Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of The Paper Bag Princess – Story by Robert Munsch Art by Michael Martchenko

In 1980 a picture book was published that upturned the traditional fairy tale princess stereotype and provided a revolutionary look at the role models portrayed in young children’s stories. Since then over 7 million copies have been sold and the book has been translated into many languages. To mark the 40th anniversary of The Paper Bag Princess Canadian children’s publisher Annick Press have produced a special edition with forewords by Chelsea Clinton and writer Francesca Segal and also an afterword from Ann Munsch with Robert Munsch providing an insight into the inspiration behind the story.


This is the story of a princess. The princess Elizabeth, who is all set to marry her Prince Charming, or in this particular case her Prince Ronald. All these plans are frustrated when a dragon smashes into the castle and whisks Ronald away after first burning all the princess’s clothes. Elizabeth is remarkably unfazed by this and donning a paper bag she sets off after the dragon to rescue her Prince.  She outsmarts the dragon using her quick wits and saves Prince Ronald. The ungrateful prince tells off Princess Elizabeth for looking ‘a mess’ and says she must return when she is ‘dressed like a real princess.’ Elizabeth tells Ronald that although he may look like a real prince he is in fact ‘a bum’ and with that she skips off happily into the sunset without him.

This is a short story that would make a relatively quick read yet it says a great deal. The themes addressed in this alternative fairy tale include gender stereotyping, the importance of not judging people on appearance and learning to develop positive self-esteem. The happy ending for Elizabeth may not be the conventional one that the reader expects but it is nonetheless a happy one. The bright illustrations by Michael Martchenko are child friendly and add to the enjoyment and understanding of the text. The one depicting the prince and princess at the start of the story is rather telling, I feel. The besotted princess is shown gazing adoringly at the prince while he has his back to her and wears a rather snooty expression. Perhaps a hint of what is to unfold.

This special package to mark the 40th anniversary contain interesting extras that add to the overall appeal of the story. There is a forward by Chelsea Clinton describing how much they loved reading this book as a family with her children and as she remarks:

I think it is critical that our daughter and our sons and all our daughters and sons grow up to believe they can defeat their own dragons and rescue themselves”

The inspiration for this story as described by Ann Munsch is rather lovely.  When she and Robert Munsch worked together in child care centres in the US in the 1970s he started telling stories to the older children while the younger ones slept. These stories often involved princes and princesses, dragons and castles and the hero was always the prince. Many of the children at the centres came from single parent families in which the mothers were truly being heroic and from this observation the Paper Bag Princess was born.

I greatly enjoyed rediscovering this classic and hope it continues to reach a wide audience for many years to come.

Thank you very much to Amy Dobson and Annick Press for kindly providing my review copy. The anniversary edition is published on 20th February and is available to buy in all good bookshops or online

Annick Press have produced this lovely trailer featuring Robert Munsch to mark the anniversary.


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

Hello everyone and welcome to another Reading Matters and the opportunity to catch up with news from the world of children’s books and school libraries that you may have missed during a busy week. For all those who work in schools a very happy half term holiday to you!

What I’m reading…


This week I finished reading Little Bird Lands by Karen McCombie and you can read my review here. Spoiler…I loved it! Out now and perfect for lovers of children’s historical fiction.

This week I have also been reading the latest issue of Literacy, the journal published by The United Kingdom Literacy Association. So many fascinating and informative articles but one about school libraries is open access online: School libraries fostering children’s literacy and literature learning: mitigating the barriers  and I would highly recommend reading this as it draws attention to many issues faced by school librarians.

News and views from the world of children’s books…

The Non-Negotiable Role of School Librarians– article from the National Association of School Principals on collaboration between teachers and school librarians and how to ‘unlock the power of your library to drive a culture of deep learning in your school’.

21 Essential LGBTQ+ Kids & YA Books To Share in 2020 – to mark LGBT History Month in February Charlie Morris, Senior Publicist for Little Tiger Press and Stripes Publishing, has selected a range books for children, teens and young adults for the Toppsta website.

The School Library is a Litmus Paper – the latest blog on the Great School Libraries website written by former  Ofsted inspector, Larraine Harrison. It explains why school libraries are so important.

Picture Books for Children Reviews – Imogen Carter, for the Guardian, reviews a selection of picture books with a wide appeal covering nature, humour, acceptance and history.

The Imagine Children’s Festival – this annual festival is on now at the South Bank Centre and is dedicated to families experiencing and enjoying all kinds of art and culture together. Many popular children’s authors are featured. A wonderful half term treat!

The Importance of Diversity in School Libraries – “Diversity in school libraries isn’t about the numbers, it’s about the impact it has on the lives of the students who use them.” says former School Librarian of the Year, Lucas Maxwell, in his article for Book Riot.

Books to Engage Children With Environmental Issues – A range of titles on topical issues to prompt discussion or to use in the primary school classroom chosen by Jo @librarygirlandbookboy for the Copyright Licensing Agency website.

Topic Reading Lists – Helpful booklists on a variety of topics including Celebrating Difference, Emotional Well-being, Graphic Novels and many more are free to download from the Children’s Books Ireland website.

