Reading Matters – children’s book news

Welcome to this week’s look back at what has been happening in the world of children’s books. It’s been another busy week and I hope I’ve managed to include most of the news.

What I’m reading…

This week I took part in the blog tour marking the publication of StormTide, the last book in the FloodWorld trilogy by Tom Huddleston. It was a pleasure to host Tom on the blog and you can read more about the difficulties and joys of writing endings, and find out which endings are his favourites, here. The Floodworld trilogy is an exciting series of books for about 11+, full of fast paced action, with themes that are relevant to young readers and highly recommended.

If you are looking for a ‘spooky’ collection of short stories I can recommend The Red Gloves and Other Stories by Catherine Fisher. Some are inspired by myths and legends and several of them are unsettling in their ambiguity; are events due to an overactive imagination or fear or the supernatural? These are creepy tales for dark evenings when the ordinary can become something sinister.

A beautiful picture book caught my eye this week. The Queen of the Birds by Karine Polwart and Kate Leiper was published this week by Birlinn Books, stunning illustrations, lyrical writing and a wise story highlighting the importance of teamwork. There is an opportunity to learn bird names too. It’s a really lovely book.

News, articles and resources

Spooky storytime with Walker Books – This could be useful for half term. Each day at 3pm from Monday 25th October to Saturday 30th October, Peters Books will be uploading a new spooky story reading from a top author or illustrator, along with free downloadable activities. Stories include Frankelstiltskin and Gustavo, the Shy Ghost.

The Song That Sings Us Virtual Launch with Nicola Davies and Jackie Morris – If you missed this event live I can thoroughly recommend catching up via this video kindly shared by Nikki Gamble. This is a treat.

Musings from a Head of English…Why We Need School Librarians – Guest blog written by Gaurav Dubay for the Great School Libraries Campaign. It is heartening to read this support by a teacher who understands the benefits of working with your school librarian.

All Sorts of Heroes: A book list from Book Trust – last week I mentioned that the theme of this year’s National Non-Fiction November is Heroes and this list for older children provides details of books that could be used to link with this initiative. There is a list for younger children available here.

Go deeper: Heroes in children’s books by Imogen Russell Williams – this excellent article on the British Library Learning website explores all the many different faces heroism can wear in children’s literature. From comic book superheroes to picture book characters, from classics to contemporary a large variety of ‘heroes’ feature and there is material from the British Library catalogues to explore.

New research shows that supporting children’s reading outside of school could lead to £4.6 billion boost to UK’s GDP – The research was commissioned to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of British Land’s partnership with the National Literacy Trust. “If all school-age children in the UK read for pleasure every day, WPI modelling* shows the number getting five good GCSEs by the age of 16 could increase by 1.1 million within 30 years.” You can download the full report here.

The Reading Agency Virtual Reading Partners Roadshows – These Roadshows are an opportunity for librarians and teachers to hear from the Reading Agency’s publishing partners about their latest titles, meet authors, and have the chance to ask questions about promotional opportunities. The Children’s Reading Partners Roadshow will take place on Wednesday 10 November and details of how to register are available via the link.

Picture books for children – reviews – selected by Imogen Carter this month’s best illustrated stories include a fiendish feline, a haunted house and a boy who finds a polar bear. We are spoilt for choice by these beauties but the new ones from Richard Jones & Oliver Jeffers are top of my list.

Little Bear – Bearginnings by Richard Jones – this is a lovely blogpost by the creator of Little Bear, mentioned in the reviews above. I find it fascinating to hear about the process behind the development of picture books and this insight has made me look forward to the book even more now.

Ken Wilson-Max has joined HarperCollins Children’s Books – Ken Wilson-Max has joined HarperCollins Children’s Books as a publisher, where he will create his own list across picture books, fiction and non-fiction. He was named among the 100 Breaking New Ground British writers and illustrators of colour and is a mentor for the Pathways into Children’s Publishing programme. Ken Wilson- Max is listed as one of the 150 important children’s books creators by the African American Literature Book Club in the US.

The Queen on our Corner by Lucy Christopher – a guest post on the Federation of Children’s Books Groups website by the author of this picture book that deals sensitively with the subject of homelessness. This thoughtful piece describes how Lucy Christopher wrote the story after finding out the background to some homeless people in her own area.

The Diverse Book Awards 2021 – Created by The Author School to highlight the best of the diverse voices published in the UK, both traditionally and self-published. Many congratulations to the winners: Best Children’s Book Windrush Child by Benjamin Zephaniah and Best Young Adult Book Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann. There is a link to a video of the announcement in the article linked above.

This Book Is Anti-Racist Resources – this book, written by Tiffany Jewell and illustrated by Aurelia Durand is a useful guide on all aspects of racism for secondary age children and teens, and adults too. These resources on the Quarto Publishing website include teachers’ notes, a family guide plus posters.

Obituary: Jerry Pinkney – Renowned children’s book illustrator Jerry Pinkney, winner of the Caldecott Medal and five Caldecott Honor citations, widely acclaimed for his picture books honouring his Black heritage as well as for his richly detailed works reimagining well-loved fairy and folktales, died on October 20 . I loved his illustrations for The Patchwork Quilt written by Valerie Flournoy and his beautiful The Lion and the Mouse.

Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award – Have a look through the complete list of nominees for the 2022 award—a full 282 names from 71 countries including some of the world’s foremost creators of literature for children and young people, as well as reading promoters. Far too many wonderful nominees to single out a few really but it’s good to see CLPE included for all their wonderful work and I’m happy to see some of personal favourites on the list including Kate Di Camillo, Shirley Hughes, Jon Klassen, P J Lynch and many more.

