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June 2021 Book of the Month | Honest, authentic and (ultimately) uplifting, Holly Bourne’s The Yearbook will strike a powerful chord with young women on the brink of leaving secondary school. Realistically raw in its portrayal of toxic relationships (from poisonous school peers to abusive partners), with an underdog protagonist readers will wholeheartedly root for, and a sweet, slow-burning romance that will melt the most cynical of hearts, this is classic contemporary YA. Budding journalist Paige lives a lonely, isolated life - “the undeniable truth was that I was invisible as well as unlovable. Nobody could see me see me at all, let alone look at me and see the potential to store their heart there. People don’t fall in love with wallpaper. Or silence.” At the same time, her parents’ marriage shows the jeopardies of falling in love with the wrong person. She and her mum walk on eggshells around her erratic, coercively controlling dad who flips from jolly joker to enraged monster over the tiniest thing. At least Paige has the school newspaper to keep her occupied - until it’s hijacked by malicious narcissists from the official Leavers’ Committee who want to create a yearbook. As Paige’s family life disintegrates, she realises that the infiltrators steering the yearbook are re-writing history. The same goes for Paige’s dad and his ilk - people who think “they’re the hero of their own story, but, actually, in the pursuit of being so important, they’re often the villain of everyone else’s”. Thankfully, though, hope comes in the form of her independent-minded aunt Polly (“she seemed to genuinely care for me”) and soul-lifting Elijah, who supports Paige’s quest to find her voice and speak the truth after they meet through a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.
June 2021 Debut of the Month | Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s Ace of Spades is an explosively exceptional debut. An incisively subversive, edge-of-your-seat thriller that takes the genre to jaw-droppingly unexpected extremes as it exposes horrific, deep-rooted institutionalised racism. The action centres around an elite high school in the white part of town. It has an all-white student population, except for our two principle characters - musician and scholarship student Devon, and privileged aspiring Yale alumnus Chiamaka. Devon (Von to his proud, hardworking Ma) can’t wear his hair in twists or cornrows here, and Chiamaka, of Nigerian and Italian heritage, feels compelled to hide her natural hair, and has adopted a “kill or be killed” stance - to achieve the success she’s set on, Chiamaka knows she’ll have to be tougher than tough. Devon and Chiamaka are sent reeling when an anonymous texter, Aces, starts revealing their deepest, darkest secrets, and it doesn’t take much to realise why they’re being targeted - the colour of their skin. And so a cruel cat-and-mouse game unfolds - two mice trapped in a destructive nightmare and a malicious cat motivated by racism, with homophobia weaponised too. While there are shocks aplenty (of the rare, ingeniously interwoven variety), the story is compellingly complex, with finely considered character exposition, and no simplified, clear-cut dichotomies drawn between who we can trust, and who should be top of our suspect list. The mounting tension is powerfully palpable, as is the embedded racism Devon and Chiamaka are subjected to - it runs deeper and wider than they (or readers) can possibly anticipate. Turns out, no one can be trusted; that there’s more than one cat in this hideous game. Oh, and there are romantic entanglements too, all of which means Ace of Spades delivers on all fronts - mystery, romance and tackling important issues in explosive style. What more could a reader ask for? *** Find a must-read letter from Faridah to her readers, attached to the extract.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month June 2021 | When the Honey Bees from the orphanage take on the smart kids from the Brathelthwaite Boarding School at the Spindrift sports tournament, everyone knows there will be trouble! The two sides have always hated each other. But, when the children begin to disappear and the Whispering Wars break out, both side know they must put aside their differences and work together. Madcap and headlong, Jaclyn Moriarty’s deftly-told adventure is a roller-coaster ride for all those who have loved The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone.
The Time to...is a series of clear and well-illustrated books for very young children to share with their parents and carers. The books are inclusive, embracing all elements of society and offer an instructive and supportive resource for those caring for pre-schoolers. Time to Go to Nursery is a super introduction before that big first day. Often a big first day for adults too. A great book for discussion with fun illustrations involving counting bricks and food. An encouraging and colourful book that would excite and entice a child who might be a little unsure about what nursery involves. It covers everything involved in those first few days, such as meeting people, doing new things and being away from home in a really relaxed and encouraging way provoking discussion and allaying worries.
