Reading Matters – children’s book news

Hello and welcome to this week’s round up of the latest children’s book news. There are updates and news from authors and illustrators, resources from organisations and charities, reviews to read and events to watch or listen to and I hope a little something for everyone.

What I’m reading…

My longstanding admiration for the publishers Barrington Stoke went up another notch this week. Having been following their progress for more than twenty years it’s wonderful to witness their success. There are some authors whose style is, in my opinion, perfect for their approach, accessible novella style stories written to capture the reader’s interest from the opening page. The Carnegie winning Lark by Anthony McGowan is one example and the other is Tom Palmer’s historical dramas. Tom’s latest, Arctic Star, dominated my reading this week despite being a relatively quick read. Brilliantly written, this story of incredible bravery and endurance in unimaginable conditions has made a big impact on me. You can read my review to find out why.

Another highlight of the week for me was attending the Audience with Elizabeth Laird hosted by Nikki Gamble. It was a fascinating evening and it was interesting to learn about this author’s travels and their influence on her writing. I have in the past enjoyed both Welcome to Nowhere and The Fastest Boy in the World and am currently reading The House Without Walls and although only early on in the story at present it already has Elizabeth Laird’s usual compassionate tone.

News, resources and articles…

PEPLT Mini Picturebook e-lessons: Overview – a useful resource from Picture Books in European Primary English Language Teaching. It offers an overview of the title, a book synopsis, related themes & values and world event days. I became aware of this as some of the lessons have an additional signed read-aloud by Leanne Signed Stories. Picture books featured include newer titles such as Rain Before Rainbows and Amazing plus old favourites like The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Chapter Book Round-Up: What We’ve Been Reading – the latest chapter books reviewed by the panel on the Books for Topics website. This is a great way of catching up with titles you may have missed.

Euro 2020 – A Ghost Story with Tom Palmer – as if he wasn’t already busy enough Tom Palmer is doing a live story for schools to tie in with EURO 2020, just like he has done for recent World Cups and Euros. EURO 2020: A Ghost Story will be brought to you by the FA and National Literacy Trust during June and July 2021. There is more information and full details of how schools can get involved on Tom’s website. This sounds great!

Book News for 2021 from James Mayhew – I’ve long been a fan of James’s books and in this blogpost he tells us what he has been up to over the past year and the treats he has in store for children’s book lovers. I am particularly looking forward to Once Upon a Tune as there’s been such a long wait for this one but all his projects sound tempting.

Boredom, mischief, mayhem and the magic of imagination – a guest post by author and illustrator Sally Anne Garland on the Federation of Children’s Books Groups site marking National Share a Story Month. She has included a list of her recommended books for mischievous, bored children that need a magical adventure.

Picture books for children – reviews – a round up of recent picture books by Imogen Carter for the Guardian includes The Boys by Lauren Ace and Jenny Lovelie, Jon Klassen’s latest, The Rock from the Sky and Barbara Throws a Wobbler by Nadia Shireen.

CLPE announces their 2021 back to school campaign – To support primary schools with the back to school transition in September, CLPE will be creating a FREE whole school teaching unit focusing on three different children’s books for different age groups. Full details, including a link to register are available via the link above.

Celebrate Elmer Day on 29th May – This year the organisers of Elmer Day are spreading some positivity with free resources for schools, libraries, bookshops and families to use. There are lots of great activities and ideas for KS1 aged children.

Things Don’t Start Finished! – the British Library Learning Discovering Children’s Books website is bursting with messy notebooks and drafts by much-loved authors. There are superb new free activities created by Seven Stories suggesting ways to use these to help children plan and draft their own stories. A brilliant idea!

Reading Newsletters – Adele Darlington from Leighfield Primary has been offering a Reading Newsletter for a while and has generously shared her ideas via the Open University Reading for Pleasure website. This would be a fabulous way of creating a reading community within schools involving staff, children and parents.

The Reader Teacher May 2021 Children’s Books I’m Most Excited About | Coming Soon – this new monthly initiative from Scott Evans is a great idea. In each monthly video Scott previews forthcoming new releases and this would be great to share in school libraries, classrooms, book groups and helpful for parents too. Children’s books receive little attention in the main stream media and these type of resources are so useful for keeping up to date.

Tiny Voice Talks: Empathy Day with Miranda McKearney – In this episode, Toria Bono talks to Miranda McKearney OBE about Empathy Day on June10th 2021. 

Information Book Award Longlist Announced – the School Library Association’s annual award celebrating information books for children is full of fabulous and fascinating titles in three different age groups. This can be a wonderful way of promoting books full of facts to children and a helpful overview of the best books around for use in both supporting learning and reading for pleasure. Definitely worth a browse.

YA Book Prize – winner announced Thursday 6th – Ten amazing books and authors were shortlisted for this year’s YA Book Prize. The winner was Loveless by Alice Oseman – a coming-out story about Georgia, a romance-obsessed teenager who realises that she is aromantic and asexual. You can read about al, the shortlisted titles via the link above.