Longlist Announced for the Klaus Flugge Prize – Twenty debut picture books are in the running for this illustration prize that highlights the most talented newcomers. Previous winners include My Name is Not Refugee by Kate Milner and Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love.

CLPE Wins the Eleanor Farjeon Award 2019– The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education had been awarded the prestigious Eleanor Farjeon Award.  The prize, administered by the Children’s Book Circle, is given annually to acknowledge those individuals or institutions whose work and commitment to the world of children’s books has been deemed to be outstanding.

UK BAME Authors and Illustrators – School Librarian Matt Imrie has compiled and updated his lists of BAME authors for children, teens and young adults, illustrators, poets and publishers on the helpful Teen Librarian website.

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

Flights of Fancy–  Stories, pictures and inspiration from ten Children’s Laureates. This anthology is now available in paperback. ‘If you want to inspire children to let their imaginations soar, then you really, really must have a copy of this cracker of a book in your home or classroom’ says Jill Bennett in her review.

First Chapter Books from Stripe Publishing – reviewed by Jo @librarygirlandbookboy who says they are ‘an excellent choice for anyone aged 5+ who still loves the vibrant, full-page illustrations of picture books but want a little more text to go with them.’ They sound wonderful and perfect for emerging and newly confident readers.

Demelza and the Spectre Detectors by Holly Rivers – “an excellent debut, tackling some heavy subject matter with heart, humour and care.” says Alex Mitchell in this tempting review for The Bookbag @TheBookbag

That’s it for this week. I hope you’ve found something of interest and maybe an idea for a book to read. Have a lovely week and happy reading!

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Historical Fiction for Children – Little Bird Lands by Karen McCombie

Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres and historical fiction for children particularly so, therefore this sequel to Little Bird Flies has been eagerly anticipated since I first heard about it. I was not disappointed. Little Bird has matured, the setting has changed but this is just as vivid, entertaining and enjoyable as the first instalment. The sense of time and place draws you in and you journey alongside Little Bird as she discovers a new land, new friendships and new opportunities.


In the mid 1800s Bridie, or Little Bird as she is known, has landed in America, far from her home in Scotland and far from the danger that caused her family to flee. First to the busy streets of New York then to the icy land of Michigan and finally to the prairies of the west, Little Bird holds tight to secrets and dreams of freedom. Then, on her journey she must overcome new perils and come face to face with an unwelcome ghost from her past. However, Little Bird, though small and fragile in some ways, has grown in self belief so determines to face whatever befalls her with courage and hope.

Karen McCombie has created in Little Bird a character who feels both thoroughly believable and also completely engaging. Now a teenager she has matured from the previous book and accompanying her as she discovers a new land and new people will enable young readers to discover them too. With a vivid sense of time and place and a hint of period language children will learn much from this entertaining story. Through the eyes of a young Scottish girl we see what life was like for families arriving in a strange place and how overwhelming this new world felt for them as they tried to find a place to call ‘home’. With its themes of emigration and finding a place of safety and acceptance this has a resonance today and the author, through the character of Little Bird, displays an understanding of the effects of their arrival on the Native Americans whose home it already is. Historical fiction provides a way of looking at issues, both from long ago and today, through a slightly different lens. This book, without ever being preaching or didactic in tone, displays a compassion and understanding for the people involved in a way that will appeal to children’s sense of fairness.

The story is an exciting one combining mystery and adventure with domestic ritual and family life in a manner that makes this feel believable and encourages the reader to care about individual characters. The growing friendship between Bridie and Easter, the black maid at the mine owner’s house is a lovely one and compensates Little Bird in a small way for the absence of her sisters. Doctor Spicer, the female doctor who becomes friends with Little Bird and her family, is a wonderful character and a role model for Bridie as she looks to the future. I love Bridie, she refuses to let physical frailty stand in her way, she is brave and determined but compassionate and understanding too. A fabulous character.

The detail included in both the descriptions of the setting and of every day routine brings this world vividly to life and I learned facts that I did not know before. Although first and foremost this is a fabulous story children will learn as they read and this would therefore be an excellent book to use in the classroom. I think this would appeal to readers who have enjoyed The Little House on the Prairie series or books by Emma Carroll.

The story reaches a hopeful resolution yet still leaves the possibility of another book in the series. I do hope so, I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to Little Bird just yet.

I should like to thank Rebecca Mason and Nosy Crow publishers for providing my proof review copy. The striking cover illustration of the finished copy is by Jasu Hu. Little Bird Lands was published on 6th February and is available to purchase at all good bookshops or online

Karen McCombie has written some story starters for Just Imagine, the educational consultants, and you may like to share Why the Begining of a Story Has to Pop!

Karen also recommends a helpful website: Facts for Kids: Ojibwa Indians should you wish to find out more about this aspect of the book.

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

Hello everyone and welcome to another look back at what has been happening in the children’s books community this week. It has been a very busy few days with award ceremonies and shortlist announcements, many new books published and interesting articles to read. These are just some of the items that I noticed.

