Information in November

November is the month in which UK books celebrate ‘Non-fiction November’ which is sponsored by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.  It is brilliant to see the resurgence of interest in this area and also the development of some truly excellent  publishers, bringing new ways of presenting information to young readers.

 

“Frida Kahlo” by Lucy Brownridge and Sandra Dieckmann is a wonderful  evocation of the artist’s life and art, aimed at younger children.  I have loved her work for a long time, but seeing the exhibition about her life at the V&A in 2018 really brought home how amazing she was.  This book  mentions her health issues but does not go in to tremendous detail, rather it focuses on her development as an artist and the influence she has had outside Mexico.  Sandra Dieckmann has done a tremendous job with the illustrations, bringing her own touches to the work whilst also paying ‘homage’ to Kahlo’s own style.  This will make a tremendous addition to any primary school.

“I’m not (very) afraid of the Dark” by Anna Milbourne and Daniel Rieley is a delightful look at coping with a fear of the dark.  The young hero  finds that he is a ‘bit’ afraid of the dark because of the shadows and various sounds that he cannot identify.  So when his father takes him on an overnight camping trip he is really worried by the idea of the dark.  However he has a revelation when it is truly dark; for it is then that he can really see all the stars in the night sky.  This is a story of finding the beautiful and positive in something that we are not sure about and it is great for young readers.  There are lovely illustrations and a really imaginative use of cutouts in many of the pages, which brings everything to life.

“The Usborne book of Night time” by Usborne and Bonnie Pang  is aimed at younger children, perhaps up to lower KS2.  It takes the concept of night and then gives us a double page spread to look at the various elements that make up the night.  There are factories and cities, the sea and the sky, nocturnal animals, northern lights and different parts of the world; all of these are working while we are sleeping.  This is a great introduction to understanding our world and can lead on to some really fascinating discoveries for the young readers.

“Apes to Zebras” by Liz Brownlee, Sue Hardy-Dawson and Roger Stevens is a collection of poetry, but importantly it is an A-Z of shape poetry.  I think most of us find writing poetry quite challenging, so to find that these poets have created stunning work and all in the shape of various animals is quite amazing.  The layout of the book and the simple use of colour really helps the words and shapes stand out but it is the imagination of the writers that really makes this book so stunning.

“Boy oh Boy” by Cliff Leek and Bene Rohlmann  is a look at 30  men, both living and dead, who have had an impact on the way that we look at men and our expectations of them. Many of these people are household names, but others have not made headlines outside their immediate areas, yet they have had an effect on the way that people think and behave and they have even changed the laws of the land.  These people are from around the world and from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, which shows that everyone has the potential to be great.  The illustrations are very bright and strong and are somewhat 1950s in style, making the work stand out from others.  After so many books about strong females recently it is good to see a book that looks at broadening the range of biographies.

“The book of Big Science Ideas” by Freya Hardy and Sara Mulvanney  is an introduction to many different concepts that we find in science.  The book is divided into different subject areas and gives us a double page spread of ‘big thinkers’ in that area and then it looks at the development of our knowledge.  Subjects covered vary from the periodic table, animal classification, and astronomy to computers, big data, and renewable energy.  Whilst this does not have an index it does have a good glossary which will help the readers understand the new terms thy come across.

I am looking forward to investigating some more new information books when I make a visit to Peters booksellers next week. I am sure that I will see some wonderful books and hope to tell everyone about them very soon.

Festivals galore

Autumn is definitely the time for festivals and usually a conference or two.  This year  I have just been to Cheltenham and also Bath, where I have been helping out for 13 years – I don’t know where the time has gone.

The start off was in Bath and I spent Saturday the 28th Sept over at the Guildhall helping with two of the very popular events.  The first of these was with the current Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell and it was a total sellout in the Banqueting Room.  300 eager fans and parents were in the room to hear Cressida talk about her writing journey, how to train your dragon and particularly about the latest volume in the series ‘Wizards of Once’, which is called “Knock Three Times”.  The signing queue was enormous and took nearly two hours for everyone to speak to Cressida, get their books signed and have photos taken.  We just managed to get things tidied when it was time for our second speaker of the day to start her signing session.  This was the wonderful Emma Carroll, who has become one of our brightest lights when it comes to historical novels for the middle grade audience.  This latest book has a very local feel, not least because Emma lives in Somerset; it is called  “The Somerset Tsunami” and is based on a true event that took place in January 1607 (Gregorian calendar) and which affected large parts of the county as well as the area around Newport in South Wales.  I remember seeing a programme about this many years ago and can’t wait to read her version of events.  Once again the room was packed full of eager readers and then another long queue formed to get books signed.   I was also lucky enough to see the amazing Chris Mould in the Green Room, although his session about his new illustrated version of Ted Hughes’ “The Iron Man” was not until after I had left.  However I hear great reports about it and gather there was even a surprise appearance by the  totally unique Chris Riddell, who was doing his own event about “Guardians of Magic”, the first in a new series called the ‘Cloud Horse Chronicles’. By the time I left, tiredness was beginning to set in, but it had been a great day.

After this I had a bit of a rest but on Tuesday I was back in Bath.  The first event was at the Central Library and was a craft and reading session with Tracey Corderoy, when she was talking to some very young children and their parents about her book “The One-Stop Story Shop”, illustrated by Tony Neal.  There were rhymes, props, singing and lots of glitter and glue.  I was amazed by how well prepared Tracey was.  There were pre-cut templates, packs of sequins, paper and all the things that were needed, so we didn’t have to go hunting around.  This really did make for a stress free event.  She also told us about her latest picture book called “Mouse’s Night Before Christmas”, which I have already bought and which will be in the Christmas round up.  After this lovely session (which really took me back to the days in a public library) I went down to the Guildhall for my second event.  This was with the lovely Abi Elphinstone and she had a couple of hundred school children enthralled by her talk about her books, but particularly about “Rumblestar” the first in a magical new series called  ‘The Unmapped Chronicles‘.  This was an excellent event which the children loved, although I think being shown her very own home-made catapult might have made quite a large impression.  This is yet another young writer who is taking the book world by storm and I look forward to following her books over the coming years.

My third day at the festival was on Sunday 6th October and it was the finale of the whole event.  As usual there were more people that I wanted to see than I was actually able to get to, but it was a fabulous time.  I started off with the wonderful Robin Stevens who was talking about her books ‘Murder Most Unladylike’ and particularly about the new title “Top Marks for Murder”, which once again sees her heroines Daisy and Hazel back at school and facing yet another murder mystery.  The idea for the story came to her when she was standing on Bath railway station and saw a couple of people on the hill in the distance; it made her think about seeing a murder, but not being close enough to recognize the murderer and so the plot was conceived.  Robin has built up a following of avid readers and they were out in force to get their books signed, some of them bringing their complete collections.  I was then scheduled to help with the “Horrid Henry” session with Francesca Simon, which was a packed event and there were loads of excited fans wanting to find out about their unlikely hero.  Once again the queues were long and everyone wanted their books signed.  I managed to dash downstairs to try and get some books signed by the speakers for another event.  They were Catherine Fisher, author of “Clockwork Crow” and “Velvet Fox” and P.G. Bell who wrote“The Train to Impossible Places” and now has “The Great Brain Robbery”.  I managed to meet Catherine and get my books signed but unfortunately  Peter Bell had already left the building.  Never mind, I will catch up with him eventually and the books will gain his signature.

Anyway this saw the end of the festival for this year but as the saying goes “I’ll be back” next year I hope.  In the meantime I have also been spending time at Cheltenham Literary Festival, but only in the audience.