The Brighton Festival – there are some fantastic children’s book events starting 8th May with authors and illustrators including Laura Ellen Anderson and Smriti Halls.

Primary School Book Club – a reminder of this monthly chat taking place on Twitter. This month’s read is How to Be Me by Cath Howe and the chat will take place on 28th May. Just follow #PrimarySchoolBookClub to join in with the discussion. Full details below:

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

Interview with a Shark and Other Ocean Giants by Andy Seed illustrated by Nick East -Non- fiction Book of the Month on the LoveReading4KIds site I think I may use the term used by Nikki Gamble during one of her recent interviews and describe this as “a wonder book”. It sounds wonderful for young children. Andrea Reece describes it as, “a quirky but really effective information book.

Escape: One Day We Had To Run by Ming & Wah and Carmen Vela – this picture book was published this week and Jill Bennett’s review of both the subject matter and its presentation have encouraged me to seek this book out. A collection of twelve stories featuring different people in desperate situations and “this moving book fittingly concludes with two Articles from The Universal Declaration of Human Rights relating to movement and asylum.

Twitch by M G Leonard – due out next month this first in a new series by this popular author sounds extremely appealing and a little different too. In her review for the Bookbag Ruth Ng says, “This is just one of those really, really good books that is very readable, with a great story and characters you’re interested in and care about. It’s written perfectly, with a good pace to the plot, and a lovely warmth to it throughout.” Another for my wish list!

Marvellous Middle Grade Reads – Jo Clarke has, in addition to being a super school librarian, been writing children’s books of her own but has miraculously found time to review some of her favourite books for middle year readers. A lovely selection for a wide range of tastes here and well worth checking out.

That’s everything for this week and I hope that you found something of interest within the links. This weekend I’m off to deliver a birthday present to the youngest member of our family who is four today. Picture books of course! Happy reading.

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Arctic Star by Tom Palmer

Rooted in the true story of the Arctic convoys of the Second World War, Tom Palmer has tackled a subject of unimaginable loss, endurance and bravery and succeeded in writing a book that deserves a place in every single school classroom and library.

Cover by Tom Clohosy Cole

Set in the winter of 1943 as convoys sailed to Russia to deliver supplies to support our allies in the war against Nazi Germany, Arctic Star follows three young Royal Navy recruits on their first mission. Frank, Joseph and Stephen have been friends from childhood, their lives centred on the naval city of Plymouth. The three of them share a bond that runs deep and together they face the treacherous seas, the freezing temperatures and the ever present fear of enemy attack. Their lives will be altered irrevocably by their experiences.

Not a single word is wasted in this tense, compelling and moving story. The first chapter is both shocking and exciting and I defy any reader “giving this a try” not to turn on to chapter two. Tom Palmer ensures that you are instantly transported into the story itself without preamble or a slow build up and from the opening page on the reader is propelled into an absorbing and moving drama.

The three boys at the heart of the story are quite different in character but each is likeable in their own way and their relationship with each other feels authentic. Stephen, with his black humour, coping with every dreadful situation with a joke and a laugh, is the glue holding the trio together in some ways but I warmed to all three; Frank coping with his fear, which was palpable at times and idealistic Joseph full of hope and dreams for a fairer world. The friendship and the youth of these boys highlights the horror of their situation and it is almost impossible to imagine how men at the time coped with both the physical demands of their situation plus the fear of imminent attack by both sea and air.

Tom Palmer’s meticulous research is evident in the detail and children will learn so much from this, as did I. The inclusion of the hot chocolate drink, kye, made by forcing a steam hose through a block of chocolate, the games played by the sailors, the ship’s cat and the clothing and sleeping arrangements all of this provides a vivid picture of what life was truly like for the sailors. Skilful writing conveys both the dreadful conditions, the seascape and the weather but also the emotions experienced by these young men. We witness the pride and the sense of duty but also the frustrations and above all else the fear. By acknowledging this fear the book actually ensures that the reader is more aware of the immense bravery shown and the great debt we owe the generation who endured this experience.

Arctic Star would be an excellent class read for many reasons. The story is an engrossing one in itself but also features an important part of our history and deserves an examination of some of the points raised by Tom Palmer. The impact of war on individuals, families and nations, the politics involved, the development of Europe, the role of Russia in the war and our relationship with the country now, all of these aspects for discussion and learning would be prompted by this thoughtful book. As I read I also appreciated the sheer scale of the location too; the description of the stunning aurora borealis alongside the drama and death created by man is poignant.

This is a special book and one I am glad that I have read. As with After the War Tom Palmer has treated the subject and the brave people who inspired the story with respect but he also treats his young audience with respect. He never shirks from telling children the truth about the complexities and the impact of war but he always describes it in a way that is appropriate for them to handle.

One final world of appreciation for the publishers, Barrington Stoke, who have ensured that this book is an excellent and attractive package. The cover by Tom Clohosy Cole is stunning and the book is illustrated throughout by a black and white picture of the convoy running across the bottom of the pages. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, to whom the book is dedicated, there is a map provided of the route and photos of the real life sailors of the time. The author’s notes at the end provide helpful information and ideas of where to find out more detail.

