Reading Matters – children’s book news

Welcome to this week’s round up of what has been happening in the world of children’s books. There have been award announcements, news of forthcoming events and, inevitably, the Best of the Year lists have started to appear. I hope something here catches your eye and is useful to you. If you have time I can recommend the Sita Brahmachari and Michael Rosen conversation, the recording of which is included in the news and resources section.

What I’m reading

As Non Fiction November comes to a close my non-fiction recommendation for this week is William Grill’s beautiful new book, Bandoola The Great Elephant Escape. Based on a true story this book illustrated in William Grill’s trademark style is a moving story set in Myanmar during World War 2 and highlights the trust and empathy that can be found in relationships between man and animals.

I have booked Nikki Gamble’s Audience With Paul Jennings next Thursday and this week I read his novella, A Different Boy. My experience of his books previously was his humorous fiction popular with my own sons when they were young. This was rather different. A carefully crafted story that certainly packs a punch. I was impressed at the way in which a short story contained such depth of emotion and serious themes. It would be great for reluctant readers aged 11plus. Its size is deceptive and a degree of emotional maturity is required of the reader.

As a last minute Christmas kind of person I’ve finally admitted defeat and have been reading some new “Christmassy” books. The Christmas Carrolls and Wishyouwas certainly put me in the mood and I defy anyone to resist How Winston Came Home For Christmas which is a total delight. There’s a blogpost in preparation telling you more.

News, articles and resources

30 best children’s books for Christmas 2021: from Dogs in Disguise to Striking Out – Marianne Levy looks at the best new writing for children both big and small for the i newspaper, from a lift the flap book for tinies to a seasonal rom-com.

Nikki Gamble’s November Book Blast – for those who missed the live event here’s your chance to catch up via YouTube. Join Nikki as blasts through over 30 of the best books publishing in November 2021.

Nikki Gamble’s Christmas Book Blast – following on from the recording of Nikki’s most recent look at newly published children’s books a reminder that Nikki’s special Christmas edition takes place on Friday 3rd December. You can register via the link above.

Books for Topics: 2021 Christmas Book Gift Guides – this is a helpful resource from Alison and her team at Books for Topics if you are looking for good books as Christmas presents for children. They have put together a list of recommended books to give to primary school aged children in different age groups from 3-11.

Sita Brahmachari in conversation with Michael Rosen – if you missed this event live the recording is now available and I can recommend this fascinating discussion about children’s literature. Sita Brahmachari, talks about her novels for children and young adults and why diversity matters in her stories. It also celebrates the launch of Sita Brahmachari’s powerful YA novel, When Shadows Fall and Michael Rosen’s new picturebook about perseverance, hope and overcoming fear, Sticky McStickstick illustrated by Tony Ross.

Non Fiction November Jo Cummins’ Selection – if you are looking for beautifully presented information books to give as presents Jo has selected some real treasures here. All suitable for the primary age group. A lovely round up to end Non Fiction November.

Costa Book Awards Shortlists Announced – Launched in 1971, the Costa Book Awards is one of the UK’s most prestigious and popular book prizes. There are five categories and the shortlist for the Children’s Book Award consists of: Maggie Blue and the Dark World by Anna Goodall, The Crossing by Manjeet Mann, The Midnight Guardians by Ross Montgomery and The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh by Helen Rutter. More details available via the link.

Bishop’s Stortford College Festival of Literature – Available to watch live in early 2022 or on catch up, the digitally devised Festival programme is intended to bring authors straight from their homes into school classrooms and even to pupils learning from home. There is a fabulous line-up for this festival, suitable for both primary and secondary, and each event will include teaching materials, to help support and encourage further learning. Full details including dates, cost etc are available via the link above.

School Library Association Information Book Award Winners Announced – Now in its eleventh year, this award aims to emphasise the importance of non-fiction by highlighting and celebrating the high standard of children’s information books available. Full details of the winners in each of the categories can be found via the link. It is good to see the contribution made by Anita Ganeri acknowledged as this year’s winner of the Hachette Children’s Group Award for Outstanding Contribution to Information Books.

What To Read After… I Am A Tiger – this year’s Book Trust Time to Read book, given to every Reception-aged child in England and Wales, is I Am A Tiger by Karl Newson and Ross Collins. If you are looking for something similar to recommend for a child who enjoys this story Book Trust have some suggestions for other books to try.

Best children’s books of 2021 – Author-illustrator Raúl the Third and Washington Post reviewers share their picks of the year in picture books, fiction and non-fiction. I am tempted by some here that I have still not read. Thank you to Mat Tobin for sharing this article this week.

Best Picture Books 2021 – a selection chosen by the School Library Journal contains Grandpa’s Camper recently nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal. Thank you to Melanie McGilloway for sharing this list online.

The Reading Agency Winter Mini Challenge – The Reading Agency has announced a new reading adventure partnership with WWF-UK, the Winter Mini Challenge. This will encourage children to continue reading over the winter holidays with a free, digital platform offering rewards and prizes for continuing to read. The Winter Mini Challenge will launch on 1 December and run through until 16 January.

Burberry and Marcus Rashford MBE pledge support for National Literacy Trust work on school libraries – British fashion house Burberry, has partnered with English international footballer Marcus Rashford MBE, to help organisations enhance library experiences for children and young people from disadvantaged communities.

