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The books in this section cover a range of PSHE topics including bullying, disability, family issues and adoption. There are both fiction and non-fiction titles and cover age ranges from Toddler to Older Teen.
February 2021 Book of the Month | A Tangle of Spells is book three in Michelle Harrison’s series of stories about the Widdershins sisters and just as magical as the first two, which is really saying something. The three girls have moved to a new village and though it seems idyllic, beneath the surface something dark is lurking. When eldest sister Fliss falls under a strange enchantment, it’s up to Betty and Charlie to save her and in the process to break the spell that’s affecting the whole of Pendlewick too. The story crackles with magic and just the right level of spookiness and jeopardy. The three sisters are some of the liveliest, most individual and most appealing characters you’re likely to meet, and reading about them is like being part of the family. For readers who love fairytale fantasy and adventure, it doesn’t come better than this.
November 2020 Book of the Month | Ayesha Harruna Attah’s The Deep Blue Between, her debut for younger readers, is a rich historical, dual-narrative story of the unbreakable bonds of sisterhood. With a steady, captivating style, it’s rich in details of everyday life in late-nineteenth-century West Africa and Brazil, and the broader cultural landscapes of the Gold Coast and South America. It’s a thoughtful - and thought-provoking - novel, threaded with love, hope and determination. “In 1892, when I was ten, I was forced to live on a land where the trees grew so close together, they sucked out my voice.” So Hassana sets the scene at the start of her story. Following a raid on her home, she’s been separated from her twin sister, Husseina, but senses they’ll find one another again. Even more so when she finds the protection of a stranger: “I was learning things from Richard that I was sure would make it easier to find Husseina. Richard had been in what he called “the Gold Coast” to study plants to find out what could be used to treat sicknesses. He was going to put everything he found in a book.” But the sisters’ paths take hugely divergent turns. While Hassana makes it to Accra, Husseina flees to Brazil, way across the deep blue ocean they both dream of. Fans of Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone will relish reading about West African religion and culture in this context, and it’s also highly recommended for readers who love Jamila Gavin’s elegant, character-driven historic fiction. It provides vital insights into the impacts of European imperialism, and the connections between Africans and Brazilians of African descent, through a distinctly moving human story.
Robert Starling’s little dragon Fergal has lots of fans and no wonder. His adventures are wonderfully accurate representation of everyday family life and will be recognisable to every toddler and parent. In this story, Fergal has become a big brother but the arrival of baby Fern is making him anxious, unsettled and angry. Things come to a head when a trip he’s been looking forward to has to be cancelled. Fortunately, Dad encourages Fergal to talk about how he’s been feeling and after that everything gets better. There’s a very useful message here and as ever Starling delivers it with charm, humour and sensitivity. This is another excellent book to share and absolutely essential if you’ve got a toddler and new baby.
September 2020 Book of the Month | Cally and Jimmy are twins but more different people it would be hard to meet. Cally is generally quiet and well-behaved, while Jimmy is anything but (his ADHD doesn’t help). It’s Cally who narrates the four separate stories contained in this very enjoyable new book, and she gives us a really good idea of what it’s like to live with the most-annoying-brother-in-the-whole-wide-world, describing the many times he gets them both into trouble, but she absolutely captures the fun they have together too. There’s a starring role for their wonderful grandma, or Yiayia as they know her (Mum is Greek) and just a lovely sense of this family. Recommended reading and hopefully there’ll be more adventures to come for the twins.
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2021 | Newbery Medal winner Rebecca Stead writes books that are rich with ideas and acknowledge her readers’ intelligence and intuition. Eight-year-old Bea is the central character in her latest novel, and, typically, there’s lots going on in her life. She divides her time between her mother’s and father’s homes following their divorce and visits a therapist who helps with her anxieties. The story culminates in her father’s wedding to his new partner, Jesse. As ever, we move back and forth in time, and discover much about Bea’s inner life as well as her daily routine in New York. Relationships with family and friends propel the story and there are some real shocks and surprises for readers, plus a gradual understanding of the things that will never change for Bea. It’s beautifully written, a thoughtful, sensitive account of growing up and growing resilience and trust. Fans of Rebecca Stead will also enjoy Kate DiCamillo’s books and Susin Nielsen’s.
