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April 2021 Book of the Month | Michelle Paver has done it again in the eighth book in her epic, emotional Chronicles of Ancient Darkness Stone Age series that began with Wolf Brother. Skin Taker reels with a rollercoaster sense of adventure, shadowy atmosphere and an infectious spirit of survival as Torak, Renn and Wolf must find new ways to exist during the midwinter Dark Time, when new dangers are awoken and devastation looms. Torak remains the brave, brash protagonist readers have long known and admired, yet his character has been deftly developed too, and he’s here presented with fierce challenges - and responses - that befit his experiences. Though its setting is aeons ago, and though Torak’s world is suffused in otherworldly spirit magic, Paver has a remarkable skill for making her stories richly relatable. The emotional dilemmas and relationships have resonance; the detail and atmosphere of the natural world are truly tangible, and what an exhilarating immersion in the wild this offers adventure-seeking readers. Read a Q&A with Michelle Paver about Viper's Daughter, as she returned to the Wolf Brother series after over a decade.
March 2021 Book of the Month | Forna has taken her own experiences of sexism and racism that she experienced as a woman from Sierra Leone living in the US on which to base this novel. This has created a powerful depiction of the oppression and cruelty meted out to women who are different from a society’s accepted roles. Set in the patriarchal fantasy world of Otera, this is based in an ancient kingdom, where a woman’s worth is only as good as her proven purity. This purity is proven by the woman being made to bleed – in a brutal ceremony when they reach the age of 16. When Deka bleeds gold this is deemed the colour of impurity, and she is declared a demon. Not only is she thrust out of the home and society she has known since birth, but she is also subjected to unspeakable acts of brutality and violence by the ruling priesthood. The fact Deka does not die from all the brutality gives one hope she is different and may have some role in the future of Otera. This proves so – Deka is rescued and taken to a training ground for women where she finds a friendship and sisterhood amongst others also found to be impure. As they train the ‘impure’ girls are paired with soldiers from the Imperial jatu fighting force – and some form deep and lasting friendships with their partners. The characters here are hugely diverse with Black, Asian and Brown main, and minor characters, with a recognition of diverse sexuality too. The power of this novel is in the strong, horrifying but ultimately hopeful end of this story. There is much violence – in both punitive killing and re-killings of demons by the priests, but also in the violent backstories of some of the girls (including an instance of rape.) The book explores themes of feminist possibility whilst being based in a fantasy world taking inspiration from ancient West African culture. A powerful read, not for the faint-hearted but very definitely giving hope for the future, showing that there is a place to be whatever you wish to be – homemaker or fighter. This is a strong start to what promises to be a trilogy. Read more about The Gilded Ones in a Q&A with Namina Forna.
April 2021 Debut of the Month | Kat Dunn’s deliciously dark debut - the first in a series - is a riot of rebellion, ruthlessness and extraordinary science interlaced with the all-consuming love between two young women in post-Revolution Paris. Following the revolution, France had been filled with the hope of “finding a better, fairer way to rule” but now, five years on, “people still starved, inequality continued. The country splintered and the different factions spat at each other like a serpent with many heads.” And in such explosive circumstances Camille, the daughter of a revolutionary, leads the Battalion of the Dead, “the last port of call for anyone with a loved one in trouble - whatever side they were on - with prison breaks their specialty”. While no stranger to trouble, the Battalion’s latest rescue, a girl called Olympe, unnerves even Camille. Olympe is a “wretched, nightmarish creature” with peculiar powers that see her wanted by both Royalists and Revolutionaries. And so a tinderbox of treachery and terror, of peril and passion threatens to spark as Camille’s loyalties are tested to extremes. The writing is richly sensory - you smell gunpowder, and the “sweet scent of lavender” masking mildew and sewage. You feel fresh straw underfoot, and skin singed by the crackling sparks of magic. It’s a banquet of atmosphere and action; a meaty mélange for fans of Frankenstein, The Scarlet Pimpernel and Six of Crows.
Interest Age 8+ Reading Age 8 | From bestselling author Peter Bunzl comes Featherlight – an irresistible tale of family, magic and bravery. An unlikely visitor brings light to the life of the lighthouse keeper’s daughter, in this stunning new adventure. Inspired by the story of real heroines like Grace Darling in the Farne Islands and Ida Lewis of Rhode Island, both of whom risked their lives in daring sea rescues in the nineteenth century, Featherlight boasts a strong female protagonist, a touching story of family, and a fantastic mix of myth and history from the award-winning author of the Cogheart series.
