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Winner of the Branford Boase Award 2020 | March 2020 Debut of the Month |Winner of the Older Readers' category of the Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2020 | Told in narrator Newt’s distinctive phonetic English, this dark debut dazzles with originality and delivers a potent case for combatting inequality. Bearmouth is home to a grim mining business, where men and children labour under inhumane conditions to make their Master wealthy. They work under the earth, under the omniscient Mayker who - so workers are told - “sen us down into the dark Earf/To atone for the sins o our forefarvers an muvvers”. Naïve Newt hasn’t seen daylight in years, but takes pride in being taught to read and write by fatherly Thomas, blithely accepting this lot until the arrival of new boy Devlin. Devlin’s talk of “revolushun” makes Newt feel that things are “unravellin slowly slowly lyke a bootlayce comin all undun.” Life in Bearmouth is beyond bleak, but the sparks of Devlin’s revolutionary spirit catch light and drive Thomas to ask the Master for “more coinage” for the workers, to question why they must pay for essential clothes, to demand to know when the promised safety lamps are coming. Then when tragedy strikes, Newt too realises that things “ent bloody well ryte” and takes on Devlin’s insurgent tendencies, with explosive effects. Emotionally engaging, this searingly original novel about standing up to abuses of power and fighting for freedom is radiant with story-telling excellence. The Branford Boase judges said : ‘Astounding!’; ‘I loved every single second’; ‘plot, story and voice are superb’; ‘I was totally invested in the characters’; ‘interesting, challenging and original’.
Patrick Neate’s Small Town Hero melds a sensitive handling of real-life loss with alternate world weirdness to create a surprising, unique novel. There’s grief and gaming, family secrets and football, and the interwoven themes of loss and science will appeal to readers who liked Christopher Edge’s The Many Worlds of Albie Bright and are now a little older. Everything changed for thirteen-year-old Gabe when his dad died in a car accident. First there’s his grief, which has created a “black hole inside me.” Then there’s his unsettling new ability: “the stories I imagine become real.” Reeling with grief and confusion, Gabe finds he’s not entirely alone when he spends more time with his estranged Uncle Jesse, writer of an online game called Small Town Hero, which - to make matters even weirder – appears to echo Gabe’s life. Jesse believes “there aren’t just a few realities, but a countless number” and explains that when Gabe shifts realities and sees alternate versions of his present and future life, he’s crossing something called an “event horizon”. As Gabe’s reality-shifting plays out, he also falls out with his best friend. Still, he has Soccer School to look forward to, and here Gabe takes on pertinent football wisdom from one his Watford icons: “Football’s a game of moments. You get the ball, you choose a pass and, whether you chose right or wrong and did it well or badly, the moment’s gone and you gotta move on…the game makes you live in the here and now – you can’t change what’s gone and you can’t see what’s coming.” For similar books you can find an exciting and varied selection in our new Gritty Reads section
August 2020 Debut of the Month | In this rip-roaringly feminist re-imagining of Cinderella, our justice-seeking heroine, Sophia, seeks a princess rather than a prince, and bodice-ripping is done in the name of shedding the shackles of patriarchy. Giddily entertaining, and spiced with dagger-sharp dialogue and romantic attraction, one message beams bright through Sophia’s story - “do not be silent. Raise your voice. Be a light in the dark.” Though 200 years have passed since Cinderella’s time, a twisted version of her legacy lives on in Lille, where the present-day Prince Charming, King Manford, has decreed that girls must recite the fairy tale daily and, at the age of sixteen, they will be sent to the palace to be chosen by a man at a grand ball. Attending the ball is law, and, in the words of Erin, Sophia’s best friend and lover, “It is our only hope for making some kind of life”, for those not chosen are doomed to an even worse existence than being married off. As Sophia’s father admits, “I’d rather see you unhappy than imprisoned or killed.” Such is the impossible situation. So, Sophia goes to the ball, still hoping to escape with Erin, still burning with anger that the “founding tenet of our laws is that women, no matter their standing, are at the mercy of the fickle whims of men.” At the grandiose selection event, girls are put on show for the male suitors, some of them old enough to be Sophia’s grandfather, “but that doesn’t stop them from shamelessly ogling the young girls.” As shocking events unfold here, she flees and finds a sisterly comrade in flame-haired Constance, who also sets her heart alight. As the feminist fugitives go on the run, Constance reveals truths about Cinderella’s real story - a story that was suppressed and twisted into patriarchal propaganda by men in power. And so they embark on a quest to find the White Wood, the last known location of the original fairy godmother, who might just hold the key to further truths that will help Sophia rouse revolution. What an inventive, entertaining and flamboyantly feminist treat this is.