I should like to thank Tom Palmer for my copy of Arctic Star which I will treasure. The book is published on 6th May and is available at all good bookshops or online via

There are a range of excellent resources on Tom Palmer’s website to support the book including a preview of the first chapter, cover prediction worksheets, a lesson plan and a trailer.

Leading Seaman Ronnie Powell

Finally, a personal postscript. This book had such an impact on me that I mentioned it to my Dad, aged 90 last weekend, and asked what he knew about the Arctic convoys. It was hell, he said. He then went on to say that when he joined the merchant navy at the end of 1945 they treated those men who had survived the convoys with great respect. However the piece of information that most surprised me was that my Great Uncle Ronnie, who I knew had taken part in the D-Day Landings, also endured the Arctic convoys. Thanks to Tom Palmer and his excellent and enlightening book I am now off to research further. Thank you, Tom!

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

Hello and welcome to another look at what has been happening in the world of children’s books. It has been a week when I’ve struggled a little to keep up so I hope I haven’t missed anything hugely important. This is what I’ve noticed and enjoyed so maybe you will too.

What I’m reading…

This week I wrote and submitted my review of The Weed by Quentin Blake for Just Imagine. It has a fable like quality and is a story that celebrates the power of nature and our connection with it. It contains a positive message of hope and would be excellent as a spark for discussion on its different themes.

On a similar subject I have been exploring some fabulous picture books from Scallywag Press that inspire a love of nature. I’m impressed by the range and quality of the books being produced by this new publisher and would highly recommend these. There are links to related activities too and all are lovely for the summer term.

The Short Knife by Elen Caldecott, shortlisted for The Tir na n-Og Award, exceeded all my expectations and it had come highly recommended by people whose opinion I value. A remarkable read and historical fiction that truly does transport the reader to another time. I loved it.

News, articles and resources…

Ten tips for creating an unforgettable school library – As part of Cressida Cowell’s Life-changing libraries project Book Trust are supporting six primary schools across the country to transform their libraries into amazing spaces that encourage a lifelong love of reading. Here are ten excellent tips for creating an unforgettable school library, from Alison Tarrant CEO of the School Library Association.

Children’s books roundup – the best new picture books and novels – books for a range of ages selected by Imogen Russell Williams for the Guardian include some already on my radar such as Geraldine McCaughrean’s The Supreme Lie and Barbara Throws a Wobbler by Nadia Shireen but also a debut that sounds fun, Amber Undercover by Em Norry. 

Q&A: Sophy Henn, Author of ‘Older Not Wiser’ – this is a lovely interview with Sophy Henn and I also like the sound of her new book because apparently, “Bad Nana shows that you can be old, but also young!”

The Forgettery: An interview with Rachel Ip and Laura Hughes – this is a simply lovely interview from which I learned a great deal about the creative process behind this picture book which is receiving some wonderful reviews.

Empathy Day Line-up Announced – on Tuesday the organisers of this annual event announced the programme for Empathy Day on 10 June 2021. A wonderful team of authors, illustrators and poets including Children’s Laureate, Cressida Cowell, Michael Rosen, Malorie Blackman and Joseph Coelho will be participating in the day.

Empathy Day – 5 diverse books for kids + classroom activities – a collaboration by Jon Biddle, Rich Charlesworth and Sarah Mears for Teach Wire providing advice on how to use these diverse titles to encourage compassion and help pupils gain insights into the lives of others.

Books featuring disability and neurodiversity (age 9-11) – a selection of titles chosen by Scottish Book Trust from gripping historical adventures, to graphic novels and sci-fi, this list is packed with inspiring stories which celebrate uniqueness. They have also created a similar list for the 12-14 age group.

The shortlist for the 2021 Branford Boase Award announced – Since 2000, the Branford Boase has been awarded annually to the author of an outstanding debut novel for children. Uniquely, it also honours the editor of the winning title and highlights the importance of the editor in nurturing new talent. This year’s list shines a light on a wide range of genres and books suitable for different age groups.

The Tir na n-Og Award 2021: Jess Butterworth Interview – Where The Wilderness Lives is one of the wonderful books shortlisted for this award and Family Bookworms had the opportunity to ask author Jess Butterworth questions on authenticity, folklore and writing about survival in the wilds of Wales. I’ve read this a couple of times now and am fascinated by the links to setting and folklore. A lovely interview and a big thank you to Jess and Simon at Family Bookworms HQ.

The Egmont Reading for Pleasure 2021 Teacher Awards – The deadline for entries to these award is Sunday 8th May and there are several categories. This is the opportunity to raise the profile of reading for pleasure champions within schools and the wider community.

The Children’s Book Show Theatre Performances for Schools Autumn 2021 – an event run by a charity that inspires school children with a love of reading through an annual programme of in-theatre and digital performances and in-school workshops with the very best authors and illustrators from around the world. The tour takes in several cities around the country and the line-up is wonderful. Full details via the link.

