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This is book three in the Mermaid School series which is already a firm favourite with lots of young readers. In this episode, mermaid Marnie Blue and her friends have a new PE teacher, Mr Marlin, aka snarlin’ Marlin, motto ‘if you don’t come first, you lose!’. He reinstates the old Golden Glory sports day competition, and though to Marlin winning is everything, Marnie is more concerned with making sure her friends are happy, and with tracking down the whereabouts of the long-lost Golden Glory Crown. The set up allows for lots of fun and games, friendly and not-so-friendly rivalry, and a gentle emphasis on the importance of fair play. The story also moves along the sub-plot, involving Marnie’s glamorous auntie Christabel and her romance with a handsome human! Spending time with Marnie and her friends is fishy fun, and their undersea world will be very tempting to young landlubbers. Pretty illustrations by Sheena Dempsey add to the charm. One to recommend to fans of The Worst Witch and readers who like Marnie should get to know Lyla, star of Rebecca Patterson’s new Moon Girl series too. There are some great reviews from our Kids Reader Review Panel for the first in this series - Mermaid School - read them here!
Having super-powers is not necessarily all that – well, super – if you are 9 ¼ years old and coping with a new school and no friends, not to mention an annoying super-powered little sister. That’s Pizazz’s situation and, as she describes her life, we see just how frustrating it would be if you have to keep breaking off from things you’re enjoying to go and thwart an evil genius’s wicked plan. Her super-powers don’t help her make new friends, nor, when she’s made eco monitor at school and trying to save a local park from developers do they help there either – at least, not initially. Sophy Henn’s story is great fun, narrated at super-hero speed and in a wonderfully direct and distinctive voice by Pizazz, who is exactly the kind of super-hero we all want to be with right now: funny, honest, self-aware, and able to tell a really good story. I can’t wait for more from Pizazz and expect that she’ll soon have legions of fans. Sophy Henn’s artwork is snazzy and comic and absolutely on the ball, just like her new character. This is a series to recommend to fans of Clarice Bean or Sibéal Pounder’s Bad Mermaids.
Wayside School | The inimitable Louis Sachar has done it again in this new Wayside School caper. Sachar totally gets Primary age readers - sees the world through their eyes, speaks to them in a wry voice that rings with understanding and funny details. What’s more, the bitesize chunks of plot (essentially inter-connected vignettes that form a satisfying whole) keep readers hungry for more, while the off-the-wall (yet believable) comic characters are guaranteed to induce gaggles of giggles. As a new year begins, Mrs Jewls’s pupils have a big bunch of stuff on their plates. An Ultimate Test looms ahead of them, while a Cloud of Doom looms overhead, growing bigger and more powerful each day. Back in class, the pupils are tasked with collecting one million nail clippings to get a sense of just how massive one million is, while Mrs Jewls’s paperclip appreciation is taken to crazy heights (“she marvelled at the magnificent metal masterpiece”) when she’s revealed to keep a secret stash of them in a locked room. Then there’s Mrs Surlaw the librarian, who has a GIANT stuffed walrus and arranges books according to their length, and the author’s cameo appearance as Louis the yard teacher (fun fact - the author actually used to be Louis the yard teacher). Perfectly complemented by Aleksei Bitskoff’s wittily detailed illustrations, this is clever, comic joy. You might also love The Worst Class in the World from Joanna Nadin or the Middle School series from James Patterson.
Cookie is one of those characters who have the best intentions, but just can’t help getting into scrapes and mix ups, and readers will love her all the more for it. In this new adventure, her plans for a plastic-free birthday party are overtaken by circumstances and before we know it, she’s accidentally become best friends with Suzie Ashby, got a detention, upset her friend Jake, and handed over £25 to take part in Woodburn Primary’s very own F Factor, which turns out to be not what she expected at all. Cookie being Cookie, it all works out in the end and everyone, the reader included, has lots of fun along the way. Konnie Huq clearly remembers what it is to be a ten year old very well indeed and Cookie’s fast flowing, tangent-embracing, stream of consciousness narrative is a delight. Huq’s own black and white illustrations are the perfect complement to the text, giving us even clearer insight into what’s going on in Cookie’s head. A fast, fresh and very funny read.
It’s Superhero Day at school and Milly is ready in her costume – she’s used all the tinfoil, a tea towel and her brother Joe’s pants and really looks the part. She knows that she doesn’t have any superpowers though, or has she? As the day goes on, we see Milly being a hero in all sorts of ways: she’s super kind for example when she helps William, super clever when she works out a way to help Archie, and a super friend when she works with Iqbal on his show and tell. Gwen Millward’s illustrations are very appealing and the story is full of incident and great fun to read. At the same time, it will give young readers real insight into what actually makes us super, and how powerful it is to help and work with our friends.