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

Snow Ghost by Tony Mitton illustrated by Diana Mayo – although published this time last year Snow Ghost is a weekly staff pick on LoveReading4Kids this week. Andrea Reece says it is, “The perfect picture book for this time of year, a heart-warming celebration of hope and belonging.”

The Girl Who Talked to Trees by Natasha Farrant illustrated by Lydia Corry – although you should not of course judge a book by its cover this one is particularly tempting! Erin Hamilton’s review says this book contains “brilliant messages of friendship, environmental issues and speaking up to protect that which you love.” It sounds and looks perfect.

Roar Like a Lion by Carlie Sorosiak, illustrated by Katie Walker – a self-help guide for young readers which incorporates key traits from the animal kingdom. This sounds different but also extremely helpful. Veronica Price says, “Whether you want advice on making friendships, reaching out to other groups in an inclusive manner, finding your inner bravery or accepting your own unique self, there is a story for you in this book.”

That’s everything for this week. I hope it’s useful to you. Happy reading!

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Bandoola The Great Elephant Rescue by William Grill

Bandoola by William Grill is narrative non-fiction that both moves and inspires the reader. The story of one special elephant from Myanmar and his role in a wartime escape is sensitively told in this beautiful book highlighting the importance of our relationship with animals.

Bandoola The Great Elephant Rescue copyright Flying Eye Books

When William Grill discovered a copy of “Elephant Bill” in a second hand bookshop many years ago it prompted him to research more about the man and his remarkable story. The tale takes place in Myanmar during the period when it was a colony ruled by the British Empire and the author provides historical background enabling the reader to form a picture of the world that James Howard Williams and Bandoola shared.

Bandoola was an Asian timber elephant and at that time these majestic animals were tasked with moving and hauling logs to the river where they were then transported to the sawmills. Williams started work for the timber company and over time built up a relationship with the oozies, the men who cared for the elephants, and a growing respect for the animals themselves. When World War 2 arrived in Myanmar the people were forced to flee from their jungle home. Bandoola and Elephant Bill then led 53 elephants and over 200 refugees to safety, scaling 6,000 ft mountains as they trekked from Myanmar to northern India and safety. That remarkable journey is the focus of this stunning book.

William Grill’s distinctive artistic style conveys the beauty of the landscape which is the backdrop to the drama and the deceptively simple appearance is based on close observation from the author’s time in Myanmar researching for the book. The limited palette consisting of shades of green is perfect for the lush jungle surroundings and for the dramatic mountains beyond. As with his previous books Grill uses his illustrations to depict facts and information extremely effectively. Alongside the stunning double page spreads of landscapes are pages with numerous vignettes describing the different biomes and the various species living in them. There are facts about the elephants and the routines involved in the work they do both before and during the war. The reader will learn a great deal of information from a close look at the illustrations.

The themes of conservation and respect for animals are of great importance as we learn of the dwindling numbers of Asian elephants still living in the wild. This is a book with an important message. Bandoola’s legacy is the effect he had on Williams and the man’s realisation that humans could live peacefully alongside animals in a spirit of cooperation and understanding.

I believe that plants and animals have an immediate sensitiveness, an awareness of loving, of what is good and what is perilous, that we humans cut ourselves off from to our own detriment, that is what the jungle has taught me.

James Howard Williams “Elephant Bill”

Bandoola The Great Elephant Rescue by William Grill was published by Flying Eye Books on 1st October and I should like to thank the publishers for my review copy. This beautiful book would make a great Christmas present and can be purchased online at bookshop.org.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

Hello and welcome to this week’s look at what has been happening in the world of children’s books. There is most definitely a touch of Christmas about some of the latest reviews and forthcoming events with ideas being shared about which books to buy for your loved ones. Each year the charity Book Trust organise an appeal to help purchase Just One Book for vulnerable children and those in care. I have included a link in the resources section below for you to find out more if you would like to help.

What I’m reading…

My exploration of new non-fiction for children to mark Non-Fiction November continues this week and I have been rather spoilt for choice. The Most Important Animal of All by Penny Worms and Hannah Bailey is a beautiful book from an independent publisher, Mama Makes Books. It encourages young children to think critically, to learn about the interconnectedness of the natural world and to protect it. There is a link to some brilliant free teaching resources in my review too.

Flying Eye books create some visually stunning non-fiction and Beetles for Breakfast by Madeleine Finlay and Jisu Choi is a good example. This book is crammed with detail and numerous weird and wonderful ideas on how to reduce the impact climate change is having on our planet. Children are encouraged to use their imagination to solve problems that may seem insurmountable and to explore practical ways to help. Polly Bee Makes Honey by Deborah Chancellor and Julia Groves published by Scallywag Press is a picture book teaching children where their food comes from in an appealing story format and enabling them to find out about bees and their importance. This would be lovely for Early Years and KS1 and a great introduction to non-fiction.

My children’s book highlight of the week was the online interview between Michael Rosen and Sita Brahmachari to mark the publication of their new books. This was a joyful hour and a half full of thoughtful comment and discussion about aspects of reading and writing and the power of children’s literature. The event was recorded and when I know where you may access it I will share it on the blog.

News, articles and resources…

Jon Biddle’s Reading for Pleasure Padlet – this is a fabulous resource. Jon has generously created a Padlet with links to some of the various RfP resources he has put together over the past few years (maps, surveys, booklists, articles.) Jon intends to add to this in the future. Definitely a resource to bookmark!

