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December 2021 Book of the Month | A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month November 2021 | Against a huge sweep of the history of Greece including the stories of the ancient heroes, the occupation of Greece by the Germans in the Second World War and right up to the present-day of the arrival of Syrian refugees, at heart this is an touching story of Nandi, a teenager living in Australia, and the wonderful bond she has with her Auntie Ellie in Ithaca. Despite the distance between Australia and Greece, Nandi and her very special Auntie Ellie meet frequently. But then Auntie Ellie becomes too frail to travel. Now Nandi must go to Ithaca to find her. It’s a trip she is longing to make and, when she does so, she uncovers the remarkable story of Auntie Ellie’s life. A beautiful and touching story which speaks of love and care. And history.
December 2021 Debut of the Month | This thrilling debut is infused with the history, language and mythology of West Africa. Set in the mid 1400’s when the Portuguese first began abducting and then buying West Africans, it pursues an interesting perspective on the terrible human cost of the Slave Trade. The author describes in a note how she came across many stories featuring Yemoja, a Yoruba deity with the tail of a fish. Stories of giving comfort to Africans on the ships, or wrecking slave vessels or escorting home the souls of those who died and were discarded in the sea. From this and her own fascination with the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, the author has created an unforgettable story. Yemoja has created many Mami Wata, mermaids tasked with escorting the souls of enslaved people thrown into the sea. Simindele, a teenage girl, is one of them, but when she instead saves the life of a boy, she unwittingly puts all the Mami Wata in peril and must seek the forgiveness of the supreme deity. The boy she saves also has a dangerous mission to save his family and on their perilous journey they grow dangerously close. Just like The Little Mermaid, if Simi were to act upon her feelings she would dissolve into sea foam and just like Andersen’s creation Simi’s travels in human form on land cause her terrible pain. In the denouement there is also a hint of Persephone and Hades in her dealings with the oceanic equivalent of the Underworld. Throughout this action packed adventure the narrative is enriched with elements of West African language and we learn fascinating detail about their sophisticated societies, mathematical prowess, customs and religion. This is an innovative and refreshing mix of western and African myth wrapped up in a really rewarding read that should find many fans.
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Award 2022 ages 11-14 | 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
Shortlisted for the Costa Children's Book Award 2021 | Take a sprinkle of magic from The Midnight Folk, a touch of the human warmth from Goodnight Mr Tom and perhaps the cold of the Fimbulwinter from The Weirdstone of Brisingamen – these are some of the elements that contribute to Ross Montgomery’s latest novel which is a real page-turner. It is rooted in the best traditions of children’s books – there’s a journey, jeopardy, betrayal and redemption, and is fantasy set firmly in the real world – the background being the darkest moments of World War II. It can be tricky to marry the world of the imagination to that of the everyday but Ross Montgomery achieves this with ease. The text is interspersed with excerpts from newspapers and official announcements; the war is always there – but so are the Guardians, imaginary creatures from Col’s childhood, each with distinct characteristics. His protagonists Col and Ruth are very recognisable young people and young readers will want to accompany them as they face both human obstacles and giants from British mythology. The prose includes plenty of dialogue, is stylish and contemporary – accessible, carrying the reader through the adventures and bringing them to life. This is an author whose skills have been steadily developing and here we see him at his best. This review first appeared in Books for Keeps
As Noah Price’s dad marches off to fight, he asks his son to honour one vital promise: that he will keep their dog, Winn, safe. No matter what. Noah agrees, but his best intentions are crushed when the government advises people to have their pets put to sleep as part of the war preparations. Children are heartbroken, queues outside vets’ surgeries stretch for miles. But Noah is a resourceful and impetuous child. He won’t just do what he is told. Far from it. With his two friends in tow, he makes a pledge. To go on the run, and save as many animals as he can, whatever the cost. So begins the most thrilling of adventures, involving a stolen ark, a motley crew of animals and a crashed Spitfire.
Greenwich, London, 15th February 1894. Luna thinks that an evening at her aunt's butterfly club sounds deathly boring. But it turns out that the meeting, held in the Butterfly Room at the Greenwich Observatory, is not at all as Luna expects. The Butterfly Club is a society with an unusual secret . . . they use time travel to plunder the future for wonders. Together with her friends, Konstantin and Aidan, and a clockwork cuckoo, Luna boards the Time Train. The gang travel to 1912 and find themselves aboard a great ship travelling from Southampton to New York. They locate a man called Guglielmo Marconi and his new invention: the wireless radio. But as the ship heads into icy waters, they discover its name: The RMS TITANIC Can Luna and the boys save Marconi and his invention from the doomed ship? Can they get the radio back home to the Butterfly Club? And how will their actions change the rest of time?