Twig (a boy) wakes in the afterlife with vague memories of his Da, here he meets a Raven, Kruuk, to help guide him into Heaven where he will be part of the great forgetting. But Twig wanders off the path and meets the Gatherer, who gives him the Lost Soul Atlas, a skeleton key and a bag of bones with which to open Crossings between the physical world and the hereafter. Can Twig open all the Crossings whilst being chased by the Officials? If he opens them will his memories drag him into the real world and keep him there, in which case he will fade before he finds out what happened to him before he died…. He will forget his close ‘blood family’ friend Flea – who is also a street child and a pick pocket. This is a thought-provoking look at life for street children, how they survive against the odds, the forces lined against them as they try to live, and the lack of choices they have when forced to thieve to keep themselves alive. It is an exploration of loyalty amongst friends and family. There are scares - and lots of caring - but ultimately it is a song to the strength of the human spirit. The author was once told “to shine a light in all the dark places” – and much as one might expect from knowledge of Fraillon’s previous prize-winning books – this book does exactly that, using a richness of language that both exhilarates and makes you cry. It is both timeless and ageless having a wide appeal. A powerful read I would highly recommend.
Book Band: Grey Ideal for ages 8+ | Maxx the alien is sent to earth to study humans and specifically to learn about their feelings. His education comes on in leaps and bounds when he makes a human friend, Jibreel. The two have fun together, but there are real worries and sadnesses in Jibreel’s life too – he’s a refugee and is separated from his mother, and to a group of boys in his class, he’s the ‘alien’. Fortunately, Maxx is there to apply his other-worldly logic to the problem. Zanib Mian has a real gift for comedy and dialogue too and this is extremely funny, while at the same time it makes some very serious points. In the new Bloomsbury Readers series, the story is perfect for children growing reading confidence and understanding, with short chapters and frequent illustrations. A separate ‘Reading Zone’ section at the end lists discussion points and also encourages readers to think about the book’s narrative structure.
Soar into space with this glorious love story of alien folk, from the creators of The Gruffalo and Stick Man. The Smeds (who are red) never mix with the Smoos (who are blue). So when a young Smed and Smoo fall in love, their families strongly disapprove. But peace is restored and love conquers all in this happiest of love stories. There’s even a gorgeous purple baby to celebrate! With fabulous rhymes and breathtaking illustrations, this book is literally out of this world! From the creators of The Gruffalo, Stick Man and ZOG, which have all been made into animated films shown on BBC1 Zog and the Flying Doctors animation will be shown on BBC1 December 2020.
A Hunger Games Novel | As the tenth Hunger Games plays out, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes explores the life, trials and roots of eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow, President of Panem when we reach the story of the original The Hunger Games trilogy. With the formally powerful house of Snow now teetering on poverty and ruin, Coriolanus is set on mentoring the winning tribute to escape “the endless dance with hunger that had defined his life”, go to university and then “embark on some lucrative profession”. But in a devasting blow, he’s assigned the task of mentoring Lucy Gray Baird, the lowliest tribute from District 12, and “everyone knew what happened if you went to the districts. You were written off. Forgotten. In the eyes of the Capitol, you were basically dead.” But with their fates now interlocked and their survival in his hands, Coriolanus vows to do his best to take care of Lucy. What a twisted, conflicted assignment this turns out to be, and all the more engrossing for being apparently doomed. Though more meandering and meditative than the original trilogy, fans will be fascinated to discover the complex causes of President’s Snow’s villainy, and it’s shot-through with core themes - friendship bonds, betrayal, power and oppression – that devoted readers will relish.
June 2020 Debut of the Month | At once amusing and affectionate, this early Middle Grade novel combines real-world alienation with actual aliens! Harriet feels terribly out of sorts when she moves in with Gran while her dad works away, but before she’s even had chance to say goodbye to him, she learns that her hearing aid enables her to understand alien languages, such as that spoken by the Sock Muncha she finds beneath her new bed. What’s more, Harriet discovers that Gran is part of a secret intergalactic organisation that’s working to protect Planet Earth from an invasion of Sock Munchas. Harriet runs into conflict when she’s taken on as Gran’s apprentice: how can she possibly banish her new alien friend, given that he was bullied by other Sock Muncha’s and isn’t at all like them? Alongside the action-packed alien adventure, there’s much sensitivity around making friends and making everyone feel welcome. For example, Harriet’s unquestioning acceptance of new friend Robin’s non-binary identity, which she describes as “kind of awesome.” What a sweetly empowering debut this is from a hearing aid-wearing comedian, actor and Ambassador for Action on Hearing Loss and the British Tinnitus Association.