Books For Keeps Christmas Issue – this brilliant on-line children’s magazine is my favourite source of information and this special issue is brimming with lovely stuff. Interviews with Michael Rosen, Nadia Shireen and Eoin Colfer; Yuval Zommer Windows into Illustration; plus Books of the Year and a Christmas Gift Guide. A new Beyond the Secret Garden article too and lots of reviews. Highly recommended.

Children’s books roundup – the best recent picture books and novels – another excellent selection chosen by Imogen Russell Williams who always manages to convey the essence of a book in a few words. There is something here to appeal to a wide range of ages and tastes.

WRITING FEATURE Literary vs Commercial – this is a fascinating article by Chrissy Sturt for Words and Pictures, the SCBWI British Isles online magazine. This gave me a great deal to think about and would prompt an interesting debate about children’s books and their role and impact on readers.

Reflecting on Reading for Pleasure Pedagogy – Open University Reading for Pleasure video interview with Sonia Thompson, Headteacher from St Matthews, Birmingham, on sustaining RfP pedagogy. Two minutes of wisdom and worth a watch. Sonia and her staff are ‘enabling children to read for life’ and all supported with research and evidence.

Jason Reynolds: The Books of My Life – the award wining American YA author on discovering Stephen King, growing into Toni Morrison – and the perfect novel. “Books weren’t really my thing as a child. I didn’t read on my own until I was 17 or 18. It just wasn’t my life.”

The BookTrust Christmas appeal – this annual appeal raises money to send surprise festive book parcels to children who are vulnerable or in care. This year half of the books will be sent to children in care who may be spending their first Christmas away from their families, and the other half will be given out through community foodbanks to children in families facing challenging circumstances.

Children’s Fiction: 10 You Might Have Missed – There has been a large number of newly published children’s books recently and often just a handful claim the spotlight. Alison Leach and the Review Panel on Books for Topics have highlighted some of the brilliant books that may have passed you by but deserve not to be missed.

When the Sky Falls by Phil Earle Teaching Resources – Scott Evans, (The Reader Teacher) has created some free resources, (comprehension questions, writing opportunities & cross-curricular activities ready to use in the classroom), to accompany this award winning book. They can be downloaded from the publishers’ website via the link above.

What’s Great About Non-Fiction? – a guest post by author and illustrator Martin Brown for Non-Fiction November on the Federation of Children’s Book Groups website. He looks at the appeal of illustrated non-fiction and discusses how information can be conveyed through pictures.

Q&A with Kevin Crossly-Holland – this is a treat. Kevin Crossley-Holland, award-winning author of the Arthur Trilogy, discusses the influences, meaning and legacy of the Arthurian legends, as his new book ‘Arthur: The Always King’, illustrated by Chris Riddell is published. Thank you to Chris Soul for posting this interesting read. There is a link to Chris’s review of the new book too.

Register for the 2022 Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Shadowing Scheme – the nominations for these awards were announced last week and now you can register your Shadowing Group to take part in the online shadowing to celebrate the 2022 Awards Shortlist from March onwards. Registration is required to submit reviews and artwork inspired by the shortlisted books and to vote for favourite books to win the Shadowers’ Choice Awards.

Book Trust: Books Featuring Transgender and non-binary characters – Its Transgender Awareness Week (November 13th – 19th) and to mark the occasion Book Trust has produced a list of non-fiction and stories with characters who identify as Trans, non-binary or gender fluid.

Christmas Event for schools- Mr Dilly Meets Mel Taylor-Bessent & AF Harrold – Wednesday 8th December 11:00am – 11:45am.To celebrate Christmas Mr Dilly Meets author Mel Taylor-Bessent to talk about her new book, The Christmas Carrolls. Mr Dilly will also be joined by poet Mr A.F. Harrold, to speak about his poetry and latest collection The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice. This show will also feature some Christmas poem recitals brought to you by Poetry By Heart. Full detail and registration via the link.

Deliver the Joy of Reading reading guide 2021 – Published by Children’s Books Ireland, The Deliver the Joy of Reading reading guide highlights books by Irish authors, illustrators and publishers for children and young people aged 0–18. There are reviews of over 144 books, in English and Irish, for children and young people aged 0 to 18. You will find ghost stories, Christmas tales, historical fiction, funny books, board books for babies, songbooks, nature themed non-fiction and romance for young adults. Free to download via the link.

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

The Lights That Dance in the Night by Yuval Zommer – this picture book imagines the Northern Lights’ fleeting journey from space to Earth and how they weave a special magic for the animals and people living in the frozen lands below. Joanne Owen’s really lovely review on LoveReading4Kids has persuaded me to buy this as a Christmas present for my little assistant reviewer.

November Non-Fiction Round Up – a lovely selection of books reviewed by Rachael on the Picture Book Perfect blog. Suitable for a range of ages and Rachael includes a look at the illustrations which does help in assessing suitability.

Nisha’s War by Dan Smith – Kate Heap reviews a large number of books on a regular basis so when she says, “Every once in a while, a book comes along that causes the rest of the world to melt away leaving only the story.” it makes me sit up and take notice. This story set in World War 2 sounds excellent and Kate recommends it for Year 5 and above.

