After the War Auschwitz to Ambleside: Q & A with author Tom Palmer

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Barrington Stoke, the publishers of this beautiful book, offered me the opportunity to ask Tom Palmer some questions about After the War, its inspiration and the writing process and I am delighted to share his interesting and thoughtful replies here.

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Photo: Barrington Stoke Publishers

The subject matter of After the War is both important and challenging and you have successfully managed to convey this within a storyline that is appropriate and engaging for contemporary young readers. Did you know from the outset how you planned to approach the content or did the story evolve from your research? 

First of all, thanks for saying that. That’s what I was trying to achieve, so I am glad you think it works okay.

The answer is I knew 100% that After the War had to be based on primary sources. I began with the audio recordings of the Windermere Boys – 300 children who came to the Lake District from the concentration camps in 1945 – on the Lake District Holocaust Project website. It had to start there. I was told by people who have worked in Holocaust education that you must be entirely faithful to the true events. There is no need to make anything up, no need to embellish, anyway. So I listened to hours of recordings and then read the books written about and by the Boys. Then it was just a decision as which of the true stories to work with, with the guidance of my editor at Barrington Stoke and the Lake District Holocaust Project. You can listen to the Boys’ interviews at http://ldhp.org.uk/?page_id=507.

Despite having spent many happy childhood holidays besides Lake Windermere and having family connections I knew nothing of the Windermere Boys. Why do you think they have only received attention in the last few years? How did you learn about them?

My wife heard about them on Radio 4’s Open Country (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0000xrc). Then we checked out the From Auschwitz to Ambleside exhibition at Windermere Library, then I met Trevor Avery, who led the team that put the exhibition together. He has great relationships with the surviving Boys’ and their families. He joins the survivors in schools to pass the story on. He was crucial to the film The Windermere Children coming out earlier in 2020. But all this work has really only happened in the last 10 years.

Gradually I built up what I needed. I also travelled to Auschwitz, then Theresienstadt, the camp where the Boys were liberated from. On a lighter note, to reach the part of the shoreline where the Boys would have played and swum, I had to canoe down from Ambleside to reach that. And I also took part in an archaeological dig on the site in July 2019.

You consulted primary school children at one point when writing the book and shared the story with them. Did this result in you making any changes and if so what type of alterations did you think necessary?

Hugely. I took a late-ish draft of After the War to Grasmere Primary, one of the nearest primary schools to site. The main point they made was that they did not want to be over-distracted by the drama of the events or their emotional impact on the readers: they wanted the facts. They wanted to know what the children’s lives were like before the Holocaust, what happened to the children during the Holocaust and what happened after they came to England. I remember the look on their faces when they said all this to me. It will stay with me forever. Yes, we like the story, but we want to know the facts, to understand the why, the what, the how. So I went through the book and rewrote several sections to make sure I was being clear and not being manipulative.

This is your 50th book. What an achievement! In what ways do you think children’s publishing has changed since your first book? Do you think that your writing style has changed too? 

I think children’s publishing is far more decentralised and therefore more child-friendly. A lot of that is down to libraries, booksellers and bloggers, including the likes of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups acting as a two-way conduit between publishers and readers.

Authors are much more in touch with the children’s book world (and mightily grateful to them) and their readers through these channels. Also, I think there is a flourishing of smaller publishers excelling. Look at Barrington Stoke winning the Carnegie with Lark. It feels more bottom-up then top-down.

I’m not sure that my style has changed. To be honest, I don’t know. It probably has. The big deal for me has been confidence. The more confident I have become the more I dare take on bigger subjects. I would never have dared writing from the point of view of soldiers in the trenches or Holocaust survivors at the beginning of my writing career. Now I do dare, so long as I have the expertise of others to guide me. But the main reason I think my recent books – Armistice Runner, D-Day Dog – have done pretty well is because of the quality of editing I get from Ailsa Bathgate.

In After the War and your previous books connected with WW1 and WW2 it is obvious that you have carried out an enormous amount of research. Have you always had an interest in history or has this developed alongside your writing? 

To be honest – as I’ve already alluded to – I would never have dared write about history before. I thought you had to be a historian or something that I wasn’t to do so. Then – with the help of another writer and the fact the book was about footballer – I wrote Over the Line. Then I realised that – so long as you do your research as in-depth as you can – you draw the confidence from that. That and enjoying reading history fiction, notably Rosemary Sutcliff and Bernard Cornwell. Gradually I built up confidence.

There are loads of free resources relating to After the War at www.tompalmer.co.uk/after-the-war.

What type of book do you hope to write next and do you have an ideas or plans you can share with your eager readers? 

I am writing a story about the Second World War Arctic Convoys with Barrington Stoke at the moment. It features HMS Belfast and the Imperial War Museum is giving me lots of help with that. That might be called At Sea and should be out in May 2021. As well as that I have been commissioned to write books 7 and 8 of the Roy of the Rovers series by Rebellion. Then there’s this other idea that I have, but I have to stop thinking about that for now and get on with the jobs I have been asked to do!