Shortlisted for CILIP Carnegie Medal 2021 | Lauren Wolk’s Echo Mountain shimmers with timeless lyricism and rhythm. The story sings with empathy and a spirit of bravery. Its world is one young readers will be enraptured by and long to return to, making it perfect for fans of classic Eva Ibbotson novels and contemporary books by Katherine Rundell. In the wake of The Great Depression, Ellie’s fine tailor father and music teacher mother lose work, then their house, “and then the life we’d always known” when they’re compelled to leave town for Echo Mountain. While her mother and sister find mountain life especially tough (they “lived in a brew of fear and exhaustion”), Ellie and her father loved the woods, loved the mountain and “what it kindled in me.” Ellie is mystified when her dog returns home with a little wooden lamb attached to its collar, and then more objects appear, including a carving of Ellie herself left in the stump of the tree that almost killed her father. With her family reeling from his accident, Ellie’s determination to find a cure leads her to Cate, a skilled healer who’s disparaged as a witch, and wild Larkin, her young apprentice. Through Cate, Ellie too learns how to heal, and also how to see beyond appearances, and how to persevere. What a wonderfully immersive read.
Shortlisted for CILIP Carnegie Medal 2021 | Carnegie winner Ruta Sepetys seems to specialise in illuminating forgotten or unknown aspects of history. The Spanish Civil War may be widely known but Spain lived under Franco until 1975. Rather like post-Apartheid South Africa there was a reconciliation movement that did not pursue retribution for the human rights abuses and crimes of the dictatorship. But this outstanding, impeccably researched novel seeks to shine a light on those crimes. In a fascinating afterword she tells us that studies estimate over 300,000 babies were stolen from their Republican parents. This is indeed a story to shock and horrify but its power comes from the characters and the very human stories she tells. We get different perspectives from different viewpoints and voices, but very cleverly our main guide is an outsider looking in just as the reader does. Daniel is an American boy visiting Spain as his father negotiates a lucrative deal. America’s complicit dealings with the Franco regime are also under the spotlight here. Daniel aspires to be a photojournalist and he naively wants to find the real Spain. He finds fear and suspicion, makes friends and falls in love but tragedy strikes, and he must leave. The full sinister picture is only revealed many years later. This is a book which absolutely demonstrates the power of a story to reveal truth and to develop real understanding and empathy. Perfectly pitched, evocative and utterly enthralling.
This playful picture book written in rhyme by Ezra Jack Keats Award-winning author Shirin Yim Bridges and illustrated in rich Tudor colours by Alea Marley gives readers a glimpse into the surprising and intriguing grooming habits of Tudor times and saves the big reveal for the end: this little girl who is reluctantly pulled out of bed just like them went on to become Queen Elizabeth I.
Set in ancient Rome, during the terrifying rule of Caligula in fact, Annelise Gray’s book is a mix of history, adventure and horses – a winning combination! Dido’s father trains riders and horses for the famous, and frequently deadly Circus Maximus chariot races. She dreams of being a charioteer too but that’s not allowed, and she’s stuck watching the boys compete. When her father is murdered, Dido has to flee Rome, leaving behind her beautiful horse Porcellus. But Fate will bring the two of them together again, and sees Dido compete in the Circus after all. The story of Dido, Porcellus and their fellow riders and horses makes for thrilling reading. Gray transports the reader to Rome in a hoofbeat, places, people and the dangerous times vividly brought to life. Caligula plays a part in the book, and he’s not the only real person to do so – watch out for Cassius Chaerea too – but Dido is the star, as she makes her way in Rome’s macho world, determined to set her own path and avenge her father. A superb historical adventure story. If Dido’s story sets readers looking for more classical adventures, as it undoubtedly will, point them to Caroline Lawrence’s Roman Mysteries, Rosemary Sutcliff’s Eagle of the Ninth Chronicles and Philip Womack’s The Arrow of Apollo.
Inspired by a true story. It's 1940, and Joseph has been packed off to stay with Mrs F, a gruff woman with no great fondness for children. To Joseph's amazement, she owns the rundown city zoo where Joseph meets Adonis, a huge silverback gorilla. Adonis is ferociously strong and dangerous, but Joseph finds he has an affinity with the lonely beast. But when the bombs begin to fall, it is up to Joseph to guard Adonis's cage should it be damaged by a blast. Will Joseph be ready to pull the trigger if it comes to it?
A gorgeous 20th anniversary edition of Eva Ibbotson's award-winning, bestselling classic adventure, with a beautiful cover by Katie Hickey and an introduction by award-winning author of Letters from the Lighthouse Emma Carroll. August 2013 Guest Editor, Lauren St John "To me, Eva Ibbotsen is a genius. You can pick up any of her books – The Dragonfly Pool and One Boy and His Dog are also fantastic – and be guaranteed a good read. Journey to the River Sea is about orphaned London schoolgirl, Maia, who, accompanied by her strict but kind governess, is sent to live with her ghastly relatives in South America. Unlike her nature-phobic relatives, Maia loves her exotic, colourful new world. This is a journey of the spirit as well as the globe and the way Maia unfurls like a flower with each new adventure and encounter is one of the many reasons Journey to the River Sea is a classic. A warm, joyous book to be enjoyed by any generation." Chosen by Anne Fine as one of her favourite reads... 'A charming and magical adventure story that is full of wisdom, warmth and understanding. Orphaned Maia is sent off to stay with her relatives far, far away in the heart of the Amazon jungle. She’s excited by the prospect of living such an inspiring place but soon finds that life with her twin cousins Gwendolyn and Beatrice is torture.'
