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October 2019 Book of the Month | New Yorker Leah is a tenacious, snarky queen of quips. She’s also an exceptional chess player but decides to give up the game after losing a match that, had she won, would have seen her move up the rankings to grandmaster status. Feeling the pressure of her mom and coach, feeling that she’s let down her beloved dad, she decides to get a tattoo, “proving to myself and the world that there is life after chess and that I’m not just a pawn for other people to push around.” Leah’s certainly not a girl given to being pushed around but, with the skills of a master weaver, the author sensitively shows how grief’s deep wounds underpin her anger and tendency to drive people away. When her tattoo plan is foiled by one of her blog readers, Kit, who makes big bucks from illegal chess hustling, Leah winds up making a thousand dollars in a couple of hours. It’s through the police busting one of the illegal games that she finds out about chessboxing, “the ultimate contest of brains and brawn”. The thrill Leah feels for this hybrid sport’s speed and tension is palpable, and she’s a natural at it too, with her boxing coach praising her exceptional resilience: “You never know what’s inside a fighter until they’re flat out on the canvas”, a perceptive comment that encapsulates Leah’s story journey. She’s grappling with grief, but making emotional breakthroughs and learning new skills, to the point that she’s ready to fight Death (a formidable champion chessboxer) in Vegas. With a truly pulse-quickening climax, this exceptional novel rages with raw emotion. It’s a bona fide page-turner seared with life-affirming insights into grief, friendship and finding new paths.
October 2019 Book of the Month | Here’s another inspiring, information-packed picture book in what’s becoming something of a series (see also Great Women Who Made History and Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World). It tells the stories of pioneering women who achieved amazing things, often in the face of prejudice or downright hostility from society. There are familiar names – Rosalind Franklin is included – plus lots that are lesser known, but just as fascinating: balloonist Sophie Blanchard for example, and Sarah Breedlove, beauty entrepreneur. Their stories are told through lively, engaging text and pictures, it’s a treat to read. Kate Pankhurst is something of a fantastically great woman herself, and there’s lots for all readers to marvel at and enjoy in this book.
Ordinary Kids with Extraordinary Stories | Young people looking for inspiration will find it in the true stories told in this book. In punchy, direct text and eye-catching illustrations it introduces 29 young people who have each done something extraordinary and overcome the challenges facing them. Some of them are famous already, their names known across the world: Malala Yousafzai, Greta Thunberg. Other names are less well known but their stories are just as inspirational: Ayesha Farooq, Pakistan’s first female fighter pilot; young Malawian inventor William Kamkwamba. Alongside their stories are tips for readers on how to get your voice heard or, accompanying stories of amazing physical feats, how to push yourself beyond what you think is possible. It’s a book to show just how much can be achieved with courage and determination.
September 2019 Debut of the Month | Jo is the kind of open, honest, amusing character readers immediately care about. Told through her wittily illustrated diary, Jo’s tale begins with a(nother) upheaval. She and her family have just moved to their new Chinese takeaway, but her hopes for a fresh start are immediately dashed when she sees there’s no living room, and she has to share a room with little sister Bonny while big brother Simon lives with their grandparents. Jo’s experience of feeling “doubly different” is poignantly portrayed – she’s an outsider at school because she’s Chinese, and an outsider among her wider Chinese family because her own family is dysfunctional, and because she doesn’t speak the same language. Thank goodness, then, that she forms a friendship with fellow outcast, Tina the Goth, who stands up to racist school bullies. But while Jo begins to feel hopeful about her future and takes steps towards realising her dream of working in fashion, she and Bonny are increasingly neglected by their parents, and then there’s Dad’s aggressive outbursts. The mid-1980s setting prompts many amusing references, from ra-ra skirts and Gary Kemp’s perm, to sending drawings to Take Hart and going to Wimpy for a Knickerbocker Glory - but above all this is a highly readable, highly empathetic, impactful novel about familial abuse and neglect, trying to fit in, and finding your way in the world. Based on her own experiences, author Sue Cheung’s big-hearted story will chime with readers of 12+ who know how it feels to fall between cracks and dream of a different life.
There are life lessons galore for young readers of this hugely appealing picture book. Little dragon Fergal is a bit anxious about going off to summer camp – he’s never been before – and when he arrives, he’s so determined to make his mark that he doesn’t notice he’s being a bit selfish and upsetting the other little dragons. Fortunately, the camp leader can sort things out and give Fergal some useful advice: he needn’t be best at everything, he just needs to relax and be himself and everything else will follow. It’s an important message for all young children and it’s fun to learn it with Fergal and his little friends, as colourful and companionable a group as you could hope to meet. Look out for the first Fergal story too, Fergal is Fuming, which is just as good at prompting conversations about feelings and behaviour.
Poems to help you change the world | Highlighted as a recommended read for National Poetry Day (3rd October), three of our best poets for children come together in this excellent new anthology with a challenge for their young audience: go out and help change the world. Alongside poems on the many threats to the environment and the natural world are poems that pose ‘tricky questions’ about how we choose to live. There are poems to make children laugh, to inspire them and inform them; above all here are poems that will provoke a reaction. It might be something practical, like deciding to change the contents of your lunchbox, or it might mean making a change to the way you understand the world. It ends with Liz Brownlee’s quiet but powerful poem ‘Snow’, a beautiful example of how the smallest things can effect change.