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Thank you very much Tom for taking the time to provide such full, interesting and detailed replies to my questions. I have learned a great deal and have found following up the links you provided fascinating too.

After the War is a remarkable and rather special book and I would urge others to read it if you can. Sometimes books really do matter and I think that this one does. 

 

 

 

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New Picture Books – stories to put smiles on faces

There is a flurry of activity in the world of children’s books at the moment with several books being published this week and among the range of titles are these two picture books. They made me smile and I think they will make children smile too.


Albert Talbot Master of Disguise by Ben Manley and Aurelie Guillerey

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The world can be a daunting place when you are very young, especially if you are a bit of a worrier.  The school day is full of opportunities for young Albert to worry; what will he say at Show and Tell, will he stay afloat in the swimming lesson?  Perhaps it would be easier if he were someone else. Albert decides to pretend that he is not Albert, a slightly anxious, small boy but instead he is a dangerous desperado, an intrepid explorer and even a galactic superhero. Suddenly things become a lot easier for him.

This lovely celebration of the power of the imagination will reassure small children, particularly as the variety of experiences depicted are situations which they frequently encounter. The story is told with kindness and with a great deal of humour. The names of Albert’s alter egos are a delight. Swimming lessons take on a different feel when your name is Zandrian Delaclair, Antarctic Submariner and who can possibly resist your Show and Tell presentation when you are in fact Professor Ocatavius Pickleswick, Mechanical Engineer? This would be brilliant to read aloud. The wonderful, bright and colourful illustrations by Aurelie Guillery are packed with detail and include helpful labels and entertaining additions.

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As Albert’s interesting day draws to its close he has discovered the joy that can be found through imagination but also the comfort in being yourself too. A lovely, happy picture book. Oh and Ben Manley tells me that my name is no longer Anne, it is in fact Birta Ungerpup, Professional Waffle Ironer. That made me smile too!

The Teeny Weeny Genie by Julia Donaldson and Anna Currey 

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This is an entertaining picture book based on the familiar rhyme, Old Macdonald had a Farm and told with a magical twist. The farmer, Old Macdonald himself, is clearing out the farmhouse when he comes across an old, dusty teapot. Inside the teapot is a genie who is now disturbed from his peaceful slumbers by the farmer rubbing the teapot clean. Before long the the genie finds himself granting the farmer’s wishes, all his wishes. The resulting chaos proves too much for the poor genie who is desperate to escape but is unable to work magic for his own benefit. Thankfully the little genie is not the only genie disturbed by the racket and perhaps genie number two can save the day.

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The classic, watercolour style illustrations by Anna Currey complement the text and add to the overall traditional feel of this jolly picture book. This also would be lovely to read aloud and the story encourages involvement by very young listeners with noises to copy and actions to imitate. Quite possibly resulting in a story time as noisy as the farmyard! The Teeny Weeny Genie does contain a message about being careful what you wish for and the ending allows young readers to give some thought to what they would wish for given the opportunity.

Thank you to Two Hoots, MacMillan Children’s Books and Clare Hall-Craggs for providing by review copies. Both books are published on 6th August and can be purchased at all good bookshops. You can search for your nearest independent bookshop here.





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Sequin and Stitch by Laura Dockrill illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Laura Dockrill’s debut for Barrington Stoke weaves together family, loss and hope in a story that is both poignant and striking in its portrayal of our society. This is a touching and imaginative tale with love at its centre.

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Nine year old Sequin’s mum is a talented seamstress who works all day and most of the night on beautiful designer dresses for famous people. Their tiny twelfth floor flat is bursting with colourful fabrics, sumptuous silks, buttons and twinkling beads. Sequin loves it there, it feels like a haven. While her mum works Sequin looks after her baby brother, Stitch and dreams that one day her mum will get the recognition she deserves. It is the designers whose names appear in the magazine articles and next to the glossy photos. Although her mum appears resigned to this Sequin believes it should be her talented mum who receives the accolades. To make things worse when Sequin chooses her mum as her ‘inspirational person’ in a school presentation her classmates do not believe her descriptions and accuse her of lying. Unkind children tease Sequin about her mum who never leaves the flat and although Sequin is quick to deny the accusations and defend the mother she loves very much she is hiding her own fears and anxiety.

Laura Dockrill’s writing is fresh and accessible and with Sequin as an engaging narrator this is a story that children will find both relatable and thought provoking. The author has explained how this story was prompted by the Grenfell tragedy and yet here she dwells not on the loss and the grief but on the sense of community, the resilience of children and the feeling of hope for the future. At less than 100 pages this is a short read but nonetheless it is one with considerable impact. Subjects such as mental health, bullying and grief are important elements of the story but are approached with care and in a suitable manner for the intended audience. The plot and the subtleties of the characters are revealed by degrees in a well executed storyline culminating in a satisfying ending.


Laura Dockrill has drawn on her own childhood experience for some of Sequin’s world and the description of her home clearly shows for this as the setting comes to life in the writing. There are some lovely touches in the depiction of characters such as the young fashion designers and Sequin’s neighbour who all feel true to life.