Good morning, class. Today we are going to learn about Earth Family. The latest in the Dr Xargle series! Learn all about Earth Families with Dr Xargle, our friendly alien teacher: brothers are Bothers, sisters are Sulkers, and the number of family members is always larger than the number of chairs at Christmas dinner...
Interest Age 8+ Reading Age 8 | Anna has friends at school, a kind teacher, she’s not being bullied, yet still she feels anxious, subdued, and terribly conscious that her friends’ lives are much busier than hers, a round of after school lessons, activities and clubs. The arrival in her class of new girl Ellie changes everything however. Ellie is ill and can’t come to school, instead she communicates via a special robot, quickly named Ellie-bot by the class. As the two girls become friends, Anna finds herself inventing the kind of home life her friends have, scared that her normal life is too small-scale to impress Ellie. The truth emerges, of course, but Ellie is wise enough to understand that it’s the small things in life that are the best. Quiet and gentle as it is, nonetheless this story packs a real punch and is delivered with the warmth, compassion and understanding that mark out Thompson’s writing. Published by dyslexia specialist Barrington Stoke, it is accessible to all readers.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month June 2021 | In a spare, poetic text, Nicola Davies shows how easy it is to label someone as ‘different’ and how easy it is to treat them badly once that has been done. But she also shows how a new child can turn that hostility round by introducing the special things from her own life. Cathy Fisher’s illustrations capture the powerful but understated point of the story perfectly making this apparently quiet book speak volumes.
Shortlisted for the Excelsior Award White 9+ KS2 | Packed with evil curses, haunted houses, quirky characters and a town full of unexplained phenomena, Seaerra Miller's new series of illustrated comic-like books are sure to be a hit with kids who love twisted tales and action-packed, mysterious stories.
The last thing Jack expected when he bungee-jumped at the fairground was to go plummeting right through the ground into the weird, wonderful Rooms... There he must face a series of puzzles and traps alongside a mysterious girl called Cally, in order for them to find their way home. Throw in a murderous polar bear, hundreds of tiny yet ferocious lions, some mind-blowing riddles, and get ready for a hilarious, helter-skelter adventure like no other! Escape the Rooms follows two children dealing with loss on an amazing adventure. Wildly funny and endlessly surprising, Escape the Rooms is also a story about friendship, overcoming fears and being kind to yourself. Packed with fantastic pictures created by Stephen Mangan's sister, Anita
June 2021 Debut of the Month | Seventeen-year-old Chloe is on track for good grades and attending a top college but everything falls apart after she collapses while running and is told that she needs a new heart. Eight months after her transplant, everything is different. Stuck in summer school with the underachievers, all she wants to do is go surfing– which is strange, because she’d never surfed before her transplant. (It doesn’t hurt that her instructor, Kai, is seriously good looking.) But that’s not all that’s strange. There’s also the vivid recurring nightmare about crashing a motorcycle in a tunnel and memories of people and places she doesn’t recognise. Is there something wrong with her head now, too, or is there another explanation for what she’s experiencing? As she searches for answers and as her attraction to Kai intensifies, what she learns will lead her to question everything she thought she knew…
June 2021 Debut of the Month | A gorgeously written supernatural mystery set in Ireland about friendship, love, guilt, responsibility and sacrifice. This is the first in a series focusing on four protagonists – Maeve, Lily, Roe and Fiona – who each learn that they have a supernatural gift.
June 2021 Book of the Month | Recommended by Stephen L Holland, Guest Editor, June 2021: Eliza Duncan is a direct and diligent, no-nonsense teen with a passion for photography and a focus on ghosts. Marjorie Glatt found her laundromat infested with white-sheeted ghosts: with its washes, tumble-dries and ironing, they thought it the perfect health spa. She adopted one called Wendell as her best friend. But now she has been adopted–by her school’s most popular students who rule the roost by putting everyone else down. Marjorie, once a victim of this, feels awkward about her newfound immunity for she fails to speak up for others, particularly when they start picking on Eliza who’s determined that there are ghosts, that she’ll snap one on celluloid, and soon has her sights set on Wendell. Astonishingly complex, this comes with layers of self-awareness, self-examination yet blind spots and moments of betrayal from even the kindest of corners. Also: is this not the most perfect cover? What a narrative drive! Thummler totally owns her unique colour palette.