What I’m reading…


This week I have read a selection of books for younger children that would tempt even the most reluctant readers and reviewed them here:  New Books Out This Month – Facts and Fiction Made Accessible for Children

The publishers Tiny Owl kindly sent me a copy of Felix After The Rain by Dunja Jogan translated by Olivia Hellewell. This is a very special book about coping with difficult emotions and I would highly recommend it to children and adults alike.

There are many great children’s books being published this month and I would love to be able to read them all. This week I made time for Little Bird Lands by Karen McCombie and am now halfway through and enjoying it very much. My review will follow soon.

News and views from the world of children’s books…

Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) “Visibly invisible”: publish, support, and promote authors of colour – The latest blog in the #ReflectingRealities series looks at the link between quality of ethnic representation in children’s books & authorship, written by Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold.

Book Clinic: Stories to captivate reluctant boys –  in this regular feature from the Guardian Jasbinder Bilan (winner of the Costa Children’s Book Award 2019) chooses books that may tempt twelve year old boys.

Twenty Seven of the Best: A Personal Reading Journey by Daniel Hahn – this article was published in Books for Keeps last year but feels appropriate to share this week as each of the stories comes from a different one of the twenty-seven countries who will continue to constitute the European Union.

It’s a My Book Corner Take Over by Zoe Armstrong – a lovely interview with Emma Perry, founder of My Book Corner, and author of I Don’t Like Books. Never. Ever. The End. which was published this week.

Book Trust: New Children’s Books We Love – February is a busy month for children’s book lovers with many new titles published. The team at Book Trust have selected their favourites for ages 3 – teens.

Black History Month – 20 Recommended Authors – Jim Dean @JimYaYeah has selected some of his favourite titles from Middle Grade through YA to Adult in this list.

Reading Well Book List for Children – The Reading Agency has created this list in response to data about children’s mental health in the UK. The list covers areas such as anxiety, bereavement and bullying with books by Michael Rosen, Tom Percival, Zanib Mian and Joseph Coelho selected by leading mental health experts to support the mental health and wellbeing of children. 

Picture Books on Prescription – this interesting article from the Guardian on the power of picture books on prescription & the expert-endorsed new Reading Well for children booklist launched this week mentioned above.

The Open University Research Rich Pedagogies –  Developing Reading for Pleasure – this wonderful site contains links to research, examples of good practice and a free to download PowerPoint presentation which makes a case on the importance of Reading for Pleasure in schools that may be useful for staff meetings.

BookTrust research has revealed that more than a quarter of a million UK primary school children are experiencing literary poverty. – A child in literary poverty is defined as a child who is read to or with for pleasure, for less than 15 minutes a week outside of school. In response to the report Book Trust has launched its fundraising Pyjamarama campaign to call on families to rediscover the joy of reading.

Evernight by Ross Mackenzie Scottish Book Trust Schools Book of the Month – I was lucky enough to review this wonderful book for The School Librarian and this is an interesting interview with the author and an opportunity to win a copy of the book for your school too.

Waterstones Children’s Book Prize Shortlists Announced – Congratulations to all the authors, illustrators and publishers of this fabulous selection of books. I’m delighted to see The Middler and Asha and The Spirit Bird on the younger list.

Winners of Laugh Out Loud (Lollies) Book Award Announced – The books were chosen by teachers on behalf of their classes from shortlists drawn up a judging panel chaired by Michael Rosen.

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

Pie in The Sky by Remy Lai – ‘A brilliant read for empathy, and one that should be in every school.’ says Nicki Cleveland @MissNCleveland in her lovely review of this book about emigration and loneliness.

Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Missing Diamonds by Annabelle Sami (Illustrated by Daniela Sosa) – a contemporary new series for fans of The Sinclair’s Mysteries and the Murder Most Unladylike books. “I would recommend this to anyone who is a fan of a lighthearted mystery, very enthusiastic fangirls, secret staircases, mazes, dancing at weddings, and very enthusiastic adorable dogs!” says @starshynebrite in her review.

Sticky Pines: The BigWoof Conspiracy by Dashe Roberts – “It’s glorious, utterly glorious and comes with our highest recommendation.” says @ReaditDaddy in his tempting review of this debut published by Nosy Crow.

CLPE Teacher YouTube Book Reviews – have you seen these weekly video book reviews explaining how to use special books in the classroom?  This one by Charlie Hacking from CLPE on The Dam by David Almond and Levi Penfold is a great one to start with.

Thank you for reading and I hope that you have found something interesting or helpful within this week’s links. Don’t forget it’s International Book Giving Day on 14th February so you may like to find out how to share some book love on Valentines Day by visiting their official website

Back with more news next week…



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Felix After The Rain – written and illustrated by Dunja Jogan Translated by Olivia Hellewell

This is such a beautiful book. Wonderful illustrations which encourage the reader to linger combine with a rich text to create something that will comfort and reassure. Highly recommended for children of all ages and quite probably adults too. 


Felix is an unhappy boy. He carries a large black suitcase around with him everywhere. Although he does not really understand what is in the suitcase it contains the grief he felt following the death of his grandmother, the hurt felt when friends are unkind and the worry felt when his father told him off. All these feelings are locked away in the case. Until one day a little boy opens the suitcase while Felix sleeps and releases the sorrow, fears and troubles that have been hidden inside. Felix is uplifted and, full of joy, he rejoins the world around him and discovers that he is welcomed.