Despite the subject matter and the link to a dreadful national tragedy this is a story full of kindness, love and hope. We often cite the importance of books as a means of encouraging empathy in children and this book and its thoughtful message is evidence of how they are able to do this. A highly recommended read. This book has a dyslexia-friendly layout, typeface and paperstock so that even more readers can enjoy it. It has been edited to a reading age of 8.

I would like to thank Kirstin Lamb and Barrington Stoke publishers for providing my review copy.

Barrington Stoke have published a number of books dealing with serious themes and you may like to look at It’s a No-Money Day written and illustrated by Kate Milner a picture book about a family using a food bank or Owen and the Soldier by Lisa Thompson another kind story looking at grief and anxiety.





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After the War by Tom Palmer

In recent years Tom Palmer has written historical fiction for children that has focussed on events that took place during the two world wars. Both Armistice Runner and D-Day Dog are books that are enjoyed by young readers and also enable them to understand and empathise with people and situations outside their own experience.  In After the War he takes the most challenging subject matter and with thoughtful care and respect makes it accessible to children.  This is an incredibly powerful book telling an unforgettable and important story.

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Cover: Violet Tobacco 

After the War was inspired by the three hundred child concentration camp survivors who came to the Lake District in the summer of 1945 for ‘recuperation’.  The story is told through the eyes of a Polish boy named Yossi, who, with his two friends Leo and Mordecai, has survived the horrors of the camps to find himself in the beautiful surroundings of Lake Windermere where it is hoped they can begin to recover. They are shown kindness and care by those looking after them on the Calgarth estate and the local people. At first the children struggle with both their surroundings and the contrast with their recent traumas. Gradually Yossi’s initial fears subside and he and his friends learn to trust the adults they now live with and Yossi grows healthier and stronger. Yet Yossi is haunted by terrible nightmares prompted by memories of his wartime experiences and troubled by constant thoughts of his missing father. Each day he waits anxiously for news and wonders what the future holds for him, Leo and Mordecai. The boys desperately need to feel that they belong and that they have a future that will be free from fear.

This book is immensely moving; I had to stop reading at several points and collect my thoughts.  The story leaves you needing to sit quietly and think about its impact. Tom Palmer has created in Yossi a boy who readers will relate to and understand. He has managed to convey the important fact that these boys, these children, are no different in essence to the young people reading the story seventy five years later. There are points in the story where small touches capture what matters to children and will bring home to today’s readers that these boys have so much in common with them. Events such as when Yossi is forced to hand over his beloved bicycle to the German authorities, the misunderstanding about unfamiliar food in England and the way smells evoke memories from long ago all contribute to making this feel relatable to today’s children. Tom Palmer uses Yossi’s memories to tell the story of the appalling events that he and others witnessed and experienced and the contrast between his earlier life and his current situation is stark.

To be able to write about this subject in a manner that does not diminish the horror but also conveys the story in an appropriate way for the intended audience takes skill and understanding. Tom Palmer has honoured the memory of these children and those who died whilst still creating a story that will engage young readers. As with all Barrington Stoke titles After the War is presented in an accessible format,  with a typeface suitable for dyslexic readers making it appealing to a wide readership. The more simplified use of language does in some ways I think add to the impact.

It is important to stress that this is a book full of hope and ultimately of love. The value of close friendship that can be, at times, almost akin to a family relationship is highlighted and we are reminded of the importance of loyalty, resilience and trust. Despite the events of the past which these courageous boys have endured the reader turns the final page with an optimism for their future and the knowledge that there is goodness to be found if we look for it. This is a beautiful book. Beautiful, powerful and important. Anyone who reads it will not forget it.

Thank you Tom Palmer and Barrington Stoke.

After the War is published on 6th August and can be preordered/purchased on the Barrington Stoke website.

You can watch a trailer for the book below:

 

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Freedom We Sing by Amyra Leon and Molly Menoza

Visually stunning this picture book is a poem, a song, a rallying cry of hope and belief. Vibrant and uplifting it is full of joy and optimism, this would be a wonderful addition to school and library bookshelves and a beautiful picture book to share at home.

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I wonder, then, what freedom is. Is it a place? Is it a thought? Can it be stolen? Can it be bought?

This is both beautiful and powerful. Freedom, We Sing is a lyrical picture book designed to inspire and give hope to readers around the world. A mother and child share a conversation about the earth, its inhabitants and what freedom means to each and everyone of us. They talk about life, love and family in this poetic and diverse look at humanity. The stunning, vibrant illustrations by Molly Mendoza are eye catching and inviting, as soon as you see the cover you are tempted to discover more. The lyrical and emotive text begs to be read aloud. That Amyra León who wrote this book is a musician is not a surprise as the text flows and soars and the repeated refrain, “Inhale, exhale” is both calming and uplifting. A book that confirms and celebrates everyone’s right to be free; the joyous fold out double page spread towards the end of the book invites the reader to join in with the celebration. I can see this being a fabulous book to use in school assemblies or as part of a classroom session on human rights. The text invites the reader to answer questions about the meaning of freedom and to observe the differences and more importantly the similarities in people of different races, beliefs and circumstances. It builds to a joyous climax of hope that leaves the reader feeling part of something special. 