I attended it on Saturday 5th October, so I had a double dose of book events that weekend.  The first event was Robin Stevens, something that I had booked before I found that I was stewarding for her the following day.  Whilst it was great for me to be able to see and hear her talk to different groups, I must apologise to Robin for popping up all over the place.  What was great was to see how she tailored her talks to suit the audience and the length of time that was available at each venue.  This event was definitely larger than in Bath and lasted an hour, so there was more time for questions from her adoring fans.  What we all discovered was that the Cheltenham audience is quite politically minded and when asked to come up with plots and characters for a murder mystery they chose the House of Commons and some well known politicians !!  Thankfully this was all fiction.  My second event was a panel session called “The Ultimate Guide to Writing for Children”.  It consisted of the iconic Barry Cunningham, founder of Chicken House Publishers and discoverer of the “Harry Potter “series, Alex O’Connell from ‘The Times’, Nikesh Shukla from the Good Literary Agency and Jasbinder Bilan, the author of “Asha and the Spirit Bird” (and previous winner of the Times Children’s Fiction Competition).  This was definitely one for the adults, something that was reflected by the lack of young people in the audience, although the Pillar Room was crammed full of excited adults, some of whom definitely wanted to have their work published.  The talk itself was stimulating and reminded me that I have been very lucky over the years to meet many people in publishing, all of whom are generous with their knowledge and experience.

My next visit to Cheltenham was on Saturday 12th and one again I had two very special events to attend.  Both of them were panel events although the themes were very different from each other.  The first discussion was entitled “70 years of Children’s Books” and was chaired by the totally amazing Daniel Hahn (editor of “Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature” and prolific translator and reviewer); he was talking to Alex O’Connell, Mat Tobin (Oxford Brookes University) and Clare Pollard, the author of  “Fierce Bad Rabbits”, a truly delightful look at picture books.  Each of the participants had to choose one title from each of the last seven decades and it was brilliant to see the range that they came up with.  Many of the titles I am glad to say were old favourites, some I really must get around to reading and one or two were new to me.  The panel also chose a title that they thought might prove to be future classics and although I have not read one of them yet, I think that they are definitely worthy of this accolade.  They are  “Bearmouth” by Liz Hyder, “Julian is a Mermaid” by Jessica Lowe, “Skylark’s War” by Hilary McKay and “Town is by the Sea” by Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith.   The second event of the day was entitles “Mysterious Places” and it had been guest curated by Robin Stevens, although she was not able to attend and the wonderful and talented Katherine Woodfine took the role of chair, as well as being one of the authors, talking about “Spies in St Petersburg”.  The other speakers were Dominique Valente with her book “Starfell”, which was about magic and what happens when a particular day ceases to exist; Dave Shelton with the first in a series of adventures featuring “Emily Lime, Librarian Detective” and Polly Yo-Hen with her latest novel “Where Monsters Lie”.  They spoke about their individual books and specifically how they created the characters and situations, but they also talked about other recent books that they have been influenced by.  This was an event that was definitely loved by the young audience and hopefully they will have added some new titles to their reading lists.  The great thing about such panels is that you might go to hear a particular author but you then discover that you might enjoy books by the other participants.

That was my final event for this year but I am already looking forward to the various events for next year.  There are also a few book launches in the offing, so I hope that I be able to report on some of them.  The thing to remember is that these book events are for everyone and it is a total delight to be surrounded by so many enthusiastic readers, especially the young ones.

Picture books for Summer – Part 1

“The Golden Cage” by Anna Castagnoli and Carll Cneut can only be described as a stunning piece  of art, but it is also a salutatory lesson in how not to behave towards humans and birds.  The story itself is a cautionary tale of a very nasty princess who loves collecting birds, but kills off servants who don’t bring her exactly what she wants.  This is very much about what happens when there are no rules, because Princess Valentina is totally spoiled and no one tells her that there are limits on what is possible.  The illustrations are amazing; they are vibrant, sophisticated, full of emotion and bring the story to life.  There is a very limited colour palette and the strong use of the colour yellow highlights the title of the book and the importance of the ‘golden cage’ as the place where her most treasured acquisition will be held captive.  The ending of this fairy tale has been left open, so that we can imagine a variety of plots, to suit our mood.  Somehow this reminds me of the Brothers Grimm and I think it will be a great read with older children despite the small amount of text.

“Tomorrow” by Nadine Kaadan is a story about living in a war zone and there are moments when it is quite heartbreaking.  The young hero Yazan loves going to the park to play but life suddenly changes and he doesn’t know why.  He gets bored not going to school, not meeting his friends and not going out to play, so one day he decides to take his bike to the park; but nothing is as it should be and thankfully his father finds him before anything happens. The illustrations often have a darkness about them that reflects the reality of life that the family are living and Yazan is shown as being a very young child caught up in a dangerous world. This thought provoking book really adds to the collection that is developing and which helps young children understand what it has been like to live in some of the war zones around the world.  It will also hopefully help them develop their empathy with those who have lost their homes and had to move to another country.

“Julian is a Mermaid” by Jessica Love is a delightful story about being true to yourself and about others accepting that we are all different.  When Julian is walking home with his grandma they see a group of ladies dress as mermaids and Julian decides that he want to be one too.  At home he finds an assortment of clothes to help in his transformation and even put on some make-up.  His Nana reacts in a very supportive way and gives him a bead necklace to finish his look and then they go off on a walk.  During this stroll they see a range of very individual and vibrantly dressed people and finally they start to see lots of mermaids; much to Julian’s delight.  This is actually a carnival and people are allowing themselves the pleasure of dressing up.It is a delightful way to show the way that a wide range of people can live in harmony and enjoy life.

“Somebody swallowed Stanley” by Sarah Roberts and Hannah Peck is a very unusual but very relevant look at plastic waste and the effect on the sea.  Stanley is a striped plastic bag and he finds himself blown into the sea where he is in turn swallowed by a Whale, Seagulls and a Turtle; luckily they were able to free themselves, but the Turtle need the help of a young boy.  The boy then tells Stanley that he should not be in the sea, because creatures think he looks like a jellyfish.  The boy then turns Stanley into a kite which is much more appropriate.  This is a very simple story but it acts as a perfect introduction to looking at our environment as well as being a great story.

“Clem and Crab” by Fiona Lumbers is another story that helps us look at our environment and in particular the issues that we find along our beaches.  Clem loves visiting the beach with her sister and fishing around in the rock pools, searching for wildlife.  One day she finds a small crab and although she puts it back into the water, it somehow manages to get caught in her clothing and end off back in the city.  Clem would love to keep her new friend but knows it must be returned to the beach; but how can she help make that a safe place for the crab?  This is a lovely book at friendship and helping others and would be fantastic if you were planning on visiting the seaside.

“I am a Tiger” by Karl Newson and Ross Collins  is a delightful story of a mouse who wants everyone to believe that he is a tiger.  The absurdity of such a claim becomes apparent as he wanders along and meets a wide range of animals, none of which are correctly identified; this leads them to be sad and frustrated as they try and make this small creature understand who they are.  In some ways this has the feel of the Gruffalo as the mouse is walking though the landscape and is telling ‘stories’ to the animals he sees.  It is also a story about identity and perhaps about not being limited by our physical appearance.  Most of us know who we are but often like to imagine that we have a different persona.   I am delighted to find that a follow up called “I am not an Elephant” is scheduled to be published early in 2020, I can’t wait to read this as well.

“Walk on the Wild Side” by Nicholas Oldland is the third in a series of adventures featuring Moose, Bear and Beaver.  In this story they decide to climb a mountain, but find that it is much harder than they had imagined.  After lots of danger and obstacles they discover that the only way to succeed is by helping each other, and then they finally achieve their objective.  I love these very simple, humorous stories that each give a very strong message and look forward to many more adventures for the intrepid trio.

“The New Neighbours” by Sarah McIntyre tells the story of the what happens when the residents of a block of apartments discover that a family of rats have moved in to their building.The bunny children are the first to find out and they are looking forward to going and meeting their new neighbours.  But as they tell more people, mainly adults,  we see attitudes change as people believe the stereotypes they have heard in the past.  Thankfully when they finally meet the neighbours they realize that they are just the same as everyone else.  This is a charming story with a strong and very important message about not listening to gossip and not judging people because of their backgrounds.  As always Sarah McIntyre’s illustrations are colourful, energetic  and funny and it is a great story for reading aloud.