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

Picture Books About Books – although I included The Bear and Her Book last week I may no apologies for including it again as these reviews by Erin on the My Shelves Are Full blog are impossible for any book lover to resist. I particularly want to read The Librarian’s Stories.

The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Peculiar Pairs in Nature by Sami Bayly – the final book in a non-fiction trilogy and suitable for animal-lovers and curious children. In his review Matt at Word About Books said, “ this non-fiction read is a cracking celebration of animals interacting with other animals and animals interacting with plants in order to survive.”

Homeward Bound: By Rowan and Yew by Melissa Harrison – this thoughtful and comprehensive review by Mary Esther Judy provides a glimpse into the world created by Melissa Harrison. “By Rowan and Yew is a sublime book, like its’ predecessor. A story that harkens back to some of the classics, but also, it couldn’t be more relevant, more poignant today. Tailor-made to inspire curiosity, rich in wildness, beautiful, imaginative; a captivating glimpse into a world just outside our doors.”

Pirates by Celia Rees – a welcome reissue of this book for teens that I remember being extremely popular first time round. A swashbuckling drama set in the 18th century West Indies is now available to a new audience. This enthusiastic review by Louise Owen on LoveReading4Kids will certainly encourage many to read it!

That’s everything for this week. I hope everyone on half term break at the moment enjoys a relaxing and restoring holiday.

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StormTide by Tom Huddleston Blog Tour

StormTide is the thrilling conclusion to the FloodWorld trilogy by Tom Huddleston so it is fitting to be hosting Tom on today’s concluding post of the blog tour on the theme of endings and the difficulties they can pose.

Storm Tide cover Manuel Sumberac

Having met Kara and Joe in FloodWorld and followed them and their challenges in DustRoad I was already invested in them both. At the end of Kara and Joe’s second adventure we were left with the hope that they just might make a difference in world gone wrong, young readers needed, I think, to see that hope fulfilled, especially now. StormTide provides that hope.

At first that hope feels in short supply. The Mariner terrorist Cortez is determined to get his hands on an ancient machine with the power to destroy all life on earth. As Cortez gets ever closer to achieving his aim Kara and Joe lead a band of allies to try to stop the looming disaster. Tidal waves sweep the planet, storms rage and trust is in short supply as the two friends battle to hold back the tide and save the planet. This is truly edge of the seat drama. The danger and destruction gives this story a blockbuster feel and the fast paced action rarely lets up. Yet still the reader cares for these two young heroes. The quiet moments allow for an understanding of Kara and Joe’s fears, insecurities and also their underlying determination and optimism. Joe in particular has matured as the story has developed and his friendship with Kara at the heart of the story is stronger than ever. StormTide is an exhilarating and gripping read but one that contains a personal theme of learning how to be the best you can be. A fitting end to a great series.

Guest Post: The Final Chapter: The Joys and Challenges of Ending a Trilogy – Tom Huddleston

Finding just the right ending for any story can be tricky. When you’re bringing an entire trilogy to an end – trying to wrap up every loose end, give every character a satisfying sense of closure – it’s exponentially trickier.

When I began writing my futuristic, post-climate-change adventure story FloodWorld, I knew I wanted it to be the first book in a trilogy – but I didn’t know yet what the other stories would be. And ending the first book was challenging enough – I must’ve rewritten the last few chapters at least 20 times, trying to make the conflicts grander, the resolutions more satisfying; desperately attempting to close every loop (except the ones I wanted to leave open for the sequels).

By contrast, finishing the second book, DustRoad, was simple – as the middle chapter, it was fine to leave things open-ended. But approaching StormTide, the final book in the trilogy, was daunting. Not only did the twists and the action need to top everything that had come before, but so did the emotion: I needed to push every character to their absolute limit, but still find a way to tie everything up neatly. 

My solution arrived in two forms. The first was to take inspiration from stories I loved – to look at how great book series ended, and apply the same ideas to my own story. I didn’t rip anyone off (I hope!), but I definitely took inspiration and encouragement from other writers (see below). In doing so, I realised that the endings I love most of all are those that are bittersweet – the ones that recognise the sadness of parting, but are also able to leave the reader with a feeling of optimism.

The second solution was to ask myself: what did I actually want for my characters, these imagined figures that I’ve lived with and loved writing about for the past however-many years? What were my own aspirations for my young heroes, what would bring them – and me – the greatest sense of closure? 

It was by answering these questions that I was able to map out the most satisfying conclusion for the trilogy – a way to wrap things up so that, even though the characters have suffered through great peril and faced terrible loss, they’re still able to face the future with a sense of hope.

And that’s what StormTide was intended to do – to offer hope. The FloodWorld trilogy may be set in a dark, dangerous future, where humanity’s recklessness has resulted in a ravaged world. But they’re still stories of optimism, of friendship, of finding a way to bring about change for the better and improve the lives of those around us. With StormTide, those ideas have finally been brought to fruition.

Here are just a few of my favourite endings…

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

People love to complain that the ending goes on too long, and yes there’s still a lot of story left once the main action has been completed. But when I think about that final chapter – Frodo’s departure from the Grey Havens, and Sam’s weary return to Hobbiton – it still makes me well up.

A Darkling Plain by Philip Reeve

The last few chapters of this book broke my heart. The Mortal Engines series start out (relatively) upbeat and plucky – it’s a grim, muddy world, but the sense of adventure makes up for it. By the end things are different: everyone’s exhausted, and even though the climax is essentially a positive one, the sense of loss is devastating. 

The House at Pooh Corner by AA Milne

The ultimate bittersweet ending, as Christopher Robin leaves the Hundred Acre Wood and puts away childish things. But we know that the stories will remain forever – and his friends will always be waiting for him.

