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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.
November 2020 Book of the Month | The Silent Stars Go By is a riveting read-in-one-sitting experience driven by compelling characters who leap off the page, not least the young woman at its heart, an unmarried secretarial student who’s forced to give up her baby during WWI. The novel is also underpinned by a superb sense of social history, with evocative details of post-war village life nestling within the bigger story, and - as might be expected of the author of Things a Bright Girl Can Do - it’s threaded with feminist themes. It’s 1919, Christmas is on the horizon and two years have passed since nineteen-year-old Margot was forced to give up her baby for her parents to raise as their own. She was only fifteen when she and Harry fell madly in love ahead of him being called up. The magic of their time together is evoked in all its tingling passion, contrasting with Margot’s present-day torments. It hurts when little James calls her mother “Mummy”, and she doesn’t know how she can continue to keep James a secret from Harry, who’s returned to the village after recuperating on the Isle of Wight. The flashbacks to Margot’s time on the maternity ward are particularly poignant and, of course, the reason she has to endure this unbearable situation is due to the fact that she lives in a world in which “the girl is the one whose honour is defiled or whatever rot they spout” whereas “the boy is just being a boy”. Coupled with that wider context, Margot’s vicar father is a man who “forgave drunks and tramps and fallen women and the men who tried to steal the lead from the church roof. But he couldn’t forgive her.” Realising that “things couldn’t go on like this,” Margot decides to confront her fears amidst the rare glamour of a ball on New Year’s Eve. You can find more wintry & festive stories in our Best Books for Kids this Christmas collection.
A timely return to young teen fiction for Jacqueline Wilson with a sparkling story of first love, finding yourself and coming out, as legislation for more inclusive education, including teaching about LGBT families in primary schools, is due to come into force. Go to Jacqueline's Instagram for Love Frankie videos and links!
November 2020 Book of the Month | Michael Morpurgo is the consummate storyteller and this little tale, perfectly illustrated by Polly Dunbar, reveals how even as a child he had storytelling at his fingertips. The narrative is based on his own memories of childhood and of performing in the school’s Christmas production of Edward Lear’s poem The Owl and the Pussycat. Michael loved the poem and was chosen to play the Owl. Excitement rises as the performance approaches especially as Belinda, his first love, is chosen to play the Pussycat. Adults will appreciate the book’s delicate sense of memories of past life, while children will love it for the humour, the drama and the sheer joy that comes from calamity turned to triumph. It is quite beautifully told, and Polly Dunbar’s illustrations exactly capture all that readers will find in the story. If it inspires you to read Lear’s poem, as well it might, there are picture book versions gorgeously illustrated by Ian Beck and Charlotte Voake, while Julia Donaldson has written a glorious sequel also illustrated by Voake. Read more about Michael Morpurgo, our Guest Editor for September 2020, here.
November 2020 Debut of the Month | Sami is a very ordinary 13-year-old boy, attending school, playing football, PlayStation and has his own iPad – the only thing different about Sami is that he lives in Damascus. As the war in Syria creeps closer, until a bombing of a local mall affects his family, everything has been good. Now Sami and his family have to leave their home, their friends and their beloved Jadda (grandmother) – not just to move to another town but to start a long and perilous journey to the safety of the other side of the world – to England. The journey, and therefore the story, are not for the fainthearted – Dassau tells the story of the journey, the fear and the privations authentically and we vividly share Sami’s upset, anger and fear throughout every page. The portrait drawn of the family in such a stressed and frightening situation has the reader on the edge of their seat and pulling at our hearts all the way through. Written with a deep understanding and meticulous research into similar journeys this is a book that will not leave you for a very long time. The switches from adversity to hope to despair in Sami keep your heart in your mouth and is so realistic I was raging at the government for its inhuman treatment of desperate refugees. Read this book – it’s needs to be in classrooms and on bookshelves everywhere – it will change you and stay with you.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month November 2020 | Perfect for all readers who love the world of ballet, A Dancer’s Dream is an inspiring story of a Stana, a young student at the Imperial Ballet School in St Petersburg, who is chosen to dance the role of Clara on the very first night that the new ballet, The Nutcracker Suite, is performed. Stana’s luck in being picked for the part and how much it matters to her is cleverly interwoven to a touching family story about her very ill sister. Drawing on the true story of the origins of the now much-loved Nutcracker Suite and including a charming introduction to Tchaikovsky who composed the ballet’s music, A Dancer’s Dream is a delightful mix of fact and fiction.