“Cyril and Pat” by Emily Gravett  tells the story of  Cyril, a grey squirrel who finds himself living alone in the park. Then one day he meets another ‘squirrel’ called Pat and suddenly he has a friend to share adventures with; however we can see that Pat is actually a rat, not a squirrel.  Eventually the other creatures tell Cyril the truth and Pat is forced to leave the park, leaving his friend alone again.  The story does have a happy ending and the two are able to resume their friendship despite being different.  Emily Gravett  has given us a wonderful story of friendship, acceptance and empathy.  It is full of humour but also has its fair share of pathos; it is a wonderful tale.

“Flat Stanley” by Jeff Brown and Rob Biddulph was first published in the UK in 1968 and since then it has become a perennial favourite with young children.  They love the quirky and imaginative  story of a young boy who is squashed flat, but then goes on to have amazing adventures.  In this version Stanley saves the museum from robbers and is flown as a kite, however he has to cope with people being mean because he is different.  Luckily his brother comes up with a solution and Stanley is pumped back into shape with a bicycle pump.  This version of the story is illustrated by Rob Biddulph with his characteristic

“Sweep” by Louise Greig and Julia Sarda tells the story of Ed and what happens when he allows his dark and angry feelings to get out of control.  There is the wonderful analogy of sweeping up dead leaves, but what do we do when they become too many for us to cope with and begin to effect those around us?  Luckily a wind comes along and blows away his bad mood and he learns to think twice before allowing it to take over again.  This is a very dynamic book with energetic illustrations which really help us visualize the issues that Ed is facing. The  story is very simple but absolutely gets its message across; it will be great for helping young children come to terms with their own emotions as well as those of others around them.

“There’s Room for Everyone” by Anita Teymorian is a very thought provoking story about our world and about sharing the space that we have.  This is something of a philosophical look at our world and how we seem to always want more space, yet this book reminds us that there is always room for all of us; this includes humans and animals.  At a time when there are refugees across the globe, forests are  being cut down and housing seems to be at a premium, perhaps we need to remember some of the ideas in this story.  The illustrations are sophisticated and get also naive but manage to convey the meaning of the text in a way that we can readily relate to.  I am sure this will find its place in the discussions about our world and the way we all live.

 

There are so many amazing new picture books out there that this is just the beginning of my selection.  I am busily working on another collection and then there will be some brilliant books for Middle Grade that I hope to highlight in the near future.  I have not forgotten about information books and my collection to share with you is growing, so look out for the next selection.

 

 

 

 

Colours in our minds

Several years ago I became aware of a few books where colour was very much the central theme of the story.  It was used as a way of interpreting emotion as well as being the way that people can ‘see’ music.  Unfortunately I did not make a note of these titles (a lesson that I have hopefully learnt from).  Over the last year or so I have found quite a few of this type of book and decided that the only way to remember them is to write a post and let everyone else know that they are out there.  I would also be grateful for any other suggestions about titles that I can add to my list.

 

Simon & Schuster, 9781471169397

“Pencil Dog” by Leigh Hodgkinson  is one of those books that really touches the heart.  On the surface it is about a young girl and her pencil, or do we mean her dog?  They share lots of adventures and we see how drawing helps expand the girl’s imagination, but also about the friendship between the two characters.  We all know that pencils get smaller the more they are used and of course we reach that moment when pencil disappears and the girl is left alone.  However we also see that memory is a wonderful thing and that pencil dog will never truly disappear.  This book really work on several levels; from imagination and storytelling, to dealing with grief but above all it is a story about love and friendship.

Macmillan, 9781509871346

“Mixed” by Arree Chung is a delightfully simple but very effective way of looking at the world we live in today.  It is about equality and friendship; understanding that we all have our place in the world and that no one is better than those around them.  The story starts with the three prime colours red, yellow and blue living in harmony, until one of the reds decides that they are better than the others.  This leads to segregation but eventually a yellow and blue fall in love and get married; they then have a baby called green.  Thankfully this leads the others to realize the possibilities  and eventually a multi-coloured society is created.  The story works at several levels and can be about modern society, but it can also be used to explain the way that colours are created in art and how this reflects the reality of the natural world.

Chronicle, 9781452150147

“Hello, Hello” by Brendan Wenzel looks at the wide variation in visual experience that we see when we look at wildlife around us.  It begins with animals that are black and white and then moves on to a range of colours, patterns, shapes and sizes.  The animals are wonderful and although some of them are commonly found, others are threatened or endangered species.  Because of this the books acts as an introduction to the ecology of our world and hopefully will spark an interest in young people.  This  is a great book to read with the very young and with small groups of pre-school children.

Abrams, 9781419728518

“They say Blue” by Jillian Tamaki  is a magical tale of looking at the world and seeing the beauty that surrounds us.  Colour is used as a way of adding feeling to the way that a young girl reacts to the world around her.  The is a sense of magic and mystery about the world which makes you want to understand the changes that we see throughout the year.

Pavilion, 9781843653950

“Arty, the greatest artist in the world” by William Bee is a whimsical and quirky look at how Arty (a frog) became the greatest artist in the world. However I think that many readers will feel that they can achieve the same results without resorting to the totally mad experiences that Arty has to undertake.  This funny story definitely seems to poke gentle fun at the art world, but I am sure that we can take away the message that with a lot of hard work we can all become artists.  It also shows that art is all a matter of taste.

Laurence King, 9781780677712

“Bob the artist” by Marion Deuchars brings us the story of Bob, a bird who is being teased by others because of his very thin legs.  He tries various solutions like exercise, eating and wearing clothes, but nothing works; but when he visits an art gallery he is inspired by the works of the modern artists that he sees.  Bob decides to ignore his legs and every day he paints his beak in a different style.  The other birds think this is fantastic and Bob gains in confidence, even keeping to his natural red beak on occasions; he becomes happy with his own looks.  The very sparse colour palette really highlights the small areas of modern design  and  allows the colours used there to really sing out.

Laurence King, 9781786270696

“Bob’s blue period” by Marion Deuchars follows Bob after his friend Bat has to go away for a while.  Bob finds it very difficult without his best friend and no longer feels the same about his paintings.  In fact every painting seems to be blue, which all of his other friends are worried by, but they don’t know how to try and make him feel better.  One evening they take him for a walk up a hill and he sees a wonderful technicolor sunset, something that reminds him that the world is full of colour.  the following day he gets a post card to say that Bat is coming home, after hibernating for the winter.  The celebration takes the form of a party for all their friends.

Barrington Stoke, 9781781126943

“Colour my days” by Ross Collins takes us on an energetic journey through the rainbow and how colour can make us feel.  When their world is black and white Emmy and Jeff feel dull and bored, but each colour adds a lively element to the way they feel.  Everything is OK when they just have one colour per day, but at the end of the week all the colours come out to play and it becomes overwhelming, so they are shown the door.  Thankfully Emmy and Jeff can have a quiet and relaxing weekend.  This is a brilliant way of showing how colour an affect our mood and the importance that it plays in our lives, both at home and definitely at school.  I wonder if they have ever considered this when choosing the colours for school uniforms?

QED, 9781784939670

“The colours of history” by Clive Gifford and Marc-Etienne Peintre is a fascinating information book about the differing versions of colours and their importance throughout history.  The author is one of the best known and widely regarded writers of non-fiction and this is a very different look at major periods in history.  He looks at reds, yellows, purples, blues and greens and explains how some of the shades were created and how important items such as saffron, lapiz lazuli, indigo and purple were in society.  The illustrations for this book are sophisticated and beautiful; they compliment the text and add so much to the feel of the book.

Andersen Press, 978-1842707319

“Elmer” by David McKee is probably the epitome of a book about colour.  The story of this beloved patchwork elephant has been with us for a quarter of a century and he still has a profound effect on his young readers.  It is all about being different and being accepted for who you are and that is a message that has lost none of its importance over the years.  I have always loved telling these stories in schools and libraries and the children have great fun in creating their own versions of Elmer and his friends.