National Share a Story Month 2021 – National Share-A-Story Month (NSSM) is an annual celebration In May of the power of storytelling and story sharing, providing a fantastic opportunity to fulfil the core aim of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups of bringing children and stories together. This year’s theme is Myths, Magic and Mayhem and there are book lists, resources and details of a competition on the official website above.

National Literacy Trust Take Ten Reading Challenge – On May 10th at 10am, the National Literacy Trust are calling on the nation to Take 10 and read. Their research has shown us that reading can be an effective way of helping people take care of their mental health and wellbeing – and it only takes 10 minutes a day to see the benefits. There are links to leaflets, resources and ideas for both primary and secondary via links on the website.

World Kid Lit April Round-up – your monthly update on what’s happening in the world of books in translation for children and young adults. Lots of reviews, news and information to read here.

The Reader Teacher April Must Reads – Just when I think I’m making headway with my to read lists Scott Evans flags up some more tempting books! You can read Scott’s reviews and download a poster via the link.

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

My Dad Is A Grizzly Bear by by Swapna Haddow and Dapo Adeola – this really does sound like a picture book dream team. I love the glimpses of the amusing illustrations and the story sounds fun too. Rachael’s blog is full of tempting picture book reviews and I’m adding to my wish list on an almost daily basis!

Cardboard Cowboys by Brian Conaghan – Brian Conaghan usually writes for teenagers and his new title is aimed at a slightly younger audience, aged 10-14. Selected as Book of the Week by Books for Keeps this sounds like just the thing to engage readers as it is described as “funny, authentic and heart-warming.”

Factopia!: Follow the Trail of 400 Facts by Kate Hale & illustrated by Andy Smith – non-fiction that engages and informs is always valuable, in school libraries, classrooms and homes, and this book sounds just the ticket. Kate Heap’s children rate it highly and if the target audience is happy that’s the best sort of praise. You can find out more in Kate’s review.

That’s everything for this week, I hope you’ve found it helpful or enjoyable or maybe even both. This weekend I’m going to read Arctic Star, Tom Palmer’s latest which I’m looking forward to very much. The highlight however, (sorry, Tom!) will be celebrating my Dad’s 90th birthday.

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Perfect Picture Books for Inspiring a Love of Nature

One of the many lessons we have learned from the events of the last year is the importance of nature to our well being and happiness. Those who are lucky enough to have their own garden have relished being able to use it and to meet up with others in it. Daily family walks have revealed hitherto unknown local green spaces for many and the role of nature as both a solace and escape during lockdown has been reported and commented on. Within my own family we have noticed more children exploring the local woods with their parents and my sister’s young granddaughter has loved planting and watering seeds, watching insect and bird life in the garden and learning the names of trees in the local park.

Sometimes little people need to be guided in how to appreciate and care for their natural world and picture books are wonderful tools to support this both in the family and in schools. Enter Scallywag Press who have within their catalogue some perfect books to do just this. The In the Garden series by Rob Ramsden are books that I would particularly like to share with you as I have grown rather fond of them.

I Saw a Bee is the first of the In the Garden series by Rob Ramsden which celebrates the joy of nature and aims to teach very young children about the world around them. With charming illustrations and a rhythmic text which is great to read aloud this gentle book encourages children to learn to live happily alongside nature even if they may initially be a little wary of some of its inhabitants. Bonding with a bee is a positive message to pass on as we know how important these creatures are to our lives and this is done in a happy and comforting manner. With plenty to spot as the book is shared in a garden of flowers, butterflies, ladybirds and snails this is a delightful first nature book.

Rob Ramsden’s second book in the series is We Found a Seed which is a perfect introduction to the life cycle. The little boy, friend of bees, is now joined by a girl and together they find a tiny seed in the garden and although at first they don’t know how to care for it gradually they discover what the seed needs to thrive and as the seasons and weather change it transforms into a beautiful sunflower. As winter approaches and their flower droops and dies the two children now know from their own experience what to do with the seeds that drop from the dying flower. Within a short text this book conveys so much and this is a clever depiction of the life cycle which would be invaluable in an early years setting or infant classroom. The illustrations are a delight with plenty for little ones to spot and actions for them to copy.

The latest title in this particular series is We Planted a Pumpkin and although undoubtedly destined to be on wish lists for Halloween this also has a place now as we plan our planting for the coming seasons. The friends from the previous book are now more confident and, clutching their packet of seeds on the opening pages, they know exactly what they need to do next. This growing awareness is such a positive aspect of the series and I particularly like the way the friendship has developed alongside their understanding of nature. Children familiar with the previous books may find this encouraging too. This charming, clever book is full of information and our two friends and the reader or listener will learn a great deal as the whole process from seed to Halloween lantern is shown.

With each book I have become a bigger fan of this lovely series of books and they are perfect for home, school or nursery. Scallywag Press have also created a selection of resources linked to these books adding to their appeal. There are teaching notes for
We Found a Seed written by Janine Woolston available here and a pumpkin spinner to cut out and make here to use alongside We Planted a Pumpkin.