Book Band: Lime Ideal for ages 6+ | Dylan dreams that he’s living in a jam jar, cut off from his family, in a silent world. In fact, he’s losing his hearing and that brings all sorts of issues. He doesn’t like how loud the world is with his hearing aids in, doesn’t like the way the others in his class treat him differently now; and he feels that without sound to anchor him he’s somehow floating away. It takes a hair-raising experience, and the quick-thinking and love of his dog Pluto to bring him back down to earth. In the new Bloomsbury Readers series, this story is written specifically for children just growing reading confidence and understanding, with short chapters and illustrations on every page. Nonetheless, the story is subtle and moving, with lots to prompt discussion and reflection. There are questions to share with children at the end to help them get the most from the story.
Your Guide to Starting Secondary School | “Going up to big school is like going on safari” is this lively book’s opening gambit and as the author says just like with any adventure you may well have an attack of the “what if’s” and if so what you need is information to quell those niggling worries. This book is designed to talk the reader through the most commonly shared anxieties like- what if I don’t fit in/ older kids are horrible/I get lost/teachers are scary etc etc. Aimed very much at the child reader this will be an essential purchase for parents to leave lying around for a child to find. It very nicely combines a jokey, amusing approach with some very sensible practical advice and provides tools and quizzes for self-analysis (understanding why you behave in a certain way and how this might appear to others is half the battle) and further helpful information and sources to find out more. Each scenario described will resonate with young people’s actual experiences and the advice given is sensible without being at all po-faced or judgemental with a reassuringly relaxed attitude to life/school balance and presenting teachers as human beings too. This will be a very useful and inevitably well-thumbed book to have in every primary library.
Rebecca Cobb’s warm and uncluttered illustrations capture the importance of friendships and how they can best be made. Here, an eager little girl expresses her delightful enthusiasm for sharing everything including indoor and outdoor play, packed lunch and more while in pleasing contrast the boy who is the focus of her attentions shows that friendship can also take longer to develop. A sweet story which also provides a lot of scope for thoughtful conversation and reflection.
The tables are turned in Jeff Kinney’s new comic adventure and the wimpy kid telling the story and steering the action is Rowley Jefferson, Greg Heffley’s best friend. As Greg’s long-suffering sidekick he deserves his turn in the spotlight, though as he apologetically points out, most of the book is still about Greg. The boys’ escapades, quarrels and daft schemes are just as funny as when we hear them via Greg. No-one does the straight to camera narrative style of the diary better than Kinney and no matter how straight Jeff tells it, our understanding of the action is often quite different to his. This is as authentic and funny as the original Wimpy Kid books and makes just as irresistible reading.
Inspired by a fantastical world imagined by the authors’ twin daughters, this educational activity book is underpinned by a belief that “children, especially girls, learn STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skills best when these skills are approached within a storytelling context”. This brightly illustrated book certainly fulfils its aim of introducing STEM skills in an imaginative, interactive way, and its main character’s infectious enthusiasm for all things scientific will surely inspire more girls to get into STEM subjects. Lilli loves nothing more than finding things that “challenge her curious, scientific mind”. One night she transforms into her superheroine persona and embarks on a quest to help her friend fly from WooWoo Land. Young readers are invited to join Lillicorn’s quest, solving ten STEM puzzles in her vibrant world. With an appealing rhyming text, and charm tokens to collect along the way, the clear design conveniently signposts the STEM skills nurtured by each activity (including pattern recognition, abstraction, structured problem solving, sequencing, spatial perception and sorting) without detracting from the puzzle-solving or story. In some ways, the book’s structure is reminiscent of a computer game, with prompts and well-timed narrative pauses that invite readers to get stuck into the self-contained, bite-sized activities. What’s more, the tone is warmly encouraging, with the text informing readers that Lillicorn needs their help. Once the quest is complete, the solutions can be checked at www.lillicorn.com, where questers can also download a certificate and unlock additional activities.
