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The books in this section cover a range of PSHE topics including bullying, disability, family issues and mental health. There are both fiction and non-fiction titles and cover age ranges from Toddler to Older Teen.
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.
In a medieval land where dinosaurs still roam, lowly stable boy Henry Fairchild joins the brave Dino Knights and rides into adventure on the back of a T-Rex. A fast-paced action adventure series about bravery, friendship, and being your best self.
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.
Stuck inside and feeling blue with nothing do to? No problem! With a dash of imagination, everyone’s home and outdoor objects can be transformed into the stuff of adventures, as toddler Tilly and puppy Toby discover in this charismatic picture book that wears its message on its sleeve - “all the fun of outside was already inside their minds”. With Toby confined to the house on account of his poorly paw, and Tilly stuck inside due to a brewing storm, both of them are feeling pretty despondent. Toby paces back and forth by the door while Tilly gazes sadly outside at the “dark, gathering clouds,” until Toby brings her his lead and she’s struck by inspiration. Together they explore every nook and cranny of their house for “all their outdoor belongings,” discovering lots of toys they’d long forgotten about, from roller skates and balls, to bicycles and an old paddling pool. These objects are quickly transformed into the “most amazing, astounding, and spectacular Dog-Walking, Storm-Protecting Machine,” no less! I loved the retro soft-but-scratchy illustrative style that put me in mind of the original 1970s Topsy and Tim books, and the book’s message of having adventures at home has resonance beyond its current COVID-19 relevance - it’s a perennial theme, here delivered through an upfront story with enduring visual charm.
Not since Adrian Mole opened his diary have the thoughts and innermost feelings of an adolescent boy been examined so precisely or with such heart. Stan is twelve, shy and a worrier, so the thought of a holiday in Italy with his friend Felix and Felix’s family freaks him out. He’s going though: we meet him at the airport drawing up a ‘duck-it’ list of things he hopes he’ll never have to do. Little does he know that he’ll tick off six out of ten of them on his holiday, and enjoy it too. The first-person narrative lets us in on all Stan’s thoughts, but he’s a good observer of others so we learn loads about the others in the holiday party too, kids and grown-ups. There are laugh-out-loud scenes and moments of pure agony, and through it all Stan is learning loads about himself and life in general. Honest, revealing, compassionate and so entertaining, this is a must read for all the Stans out there – adults, give yourselves a treat and read it too.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month April 2021 | Award-winning writers for adults, Zadie Smith and Nick Laird have now created a perfectly crafted picture book that is simple in its telling and strong in its message. When Maud arrives as a surprise for Kit’s birthday she is treated with great suspicion by the pets who are already in residence. Since she is not like them - a cat, a bird or a pug dog - they are swift to deem her to be a weirdo. Briefly, Maud tries to fit in before taking herself on a life-changing adventure in which she soon discovers that being yourself is far, far more important than fitting in. Magenta Fox’s gentle illustrations are the perfect foil to this punchy celebration of individuality.
Selected for The Book Box by LoveReading4Kids | 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.
‘Dream big, little one’ is the message in this beautiful picture book, and it offers so many dreams to follow. They are wild, liberating and oh, so inspiring, invitations to be a star-gazer, trail-blazer; a fierce freedom-leader, a bold self-believer; a keeper of kindness and champion of change. The illustrations – vibrant and lively in a rich, warm palette – show young girls exploring the world and vividly express the hopes and joy contained in the text. Striking to look at and exhilarating to read aloud, this is very special and a lovely book to give to any little girl.
February 2021 Book of the Month | Old Macdonald had a phone, e-i-e-i-o. Very useful it is too, helping him get organised and run the farm. But then he drops it in the lake, and when ordering a replacement, accidentally buys 100. The animals all take one, and chaos ensues. They are all so busy on their phones – here a tweet, there a chat – that nothing gets done and Old Macdonald has no milk, or eggs to sell. Fortunately, he finds a solution, and everyone lives happily – a chat-chat here, and a selfie there, but not all day – that seems fair! It’s another clever, very funny cautionary tale for our online times from the brilliant duo of Willis and Ross. The rhymes make it bliss to read aloud, and the illustrations are a spritely delight. Funny, clever and we can all learn from it – what more could you ask? Smiley face. Look out too for the other books in this fabulous series, Chicken Clicking, Troll Stinks and #Goldilocks.
