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June 2020 Book of the Month | Caroline Lawrence, author of the bestselling Roman Mysteries series, combines her second-to-none knowledge of the classical world with her ability to tell a great story to create terrific new historical adventures. Alex and Dinu have already experienced time travel – they explored Roman Britain in the first in this new series – now they are being whisked back into Ancient Greece, and this time Dinu’s clever little sister Crina is coming with them. Minutes after the three have arrived in the Temple of Athena in Athens, Alex and Dinu are captured by Scythian archers – the ancient Athenian equivalent of the police. The action keeps up at the same pace, short chapters and pacey dialogue keeping the pages turning! Ancient Greece has never seemed so appealing, and it’s great that Lawrence makes learning about it such thrilling entertainment. One to recommend to fans of Rick Riordan, while readers longing for more classical adventure should check out Philip Womack’s new story The Arrow of Apollo too.
June 2020 Book of the Month | Teeming with drama and compelling code-cracking action, this WWII thriller is driven by the lives of three young people determined to make their mark on the war effort, and by the life-affirming relationship between fifteen-year-old Louisa and the elderly woman she’s employed to look after. Aspiring pilot Louisa is alone in the world. Her white English mother was killed in a London bomb blast, and her black Jamaican dad died on a ship that was torpedoed only three days after her mother died. Through her grief brave Louisa “burns to fight back” and takes a job looking after Jane, an elderly German woman who’s been imprisoned in an alien detainment camp. While travelling to stay with Jane’s niece in her Scottish pub, they form a beautiful bond, finding common ground in their love of music and the fact that they’re both outsiders in Britain - Jane because she’s German, and Louisa because she’s mixed race and subjected to racism. In Scotland they meet fellow outsider, Ellen, a driver for the local RAF airfield who tries to hide her traveller heritage. Ellen’s active role makes Louisa more determined to do something herself, so she takes her chance when a German defector lands at the airfield and leaves a codebreaking Enigma machine. It’s not long before Louisa, Ellen and young flight lieutenant Jamie step-up their war efforts, as their story builds to an impeccably conducted, pulse-quickening crescendo. Alongside being a gripping thriller, this is a truly moving, inspirational novel. Louisa’s passion for music and learning, her wit and ambition, are exhilaratingly infectious. I’d love to know what she does next.
It is August in Paris and budding art historian Khayyam should be having the time of her life - but even in the City of Lights she can't stop worrying about the mess she left back home in Chicago. Only when she meets a cute young Parisian - who happens to be a distant relative of the novelist Alexandre Dumas - do things start to get interesting, as she starts to unveil the story of a 19th century Muslim woman whose path may have intersected with Dumas, Eugene Delacroix and Lord Byron. Two hundred years earlier in the Ottoman empire, Leila is the most favoured woman in the Pasha's harem. Her position is meant to be coveted; but she is struggling to survive as she fights to keep her true love hidden from her jealous captor. Echoing across centuries, as Khayyam uncovers the scintillating truth of Leila's long-forgotten life, her own destiny is transformed forever.
This dramatic and touching play brings Manchester during the Second World War and its people to life, and provides a variety of opportunities for school classes to explore both historical and literacy topics in an involving and creative setting. Also includes helpful tips on staging and costume.
The gods are abandoning the earth, tempted by other worlds where they can live in peace. Only a few keep an interest in mortals. In their place, darker, more ancient forces are wakening... Silvius is given a task by a dying centaur. The dark god Python is rising and massing an army of immense power. The only thing that can save the world is the Arrow of Apollo - but it has been split into two. Silvius and his friend Elissa must travel to the land of their sworn enemies, the Achaeans. Meanwhile, Tisamenos is facing his own dangers in Achaea. A plot is afoot against him and his father, and it falls to him to stop it. When Silvius, Elissa and Tisamenos meet, they enter a final, terrifying race to bring together the pieces of the Arrow and use it to lay Python low once more.