Recommended by Stephen L Holland, Guest Editor, June 2021: Energetic, behavioural comedy in which six school-aged sleuths investigate local mysteries. Their expressions are as priceless as the dialogue: Allison nails the young ones’ pouts and passion (often inversely proportioned to whatever merits it) and the way everything is taken so personally. Whatever your age, you will recognise so much here like the first time you went round for tea at a friend’s, encountering new food and alien customs.
June 2021 Book of the Month | There are some books you just don’t want to end, because you’re enjoying being with the characters so much. Something I Said is one of those books. It stars thirteen-year-old Carmichael Taylor, a young man who loves words as much as he hates geography, and who can never resist a bon mot, even when – as it frequently does – it lands him in trouble with his teachers. He’s offered a special chance to redeem himself with a role in the school talent show. It’s supposed to be opportunity to show off what he does best in a spoken word performance, instead it turns into an impromptu stand-up comedy show and goes both much better than he could have hoped, and much, much worse. Car is a terrific central character – honest, open, mixed-up and so funny - and his descriptions of his life, family and friends bring readers into the heart of his world. As with the best of this kind of fiction, by the end of the book Car knows more about himself than he does at its opening, and so do we. Readers who enjoy Car’s adventures will also like Worst. Holiday. Ever by Charlie Higson and should look out for Simon Mason’s Garvie Smith Mysteries too.
At once hard-hitting and heart-stirring, Black Brother, Black Brother confirms Jewell Parker Rhodes as an exceptional writer whose work resonates with authenticity, empathy, and powerful truths about race and equality. One of the few black boys at his prestigious school, 7th grader Donte has a hard time of it, to say the least. “I wish I were invisible…Sometimes I feel like I’m swimming in whiteness. Most of the students at Middlefield Prep don’t look like me. They don’t like me either.” He’s singled out by teachers, and subjected to racist bullying by his classmates: “You dress thug”. “Your dreads are dreadful.” “Why can’t you be like your brother?” “Can your brother find you in the dark?” The brother in question is Trey, who presents as white and, as a result, occupies a very different place in the world. As Donte is arrested - for nothing - he experiences (yet again) that “Black is not invisible”. So, he resolves to get his own back on the student who got him in trouble, and the best way to do that is to beat the boy at his own game - fencing. Donte’s first-person narrative is pitch-perfect and incredibly powerful, and the brothers’ family life is beautifully portrayed too. Their dad is a computer architect whose family were “poor seafarers from Norway”. Their mom is a social justice lawyer whose family is “descended from captured Africans.” But despite the love and support of his brother and parents, Donte’s loneliness is powerfully palpable, especially when he’s suspended. This makes his determination to track down and learn from an African American Olympian fencer all the more moving, all the more inspiring. What an incredible tale of triumph and fortitude this is. Mention must also be made of the author’s afterword, in which she lays bare historic and cultural prejudices against darker skin, the falsehood of black/white categories, and her fascinating reasons for featuring fencing.
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.
The fourth book in Zanib Mian's laugh-out-loud series, with amazing cartoon-style illustrations. Perfect for fans of Tom Gates and Wimpy Kid. Zanib Mian is a World Book Day author for 2021 with her Planet Omar title, Operation Kind. Have you read the first book in the series, Accidental Trouble Magnet? LoveReading4Kids called it 'irresistible reading!'
Hilarious, illustrated school-based antics where everything that happens leads to DRAMA and RUNNING AROUND and even some FAINTING! Izzy and her friends are on a school trip to a big lake. Gary Petrie is excited because the lodges where they're staying have ROBES AND SLIPPERS! The lake is dark and deep and a bit scary. But it's when they open their packed lunches that they know! There's a MONSTER in the lake and it's coming for their CRISPS! Laugh-out-loud fun from Blue Peter Award winners Pamela Butchart and Thomas Flintham.