Thank you, Tom for explaining your motivation and thoughts behind the writing of this final, and in my opinion, fitting instalment of this powerful series of stories. The message, “Just be nice.” is wise, kind and what we needed to read.

The DustWorld trilogy with its themes of environment, friendship and leadership is a great read for readers aged 11+. StormTide was published on 30th September and is available to purchase online here.

For maximum enjoyment it would help to read the previous books first and FloodWorld can be purchased here and DustRoad here. For more information about Tom Huddleston and his books please visit his website.

For more about the book, check out the other stops on the blog tour that you may have missed.

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The Red Gloves and Other Stories by Catherine Fisher

There is a long tradition of sharing stories that scare. Young readers often enjoy reading books that unsettle and disturb them a little as fear in small manageable doses can be exciting. Catherine Fisher’s new collection of short stories, linked by their setting in Wales, weaves together myth, legend, folk tales and contemporary fiction and is perfect for those who are drawn to that sense of the strange and supernatural. These are creepy tales for dark evenings when the ordinary can become something sinister.

The Red Gloves and Other Stories is made up of nine stories that were written over a long period of time. Some have appeared in other collections or anthologies and others are newer and have not been published before. One of my favourites, The Hare, was written for a competition judged by Jenny Nimmo, author of The Snow Spider. This was inspired by themes contained in the Taliesin legend and so affected me that I have decided to read more around that subject. Sgilti Lightfoot is another based on legend, this time King Arthur’s court, and has, I think, a fairy tale quality to it. Nettle is a version of an old English folk tale called Yallery Brown and is re-imagined here to good effect.

Among the selection are stories featuring magical elements, or the power of nightmares, or imagination. Another of my favourites, the Ghost in the Rain, a traditional Victorian ghost story, needed to be read twice to answer my questions at the ending. A sure sign of a tale that has worked well! Several of the stories are ambiguous both in their endings and in whether or not the happenings are supernatural or prompted by imagination or fear. This makes them even more effective. There is a good balance of story styles in this collection making it suitable for dipping into or reading in order. The links to both Wales and folklore make this a good stepping off point for further reading in the classroom and this would be excellent read aloud for about ten years old plus.

The evocative illustrations by Anne Glenn at the start of each story perfectly complement the stories and she is also responsible for the stunning cover. The Red Gloves and Other Stories was published on 16th September in hardback with sprayed edges by Firefly Press. I should like to thank the publishers for my proof copy.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

It’s been another busy week in the world of children’s books so if you have not been able to keep up with it all here’s my round up of all the latest news plus some reviews of new books to add to your shopping lists.

But first, in my role with the Surrey Branch of the School Library Association I would like to highlight our branch meeting being held on 2nd November from 4.30pm – 6.30pm. We are delighted to welcome Joy Court as our visiting speaker. Joy is well known to children’s book lovers in her roles as former Chair of the Carnegie and Greenaway Medal Judges, Expert Book Reviewer for LoveReading4Kids and her involvement with both UKLA and CILIP Youth Libraries Group. She will be talking about the importance of Visual Literacy for all age groups plus the benefits of shadowing the Greenaway Medal. Full details are given in the flyer shown and we would love to see you there. School librarians, teachers, TAs, all very welcome so please do get in touch with me if you have any questions.

What I’m reading…

I had been looking forward to reading Storm Tide, the final book in the Flood World trilogy by Tom Huddleston, for ages and this week I finally got the opportunity. It is just as exciting, dramatic and gripping as its predecessors, Flood World and Dust Road. I loved how the characters and their relationships have developed over the three books and the importance of hope as an overriding theme. I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour next week so do please join us to find out more about this great series.

Still on a nautical theme but at a more gentle pace I have reviewed some picture books celebrating life on the ocean waves, one a republished classic and the other a new title with a historical flavour. Two very special books have captured my attention over the last few weeks and I would highly recommend both I Saw a Beautiful Woodpecker and This is a Dictatorship, beautifully illustrated translated works covering important subjects.

On Thursday evening I joined two wonderful and extremely cheering online events. Firstly the book club linked to last week’s Audience with Hilary McKay expertly hosted by Nikki Gamble and Ben Harris. I am gaining so much insight from these thoughtful and thought provoking club meetings. Then the unstoppable Nikki hosted the launch of The Song That Sings Us by Nicola Davis, with Jackie Morris who illustrated the cover. This event left all who attended, I think, both moved and inspired.

News, articles and resources…

The Guardian view on children’s books: take them seriously – editorial comment from the Guardian. It is good to see the importance of school libraries get a mention too. A return of the Guardian Children’s Books section would be welcomed by many of us.

National Non Fiction November 2021 – the Federation of Children’s Book Groups’ annual celebration of all things factual. The theme chosen for this year is a nod to all the real-life superheroes out there. Ordinary people who do the most extraordinary things to make a positive difference to the world we live in. The link takes you to more information plus a “heroes’’ book list to download.

A Letter to My Young Dyslexic Self by Jane Elson – although Dyslexia Awareness Week took place last week this thoughtful post by children’s author Jane Elson on Jo Cummins blog is a valuable read at any time.

Black literature timeline – This literary timeline explores the history of Black literature and writing in Britain through around 50 texts. It includes works by writers living and working in Britain, as well as titles first published here and authored by people who were born in former British colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and Americas. The British Library have also produced a poster version to download that would be useful for secondary schools.

Connor Allen is the Children’s Laureate Wales for 2021-2023 – the announcement of this appointment was made on National Poetry Day. This was extremely fitting as Connor’s vision for the next two years is to make poetry accessible, fun, and relevant to children and young people across Wales.