Sometimes pictures convey emotion in a way that touches the reader more than words are able to. Dunja Jogan’s beautiful illustrations are full of feeling and understanding, encouraging the reader to empathise with Felix and, perhaps, to identify their own worries and emotions too. As in all the best picture books much of the story is depicted in the illustrations and as I read this book for the first time I found myself lingering and ‘reading’ the pictures too.

When we first meet Felix he is slumped next to the large black suitcase. His dejection is matched by the gloomy background in sombre colours, the branches of one of the trees sweeping down mirroring Felix’s stance. As the story progresses the suitcase grows larger as the weight of Felix’s troubles becomes heavier for him to bear. The reader notices too that there is light and colour on the pages but not around the figure of Felix. There is a happy world out there but it is just out of the reach of Felix.

When the small boy opens the suitcase and all the unhappiness is released Felix must weather the intense storm of feelings that swamp him and the tears that flow. Calm again he returns to a world of colour and joy that he can be part of and finds that he is welcomed and embraced by others. The dark swirling clouds, weeping faces and clenched fists of the storm are replaced by vibrant colours, smiles and happy scenes. Felix has discarded his black clothes, and lifts his face up to the beautiful world around him. The joyous cover of the book shows Felix after the storm has passed and invites the reader to follow his journey to an optimistic and hopeful ending.

The translated text by Olivia Hellewell is rich and almost lyrical and this would be lovely to read aloud. The vocabulary working so well with the pictures; during the storm Felix ‘felt a rumble in his head’ and “tears ran down his cheeks like the rain’. Happy again he feels ‘like a fish in water’ rather than feeling like he does not belong.

This is a wonderful book to prompt discussion with children about emotions and how to handle feelings of sadness, depression or anxiety. It could also be a useful and comforting read for children experiencing bereavement. The story ends with Felix being gently embraced by those around him. I think this is perfect. Felix is being treated with care, he will not be overwhelmed by others as he rejoins the world he had cut himself off from. This will, I think, reassure children that should they be brave enough to communicate their worries and not hide them away they too will be treated with gentleness and care.

Thank you very much to the publishers, Tiny Owl Publishing, for providing my review copy, I will treasure it.

Felix After the Rain is published on 20th February and this lovely video trailer provides a taste of what to expect:

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New Books Out This Month – Facts and Fiction Made Accessible for Children

As a primary school librarian I was always looking out for books that would hook those children that it was a little bit harder for me to reach. The children who found reading a little tricky or maybe just not much fun. One of the more positive aspects of children’s publishing over the last few years is the growth in the number of titles available that make this an easier job for librarians and teachers.

Today on the blog I am sharing three great books published this month that should engage a wide range of children and not only the avid bookworms in your life.

Five Ways to Make a Friend by Gillian Cross illustrated by Sarah Horne

C230B644-7D32-421C-9956-67B636935339A lovely story about finding friendship, this title from Barrington Stoke deals with common anxieties that children face with kindness and humour. The exuberant illustrations accompanying the text complete the appeal of this touching book which I think will reassure young readers.

It is Ella’s first day at her new school and she is feeling a little worried. She is missing her old school and her friends but does not want to let her Dad know and worry him. Her first day proves to be worse than she had imagined. The other girls in her class don’t seem interested in her and at lunch break, like many new pupils, she goes to the library rather than be on her own in the playground. On the shelves she discovers a book called Five Ways to Make a Friend. Could this be the answer to her problem thinks Ella. Perhaps it will be but maybe not quite in the way that she imagined.

This is a gentle story told with humour and kindness. Although it covers the problems that children starting a new school may encounter it deals with them in positive manner that I think children will find comforting. Gillian Cross has written a story that will encourage children to find the confidence to be themselves. It also shows how true friendship may be hiding in plain sight, perhaps a useful lesson. The accompanying illustrations are jolly  and relatable for young readers. One other point worth mentioning is that there is no mention of Ella’s mother and this book may be useful if you looking for fiction depicting single parent families.

Five Ways to Make a Friend is available to purchase at all good bookshops or online

Anna Gain and the Same Sixty Seconds by Guy Bass illustrated by Steve May 


This is Groundhog Day for children and is both entertaining and very funny. The illustrations match the mood of the story perfectly and this is a book that should be a hit with even the most reluctant reader. I think it would be great read aloud too.

Anna Gain thinks that it is very important to be punctual. She is never late for anything. She is certainly never late for the school bus each morning. Then one morning something happens. Actually several somethings and poor Anna misses the school bus. She is horrified. But then she finds herself transported back in time and has the opportunity to put things right. However no matter how hard Anna tries things don’t work out and she misses the bus again. Over and over again she tries and fails. Will she ever catch the bus or is she being taught an important lesson?

I loved this and think it will appeal to young readers. Guy Bass has taken a scenario that is instantly recognisable to children and twisted it into an hilarious and chaotic adventure. However Anna learns a valuable lesson through her experience and realises that instead of treating time as something that can be beaten in fact every second is precious.