1945. War has ended, but for sisters Isobel and Flora the struggles still continue. They've lost their father and had their home destroyed in a bombing raid, and now they must go to live with their aunt and her awful husband Mr Godfrey in their ancestral home, Splint Hall. From the moment of their arrival it seems that this is a place shrouded in mysteries and secrets. Who are the strange men who arrive with packages at night? What is the source of the strange blue sparks coming from the ground? And why do the locals seem to hate their family so much? As the girls begin to unearth an ancient myth and family secret, the adventure of a lifetime begins.
Dido is the only girl ever to have raced to victory at the Circus Maximus, Rome's greatest sporting arena. Now she and her beloved horse, Porcellus, are in hiding, and the Emperor Caligula has put a price on their heads. Can she outwit the emperor and his bounty hunters? And will a shocking family secret stop her in her tracks, or spur her on to make a daring return, helped by a one-eyed mare with a heart as brave as her own? Horses, history, mystery, thrilling entertainment and sensational storytelling race neck and neck through the second pulse-pounding adventure in Annelise Gray's 9+ series set in Ancient Rome.
Kemosha and her brother have lived their whole lives in slavery. Sold away to work in lawless Port Royal, Kemosha takes her chance to escape brutal treatment. With fortune on her side, Kemosha befriends Ravenhide, a man with a mysterious past who teaches her the art of swordfighting, and introduces her to the beautiful runaway Isabella. Yet Kemosha's greatest test yet is upon the deck of the Satisfaction: the notorious Captain Morgan's ship. His next adventure on the high seas could be the making of Kemosha - and her one chance to earn enough pieces of eight to buy the freedom of her brother...
The First World War has ended, but it hasn't gone away. When Natty has to move to a new village, she meets two young soldiers who are still battling the effects of war. Huw can't forget the terrible things he's seen, but Johnny doesn't even remember who he is. As Natty tries to keep a secret and unravel a mystery, she finds her own way to fight for what she believes in - and learns that some things should never be forgotten ... This mesmerising historical mystery includes an interactive clue so readers can unravel the mystery alongside the characters.
Interest Age 8+ Reading Age 8 | Bess has left the London workhouse behind for a job at a rural cotton mill. But life at the mill is hard and cruel- a far cry from the fresh start Bess hoped for. The only way to survive is to escape, but the mill is like a prison with no way out. Meanwhile, rumours are spreading about a vicious creature that lurks in the millpond. Bess is sure it's all nonsense, until one night she sees something stir in the murky water. But is it really a monster that lives in the depths of the pond? Or a creature trapped and alone, just like Bess, desperate to escape ...
November 2021 Book of the Month | Longlisted for the UKLA Book Award 2022 ages 11-14 | 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.
With short chapters, stylish illustrations, and lots of lively dialogue, this splendid re-working of The Great Gatsby deftly presents the novel’s adult themes (thwarted love, loveless marriage, the disintegration of the American dream, the gratuitous pursuit of pleasure and money, the sociology of wealth, and elitism) in a manner young readers will understand and respond to. The result is a highly-readable, thought-provoking book that demonstrates the timeless universality of the themes that underpin this classic of American literature, while making them accessible to a younger 21st-century audience. The free audio book is a great bonus, as are the information boxes that contextualise the novel’s 1920s setting, should any readers wonder what on earth an investment bond or coupe is.
November 2021 Debut of the Month | A raw and lyrical power surges through Lisa Fuller’s Ghost Bird debut as it tells the gripping story of a First Nations teenager who’s gone missing from her rural Queensland town. This is YA fiction at its most thrilling and enthralling. Stacey and Laney might be mirror twins, but they have vastly different personalities. While Stacey is keen to get her head down at school, Laney skips lessons and sneaks out to see her boyfriend, until the night she doesn’t come home. While the white townsfolk and white authorities assume this is just another of her rebellions (as Stacey remarks, “all the positions of power are held by property owners, all white, and all with memories of when they ‘owned’ us”), Stacey knows different. She can see and feel this is different too, through the vivid dreams that haunt her. If only her Nan were still alive. She’d know what to do, she could guide Stacey to harness her dreams: “I’d spent the most time with her listening to the old stories, learning the things that Nan always said would keep me safe. There were things she’d promised to tell me when I was older that I’d never get to hear now.” The sense of kinship, community, spirituality and ancestral bonds is tremendously powerful, and the writing uniquely beautiful. “I’ve always seen the golden core of her”, Stacey says of her twin. “The soft melting heart that the hard shell protects.” Driven by desperate love for Laney, and by the terrifying urgency of her dreams, Stacey seeks advice from “Mad May Miller”, the elder of a family her own family has long feuded with, but a woman who can help Stacey use her dreams to find her sister. At once brutal and rivetingly lyrical, this is a multi-layered contemporary YA masterwork.
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