A group of children get together to turn a patch of waste ground into a playground. But their big plans are knocked off course when big feelings get in the way. What to do? ‘Talk it out, talk it through’ of course. After some straight talking, and some ‘sorrys’ the smiles are back and the kids are working together again. ‘Whatever we’re feeling, we’re never alone’ the story concludes and its message of empathy and problem-solving comes over loud and clear. The story works particularly well because the gang of children – different in every way – are so lively, appealing and real, and the playground they created a terrific reward for their hard work. This is a great book to inspire discussions around feelings, and the importance of listening and working together. Tom Percival’s Big Bright Feelings series is equally good for starting such discussions.
Boyce in renowned for the humour and empathy in his novels – and this latest is definitely one of the most entertaining, engaging and just plain fun stories. Noah accidently ends up stowing away on his big sister’s school geography field trip. The trip was planned to visit the Orinoco Wonder Warehouse in Letterkenny but, due to the teacher (Mr Merriman) programming the satnav wrongly, the mini-bus he’s driving ends up on an island – and what appears to be an uninhabited island at that! Mr Merriman eventually appears to notice the island they are on is not the trips original destination – and leaves the children on the minibus at the top of a cliff whilst he goes to investigate. Unfortunately, he forgets to apply the handbrake properly! Happily, children being children, they have descended from the minibus just before it falls over the cliff… Having set this wonderful scene we hear how the children survive through a series of amusing letters from Noah to his parents – which he posts in a letterbox on the island. Strangely – as there never appears to be a collection – he gets replies. Whilst on the island it appears that Noah has broken the internet, and no-one has a phone connection – so the children are thrown back on their own ingenuity to survive. Noah also finds a treasure map and they all set off in search of the treasure having adventures along the way. With such a complex plot, with so many threads, it would be so easy for any lesser novelist to lose control of some elements, but Cottrell-Boyce has no such worries and keeps the reader engaged at all times. The humour is laugh out loud funny, with a heart-warming group of characters who develop throughout the story. Highly recommended – an engaging read that will keep readers spellbound.
10-year-old Joy’s family have always travelled the world – Mum working as a nurse, Dad as a chef with Claude and Joy – sisters but totally different characters – until now. They have returned to the UK and are all crammed into Grandad’s house where normality reigns supreme! Both girls have to go to school – for the first time ever – and find it difficult to settle and find life as engaging as it used to be. Joy has always looked for silver-linings but at the moment she finds it incredibly hard to find any, until she meets Benny who becomes a firm friend. She and Benny met beneath an ancient tree in the school grounds – but then the local authority plans to tear the tree down. Can Joy find her silver-lining in such an awful plan? She and Benny start a fight for what they believe in – the future of the ancient tree. Written with all Valentine’s usual skill and empathy we are drawn into the world of Joy and her difficult transition to life without the globe-trotting. The characters are clearly drawn, with an authentic family dynamic. The perfect length for readers enjoying a longer read as their next step. This promises to be the first in a series, and I am sure Joy and her family, with their resilience and courage will have many fans.
Sonny is playing in the sandpit when he finds a little pink bunny, so soft, so cute, so cuddly. Meemo the dog notices but Sonny won’t share Bub-Bun with anyone, so when we discover on the next page that Bun-Bun is actually Boo’s much loved Suki, what will Sonny do? Fortunately for all concerned – and in a useful lesson for readers – it’s the right thing, though it does take a while …. Caryl Hart’s story is a wonderfully accurate and very funny depiction of toddler behaviour and Zachariah Ohora’s illustrations capture the various emotions on display perfectly.
Exploring a 17-year-old’s life-affirming reclamation of her life from ruthless bullies, this raw, true-to-life novel confirms Sara Barnard’s talent as a writer of immense heart. After years of horrific bullying, Peyton’s life was supposed to have been better at college. It was supposed to herald a fresh start away from school bullies. And - for a while, at least - life did seem to get better. Peyton found a friendship group for the first time in her life, but it’s not easy staying true to yourself when you fear you’ll lose those hard-found friends. Then a whopping wake-up call comes when her so-called buddies turn out to be anything but that. So, she takes flight to Canada, with only her beloved sketchbook for company. The novel’s smart structure slips from Peyton’s present-day Vancouver adventure back to earlier episodes that caused her to flee her old life - the ostracisation, the humiliations, the escalating bullying, her slippage into a reckless social life - and then a mortifying let-down that provides Peyton with a pivotal ‘enough is enough’ prompt. The author brilliantly (i.e. painfully) captures the agonies of friendlessness and the excruciating awkwardness of tentative attempts to make mates - so many scenes will have readers squirming in their seats. Then there’s the poignant portrayal of how needlessly cruel people can be, heart-cheeringly countered by Peyton’s newfound camaraderie in Canada. All of which makes for a thought-provoking, empathy-inducing experience. It’ll make you cry too - in a good way.