March 2021 Debut of the Month | Set in ancient Rome, during the terrifying rule of Caligula in fact, Annelise Gray’s book is a mix of history, adventure and horses – a winning combination! Dido’s father trains riders and horses for the famous, and frequently deadly Circus Maximus chariot races. She dreams of being a charioteer too but that’s not allowed, and she’s stuck watching the boys compete. When her father is murdered, Dido has to flee Rome, leaving behind her beautiful horse Porcellus. But Fate will bring the two of them together again, and sees Dido compete in the Circus after all. The story of Dido, Porcellus and their fellow riders and horses makes for thrilling reading. Gray transports the reader to Rome in a hoofbeat, places, people and the dangerous times vividly brought to life. Caligula plays a part in the book, and he’s not the only real person to do so – watch out for Cassius Chaerea too – but Dido is the star, as she makes her way in Rome’s macho world, determined to set her own path and avenge her father. A superb historical adventure story. If Dido’s story sets readers looking for more classical adventures, as it undoubtedly will, point them to Caroline Lawrence’s Roman Mysteries, Rosemary Sutcliff’s Eagle of the Ninth Chronicles and Philip Womack’s The Arrow of Apollo.
Nominated for the Carnegie Medal | Set in the author’s native Wales during the dark days of the fifth century, Ellen Caldecott’s The Short Knife is an energetic, edge-of-your-seat page-turner with present-day resonance as 21st-century Britain - island of migrants - faces the challenge of forging an identity independent of continental Europe. With the Romans compelled to leave Britain after 400 years, the island is on the brink of collapse. Amidst this uncertainty and the chaos of Saxon invasion, thirteen-year-old Mai is cared for by her dad and sister (she lost her mam when she was three), and wrestling with her “anger at the people free to flee into the hills. Anger at all the world and everyone in it. I want to open my mouth and let the fire out, burn it all into blackness.” When Saxon warriors turn up at their farm, the family is forced to flee to the dangerous hills themselves. Mai must cross the threshold from childhood to adulthood if she’s to survive in a hostile world in which speaking in her mother tongue might turn out to be fatal. The cinematic scene-setting, first person narrative, and succinct, magnetically lyrical style make for a thrilling experience that will hook the most reluctant of readers. Recommended for fans of Caroline Lawrence and Damian Dibben’s The History Keepers series, this offers enlightening insights into British history with fresh flair, and through the eyes of a compelling main character.
Interest Age Teen Reading Age 8 | A life-changing opportunity for a teenage pilot brings risk and excruciating choices in this accessible WWII thriller from the author of Firebird and White Eagles. Ingrid was six when the Nazis came to power and, since she has a severe stutter, her mother and father feared a new law ordering the sterilisation of less able children would apply to her. With her parents desperate to prove their daughter has worth, and since she’s a talented glider pilot who dreams of being like her heroine, the intrepid test pilot Hanna Reitsch, Ingrid attends her Cousin Jonni’s flying school. Though she’s confident in the air, Ingrid seems forever doomed to plummet back to earth, not least when she’s castigated for her behaviour in front of a high-ranking regional Nazi leader. “Your daughter is a disgrace to Germany,” he informs her horrified father. Terrified she might be taken to a camp, at seventeen she becomes Cousin Jonni’s junior flying instructor, and her heart soars when none other than Hanna Reitsch enlists her assistance on a propaganda tour. But when Hanna reveals shocking truths about a secret mission, Ingrid is left feeling that “there was an ugly crack in the shiny glass of my new Luftwaffe career” as she faces a seemingly impossible decision. Alongside the gripping action and emotion of Ingrid’s tumultuous journey (readers will be on the edge of their seats as her allegiances are tested to the max), the author provides fascinating insights into life in Germany during the war, and this accessible novella will also prompt discussion around roles women worked in during WWI, and the ethics of patriotism. Find more books with Positive Images of Disability.
The energy and humour that kids so enjoyed in Steven Vinacour's lockdown broadcasts is all captured in the new book Tudor Tangle, as Ted travels back via the toilet bowl (don’t ask!), to the time of the Tudors and the court of Henry VIII, in search of advice from the chop-happy Tudor monarch himself. Steven has created another unputdownable, hilarious story that zips the reader through time and space (spoiler alert!), laughing out loud!