Michael Rosen is the Winner of CLiPPA 2021 – The CLiPPA (Centre for Literacy in Primary Poetry Award) is the only award for published poetry for children in the UK. Michael Rosen won the award for On the Move, Poems About Migration, published by Walker books and illustrated by Quentin Blake). The award ceremony is available for schools to watch here. If you are interested in the CLiPPA Shadowing Scheme for Schools you can register here.

Book Blast October titles 2021 – if you missed this at the end of September here’s your chance to catch up on all the fabulous titles recommended by Nikki Gamble in her monthly must watch video.

What Does The Everyday Work Of A School Librarian Look Like? – an excellent article in Princh by school librarian Megan Hamilton. The final sentence sums up the role of the school librarian so well, “Being a librarian is never just about the books, it’s about the people. We are here to serve you.

BBC and 9 Story Media Group bring A Kind of Spark to UK screens – this is exciting news. Elle McNicoll’s award winning, A Kind of Spark (Knights Of) will be dramatised in a live action series telling the story of 11-year-old Addie, a neurodivergent girl.

British Library Comic Competition – the British Library are asking children to create their own comics starring heroes of all sorts – whether they have the power to fly, save forests or make someone smile. There are full details of how to enter the competition, running from 11th October to 30th November, via the link plus a great article featuring several children’s comics, illustrated books and picture books. A wonderful resource to share both in schools.

Win an amazing illustration by Dapo Adeola – and the chance to appear in his new book! Another great competition, this time run by Book Trust. Writer-Illustrator in Residence, Dapo Adeola, provides creative tips and encourages children of primary age to enter by the closing date in January.

Explorer Notes: Once Upon A Tune – a simply fabulous resource created by James Mayhew and Siu Chui Li on the Otter Barry Publishers’ website. The book itself is wonderful for schools and these comprehensive teaching notes complete the perfect package. A must have for primary schools to encourage cross-curricular study and a love of story, orchestral music and art.

Free Remembrance Day resources from Tom Palmer – these are brilliant and will be helpful for schools and libraries. They are based on Tom’s excellent, award winning WW1 and WW2 fiction and include activities, posters, an assembly, videos and more.

Library Lifeline: Recommending books when you’re short on time – this is a new feature from the Literacy Trust designed to support anyone working in a school library by answering their questions directly. SLA’s Member Development Librarian, Dawn Woods gives advice to those who are struggling to keep up to date with new children’s books. Thank you to Dawn for including Reading Matters in her suggested resources!

100 Funny Books – Lucas Maxwell, School Librarian of the Year 2017 has produced another of his helpful lists. This one consists of titles for a wide age range guaranteed to raise a giggle or two.

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

The Bear and Her Book by Frances Tosdevin and Sophia O’Connor – this sounds lovely. Rachael Davis describes it as, “a beautiful, rhyming picture book about self discovery, friendship and belonging.” I enjoyed the opportunity to see the preliminary sketches for the book too.

Writing History: An interview with Frankie Durkin The Histronauts: A Greek Adventure by Frances Durkin and Vicky Barke – this is not just a review, this is a Ben Harris review and interview! Definitely worth a read. I have a copy of this great non-fiction book and this piece both sums up and explains its appeal perfectly.

Grimwood by Nadia Shireen – Nadia Shireen’s picture books such as Billy and the Beast are a witty, delight so I was interested to read about her new junior fiction title. Andrea Reece’s review for LoveReading4Kids says, “It’s gloriously silly but still totally credible and a proper page turner…”

The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo and Sophie Blackall – Kate DiCamillo is a children’s author whose books always have an impact on me and I was already looking forward to reading this one. John Lloyd’s wonderful review for the Bookbag has nudged it up my list, “this wondrous story, which feels an instant classic with the freshness and the agelessness it has in equal proportion.”

That’s it for this week and apologies that this has turned into a bit of a mammoth edition. Perhaps you are able to pick out something special that appeals to you. I do hope so. Happy reading!

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New Children’s Books – defying categories

It is a shame when labels are attached to books for children. Labels can sometimes limit audience due to misunderstandings, particularly when some adults think that you ‘grow out’ of picture books or illustrated works. Others may dismiss information titles preferring stories they can escape into. When a special book appears that is tricky to allocate to a specific genre or type of reading it may get overlooked. In the last few weeks I have read two special books that deserve close attention. Both of them are translations into English, both contain beautiful illustrations and they both contain important subject matter that prompts thoughtful discussion.

I Saw a Beautiful Woodpecker: The Diary of a Young Boy at the Outbreak of World War 11 by Michal Skibinzki illustrations by Ala Bancroft translated by Eliza Marciniak

In the summer of 1939 in Warsaw, Poland an eight year old boy named Michal was given an assignment by his teacher. In order to improve his handwriting Michal is to keep a journal writing one sentence a day about his activities. Over eighty years later his diary has been published accompanied by beautiful, sensitive illustrations. Michal’s poignant diary moves from the innocence of a childhood summer to the outbreak of a war which will change his family’s lives for ever.

The simplicity of the diary entries is touching, short sentences capture Michal’s life and his experiences. July 15th ‘I walked to the brook with my brother and nanny.’ 21st July ‘I went for a walk with Grandma.” 23rd July “I found a big caterpillar and brought it to our garden.” Michal sounds like a boy who enjoys his surroundings and nature. There are rides in cars, a rare treat; wasps caught in jars; football games; ice creams and of course, ‘ the beautiful woodpecker.’ It reminds me of the weekend news write up my own sons used to be required to complete on Mondays at Junior School. But there are occasional glimpses of what is to come. 26th July ‘A plane circled over Anin.’ 29th July ‘The power in Anin went out.’ Then 1st September ‘The war began.” 3rd September ‘I was hiding from the planes.’ The tone of Michal’s journal changes and the note at the end of the book explains how his family were affected by the war.