The setting is a wintery wood, beautifully depicted in Marc Boutavant’s detailed illustrations; our companions, a little girl and her dog, plus the host of animals she encounters. These are all welcomed with an invitation to ‘come home’, the bushy tail (squirrel), strong beak (woodpecker), long ears (hare). Elegant four-line verses describe them and their night-time houses, until at last the little girl (‘brave trailblazer, bright stargazer’) comes home and snuggles into her own cosy bed. Her journey through the wood works perfectly as a story, each page bringing a new animal friend, and the verse is a delight to read aloud. A book that will leave readers reassured, happy and ready for bed, but looking forward to new adventures in the morning.
Eric and Terry Fan are renowned author illustrators with such gems as The Night Gardener and the Kate Greenaway shortlisted Ocean Meets Sky. For this collaboration they have been joined by brother Devin for the first time. Stunningly beautiful images are what we have come to expect, and this is no exception. The enticing, mysterious cover spotlights a little creature in a bell jar. Beneath the jacket the cover looks like a blackboard covered with code, double helixes and creature sketches. The endpapers are design files to start and shelves of completed products at the end. We know then that this is about creating things. We meet our little creature again and we are shown the contrast between the naturalistic wold and an ordinary shop – Perfect Pets- on an ordinary street, but far below there is an underground world and a laboratory where they make the perfect pets and where they put the Failed Projects like Barnabus. Alerted of impending recycling doom, by his friend Patrick the cockroach, who has been entrancing him with stories of the natural world above, Barnabus and fellow Failed Projects work together on a daring and thrilling escape and find refuge hiding in plain sight in a nearby park. Being a team and supporting each other is crucial to their success. A multi-layered story that will appeal to a wide range of ages and prompt much discussion and debate about ethics and freedom. In a world where young people are constantly bombarded with social media that promotes artificial standards of perfection, this empowering fable has an important message to share.
What a perfect book to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Puffin and its founder Allen Lane and an intensely personal book for author, Michael Morpurgo, suffused with his love for the Scilly Isles and for his family history - his wife Claire being one of Allen Lane’s daughters. The utterly beautiful illustrations by Benji Davies evoke his own holidays with grandparents in Cornwall and one can see that this story of a boy who loved to paint is one that is very personal to him too. Every inch of this book is crafted with love (make sure that you look at the hardback cover beneath the dust jacket with its soaring puffin against a glorious blue background and the images of both author and artist at the end) The illustrations range from dramatic double paged spreads, to little sepia vignettes but every page illuminates the absorbing and heartfelt story which begins with the lighthouse keeper Benjamin Postlethwaite and a terrible shipwreck from which he singlehandedly rescues 30 people including the 5 year old narrator of our story. Recently fatherless and travelling with his French mother to grandparents in Devon, the rescue and Ben himself make a huge impact on the boy – not least because of the paintings which fill the lighthouse and the gift of a small painting which becomes his most precious possession. The portrayal of the grim and bleak life with unloving grandparents in Devon, the misery of boarding school and of an artistic child who was a bit of a loner is very moving. As soon as school is finished the boy retraces his steps to the now defunct lighthouse and discovers a home, a friend and an artistic vocation as well as an injured puffin that together they nurse back to health. A puffin who keeps returning and brings others with him. By the time the young man returns from the war he could not avoid - the island and Ben have become a sanctuary for these characterful birds as well as our narrator and his future family. A charming book which evokes a very real sense of place as well the importance of being true to yourself and finding your place in the world.
