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Very cleverly this gentle story links the astonishing tale of the migration of the tiny swift to find a safe nesting site in Africa, with the story of Leila, who also must travel thousands of miles to find a safe home. The parallel migrations mirror each other in the perils of the journey but also in the hope engendered by the welcome they receive in their new home. The passage of the brave bird and the places and people who mark the passing of the seasons by his journey is evocatively told and really highlights to young readers both the physical distance and the challenges of climate and geography. All of which subtly underscores the challenge for Leila and the physical and social challenges she will face. It is thought provoking but wonderfully hopeful too. As if the miracle of nature and the endeavours of the swift can act as an inspiration for human endurance and kindness as shown by the kindness of the welcome for Leila from other children. Manuela Adreani’s gorgeous, stylish illustrations are the perfect foil for the simple yet powerful text. With many cross curricular uses for older children as well this is a very worthwhile purchase.
The title of this highly empathetic and nuanced novel continues to cleverly resonate when we see chapters headed “the bulimic,” “the cool girl,” “the girlfriend,” “the popular girl”, “the best friend” and so on. At first, we do not identify these first-person narrators, but they soon begin to mesh and enable us to have a real depth of understanding of the main characters and emphasises the conflicting roles that girls feel themselves forced to inhabit. Taking place over a timeline that spans just a week, a high school is rocked and divided by the revelation that Mike, a popular high achiever and ‘golden boy’ student, has given his girlfriend, Maya, a black eye. Subsequent rumours result in split opinions about Maya: some believe that Mike should be expelled, while others think he might not have been her abuser. Maya’s best friend, Junie, from whom she’s become distanced due to Mike’s isolating behaviour, is also dealing with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder which she copes with by cutting and Maya’s relationship anxiety has also prompted bulimia. This is an unflinching, hard-hitting novel which certainly does not glamorise disordered behaviour, but enables us to understand how these negative coping mechanisms arise and to appreciate the challenges the girls face as they learn to trust and help each other again. Ultimately this is an empowering novel which advocates honesty, self-belief and the value of friendship. It will resonate deeply and provoke valuable discussion of important real-life issues.
Four very different characters take centre stage in this unusual and beautifully illustrated book. There’s a horse, wise and reliable; a boy, Christopher Robin-like in his curiosity and kindness; a mole, driven by an optimism, and love of cake; and a fox, vulnerable and in need of love and understanding. The story of their friendship is told through Charlie Mackesy’s evocative pen and ink sketches. Most but not all are accompanied by three or four lines of text, not so much a narrative but rather meditations, little flashes of insight into the human condition: “We have such a long way to go,” sighed the boy. “Yes, but look how far we’ve come,” said the horse. It’s a book full of tenderness and compassion, with much to make readers smile and more yet to prompt a sense of forgiveness, even of ourselves. Though simple enough for the youngest children, words and pictures will resonate just as much with adult readers. A very special book.
Interest Age 5-8 | There’s poignancy as well as humour in this new story from Jonathan Meres. Young Frank is desperate for a new bike, but he knows that money doesn’t grow on trees, so when his big sister offers to pay him to help with her paper round, he agrees. Despite the 6.00am starts, it’s actually good fun and both Frank and Lottie are excited when they make friends with an old lady as they deliver papers to her care home. Their friendship proves very important as the story reaches its end. There’s lots to enjoy here, the story is short but very rewarding and Meres’ understanding of his readers is spot on.
25% Illness, 25% Friends, 25% Kindness, 25% BatPig | Twelve-year-old Ross is dealt a devastating blow when he’s told he has an extremely rare form of eye cancer and is likely to lose sight in both eyes. Based on author Rob Harrell’s personal experience of eye cancer, and spiced with his cool comic-strips of Ross’s Battbutt and Batpig characters, Wink has all the freshness and pitch-perfect narrative voice of a Louis Sachar story, with its own unique warmth and wit.As Ross struggles with the strangeness of undergoing immediate radiation treatment, he also faces a terrible time at school. Cruelly called the “Cancer Cowboy” on account of having to wear a hat, he’s also the subject of malicious memes. While Ross’s personal plight is at the huge heart of this novel, it’s equally as powerful in its portrayal of the wider impact of devastating diagnoses, most poignantly when Ross’s friend Isaac distances himself from their Oreo-sealed friendship pact. But as Isaac retreats, he makes life-changing new friends as a result of his treatment. First there’s fellow patient Jerry, a wise-cracking old guy who rebuffs Ross’s desire to be normal. According to Jerry, “Different moves the needle. Different is where the good stuff happens. There’s strength in difference.” Then there’s Frank, the adorable radiation tech guy who teaches Ross to play guitar, which has tear-jerkingly transformational effects.What an authentic, emotional, amusing and all-round awesome read this is.
