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September 2019 Book of the Month | Hitting rock bottom, hanging on, and coming back from the edge. Brian Conaghan has an incredible talent for telling it like it is. His characters are authentic and absorbing; flawed underdogs with serious troubles, like 17-year-old Maggie whose dad “drank his liver into a spreadable pâté”, and whose laid-off dinner lady mum is “gifted in the art of attracting pure dickheads”. And Maggie? Maggie’s “an island: the way I dress; the music I listen to; the patter my brain discharges; everything”. Maggie’s struggling to deal with the tragic loss of her best friend Moya whose death she feels excruciatingly guilty about. Moya was a “mad riot” of a girl, but as Maggie “couldn’t be arsed with all the love-struck vom” Moya was spewing, because she didn’t speak out against the Internet trolls, she believes she was a “failure friend”. Alongside her grief, guilt and self-harm, Maggie struggles with her mother’s severe depression, but also tingles with the hope that comes from starting art college: “now’s the time to make something of myself.” Indeed, she soon forms a band with new friends. Throughout, Maggie’s love of bands like The Smiths looms large, as does her relationship with her depressed mother. Maggie’s rage at her mother’s condition derives entirely from her primal love for her. She’s desperate for Mum to be happy, and her scheme to help her find happiness is heart-achingly poignant. Grief, depression, self-harm, online abuse, this novel is no walk in the park, yet it never drags the reader down. On the contrary. It’s sensitive, insightful, funny (Maggie is a master of biting one-liners), and genuinely uplifting as Maggie and Mum begin to find their way back to the world, with glinting prospects of love and new life.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month September 2019 | | Award winning Elizabeth Laird brilliantly brings to life thirteen year old Safiya’s new world as a refugee after her family flee from their comfortable home in Damascus because of the war in Syria. Safiya, her brother and father arrive in Jordan with nothing and must turn to relatives for help. Safiya has to adjust to living in a tent without running water. Suddenly, she is cleaning and washing and finding clever ways of making do on very little rather than going to school. But resourceful Safiya never gives up hope of going back to a better way for life or of finding her missing twin sister. A House without Walls is a vivid picture of a family facing an extreme experience with courage and imagination.
September 2019 Debut of the Month | Jo is the kind of open, honest, amusing character readers immediately care about. Told through her wittily illustrated diary, Jo’s tale begins with a(nother) upheaval. She and her family have just moved to their new Chinese takeaway, but her hopes for a fresh start are immediately dashed when she sees there’s no living room, and she has to share a room with little sister Bonny while big brother Simon lives with their grandparents. Jo’s experience of feeling “doubly different” is poignantly portrayed – she’s an outsider at school because she’s Chinese, and an outsider among her wider Chinese family because her own family is dysfunctional, and because she doesn’t speak the same language. Thank goodness, then, that she forms a friendship with fellow outcast, Tina the Goth, who stands up to racist school bullies. But while Jo begins to feel hopeful about her future and takes steps towards realising her dream of working in fashion, she and Bonny are increasingly neglected by their parents, and then there’s Dad’s aggressive outbursts. The mid-1980s setting prompts many amusing references, from ra-ra skirts and Gary Kemp’s perm, to sending drawings to Take Hart and going to Wimpy for a Knickerbocker Glory - but above all this is a highly readable, highly empathetic, impactful novel about familial abuse and neglect, trying to fit in, and finding your way in the world. Based on her own experiences, author Sue Cheung’s big-hearted story will chime with readers of 12+ who know how it feels to fall between cracks and dream of a different life.
Interest Age 5-8 | A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month September 2019 | A wonderful adventure for a little girl who overcomes all her fears and gets an unexpected flight in a hot air balloon. Nick-named Scaredy Cat -Sophie by her sister, Sophie seems to be frightened of almost everything and so gets left out of a family trip to the fair to see a famous balloonist show off the tricks of his trade. Alone after the family have gone, Sophie’s great longing to see the amazing balloonist go up, up in the sky inspires her to overcome her fear and bravely set off for the fair alone. Soon Sophie finds that she too has an unexpected and very exciting trip ahead of her! Based on a story of Sophie Blanchard one of the first female astronauts this is a charming story that will encourage all readers to be brave. High quality cream paper and a special easy to read font ensure a smooth read for all.