Illustration Ala Bancroft

This is a poignant and moving read. The translated journal is interspersed with reproductions of Michal’s original diary and it is touching to see the little boy’s corrections and crossings out. A little boy completing his homework task so like little boys of the same age today but with such different content. The illustrations are beautiful and enhance the diary entries intensifying the alteration in mood as the days pass and life changes. The hazy summer days misty in the memory gradually darkening as war comes and the fear increases for Michal are portrayed in the gorgeous, subtle paintings.

This is an extraordinary record of a dramatic moment in world history made accessible to primary school children. The book could be used to support the teaching of World War 2 in the classroom and may be a basis from which to explore the concept of diaries as a primary history source. However, most importantly, this is a beautiful book, a testimony to the life of young Michal and the wonderful photo of the now elderly Michal holding the book in his hands on the back cover is touching and uplifting.

I Saw a Beautiful Woodpecker was published on 7th October by Prestel and is available to purchase on their website. I would like to thank the publishers and Catherine Ward for my review copy.

This Is A Dictatorship by Equipoise Plantel illustrated by Mikel Casal translated by Lawrence Shimel

Book Island publish picture books with a difference and this is their first non-fiction title and it is a book with a powerful message. This Is A Dictatorship was first published as part of a series in Spain soon after the death of Franco and the end of his dictatorship. Now forty years later it has been republished with new illustrations and has been translated into several languages. Its message remains as important and as relevant as it did when the book was first published.

Book cover by Mikel Casal

From the endpapers onwards this tackles a difficult subject in a manner that makes it an excellent introduction to the need for democracy. The cover itself is a dramatic depiction of the crushing of the population by a dictator against a stark black background. The dictators depicted inside the front cover are arranged by date of birth and on the endpapers inside the back cover by date of death, one dictator, Teodoro Obiang, is still alive. The repeated use of colour, particularly the bright pink and the black, is striking.

The text is carefully pitched to provide a simple explanation of the subject. ‘The person who dictates is the one who commands. He is the master of everyone because he has become the owner of EVERYTHING.’ It goes on to depict how a dictator rules in his own environment and also in the wider community and country. Those who do not agree are silenced, exiled or imprisoned and Mikel Casal, who grew up under Franco’s regime, uses contrasting colour to show the differences in life for those who agree and those who do not in his stunning, caricature style illustrations. The manipulation of people with the promise of power and money and the importance of free speech and thought is all covered in an appropriate way for the book’s target audience.

Illustration Mikel Casal

This book invites further research of the dictators depicted and discussion about its themes, both in history and in the present day. It will encourage children to notice and question, to think and to learn. I have read comments by several teachers on the excellent conversation this book has prompted in the classroom and I can well understand why. A brilliant book with an important message and a valuable addition to primary school classrooms and libraries.

This Is A Dictatorship was published in September by Book Island and is available to purchase on their website. I should like to thank Greet Pauwelijn of Book Island for my review copy.

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Children’s Picture Books – a life on the ocean waves

Captain Toby by Satoshi Kitamura

First published in the 1980s this surreal picture book tells the story of Toby, a little boy who cannot sleep and enters a fantasy world where he is caught up in an adventure at sea. From the opening pages where we see young Toby sitting up alert in his bed the distinctive style of Kitamura’s illustrations hold the attention. Framed in black they stand out from the white background and the predominate use of blues and blacks, depicting the night sky, the seas and Toby’s bedroom, emphasise the drama. As we turn a page the rolling hills surrounding the house are transformed into rolling waves with the house a storm tossed ship at the centre.

Children may speculate whether Toby is dreaming or perhaps imagining the adventure but it does not really matter as the narrative encourages young readers to use their own imaginations. The danger and peril is enough to excite and thrill but happily there is a happy ending. The arrival of Grandpa and Grandma, albeit as Captain and Chief Gunner, to save the day is a lovely touch providing that sense of familiar and reassuring security for children. The use of a gatefold flap towards the end of the story provides an amusing reveal too.

This is a welcome re-issue from Scallywag Press who are doing much to highlight classic children’s book treasures. Satoshi Kitamura is the subject of Windows into Illustration in the July edition of Books for Keeps and you may like to read what he says about the background to this book and details of the illustrative technique he used here.

I should like to thank Scallywag Press and Laura Smythe for my review copy. Captain Toby was published in June 2021 and is available to purchase on the publishers’ website.

Sadie and the Sea Dogs by Maureen Duffy illustrated by Anita Joice

Sadie and the Sea Dogs is the story of a girl who has a dream of one day experiencing a real life sea adventure just like the ones she has learned about in the Maritime Museum and on the Cutty Sark near where she lives. When one day she falls asleep in the museum her dreams come true.

This book has a lovely traditional feel to it, an old fashioned adventure featuring in Sadie a contemporary girl who knows her own mind but who has a love for history and seafaring. The story incorporates a lively mix of mermaids and dolphins, pirates and villains, myths and legends. Maureen Duffy, a poet and playwright, writes in a lyrical style and the illustrations by Anita Joice are rich and colourful. This adventure romps along at rapid pace but incorporates interesting details within the fun.

The end papers depict maps charting the sea routes and this combined with the detail and the references to historical characters and familiar mythical names enables young readers to learn as they read and may encourage them to find out more. There is also a helpful glossary providing information about some of the aspects of the story such as the parts of the ship, locations and characters.

Sadie and the Sea Dogs was published in May 2021 by Hikira Press and is available to purchase via their website. There is a great range of resources available too, including activities and quizzes.