HarperCollins, 978-0007513765

“The day the Crayons quit” by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers has become something of a modern classic.  It tells the story of Duncan and how he copes when all of his crayons send him letters complaining about the way that he uses them.   It is a fascinating look at how we see different types of colour, or people and  what impact that has on their self esteem.  This book, together with its follow on “The day the crayons came home” has become something of a must read for young readers.

 

Red Fox, 978-0099266594

“My many coloured days” by Dr Seuss, Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher  is not a title by this prolific author that I had come across.  So of course I just had to order it.  It is unusual in that it was not illustrated by Dr Seuss and  was not published immediately it was written; in fact it took 20 years for the right illustrators to come along.  This is a book about feelings, moods and emotions and how colour can reflect these, both in humans and in the natural world around us.

 

Candlewick Press, 978-0763623456

“Sky Color” by Peter H Reynolds is part of a series of picture books that look at art and whether we should be put off by the comments of those around us.  This particular book is the final part of the ‘Creatrilogy’ (consisting of “Dot” and “Ish”)and is about Marisol and how she finds inspiration when asked to paint a mural for the school wall.  The art  is very reminiscent of Quentin Blake, with some beautiful line work, but the fact that the story is told in a series of small images brings it close to feeling like a graphic/comic book.  The colour palette is extremely limited, mainly line drawings with some shading, but it brings a lot of feeling to the story and helps us focus on the activities as they unfold.

Chronicle, 978-1452141213

“Golden Domes and Silver lanterns” by Hena Khan and Mehrdokht Amini was a book that I came across completely by chance.  It is a beautifully illustrated look at various colours and how they relate to various aspects of the moslem faith.  It gives the appearance of being set in the USA, based of scenes in the street and other characters in the pictures, but it the focus is on the important aspects of  dress, the mosque and especially writing text from the Koran.  This makes for a very simple and yet positive introduction to the ways that other people might have questions about and would be good to use in a primary school or nursery.

I hope that I will keep on finding more titles that fit within this category as it works so well with people of all ages and can often act as a spark to ignite their own creativity.  Please let me know if you can think of some other amazing stories.

Amazing Information: books to inspire and inform

Words & Pictures, 9781786038890

“The Race to Space” by Clive Gifford and Paul Daviz.  The author has been writing information books for young people for a long time and is recognized as an important part of the non-fiction book world.  This book looks at the chronology of the race to put men into space and then on to the Moon.  The illustrations are absolutely stunning, with a somewhat retro-style, reminiscent of 1950s soviet art at times.  The colour palette is very bright, although there is a flatness to the tones that reflect older methods of printing.  This is definitely a book to sit and browse through.  It is very much a book that will appeal to the artists as well as to the historians and scientists and it should be in all primary libraries.

Wide-eyed editions, 9781786030917

“When we walked on the Moon” by David Long and Sam Kalda is yet another book that has been produced to commemorate 50 years since man landed on the Moon.  It looks at the missions, from Apollo 11 to Apollo 17, all of which had astronauts land on the surface of the Moon and undertake a series of experiments, as well as playing golf etc!  This is a simple introduction that deals with the main characters  and I particularly like the sketches of the crews, together with facts about missions, that are found at the back of the book.  The illustrations once again hark back to the start of the space race, but they are much brighter than in some other titles and there is a greater use of a white background.

Usborne, 9781474950848

“The Usborne Book of the Moon” by Laura Cowan and Diana Toledano has a much wider look at the moon and is aimed at the bottom end of KS 2.  It covers everything from the space race to mythology, as well as astronomy and  geography.  As you would expect from the publisher there are some brilliant illustrations and a lot of information, given in small bite sized chunks that will work well with the intended audience.  This has a good index which makes it particularly useful for schools, although I think a lot of young enthusiasts will just enjoy dipping in to this lovely book.

Macmillan, 978509824090

“The Darkest Dark” by Chris Hadfield and the Fan Brothers.  This is a picture book based on the childhood o the astronaut Chris Hadfield; it tells of his fear of the dark and how seeing Apollo 11 helped him realize that the darkness of space could be fascinating and inspiring rather that frightening.  As a story, this can be read as a straightforward tale of space and imagination, or it can be used as a starting point when learning about space and the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings.

Nosy Crow, 9781788003391

“2019 Nature month by month” by Anna Wilson and Elly Jahnz  has been written for the National Trust and takes a look at the fascinating things that are going on around us throughout the year.  Anna Wilson is well know as a writer of fiction for children, but she is also keen on nature and wild swimming, so this is close to her heart.  This is an absolute treasure trove of information and covers things such as festivals, food, events and crafts relating to many of these activities.  The book is beautifully illustrated but perhaps the most striking part of my copy was the fluorescent orange end papers to the book, which made me want to hunt out my sun glasses.  I look forward to seeing if there is a new book for 2020.

Andersen Press, 9781783447435

“Stubby” by Michael Foreman is another in his retelling of true stories set in the First World War.  This recounts the story of  of how American troops, sent to the front in 1917, made a mascot of a little stray dog they named Stubby.  Miraculously the dog and his human carer survived the war and Stubby lived until 1926.  This is a beautifully illustrated story with very simple text and it will make an excellent introduction to the subject of the war.

Pavilion, 9781843653745

“Adventures in Space” by Simon Tyler is a stunningly illustrated book about space and about man’s attempts to leave the Earth and explore our neighbours.  The first half of the book looks at astronomy, the planets and the wider universe, so that we get a clear and well explained explanation of what is out there.  The second half of the book gives a brilliant timeline of how space exploration was achieved and what each major power produced as its space craft.  The information is truly up to date and even looks at prospective launches in 2020 and beyond.  There is also information about satellites and the International Space Station, making this a perfect start for anyone who loves space.  Unusually the pages are black, with white text, but the images tend to have been brightly coloured, so they stand out against the page.  Definitely recommended.

WhatonEarth Books, 9781999802820

“Absolutely Everything” by Christopher Lloyd, illustrated by Andy Forshaw, Justin Poulter and Will Exley is the sort of book that I would have loved to have received as a child.  It tells the history of the world in a chronological way, but with overlaps as we look at different parts of the world and what was happening in different civilizations.  The illustrations have a feel of the 1950s but with a bit of a modern twist.

“Mary who wrote Frankenstein”, (originally called “Mary and Frankenstein”) by Linda Bailey and Julia Sarda is a beautifully told introduction to the life of Mary Shelley (as she became) and how she came to write one of the most enduring stories in English Literature.  The illustrations are a tour de force by Julia Sarda and the sophisticated and highly stylized images really bring the text to life.  This would make a really good introduction to the young reader who is about to read the story itself; it also works as a good basis for learning about ‘Gothic tales’ and their popularity at the beginning of the 19th Century.

“Wild facts about Nature” by Andy Seed and Scott Garrett is yet another brilliantly funny and informative book by this author.  It is written under the auspices of the RSPB and is full of facts, jokes and stories all about nature.  This is definitely one of those books that young readers will keep dipping in to and will become a favourite for quizzes, long journeys and sharing with friends.  This is highly illustrated and definitely one for those who love books such as “Horrible Histories” etc.

Bloomsbury, 9781408889935

“The Silk Roads” by Peter Frankopan and Neil Packer is a truly delightful book bringing a fresh look at the developing history of the world; told through the development of trade routes along the silk roads and then wider trade routes.  The original book was written for adults but then this junior version was created.  The cover can only be described as sumptuous, with its blue and gold images and lettering.  The illustrations throughout are complex, colourful and based on the artistic style of the civilization being discussed. This brings the history of the word into one book and helps us to understand the links between different countries and their development over the centuries.  We often forget that history is a blending of all the influences that are in play at any given time and this book helps bring it all together.  I really loved this and I look forward to reading “The New Silk Roads” which looks at these relationships as they are today.