It's Christmas Eve and there's one very important question on everyone's mind - have YOU been good this year? For twins Sam and Charlie this is a big worry. Charlie has been especially naughty and everyone is sure that she won't get any presents AT ALL. But when Santa makes a mistake, it's up to Charlie to put things right...
This novel, by Birmingham born poet Zephaniah, is the fifth book in the Scholastic Voices series – highlighting the situation and stories behind the myriad of people who have arrived from all over the world to the UK. Leonard’s father is one of the many Jamaican born men who came to Britain at the request of the UK government to help rebuild the country after the second World War. So, when Leonard and his mother arrive in Southampton the 10-year-old had to get to know a father he barely remembers and learn to live in a climate, both physical and social, that was alien to him. This is a carefully written account which does not shirk from exploring the society and the racism that Leonard encounters in his school and in being a part of 50’s and 60’s society in Manchester – where Leonard’s father was a bus driver. It’s aimed at KS2 children and the language, plus seeing everything through Leonard’s often confused eyes makes it a valuable lesson for children to read. The book takes Leonard’s story to the present day where he is one of the Windrush generation who now struggle to prove his right to be in the UK – making this a strong story on which to base vital lessons on the morality of government policies. Highly recommended.
Bertram and Alan are best friends and live next door to each other. Bertram is very tidy whilst Alan lives in a bit of a mess! Bertram feels there is something missing in his life and decides to get a cat. Pierre is a very superior cat – one that Bertram feels will fit in his life perfectly. The only problem is that Pierre has other ideas! He is not keen on eating out of his special bowl – and likes to go next door and eat Alan’s scraps, curl up on Alan’s old coat, and cuddle up with Alan whilst he watches the TV. So, Alan gives Bertram his old coat, and Bertram starts to leave Pierre scraps on the table - but there is still something missing! The two neighbours come up with an ingenious solution – illustrating that friendship can overcome even the contrariness of cats! A tale of friendship and cooperation illustrated in a lovely free-flowing style, full of colour. The double spreads of the book illustrate the difference between the two friends – with the spick and span Bertram’s home on one side and the mess and disorganisation of Alan’s on the other! The comparisons will keep children studying the pictures for a long time. There is a great deal to see in all the spreads, and readers will enjoy the many different things they can pick out!
Following the critically acclaimed Stepsister, this is the Carnegie medal winning authors second ‘ feminist’ fairytale and one that could not be more pertinent to our times. The heart is a powerful symbol and princess Sophie has continually been told that she is too weak, too kind-hearted, too emotional to ever be queen. This is the ‘poison’ which has been constantly dripped into her ear sapping her confidence and self-belief. So far, so familiar, but what makes this tale so psychologically engrossing is that we see the effect of ‘poison’ on the wicked stepmother too. The author refuses to believe that an all-powerful queen would really be bothered by the trifling concerns of beauty and the question to the mirror becomes ‘who will bring about my fall?’ Adelaide is herself the victim of patriarchy and a cruel childhood and it is the King of Crows, the embodiment of Fear, that speaks to her from the mirror and manipulates the attacks on Sophie. With the familiar elements of the fairy tale fleshed out and the alternative 17th century Germanic setting vividly peopled by creatures both whimsical and deadly and with marvellous new characters like Will the archer and Arno the grave robber to educate Sophie about social justice and to support her quest to become the true queen to protect her people, this is a hugely engrossing and beautifully written tale. Its message that kindness and love have the power to defeat cruelty and pain empowers all girls to value their own strength and to let no one’s poisonous words destroy them. Highly recommended.
Interest Age 8+ Reading Age 8 | November 2020 Book of the Month | Tom McLaughlin’s new story stars a royal family, but as you’ve never imagined them before! When hapless Bertie, the Queen’s brother, gambles away their entire estate on a game of Happy Families, the whole family are turfed out. It seems no-one is particularly sorry to see them go either, they’ve been stuck-up, selfish and entitled. Life in their new home in King Street, Windsor takes some getting used to, but mixing with the hoi-polloi, aka their new neighbours, teaches the former royals to be much nicer people (as well as giving them a taste for Pot Noodle). It’s delightfully silly and very funny, but actually full of useful life lessons too. Published by Barrington Stoke, this is accessible to all readers including those reluctant, struggling or dyslexic.