Fresh-voiced and thought-provoking contemporary YA exploring friendship, trust, messing up and trying to do the right thing in the aftermath of a teen girl going on the run with a teacher. Fabulously forthright Eden has always been the kind of student teachers “call ‘spirited’ when they're trying to be nice and 'disruptive' when they're not”. The last thing anyone expected was for her level-headed, flute-playing, star student bestie Bonnie to run off with the school music teacher, but that's exactly what happens, right before they're due to sit their GCSES, and Eden is the only one who knows where Bonnie is. She knows this is wrong, that Bonnie should come home, but she’s promised not to tell, and she can’t betray her friend. Bonnie was the one who made Eden feel at home in a new school when she was placed with a new foster family. Until Bonnie, Eden hadn't had a proper friend. And exploring friendship - how it feels, what it means, the joys, the obligations, the codes of loyalty - is at the heart of this involving novel. No one believes Eden when she says Bonnie hasn't been in touch, but how long can she keep lying? And what price will be paid for her loyalty, when she knows Bonnie is making a massive mistake? Alongside Eden’s struggle, understanding why Bonnie left is also thoughtfully explored - the pressures she put on herself to perform at school, the weight of expectation, the fears and doubts that made her more susceptible to grooming, the desire to feel understood. This novel tackles serious issues head-on, and with tremendous empathy, never shirking from the complexities of both Eden and Bonnie’s predicaments. Eden’s adoptive parents are a delight, as is her relationship with super-sweet boyfriend, Connor. They’re true friends, and the very model of a healthy relationship: loving, supportive and respectful of each other. Sara Bernard has done it again.
May 2021 Book of the Month | Ten-year-old Billie Upton Green opens up her doodle diary to readers, and what a treat it proves: a fabulously lively and idiosyncratic record of an eventful couple of weeks in her life. When a new girl joins her class, Billie is determined to make her feel welcome, even though Janey seems a bit of a show-off. She’s disconcerted that Janey doesn’t know what it means to be adopted, like Billie, or that you can have two mums, also like Billie. It gets harder to like Janey though when it appears she’s stealing Billie’s best friend, Layla. This also seems, to Billie, to put Janey in the frame for a sudden spate of thefts at their school, but the culprit is someone else altogether and by the end of the book, Billie, Layla and Janey are firm friends, the three of them performing a special dance at Billie’s mums’ wedding. Readers will love Billie’s adventures, and her funny, doodle-filled way of sharing them, as much as they love the Dork Diaries or Wimpy Kid stories, and it’s great too to see such a warm celebration of diverse family life.
Imagine what it would feel like to always be asked the same question, to only be seen for your disability? Well Joe is very cross about that- he just wants to play pirates and so he ignores the other children and eventually they become curious and eventually they all join in the imaginative game and great fun is had by all. In a letter to parents and careers at the end of the book the author tells us about losing his own leg and so we have no doubt that this reflects an authentic lived experience. He also gives wonderfully straightforward advice about the conversations parents can have with their own children about disability. This is the very opposite of a “worthy” issues-based book. It is a funny and very enjoyable read that will nevertheless perform an urgently needed task and generate very useful discussion at home and school. An absolute essential purchase for all schools and early years settings. Find more books with Positive Images of Disability.
Zoe Antoniades’ stories of twins Cally and Jimmy are fantastically lively and lots of fun. There are four separate self-contained stories in the book, each one narrated by Cally, as she watches, exasperated, while her minutes-younger brother gets into trouble again and again. She knows Jimmy can’t help it really – he has ADHD – and always sticks by him so that things have a habit of working out well in the end. Their Greek family, especially their Yiaiyia (Granny), are another of the joys of the book and one episode describes their trip to Cyprus, where Jimmy outdoes himself causing chaos. The stories are accessible, absolutely believable, and readers will feel by the end that they have a new set of friends. Highly recommended.
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