Exploring the all-consuming throes of love, malicious secondary school social politics, sexual abuse, and how difficult coming out can be, William Hussey’s Hideous Beauty is a top-notch YA thriller with hard-hitting emotional resonance. Forced by social media exposure to come out earlier than planned, Dylan and his gregarious boyfriend Ellis reveal their relationship to the world in spectacular style at a school dance: “Okay, Dylan, this is it. No going back. The closet door is firmly barred behind you, chained and bolted. No re-entry, no refunds. It’s gay all the way from here on out.” Riding high after an unexpectedly jubilant response to their revelation, tragedy strikes when they leave the party - Ellis becomes angry and their car plunges into a lake. While Dylan is rescued, Ellis drowns, leaving Dylan wracked with grief and guilt: “I deserve the pain. I deserve the crazy. I deserve a messed-up hand. No one’s taking these things away from me.” Set on trying to “find out who pulled me out of that car and why they left Ellis to drown”, it’s not long before Dylan stomps into a viper’s nest, uncovering jaw-dropping truths that set him - and readers – reeling. With his family less than supportive, at least best friend Mike remains at Dylan’s side, even though he’s undergoing chemotherapy for leukaemia. Gripping, moving and unflinchingly honest, this is a fiercely affecting novel, told through the cleverly interwoven collision of two timelines.
It’s headmistress Mrs Bottomley-Blunt who declares 4B to be LITERALLY the Worst Class In The World, and she may have a point. After all, there was the school trip to the zoo when Harvey Barlow smuggled a penguin back on the bus, the time they tried to tunnel to Finland, and the Show and Tell incident with Manjit’s dog, Killer… Everyone has bad luck though, and after reading this very funny book, most people will agree with Stanley Bradshaw and decide they wouldn’t have 4B any other way. Stanley’s descriptions of their antics, recounted in two separate stories, are highly entertaining: Joanna Nadin captures the chaos and excitement of primary school perfectly, and young readers will recognise the setting and the characters, not least long-suffering teacher Mr Nidgett. Short sentences, lots of pictures and clever repetition of words and phrases plus the lively action make this a perfect first chapter book. One to recommend to fans of Patricia Butchart’s Wigglesbottom Primary series ready to move onto something more challenging.
There are adventures galore in the second episode of this new series starring little mermaid Marnie and her friends and family. This time the action is all to do with the annual entertainment extravaganza that is the Clamshell Show. Marnie really wants the part of Queen Maretta, but so does her friend Orla, and nasty new mergirl, show-off Gilly Seaflower too. When the curtain finally goes up, there’s as much drama behind the scenes as on stage, and the sudden surprise appearance of a human! Marnie and her friends are very appealing characters – naughty aunt Christabel is a hoot – and their underwater world very tempting. Pretty illustrations by Sheena Dempsey add to the all-round charm. Young readers should dive in straightaway. Fans of The Worst Witch will enjoy the lively stories in Mermaid School, and readers who like Marnie should get to know Lyla, star of Rebecca Patterson’s new Moon Girl series too.
With the pizzazz and humour that make his Dragonsitter books so popular, Josh Lacey tells the story of one girl’s efforts to save the planet. Like many ten-year olds Hope Jones is worried about the state of the environment, and about plastic pollution in particular. Her dad is always saying if you want something done, you have to do it yourself, so she sets about doing what she can. Her adventures are recounted via her lively blog and we get a ringside view of her peaceful protest outside the local supermarket, interactions with local businesses, and conversations with neighbours, friends and parents of friends. As her campaign reaches more and more people, Hope realises that we can all make a difference, if we’re determined enough. There are great illustrations throughout, and it all makes for a fast, entertaining and positive read. Hooray for Hope Jones!
Following on from Lily’s Just Fine, this Scottish seaside-set romance tackles issues of self-confidence and coming-of-age confusion with a lovely lightness of touch. Alongside a sweet rollercoaster romance, the author explores how difficult it can be to find your way in the world, how difficult it is to make life-changing decisions. Gemma is one of life’s self-doubters. Painfully unsure of herself, she’s the polar opposite of her super-confident, super-enthusiastic best friend Lily, whom we met in the first of this four-book series. A talented musician, Gemma’s been offered an audition at the prestigious Glasgow Conservatoire, but she’s not sure she can face it, or if this is what she really wants. Meanwhile, Lily’s ex-boyfriend is already at uni in Glasgow. Confident coaster Jamie seems to have the world at his feet, but beneath his happy-go-lucky exterior, Jamie’s struggling - failing his assignments and only on this course due to parental pressure. As it all gets too much, he and Gemma strike up an unlikely friendship - and more - when Jamie convinces her to form a band with him. The path of their romance is far from smooth, with Gemma doubting herself at every turn, and Jamie struggling to find a new life course, but the cute couple carry readers with them every step of the way. You can’t help but root for Gemma to be happy, to feel at ease, to find her way in the world. And Jamie too. Far from being the cocksure young man people take him to be, he’s also a lost soul, floundering to find his way. With a sweet sub-plot about mentoring and empathy alongside the romantic drama, this a fun summer read with emotional wisdom.