September 2019 Book of the Month | Amara knows exactly what she wants for her 12th birthday: to visit her father’s family in New York. She understands it will be very different to Beavertown, Oregon, the small town she’s grown up in, but can’t wait to explore the big city and get to know her family properly. The trip is eye-opening in lots of ways as she learns more about her father and his childhood, about her family, and even her own history. Renée Watson shows us that families are complicated, that it’s never too late to change or make amends, and that we can all carry on learning even as we grow up. Quiet, though full of drama, and skilfully told, this is a touching and thought-provoking story with well-drawn, engaging characters; a book that will make a real impact on its reader.
Uncle Gobb is back for a third utterly ridiculous, absolutely hilarious and totally originally told adventure. Michael Rosen and Neal Layton use a brilliant integration of words and pictures to tell this meandering and many-layered story which engages readers with the complexity and creativity of storytelling.
Soar into space with this glorious love story of alien folk, from the creators of The Gruffalo and Stick Man. The Smeds (who are red) never mix with the Smoos (who are blue). So when a young Smed and Smoo fall in love, their families strongly disapprove. But peace is restored and love conquers all in this happiest of love stories. There's even a gorgeous purple baby to celebrate! With fabulous rhymes and breathtaking illustrations, this book is literally out of this world!
The story follows little Turtus as he hatches and makes his way towards the sea along with the other little turtles. However, he does not feel that he is like his brothers and sisters and this is confirmed as his journey continues. Eventually, he encounters his mother who explains that his father was in fact a giant land tortoise and assures him that he will meet him one day. This is a charming picture book using an effective, fairly natural and simple rhyme format which tends to appeal to young children. The illustrations are varied and appealing and match the text extremely well. Intrigue draws us in at the onset with the mystery of what is a 'Turtus' and reappears at the end of the tale when the reader is left with the expectation of eventually meeting Turtus' father in the next book. The story is also effective on other levels with its educational value and as an introduction to the fact that we are all different and can have a variety of different family situations. My granddaughter is 7 and really enjoyed this story and wants to know what happens next! Val Rowe, A LoveReading4Kids Ambassador
September 2019 Debut of the Month | 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.
A young meerkat travels the world looking for Christmas in this festive card-packed picture book, perfect for fans of The Jolly Christmas Postman and the modern classic, Meerkat Mail. Sunny isn't quite sure if Christmas in the desert with his meerkat family is the right sort of Christmas - there's no snow, no fir trees and no figgy pudding! So he heads off on a journey round the world looking for the picture perfect Christmas . . . before realizing he might have left it at home after all. From the twice winner of the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal and the creator of Tidy, Cyril and Pat and Again!, Meerkat Christmas is a witty and heartwarming celebration of festive fun and family love that shows Christmas can be whatever you want it to be.
A warm-hearted picture book about a special friendship in which free spirited Emily tempts anxious and pampered Frederick to brave the outdoors and enjoy some wonderful and unexpected adventures. Emma Chichester Clark’s illustrations capture the magic of the children’s friendship and play perfectly.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month August 2019 | Temper tantrums are brilliantly visualised in this witty story about how Ravi deals with his. Poor Ravi! The youngest and smallest in the family he is always the slowest and the shortest and the last one to get what he wants. It makes him feel terrible! And when Ravi feels terrible he ROARS. His face goes red, he grows two furry ears, sharp teeth and a stripey tail. Now he can get what he wants but there is a price to pay: will anyone want to play with him? Tom Percival’s illustrations keep the message light hearted without trivialising it.
August 2019 Debut of the Month | Uplifting and dazzlingly unique, this coming-of-age treasure explores identity and sexuality with an emboldening message to remember that “you have the right to be you”. As a young Barbie-loving boy, mixed race Michael wonders if he’s “only half” of everything, to which his mother poignantly replies: “Don’t let anyone tell you/that you are half-black/and half-white. Half-Cypriot/ and half-Jamaican./ You are a full human being.” But he doesn’t feel like a whole human being. Dubbed a “queerdo and weirdo” by bullies and subjected to “batty bwoy” taunts through his teenage years, he leaves London for Brighton University with hope in his heart. But even here Michael feels “like Goldilocks; trying to find a group of people/the perfect fit for me”. He doesn’t feel black enough for the Caribbean Society, or Greek enough for Hellenic Society, or queer enough for the LBGT Society. Then Michael finally finds a fit at Drag Society where he becomes The Black Flamingo, “someone fabulous, wild and strong. With or without a costume on.” Michael’s journey is complex, moving and told with a raw vitality that makes the soul soar and the heart sing, with Anshika Khullar’s magnificent illustrations and the smart design adding further depth, prompting the reader to pause for thought as his story requires.