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A book to empower and start conversations, Freedom We Sing has been endorsed by Amnesty International for reminding us that we are all born equal.

There is a fascinating, thoughtful interview with Amyra León and Molly Mendoza on the We Need Diverse Books website which provides an insight into the creative process and the importance of books to engage and empower children and nurture their curiosity.

Thank you to Flying Eye Books for providing my copy. Freedom, We Sing was published on 1st July and is available to buy at all good bookshops, you can search for your nearest independent bookshop here or purchase the book online here.


If this book appeals you may also enjoy 
Child of Galaxies by Blake Nuto and Charlotte Ager another lovely picture book that explores our place in the world and how we are connected to each other. Here We Are – Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers is a thoughtful guide to our world and is an inclusive and thoughtful picturebook. 



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Reading Matters – news from the world of children’s books

Hello and welcome to this week’s look at the latest children’s news. The schools in my local area have already closed for the summer holidays or will be doing so in the next few days. Reading Matters will be taking a break for the summer too so this is the last issue for a little while, however this has been another busy week so there are many articles and news items still to share. I hope you find something in this week’s collection interesting, useful or simply enjoyable.

What I’m reading…

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The 20 Books of Summer Challenge has encouraged me to focus on books that have appealed and yet have been neglected due to other reading commitments. Toffee by Sarah Crossan was most definitely worth the wait and my review gives a taste of what to expect if you would like to find out more. Another book, this time for a middle grade audience, that I was looking forward to reading was The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson and over the last few days I have enjoyed this one too. It is a charming, magical story with a fairy tale feel and lived up to expectations. I plan to post my review in the next few days.

News and resources…

‘The prize of all prizes’: Teacher Kate Clanchy’s memoir wins Orwell award– Kate Clanchy’s “moving and powerful” memoir about working as a teacher in the state education system, Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me, has won the Orwell prize for political writing.

What Would Bernardine Read? – the author of Girl, Woman, Other recommends her top twenty reads by black British womxn writers including Malorie Blackman, Catherine Johnson and Patrice Lawrence.

The Three Rs of Reading Aloud in Lockdown– A great article on the OURfPleasure website by Ben Harris, a Y6 teacher, who discusses the ways in which he ensured children continued to access quality Read-Alouds during lockdown. He explores some of the interesting effects of reading aloud on children’s emotional wellbeing, showing in particular how it supports the ‘Three Rs’, Reassurance, Recovery and Relaxation.

The Literacy Calendar 2020 – 2021 – this is a wonderful and extremely helpful resource created by Sadie Phillips. It includes a mixture of writing and reading competitions, events, days, weeks, festivals and shadowing schemes suitable for primary pupils. It is available to download in both PDF and Word formats. Great for planning for the next school year.

Love My Books is Five Years Old! – Lovemybooks was launched in 2015 with the aim to combine carefully chosen books with activities and resources designed to help parents and young children enjoy sharing books together. The website now contains over 220 activity pages used by families, schools and nurseries and Frank Cottrell Boyce has recently become a patron. There is lots to explore on their extensive website and you can sign up to their regular newsletter too.

Gender gap in children’s reading grew in UK lockdown – survey – “Greater access to audiobooks at school and home may help re-engage boys with literacy, the report from the National Literacy Trust (NLT) and Puffin says, as findings suggest these are more popular with boys.” An interesting article in the Guardian.

Biting off more nonsense than you can chew….with Mini Grey– a delightful and entertaining guest blog post by Mini Grey on the Picture Book Den. Mini describes illustrating the new collection of poems by A F Harrold due to be published in September. The book sounds and looks wonderful.

Reading is Magical Festival – Bath Children’s Literature Festival have joined forces with fellow festivals to create the Reading is Magic Festival this autumn! A free, inclusive and engaging digital book festival for schools and families.

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The Little Rebels Award Shortlist – The shortlist has been announced for this award which celebrates children’s fiction which challenges stereotypes, promotes social justice and advocates for a more peaceful and fairer world. You can read more about the list and links to reviews in this Books for Keeps article.

Little Rebels Book Award Interview – this is a fascinating history of the award founded in 2012 which includes a look at previous winners.

Children’s Books That Help to Teach About Emotions – these stories selected by Caroline Bologna for Huffpost all help children understand and express feelings including anger and sadness.

Axel Scheffler shares unseen illustration work on the Picturebook Makers blog – I think this is a fascinating article and a wonderful insight into the creative process behind the production of picture books. It also includes a look at Axel’s sketchbooks and early observational drawings.

Tom Palmer: Family reading means everything to me– as part of #ReadingTogether day on Thursday author Tom Palmer wrote this personal and touching article about his own family reading experience. I think he is a wonderful ambassador for this new initiative.

Finally, some book reviews that caught my eye this week…

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson (story & art), Omar Mohamed (story), Iman Geddy (colour) – the power of graphic novels in building empathy is discussed in this blogpost by Melanie McGilloway as part of the blog tour to launch this new graphic novel.

