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The Umbrella Mouse was one of the stand-out debuts of 2019 and scooped the Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Award. Now Pip, the Umbrella Mouse, hero of the secret animal resistance is back in a new wartime adventure. Her aim is still to reach Italy and the umbrella museum in Gignese where her family are from. But the war is not over, and she is still a fierce defender of liberty, willing to do anything she can for her friends and allies in the fight against Hitler. Courage and that love for her friends sees her through but her adventures have moments of tension and danger aplenty, certainly enough to keep readers absorbed, while the idea of these extraordinary things happening to the smallest of creatures will enthral and inspire them. Sam Usher’s evocative black and white line drawings add to the atmosphere and deep sense of camaraderie.
Shot-through with a vital message about the importance of giving voice and rightful representation to women who’ve been silenced by centuries of patriarchy, this smart novel melds an intriguing art history mystery with Parisian amour. While Khayyam is clear about what she wants to do with her life - become a respected art historian - her identity is more complex. She’s “French American. Indian American. Muslim American. Biracial. Interfaith.” As such, “Others look at me and try to shove me into their own narrative to define who and what I am. But I’m not a blank page that everyone else gets to write on. I have my own voice.” This statement weaves through the whole novel, which sees Khayyam in Paris for the summer, still reeling from a relationship gone awry back home in Chicago, and from her Young Scholar Prize essay being dismissed as “the work of a dilettante, not a future art historian”. When she happens to run into a cute Parisian boy, who happens to be a descendent of bi-racial French writer Alexandre Dumas, Khayyam and said cute boy (also called Alexandre) embark on an intellectual voyage that leads them to Leila, a nineteenth-century Muslim woman connected to Dumas and Byron. Leila’s forgotten life and silenced voice is revealed through her letters, with Khayyam frequently asserting her desire to right the wrong of “the entire world dehumanizing and erasing this woman who had a life, who mattered.” Through Khayyam the novel also addresses issues around representation and cultural appropriation as she wrestles with determining who has the right to tell Leila’s story, including herself. As Khayyam’s findings hot up, so too does her love life. First there’s the spark between her and Alexandre, then there’s the simmering presence of her Chicagoan ex. With Paris vibrantly evoked as her stage - its history, architecture, secret gardens and food - Leila’s personal life and intellectual prowess combine to create a life-changing summer. This comes hugely commended - and recommended - for its portrayal of an intelligent young woman who refuses to bow to expectations, and who’s determined to give voice to the voiceless. Like Khayyam, it’s smart, thoughtful and inspirational.
Book Band: Dark Red Ideal for ages 10+ | Catherine Johnson writes terrific historical novels, and this story of the adventures of Thomas-Alexandre Dumas is more thrilling by far than most fiction. Thomas-Alexandre was the father of writer Alexandre Dumas and believed to have provided the inspiration for his classic, The Three Musketeers. We follow him through his childhood, a mixed-race child growing up in Haiti, sold into slavery as a teenager by his aristocrat father to pay off gambling debts; bought back and trained in swordsmanship, before joining the Dragoons. Johnson brings him vividly to life, a man driven by a passion for equality and liberty, and ready to fight for it. In the excellent new Bloomsbury Readers series, this story is written specifically to help children grow reading confidence and understanding. A separate ‘Reading Zone’ section at the end suggests activities to do while and after reading, and includes a quiz to test your knowledge. .
“We are all family,” says Mo, the Indian-born RAF pilot who becomes irrevocably connected to thirteen-year-old Joelle when his plane crashes near her Nazi-occupied French village. “I believe that all of creation is one whole. We are bound together, each of us, by invisible links, and all are equally important.” This uplifting ethos of equality ripples through Mohinder’s War, a story of solidarity and survival against the odds; of friendship and hope through horror and loss. Joelle lived a “charmed life” in pre-war France, her English mother and French father kept busy by their family boulangerie. Following the outbreak of war and Nazi occupation they support the French Resistance. As a result, when Joelle happens upon Mohinder, they keep him safe in their home - but at huge risk, for the Germans know about Mo’s crashed plane and have placed a reward on his capture. Alongside the ever-present menace of discovery, the French Resistance want Mo as a bargaining chip. “The British left us to rot,” they say. “Now, in exchange for their pilot, they must pay too.” Then, when treachery leads to tragedy, Mo comes good on his promise to protect Joelle. Short, and driven by compelling characters, engaging dialogue and an onward-marching pace, this is perfect for reluctant readers who may struggle to keep focus. It’s also excellent for prompting discussions around WWII and broader ethical issues - betrayal, trust and what it is to do the right (and wrong) thing. Importantly, it also shows the vital role played by Indians in Britain’s WWII campaign, and shares information about Mo’s Sikh faith. Stirringly, the story is framed by a contemporary setting, with Joelle revealing this incredible - and hitherto unknown – story at Mo’s funeral.
It's 1665, and Alice is looking forward to being back in London. But the plague is spreading quickly, and as each day passes more red crosses appear on doors. When her aunt is struck down with the plague, she is forced to make a decision that could change her life forever...
When Mary sees her grandmother accused of witchcraft and hung for the crime, she is silently hurried to safety by an unknown woman. She is taken in a boat to Plymouth and from there sails to the New World where she hopes to make a new life among the pilgrims. But old superstitions die hard.
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.
July 2020 Book of the Month | 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.
July 2020 Debut of the Month | Melding the mystery of a parallel prehistoric world with real-life worries that seem too terrible to face, this emotionally-sensitive debut will enthral thoughtful, adventure-loving 8+ year-olds - think Stig of the Dump meets Wolf Brother meets A Monster Calls for younger readers. Right before the birth of his baby brother, Charlie discovers a deer tooth in Mandel Forest. He’s so thrilled, “a little shiver tingles like a breath across my shoulder blades”, and he strangely feels “the weight of someone watching me.” When his brother Dara is born with a heart problem, Charlie is gripped by anxiety. His poorly sibling reminds him of a featherless baby bird. His cry is “a horrible, thin squawk, birdlike too,” and Charlie is too scared to hold him, too scared to stick around in the hospital when the doctor arrives with the results of Dara’s tests. So, Charlie flees to the woods where he comes to the aid of a deerskin-clad boy. A lad named Hartboy who’s seeking his baby sister, just as Charlie fears he might lose his baby brother. It’s not long before Charlie realises that – somehow – he’s been transported back to the Stone Age. As he steps-up to help Hartboy, encountering wild beasts and a mysterious shadow man in woods that are at once familiar and strange to him, Charlie learns valuable life lessons that equip him for his return to the real world: “You can’t just avoid stuff forever, can you? No matter how sad it is.” Suffused in the wonders of nature and a timeless sense of myth, the adventure-spiked plot is perfectly punctuated by emotional breathers that allow Charlie to find courage, and a way home - back to his family, back to his beloved baby brother.
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.
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.
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