This compelling read tells a familiar story of the authority figure ( a popular teacher here) who behaves inappropriately and when his victim comes forward, she is not believed and her life takes a real turn for the worse, including in this case, work being marked down and university applications scuppered by the same teacher in revenge for her speaking out. What makes this book stand out is the complexity and authenticity of Marin’s internal dialogue and the fact that the dilemmas she faces and the choices she makes are all too believable. The book really gets to the heart of how difficult it is for girls and women to make sense of this kind of violation, and brilliantly explores the way they doubt themselves and the way that predators exploit these feelings. Marin’s experience opens her eyes to things that had previously passed unnoticed- the casual sexism of classmates and the institutional sexism of a school dress code and of an English curriculum which featured only male authors and even her own lack of awareness of what life is like for outsiders. While English teachers will celebrate Marin’s decision to express her protest in print via her student newspaper editorials, librarian’s will relish the feminist book club she also sets up ( and the excellent book recommendations that are given) This is an important book for both sexes to read and one which will hopefully start lots of conversations about equality, sexual harassment, and those unwritten social norms that govern our behaviour.
Ballistic Kids is a lyrical picture book. Both rhyme and colourful images tell the tale of Scott, a young boy from a small village, who shows you can achieve your dreams with some hard work and Rock ‘n’ Roll. The rhyming in this book makes it easy to follow and I think it would be nice to be read aloud by either a child or a parent as a bedtime story. Scott and his best friend Matt don’t feel like they fit in, but instead of changing themselves to find acceptance, they form a band, meet new friends, have fun and work hard to be stage ready for the school talent show. The message in this book that stood out the most to me is the importance of hard work and not trying to change to fit in. However, there are a number of other themes throughout Ballistic Kids that I think are valuable in a children’s book. Scott and Matt formed a band in order to make new friends and have fun and I liked that from the start the band enjoyed playing and persevered until their sound improved. The band’s teamwork and dedication lead to recognition of their talent - a talent that is acquired through dedication and persistence. Although important to the success of the band in the story, these are messages that I think are easily applicable to a range of different situations. I think that these are themes that all children can relate to, although I’d say the writing and layout for the book are aimed at the 5+ age-range. This is a nice story for older siblings to read alongside someone younger, as the underlying themes are equally applicable to much older children too. A bonus with Ballistic Kids is the collection of six songs that are available to listen to for free online. Each song was written in connection to a different part of the story. They are punky but accessible to children. In all a cool collection and a nice accompaniment to the storyline. Charlotte Walker, A LoveReading4Kids Ambassador
April 2020 Book of the Month | Lyla might live in a hi-tech future world in which the moon is colonised and robots a big part of daily life, but the things that really matter are the same they’ve always been: friends, family and learning how to treat them properly. It’s very exciting when Lyla is chosen to look after one of three top-of-the-range cyborg children joining her school and at first Clara 2.2 seems the perfect friend, telling Lyla just what she wants to hear. But real friends do more than pay you compliments, and Clara 2.2’s disregard for anyone other than Lyla soon leads to a fall out with Lyla’s best friend Bianca and then – much worse – puts Lyla’s little brother in danger. There’s lots of fun and humour in the story, but some real tension too and it cleverly delivers a message about what friendship really means, and the importance of kindness.
Detective siblings Nik and Norva are back with a blast in this second novel set around The Tri high-rise block. If the highly-acclaimed High-Rise Mystery was a devastatingly good debut (it was), this is a full-on firecracker of a follow-up. A classic kids detective series slickly rebooted for the twentieth-first-century – think Harriet the Spy with a smartphone and added spark. Rising global music star Trojkat is back in her old ‘hood to make a music video when she dies in The Tri while shooting a scene. Most people – including the police - assume Trojkat’s death is a tragic accident, but sleuth-minded Nik and Norva suspect otherwise. With the help of their mate George, the determined duo set about piecing together a hotchpotch of clues to solve a case that has personal resonance. There are plenty of poignant moments along the way, such as when Nik expresses how it feels to lose a person you love: “It made you feel empty. Fragile. Like you could shatter into a million pieces if someone gently blew in your direction”. Overall, this is a super-charged detective story that fizzes with a whole lot of quick-witted, ping-ponging exchanges between Nik and Norva, with a sensational revelatory showdown to round things off.
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