Both those books are published by Barrington Stoke and are presented in a style that is dyslexia friendly using a special typeface, extra line spacing and cream paper. However they would also be an excellent quick read for more confident readers.

Anna Gain and the Same Sixty Seconds is available to preorder here

Jasper: Viking Dog by Hilary Robinson illustrated by Lewis James

C3A7915D-20C9-4E77-9ADA-0156413B4A04The second in this new series finds Jasper discovering what life was like as a Viking. Through a series of letters written to an expert historian he and his friend Charlie Tanner discover fascinating facts while sharing lots of laughter along the way. A perfect introduction to history for young children.

The first book in this series Jasper: Space Dog linked to the anniversary of the first Moon landing and taught young readers about space. In this book Jasper thinks that he may be descended from the Vikings so his friend Charlie writes to the curator of the Bogna Viking Museum to find out if indeed Vikings had dogs and if so what they were like. The obliging curator, Astrid, advises the curious duo that yes, they did, and they were used for hunting bears and moose. So begins a series of exchanges in which Astrid answers questions, sorts out misunderstandings and teaches the boy and his dog all about the Vikings. There is a lot of information included in this little book and young readers will learn as they are entertained. We discover that Vikings were fond of bleaching their hair, were keen skiers and that wireless technology Bluetooth is named after a Viking leader. We even learn that fossilised Viking poo was discovered in York! How will children resist sharing this fact?

The illustrations have bags of appeal for children and this book is presented in a style that makes it readily accessible for emerging readers. This is a lovely way of blending facts and fiction that will engage and enthuse children. I would recommend this book for primary classrooms and school libraries.

Jasper: Viking Dog is available to preorder here

Further books are planned and will cover Everest, Eco Living and more. A series to watch out for!

Thank you to Kirstin Lamb, Barrington Stoke, Hilary Robinson and Strauss House Productions for providing my review copies.

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

Hello everyone and welcome to another look at some of the latest news in the children’s book world. Happy new month! We have lots to look forward to in February including Harry Potter Book Night,  International Book Giving Day and the announcement of the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards longlists.

What I’m reading…


This week I finished reading The One That Got Away by Jan Mark. A mix of school stories and everyday family life they have contained a dry humour that I did not expect and some deliciously spooky, and occasionally deeply sinister, episodes. A big thank you to the #JanMARKuary team especially Ben Harris @one_to_read and Jon Appleton @appletonsbooks for introducing me to this excellent author. Ben has written a summary of the month here and it is well worth a read as I think it perfectly describes the appeal of this author. It is also evidence that Twitter can be a civil, interesting and entertaining medium sometimes! This morning Chris Lovegrove has written a thoughtful article about the short story collection that we shared. If you are not already following his blog I can wholeheartedly recommend it.

I have also read another Jan Mark book, the Carnegie Award winning Thunder and Lightnings, in readiness for the first #ClassicChildrensBooksClub to be hosted by author Christopher Edge on Sunday 2nd February at 8pm.  Do join in if you can, it’s sure to be interesting.

News and Views From the World of Children’s Books…

Children’s and Teens Round Up: the best new picture books and novels – Imogen Russell Williams can be relied upon to provide a wonderful and tempting taste of the latest children’s literature in her regular articles for The Guardian. Her first contribution for 2020 is full of brilliant books for all ages.

What makes a great school author visit? – Children’s author Andy Seed travels all over the UK visiting schools. In this helpful blogpost he writes about a recent extremely successful visit and explains what made it such a success. A useful read for school librarians, teachers and authors and illustrators too.

Love My Books – this great website contains a wonderful range of free resource and activity ideas linked to books for toddlers and young children suitable for both nursery/school settings and parents. New books have been added recently and this is well worth a visit. There’s an advice section specifically for parents too.

The Missing: The True Story of My Family in World War 2 by Michael Rosen – Booktrust interview with award winning writer and former Children’s Laureate, Michael Rosen about his new book and how we can best talk to children about the Holocaust.

Library Research Lesson using No Ballet Shoes in Syria by Catherine Bruton – School Librarian, Lucas Maxwell has designed a lesson to teach pupils how to use Google effectively while learning about the Syrian refugee crisis. He has kindly shared downloadable resources too. If you are not familiar with this excellent book you can read my review here.

World Book Day Brand New Author and Illustrator Masterclasses – 12 new films have been created by the WBD team to inspire children aged 5 – 12 and they feature some fabulous people such as Matt Haig, Cressida Cowell, Katherine Rundell and many more. You can register now and use the films when convenient to you.

From Auschwitz to Ambleside: Tom Palmer – Barrington Stoke announced that in May they will be publishing a new novel by Tom Palmer inspired by the true stories of the Windermere Children, After the War: From Auschwitz to Ambleside. After the War was researched and written with the support of the Lake District Holocaust Project. and is a powerful and evocative fictional account of the real-life child refugees who escaped concentration camps for a new life in the Lake District. Tom Palmer and Barrington Stoke have already proved that they are a winning combination and this is definitely a book to watch out for. 