Loki: A Bad God’s Guide to Being Good by Louie Stowell – this has been receiving a lot of praise on Twitter so I checked out one of my trusted reviewers to find out more. John Lloyd’s review on The Bookbag made me smile. “I’d never have turned to this thinking at last, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid-meets-Norse-myth book I’d always hoped for – but that’s because this idea is actually rather a genius concept.” Due to be published in early 2022 and one to watch out for.

The Song That Sings Us by Nicola Davies – ever since I attended the online launch for this book I have been looking forward to reading it. Andrew Rough’s enthusiastic review has whetted my appetite still further. “The Song that Sings Us really is a book worth singing about. I hope it gets read far and wide, it deserves to.”

I hope this week’s round up has been helpful and you have found a useful link or a new book to tempt you. Happy reading.

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Beetles for Breakfast…And other weird and wonderful ways to save the planet by Madeleine Finlay and Jisu Choi

Beetles for Breakfast is a visually stunning book crammed with detail and numerous weird and wonderful ideas on how to reduce the impact climate change is having on our planet. Children are encouraged to use their imagination to solve problems that may seem insurmountable and to find practical ways to help.

This book takes a look at what life could be like in the future thanks to the imaginative new ways scientists are finding to help protect the environment. Each chapter begins with a scene from daily life and then as the reader turns the pages these are transformed into a futuristic version and then a more detailed explanation of each topic. The typical scenes include, At the Breakfast Table, At School, In the Park, In the Bathroom and At the Beach providing a sense of the familiar.

The tone is light hearted at times but the astonishing amount of facts and detail included and the scientific language used make this a valuable source of information. There is a helpful glossary included at the end providing definitions of the more difficult vocabulary. The broad range of topics included include alternative sources of energy, environmental food alternatives, and inventions inspired by nature. Much of the information is conveyed within the eye catching illustrations by Jisu Choi and these invite the reader to linger and examine them in detail. The vibrant use of colour and the modern infographic style will tempt many readers to explore this book.

The final pages describe ways in which we the readers can do our bit to help. From starting your own wormery to writing to your MP, tips on DIY beauty products and going plastic free for a week each are achievable and will encourage children. The closing sentence sums up the positive tone of this appealing book: “No action is too small, and perhaps one day you’ll be an inventor, conservationist, activist, engineer, farmer or architect leading the way to a bright, cool future!”

I should like to thank the publishers, Flying Eye Books, for providing my review copy. Beetles for Breakfast was published on 1st September and is available to purchase online at bookshop.org

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The Most Important Animal of All by Penny Worms illustrated by Hannah Bailey

The Most Important Animal of All is a beautifully presented book that highlights the value of some of our most treasured creatures. Through thoughtfully presented facts and discussion it encourages young children to think critically, to learn about the interconnectedness of the natural world and, importantly, to protect it.

Endorsed by the British Ecological Society this high quality book is an excellent source of information but it is the approach to conveying this information that increases its appeal to children. It is an inspired touch to open the book with a classroom session on learning about animals and the instruction to the children to decide which animal is the most important of all. Young readers are instantly engaged and through text, beautiful illustrations by Hannah Bailey and photos they will learn enough to help them make an informed choice. From elephants to bees, sharks to tigers, bats to beavers the range of animals is diverse and interesting. Each creature’s features, habitat and its role in the ecosystem is explained carefully through detailed description and annotated illustrations. Visually this book is both attractive and informative being inviting to browse through and to study in more detail. Penny Worms explains both the importance of the different creatures and what is being done to protect animals under threat.

The discussion is left open ended for the readers to decide which they think is the most important. Will they agree with the experts? Which ever they decide upon they will have learned a great deal through the process. The final pages include information and photos of keystone species and ecosystems and the opportunity to find out more about each of the creatures via links to online sources of information. There is also a helpful glossary and index. The Most Important Animal of All would be an excellent addition to school libraries, valuable in the classroom and interesting to share at home. A really lovely non-fiction book and highly recommended.

There are some excellent free teachers’ resources written by Kerry Fitzpatrick, a Year 2 class teacher and Science Lead, available to download on the Mama Makes Books website here.

The Most Important Animal of All was published by Mama Makes Books on 19th August and is available to purchase online at Bookshop.org I should like to thank the publishers for providing my review copy.

Disclosure: If you buy books linked to our site, we may earn a commission from Bookshop.org, whose fees support independent bookshops.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

It has been another busy week in the world of children’s books with some important awards news. I hope this week’s round up includes something special you may have missed or a new book to tempt you.

What I’m reading…

I was interested to see Wolf Road, Richard Lambert’s highly acclaimed YA novel, included in the Carnegie nominations list this week as I had only just finished reading his first novel for children, Shadow Town. This is the first in a new fantasy series and is a compelling and thoughtful read that I would recommend to readers of 11 plus.

Illustrated fiction can be perfect for encouraging children to read for pleasure especially when it is designed to be accessible to a wide audience. Swop the Satsuma-Sized Secret is a good example. A charming debut from Lucy Noguera it combines fun with reassurance and increases awareness of deafness and signing in a positive way. Sasha and the Wolf is a lovely reissue of classic stories by Ann Jungman with gorgeous new illustrations by Gaia Bordicchia. The setting in snowy 19th century Russia makes this a perfect wintry read and these two stories of friendship would be good for newly independent readers or as a class read aloud for Years 2 and 3.