Absolutely loved this! I couldn’t put it down and actually lost sleep reading it. It is written so well and descriptively that you actually feel as if you are on the ship with Bart and his friends Jonah and Sebastian. There are parts which are particularly gruesome and there are also parts which describe how black people were treated back in the 1700’s, which is hard to read, but I feel it needs to be written about and discussed, not just omitted because it’s uncomfortable. The story moves at a fast pace and keeps you hooked right to the very end. It gives a great insight into life at the time and in particular how life was on ships. I can see this being the beginning of a fabulous series of books about Bart and the boys. It’s also a great way to learn about history and about ships. I loved the fact there is a glossary of terms at the end as well, just so you know what you’re reading about. An absolutely brilliant book that will hopefully set lots more children on the road of reading enjoyment. Amanda O'Dwyer, A LoveReading4Kids Ambassador
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month February 2021 | Best-selling Francesca Simon‘s new characters Hack and Wack, a pair of outrageously badly behaved Viking twins, will delight all Horrid Henry fans. Although still young, the tearaway twins are deemed to be the very worst Vikings in the village – a title that makes them and their parents very proud. Against a snowy and watery Viking background, Hack and Wack run amok at Elsa Gold-Hair’s birthday party, have a scary adventure with some trolls, and steal a boat and take their friends Dirty Ulf, Twisty Pants and the dog Bitey- Bitey off on a raid of Bad Island. Hack and Wack are truly terrible and their madcap adventures are fast, furious and always hilariously funny. Read more about the Two Terrible Vikings from Francesca Simon, our Guest Editor this month.
Rich in historic atmosphere and detail, and smouldering with female desire to be heard in a patriarchal society, Catherine Barter’s We Played with Fire is a hauntingly riveting read. The fact it was inspired by the true story of the Fox Sisters who made a fortune from communicating with spirits in nineteenth-century America makes it all the more gripping, and a fine example of how to transform extraordinary real-life events into enthralling fiction. Back home in Rochester Maggie had enjoyed listening to progressive women she “thought she could learn from” - strong role models who spoke-up at political meetings held in the kitchen. But these fires of inspiration are dampened when Maggie is incriminated in a terrible event that takes place near the schoolhouse she claims is haunted. As a result of the scandal, her family move to remote Hydesville where, feeling fed-up and fuming, Maggie and her younger sister Kate decide to spice things up by playing supernatural tricks on their parents. Matters take a menacing turn when their old farmhouse makes spooky sounds independent of the sisters’ tomfoolery, and they become certain a spirit is communicating with them. When this attracts the attention of their neighbours and a local journalist, Maggie and Kate see the power and potential of spiritualism and set-off on an astonishing life journey that reels with rebellion, show-woman-ship and gothic charisma.
Chosen as our Guest Editor, Francesca Simon's Book of the Month | An extraordinary, powerful, and important book, based on the true story of how Liz Kessler’s father escaped from Nazi-occupied Europe thanks to a British couple his family had met once. But what elevates this book about three friends and their different fates in World War Two is the story of Max, the nice, ordinary boy who gradually becomes seduced into hatred and prejudice. The ringing question, ‘What would I do under these circumstances?’ echoes on every page. ~ Francesca Simon
Selected for The Book Box by LoveReading4Kids | High-stakes hilarity abounds in this comic quest featuring Norse gods and a calamity-struck Valkyrie-in-training. The first in a fun and thrilling series from debut author Cat Weldon, How to Be a Hero will have huge appeal for younger readers who enjoyed Vulgar the Viking and fans of Who Let the Gods Out. Despite only arriving in the village a few days ago, Whetstone has already wheedled his way into the Great Hall of Krud. OK, he might only have a job in the kitchens right now, but his sights are set on bigger things. Meanwhile, “far above Whetstone and the Vikings of Krud,” a girl called Lotta is struggling to get to grips with her Valkyrie training, and the pressure is well and truly on, for today is the day she’s due to collect fallen warriors from Midgard. When Lotta encounters an unconscious Viking thief (none other than Whetstone) and takes him for a fallen hero before taking him to Valhalla, a whole lot of trouble is unleashed. Trouble involving a talking cup with a penchant for poetry (“Well, don’t ask me,’ sighed the cup. ‘I’m only a magical talking cup. I can’t see anyone around here who might appreciate my poems”), a yellow-eyed dragon, and none other than Loki the trickster God himself. GADZOOKS! Exhilaratingly evoked by Katie Kear’s illustrations, this is fast-paced, funny and spiced with ingenious insults, among them “toxic turnip breath” and “barnacle breath”. It also integrates tonnes of fascinating information about Norse mythology, with an excellent Author’s Note providing extra context.
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