There has been a real resurgence in the publishing of information books, mainly led by the rise in general interest books rather than in those  intended for the curriculum.  The winning of the Kate Greenaway medal by “Shackleton’s Journey” gave a real boost to this sector and there have been several new and innovative publishers who have revitalized the market.  From this small selection you can see that there has been a swell in the number of titles looking at space and the moon, particularly as we reach the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.  However there are plenty of books out there if you love, history, nature art and a whole range of fascinating subject, just go out and enjoy the delightful buffet of books.

 

Some Spring Gems

It has been a while since I wrote about some of the latest middle grade fiction that have appeared recently.  There has been a continued interest in all things crime related as well as mythical beasts, alternate worlds and of course witches.  In fact we have all been spoilt for choice, with not just some brilliant new books, but also continuing adventures from some of our favourite authors of the moment

 

Nosy Crow, 9781788000260

“Dragon in the Library” by Louie Stowell, illustrated by David Ortu.  Well anything about a library is going to get me interested and this is no exception.  When Kit and her friend visit the local library to get hold of a book by his favourite author something strange happens.  Kit starts reading an information book and suddenly finds herself transported into the pages of the book; the librarian Faith Braithwaite see all of this and brings Kit back, they then try and find out why this happened.  It turns out that Faith is a wizard and the library and some of the books in it act as portals to travel to other magical libraries, but best of all Kit and her friends find out that there is a dragon called Draca sleeping under the building.  When an unscrupulous developer Hadrian Salt tries to buy the library they will all have to find some way to thwart his plans and save the library and the dragon.  This is a really great story and I hope that there will be more, so that we can follow Kit and her friends as they get more involved with wizards.

Kelpies, 9781782505556

“Guardians of the Wild Unicorns” by Lindsay Littleson is a fantastic story from Scotland and is published by the wonderful Kelpies.  Lewis and Rhona are on a school trip staying in the highlands, far away from their homes in Glasgow, when Lewis sees what appear to be unicorns he thinks he is imagining things, but what if they are real?  The two friends find themselves trying to save these wild unicorns from people who see them as a way to make money, but they find that the task is not as easy as they hope.  The unicorns in this book are not at all like the glittery and colourful ones you find in younger age books; these are wild ones in the same sense that those in Harry Potter are and it brings an added fascination and sense of reality to the theme of the story.  Behind all of this we have the stories of two young people who are each coping with major issues at home and are not telling anyone, but by the end of the story they have realized that sharing problems can have a positive effect.

Piccadilly, 9781848127616

“Potkin and Stubbs” by Sophie Green, illustrated by K.J.Mountford, is a crime thriller but with a decided difference.  Lil has always wanted to be a reporter and because she lives in a city where schools have been closed and her mother is out at work, she has opportunities to follow her ambitions.  One evening she sees a young boy at the bus station cafe and offers to buy him a drink because he looks cold and hungry, however the truth is much stranger than that; Nedly is a ghost and Lil decides to try and discover where he had lived and how he died.  The story gets darker and more dangerous as they get closer to the truth and they find that there are citywide crimes that need to be resolved.  This is a fantastic story for those who love crime stories, with that little added twist of the supernatural.

Stripes, 9781788950220

“The Star-spun Web” by Sinead O’Hart and illustrated by Sara Mulvanney, is a magical tale of parallel worlds that should not connect, but where someone has created a machine to travel between them.  Tessa suddenly arrived on the doorsteps of an orphanage as a baby, but  there were some strange circumstances, such as the snow on her blanket, even though it was not winter.  The story picks up when she is twelve and is claimed by a man purporting to be a relative.  What happens next is strange, as she sees a boy through a mirror in the summerhouse and eventually  she is able to transfer to this alternative world.  It is still a version of the city of Dublin, but  one where there is a war and it seems that someone wants to bring bombers through the gateway in order to conquer her own peaceful version of the city and country.  Sinead O’Hart has a wonderful imagination and has created a group of characters full of caring and friendship on the one hand and some dastardly villains on the other hand.  It is a story that leaves you with a great big smile at the end.

Scholastic, 9781407191553

“Wildspark” by Vashti Hardy (illustrations by George Ermos and Jamie Gregory) is one of those books that you know will leave an impression and you will probably want to read again.  It is set in a world where the spirits of those who have died are able to be transferred into the bodies of animals.  It is also a world where robots are used to do a lot of the work and being mechanically talented is a real skill.  Prue lives on her parent’s farm and is a great engineer, but she has one ambition and that is to try and find the ghost of her brother and have him brought back to this second life.  When she is chosen (or rather her dead brother is) to become an apprentice in the main city of Medlock, she thinks that her opportunity has come.  This is a beautifully written story about what it is to be human, the love of family and the way we use technology and I really recommend it to anyone who loves fantasy, steampunk or books of extraordinary imagination.

Quercus, 9781786540782

“A girl called Justice” by Elly Griffiths is definitely one for those who love books by Robin Stevens, Laura Wood, Katherine Woodfine and Fleur Hitchcock among others.  After the death of her mother, Justice  (because her father is a criminal barrister) is sent to boarding school and soon finds an opportunity to use her super sleuthing skills.  One of the school maids has gone missing and Justice suspects foul play.  As she gradually settles into the strange world of a girls’ boarding school and makes friends, she also investigates the mysterious goings on and whether they have any links to a death from the past.  This was a great read for those who love this mix of school and crime and I can’t wait for further adventures from this absolutely ‘spiffing’ heroine.

Nosy Crow, 9781788004503

“No Ballet Shoes in Syria” by Catherine Bruton.  This is an amazing, heart breaking and yet very hopeful story of Aya, a young refugee from Syria and her mother and young brother.  The main part of the story deals with their struggle to be allowed to remain in the UK and the hope that one day they will find Aya’s father, who was feared drowned as the crossed from Turkey to Greece.  The other part of the story is about her love of ballet and the people she meets in a ballet class at the centre where they go to meet the case worker helping them.  We are given parallels between Aya and the ballet teacher Miss Helena, who had come to England on one of the last Kinder transport trains  and there is a lesson to be learnt about honouring those we have lost by achieving the potential that they believed we have.  There is so much hope in this book but it is laced with much sorrow and I really suggest you have a box of tissues at the ready; also don’t read it on the bus or train!

Macmillan, 9781509874217

“Kat Wolfe takes the Case” by Lauren St John, illustrate by Daniel Deamo is the second story about young Kat and her friend Harper as they are caught up in more adventures on the Jurassic coast where they live.  When a dinosaur is found by Harper’s father and his team (they are paleontologists), it leads to theft and possible smuggling by a gang trying to find “Dragons’ teeth” which are supposed to cure those suffering from incurable diseases.  Once again Kat needs the help of her grandfather (the Minister of Defence) and begins to know him better as a person.  This is a great story that mixes geology, animals, mystery and also friendship and family.  It is an ideal story for some adventure and crime fighting.

“Malamander” by Thomas Taylor is a tale of mystery and monsters set in a world similar to ours, but with some major differences.  Young Herbert Lemon works at the Grand Nautilus Hotel as a ‘Lost and Founder’, but he did not expect that he would be asked to find two people who had disappeared 12 years before.  Their daughter, Violet Parma thinks that it is linked to a monster called the Malamander that is said to inhabit the wreck of an old vessel in the bay.  This is a fabulously creepy yet funny book with amazing characters (and that is just their names) and a bookshop that every town should want.  I look forward to further adventures from this intrepid pair of children.