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Reading Matters

Welcome to this week’s round up of all the latest news from the world of children’s books. It has been a busy time with National Poetry Day, Libraries Week and Dyslexia Awareness Week all taking place. Today is Bookshop Day so if you really need an excuse to go and browse and buy today is perfect for you! The Books Are My Bag Awards shortlists were published this week to coincide with this celebration of bookshops and they are included in the links below.

What I’m reading…

I’m a bit of a nervous reader so am glad that I read A Hunter’s Moon by Danny Weston over a wet weekend afternoon rather than on a dark winter’s night. Published by Uclan Publishing in September this dark and dramatic tale is inspired by Scottish folklore and is aimed at the 12+ reader. This story prompted me to find out more about the myth of Cù-Sìth, a fearsome hound said to haunt the Scottish Highlands, and I also explored the Forest of Tay courtesy of Google maps. I love it when fiction opens doors to something you know nothing about and A Hunter’s Moon did just that. A good Halloween read for secondary age too.

Over the last couple of weeks I have kept returning to When Poems Fall from the Sky, the new collaboration between Zaro Weil and Junli Song. This is such a beautiful collection of poetry, combing rhyme, story and even rap in a joyful celebration of our natural world. Suitable for a wide age range and a gentle and thoughtful prompt to slow down and take a moment or two to appreciate our surroundings. Another beautiful poetry book that I’ve enjoyed this week is At the Height of the Moon published by Prestel Publishing. This is a sumptuous combination of poetry and short stories paired with stunning works of art. It would be a gorgeous present.

The highlight of my reading week has been Nikki Gamble’s Audience with Hilary McKay which was an event full of wisdom, kindness and hope. As I also re-read Swallows’ Flight this week in readiness I’ve much to be grateful to Hilary for, she and her gorgeous book have been such a comfort.

On Monday I shared Perfect Picture Books for Libraries Week and I think they would be lovely to promote a love of libraries every week. You can also read my Pick of the New Picture Books as I try to catch up with all the wonderful books being published at the moment.

New, articles and resources…

Why we need great school libraries and librarians – Guest blog written by award winning author Beverley Naidoo for the Great School Libraries Campaign. ‘’If we want schools that offer ‘education’, rather than narrow ‘schooling’, then libraries and librarians need to be at their heart… and properly funded.’’ Wise words indeed.

The Reader Teacher October Children’s Books Coming Soon Video – Scott Evans highlights books to look out for this month. A wide range is included each month including picture book, fiction and information books.

Animals have dwindled in novels since 1835. Is fiction undergoing its own extinction event? – this is a thoughtful and interesting article by author Piers Torday about whether animals really are going extinct in novels and how the climate crisis invites a radical reimagining of animals and nature in fiction.

Once Upon a Tune: An Interview with James Mayhew on the Reading Realm – Once Upon a Tune is an absolute treasure of a book and this is a fascinating and in depth interview. Covering the inspiration for the book, the stories which in turn inspired the music, the illustrative technique involved and the place of music and art in the school curriculum this is a must read.

CILIP School Libraries Group 40th Anniversary– this is fun and was shared this week as part of the Libraries Week celebrations. The School Libraries Group turned 40 in 2020 and invited writers Steve Cole, Jo Cotterill and John Dougherty to perform a musical set at their annual conference, sadly cancelled due to COVID. So when SLG invited them to their 2021 virtual conference they decided to put together this video to share with the attendees.

HarperCollins removes story from David Walliams’ book The World’s Worst Children – David Walliams’ story about a Chinese boy called Brian Wong, which was criticised by campaigners for its “casual racism”, is set to be removed from future editions of his short story collection The World’s Worst Children.

Book Trust Great Books Guide 2021 – this year’s version of this regular guide from Book Trust is full of books chosen to engage and excite children from babies all the way up to age 12+.

Kingston students spread Hope and raise funds with new picture book – Students from an alternative learning programme in Kingston have helped produce a picture book to aid children’s wellbeing and raise funds for Kingston Hospital. You can read more about this project and read the picture book online via the link above.

Barrington Stoke Home Learning Help – these publishers are renowned for their excellent ‘super readable’ books that appeal to all readers including those who are dyslexic or reluctant. To coincide with Dyslexia Awareness Week they have updated this free resource designed for parents & carers of children with dyslexia. It offers online resources, expert advice & useful links to specialist support.

Environmental Kids Literature Awards from Around the World – Anne Marie Cahill’s helpful article for Book Riot includes details of book awards designed for environmental literature written for children and young people and the winners of these awards in recent years.

I Saw a Beautiful Woodpecker by Michal Skibinski illustrated by Ala Bancroft – Jo Cummins hosts a poignant and fascinating post by the author and illustrator of this special book. This has added to my appreciation of Michal’s 1939 diary and the insight to the style of illustrations is lovely.

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. The winners will be announced on Tuesday 9th November. Take a look at the children’s shortlist!

Black History Month: Book Trust Book Selection – a booklist of historical stories from Black History around the world, from picture books to teen novels, spanning fiction and non-fiction.

What it means to be a Great Briton – a launch party speech by author Imogen Russell Williams – Imogen’s new non- fiction book, Great Britons: 50 Amazing People Who Have Called Britain Home, was published this week and Imogen’s wit and understanding of what makes children’s books work is evident in this great speech. You can also take a look inside the book.

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

You Can! written by Alexandra Strick illustrated by Steve Anthony – this new picture book concentrates on overcoming your fears, being kind and learning how to be your best self. Joy Court says in her excellent and extremely positive review, “Inspirational, aspirational, reassuring and hopeful, this important book deserves a place in every classroom and will truly allow every child to feel seen, heard and respected.” This sounds like a must buy!