This week’s non-fiction recommendation for Non-Fiction November is We All Celebrate by Chitra Soundar illustrated by Jenny Bloomfield. This is a joyful look at celebrations from all around the world. Crammed full of detail, every page bursting with colourful illustrations this picture book is a true celebration of both unity and diversity and a thoughtful guide to religion, history and heritage.

News, articles and resources

Nominations announced for the 2022 CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals – an annual highlight for children’s book lovers is exploring the nominations for these prestigious awards. This year’s selection is excellent and I am delighted to see some of my favourites included. I don’t envy the judging panel who have to reduce these to a long-list by February.

Nikki Gamble’s Book Blast Christmas Special – Friday 3rd December at 7pm is a special date for your diary. Nikki will be previewing her personal picks of the month. Suitable for all adults interested in children’s books and reading. Attendance is free and you can register via the link above.

Books to Boost – Jo Cummins has selected a range of books that will helped boost children’s well being and provided helpful guidance on content and suitability. There are books to encourage confidence, to help cope with their emotions and to help children become more self award.

The Reader Teacher Christmas Book Gift Giving Guide – if you want to give a book to a child as a Christmas present this year Scott Evans has produced guides for different age groups. They include, classics, brand new titles, picture books, poetry, and non-fiction. Lots of suggestions for a variety of tastes.

John Agard, the first poet to be awarded BookTrust’s prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award – This award celebrates the body of work of an author and/or illustrator who has made an outstanding contribution to children’s literature. John Agard has published more than 50 books, including poetry for all ages, stories, and non-fiction. In 2012, he was presented with the Queen’s Gold Medal for poetry. You may like to read John’s interview with Emily Drabble too.

Books Are My Bag Readers Awards 2021 – This year’s awards, now in their sixth year, included six shortlists chosen by booksellers across the UK and Ireland, while the Readers’ Choice Award – nominated and chosen entirely by readers – completes the set. When the Sky Falls by Phil Earle won the children’s fiction award and I’m delighted that it did as this is definitely on my own favourite books of the year list. You can read about the other awards and watch the ceremony via the link.

Unleash your Creative Monster: Children’s writing workshop – workshop for 9 to 12 year-olds, organised by the National Literacy Trust during which Andy Jones and Olaf Falafel, author and illustrator of Unleash your Creative Monster, will provide inspiration and practical advice on writing stories that will keep readers hooked. The workshop is free to attend and takes place on Friday 26th November 10am-11am. Full details via the link.

David Olusoga: It is ‘critical’ to talk about black and imperial history – article in The Irish News in which the historian discusses the reasons for the publication this week of the children’s version of his book, Black and British: An Illustrated History. “We can’t have a history that makes sense, that is functional for the country that we are, if we don’t include the stories of black and brown people from the Empire, and from Britain’s entanglements with other parts of the world.

Branching Out: Reading for Pleasure – an online debate about the limited range of books stocked in supermarkets this week reminded me of this excellent resource from Alison at Books for Topics. From Harry Potter and Tom Gates to Rainbow Magic and The Worst Witch and David Walliams these Branching Out booklists are free, printable display posters have suggestions to tempt children to read more widely.

Make Black History part of every month – this article on the School Library Association website refers to their partnership with the Inclusion Hubs and includes links to a variety of resources and sources of information.

Blue Peter Book Awards 2022 Shortlist Announced – there are six brilliant books shortlisted, three for Best Story and three for Best Book with Facts. All the books on this year’s shortlist are aimed at children aged between 6 and 12, a vital time when children discover which books they like and build their own independent reading habits. You can see which books made the list via the link above.

Finding kind words in great literature during Anti-Bullying Week – Anti-Bullying Week takes place from 15th – 19th November 2021 and in this excellent post by Michelle Nicholson on the Herts Primary English blog she recommends some quality books to share with children.

Scottish Book Trust November Book Discovery Guide – produced bi-annually these guides are full of book recommendations for primary and secondary school pupils, including, new highlights from Scottish publishers, recommendations from booksellers, librarians, themed booklists and top picks from Scottish Book Trust staff

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

The Curiosities by Zana Fraillon illustrated by Phil Lesnie – I, like many others, found Wisp, a picture book written by this author, profoundly moving and this latest title sounds equally affecting. The glimpses of the illustrations by Phil Lesnie are stunning too. In his review Matt at Word About Books says. “The Curiosities is an open invitation to celebrate our own differences and to wholeheartedly embrace and accept the differences of others.” That sounds perfect.

Elisabeth and the Box of Colours by Katherine Woodfine, illustrated by Rebecca Cobb – this is a new Little Gems title from Barrington Stoke due out in February 2022. Veronica Price’s detailed review gives a taste of what to expect and the blend of historical fiction and information sounds appealing.

Grandpa Frank’s Great Big Bucket List by Jenny Pearson – frankly we could probably all do with a bit of a giggle at the moment and Jenny Pearson is a children’s author who has a gift for humour. This review by Andrew made me smile too as I love how he conveys the spirit of the book. Definitely one for our shopping lists in the new year!

Art of Protest: What a Revolution Looks Like by De Nichols – this new book, published at the end of the month, looks at some of the most memorable and striking protest artwork from across the world and throughout history. In her review Nicki Cleveland comments particularly on the section on Youth Leadership and Protest Art around the world. This sounds like an excellent book for school libraries and classrooms.