Simon & Schuster, 9781471178733

“Sea-ing is Believing” by Steven Butler and Steve Lenton, is the next episode in the goings on at yet another weird and wonderful seaside hotel; only this time the hotel is for non-human guests and I don’t mean it is a pet hotel.  This hotel caters for yetis, mermaids, and other such unusual clients.  In this adventure Frankie’s great grandfather reappears as a ghost during the celebration of his 175th birthday.  However something is not quite right and it is up to Frankie and a cast of incredible friends to save the hotel and all of those in it.  As always these two Steves have produced a hilarious and very quirky story that will have everyone in stitches and longing for more of the same

OUP, 9780192771605

“The last spell-breather” by Julie Pike takes us to a place where magic still happens and spells are created and then breathed over the recipient.  Rayne is the daughter of a spell breather, who protects their village from an undefined plague that has ravaged the country.  When her mother disappears it is up to Rayne to keep everyone safe, but unfortunately she is not very good at spells and the results leave her running for her life.  Her aim is to go to the city where her mother trained as a spell breather in the hope that she will find her mother and reverse the problems that she has created.  Along the way she meets several new friends, but not all of them are what they seem and there is also a dark and sinister villain who brought the original disaster to the country.  This is a beautifully conceived story with a frustrating young heroine who battles to do the best for everyone, but because she doesn’t always know the full facts, she gets things wrong.  It really is a lesson in communication, listening, trusting people and the importance of family and friends.

Barrington Stoke, 9781781128558

“The Disconnect” by Keren David is a new story from Barrington Stoke and is aimed squarely at the young teen reader, especially those who are attached to their smart phones.  Esther’s year group at school have been asked to do without their phones for six weeks and the winners will each get £1000 and the opportunity to be on a panel looking at the use of social media.  Many of the young people decide not to take part, many fall at some point during the trial but Esther and her friends are determined to win.  This is a fascinating look at how people depend on social media and what it means to be cut off from it.  It is also about fake news and making sure that we understand the consequences of believing anything we read without checking.  This is altogether a very timely book from one of our top authors for young adults.

Andersen Press, 9781781783448043

“The Bolds go Wild” by Julian Clary and David Roberts.  Once again we join our wonderful family of urban hyenas in Surbiton; however this time they get a surprise visit from Fred’s mother Imamu and she is very definitely a WILD hyena.  Whilst the children, Bobby and Betty are delighted by the visit they nearly give away the family secret when they are seen by their headmistress, with their tails showing below their clothes.  However all is not lost, as Mrs Dobson, the head, has her own secret; she has a son who wants to become a chimpanzee.  So the next thing is for the Bolds to help him achieve his ambition and then get him and Imamu back to Africa.  You can always guarantee that there will be zany goings on with this family, but beneath it all there is a real sense of caring about letting people and creatures find their own place in the world.

I do hope that you will find something here that you will enjoy.  We really are so lucky that there are some splendid books being published for this middle grade range and many of them deal with some quite serious subjects but in a very understated way, so that the reader is carried by the story line, rather than feeling they are being lectured.  This is just the start of a much bigger selection that I hope to bring to you in the next month or so.  Happy reading!

 

A Winter Wonderland of Reading

Every year I indulge in a little Christmas/winter reading to get me in the mood for the festive season. This year has been no exception with the highlights being Matt Haig, Tracey Corderoy and Alex T Smith; although all of these books will get you into the required mood.

Canongate, 9781786894328

“The Truth Pixie” by Matt Haig and Chris Mould.  Over the last three years we have been treated to a series of three books based on the origins of Father Christmas.  One of the central characters in each story is the Truth Pixie who is subject to the mixed blessing of not being able to tell a lie.  In this delightful rhyming tale for younger children she discovers a new friend, makes that person happy and brings a bit of magic into the life of everyone who reads this tale.  It is an absolute classic of the future.

“Hampstead the Hamster” by Michael Rosen is another story for younger children, those from 5+ .  The hero Leo had always wanted a pet Hamster and eventually he gets his wish.  However Hampstead (the hamster) is very sad and just seems to sulk in his cage.  Leo tries everything to cheer him up, but nothing works; then Leo sees his pet running on the spot in the cage and gets a brilliant idea – hamsters love wheels and it would make a great Christmas present.  Some great aaah! moments for everyone.

“How Winston delivered Christmas” by Alex T Smith is an absolutely delightful story told in “twenty four and a half chapters”.  It is about how a young mouse called Winston discovers a letter to Father Christmas, on Christmas Eve, and decides he will try and make sure that the letter is delivered.  This is a glorious story full of Christmas spirit and one which is bound to become something of a festive ritual in many homes.

The Christmas Extravaganza Hotel” by Tracey Corderoy and Tony Neal.  What a fantastically funny story, full of friendship and sharing.  When frog mis-reads his map and ends up on the opposite side of the world from his Christmas hotel he is helped by Bear, who does everything he can to make the holiday memorable.  This proved an absolute winner when I read it to six classes on one day and it leaves you with a warm glow.

The Snowman” by Michael Morpurgo and Robin Shaw, based on the classic story by Raymond Briggs.  This is a really lovely extended version of the Snowman story and will be great for those who want to read something slightly longer.

Grandpa Christmas” by Michael Morpurgo and Jim Field.  This is a heartwarming story with a strong message for all of us.  Mia and her family read a very special letter from her grandfather every Christmas, just after they have opened their presents.  In this letter he talks about the need to care for our world and to make sure that we do our best to make it a good place for our descendants and for the creatures that we share the world with.  So thought provoking and magical.

Silent Night” by Lara Hawthorne is a joyous re-telling of the Nativity story, using the words of the famous carol “Silent Night”  The illustrations are bright and simple and can be enjoyed by children of all ages.  The book also explains how the carol came to be written.  It is a really delightful way for children to learn this song on the lead up to Christmas.

Santa’s Wonderful Workshop” by Elys Dolan is a totally hilarious look at what can go wrong when Santa brings in some new helpers to make enough presents for Christmas. The illustrations are full of jokes will keep young readers amused for hours; it will also keep the adults chuckling as they read the story.

Snow in the Garden” by Shirley Hughes is a gorgeous collection of stories, poems, recipes and decorations from one of the country’s most beloved writers and illustrators.  this is one for both home and  school and you will dip into it year after year.

The Night I met Father Christmas” by Ben Miller and Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini is a very different take on the legend of Father Christmas.  It gives you hope that no one is beyond redemption and really oozes Christmas spirit.

“Frost” by Holly Webb is a magical tale of London, both now and in the 17th century, so if you like an element of time travel, wonderful animals and family tales you will love this.

Other picture books to look out for this year are:

Pick a Pine Tree” by Patricia Toht and Jarvis

I was made for you” by David Lucas

Once upon a Snowstorm” by Richard Johnson

Christmas Gremlins” by Adam and Charlotte Guillain, with Chris Chatterton

 

Whilst Christmas 2018 has now gone, these are great additions to your collection which will keep you ahead of the game for the coming year.  I am now looking at Easter and some great picture books that have appeared in the past few months.  There is some fantastic reading ahead.

 

 

 

Spring has definitely Sprung!

Faber & Faber, 9780571337804

Hayley, the Hairy Horse” by Gavin Puckett and Tor Freeman is a delightful story for younger readers in which a horse is kidnapped for her tail hair, because it is perfect for violin strings.  It is colourfully illustrated and has plenty of laughs to keep a young reader totally engrossed in the story

ZaZaKids & Troika, 9781909991897

Spot Guevara: Hero Dog” by Zaro Weil and Katy Riddell is set in New York City and is the story of a young puppy, Spot, who has been separated from his mother and siblings.This follows his adventures as he tries to find them, in what is a very big City.  There are ups and downs, heroes and villains  and above all there is the indomitable spirit of the young puppy.  It was a truly uplifting story with a happy ending, but with potential for more adventures.

Nosy Crow, 9781788004695

Clifftoppers: the Arrowhead Moor Adventure” by Fleur Hitchcock  can only be described as a ripping yarn as the young heroes find themselves trying to stop a jewellery robbery.  This definitely harks back to stories that many of us remember from our youth; although I must have been one of a small number of children who did not read Enid Blyton, because she was not stocked by our local library service.

Nosy Crow, 9781788000413

“We Won an Island” by Charlotte Lo is another story that harks back to a more laid back past, although there is plenty of action and adventure in this story.  When the children win a competition to gain an island it is very timely as their parents are about to be thrown out of their flat, due to non payment of their rent.  However life on a Scottish island has its challenges, not least having enough money to live on and the children come up with some exciting and very  interesting plans to try and make a success of their new life.