The series is available to purchase via by clicking on the titles above or at your local independent bookshop. I should like to thank the publishers for providing my review copies.

You may like to try some other titles from this publisher and one of my favourites, on an environmental theme, is The Tale of the Whale featured in my recent Pick of the Picture Books.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

Hello and welcome to this week’s catch up with all the latest children’s book news. April 22nd marked Earth Day and it has prompted sharing of books and articles related to our environment so there are a few links reflecting this theme, one which I know is of value all year round.

What I’m reading…

A wide variety of reading material has entertained me this week. Firstly I wrote my review of Michelle Paver’s latest for Just Imagine. Skin Taker is an enthralling and atmospheric read that left a lasting impression on me; I love it when I’m still thinking about a book days after finishing it and this definitely achieved that.

You are never too old to enjoy an excellent picture book and this week I selected some of my favourite Pick of the Picture Books from over the last few weeks. All of these are winners for different reasons and in addition to being a joy to read and pore over they all convey important and kindly messages to encourage and comfort readers. I enjoyed all of them very much.

By happy coincidence I found myself reading Melt by Ele Fountain this week and it was perfectly timed for Earth Day. I was impressed at the way the environmental theme is integrated skilfully into the exciting adventure and found the book both enjoyable and enlightening. My review will explain why.

I was immensely touched and excited to be asked to be a Tir na n-Og Children’s Literature Award Champion and am looking forward to sharing and talking about the wonderful shortlisted books. I have just started reading The Short Knife by Elen Caldecott and am already immersed in this vividly described historical novel. This is going to be something special, I think.

News, articles and resources…

Teaching Resources for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2021 – the team at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) have created plans for each of the shortlisted titles to enable teachers to use these picture books to enhance critical thinking and develop creative approaches in art and writing. They are available to download for free via the link.

Marcus Rashford Book Club kicks off with Puri and 50,000 free books – The Marcus Rashford Book Club will launch in June with Pooja Puri’s middle-grade debut A Dinosaur Ate My Sister. To kick off the Marcus Rashford Book Club, Macmillan Children’s Books has partnered with children’s food charity Magic Breakfast to donate 50,000 free books, reaching more than 850 primary schools across England and Scotland.

Reading Zone Free On-line Book Club – there is a fantastic line-up for these events starting with Kirsty Applebaum on Friday 30th April, followed by Jenny Pearson, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Nicola Penfold and Serena Patel. At each Reading Zone Book Club event the organisers aim to enjoy some book chat with the classes taking part, meet great authors and discover new books. It sounds fabulous and a lovely opportunity for schools.

English 4-11 Picture Book Awards 2021 – the English Association announced the shortlists for these awards this week featuring categories for different age groups and both fiction and non-fiction. You can learn more about the award via the link above and purchase the shortlisted titles here.

Diversity in Children’s Literature 1: history and context May 10th 7pm online – This is the first event in a series on cultural diversity in children’s literature. Michael Rosen, Sanchita Basu De Sarkar and Melanie Ramdarshan Bold discuss how children’s literature has progressed to become more culturally inclusive and diverse than ever before. Tickets cost £3 and are available via the link.

Rewilding and our connections with the natural world – this thoughtful article by Nicola Penfold, author of Where the World Turns Wild, highlights the importance of this approach and includes Nicola’s recommendations for children’s books on this theme plus Anthea Simmons talks about the new YA book BURNING SUNLIGHT.

Children’s Books That Promote Environmental Sustainability– this is an excellent list on the Books for Topics website featuring favourite texts for primary classrooms on the topic of caring for the environment chosen by a team of teachers, librarians, authors and book lovers.

Dame Floella Benjamin’s youth to become ‘uplifting’ stage musical – Coming To England, a new stage musical will receive its premiere at the Birmingham Rep next February and is based on Dame Floella’s 1997 book. It is being adapted by David Wood, one of her former co-presenters on classic children’s TV show Play Away.

Children’s Fiction and the Climate Crisis with Pushkin Press – Join Pushkin Children’s Books and Tales on Moon Lane for a fabulous evening with three brilliant writers in conversation. Pushkin Children’s Books Editor-at-Large Sarah Odedina will be interviewing Hannah Gold (The Last Bear), Piers Torday (The Wild Before)and Ele Fountain (Melt) on Wednesday 26th May on Zoom. I’ve booked a ticket for this and think it will be fascinating.

Books for Topics Give Me Five Guest Book Lists – I have only just discovered these great lists supplied by children’s authors and they cover a wide range of topics from the stage to the Titanic, from India to British Folklore and are well worth exploring.

2020 School Library Survey Report UK – this survey, conducted by Softlink in partnership with the SLA, on behalf of the school library sector, examines key trends and issues impacting school libraries. This report provides an overview of survey findings, with a further breakdown for primary, secondary, 6th form/6th form & secondary, and all-through schools. You can found out more and download a copy of the full report via the link.