Tiny Owl Publishers Free Posters  – brilliant new posters for The Drum, The New Baby and Me, The Elephant’s Umbrella, There’s Room for Everyone and more that would look wonderful decorating homes, libraries or bookshops are free to download from their website.

Branford Boase Award Longlist Announced – The Branford Boase Award was set up in memory of award-winning author Henrietta Branford and her editor Wendy Boase, and is given annually to the author of an outstanding debut novel for children. Uniquely, the Branford Boase Award also honours the editor of the winning title and highlights the importance of the editor in nurturing new talent. The fabulous list includes The Middler and Asha and the Spirit Bird

Children’s Book Sequels – This useful website helps you discover the right order of any series from Harry Potter to Biggles, from Young Bond to The Hunger Games. New titles and series have been added to the site recently and this is a useful reference tool.

Great Children’s Books Featuring BAME Characters – this week Darren Chetty posted a helpful link to all the Beyond the Secret Garden articles he has written with Karen Sands-O’Connor for Books for Keeps magazine. An excellent #ReflectingRealities resource.

Children’s Mental Health Week – takes place this coming week, 3rd – 9th February and this year’s theme is ‘Find Your Brave’. Alison from Books for Topics has collated a helpful list of Books to Support Mental Health Awareness and there are free resources available on the official website too.

The Boy Who Dreamed of Dragons by Andy Shepherd, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie– Jo Clarke @bookloverjo hosted the cover reveal of the latest book in this lovely series for younger middle grade readers. It will be published on 11th June and no doubt will be just as popular as the previous books.

Library Lovers Month – to mark February being a special time to cherish our libraries Just Imagine have interviewed current School Librarian of the Year, Ros Harding and discovered how she has made sure that her school library makes a difference. An excellent read if you are looking for ways to make your library a Great School Library.

Meet the Author – An Interview With Nicola Penfold – Ian Eagleton of The Reading Realm interviewed Nicola about her debut, When the World Turns Wild, as part of this week’s blog tour. This book is next up on my reading list and it sounds wonderful.

Finally, some reviews of children’s books that I have enjoyed this week:

The Highland Falcon Thief by MG Leonard and Sam Sedgman – this wonderful review by @chaletfan is so full of enthusiasm that I feel sure I will enjoy the book too. She describes it as “a vibrant and well-crafted story and one that gives you an incredibly rich mystery/adventure in the process.” How can we resist that?

Monster Slayer by Brian Patten and Chris Riddell – a retelling of the classic tale of Beowulf published by Barrington Stoke this is described as a “fabulous introduction to a timeless story” by Louise Nettleton @Lou_Nettleton in her review. This sounds like a must buy for school libraries and classrooms.

Patina by Jason Reynolds–  Knights Of are already displaying a knack for publishing books that make a difference. Veronica Price’s review of this follow up to Ghost suggests that this is going to be another hit as she says: ‘I cannot recommend it highly enough as a thoroughly gripping story to add to your “read-for-empathy” collections for anyone of 10+.’

Thank you for reading and I hope that you have found something interesting or helpful within this week’s links. Back with more news next week…

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

Hello and welcome to another news update where we look back at the week in books for children and young people. This is a collection of links to articles and websites that I hope will be helpful to librarians, teachers and parents.

What I’m reading…


My introduction to the award winning author, Jan Mark continues and I am enjoying my daily dip into The One That Got Away collection of short stories. Unfortunately I have not been able to join in with the #JanMARKuary discussion on Twitter but catching up with it later is teaching me a great deal about this respected author and her writing. I also have a copy of her Carnegie Award winning book, Thunder and Lightnings, ready for #ClassicChildrensBooksClub with author Christopher Edge on Sunday 2nd February.

In my role as a StoryStarter with the Beanstalk charity I am working with a new group of children this term. My three little charges have enjoyed You Choose by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodheart, a book that I find a great tool for prompting discussion and getting to know each child a little better. This week we moved onto There’s a Shark in the Park also by Nick Sharratt. Time for lots of excited shouting and exploration with pretend telescopes!

This week I have reviewed two debuts, The Girl Who Stole an Elephant by Nizrana Farook and Asha and the Spirit Bird by Jasbinder Bilan both of which I enjoyed very much. I also wrote about my reaction to the new adaptation of Little Women.

News and views from the world of children’s books…

The Lost Spells by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris – Hamish Hamilton will publish The Lost Spells, a new collaboration from Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris, the bestselling duo behind The Lost Words, on 1st October 2020. This will be a pocket sized hardback containing a new set of natural poems and illustrations.

Brian Wildsmith Website – a new website was launched on 22nd January to coincide with what would have been this celebrated illustrator’s 90th birthday. It contains beautiful examples of his artwork and links to his many books. Do have a browse, it is lovely.

World Book Day Share a Million Stories – this year the organisers of World Book Day are on a mission to get the nation to Share A Million Stories. At home or at school, in bookshops and libraries, every story you share will count & could win you £1000 of books during the period from 27th February to 29th March. You can register now via the link above.