Pippi and her friends, Tommy and Annika, have great fun together, at the circus, at the sweets in the sweet shop and having an adventure at sea. But when Pippi's long-lost father comes to visit, will Pippi sail away to sea with him and leave Tommy and Annika behind? Pippi Longstocking is one of the most popular children's characters, wonderfully brought to life by Lauren Child's superb illustrations. Find out more about Lauren Child, her books, characters and inspirations in our Guest Editor feature.
Renowned author Eoin McLaughlin and award-nominated illustrator Rob Starling join forces to create a hilarious, not-so-spooky tale. A brilliant tale that reassures children, makes them laugh and gets them ready for a peaceful night's sleep.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month November 2020 | Snowman, snow woman, snowperson? Best-selling illustrator David McKee gives the magic of building a someone out of snow a new twist in this witty, wintry picture book. Waking up to snow, Rupert tells his dad and then his mum that he is going to build a snowman. Why snowman, they ask? Why not a snowperson? But when Kate says she’s building a snow woman both mum and dad think that’s great. But what can Rupert and Kate do when the snow man and snow woman run off together? Luckily they come up with a great solution in is gently non-sexist story.
For fans of Jon Klassen, this sensitive and impactful picture book from award-winning author-illustrator Christian Robinson is all about seeing the world from different points of view, and the perfect entry point for parents to help teach their little people about empathy and community.
What happens at night when we are all tucked up in bed and dreaming? It’s a question that fascinates children and it’s explored beautifully in this handsome picture book. Double page illustrations show us the people going about their night-time jobs, the trucks rattling down roads packed with the things we need, and even give us a peek into the Royal Mail’s sorting office where busy workers (watched over by a prowling cat) go through bundles of letters and interesting-looking parcels. Meanwhile, out at sea ships cut through the waves under the stars, while the countryside belongs to owls, bats and hares. Text and pictures both are full of memorable images and vivid details, but at the same time brim with a sense of the quiet and magic of the night-time world. It’s beautiful to look at, a glimpse into another world, and will be wonderful to share with young readers, particularly at bedtime.
I don’t think Raúf has put a foot wrong so far with her novels to date – and this is no exception. Told from the interesting perspective of the bully in school, Hector gains our sympathy quite unexpectedly – we can see how and why he gets the blame, often deservedly, but also when it’s not really his fault. But when a prank on a homeless person gets out of hand this leads to Hector being befriended - somewhat reluctantly at first, by Mei-Li – who introduces Hector to the shelter she helps in and thus to an understanding of some of the pressures and causes of homelessness. An important social message for all – but this book is also a who-done-it trying to solve mysterious, slightly odd crimes whilst the graffiti left at the scenes of these crimes seem to indicate that homeless people are involved in some way. Can Hector and Mei-Li get to the bottom of these crimes? Can Hector’s new understanding help him be less of a bully? Could Hector turn out to be a bit of a hero? Written with great empathy, this book has themes of friendship and kindness whilst celebrating the fact people can change – and often for the better. Another success for Onali J Raúf.
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.
Young children will find lots to laugh at in this jolly story of a little dragon who can’t help losing his temper, and they’ll learn ways to manage their own anger too. When Fergal gets cross, he really gets cross, and being a dragon this results in burned buns (he couldn’t wait to eat them), scorched suppers (he didn’t want the veg), goalposts burned to cinders (he really didn’t want to play in goal). It upsets his friends and it’s making him unhappy too. Fortunately Mum has a useful suggestion – take a breath and count to ten. It works, while Fergal’s friends have helpful tricks of their own too. Robert Starling’s illustrations are full of life and character, and this is very good for sharing.