Greening the Jolly Springtime – I love this and hope you do too. Nick Swarbrick takes us on a slow walk through some wonderful new picture books on the theme of nature, shares some poetry and his thoughts on his local landscape.

Why I Will Always Read Aloud to my Middle School Students by Beth Jarzabek – this article on the Nerdy Book Club site raises many interesting points about the value of reading aloud within the classroom at all ages.

Third Grade by Jon Klassen – another Nerdy Book Club article. This one looks back at this book creator’s childhood which I found both interesting and enjoyable. The ‘frozen moments’ aspect is something that I recognise and I do hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

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

Beach Explorer by Heather Buttivant – Heather Buttivant, award-winning wildlife blogger invites the reader on an adventure to meet the mysterious creatures that live on the beach and discover what you can do to protect them. Chosen as one of the weekly staff picks by LoveReading4Kids this would be an excellent companion for the summer holidays and it contains a section on how to “Be a Wildlife Champion.”

Bigfoot Mountain by Roderick O’Grady – I already had this book on my to read list and this great review on Fallen Star Stories blog has highlighted some interesting aspects of the story so it will not be long before I read this one. “Adventurous, brave, moving, filled with hope and heart, and totally enthralling;” doesn’t that sound tempting.

Rumaysa A Fairy Tale by Radiya Hafiza illustrated by Rhaida El Touney – I do love children’s fiction that plays with well known fairy tales and this sounds right up my street. Book of the Week on the Books for Keeps website and Lucy Staines says “Three interlinked fairytales form the heart of this sparkling story, all reimagined in fresh and exciting new ways.” in her lovely review.

Jane Austen Investigates: The Abbey Mystery by Julia Golding – a mix of Nancy Drew and Jane Austen sounds a great deal of fun and I am tempted by this review by Kate Heap: “the perfect introduction to the world of Jane Austen novels for new readers as well as a deliciously nostalgic journey for those who are already long-time fans.”

That’s everything for this week, I hope it’s been interesting and helpful. This weekend I’m going to be reading The Short Knife and listening to Nikki Gamble’s interview with Jon Klassen which I didn’t get round to this week. Happy reading.

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Melt by Ele Fountain

“The bonds which connect people and nature are beginning to fray. Something precious is coming apart.”

Melt Page 13

More by good luck than good judgement I found myself reading Melt in the days approaching Earth Day on 22nd April and was impressed at the way the important environmental theme is integrated skilfully into this exciting adventure. The prologue, from which the words above are taken, is one of the most atmospheric and compelling openings I have read in children’s fiction for a while and sets the scene for a thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening story.

The story is told by two young people whose lives could not be more different. Yutu lives with his elderly grandmother in a remote village in the Arctic where they follow the traditional ways handed down from generation to generation. However things are changing for them. The weather patterns have altered and the ice is melting threatening their way of life, there are fewer animals to hunt and their home is vulnerable. Meanwhile Bea has moved house yet again and is struggling to adapt to her new city school where the other girls are unkind. Her father’s new job with an oil company is taking up more of his time and he appears distracted. One day these two lives collide in dramatic fashion and Yutu and Bea are caught up in a thrilling battle for survival and resolution.

Yutu and Bea may have dramatically different backgrounds but they support and help each other and soon pair up in a friendship forged in extreme circumstances as they struggle to survive in the Arctic tundra and find their way home. As they learn about each other’s lives Bea discovers more about the eroding ice, the traditions that are gradually being lost and the threats to their livelihoods. The environmental message never overwhelms but simply runs through the plot and ensures that the adventure itself has greater impact. It is an exciting read with some perilous moments that will keep young readers gripped. Both Yutu and Bea are likeable, with a warmth and vulnerability beneath their capable exteriors. I was particularly drawn to Yutu’s grandma, Miki; quiet but patient, reserved but wise she, I felt, was representative of those whose way of life is in danger of being permanently lost.

I enjoyed this book very much and thought the descriptions of the landscape were stunning; I could see the colours of the sky and the vastness of the frozen sea and feel the freezing temperatures and icy winds. With a mystery to solve, engaging characters to empathise with and themes of family, friendship and conservation this will appeal to many.

I should like to thank Poppy Stimpson and Pushkin Press for providing my proof copy. Melt will be published on 29th April and can be pre-ordered online.

If this book and its themes appeals you may be interested in this forthcoming event. Children’s Fiction and the Climate Crisis with Pushkin Press – Join Pushkin Children’s Books and Tales on Moon Lane for a fabulous evening with three brilliant writers in conversation. Pushkin Children’s Books Editor-at-Large Sarah Odedina will be interviewing Hannah Gold (The Last Bear), Piers Torday (The Wild Before)and Ele Fountain (Melt) on Wednesday 26th May on Zoom. I’ve booked a ticket for this and think it will be fascinating.