March 2020 Book of the Month | The novel of The Crossover is a Newberry Medal Winner, and a Coretta Scott King Award Winner in the US and was Shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in the UK. This graphic novel version is the whole story complete with large and small two-coloured illustrations gracing every page. This is a deceptively simple read – a novel in verse about siblings getting through middle school, their lives, their crushes, their family interactions, and basketball. The boys are twins Josh and Jordan Bell, sons of a famous basketball player, and aiming to make a mark in the world of basketball. There are rivalries between the boys, they revel in their differences, but family holds them together whatever the world throws at them. The words and pictures work so well together, you will be on the edge of your seat, rooting for the team as they play and crying with the twins when thigs go awry. To tell such a complex story with so few words, with such emotional depth – Alexander is a master of devastating and uplifting storytelling. Anyabwile’s illustrations enhance a superb story – adding expressions and movement to an already great novel.
This collaboration, between the first American Olympic medallist to compete wearing a hijab and an award-winning Muslim YA author, is a beautiful story of sisterly love as well as a thoughtful depiction of the significance of wearing the hijab. Expressed in terms of family pride and self determination rather than in terms of faith, makes the message particularly accessible to all young readers regardless of their background. Faizah is excited for her first day of school, with her light up shoes and new backpack, but even more excited for her older sister, Asiya with her brand-new blue hijab. As Faizah walks to the school she admires her sister who looks like ‘a princess’ in her blue head scarf. Their mother has prepared the girls with wise words, which they remember as they encounter different reactions, and these are shown on dreamy spreads of Faiza’s thoughts and their mother’s words. When the kids in the school bully Asiya, she remembers her mother’s advice to not carry hurtful words as “they are not yours to keep. They belong only to those who said them” The bullies are cleverly depicted as faceless, raceless, anonymous shadows thus avoiding apportioning blame to any one sector. The vivid colour and expressive illustration are just as powerful as words in conveying the passionate message of how to be proud of one’s culture, individuality, and religion and how to stay strong protected by the armour of family love. This is an excellent book about identity and self-confidence for young readers who can see themselves in Asiya or know someone like her and essential for Empathy collections.
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.
July 2019 Debut of the Month | Caterpillar Summer is one of those apparently quiet books that actually have a huge and lasting impact on readers. It’s the story of Cat - Caterpillar - and her little brother Henry, nicknamed Chicken, and the three weeks they spend on holiday with the grandparents they’ve never met before on the North Carolina coast. The children’s father is dead and their mum works hard as a children’s book illustrator and lecturers to support them. Cat feels the weight of responsibility to help and in particular to look after her little brother who is autistic. When their planned holiday with friends falls through Mum has no option but to take them to stay with her parents, though she hasn’t spoken to her father since Cat was born. Living with Lily and Macon by the beach, Cat finds time to make friends and with her grandma taking care of Chicken, to think about what she needs. She’s also able to work out the issues between her mum and her grandad, who she’s come to love, and effect a reconciliation. The story is beautifully told, the landscapes both interior and exterior, perfectly described and it manages to be authentic and hopeful. Highly recommended. Andersen Press are particularly good at finding contemporary novels that give children the opportunity to consider what really matters - see also Susin Nielsen and Aoife Walsh.
March 2018 Debut of the Month | Highs, lows, love and laughter - this big-hearted circus-set debut has it all. Siblings Finch and Birdie Franconi are high-flying trapeze artists in their family circus school. They’re fearless in flight, and also in fashion. Their no-nonsense attitude and endlessly inventive ensembles of bright blazers, tutus, paisley print, polka print and outlandish accessories certainly make them stand-out at school, and also attracts the attention of brainy new boy Hector. Reluctant at first, Finch agrees to teach seemingly hapless Hector circus skills, but when Birdie has an accident on the trapeze, his world begins to unravel. Finch feels fear for the first time, and it falls to Hector to show him that the show must go on. Alongside the tension and turmoil around Birdie’s condition, and the radiant razzle-dazzle of the circus, there’s a magnificent (if rocky-roaded) romance, and many words of wisdom come courtesy of Birdie’s blog posts: “You can’t control everything. That’s where courage comes in; sometimes you have to just go for it”. Complex questions are put under the spotlight as the main characters try to navigate their way in the world, wondering who they are, who they should be, how they fit in, and these big issues are all explored with clarity, humour and a whole of lot of heart beneath Franconi’s exhilarating Big Top. ~ Joanne Owen
As the mother of a child who refused to be separated ever from a much-loved ‘blankie’, this story struck a real chord, and I know I won’t be alone in that. Bella goes everywhere and does everything with her blanket, from painting and sticking to jumping in puddles. When her new baby brother tries to take it for himself she’s not happy, but quickly realises she just needs to teach him to love his own blanket until it’s as grubby and comforting as hers. This is a lovely book for parents and children to share, and especially good to read with new big sisters or brothers. Illustrator Kate Alizadeh’s splotchy illustrations capture all the joyful exuberance and messiness of the early years.
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