Faber & Faber, 9780571346301

“The Secret Starling” by Judith Eagle follows the adventures of the young heroine Clara after she is abandoned by her Uncle (and Guardian).  With the help of a young boy, Peter, she heads off to London to try and find out how her mother died and where her unknown father might be.  This is a lovely middle grade story with a fascinating twist at the end.

Little Tiger, 9781788950329

“The Golden Butterfly” by Sharon Gosling has a real sense of theatre about it, Victorian Theatre to be precise.  When her grandfather the Magnificent Marko dies his funeral is interrupted by a stage magician called Thursby who is searching for a magic trick called ‘The Golden Butterfly’. Luciana  and her best friend Charley decide to go to London to try and solve the mystery of this trick.  This is a wonderfully atmospheric story, with a real message about women being equal and the struggle that they have often had to be accepted.

David Fickling, 9781788450218

“Dragon Daughter” by Liz Flanagan is a real treat for those who love fantasy and dragons in particular.  When Milla witnesses a murder she also saves a small bag that appears to contain four eggs, only these turn out to be very special indeed.  How Milla and her friends bond with the four baby dragons and save them from the plotting of the ruling Duke makes for a truly exciting and magical story.  It is definitely a story to savour and recommend.

Bloomsbury Education, 9781472955999

“Golden Horsemen of Baghdad” by Saviour Pirotta is set in medieval Baghdad;  a complete change from the ancient Greek setting that the author is so well known for.  The young hero Jabir has to help his family survive after the death of his father, but their landlord is determined to throw them out of their home.  Can Jabir use his skill as a carver in order to make money and save his family, or will the evil landlord succeed?  This is a super story that introduces children to a culture that they might not be truly aware of.

“POG” by Padraig Kenny is a magical stand-alone story about two children (and their father)who move to their mother’s childhood home after her death.  They are struggling to come to terms with their grief and find that the appearance of a small very hairy individual might help them.  There is a very subtle underlying theme which has the story coming somewhat ‘full circle’.  It is an extremely thought provoking read.

Chicken House, 9781910655986

“A Witch Come True” by James Nicol is the final ? instalment of this magical series for young people.  Arianwyn has been taken to their hearts, so there will be great rejoicing that things seem to have worked out in the end.  However our heroine has to undergo even more tribulations in this final book before we can say that all is well.  This series is hopefully going to become a classic and I am delighted by the hint from the publisher that more adventures could be possible.

Chicken House, 9781911077008

“Against all Gods” by Maz Evans is the final book in this series featuring the Greek Gods.  Elliot is still trying to get his mother back from Hades and prevent his home being bought by the evil Patricia Porshley-Plum.  Everything seems to be going wrong and even the gods seem lost about what to do.  The book had me veering between laughter and tears, in the same way that a roller-coaster goes up and down, but it was worth all of the emotion.  What a brilliant series in the way it combines the serious and the silly.

Macmillan, 9781509871223

“Kat Wolfe Investigates” by Lauren St John and Beidi Guo is the story of a young girl  who moves to a small seaside village in Dorset when her mother takes up the role of local vet.  She starts animal sitting as a way to earn pocket money, but doesn’t expect to find that there are mysterious goings on in the local area.  Before long Kat finds herself caught up with possible spies, the army and the British secret service.  It is a great adventure for those who love mysteries.

OUP, 9780192771568

“The House of Light” by Julia Green is set in a dystopian culture that feels as if it is on the Scottish coast or Islands.  The people are tightly controlled by officials and armed police and there appears to have been a major ecological disaster in the past.  Bonnie’s mother had left several years before, in an attempt to find a better place, leaving her daughter with her Granda.  When a boy called Ish has his boat beached near her home it brings the idea of leaving closer to being possible.  This is a story to make you think about the world we are creating and what the future could mean for our grandchildren.  Yet another superb story from a wonderful writer.

 

This has been just a look at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to new books this spring.  Whilst looking through my collection I found another great selection of books that I have really enjoyed over the winter months.  I hope to be able to bring them to you in the next few weeks, but before then I am off to the Federation of Children’s Book Groups Conference, so there are bound to be even more titles to go on my TBR pile.

Wallowing in my Bath (Kids Lit Festival) again

I am currently having a calm and relaxing day after a 10 day session helping out at Bath.  I can only be in awe of John and Gill McLay and all the amazing work they put into putting the programme together and then being so totally hands on during the festival  I hope they are having a well deserved break, together with all the others who were there every day.  This year I managed to pace myself, although this meant that I occasionally missed out on events and despite my best attempts my ‘time turner’ does not actually function, so I cannot be in two places at the same time.

Lauren Child and Gill McLay

Events started off  on Friday 28th September with an event by the current Children’s Laureate, Lauren Child, in which she combined a general discussion about her books with talking about her new work “Hubert Horatio”.  It is based a round a character she created several years ago in a picture book, but now he is appearing in a work for ‘middle grade’ readers.  Hubert Horatio is a very serious and extremely intelligent little boy; unfortunately he has two very frivolous and spendthrift parents, so it is lucky that they are millionaires and they have their son to keep them out of trouble.  This book is published on 18th October, so I look forward to reading it and then talking about it; it sounds as if it is going to be great fun. The evening was finished off with a launch party at Waterstones, where it was lovely to meet up with friends and authors.

Sebastien de Castell

The festival began in earnest on the Saturday morning but because of other commitments, namely  a trip to London to hear Sebastien de Castell and Alexandra Christo and I was not able to start my stewarding until the Monday, but what a fantastic way to start.  The first event was with the so talented and charming Joseph Coelho, who is known for both his poetry and his picture books.  He focused on reading  “Luna Loves Library Day” and had the book on a large screen, so that the children could fully participate in the reading.  This is an absolute must for all parents to read to their children and for nurseries and schools to use as an introduction to visiting the library. It was also very appropriate as we have just had Libraries Week, where we hopefully celebrate the importance of these places in our lives.  The second event was the ever fabulous Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve  wowing the audience with the “Adventures of Kevin”, the story of a custard cream loving flying pony.  The duo are famous for their songs about the characters in their books and this was no exception.  we all came away with the ear-worm chorus going around our brains – “He’s the one, the one and only, roly poly flying pony”

M G Leonard

Tuesday saw me back in Bath for another round of sessions.  The first one was the delightful Chitra Soundar who I had the pleasure of hearing for the first time.  She is a writer and storyteller who captivated her audience with several of her stories.  the first was “Pattan’s Pumpkin“, an Indian version of a Flood story; she used slides of the pages to reinforce the images.  After this she told the story “You’re safe with me” which is about overcoming fear of the unknown, in the garb of a torrential tropical storm.  Although she did not read from the book, we were also able to see and purchase her new book “You’re snug with me”, the story of a polar bear and her two cubs as they survive winter.  I really have to mention her illustrator Poonam Mistry who has produced the most stunning illustrations for the last two titles.  The complexity of the style is really magical and I think that anyone, child or adult, could spend hours just looking at these wonderful pictures.  My morning was completed by the lovely M G Leonard talking about her trilogy “Battle of the Beetles“.  I was lucky enough to be able to take her out to a couple of schools when the first book “Beetle Boy” was issued, so I have always had a special interest in seeing her success.  Her audience of over 200 pupils were absolutely fascinated by her pictures of beetles and understanding the importance of these creatures to our world.  Whilst I am not sure I will ever want to get ‘up close and personal’ with beetles, I do have a greater understanding of their importance.  However the most important thing about these books is that they are really great adventures with a truly evil villain and some fantastic heroes, both human and animal, so I thoroughly recommend them for KS2 pupils and beyond.