Little Horror by Daniel Peak – a story described as ‘comedy horror’ and under two hundred pages should have a wide appeal and Emma Kuyateh describes it as an “hilarious, laugh-out-loud, action-packed adventure” in her enjoyable review.

Lego Life Hacks by Julia March and Rosie Peet, models by Barney Main and Nate Dias – I think this would be a welcome addition to many school libraries as well as popular on family book shelves. Veronica Price provides an excellent insight into the book and evidence of what you can make using the instructions as well.

Following Frankenstein by Catherine Bruton – children’s fiction that plays with the classics always interests me and Kate Heap’s review has certainly whetted my appetite for this one. “The layers upon layers of meaning and key messages are sure to provide important topics of discussion.”

Maggie Blue and the Dark World by Anna Goodall – Ben Harris describes this fantasy novel as “very, very good indeed.” His considered review provides just enough to tempt us but without giving too much away. Ben recommends it for readers 11 plus. Including adults!

That’s it for this week. I hope you’ve found something among the links or reviews that you’ve found interesting or helpful.

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Pick of the New Picture Books

September saw saw a surge in the publication of new books for children and I am still working my way through a wonderful variety of fiction and non-fiction titles. Picture books sometimes blur the boundaries between story and information or can be used to guide and encourage young children through difficult emotions or experiences. These picture books, all published last month, are examples of this.

In When I’m Big by Ella Bailey (Flying Eye Books) when Fern the baby dinosaur hatches from an egg deep within a forest there is no sign of her parents. So little Fern sets out to try to discover what sort of dinosaur she will grow up to be. She meets dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes. Surely among all these dinosaurs, Fern will find out who she is and where she fits in. This is a charming story about finding your place in the world and accepting who you are and the cheerful illustrations match the tone of the text. There are double page spreads of the forest which include plenty of vegetation sharing the name of our little explorer plus vignettes depicting episodes along the journey. It’s a nice touch to show all the different dinosaurs, suitably identified, on the endpapers enabling young children to learn their names. This would be lovely to share with young children enabling them to see that the most important thing to be is themselves.

What the Elephant Heard by Charlotte Guillain illustrated by Sam Usher (Welbeck Publishing) combines gently rhyming text, subtly illustrated landscapes and information about these threatened animals and the challenges they face. A picture book that tells an important environmental story. The matriarch of the elephant herd tells of the traditions passed on from one generation to the next but also of changes experienced by these beasts of the African savannah brought about by man’s actions. The non-fiction pages incorporate facts about the animals themselves, the threats to their existence and how people can help. The detailed watercolours capture the changes to the landscape caused by humans in a moving manner with the subtle changes in colour emphasising the impact and the endpapers reflecting the glowing African sun. A beautiful non-fiction picture book.

Tiny Owl frequently publish picture books that prompt thoughtful discussion and Rock and Roll by Hazel Terry is a wonderful example. It tells the story of two boulders who have stood proudly together at the top of the mountain for a long, long time. One stands flat and the other stands tall. When people discover the two rocks they bring gifts and adornments for them. Sadly Rock and Roll become jealous of each other and gradually their discontent spreads. Each time I read this I ask a different question and wonder. It has themes of difference, interconnection, jealousy and sharing and is a book to savour and talk about. There are fascinating fossil prints throughout and brief details about them on the final page. This, I think, would be suitable for a wide age range.

Lily Takes a Walk by Satoshi Kitamura was first published in the 1980s but thanks to Scallywag Press a new edition of this classic is now available again. When Lily takes her dog, Nicky, for a walk she sees many lovely things. Meanwhile, Nicky and the reader, see something rather different. Scary apparitions depicted in Kitamura’s instantly recognisable style are apparent on every double page spread. What is that lurking in the tree, peeping out of the postbox, hovering in the night sky or even jumping out of the bin and over the wall? While Lily relates the details of her lovely walk to her parents the traumatised dog lies exhausted in his basket only to be confronted by one more surprise. There is enough horror to thrill but hopefully not to prompt nightmares and this book would provide an opening to discuss irrational fears with children. Parents may of course remember this story from their own childhood which adds an extra level to the sharing and understanding of this classic picture book from a much celebrated illustrator.

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When Poems Fall From the Sky written by Zaro Weil illustrated by Junli Song

Over the past eighteen months as our lives have been restricted many more of us have discovered that nature has the capacity both to sooth and to inspire. This simply glorious collection of poems, stories and plays encourages us all to slow down, to take notice and to appreciate the wonderful world around us. The everyday sights and sounds that may be taken for granted are celebrated in a combination of words and pictures, both beautiful in themselves, but together they create a book to treasure.

Zaro Weil and Junli Song won the coveted CLiPPA prize for their stunning poetry anthology, Cherry Moon and this beautiful collection will undoubtedly attract much attention. It deserves attention. The poems, story-poems, raps, rhymes, haiku and little plays inside this anthology, inspired by Kew Gardens, are full of imagination, humour and joyful appreciation. The vibrant full colour illustrations depicting trees, birds, animals, rivers, flowers, mountains and insects all demand time from the reader. From the stunning cover onwards this is a colourful and happy celebration.

The poems themselves tell stories and the mini plays and short stories extend this concept. The reader explores and discovers as they read and this book would be a joy to read aloud. Children would enjoy playing the various roles and learning as they participate. Even my mortal enemy, the wasp, becomes a creature to appreciate in this delightful book. There are poems that make you smile, poems that make you care and poems that move you. One of my personal favourites is Tree’s Story, a poem full of hope and a celebration of the life cycle and our interconnectedness.