Monsieur Roscoe On Holiday by Jim Field – another blog tour and another lovely review from Melanie. Alongside the review of a picture book that sounds delightful and great fun Jim Field also recommends his five favourite picture books in French. I’m so tempted to try and brush up my O Level French with these!

I Am Not A Label Written by Cerrie Burnell Illustrated by Lauren Mark Baldo – an empowering collection of biographies profiling over 30 disabled creators, thinkers, activists and athletes. Joy Court, in her review for LoveReading4Kids says “A comprehensive glossary and helpful discussion of language choices around disability and representation throughout add even more usefulness to this essential and attractive resource.”

The Great Godden by Meg Rossoff – this book keeps being mentioned online as a good read. Books for Keeps says that although “ostensibly a Young Adult novel there is much here for adult readers too.”  Perhaps we should all put it on our summer reading list?

Well, that’s it for the time being. Thank you for reading and a special thank you to those who get in touch to comment or share via Twitter and to everyone in the children’s book community who have supported each other and continued to create fabulous books and useful resources during the last few difficult months. There will continue to be book reviews and occasional articles posted on here and I hope to bring Reading Matters back too. Wishing you a happy, safe and restful summer.

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Toffee by Sarah Crossan – Book 4 of 20 Books of Summer 20

In 2013 I challenged myself to read all the shortlisted titles for that year’s Carnegie Award and found that I discovered authors new to me and also explored genres that had beforehand not appealed. The high point of the exercise for me was a book called The Weight of Water, a debut written in free verse by Sarah Crossan. Had it not been for the Carnegie this was a book that I would probably not have selected from the shelves and yet I loved it. A poignant, touching story of a Polish teenager struggling to make a new life in England that left me moved and also impressed by the author’s skill. Since then Sarah Crossan has been shortlisted  for the Carnegie again with Apple and Rain, won the award for One in 2016, been appointed Laureate na nÓg and this year was longlisted for the Carnegie for Toffee. Every one of her books has made an impact on me, in particular Moonrise, a devastating story centred on capital punishment and sibling love which was shortlisted for the Costa Book Award in 2017.

 

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So to Toffee, published last year and somehow on my to read list all this time without actually being read. Thank goodness for the 20 Books of Summer 20 challenge. Something that Sarah Crossan does with great success is make challenging subjects accessible to her readers. The writing style, like her previous books, told in verse, results in pages with much white space, short sentences and a book that feels like an ‘easy read’. Easy perhaps in reading speed but not however in content. Toffee tells the story of Allison who runs away from home and is taken in by Marla, an elderly woman with dementia, who in her confused state of mind mistakes Allison for an old friend, Toffee. Allison has reasons for disguising who she is and so does not correct her mistake and moves in with the old lady. Gradually a relationship of sorts develops between the two which slowly becomes a bond of friendship and the reader sees these two fragile people discover a strength and a unity that is at times quite beautiful.

I loved this, so much so that as I reached the last page I wanted to turn back and start again at the beginning. Sarah Crossan writes about difficult subjects such as abuse, dementia and mental health with care and with kindness. She draws her characters so well that you want the best for them even when they are not behaving perfectly. Is Allison taking advantage of Marla at first? We are asked to suspend judgement and wait for events to unfold and when they do we are rewarded with a story that feels complete and believable. The verse format enables us to witness the story in a series of snapshots and therefore the more harrowing aspects are not dwelt on yet they are still deeply affecting.

The depiction of dementia is disturbing in its poignancy. There are flashes of the younger Marla, her humour and lust for life reappear and we are made aware of the woman she once was. Or perhaps still is, just buried a little further down beneath layers of life, experience and age. Sometimes the friendship between Marla and Allison breaks through the mists of memory loss and the two share a pleasure in dancing and joking together. It is both heartbreaking and beautiful.

This YA title is one that I imagine will be extremely popular in secondary schools, the style will enable it to be read by a wide audience and its important themes lend themselves to discussion and thoughtful exploration.  Sarah Crossan has become one of my favourite authors.

This is the fourth book on my #20BooksofSummer2020 challenge organised by Cathy at 746 Books.  If you would like to see which other books I’m planning to read you can browse my list here.

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Reading Matters – news from the world of children’s books

Hello and welcome to this week’s round up of the latest children’s book news.  The end of the summer term is rapidly approaching and for some the holidays have already started. It has been a school year like no other we have known and yet throughout it the children’s book community has rallied to support each other and continues to do so. This week I have tried to find the most positive and reassuring items to share.


What I’m reading…

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My progress through my 20 Books of Summer 20 Challenge continues, albeit slowly. This week I wrote a little about my third book, the bestselling The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. a story I savoured and immersed myself in over several days. I have also finished Toffee by Sarah Crossan. This may be a quicker read but one that personally I found more emotionally affecting. Thoughtful, perceptive, heartbreaking yet still a striking portrayal of resilience and love in difficult circumstances.  My review will follow soon.