Jason Reynolds is the master of giving voice to children and teenagers who exist - and often struggle - on the margins of society. Against tough competition, this exceptional novel might be his finest yet. Matt has recently lost his beloved mom and feels excruciatingly lonely in his grief. By page two, when Matt comes home to a house that was “totally silent. And it had no smell,” the author encapsulates the raw invisibility of grief with visceral power. Haunted by how his mom made him feel “like the luckiest kid in the world...like I was somebody important”, and needing something to occupy his mind (and some cash), Matt takes a job helping family friend and funeral director Mr Ray, and unexpectedly finds that attending funerals and witnessing the grief of others makes him feel less alone. With his dad otherwise disposed after seeking solace in whiskey, Mr Ray is heart-meltingly supportive, reaching out to Matt while his “old man is getting himself together”. It’s at one of his work funerals that Matt begins to form a beautiful bond with Lovey, a young woman who’s experienced more pain and loss than even Matt can imagine. As Lovey opens Matt’s world and heart, they discover that they’re also bonded by a tragic moment that shaped both their lives. Readers will hope with all their hearts that Lovey and Matt’s futures are presaged by Bob Marley’s “every little thing gonna be alright” lyrics that ring out during a momentous shared taxi ride. Boldly honest and bathed in empathy, Matt’s all-consuming, touching tale possesses a rare power to leave a lasting imprint.
From passionate, all-consuming love-at-first-sight, to possession, obsession, jealousy and control, the subject of emotional abuse in relationships is here explored from every complex, confusing angle. What a devastatingly vital feat of YA fiction this is. Talented country songwriter Gemma has just started college and feels like she’s riding a wave of change: “Starting college feels like such a massive step, like suddenly the world’s got that much wider.” And then a further tidal wave sweeps Gemma up when she locks eyes with a handsome stranger – Aaron, a charismatic young app-developer who overwhelms her with big romantic gestures and expensive gifts that seem to show how much he gets her, far more than her family do, as Aaron is wont to remind her. He points out that Gemma’s passion for songwriting will always play second fiddle to her brother’s football talent, that her friends don’t appreciate her like he does. Before Gemma knows it, Aaron’s controlling, manipulative ways seep through her veins like an undetected virus and, when he isolates her from her loved ones, her world closes in, with shattering repercussions. At once tense, compassionate and (importantly) brutally honest, readers will plead with Gemma, rage at Aaron, and gasp as the crippling extremes of his toxic behaviour are made manifest. But there’s a glimmer of light through the dark, especially in the form of Gemma’s friends – Ghanaian feminist Esi who warns her to slow down and step away, and kind-hearted Callum, her loyal music partner.
Jo Simmons’ new book had me laughing out loud more than once and kids will love it too. Due to numerous family crises, Tom’s super-important 11th birthday party is on hold, so he takes matters into his own hands planning a party and ways to cheer up his family. If I tell you that this involves a DIY gladiatorial contest, some chicken whispering, and bacon sarnies raining down from the sky, you’ll realise why the eventual party really is unforgettable. An absolute hoot and great on the dynamics of family life too.
August 2019 Debut YA Book of the Month | This unique, incisive novel is an emotionally engrossing road-trip reinvention of Moby Dick with female characters, and a gripping mystery about what main protagonist Dinah is running from to find her place to call home. Seventeen-year-old Dinah has lived her whole life on a commune and now feels compelled to flee everything she’s ever known. After being home-schooled, a recent period in mainstream schooling has turned her world upside-down, as has turbulent upheavals at home, and then there’s the mystery of what happened between Dinah and new friend Queenie. She shaves off her hair, adopts a new name and flees, illegally driving a VW campervan (her version of Moby Dick’s Pequod ship) with a cantankerous one-legged neighbour for company. While driving, Dinah confronts her many demons, most of which stem from her confusing sense of identity. She’s mixed race, but feels neither black nor white, and she’s attracted to boys and girls. The road is bumpy, with many revelations and confrontations along the way. Eventually, though, Dinah realises that “the road that took you away has led you all the way back home”. This is a smartly-crafted novel with real resonance, a story that honestly and empathetically imparts an uplifting message to “Always be yourself first…find yourself and be yourself”.