Ultimately this thoughtful collection feels a little like Nature sharing secrets, hopes and guidance. We are reminded of our role as guardians of our world and yet the poetry never preaches but prompts and encourages. This is a lovely, hopeful book. Published just prior to our county wide celebration of poetry, National Poetry Day, this is a book to treasure any day.

When Poems Fall From the Sky was published on 1st October by Troika Books in association with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. I should like to thank the publishers and Fritha Lindqvist for my review copy.

Troika Books have created a lovely trailer which provides a taste of When Poems Fall From the Sky.

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Perfect Picture Books for Libraries Week

Libraries Week is an annual celebration of the best that libraries have to offer. This year Libraries Week takes place between the 4th and 10th October, and highlights the central role that libraries play in their community as a driver for inclusion, sustainability, social mobility and community cohesion. Your library is taking action and changing lives!

Picture books are a wonderful way of sharing and celebrating all that libraries do to make children’s lives better. Here are a few that I have shared, read and enjoyed with children, I hope they work their magic for you too.

We Want Our Books by Jake Alexander

We Want Our Books is a debut picture book by Jake Alexander with an important message that even the smallest voice can make a difference when it is used for good.

Rosa has lots of questions and her Dad knows that the library is the place for her to find the answers. However the library is closed and not just for the day but for ever to be replaced by a restaurant. Rosa and her sister decide to put on a protest and and do everything they can to try to save their library. Although at first people are too busy or too preoccupied to join the girls Rosa and Maria persist and gradually other voices join theirs and united they can make a big difference.

We Want our Books is an inspiring story and a rallying cry to us all to save our libraries before it is too late. The tone is positive and stresses the power of communities to alter decisions that affect them all and the fact that this is started by two young girls is an empowering message for children. Jake Alexander has presented an important subject in a child friendly way. The text is short but conveys the message succinctly and the bold illustrations support the story with speech bubbles and placard messages. The front endpapers show empty shelves with just a few books scattered about whereas those at the end depict well stocked library shelves ready and waiting for users to borrow. It is lovely to see the wide range of people using the library when it reopens, a microcosm of society just as it should be. A picture book about books, libraries and the important role they play in communities is one to cherish.

Madeline Finn and The Library Dog by Lisa Papp.


A personal favourite. A gentle story offering hope and encouragement to children who may find reading difficult. The calming  illustrations with their slightly old fashioned feel perfectly match the text that is a celebration not only of libraries but also of the “reading dogs” scheme.

Madeline Finn does NOT like to read. But she DOES want a gold star from her teacher. But, stars are for good readers. Stars are for understanding words, and for saying them out loud. 
Fortunately, Madeline Finn meets Bonnie, a library dog. Reading out loud to Bonnie isn’t so bad; when Madeline Finn gets stuck, Bonnie doesn’t mind. As it turns out, it’s fun to read when you’re not afraid of making mistakes. Bonnie teaches Madeline Finn that it’s okay to go slow. And to keep trying. 

A Library Book For Bear by Bonny Becker and Kad MacDonald Denton 


This is a treat to read aloud being full of humour. Bear is a very reluctant library user but is won over by his friend Mouse (small but determined) and a library storytime session that illustrates perfectly that somewhere there is the right book for everyone. Even bear.

When Bear reluctantly agrees to go with his friend, Mouse, to the big library, neither rocket ships nor wooden canoes are enough for Bear’s picky tastes. How will Mouse ever find the perfect book for Bear?

The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara


This picture book is suitable for the youngest of listeners. The concept of a library coming to life at night to cater for the needs of a small army of animals is very appealing to children and the ”tiny librarian’ adds to the almost fairy tale feel. The distinctive illustrations in black, midnight blue and yellow create a secretive atmosphere in this very special library.

When we are fast asleep in bed, the Midnight Library opens its doors to all the night-time animals. Inside the library the little librarian and her three assistant owls help each and every animal to find the perfect book. But with a noisy squirrel band, an upset wolf and a slow-reading tortoise to help, they could all be in for a very busy night.

How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel by Wendy Meddour and Rebecca Ashdown.


An absolutely wonderful twist on a traditional tale that will lift the spirits of any librarian or book lover. This happy story told in rhyme, accompanied by vibrant illustrations, relates how Rapunzel is released from a drab and dreary life not by a dashing Prince Charming but by a job in the library and the discovery of books.

Rapunzel sits on the sixteenth floor of an inner city block, bored, dreaming and looking out at the rain. No one can rouse her from her apathy, not the milkman or the postman or the baker or her aunt – or even the prince. But when at last a letter is delivered, it contains news that has Rapunzel on her feet again. She has a new job at the library! And suddenly her life is busy, sparkling, exciting and stimulating.

Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar by Emily Mackenzie


Ralfy is a book lover. Unfortunately he loves books just a little too much, even those that belong to others. Frankly I have a bit of sympathy with Ralfy, so many gorgeous books it’s tempting to want to own them all. Sadly this is not really possible. So hurrah for the library! This is a great way to introduce a discussion with children about right and wrong and not taking things that don’t belong to you. A book to spend some time over as there is a lot to look at in the illustrations with plenty of visual humour.

Some rabbits dream about lettuces and carrots, others dream of flowering meadows and juicy dandelions, but Ralfy dreams only of books. In fact, he doesn’t just dream about them, he wants to read them ALL THE TIME. Soon his obsession sends him spiralling into a life of crime!

These are some of my favourites but there are several more wonderful picture books celebrating libraries of all sorts that I’ve shared successfully over the years and I’ve included pictures of these below in case you want to try them too. Perfect for Libraries Week but worth reading any week!

Collage 2018-10-08 09_59_08

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