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New Books for Children – Pick of the Picture Books

Over recent weeks I have read and enjoyed some simply beautiful picture books for children that feature themes of friendship, collaboration, kindness, joy, nurture and nature, protection of our environment and family love and relationships. These are just some of my favourites that I would like to recommend.

Best Test by Pippa Goodhart and Anna Doherty published by Tiny Owl

Best Test is a gorgeous book full of kindness, understanding, friendship and smiles. A little bird finds a strawberry but Frog wants to eat it too, so does little Shrew so they have to decide how to solve the problem. A race! However each animal wants the race to suit their individual skills best so it must involve hopping, jumping and colouring-in. As they progress around the obstacle course they learn that helping each other and becoming friends is the best possible outcome.

This delightful story is perfect for sharing with young children as they learn to accommodate each other’s needs as they now spend time together after many months apart. Even the very youngest child will be able to empathise with the creatures. The fact they all have different skills is recognised and I love the way in which they help each other even when in competition. The text has a wonderful rhythm lending itself to being read aloud and the illustrations are a joy to explore. The animals’ individual personalities are evident and there are some lovely little touches such as Frog’s tongue sticking out of his mouth in earnest concentration and the funny faces section is a treat. A kind and thoughtful book encouraging children to value their own unique talents and to work together with others.

There are some enjoyable activities suggested on the Tiny Owl website.

The Tale of the Whale by Karen Swann and Padmacandra published by Scallywag Press

The Tale of the Whale is a poetic story of a friendship between a child and a whale but it is also a plea to protect our seas from plastic pollution and to come together with others to do so. The writing is beautiful with the repeated emphasis on the pairing of the child and the whale in their actions and responses highlighting the bond between them.

“I watched with the whale and the whale watched with me”

The illustrations are stunning bringing the diverse life found in our oceans to life for the reader; there is a sense of wonder and exploration on every page. I particularly like the subtle use of the image of the whale on the title page encouraging us to look and examine more closely. The child, the gender is never specified, grows increasingly close to the whale as the story progresses and there is a poignancy to the dawning realisation and understanding of the message the whale is conveying. The observant reader will already have spotted the plastic bottles on the seabed before it is mentioned in the text. The story builds to a climax and the promise made by the child to help the whale before it is too late and the request to the reader to help too. This and the beautiful endpapers bring home the idea that every tiny act each individual does to protect our natural world will make a difference which is an important and empowering message for children to hear.

This special picture book would work across a wide age range offering scope for cross- curricular work too. Scallywag Press also have some helpful activities and teacher resources available on their website

A Smile by Raoul Follereau illustrated by Hoda Hadad published by Pikku Publishing

The poem “A Smile”, attributed to the philanthropist and writer Raoul Follereau and first appearing in his book ‘Le Livre d’Amour’ in 1920, is a wonderful celebration of the power of something small that has a unique value. His beautiful words are worth a slow and careful read. Each line of this thoughtful poem recognises the difference that a smile given can make to the receiver and the emotional impact of this simple human message that costs nothing to share.

“No one is so rich that they can live without a smile.

No one is so poor that they do not deserve a smile.”

The words are full of compassion, understanding and tenderness to those who may be struggling and have particular resonance at the moment as we emerge from lockdown and are able to share smiles more readily.

The words are accompanied by the most joyous illustrations by Hoda Hadadi that provide a storyline missing from the poem itself. The cover depicting a trio of smiling children beneath a beaming sun and jolly smiling clouds instantly lifts your spirits and the endpapers continue the theme with a garden of flowers each of them smiling happily. The reader follows the children as they spread their smiles among the people they meet; the rich man with his downcast face, the young unemployed man lost in sadness and the little girl with the burst balloon. As we turn the pages we watch as their days are transformed by this small act of kindness. We also witness those who were previously sad in turn spreading the joy to others that they meet and this domino effect of a simple smile is heartening to witness.

A beautiful book to share with children this would be excellent to use in the classroom and for assemblies as its message and themes are conveyed in a way that has an impact for any age. A Smile is available to purchase from 19th April.

As Strong As The River by Sarah Noble published by Flying Eye Books

An accomplished debut from Sarah Noble published last month this is a lovely, comforting story combining family love and relationships with an introduction to the wonder of nature. Mama Bear is teaching her cub important life lessons from how to find and catch food to the importance of the perfect tree for scratching that irritating itch on your back.

The text and the beautiful illustrations work in tandem telling the story of the bears’ day as Mama and cub travel through their habitat, Mama gently guiding and advising and cub curious and eager. It is not only the practicalities that the little cub learns but also the importance of patience, not to be in too much of a hurry to grow up, and respect for the natural world. The river is central to the theme of the story being both strong and nurturing and this is mirrored in the role of Mama Bear. The illustrations are gorgeous; the grandeur of the mountains and the powerful torrents of the river acting as a backdrop to the bears’ adventures. I loved the bears themselves being just the right balance of being true to their real appearance and having a child-friendly appeal. The links between the nurturing of nature and the nurturing of family are subtly and gently portrayed and this would be a lovely story to share at bedtime.