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2021 | Malcolm Duffy’s acclaimed, award winning debut, Me Mam. Me Dad. Me, showed us a writer with a totally authentic voice and the ability to portray the direst of circumstances with honesty, humour and heart. Here, young adult readers will be confronted with the terrifying reality of how easily young people can slip under the radar and lose the safety net of a home to go to. Our hero Tyler is a recognisably grumpy 15-year-old uprooted against his will and relocated in Yorkshire. Still to make any friends and with only his dog for company, he stumbles upon a lanky, fellow outsider called Spyder, at the local pool. She wants him to teach her to swim. Given a purpose at last he has no idea what a tangled web of lies he will end up creating as he gradually realises her homeless predicament and wants to help. Unflinching in its examination of a society which would very much prefer not to ‘see’ the problem- just like Tyler’s parents when they discover what he has been concealing. Tyler makes genuine moral mistakes, but we must admire his tenacity and determination to help at whatever cost to himself. Spyder is utterly convincing too- not wanting pity and justifiably scared of dubious ‘charity ’help, she deserves everyone’s respect. This is a book which sadly is all too pertinent to the lives of young people today and in the foreseeable political future. A crusading novel that more than lives up to the promise of that powerful debut. Highly recommended.
Deservedly a modern classic, this action packed and hilarious picture book brings all kinds of traditional – and not so traditional! – Christmas excitement vividly to life. Like everyone else, the mice are eager to have a big Christmas party but, without money, it is hard to see what they can do. As ever, Arthur and Humphrey come up with some inventive ideas but nothing, especially raffling off Sampson the Cat, goes exactly according to plan! An exciting encounter with various Father Christmases, irate shoppers in the toy shop and more have unexpected results which leave the mice with a Christmas to remember.
The spellbinding sequel to Tom Fletcher's bestselling magical adventure, The Christmasaurus. 'She is the best-kept Christmas secret of all,' whispered Santa Claus. 'Which is surprising, because Christmas itself would not exist without her. She is older than time itself, yet still as young as tomorrow. She is known only as the Winter Witch.' One year has passed since William Trundle's incredible adventure with the most extraordinary dinosaur: the Christmasaurus. Now, William is swept back to the magical North Pole, where he meets the mysterious, icy Winter Witch - whose power to control time allows Santa Claus to make the long journey all around the world every Christmas Eve. And when they learn that the fate of Christmas itself hangs in the balance, William and the Christmasaurus must work with the Winter Witch to protect it... Full of magic and music, humour and heart, and a friendship like no other, The Christmasaurus and the Winter Witch is the most enchanting Christmas read for the whole family.
The one with the camping trip disaster | The brand new laugh-out-loud, fully-illustrated Diary of a Wimpy Kid book from #1 international bestselling author Jeff Kinney! A global phenomenon with 250 million copies of the series sold worldwide! When Greg Heffley and his family hit the road for a cross-country camping trip, they're ready for the adventure of a lifetime. But their plans hit a major snag, and they find themselves stranded at a campsite that's not exactly a summertime paradise. Things only get worse for the Heffleys when the skies open up and the water starts to rise, making them wonder if they can save their vacation - or if they're already in too deep... You can download a fun new facebook app, Cheese Touch - and find out lots more about Wimpy Kid at the Wimpy Kid Club!
Surprising things happen every day in Moominvalley - luckily the Moomin family and their friends embrace the unexpected with their characteristic humour, kindness and charm. This beautiful book contains nine exciting adventure stories - all closely based on the warm and whimsical Moomin world and characters created by the celebrated writer, artist and illustrator Tove Jansson.
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.