January 2021 Book of the Month | Worries – they’re easy to acquire and then, before you know it, they’ve taken over and are with you all the time, interrupting your fun, spoiling playtime, keeping you awake at night. Don’t worry though, help is at hand. The little boy in this story takes his Worry to a Worry Expert who has lots of advice and suggestions that successfully send the Worry away, even though it has got really big. The Worry is portrayed as a colourful, lively scribble, cheerful and smiling though clearly a real pest. The approach taken will help children prone to worrying feel they’re not alone and the Worry Expert’s advice will work for everyone. Written in a fluid rhyming text and with bold, child-friendly illustrations, this is a great book to share and will be really helpful for anxious children. You can find more books on this theme in our Anxiety & Wellbeing collection.
Selected for The Book Box by LoveReading4Kids | Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2021 | The fragility of life underpins this heart-warming story from the start. Louie was born prematurely “a pitiful, scrawny, struggling thing”. Newcomer Nora lost a premature baby brother and this experience has left her anxious and slow to trust. The two children bond over Winslow, a frail orphaned baby donkey, not expected to survive, whom Louie adopts despite his poor track record with saving bugs, worms or goldfish. For both, saving the adorable Winslow helps them to feel less powerless about underlying anxieties, such as Louie’s fears for his beloved brother serving in the army who now signs his infrequent letters “remember me”. Carnegie medal winning Creech packs a real emotional punch into so few words of beautifully spare prose. This short novel would be an ideal read aloud with delightfully humorous scenes as Winslow grows stronger (and louder) as well as great pathos and a dramatic and satisfying climax. It is set in an unspecified past and would be a wonderful companion read to Charlotte’s Web or Eva Ibbotson’s One Dog and His Boy and is as deserving of classic status.
January 2021 Book of the Month | Everyone struggles to cope with their emotions, but it’s especially difficult for young children who often lack the vocabulary to express how they are feeling, even to themselves. Fearne Cotton is both a mum and a champion of mental health and wellbeing and her book cleverly provides children with practical ways to learn about their feelings and through that to understand why they feel the way they do, and to deal with emotions such as anger, sadness and anxiety. It does this through fun and engaging interactive exercises, which allow children to be creative and to play even as they work out what’s going on in their heads. It’s a book that very many parents will welcome and it will be a real boost for lots of children. Congratulations to Fearne Cotton for the lightness of touch she brings, and for keeping it all so friendly and accessible. Other useful books in this area include the new Happy Healthy Minds series edited by Alain de Botton for The School of Life, and for children even younger, we recommend Eva Eland’s award winning When Sadness Comes to Call and the follow up Where Happiness Begins. And you can also find a selection of books, to help build confidence and self-esteem, here.
Following the critically acclaimed Stepsister, this is the Carnegie medal winning authors second ‘ feminist’ fairytale and one that could not be more pertinent to our times. The heart is a powerful symbol and princess Sophie has continually been told that she is too weak, too kind-hearted, too emotional to ever be queen. This is the ‘poison’ which has been constantly dripped into her ear sapping her confidence and self-belief. So far, so familiar, but what makes this tale so psychologically engrossing is that we see the effect of ‘poison’ on the wicked stepmother too. The author refuses to believe that an all-powerful queen would really be bothered by the trifling concerns of beauty and the question to the mirror becomes ‘who will bring about my fall?’ Adelaide is herself the victim of patriarchy and a cruel childhood and it is the King of Crows, the embodiment of Fear, that speaks to her from the mirror and manipulates the attacks on Sophie. With the familiar elements of the fairy tale fleshed out and the alternative 17th century Germanic setting vividly peopled by creatures both whimsical and deadly and with marvellous new characters like Will the archer and Arno the grave robber to educate Sophie about social justice and to support her quest to become the true queen to protect her people, this is a hugely engrossing and beautifully written tale. Its message that kindness and love have the power to defeat cruelty and pain empowers all girls to value their own strength and to let no one’s poisonous words destroy them. Highly recommended.
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