News and resources…

Storm Hound scoops 2020 Tir na n-Og Award – Author Claire Fayers has won the 2020 Tir na n-Og English-language award for her fantasy adventure story, steeped in Norse legend and Welsh mythology. Storm Hound was one of four books with an authentic Welsh background shortlisted for the prestigious award for children’s and young people’s literature, which is organised annually by the Books Council of Wales.

“By saving the whale, we might save ourselves.”– Chris Vick, author of Carnegie shortlisted Girl. Boy. Sea., talks on the Book Trust website about writing, working in marine conservation, and how the ocean inspires incredible stories.

Selection of book lists compiled by former School Librarian of the a Year, Lucas Maxwell – a fabulous and useful range here including: Great Reads for Sixth Form, Great Quick Reads, Great Scary Stories and (rather topical this week) Great Reads for Fans of David Walliams. Thank you Lucas for sharing these.

TENConline Live Launch – Bennie Kara – Bennie’s closing keynote speech from last weekend’s event powerfully draws on her own experiences as a teacher and pupil. She challenges us all to create curriculums which are diverse and inclusive. This, I think, is equally important for school librarians highlighting why school library collections should meet the needs of all their users.  


Children’s books celebrating diversity and inclusion: tips and recommendations
– Moon Lane Books have written a feature for the South Bank Centre blog discussing the importance of representation and diversity in children’s books.

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The History of a Word – What’s in a word? For author and linguist Patrick Skipworth, the hidden histories in our everyday conversation inspired him to write a book, Literally: amazing words and where they come from,  all about the many weird and wonderful languages we use. This sounds like a fascinating book and useful for both classrooms and libraries.

Konnie Huq Libraries! – this week in the series of regular videos from Konnie Huq she featured a brief history of libraries and a reading from Dragon in the Library by Louie Stowell. This would be good to share with children at home or school.

Reading Together Day Announced For 16 July 2020 – this sounds wonderful.  Over 15 organisations collaborating to highlight the importance of reading together. Families will be invited to take part in a celebration of reading together on 16 July. There will be a shared schedule of events throughout the day featuring collaborators across books, publishing and education sectors. One of the events is a great webinar for parents. Panellists, including  Teresa Cremin and Joseph Coelho, will share top tips to support and encourage reading at home. You can register here 

Books for Topics Summer Reading Bingo – this is a great summer holiday activity for children and parents too. The focus is on reading for pleasure experiences rather than specific texts, with activities like make a den and read inside, read in the dark using a torch and read to a pet or a soft toy. Children can choose what they read for the challenges, although Alison at Books for Topics has included some Summer 2020 recommended reads for those looking for new ideas.

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Children’s Literature Summer CPD– Sadie Phillips (Literacy with Miss P) has put together a wonderful list of courses, discussions and examples of good practice available for teachers. This would, I think, be equally suitable for school librarians. In fact I’m already enrolled on a couple!

A Mighty Girl’s Summer 2020 Reading List – A Mighty Girl’s new special feature, the girl-empowering summer reading list, showcases a diverse selection of both long-time favorites and new releases starring girls and women for readers of all ages, infants through to adults.

Cressida’s Creativity Summer Camp – all week Book Trust have been hosting an array of wonderful talks, writing workshops and art master classes. If you missed them they are still available to watch via the link above. There are lots of creative ideas to share.

Children’s books provide the perfect escape from coronovirus – Piers Torday chooses his favourite authors, from Robert Louis Stevenson to Sue Townsend in this article for the Spectator.

Philip Pullman to release unseen His Dark Materials novella in October – Written in 2004 and auctioned for charity, Serpentine sees an adult Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon revisit Trollesund in search of secrets.

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Books for Keeps Bumper Summer Issue – I had a quick glance through this yesterday and intended to select a couple of items to highlight. I couldn’t. It’s all great, the range of articles and interviews ensures that there is something here for all interests and lots of great reviews too. This magazine is top of my weekend reading list. Books for Keeps are also asking for support to enable them to develop the website and preserve their valuable archives. There are details in the editorial if you would like to help.

National Poetry Day 40 Fabulous Poetry Books – a range of fabulous new & forthcoming poetry books to enjoy, discover, share. Great range & diversity, for all ages, especially for the young (& young at heart)

CLPE announce new partnership for this year’s CLiPPA – last but not least, more wonderful poetry news hot off the press. On 10th July CLPE announced that they have partnered with The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival to celebrate this year’s CLiPPA (CLPE’s Poetry Award). CLiPPA will feature in the Festival’s programme for schools and families, and the winner will be announced in a very special Festival Poetry Show on Friday 9th October 2020.

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Finally some reviews that caught my eye this week…

Lena, The Sea and Me: Author Maria Parr, Guy Puzey (Translator) – this is a lovely review by Roy James for Just Imagine. “Appealing to both boys and girls, Lena, the Sea and Me shows just how much growing up happens in the final year of primary school” This sounds like a great transition read.