Steven Butler and Steven Lenton

I actually managed to take a break on Wednesday and Thursday but on Friday I once again found myself driving over to Bath for an early start.  the first event was one that my grandson would have absolutely loved as it was about some of his favourite books.  The adventures of “Supertato” are loved by millions of small people and the 340+ who were in the Guildhall were certainly very vocal in their appreciation of the creators, Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet.  It was totally amazing how these youngsters became so involved in the adventures of vegetables in a supermarket but it also shows the power of the imagination and the pleasure that children get from listening to stories.  The final session of the morning was for a slightly older audience and  was about “The Nothing to see here Hotel” and its follow up “You ain’t see nothing Yeti!”  These are written and illustrated by Steven Butler and Steve Lenton and are hysterically funny adventures in a hotel for non-human guests.  So you are likely to meet ogres, trolls, elves, goblins and all sorts of wonderful creatures, but it is never quiet and adventures are always waiting to happen.  The two ‘Steves’ (not the original version, that was Steve Barlow and Steve Skidmore) are also great entertainers, so we had a truly funny and fascinating event.  They worked brilliantly with their audience and would be an excellent choice to invite into schools.

David Roberts and Julian Clary

David Roberts and Jo Nadin

The final day of the festival was the Sunday and I had a double whammy of David Roberts,  but the morning started out with a show dedicated to the hero that is “The Gruffalo”.  This consisted of a partial retelling of the story, using musical instruments to represent the different animals and the forest was created with children, holding  small branches with leaves.  As a finale the Gruffalo made a visit and it was wonderful to see how many wanted their photos taken with this icon of children’s literature.  The first David Robert’s event was about the amazing “Suffragette”, which has really caused quite a stir in this centenary year since the first women in the UK got the vote.  The information is well researched and accurate as David has been fascinated by the subject since he was a child.  The illustrations are superb and use the palette of colours that we often associate with the suffrage movements.  This was an event that attracted a wide audience, many of them adults, which was great to see, but there were also numbers of younger readers who are fascinated by the history that this depicts.  Later that day I went down to another venue called Komedia, where David and Julian Clary were talking about “The Bolds in Trouble“,  the latest of their books featuring the incredible Bold family, a family of hyenas living as humans in suburban Teddington. I am a complete fan of these books because the whole concept is so ridiculous,  The characters are a sublime combination of animal and human traits and the books are full of subversive humour.

Looking back on this wonderful week I can only be thankful for having the opportunity to be involved with some amazing people.  The children who attended with their schools during the week have an incredible experience and their enthusiasm for books and reading will have benefited from seeing the artists at work.  I can’t believe that next year will be the 13th festival, but I am really looking forward to seeing what is in store for all of us.

 

Great Reads for younger Readers

With the new term about to start there are many teachers out there who are looking for good and exciting books that they can read and recommend to their younger pupils this year.  These suggestions are hopefully ones that will help them; they are really for KS1 and KS2L and whether the children read them individually is obviously a matter for the staff.  However they have all got potential to be read to the children if teachers are looking for funny, interesting or exciting stories that do not take the whole term to read.  Give some of them a try and decide whether they will work with your young people.

Barrington Stoke, 9781781127681

“Rose’s Dress of Dreams” by Katherine Woodfine and Kate Pankhurst is one of the first titles in a new series by Barrington Stoke.  The books are a smaller format than usual and have coloured illustrations, all of which makes them very attractive to the younger reader.  This title is about a young girl and her dream of becoming a dressmaker during the pre-revolutionary period in France.  The young Rose eventually became the first of the famous couturiers and an influence on generations of designers. It is really about holding on to your dreams and trying to overcome the challenges that life throws at you.  It is particularly good for those who have an interest in history or fashion

Usborne, 9781848127333

“Marge and the Secret Tunnel” by Isla Fisher and Eglantine Ceulemans is the fourth in a series about one of the most eccentric babysitters you are likely to meet.  Jemima and Jakey often have to spend time with a babysitter and until Marge came on the scene they had always disliked the experience.  However with Marge everything becomes an exciting adventure and in this story they go exploring in a secret tunnel that they find at the bottom of the garden.  there are actually three stories in this book, the other two being about a”great shopping race” and the “lost kitten”.  Having these short stories makes them very accessible, not only to new readers but also for reading in class; they are just long enough to read the whole tale in one session.  Great for KS1 children.

Usborne, 9781474928120

“Meet the Twitches” by Hayley Scott and Pippa Curnick.  This is a delightful introduction to a young girl, Stevie and the family of toy rabbits called the Twitches.  When Stevie and her mother move from their tower block flat she is given a wonderful and quaint dolls’ house, in the shape of a teapot.  Included are all the furnishings and fitting and a complete library; most fantastic of all are the family of toy rabbits that inhabit the house.  What Stevie does not know is that the rabbits magically come alive and when the father, Gabriel is lost in the garden during the furniture moving, it is up to the family and especially young Silver to find him and get him back home.  It is a lovely story about the importance of home and family and I am looking forward to reading more of their adventures in the future.

Barrington Stoke, 9781781127551

“Hari and his Electric Feet” by Alexander McCall Smith and Sam Usher.  The author is well known for the crime series that he has written over the years, but he has also become known for the stories that he has written for children.  This book is by Barrington Stoke and is a delightful story of hope and how music and dance can have a beneficial effect on people.  Hari and his sister live with their aunt in a big city in India, as their parents have had to go away to earn money and Hari helps by making sweets and delivering lunches.  he is an avid fan of Bollywood films and loves the dancing; so when his sister suggests he tries it himself, he does and discovers a talent to make others dance along with him.  This leads to all sorts of adventures and a happy ending for the whole family.  This is a real “feel good” story and has lots of lessons for the adults of the world, so why not get dancing.

Hodder, 9781444932065

“Mr Penguin and the Lost Treasure” by Alex T. Smith is the fantastically funny story of an intrepid adventurer and detective as he searches for a lost treasure.  The fact that he is a penguin  and his sidekick is a spider just adds to the totally whacky plot.  The illustrations are weird and wonderful and Alex T Smith has created a truly original new hero.  there are lot of twists and turns in the plot and you cannot be sure who are the villains and who are the good guys.  I am sure that we will see a lot more of this exciting hero with a love of fish finger sandwiches.

Hachette, 9781444921724

“Rabbit and Bear: Attack of the Snack” by Julian Gough and Jim Field.  This is the third in a series of short stories about Bear and his friend Rabbit.  One day they are out swimming when a creature crash lands in the lake and they pull it out, but they have no idea what it is. Eventually they discover that it is an Owl and all their friends have a view about what type of animal an owl is.  It is a fascinating look at how we are affected by rumours and scaremongering and I think there are many links to what can happen in the real world.  Children however are going to love the information at the end of the story, as the Owl (he is a burrowing owl) explains that he lines his hole in blueberry Poo, in order to attract beetles to eat.  There are brilliant illustrations and  extremely funny characters; it will be a great read for those gaining confidence, but also a lovely class read.

Usborne, 9781474932011

“Tanglewood Animal Park: Elephant Emergency” by Tamsyn Murray is the third story about the Tanglewood animal park and in particular Zoe, the daughter of the owners and Oliver, the son of the park vet.  Each of the stories has followed the fortunes of new animals as they are introduced to the park and in this story it is a family of six elephants who are being re-homed, from a zoo that is closing down.  This is a wonderful story of the ups and downs of looking after animals and there is a real sense that the author truly knows what it is like to be involved with all of these creatures.  For anyone who loved the TV series about Longleat, or just loves wildlife, these are a fantastic read.

Oxford University Press, 9780192764058

Night Zoo Keeper: Giraffes of whispering wood” by Joshua Davidson and Buzz Burman mixes magic and wild animals in a lovely story.  When Will is transported into the world of the night garden he enters a world of imagination where he has to save the animals from the  robotic spiders, called Voids.  It appears that he is the next “Night Zoo Keeper” and he and his friend Riya have to help the giraffes who inhabit this part of the zoo. This is a great story about letting your imagination fly and not being afraid to be different from everyone else.

Well, there they are.  Hopefully you will have found something that excites you.  I would also suggest that you look on the websites of these publishers, because they are going to have other titles that you may want to consider and they often have additional materials that the children can use both in class and at home.  Anyway, do Enjoy!