May 2020 Book of the Month | Scary and warm- hearted, this is an action-packed adventure with a great cast of characters and some rocket fuel of magic and mystery. Orphaned when his mother dies, Leander is saved from starvation by the mysterious Madame Pinchbeck. Pinchbeck, a medium who claims she can talk to the dead, offers Leander the chance to speak to his mother if he joins her and sells her his locket. Hungry, cold and afraid, Leander agrees. Frighteningly soon Pinchbeck has terrifying power over Leander who swiftly discovers that he is not the first child that Pinchbeck has ‘stolen’: Charlotte and Felix have both been prisoners for years. Pinchbeck uses them in her dishonest performances as a medium and controls them with magic that enables her to make them vanish into their cabinets when they displease her. Will Charlotte, Felix and Leander ever be able to escape from evil Pinchbeck? With an atmospheric Victorian setting, the twists and turns of this drama unravel at an excitingly fast pace.
April 2020 Book of the Month | A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month April 2020 | Best-loved TV presenter Lucy Worsley’s version of the background to the author Jane Austen’s life is a delightfully vivid story that effortlessly whirls readers into a very different, long-ago world. There are balls and proposals, carriages and nurseries, rich and poor and even a scene in a debtors prison all of which frame the lives of the young girls who are Jane Austen’s nieces. What an extraordinary existence it is! The wise aunt Jane Austen is a great guide through all of this especially, as Lucy Worsley makes clear, it is one in which the young girls think their only ambition is to find a husband! Hugely good fun to read The Austen Girls is also packed-full of unforgettable historical details.
25% Loss, 25% Memory, 25% Haiku, 25% Peace | This novel moves from poetry to prose, and back again, as it explores a girl’s relationship with her Grandfather. Mizuki can see something is deeply troubling to her Grandfather Ichiro, but she can’t find its source, except it is somehow connected with an old book and Ichiro’s need to create origami paper cranes from it. Mizuki’s worries are expressed in verse before we jump back into prose - to the at times brutal description of the day the bomb fell on Hiroshima and Ichiro’s role in that day and beyond. The descriptions of the effects of the bomb are based on effective research and from survivor’s tales and told in such a way that the reader is entirely there in the moment and the long days after as Hiro rebuilds a life for himself. As we return to Japan in 2018 the novel reverts to poetry to the very modern tale of how Mizuki uses the internet to try to get to the bottom of the problem facing her elderly grandfather. The illustrations in the book help create the many impressions and emotions aroused by the story – they are based on Japanese brush and ink techniques and add a further layer to this already impressive book. This is a harrowing tale but the ultimate redemption in the story leaves one with a sense of hope. Highly recommended.
Sheffield provides the setting for this family adventure, and the city’s steelworkers its inspiration. Spending time with their grandma, Sean and his little sister are immediately taken with the statue of three steelmen outside the Meadowhall Centre, especially when their cousin tells them about a mystery surrounding it and involving their mum and uncle. Sure enough, there is something magical about the statue and another too: one of two young female steelworkers. As the children find out more, they travel back in time for an exciting adventure. The story began with Meet Me by the Steelmen, shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, and this is another engaging story which cleverly and vividly brings the past to life. Older readers should look out for Berlie Doherty’s Carnegie winner Granny was a Buffer Girl, which also takes the steel industry for inspiration.
Interest Age 5-8 | When Norman the Norman from Normandy’s dad, Great Big Norman, is killed in a fight (with ten Bretons from Brittany), Norman swears to visit every one of this dad’s three graves (long story) to pay his respects. He sets off with this dad’s HUGE sword on his not-very-wild boar Truffle and, without meaning to, indeed often without even noticing, avenges his father’s death. If that sounds quite bloodthirsty, it sort of is, but more than that, in the hands of this gifted comedy partnership, it’s just very, very funny. Part of Barrington Stoke’s excellent Little Gems series, this packs more laughs and entertainment into its short extent than books three times the length. High quality cream paper and a special easy to read font ensure a smooth read for all.