Irresistible Illustrated Fiction – School Librarian and book blogger Jo Clarke has reviewed a selection of books which are perfect for newly confident readers allowing them to gain confidence without being overwhelmed by pages of text. Perfect for primary school libraries and classrooms.

The Rules by Tracy Darnton – a new thriller from Waterstones Children’s Book Prize-Shortlisted Tracy Darnton and this interesting review by Ann on Cafe Society has intrigued me for she says it reminds her “that the best of YA literature deals with complex and important issues.” It is now on my ‘to be read list’.

Well there we are, another round up completed and it is a rather jam packed edition, so perhaps there is something included there that you will find helpful. If you have already started your summer holidays I hope you have a relaxing and restoring break and if you still have a little while to go I wish you good luck over the final few days. Happy reading!

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The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – Book 3 of 20 Books of Summer 2020

The Shadow of the Wind needs no introduction, an epic bestseller that has become so well known that tourists may now enjoy literary walks following the characters’ footsteps through the streets of Barcelona. The introduction to the book itself is alluring to lovers of literature.

“I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.”

The idea of a building in which unwanted books are rescued and treasured is surely appealing to all bibliophiles. We accompany Daniel and his father as they enter this mysterious labyrinth where thousands of  discarded volumes fill the shelves. Prompted by his father, an antiquarian book seller, ten year old Daniel selects a book, or perhaps the book selects him, and this book, The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax, will dominate his life for many years as his life and the life of the mysterious author become entwined. Secrets and intrigue, love and loss, evil and death merge with voices from the past and dreams for the future in this story within a story.

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The pace of the storytelling and the dark Gothic setting encourage a slow immersive read of this book that blends together genres in a novel that flits across time periods and cities and brings together coming of age, sinister mystery and family tragedy in a saga that is enthralling. Daniel is an engaging protagonist and it was he that drew me on when the plot slowed a little in places. This is a book, I think, that requires time to read. I had intended reading this years ago but commitments then dissuaded me from persevering. The Coronavirus circumstances provided me with that time and I am glad that I included this neglected book in my 20 Books of Summer challenge. Rather like Daniel in the story I chose this lost book or perhaps it chose me. The writing is beautiful, the translation by Lucia Graves flows and this is a book that sucks you in rather than grips you with cliffhangers. The atmospheric setting of Barcelona in the time periods of the 1950s and 1930s in which the bulk of the story is set is described so vividly that I truly felt part of the place. In my imagination I walked with Daniel down dark, narrow streets through courtyards and crumbling mansions.

Any review of this book without giving plot spoilers is difficult. Daniel’s choice of book from the mysterious library engenders in him a fascination for the book itself and more importantly its author Julian Carax. Daniel’s attempts to discover the truth behind the life and death of the author expose him to great danger. He learns that a man named Lain Coubert is determined to track down all the copies of Julian Carax’s books and destroy them. That this man bears the name given to the devil in the Shadow of the Wind increases the fear that Daniel feels and his resolve to unearth the truth.  His own life, including first love and his family situation, mirrors in many ways the circumstances of the author’s life. By the time Daniel realises the links in their experiences it may be too late for him to put things right.

There are a multitude of characters involved in the story, a few are appealing but there are many who as a reader you either mistrust or dislike. The treatment of some of the female characters by powerful men is disturbing and yet there are women who display strength of character too. I particularly enjoyed the character of Daniel’s friend Fermin who, despite his rather excitable and flippant manner, is both knowledgable about the world of books and loyal and dependable when necessary. His behaviour in part a result of his own dreadful experiences during the Civil War.

Frequently throughout the story there are references to both angels and devils and allusions to the shadow of the title. Death is an ever present threat in this engrossing drama. Often as a reader we experience that sensation of becoming part of the lives of the characters we are reading about. Carlos Ruiz Zafon has written a book which creates the lasting impression of layers of different lives and different stories intertwining to create what is in effect an ode to the magical appeal of books.

This is the third book on my #20BooksofSummer2020 challenge organised by Cathy at 746 Books.  If you would like to see which other books I’m planning to read you can browse my list here.

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Reading Matters – news from the world of children’s books

Hello and welcome to another look at this week’s children’s book news. When I made my New Year resolution to try and share positive stories and good news about children’s literature on a regular basis I wasn’t at all confident that I would be successful in maintaining this. If I had known what the year was going to bring for us all perhaps I would not have attempted it. However here we are more than halfway through the year still plodding on together and I am enjoying making new friends in the book community and discovering which items people enjoy and why.

“There are no faster or firmer friendships than those formed between people who love the same books.” Irving Stone,

I hope you find something in this week’s collection interesting, useful or simply enjoyable.

What I’m reading…

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As we reached the mid way point of the year I was thinking back over the books I had read since January and was struck by the commonality of the themes of many of the children’s picture books that I enjoyed. I shared these special titles in Celebrating Picture Books – my favourites of 2020 so far and I hope you find my selection interesting.

This week the winners of the Henrietta Branford Writing Competition were announced and the range and quality of the stories written by the young authors is impressive. I plan to read more of them this weekend. You can find out more in my blogpost here. 

