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A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month June 2021 | No wonder he is angry! Bombs are raining down on the city that Joseph is sent to as an evacuee. And anyway, who came up with the stupid idea that he should live with Mrs F. who doesn’t even like children! He knows he should just run away but where would he go? Instead, he finds himself inexorably drawn into Mrs F‘s life and the zoo and the animals she is fighting to keep safe – in particular, Adonis, the powerful silverback gorilla. Every night when the bombs fall, Mrs F rushes to the zoo. She risks her life to be with her animals safe knowing that, if the very worst happens and the zoo is bombed she will have to take exceptional and radical action. Will she be brave enough? And would Joseph be? In this deeply moving story of Joseph’s journey of self-discovery Phil Earle not only tells a brilliant story of a child’s emotional development but also added an important and true dimension to World War 2 stories.
June 2021 Debut of the Month | Inspired by The Secret Garden and the stylistic elegance of the golden age of children’s literature, Ella Risbridger’s The Secret Detectives radiates historic charisma and the allure of engaging self-determining characters. What’s more, it’s a rip-roaring adventure that’s guaranteed to charm the socks off fans of Robin Stevens and Katherine Rundell, while keeping them on the very edge of their seats. In a classic set-up, after finding herself orphaned, eleven-year-old Isobel Petty is plucked from her home outside Calcutta to live in England with a distant uncle. Pondering her future, Isobel declares, “England sounded very cold and unpleasant, and her uncle, worse” - not the best of starts. Life aboard the S.S. Marianna, in the charge of Mrs Colonel Hartington-Davis, is an irritation, not least due to her charge’s exasperating daughter, Letitia. “If you’re not a native and you’re not English, what are you?” she demands of Isobel. Then, while despairing of having to spend three long weeks at sea, Isobel witnesses someone being thrown overboard. When the captain insists no one is missing, Isobel sets about solving a double mystery - the identity of the culprit, and their victim. Isobel’s wit and determination are immensely appealing (as is her straight-thinking, straight-talking aspect), and I especially loved the ebb and flow dynamics between Isobel and her fellow (initially reluctant) co-investigators. In short, this is a perfectly-pitched history mystery, possibly best enjoyed by torchlight with a stack of fortifying ginger biscuits to hand. The LoveReading LitFest invited Ella to the festival to talk about The Secret Detectives. You can view the event by subscribing to the LitFest programme for as little as £6 per month - or you can pay per view. For just £2 you can see Ella in conversation with Paul Blezard, discussing her exciting debut children's book inspired by The Secret Garden. Check out a preview of the event here
Described as a companion piece, rather than a sequel, to the acclaimed Skylark’s War, it is nevertheless a real joy to meet some of the original characters again, but new readers fear not, this book absolutely stands alone. I think that this author is unsurpassed in character development, with every wonderfully economic, but beautifully crafted phrase or fragment of dialogue we are drawn deeper into these young lives. At first overshadowed by the threat of war and then trying to survive within it are cousins Ruby Amaryllis and Kate and across the channel and on the other side of the conflict, best friends Hans and Erik, who bond initially over saving orphaned fledgling swallows. Indeed swallows become a motif for hope throughout the book. Another real strength of the writing is in depicting recognisably real family dynamics and relationships. As the war tears families apart, we see how the strength of family can also bring people together. The multiple perspectives (including eventually Dog, the mistreated scrapyard dog abandoned in the Blitz) build a really rich and unbiased picture of lives gradually and increasingly impacted by war. Allowing readers to empathise with the different plights on each side of the conflict is a real asset for those studying the history of the period and whilst not skirting over or underplaying any of the true horrors of war, the underlying message is one of hope in the capacity of humanity to show compassion across all borders and barriers. Sensitive, perceptive and immensely powerful, this superb novel is a beautifully polished gem that will leave an indelible impression on the reader.
Think opera and young children don’t go together? Think again! This liveliest of histories introduces children to Mozart, Rossini and Beethoven and their work, in an engaging and informative tour of the Classical period. It’s all facilitated through magical time travel: best friends Megan and Jack are on a school trip in London when they suddenly find themselves whisked back in time to eighteenth century Europe. Before you can say semibreve, they are face to face with composers and some famous royals too in a hectic adventure that is packed full of musical facts and information. Illustrations by Karl Davies do even more to bring the composers vividly to life. Wunderkind Mozart is bound to emerge the favourite but expect young readers to demand more information on the featured composers and to listen to their music too. Bravo!
Victoria Hislop was inspired to create this children’s adaptation of her bestselling novel The Island when a Cretan teacher observed that its themes of loss and stigma are as pertinent to children as they are to adults. In addition, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the author noted parallels between the lepers of her book and those infected with Covid-19 - the need to isolate, to be apart from family and friends, with physical contact forbidden. This version of Hislop’s original novel - beautifully, softly illustrated by Gill Smith - is framed as a story told by a grandmother to her grand-daughter. Rita lives in London, but spends her summers on Crete with her Greek grandma, Maria, who is “kind and gentle, with twinkly brown eyes and silver hair tied up in a bun.” Prompted by an old photo, Maria tells Rita the story of the deserted island of Spinalonga, where lepers were sent to live. She recalls fears over her father taking sick people to the island, people who would never leave, for they were destined to live out their days in isolation. With the disease viewed as a “living death”, and sufferers seen as “unclean”, shame and stigma swell to epic proportions, and it’s not long before these terrifying circumstances become all too real for young Maria. Later in life, a forward-thinking, compassionate doctor and Maria revolutionise how lepers are treated and viewed, with concrete hope coming in the form of a possible cure, and an all-pervasive theme of treating everyone with dignity and respect - no matter what their circumstances, no matter what they’re suffering from. Packed with drama and powerful messages of compassion and hope, this is a beautifully-realised adaptation.
