmother materialises in the form of irrepressibly energetic Tanvi, who’s recently returned to school after being treated for cancer. There’s a truly uplifting, tear-jerking moment when Ro experiences the pure joy of people really believing in her, but Bonnie’s road to recovery won’t be a smooth ride. Highly readable, realistic and wholesomely heartfelt, this confirms Lisa Williamson as a YA author of remarkable empathy. Read about the story behind Paper Avalanche in our author Q&A.