Rachel Rooney, well known award-winning poet, and Zehra Hicks have created a positive way of looking at the everyday problems of children and how to deal with them. The problems are all given a brightly coloured physical form to help children see them for what they are - and look at ways to deal with them. The gently rhyming text suggests ways to deal with the problem, and that sharing a problem is a way to help dispose of it. A lovely way to tackle a sometimes difficult subject in a way that will appeal to many children. Keep it in your classroom for those awkward moments when you can see a child is struggling.
Eva Eland has a way with pictures and words that, although deceptively simple, actually deals with the big matters of life in a very accessible and encouraging way. Her previous book When Sadness Comes to Call gained many outstandingly positive reviews and this follow up book on happiness is going to get the same response. Very expressive, clear illustrations in mainly blues and a wonderful fluorescent pink make this a happy experience to read. Eland looks at the ways we may chase happiness or happiness may just creep up on us but finishes with the phrase ‘Happiness begins with you.’ Definitely a book for classrooms, libraries and PHSE lessons – it will encourage empathy as children start to understand their own and the emotions of others, as well as being a satisfying book to read.
March 2020 Book of the Month | The novel of The Crossover is a Newberry Medal Winner, and a Coretta Scott King Award Winner in the US and was Shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in the UK. This graphic novel version is the whole story complete with large and small two-coloured illustrations gracing every page. This is a deceptively simple read – a novel in verse about siblings getting through middle school, their lives, their crushes, their family interactions, and basketball. The boys are twins Josh and Jordan Bell, sons of a famous basketball player, and aiming to make a mark in the world of basketball. There are rivalries between the boys, they revel in their differences, but family holds them together whatever the world throws at them. The words and pictures work so well together, you will be on the edge of your seat, rooting for the team as they play and crying with the twins when thigs go awry. To tell such a complex story with so few words, with such emotional depth – Alexander is a master of devastating and uplifting storytelling. Anyabwile’s illustrations enhance a superb story – adding expressions and movement to an already great novel.
From New York Times bestselling author Nic Stone comes a middle-grade road-trip story through American race relations past and present, perfect for fans of Ross Welford and Jason Reynolds. How to Go on an Unplanned Road Trip with Your Grandma: - Grab a Suitcase: Prepacked from the big spring break trip that got CANCELLED. - Fasten Your Seatbelt: G'ma's never conventional, so this trip won't be either. - Use the Green Book: G'ma's most treasured possession. It holds history, memories, and most important, the way home. What Not to Bring: - A Phone: Avoid contact with Dad at all costs. Even when G'ma starts acting stranger than usual. Set against the backdrop of the segregation history of the American South, take a trip with New York Times bestselling Nic Stone and an eleven-year-old boy who is about to discover that the world hasn't always been a welcoming place for kids like him, and things aren't always what they seem - his G'ma included.
‘My body is strong. My body can do amazing things. My body is my own.’ That’s the message for young girls to take from this comforting, uplifting and much-needed self-help guide. Our bodies are unique and amazing, it says, all of them, and there’s no one size, shape or colour that’s perfect. The message is demonstrated via colour illustrations featuring a range of young women happy with the way they look and who they are. The accompanying text reinforces this and also provides self-help tips for those times when you’re feeling down or insecure. There’s a really useful ‘Now What?’ section too full of self-care practices, while the jacket doubles as a poster for your wall, a self-care list for everyday life. It’s been carefully thought out from beginning to end, while illustrator Carol Rossetti’s young women feel like a group of friends cheering you on.
Written for and about “the swift and sweet ones/who hurdled history and opened a world of possible”, for those who “survived America by any means necessary. And the ones who didn’t,” this is an inspiring ode to the author’s forebears and to the world-changing feats of unforgettable Black American figures. Author Kwame Alexander’s initial inspiration for this book came in the year his second daughter was born, the same year Barack Obama became the first African American president of the USA. As a result, Alexander wanted his daughters “to know how we got to this historic moment”, which is exactly what this stirring book does. The chained slaves who kept faith, the elite Olympians, the innovative musicians, the seminal scientists, the courageous activists - people from all walks of life are celebrated in Alexander’s poetically poised words, and gloriously illustrated by Kadir Nelson, with much for young children to ponder and ask questions about. As well as being a wonderful way for parents to explore Black American history with their little ones on a one-to-one basis, this will also work well with older children in a classroom context. Indeed, this is one of those rare and wonderful picture books that defies age boundaries - a radiant, resonant unforgettable tour de force, as befits its theme.
This is a sensitive, often funny and thoroughly engaging story of teenagers coming to terms with who they are. It’s easy to think in these liberal times that anything goes, but teens will be quick to point out that growing up is as difficult as it’s ever been. It’s particularly hard for David, one of the two central characters in this assured debut. David has known since the age of eight that he wants to be a girl. Teased as a freak at school, he feels he can’t even tell his family. New boy Leo seems to have problems too and when the two become friends they discover they have more in common than they ever thought. This ultra-readable, highly entertaining story could also provide readers with some much needed reassurance that normal is as normal does.