‘Secrets and Spies: A Scottish Mystery’ by Mary Rosambeau is a brilliant middle-grade fiction book focusing on 10 year-old Rory. Based in a Scottish harbour town, there’s a mystery at the heart of the plot as Rory’s mother has an accident and rumours spread about spies in the town. Rory and his friends stumble into the middle of the mystery and there’s plenty of twists to keep the reader guessing right along with the characters.This story is based around the author’s hometown and the plot rings with authenticity and I particularly like the extra details such as the school railings and church bells being taken for scrap and school holidays being given so children can help with the potato harvest. These little embellishments were educational but also helped to add more dimension to the story. There are some pencil-style illustrations occasionally throughout and I thought these were quite charming. However I found the storytelling to be the highlight of this book. There's mystery and adventure that draws you in and entices you to keep reading until the very last page. Outside of the historical fiction and WWII themes, there's additional details in the characterisation and the characters' relationships that transcends genre such as the characterisation of Charlie, and his role as the school bully as a reflection of his treatment by his brother. There’s also Paul’s confidence and the positive focus on his disabilities as well as the close confidences he keeps with his parents. I think that there's something in this 'Secrets and Spies' for everyone, and lots of different things to take away from the story. I feel it will have a very wide appeal and I really enjoyed reading it and would recommend it to middle grade readers. Charlotte Walker, A LoveReading4Kids Ambassador
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.
What a perfect book to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Puffin and its founder Allen Lane and an intensely personal book for author, Michael Morpurgo, suffused with his love for the Scilly Isles and for his family history - his wife Claire being one of Allen Lane’s daughters. The utterly beautiful illustrations by Benji Davies evoke his own holidays with grandparents in Cornwall and one can see that this story of a boy who loved to paint is one that is very personal to him too. Every inch of this book is crafted with love (make sure that you look at the hardback cover beneath the dust jacket with its soaring puffin against a glorious blue background and the images of both author and artist at the end) The illustrations range from dramatic double paged spreads, to little sepia vignettes but every page illuminates the absorbing and heartfelt story which begins with the lighthouse keeper Benjamin Postlethwaite and a terrible shipwreck from which he singlehandedly rescues 30 people including the 5 year old narrator of our story. Recently fatherless and travelling with his French mother to grandparents in Devon, the rescue and Ben himself make a huge impact on the boy – not least because of the paintings which fill the lighthouse and the gift of a small painting which becomes his most precious possession. The portrayal of the grim and bleak life with unloving grandparents in Devon, the misery of boarding school and of an artistic child who was a bit of a loner is very moving. As soon as school is finished the boy retraces his steps to the now defunct lighthouse and discovers a home, a friend and an artistic vocation as well as an injured puffin that together they nurse back to health. A puffin who keeps returning and brings others with him. By the time the young man returns from the war he could not avoid - the island and Ben have become a sanctuary for these characterful birds as well as our narrator and his future family. A charming book which evokes a very real sense of place as well the importance of being true to yourself and finding your place in the world.
Meet Myrtle Mathers and Sylvia Cartwright: two girls from different worlds bonded by a passion for fashion! They know that the perfect outfit can make dreams come true, and their dazzling designs are the talk of 1920s London... So when Agapantha Portland-Prince wants to escape her glamorous debutante ball for a life of adventure, it's their magical talents she needs. But can the girls make all their secret dreams a reality, or will this be the most stylish scandal of the century?
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.'
Interest Age 8+ Reading Age 8 | May 2021 Book of the Month | It wasn’t until 2013 that the men who served on the Arctic Convoys in the Second World War were properly honoured for their bravery. But anyone reading Tom Palmer’s typically vivid and powerful short novel will understand exactly what they went through, and what kept them going. Arctic Star features three young friends, Royal Navy recruits, and follows them on the perilous journeys they make escorting merchant vessels across the Arctic as they deliver supplies to the Russians. The sea is wild and treacherous, icy cold, and of course, they are hunted through the waters by German battleships, planes and submarines. Palmer packs not just a huge story, but a huge amount of information and atmosphere into this short book, and in Frank, Joseph and Stephen, he creates three young men readers won’t forget in a hurry. The climax of the story is the deadly battle between HMS Belfast and the Scharnhorst, and it will leave readers exhausted, but full of compassion and sympathy for all the men caught up in this terrifying field of war. Historical fiction doesn’t get much better than this.
Jane Austen Investigates | ‘The life of a clergyman’s daughter in rural Hampshire was disappointingly full of duties, and there were few things for an adventurous girl to do. This was why Jane always considered it fortunate to have been involved in a carriage accident. Without that disaster she would never have met the Abbey ghost.’ An exciting middle-grade historical mystery inspired by Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen's first novel.
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.
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.
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 is a humorous Stone Age tale with fabulously fun and colourful illustrations which follows cheeky Esme and her best friend Morris. Cave girl Esme has the kind of voice that's great for keeping big things with sharp teeth away but that isn't so great for keeping secrets. Perfect for reading out loud!
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.
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