Read for Empathy Collections – Empathy Lab UK launched two collections of books one suitable for primary and one for secondary. The books have been specially selected by an expert panel to build empathy in children and young people. Each collection has its own Read for Empathy Guide with a synopsis of all of the books, top tips for sharing stories and more information about Empathy Day, 9 June 2020.

Q & A with Miranda McKearney Founder of Empathy Lab– Alison at Books for Topics interviews the founder of Empathy Lab to find out more about this year’s collections and the background to Empathy Day.

Booktrust’s Pyjamarama Returns – Pyjamarama is all about getting children reading. Booktrust is asking children around the country – in schools, nurseries, clubs and at home – to spend a fun-filled day in PJs and donate £1 to help give every child a bedtime story. The day takes place on Friday 5th June and there are free resources, tips and ideas available on the website ready for you to prepare.

Puffin 80th Birthday Celebrations – The publisher will mark 80 years since being founded by Allen Lane this year. In May, Puffin will publish The Puffin Book of Big Dreams, a collection of over 40 new stories. As well as Malorie Blackman and Jacqueline Wilson, contributors include Tom Fletcher, Humza Arshad, Julia Donaldson, Nick Sharratt and Helen Oxenbury among others.

The Schools’ Hub from Chicken House Publishers – This looks brilliant! Educational resources that work with Chicken House books and align with the Key Stage 2 and 3 curriculums. Content created by teachers and librarians that have a passion for reading, PDF downloads of chapter-by-chapter guides, schemes of work, videos and useful links to external resources are here to help with class or book club planning.

Great School Libraries Case Studies – School librarians create readers. However they do much more besides. Have a look at these case studies and get inspiration for everything from well-being to spotting fake news.

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

Max Kowalski Didn’t Mean It by Susie Day – ‘a warm and hopeful read which I’d absolutely recommend to anyone who loves reading wonderful children’s novels with bags of heart.’ says Jim, @Yayeahyeah in his review. Jim is one of my ‘go to’ reviewers and is so knowledgeable about children’s, teen and YA fiction that I have put this on my to read list straight away.

Where the World Turns Wild by Nicola Penfold – this debut due to be published next month is reviewed by children’s writer, K M Lockwood: ‘There are moments of loveliness to remind the reader what we truly care about – special moments with families and friends, and in the natural world.’ I’m looking forward to reading this and you can find out more during the blog tour next week:


I Don’t Like Books. Never. Ever. The End by Emma Perry and Sharon Davey – ‘a wonderful book to encourage a love and a curiosity about books and I thoroughly recommend it to parents, educators, librarians’ says Lily Fae @faeryartemis in her lovely review of this picture book due out next month. This sound perfect.

That’s all for this week. I hope you have found something here of interest. Happy reading!

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Little Women – entertainment or empathy?

Little Women has always been a book that has mattered to me. Last week I finally managed to see the Greta Gerwig adaptation of this classic loved by generations of readers and it made me realise once more why it matters so much. It is a story full of love, understanding and ultimately of tolerance too. As I write this the new Empathy Lab collections have been announced in preparation for Empathy Day in June. These books are titles that offer children a way to understand people different to themselves, to respect and value others and to develop empathy skills. It occurred to me that had such a list existed in the 1800s perhaps Little Women should have been included!

When I was about ten or eleven, my Mum said that she thought I might be ready to read one of her own favourites from childhood. It had been a present from her older sister who coincidentally had given me my much loved copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Mum then handed me a fat, rather battered looking hardback book with slightly discoloured pages. It had, I thought, a rather ‘grown up’ look to it. The book was Little Women by Louisa M Alcott. I tentatively took the book, honestly not sure what to expect. Although very different to anything I had read before, I became engrossed. The language and content bore little resemblance to my own life but something about it touched me. I think it was partly that I knew my Mum had loved it. The handing on of this story about a mother and her daughters felt a little like a rite of passage. I wanted so much to be like Jo, thought that my Mum probably liked Meg best and we both agreed that Amy was infuriating. We talked about the book together and I went on to read the rest of the series. This was a story shared and loved together. I know that I am not alone in this experience. Little Women is a book that is recommended and handed on to the next generation and sometimes it is the sharing that makes it special. When we recommend a book we are really recommending what is important to us. Little Women is the type of book that is shared as we grow into adolescence therefore we grow alongside the characters so it feels even more relevant.


Illustration from my own copy of Little Women given to me by my mum.

Some have said that they found the non linear narrative of the new film a bit confusing but I think it gave it added poignancy. Greta Gerwig has captured in her adaptation the way in which the four adult sisters retain the core essence of themselves as children. As my own sister who I watched the film with commented, “They’re the same, just a little more weary.” We laughed as we recognised ourselves in that description and just like the March sisters we reflected on our shared childhoods and teen years and how little we have changed really. That is one of the key themes of the book and the film and the reason I think it matters. The sisters are very different characters with different hopes and dreams so inevitably their lives will follow different paths. As the story unfolds they learn to respect each other’s hopes and dreams. Just because their dreams are different does not mean they are not equally important. Yet throughout all their experiences Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy are still, deep down, the same people they have always been.