I finally finished reading The Shadow of the Wind, a book I savoured slowly. When I have collected my thoughts I hope to share them as part of the 20 Books of Summer 2020 Challenge.

News and resources…

Children’s books roundup – the best new picture books and novels – “Warm, consoling, funny and sad” Another beautiful selection from Imogen Russell Williams for the Guardian. Always my favourite recommendations.

Book Trust Care Packages – Lockdown has been very challenging for families and has limited many children’s access to education. To help all children have access to books and the life-changing benefits that reading brings, BookTrust has created a range of care packages which are being given out in local communities. Find out how we can help via the link.

Children’s Literature Festivals My Lockdown Poem Competition – This charity are encouraging children & young people (7-16) to pen a poem in any style about their life in lockdown. Closes 30 August, teachers are being asked to join in too and there is the chance to win book tokens and an author visit. 

More Picture Books for Year 6 List 2 from Simon Smith – Simon Smith , head teacher and avid picture book lover, always finds books that I have missed and I love his choices. This is a wonderful list that I think would be equally appropriate for lower secondary age.

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Creative Secrets: Piers Torday – interview in Words and Pictures, the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators’ online magazine. In search of inspiration, Caroline Deacon invites established writers and illustrator to tell us about their creative space. This month features Piers Torday and is an interesting read.

The British Book Awards (NIBBIES) – the winners of these awards were announced this week. It was lovely to see David McKee honoured as Illustrator of the Year. You can see the winners and shortlists for the different book awards in the link above and the winners of the trade awards here. Congratulations to Usborne who were named Children’s Publisher of the Year.

Author and illustrator Alex T. Smith National Literacy Trust Author of the Week – learn how to draw Claude the dog with Alex and lots of great downloadable activities linked to his books on the Literacy Trust Family Zone.

Will Mabbit on Virtual Author Visits – Will Mabbitt is the author of multiple children’s books including The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones, This is NOT a Fairy Tale and I Can Only Draw Worms. This week he was a guest on the YLG blog to discuss virtual author visits.

Bounce Back 2 – supporting children returning to school – this is an extremely useful article on the Just Imagine blog suggesting books on different themes such as friendship and kindness, community and ‘real-life heroes’ and cherishing our world that may be helpful for the next academic year.

The Unwinding: Drawing to a Close with Jackie Morris – this is a simply beautiful video, soothing to watch and listen to and also fascinating. It’s just under 15 minutes long and is most definitely worth finding time for. The accompanying blogpost is lovely too.

Critical Thinking and Book Talk: An approach to developing critical thinking abilities in the early years by Dr Mary Roche – an excellent article in The Sector by the author of Developing children’s critical thinking through picturebooks’ (Routledge 2015), examining research and providing classroom examples.

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How I Met My Agent: Tom Huddleston & Ella Diamond Kahn – live online interview series, brought to you by Diamond Kahn & Woods Literary Agency. This episode on Tuesday July 7th at 6.45 sees Tom Huddleston, author of  Flood World and Dust Road, discussing every aspect of the book business, from creative stuff to finding an agent / publisher to marketing and everything in between!

Inis The Children’s Books Ireland Magazine – For the first time ever, Inis is published in digital-only format in response to the Covid19 situation. This is a fabulous read! Lots of reviews, an interview with David Wiesner, an article looking back at Sarah Crossan’s laureateship and more.

Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell launches creative summer camp with all star line-up – Cressida’s Creativity Summer Camp will inspire families to embrace books, reading and creativity at home over the summer holidays for entertainment, learning, as well as to support mental well-being. A week full of brilliant ideas and fun from top authors and illustrators starting on Monday 6th July.

UKLA Book Awards 2020 Winners Announcements 3 July 2020 – In this video the UKLA Book Awards team and teacher judges announce the winners of the 2020 Awards for the 4 categories 3-6, 7-10+, 11-14+ and Information Books 3-14+. I enjoyed the introduction by Daniel Hahn very much. Winners include, in the 3-6 category, Mixed written and illustrated by Arree Chungwho has generously created a free and rather wonderful Mixed Book and activities PDF to help with discussion with young children about diversity and love.

Finally some book reviews that caught my eye this week…

Invisible Nature: A Secret World Beyond Our Senses Author Catherine Barr Illustrator Anne Wilson – a nonfiction book about the invisible wonders of our world  including  microwaves, ultraviolet light, infrared light, electromagnetism, ultrasound. Described by Book Trust as  ‘an accessible, educational and fun picture book for junior readers’ this sounds great for primary school classrooms and libraries.

Peeking At Picture Books – a great selection of picture books are included in this blogpost from Samantha Thomas including Together by Jane Chapman which looks gorgeous.

Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker – another fabulous review for Just Imagine by teacher Sam Creighton. “I’m not sure a book can save the world but, if any book can save a kid from feeling lonely or odd or left out, it’s this one.” This book is on my shelves at the moment but it’s not staying there for long now.

That’s all for this week, another bumper week of book news. I hope that something appeals among this week’s links. Have a lovely weekend and happy reading.

 

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