Medusa by Jessie Burton illustrated by Olivia Lomenech Gill – this new YA retelling of the Greek myth is receiving many accolades from expert book reviewers. Joanne Owen on LoveReading4Kids says it “blazes with intrigue and beauty courtesy of author’s elegant style and Olivia Lomenech Gill’s fabulously evocative colour illustrations.” When I’ve managed to bring my “review pile” under control this is definitely on my wish list.

That’s all for this week and I hope that you have found something helpful included in the links and reviews. One last thing, the Hidden Books Game is back! Each year this gets harder. Here’s the link Good luck!

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We All Celebrate! by Chitra Soundar illustrated by Jenny Bloomfield

We All Celebrate is a joyful look at celebrations from all around the world. Crammed full of detail, every page bursting with colourful illustrations this non-fiction picture book is a true celebration of both unity and diversity and a thoughtful guide to religion, history and heritage.

As families we all celebrate in our own way, maybe for birthdays and weddings and also for special national events. Chitra Soundar wisely begins with the familiar and then explains how geography affects our celebrations showing how different rituals associated with the seasons alter depending on where you live. Pictures of the earth, the lunar cycle and a calendar are shown to help young readers grasp this concept. Having set the scene we then move on to New Year celebrations, seasonal rituals and customs and those associated with religions and different cultures. As we explore the world discovering the joys of celebrations in different places we also learn how these have adapted and altered over time. The wide variety included will open up children’s imaginations and enable them to discover fascinating customs and traditions they may not have known about.

We All Celebrate endpapers by Jenny Bloomfield

From the cheerful cover, depicting a happy conga, onwards this is a book that feels truly celebratory. Jenny Bloomfield’s endpapers show people from all over the world celebrating in colourful costumes, playing musical instruments, dancing and singing. The fact that these people are joined together in harmony, hand in hand, arm in arm, smiling at each other encourages the reader to feel part of one big happy celebration. This is an uplifting book but also an interesting one. There is a great deal of information packed on to each page. Did you know that in Sweden there is a tradition to dance around a maypole to mark midsummer day? I didn’t know the origins of Spain’s La Tomatina festival. There are lovely descriptions of traditional festivals from the Pacific Islands that may be new to many. The similarities between different religions are mentioned with descriptions of fasting at special times in the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist faiths explained.

This would be a valuable book in primary school libraries and classrooms to support teaching and for general interest. The publishers, Tiny Owl Publishing, have created a lovely trailer which gives you a taste of the book and you can watch that below. I would like to thank Tiny Owl for providing my review copy. We All Celebrate was published on 4th November and is available to purchase on the publishers’ website.


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Swop The Satsuma-Sized Secret by Lucy Noguera illustrated by Laura Ireland

Illustrated fiction can frequently be the key to the discovery of reading for pleasure for young children. When stories are presented both in text and pictures children can access the narrative more easily. When the appearance is designed to be accessible to dyslexic children it widens the appeal still further. Publishers Barrington Stoke need no introduction as they have been creating award winning books that are appealing to a wide audience for many years. Brilliant Monster Books appear to be keen to follow in their footsteps. They are a new independent children’s publisher specialising in accessible books which promote empathy and inclusion.

Cover design by Fabio Gois

The first in a new series Swop the Satsuma-Sized Secret is a book full of fun incorporating some reassuring messages within its pages. The lightness of touch ensures that both grief and the inclusion of a deaf character feel natural and these aspects are handled with sensitivity in this charming debut.

Ernie and his family are moving from the countryside to live nearer his grandma following the death of Ernie’s dad. Understandably Ernie is worried that he will find it difficult to settle in to his new home. However on his first night in his new bedroom Ernie makes a new friend. A tiny dog, no bigger than a satsuma! As the landlord has made it clear that no pets are allowed Ernie knows that he must keep his new friend, Swop, a secret. Initially that is just about manageable with Ernie’s careful planning but on Ernie’s first day at his new school Swop decides to make his presence known.

Children will quickly warm to Ernie and his first day contains much that young readers will recognise and find relatable. The classroom situations have an authentic feel and Ernie’s new friendships are depicted with an understanding of school life. As might be anticipated a miniature dog can quickly cause mayhem in a school and this adventure is full of muddles and misunderstandings. The use of sign language thanks to the inclusion of Ernie’s deaf sister Ivy is cleverly incorporated and is a positive aspect of the storyline. The guide to sign language included at the end of the book is a nice touch. The fact that Ernie’s dad although absent is included in the story is lovely too. There is a streak of positivity running through the story which will comfort children with concerns about moving home or school, both of which can be a source of worry for many.

At 192 pages this is a great length for newly confident readers or those who have not yet developed reading stamina and will give the reader a real sense of achievement on finishing it. There is a sequel in the pipeline and I imagine children will be keen to discover what happens to Ernie and Swop next.

Swop the Satsuma-Sized Secret was published in July and is available to purchase online at Bookshop.org I should like to thank Lucy Noguera for providing my review copy.

Disclosure: If you buy books linked to our site, we may earn a commission from Bookshop.org, whose fees support independent bookshops.