Throughout the book the impetuous Jo tries to learn to control her temper with mixed results. She is famously tested by Amy’s wilful and selfish actions at one point. Yet the two sisters do learn to forgive each other and mature into a trusting and loving relationship. A wonderful example of understanding and developing empathy. The book itself opens with Jo bemoaning the fact that they will not be receiving many Christmas presents because they are “poor”. A little later in the book the girls are asked by their mother to donate their Christmas breakfast to the Hummel family who are in dire need. The girls oblige and troop off together to help. As a child I remember being impressed with this act of generosity and wondered if I could manage to be so kind. Now as an adult I think it shows great empathy with others in difficult situations.

The new film version portrays these episodes as childhood memories looked back upon by the young women they have become. We witness how experience shapes us and this, I think, gives the story a different feel to the original. The actors caught the defining characteristics of the sisters beautifully and in a couple of cases gave them a little extra. Emma Watson’s Meg had a little more joy about her than some previous versions had and for the first time Amy, as portrayed by Florence Pugh, developed a dignity as she grew up and I found her a much more sympathetic character.

As many critics have already commented upon, the ending as written by Gerwig is thoughtful, ambiguous and clever. Personally I loved it. The idea of a book within the book and the merging of Jo’s character with that of the author appeals to the book lover in me. A story about the ordinary, the everyday and the seemingly unimportant has become a book that is cherished many, many years after it was written. There has to be a good reason for that. Perhaps that reason is that we all need a little kindness, hope and empathy.



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Children’s Books Debuts – new voices making a difference

Over the last few days I have been transported to far away lands to accompany brave young heroines on epic journeys and I have loved every moment of it. The publishers Nosy Crow had sent me a proof copy of The Girl Who Stole an Elephant a debut by Nizrana Farook and I had earmarked it to read this month to coincide with its publication. I had also decided to add the winner of the Costa Book Award for best children’s book to my reading list. Earlier this month Asha and The Spirit Bird by Jasbinder Bilan published by Chicken House, another debut, was announced as the winner. These two wonderful books complemented each other well and ensured a very enjoyable reading week.


First of the two was The Girl Who Stole an Elephant selected as Waterstone’s Children’s Book of the Month. Set in Sri Lanka this is an exciting adventure featuring an irrepressible and brave heroine. Chaya is a thief who steals from the rich to help those in need or in trouble, however this time she has gone too far. Chaya has stolen the queen’s jewels. This has serious repercussions that she had never anticipated which result in her best friend Neelan paying a huge price for Chaya’s recklessness. She is determined to put things right. However things don’t go to plan and Chaya, Neelan and their companion, Nour flee by riding the King’s stolen elephant into the Sri Lankan jungle where their adventure becomes even more dangerous.

The setting is beautifully drawn in this fast paced story and the descriptions are full of interest for young readers who will, I think, find jungle life captivating. There are moments of great tension and the short chapters, frequently ending in a cliff hanger, are packed with excitement and drama, making this perfect for children who may lack reading stamina. You are carried along on a wave of thrills and danger from the dramatic opening lines onward. This would be wonderful read aloud in schools and would have a wide appeal. The interplay between the characters is interesting and felt believable. We watch as the characters develop, particularly Chaya, and their attitudes to each other alter. This book had a fresh and original feel yet still retained at its heart the classic epic adventure journey. A wonderful story.

Jasbinder Bilan author of Asha and the Spirit Bird won the 2017 Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction competition with this inspiring story of two children who undertake a dangerous journey into the Himalayan mountains. Beautifully written and both touching and uplifting this is a thoughtful story about the importance of family and being brave to help those you love.

Asha misses her father who is away working in the city, money is tight and her mother is tormented by a ruthless moneylender. Asha resolves to find her father and put things right before it is too late. She and her best friend Jeevan face an arduous journey across the mountains suffering tiredness and hunger and they are running out of time. Asha’s mother will leave for England if she cannot repay the moneylender by the time of Divali just a few weeks away.

The children experience both good and bad on their mammoth journey and their friendship grows stronger as a result. They face the dangers of wolves, tigers and devious, wicked junkyard owners and are helped by kindly shepherds. Throughout it all Asha is sustained by the sense that her ancestors, particularly her grandmother, are watching and guiding her. I enjoyed this story very much and the descriptions of the lands the children pass through, the food they eat and other details brought their world to life vividly for me. Books such as this one enable children to learn as they read without it feeling as though they are being taught. The glossary at the start of the story is helpful too. There is tenderness and care in the relationships and the author allows the friendship between Asha and Jeevan, on the cusp of adolescence, to hint at the possibility of it developing into something more. Her religion is important to Asha and the spirituality and her strong family bond even to those who are no longer with her is touching. She, like Chaya in The Girl Who Stole an Elephant, is brave and she is, I think, an extremely engaging character. Highly recommended for both reading for pleasure and as a class book which would prompt discussion and links to the curriculum.

Children’s books are somewhat neglected in the main stream media unless they are written by the ‘big names’. These two excellent debuts are shining examples of the high quality children’s literature available and I hope that their exposure will be heightened by their success as an award winner and a book of the month in shops on the high street.

Thank you to Nosy Crow publishers for providing my review copy of The Girl Who Stole an Elephant.

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