What a luminously life-enhancing read this is. The story of ADHD afflicted underdog Felix, who “can’t concentrate or keep still”. His East German Granddad now (embarrassingly) drives the pink car that used to belong to his deceased Grandma, whose death has hit them all hard. Felix and Granddad’s grief is laid bare with heart-wrenching authenticity, but theirs is a complex relationship: “I love my granddad and I think he loves me, but sometimes it’s hard to tell.” After an altercation, Felix and Granddad forge an understanding, and look forward to a “neuangfang” (new start) that begins with a list of “Ten things I’d like to teach Felix”. Unfortunately, in Felix’s eyes Granddad’s list comprises the “ten more boring things in the world”, but Felix works through it until only the most dreaded activity remains - playing chess. He tries to wriggle out of it, but “crafty” Granddad has been surreptitiously teaching Felix chess skills and he’s soon hooked by the game, with unexpected positive side effects. A thrilling team tournament is followed waves of pulse-quickening twists that will thrust readers to the edge of their seats, heart in mouth. Throughout, the rollercoaster ride of primary school life - fallings out, friendship, fear of not fitting in - is explored in all its intense and comic complexity, and the representation of working class realisms is spot-on too. Felix’s mum and dad have both been “working stacks since Dad’s plumbing business went bust last year”. But, best of all, the magic of the relationship between children and their grandparents is dazzlingly conjured. I adored it.
Rob and Maegan both have a whole lot on their plates. Rob’s rich dad attempted suicide after he was caught embezzling their community and he’s now severely disabled, unable to speak or do anything for himself. Until eight months ago, “Everyone wanted to be me,” but now Rob’s an outcast, tainted by his father’s fraud, which is something Maegan also knows a thing or two about. Previously an academic overachiever, pressures led her to cheat in last year’s exams, which in turn led to hundreds of her peers’ marks being invalidated. Connected by a Calculus project and their dads (Maegan’s cop father was first on the scene when Rob’s dad shot himself), the two outcasts strike up an unlikely friendship, and more. Alongside their romance and the gripping twists, I loved the moving camaraderie between Rob and Owen, whose single mom was thrown into crippling financial hardship by Rob’s dad. For a book that packs-in plenty of big issues, it’s also an entertaining page-turner - the perfect YA package with the overriding messages that “one mistake doesn’t define you”, and “one choice doesn’t determine your whole future.”
July 2019 Book of the Month | A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month July 2019 | Award-winning Carl Hiaasen has a rare gift for telling very entertaining stories which combine great adventures which have a strong ecological message with touching family stories which tell what really matters in relationships between parents and children. In Squirm, Billy Dickens, a lover of snakes in his home in Florida and a passionate watcher of bald eagles too, takes off to Montana to find his Dad who moved out when he was only small. In a completely new landscape with big mountains and dangerous animals such a grizzly bears, Billy finds his dad’s new family and eventually tracks down his dad who is permanently on some secret trek or another. When the two finally meet, Billy discovers that the mystery surrounding his dad is rooted not in something sinister but in their shared determination to protect animals in the wild. Full of danger, the battle to keep the animals safe is a fast-paced one making this a thrilling read as well as a heart-warming story.
Optimist and aspiring actress Willa is the privileged daughter of separated actor parents. Her plans to spend summer in London are scuppered when her parents decide to ship her off to rural Italy to stay with an aunt she’s never met, which is what brings her to LA airport and into contact with Alice... Glass-half-empty-Alice has lost her mum and her marine biologist dad is sending her to stay with his new girlfriend in London, the prospect of which fills her with horror. When the girls meet in the airport lounge, they’re envious of each other’s summers. Alice would love to visit Italy to fulfill a dream of her mum’s, while Willa is desperate to attend a London theatre course. While Willa and Alice live worlds apart, they look remarkably alike and so they switch identities to experience a summer holiday like no other. With slip-ups and suspicions aroused from the off, the fast-paced escapist action escalates into a flurry of comic capers and cute crushes, plus there are plenty of heart-melting moments too. Alice gets to visit the worry-purging waterfall her mum never saw, while Willa reassesses her ambitions, and both find new friendships.