Beautifully told and illustrated this luminous allegorical adventure describes how one little girl’s dark and lonely existence is lit up by the arrival of ‘one spark’ in the form of a book – ‘faint and fading in the dark’. The spark’s embers glow and catch light and we see the girl follow them through an extraordinary world, brightened always by books, falling Alice in Wonderland-like from the sky, sprouting flowers and always shining in the dark. Enrolled at school, her heart’s delight, her story takes flight again from the pages of a book to transform another lonely girl’s life. There’s lots to wonder at, but the overall message is clear – the transforming, empowering, joy-bringing importance of books and education. The rhyming text carries readers along and the illustrations seem lit up from within. A book that deserves a wide audience and one that will start both dreams and discussions. For similar books take a look at Girl Power - Inspiring and Informative Books with a Feminist Edge
October 2020 Book of the Month | A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month October 2020 | Award-winning Oliver Jeffers will capture the hearts and minds of children and adults alike with this story of a father and daughter making plans to build a world that will keep them safe in the future. Brimming with hope but not ignoring the possibilities that the world and what happens next in it will present challenges, What We’ll Build is founded in the mundane (almost!) as the father and his daughter assemble building tools including a hammer, saw and drill – and a pig! What they go on to build including a place to store love, a hole to hide in, a wall to keep enemies out and a gate to let them, a tunnel to anywhere, a road to the stars and much more and the reasons why they may need them it is summed up in the briefest of texts and Jeffers magical, vividly coloured story- telling illustrations. Inspired by becoming a father, What We’ll Build is a childhood classic that will be shared over and over again.
October 2020 Book of the Month | In this brilliant and emotionally gripping sequel to her best-selling debut novel, Dear Martin, the author’s focus shifts to a minor character: Vernell LaQuan Banks Jnr. Unlike Justyce, the hero of the first book who is now a law student at Yale, Quan is incarcerated and charged with the murder of a policeman. In Dear Martin, Justyce wrote letters in his journal to his hero Martin Luther King Jnr to work through his thoughts and vent his frustrations about life as a Black American. Here Quan actually does write to Justyce, inspired by reading that self-same journal and through these and a series of flashbacks his painful story is revealed. From the trauma of witnessing his dad’s brutal arrest and the domestic abuse his mother experiences from her new partner, to taking responsibility for protecting his small step-siblings to the extent of stealing food to feed them, Quan had none of the love and support that helped Justyce overcome the tragedies in the first book. In fact it is the need for a ‘family’ that embroils Quan into joining the Black Jihad and then loyalty to them which keeps his mouth shut about the fact that it was not his gun, left at the scene, which fired the fatal bullet. Through these letters we can really see Quan developing as a character and benefiting from studying with the tutor Justyce sent him. Evaluating himself and how he got there as well as the obvious racial disparities in the criminal justice system and how hopeless the future seems for black youths like him. Eventually the truth about his mental state, his coerced confession and the police procedural failure to gather ballistics evidence is revealed and Justyce launches a legal challenge to get the charges against Quan dropped and, just as importantly, find a way to reconcile him with his family and to be released from obligations to the other ‘family’. This is an unforgettable insight into lives where options and choices are so limited by systemic and institutional racism that despite every effort to the contrary the pathway to prison seems inevitable. In the afterword the author reveals just how many true stories are so authentically reflected here. Dear Justyce is an absolute must read, giving a voice to those who need it the most.
From the inventive author-illustrator of the award-winning There’s a Bear on My Chair comes this smart sequel, and boy has Ross Collins delivered again. It’s a rollicking, rhyming, visually-pleasing treat in which it turns out that Bear isn’t terribly keen on getting a taste of his own medicine (to begin with, at least). The cause of Bear’s irritation is the presence of Mouse in his house (yes, the very same Mouse on whose chair Bear presumptuously sat in the first book). In Bear’s outraged words, “That rodent can’t live here, oh no! I’ll tell him that he has to go.” Of course, Mouse refuses to leave and proceeds to cause chaos in Bear’s house, before a mob of partying mice turn up. But then - the twist! – when Bear realises “Hey! These mice are nice!” With wonderful interplay between text, illustration and design, this is excellent for reading aloud - the kind of book that will have toddlers urging for it to be read again, and again (and again) while completing the rhymes before adults have chance to read them.