The third in a sequence of stand-alone historical novels, set at key points in the history of the divided island that is currently front and centre in Brexit negotiations, this could not be more topical and very possibly prescient in describing the situation in 1921 and the partition of Northern Ireland and the hard border which quite literally fractures communities. The author talks in the end pages of the book about growing up in this border area with the army and customs check points and how much the community enjoys today’s freedom of movement and is terrified of losing that. But this beautifully written novel is not an ‘issue’ novel, it is full of brilliantly realised characters and a pitch perfect evocation of the period. The story of the bold 14-year-old heroine, Polly and her struggles to find her way forward in life cleverly mirrors the struggles of the newly emerging country. She ran away to Belfast to escape of life of drudgery looking after the men in her family after her mother’s death from influenza. She finds refuge in Helen’s Hope, a feminist hostel where young women live and work together, a haven of tolerance and diversity in an area wracked with division and hatred. The non-partisan mission of this hostel sums up the greatest strength of this fascinating and moving novel in that it absolutely does not demonise either side, while being completely up front about the terrible things that are happening. There are bad, mean and cruel characters but this is not because of the ideologies they follow, but because some people are like that, and we even get insights into why that might be. The second book in this sequence, Star by Star, went on to become the best selling book ever from this small imprint and won Children’s Books Ireland’s Honour Award for Fiction 2018. I can see similar accolades for this ‘sister’ novel and can highly recommend all three (the first being Name Upon Name) as invaluable purchases to support the history curriculum, but absolutely as engaging reads for pleasure too.
Jacqueline Wilson is as at home writing about the past as she is writing about contemporary times and this story of Mona growing up in the 1920s is full of her trademarks: a booky little heroine, an unconventional family, creativity rewarded, and the importance of love and honesty. Mona lives with her aunty who works her fingers to the bone as a seamstress to support her niece. Their home is the gamekeeper’s cottage in the grounds of the local landowners’ estate and as the story unfolds Mona’s life becomes intertwined with the aristocratic Somersets, for all her lowly birth. The post-war period with its new sense of freedom and expression is brilliantly evoked, and Mona’s journey of self-discovery perfectly matches the new era. With a special guest appearance by Hetty Feather this is classic Wilson and will thoroughly enchant her legions of fans.
Ted has a secret: his toilet allows him to travel through time. Yes – really. All he has to do is climb in, press the flush and whisper a destination. In this adventure, he’s determined to win first prize for a school project so travels back to Roman times, coming face-to-face with 30,000 legionaries on their way to invade Britain; meanwhile, wearing an authentic toga to school really helps swing the competition his way. This popular series is full of toilet humour (to be fair, the author does apologise for that) and the kind of jokes children love, but it’s packed with historical facts too, including the quirky, memorable ones that really make history come alive. If you’re looking for more zany takes on Julius Caesar and friends, Gary Northfield’s Julius Zebra series is terrific, while Matt Brown has an equally funny take on time travel, though without the history, in the Compton Vallance books.
What might it be like to live surrounded by clocks? Lots of clocks, so that when they all strike you need to cover your ears whilst all their bongs and trills happen. Set in Edwardian Cambridge this is the story of Helena, her Parrot, Orbit, and her father who is employed to keep all the clocks in the house going, the clocks must not stop, or else Helena and her father will lose everything they own. As Helena settles into this new home, she realises that the owner, Mr Westcott, is obsessed by the clocks, there are strange happenings in the house, and glimpses of a strange history to the place. Will Helena and her father get to the bottom of the problems here, or will they lose all their possessions because a clock is allowed to stop? On the surface this is a delightfully odd and slightly sinister story with much to be uncovered as the story develops. It is also an exploration of grief and the strange thoughts that can obsess people after a close bereavement. But the overwhelming message is that friendship, love, empathy and memory are vital to everyone, no matter how strange they may seem. The friendship and caring exhibited between child characters in the story wins out over what seem like insurmountable odds – for a very satisfactory conclusion.