So, so readable, Of Ants and Dinosaurs with the lightest and brightest of touches, made my brain itch with its creativity and klaxon alarm. Perfect for readers from young adult on, this sets itself as a “satirical fable, a political allegory and ecological warning”. In a time long long ago ants and dinosaurs joined forces to build a magnificent civilisation, when doom threatens will the dinosaurs listen to the ants? Cixin Liu is China’s number one science-fiction writer and his The Three-Body Problem was the first translated novel to win a Hugo award. I just love the cover, and the ants marching across the chapter pages had me smiling. As soon as I started to read my attention was well and truly caught. The prologue sets the scene with wonder and I read and believed without a moments doubt. While portraying the ant and dinosaur alliance, there is very much a warning to the human race here. Deceptively simple and brilliantly clever, I simply adored it.
May 2020 Book of the Month | David Solomons is the perfect author to write new Doctor Who books – he’s a sci-fi/comics fanatic, brilliantly funny and a dab hand at creating adventure stories too (all of which you’ll know if you’ve read his My Brother is a Superhero books). This new story sees the Doctor and her companions Yaz, Graham and Ryan come face to face with the Minotaur – yes, the monster from the labyrinth but also in fact a deadly bit of alien software. The adventure takes us to all sorts of settings and via a range of different transport – there’s a great scene on a speeding London bus – and while there’s lots to make readers laugh throughout, it’s properly thrilling too. A very satisfying Time Lord adventure and thoroughly recommended.
Award winning author Jenny Valentine is justly renowned for never using three words where one will do, but every word she uses will count. Hello Now is another short novel that punches well beyond its weight. Every novel she writes is completely different, but you always know that you are in for an unforgettable reading experience. So, you would not expect the obvious wish fulfilment fantasy love story of finding true happiness with the perfect time-travelling love object and while that is the bare bones of the story of Jude and Novo, what we get is so much more. Jude is cleverly non gendered throughout the book and so this romance can take on multiple interpretations. The mechanics of Novo’s existence are never logically explained either, but we do have an intense dive into the powerful emotion that often seems beyond rationality and beyond time. It is only when Novo meets Henry, the old reclusive sitting tenant in the house Jude has just moved into, that Jude realises the harsh dilemma facing them. In one of the most touching scenes, Henry and Novo recognise each other for what they are. As Henry later explains to Jude alone, if Novo stays with Jude in her present time, he sentences himself to eternal loneliness once Jude inevitably dies, the same loneliness that Henry currently endures. A sacrifice that Novo is desperate to make but one that Jude cannot live with. Doing what is right is not always easy but embracing the moment, embracing change, and moving forward after loss are lessons worth learning. Exquisitely done and a thought provoking, rewarding read.
Sophie is the odd one out at school and even in her family. Not only is she super-smart with a photographic memory, but she can read minds too. So when she discovers she’s not actually human, strange as that is, things suddenly start to make sense. With a new friend, Fitz, also not human, she travels to another world to discover more about who she really is. Meanwhile, in the human world, strange fires are causing terrible problems – can Sophie help? And even in her new home, she’s in danger, thanks to the mysterious secrets buried in her memories. A riveting story that will really appeal to fans of magic, adventure and mystery.
February 2020 Debut of the Month | The Bigwoof Conspiracy is a monstrously amusing mash-up of Scooby Doo and The Twilight Zone - think Louis Sachar’s Fuzzy Mud with added farcical fun.Quirky UFO-obsessed Lucy is an inspirational, one-of-a-kind heroine who unapologetically follows her own path and won’t stop until the truth is exposed. And Lucy’s search for the truth behind the hairy beast she spies in the woods lies at the heart of this madcap adventure. On this same night Lucy meets Milo, a smartly-dressed boy from the city whose dad is the new owner of the Sticky Sweet factory her own dad works at.When a teacher disappears and she and Milo step-up their quest to secure photographic evidence of hairy Bigwoof, Lucy winds up in big trouble, while pondering even bigger questions. Why did Milo’s dad delete his photo of the hairy beast? Why are folk disappearing from Sticky Pines? And what’s the deal with the factory’s creepy clown henchmen? There’s definitely something fishy going on and Lucy won’t rest until she’s found the source of the stink! I loved Lucy’s tenacious commitment to truth (“I require that the world not run on lies”), her ingenious curse vocabulary (including “Crudberries!” and “Oh, for the love of Björk!”), and the book’s “do the right thing” theme. Bursting with comic capers, this comes especially recommended for reluctant readers who’ve lost their reading mojo.
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