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Shadow Town by Richard Lambert

Shadow Town is Richard Lambert’s first book for children and follows his widely acclaimed YA novel, Wolf Road which was this week nominated for the Carnegie Medal. This new compelling fantasy adventure combines a coming of age story and an epic quest, big themes and dark moments with friendship and family, all wrapped up in a story that ripples with tension until the very last page.

Cover design and illustration by Holly Ovenden

The mesmerising opening pages introducing the ‘shadow’ have a disturbing tone and it is perhaps a surprise to the reader to find themselves in a suburban family home as the story opens. Toby is a quiet boy, a little awkward socially and struggling to make friends. He always gets things slightly wrong and is desperate to fit in with his classmates. His family situation adds to his feelings of inadequacy and unhappiness. His distant father, working as a speech writer for the government, is obsessed with his novel which is not going well and, selfish and grumpy, he dismisses Toby as ‘stupid.’ His climate activist mother is loving but distracted by her environmental causes. Toby’s only friends are his parents’ kind lodger and her pet cat, Alfred and within a few chapters probably the reader too as Toby comes to life as a real person on the page.

The mysterious shadow appears gradually in both Toby’s dreams and in his garden and this unsettles him. However when he and Alfred are drawn in to an alternative world it is still shocking and sudden for both Toby and the reader. There is no friendly faun and fireside tea in this new world, instead there is a fire sweeping through a forest, a malevolent darkness and Toby is a witness to a brutal murder. Richard Lambert has created a world both vivid and cruel. A harsh Regent rules a land that is swept by fires, floods, earthquakes and tsunamis and fear results in many obeying him.

Toby meets Tamurlaine, a mysterious and mercurial girl, sometimes kindly helping Toby and then on occasions switching to bitter and angry behaviour. She, like Toby, is on a journey of self discovery and when her past is uncovered she must make difficult choices. As Toby and Tamurlaine travel through the land of Balthasar, also the name of the fantasy world in Toby’s father’s novel, they both feel overwhelmed by their family destiny. They wonder if they can forge their own paths and make right things that have gone wrong. Toby’s companion Alfred the cat is an ever present reminder of home and Toby fears that he may never find his way back there.

This story could be seen as an allegory of Toby’s life and also perhaps a political allegory. Toby is a young boy lost in every meaning of the word, far from home and unsure of his future. Shadow Town asks questions about how much of life is mapped out for us and how much is personal choice. The Dreamers of Balthasar are children and young people whose dreams are ill used, their imaginations focused not on being creative and productive but on control and damage. The natural disasters causing fear in Balthasar could be seen as a mirror to our own world under threat from climate change. The many different themes and ideas included in this book make it one that prompts further thought and discussion.

A stunning start to a new series for readers aged 11+ Shadow Town was published on 21st October by Everything With Words and can be purchased at all good independent bookshops or online at Bookshop.org. I should like to thank Fritha Lindqvist and the publishers for my review copy.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

It’s been another busy week! I have been involved in book related events, both online and real life ones, so I hope that I have managed to catch enough of what has been happening to give you a taste of the best new books, the most important news and any interesting features.

What I’m reading…

There were a couple of children’s book highlights for me this week that didn’t actually involve reading. On Tuesday the Surrey branch of the School Library Association held our first in person meeting for two years. It was so good to be able to chat and exchange ideas informally again. An added bonus was the opportunity to hear our excellent speaker Joy Court talk about visual literacy. Joy shared important research, the updated Kate Greenaway Medal criteria and we looked at some fabulous picture books together. On Thursday I attended, online, An Audience with Professor Ben Garrod hosted by Nikki Gamble. This was fascinating and I was particularly struck by Ben’s comments about respecting his audience. Although I have only read Trilobite this respect comes across strongly as does the author’s engaging voice. I now want to read more of his books.

To mark National Non-Fiction November I’m highlighting some top new titles each week. I can wholeheartedly recommend some new perfect non-fiction books published by b small, one on a scientific theme and the other historical, they are both excellent. Shadow Town by Richard Lambert was selected by Nicolette Jones as “one to watch” in the Sunday Times this week and having now finished reading this epic fantasy adventure I can well understand why. I hope to have my review up on the blog over the next few days.

News, articles and resources…

Tom Palmer’s Remembrance Day Resources – for any teachers having a last minute worry about how to mark Remembrance Day, award winning author Tom Palmer has come to your rescue. His comprehensive resources are brilliant. The link above will take you to a home page with a link to a free assembly but you can also find activities, videos and teaching notes linked to his books on his website. I would highly recommend having a browse.

The National Literacy Trust launch new Primary School Library Alliance with partner Penguin Random House UK – 1 in 8 primary schools in the UK do not have a library despite their important contribution to children’s learning and well-being. This shocking statistic is sobering but not surprising to those of us who have been involved in school libraries for many years. This new initiative is calling for large-scale public and private funding, alongside collaboration from other charities, publishers and ambassadors, to transform and equip 1,000 primary school libraries by 2025. This is extremely welcome news.

Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) Reflecting Realities Report 2021 – this is vital reading for anyone involved with children’s books in any capacity. 15% of the children’s picturebooks, fiction and non-fiction titles published in 2020 featured characters of colour. That’s compared to 10% in 2019, 7% in 2018 and 4% in 2017. We can see that progress has been made but there is still a long way to go. The details in the report make for interesting reading regarding the trends in different genres. For example the percentage for fiction in 2020 has remained the same as 2019. A subject for further discussion.