Sometimes life can be pretty amazing. But other times it feels like: A. Your heart and stomach have been steamrolled into a grisly organ pancake B. You are being put through an emotional spiralizer that creates human courgetti C. Both of the above. You're a courgetti pancake. No, Instagram filters won't make it look any better. And, yes, we all feel this way. An honest, thoughtful and hilarious survival guide for young people by social media sensation, Lex Croucher. Learn that you can face whatever today throws at you, because it has terrible aim anyway. And realise that only you scrutinise your flaws - seriously, no one else is paying attention, there's far too much interesting stuff on Netflix. A must-read for anyone who wants to embrace their actual, real, unedited life. Just always remember ... YOU'RE CRUSHING IT. Lex Croucher's frank and candid text is THE survival guide to help you make it through the crazy, topsy-turvy, whirlwind ride we call life. Brace yourself! Topics include: family and friends, body confidence, technology and social media, relationships, mental health, success and more.
16-year-old Holly feels like an outsider, except when she’s swimming at her local pool: “Under the surface, deep in the blue-lit water, nobody can see me. There’s nobody to judge the clothes I wear, or the way my hair frizzles”. It’s at the pool she meets Ed, who’s “not like the boys at school who are either geeky or cocky and smart-arsed and think they’re all that. He’s different”. While romantic feelings, evoked in all their dizzying wonder, swell poolside, at home the seas are stormier. Struggling with depression, Holly’s mum has “become so inward-looking that she hasn’t a clue what I do with my time”. But as Holly’s home-life begins to brighten, Ed reveals that he’s grappling with a serious domestic situation of his own. Warm-hearted, highly readable and romantic, with the bleaker elements of both teenagers’ lives handled with a sensitive lightness of touch, readers will undoubtedly root for Holly and Ed to find their happy ever after.
Miss Charlotte - the new coach of a children's football team - has some odd methods to prepare them for the big match. She decides to teach them to lose! And to have fun. Incredibly, it seems to work, as the kid who was always useless on the pitch suddenly scores a screamer in practice. But will their hopes of victory be dashed when the ambitious star player decides to join the other team?
We all want our children to be happy and resilient, but may not realise that they can be taught skills to make them happier people. Written by a psychologist with the charity Action for Happiness, this book explains ten keys to happier living and sets out practical, fun activities for children to do that will make a real and lasting difference to their lives. The text is friendly and reassuring, broken down into easily accessible paragraphs or charts while bright graphics with animated characters make it attractive to look at too. Each of the ten chapters has tips for children to use in their everyday lives, including a section on developing mindfulness. Happiness really matters, and the more children and adults who read this book, the better. ~ Andrea Reece
So, how did a slightly bonkers misfit with anorexia, bulimia and anxiety decide to solve their problems? I became a model. As you do. Charli Howard had always wanted to be normal - but for some reason, she couldn't quite find out how to do it. As a teenager, she felt like the only one who struggled with anxiety and self-esteem issues when everyone around her seemed to fit in. So she tried to embrace standing out: by becoming a model. Believing it would make her happy and envied, she set out single-mindedly to make it - and she achieved her dream. But the reality wasn't quite as glamorous as she'd hoped. The pressure on Charli to look a certain way took an extreme toll on her body and self-image, and no matter how thin she got, she was never thin enough. When Charli, though medically underweight, was fired by her modelling agency for being too big, she decided she'd had enough. She used her platform for good and spoke out about the insane standards of the modelling industry, whose images influence young women and girls all over the world. Now, Charli is comfortable in her skin for the first time ever, working happily as a plus sized model in New York. Here, she shares her journey, from anorexic and bulimic teenager to happy, healthy twenty-something.
If anyone can teach young people how to best understand themselves and their world it’s Gemma Cairney. There are lots of good self-help and advice books but Open Your Heart stands out because of Cairney’s honesty and because of her brilliant, direct voice. Reading it is like being in the same room as her and leaves you feeling more positive, more confident, readier to accept yourself for who you are. It’s divided into two sections: your heart, and your body and soul, and covers topics from family and friends to body image, sex and sexual health. Information is provided by experts, often in the form of interviews by Gemma, all interspersed with her own knowledge and experiences, as well as what she’s learned as Radio 1 agony aunt. A properly invaluable book. ~ Andrea Reece
This collection features poems by three of our best-known and best-loved children’s poets, Liz Brownlee, Matt Goodfellow and Roger Stevens. Between them, using a range of poetic styles and voices, they cover lots of topics – friendship and togetherness, difference, tolerance, bullying. Some of the poems make their point through humour while others, particularly those about the refugee experience, are necessarily bleaker; some even contain direct advice about where to go or who to turn to in specific situations. All do what poetry does best, that is they will make readers think, engage and look at things, even situations or feelings that may be really familiar, with new eyes. An excellent collection that will be read and read again. ~ Andrea Reece
A new story about Willy the chimp is always exciting. Willy is off to the park when he notices a cloud following him. No matter how hard he tries he can’t escape it, and while everyone else is having fun, Willy sits and shivers. The police can’t help, and hiding inside just gets him hot and bothered. Only when Willy shouts at the cloud do things improve: in the resulting cloudburst Willy dances in the delicious cool rain, joyful and Fred Astaire-like! Browne is an extraordinarily adept storyteller and this funny, wry story explores feelings of anxiety and apprehension. As ever there’s so much to look at in the surreal illustrations, and children will discover more in each reading. ~ Andrea Reece
We’re all different: some of us like running, some of us like sleeping, some of us like being cheeky; some of us don’t like being on our own, or making lots of noise, but that’s just how people are, and it’s fine, just as it’s fine for Jackson to like bees, but not honey. This bright, attractive picture book uses children’s own words alongside lively illustrations to make important points about confidence, self-awareness and the value of personal opinion. Royalties will go to the NSPCC who have given this important little book their backing. ~ Andrea Reece
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