Children’s mental health and wellbeing are a high priority for all schools and parents. This wonderfully reassuring book is from the award-winning Rachel Bright, teamed with illustrator Chris Chatterton who has created the most adorable little dinosaur: The Worrysaurus. Parents will immediately recognise the behaviour of a natural worrier - the child that likes to plan ahead and to have thought of everything before setting out to enjoy a lovely picnic. But it is not long before the overthinking gets out of control and a suggestion from a similarly nervous lizard feeds his anxieties just as children can do to each other. But Worrysaurus has a very helpful strategy in place and he remembers his mother’s advice. He has a tin of precious things in his bag and, going through them one by one, they give him the strength to set the butterfly of worry free. Even tiny children know all about the feeling of butterflies in the tummy so this is universally relatable. He shares a lovely picnic with the anxious lizard and they learn to live in the moment instead of worrying about what might happen. While this can simply be read as an enjoyable rhyming story, it will be most useful to prompt discussion and sharing. It will work well for this purpose with children in Key Stage One and Two making it a very useful purchase indeed.
Smart, incisive, brimming with the breath of human experience and written with engaging age-appropriate verve, this clever concept (“a tale told in ten blocks”) is perfectly executed. For the chorus of kids whose lives play out on these impeccably-written pages, the walk home from school represents a rare time of freedom; a period of limbo between being under the watchful eyes of teachers and parents. Unsupervised, the kids reveal their true selves, most of them dealing with hidden heartache and anxieties alongside goofing around, self-reflecting and navigating their way through Middle School. As always with Jason Reynolds, the characterisation is ingeniously vivid, with deep insights expressed through, for example, the different ways kids open their lockers. Many of the stories are intensely poignant, such as that of the Low Cuts crew whose bad behaviour is fuelled by a desperate love for their sick parents. The moment it turns out that Bit the hustler is a “son who was scared. A son who loved his mum” is shatteringly powerful. There’s much humour too, such as the laugh-out-loud scene in which smelly Gregory is slathered in VaporRub by friends seeking to beautify him before he visits a girl he’s keen on. Bittersweet, hard-hitting and powerfully perceptive, these pitch-perfect reader-centric stories shine a light on oft-overlooked lives and ring with empathy and authenticity.
December 2019 YA Debut of the Month | This compelling, nuanced tale is set in the town of Lucille in a future society where evil, the ‘monsters’, have been eliminated in an epic struggle by the ‘angels’ to create a better world for their children to grow up in. Jam, our selectively-nonverbal, black, trans heroine, is one of those children. When she accidentally spills her blood onto her mother’s painting, a creature called Pet emerges. Looking like a monster but here to hunt a monster preying on the family of her best friend, a boy named Redemption. But the identities of the victim and the predator are still unknown and Jam and Redemption have to face what their society fails to acknowledge: that monsters exist and hide in plain sight- that evil still resides in humanity. One of the huge strengths of this book is that Jam’s trans status is not there to score diversity points. The story does not centre around gender identity, but also does not ignore the impact upon the character and plot in a very natural, unforced way. Dialogue is used extremely creatively too. Emezi Jam speaks aloud in quotation marks and sign language is indicated with italics and when Jam and Pet speak telepathically, Emezi uses no punctuation marks whatsoever. On top of that, dialects, phrases, and cultural traditions from across African American communities appear throughout, giving a real flavour and authenticity to the narrative. Emezi has spoken of her inspiration being teenagers discomforted by the monsters in plain sight in our current society. This is a thought-provoking reading experience that could inspire valuable discussion in a lot of classroom contexts.
October 2019 Book of the Month | Kate Milner, winner of the 2018 Klaus Flugge Award for most promising newcomer to children’s book illustration has certainly lived up to her laurels with this delicate and subtle picturebook, which packs a real emotional and political punch. It is a cause of great shame to many, in this country and in the 21st century, that more children than ever are living in poverty and that there has been a huge expansion in the use of foodbanks. Mum works really hard and watches every penny, but today is a no money day. Her little girl, who tells the story, takes great pleasure in life from the simple, free activities they share- visits to the library and dressing up in the charity shops. Unlike her humiliated Mum, she loves the visits to the food bank for the drink and biscuits and the kind ladies to talk to. On the way home they play the maybe one day game- dreaming of pets and washing machines and new warm clothes. They go to bed and “because of kind people our tummies are full”. Nothing is laboured in text or image- the colours are subdued but still there. The despair and tiredness of the mother is evident in every expression and nuance of body language, but so is the warmth and love between them and so is the irrepressible spirit of a child who knows they are loved even if as the pictures subtly show us, she is clearly malnourished. This is a book which can be used with a very wide range of children and will encourage empathy and discussion of a very current and appalling crisis in our society.