Report shows fourfold rise in minority ethnic characters in UK children’s books – an article in the Guardian discussing the findings of the Reflecting Realities report.

Reflecting Realities: Book Suggestions for Early Years to Lower Key Stage 2 – this is a helpful post by Jo Cummins in which she recommends a range of recently published books reflecting varied ethnicities suitable for this age group. I’m pleased to see some of my favourites published by Alanna Max Books and Tiny Owl publishing too.

Outside In World: Children’s Books in Translation – news this week about two new partnerships for Outside in World who explore, promote and celebrate children’s books from around the world in translation to English. The University of Portsmouth has acquired the OIW Collection of Children’s Books in Translation, making this unique collection of 1,600 titles available to the public for the very first time. In addition funding has been made available to allow the first in depth study of this field. Full details are available via the link to their official website above.

Empathy Check in Month – EmpathyLabUK has declared November ‘Empathy Check-In month’ in celebration of the publication of Michael Rosen’s StickyMcStickStick this week. There is a special video from Michael Rosen as inspiration for children to revisit the Empathy Walks and subsequent Empathy Resolutions they made on Empathy Day in June 2021.

Beyond Black History Month – Integrating the Study of Black Historical Figures into the Mainstream Primary Curriculum through Literature – Black History Month may now be over but in this excellent blogpost Farrah Serroukh, CLPE Learning Programme Leader asks how can we ensure that these conversations are not just confined to October.

Britannica Magazine – Launch Offer – What on Earth Books and Britannica Books, two award-winning children’s non-fiction imprints, have teamed up with the all new monthly Britannica Magazine to make schools a special offer. By spreading the word about this new monthly magazine for 7-12 year olds schools get the chance up to acquire wonderful new non-fiction books. You can find out more about the offer via the link and get a preview of the magazine.

Children’s Books That Promote Environmental Sustainability – this week saw the world’s leaders come together for the COP26 summit and this wonderful selection of books on the Books for Topics website is therefore timely. All are recommended by children’s book experts, librarians and teachers and they are suitable for a wide age range.

The Reader Teacher November Books I’m Most Excited About – each month teacher Scott Evans compiles a video giving a taste of the new books coming out soon. This month’s selection includes Sisters of the Lost Marsh by Lucy Strange reviewed below and Saving Celeste by Timothée de Fombelle and Sarah Ardizzone which sounds intriguing and has a beautiful cover by one of my favourite illustrators, Richard Jones.

Coram Beanstalk: Find out what we do sessions for schools – this reading charity are offering education professionals the opportunity to join them for a free online webinar to find out how they can support schools in further increasing reading attainment, confidence and well-being. You can find out more and sign up for one of the sessions via the link above.

Book Trust New Books We Love This Month – the selection chosen by the Book Trust team includes books for early years, picture books, information books, fiction and graphic novels, so from toddlers to teens there is something for everyone.

SLA Information Book Award Presentation Evening 2021 – The School Library Association Information Book Awards honour the best of the best of information books for children. The Shortlist covers three age categories: Age 7 and under, 8 to 12 and 13 to 16, and the presentation evening takes place online 7:00 – 8:00 Thursday 25th November. Tickets are free and can be booked via the link above.

Barrington Stoke Teacher’s Evening – regular readers of the blog will know how highly I rate these publishers. If you are new to their range and not sure where to start or would like to find out more about using their books in your school they have organised a free online event for school librarians and teachers. It takes place on Tue 16th Nov at 6.15pm with special guest, author Ross Montgomery. Booking available via the link above.

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

Where Three Oceans Meet by Rajani Larocca and Archana Sreenivasan
Abrams
– A child, mother, and grandmother travel all the way to the end of the earth in this picture book that celebrates multigenerational love. This lovely review by Jill Bennett also includes a look at some of the wonderful illustrations. I like both the sound and the look of this one.

The World Book by Joe Fullmann and Rose Blake – another non-fiction title and Nicki Cleveland has stressed in her review how popular this book is with the children in her school. That’s always the best guide! A book that takes a tour of every country in the world incorporating language, flags, cuisine, statistics, wildlife and much more.

It’s Her Story: Dolly Parton by Emily Skwish illustrated by Lidia Fernandez – selected as LoveReading4Kids Graphic Novel of the Month for November this book is a good introduction to one of our most generous singing superstars.

The Chime Seekers by Ross Montgomery – this is a Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month November 2021 on LoveReading4Kids and has been recommended widely online. “The many layers of Ross Montomery’s adventure and the powerfully imagined challenges he has dreamt up sends readers on an adventure that matches any computer game for jeopardy and nerve-wracking thrills.” It sounds like a book with a wide appeal.

Sisters of the Lost Marsh by Lucy Strange – a secret library, links to folklore and superstition all sound like a perfect combination for a dark winter’s evening read. An inviting review by Rich Simpson has whetted my appetite for this new book by the winner of the Historical Association Young Quills Award 2021

Stuntboy, in the Meantime by Jason Reynolds – I always enjoy reviews written by Ben Harris as they provide a ‘feel’ of what the book is like without giving away the plot. This is an excellent example. Ben does say that this is, “absolute gem of a book from a double-act that I hope will produce much, much more.”

That’s all for this week and there is rather a lot to get through. I hope it is helpful or interesting to you.

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