Finally, last week I reviewed a rather special picture book, Unlocked: Stories of Hope from Tiny Owl Artists in Lockdown which I would also highly recommend.

I should like to thank Tiny Owl Publishing, Scallywag Press, Pikku Publishing and Flying Eye Books for providing my review copies.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

Hello and welcome to the first Reading Matters round up of the Summer Term. I hope everyone had a happy Easter and a restful break if possible. As I am writing this the gradual reopening of places is lifting my spirits, a trip to my local bookshop and library was a treat and I realised how much I have taken this for granted in the past. I also took my Dad for his second vaccination this week and yet again I was impressed with the kind efficiency; something else to be grateful for.

What I’m reading…

It is interesting to look back at what I have read since the last Reading Matters as it highlights the wide range of literature available for children and young people at the moment. Picture books, fantasy, humour, history, magic, adventure, all have featured and all portrayed in an individual and distinctive manner.

First up are two books from Barrington Stoke. Peter Bunzl’s debut for this publisher, Featherlight, which was a thoughtful blend of history, traditional tale and magic and a lovely read. I thought David Long’s book about the Apollo 13 mission was excellent and his new book, Tragedy at Sea: The Sinking of the Titanic was equally detailed and informative. Both these books are available now.

I loved The Incredible Record Smashers by Jenny Pearson, it manages to be both hilarious and tender. It made me giggle and it made me care. Jenny Pearson is, I think, an author who understands children and her book is published on 29th April. Ross Mackenzie’s Feast of the Evernight, sequel to Evernight, which I read and reviewed for The School Librarian magazine, was every bit as good as the first instalment. It is a compelling story, an epic battle between good and evil set in a richly imagined fantasy world. It is due to be published in May.

A highlight among the picture books I have read over Easter is Unlocked: Stories of Hope from Tiny Owl Publishing. This beautiful book is a look back on the last year that is full of hope and kindness and is perfect for sharing with children as we come out of lockdown.

Among the books I was sent to read and review for Just Imagine was Two Sisters: A Story of Freedom by Kereen Getten. This is a powerful and emotional story of half-sisters Ruth and Anna from Jamaica, their journey to Georgian England and their subsequent battle for survival. An excellent addition the Scholastic Voices series I would highly recommend this for secondary schools and possibly mature Year 6 readers. This week I also finished reading Skin Taker by Michelle Paver. When a story takes the reader to another place with its vivid imagery, skilful world building and tense storyline it is sometimes difficult to know what to read next and that is how I feel at the moment. Over the weekend I will be collecting my thoughts about this remarkable book and writing my review for Just Imagine. Meanwhile I shall take refuge with my new Monty Don book until I feel ready for another story!

News, articles and resources…

Libraries change lives’: Read Cressida Cowell’s open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson – In my view this was the most important children’s book related piece of news of the week. Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell has just launched her Life-changing Libraries project, which highlights the importance of library spaces for primary schools. You can watch her share her open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in which she calls for ring-fenced funding for school libraries, or read it in full via the link above.

Primary School Library Review launched – the National Literacy Trust supported by Penguin Random House launched their Primary School Library Review this week. This project will look the provision and impact of primary school libraries, pre, during and post COVID-19, and will seek to imagine what the future of primary school libraries could look like. The call for evidence is targeted at librarians, teachers, schools, organisations and charities within education. Please do take the time to respond if you can in order that evidence can be obtained and presented.

Hay Festival Online Programme for Schools 24th – 28th May – the organisers of this popular literature festival have announced their new Programme for Schools which is taking place online this year for free. The programme is now available online and registrations are open via the website. The line-up of authors is wonderful, far too many to list here, and suitable for ages from KS1 of KS4. Don’t miss this wonderful opportunity

UKLA Book Awards Shortlists 2021 – despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic which made the judging and sharing process for these awards chosen by teachers harder the shortlists in the various categories were announced this week. It’s a really lovely range including some I have read and enjoyed and some to add to my reading list too. It’s worth exploring the lists if you haven’t already done so.

100 Books (and counting!) to Read Before You Leave Secondary School – Lucas Maxwell, librarian at Glenthorne School, has been steadily adding to this list of recommended reads for his pupils and there are now over 280 MG and YA titles suitable for KS3 and above. The list is available via Google Docs.

It takes a village to raise a reader – this extract from the 2021 Storyliners Margaret Mahy Lecture by Julia Marshall is a lovely read and emphasises the need for reading role models.

National Teen Book Club launched to aid lost-learning in the UK – The National Teen Book Club is a UK-wide virtual book club for teenagers launched by educational equality charity Speakers for Schools and Book Clubs in Schools in association with HarperCollins. This will start on 9th June and you can find out more information about the club via the website.

Jhalak Prize Children’s and YA Shortlist Announced – First awarded in March 2017, the Jhalak Prize and its new sister award Jhalak Children’s & YA Prize founded in 2020, seek to celebrate books by British/British resident BAME writers. The shortlist is varied and tempting.

An Interview with Kereen Getten on Writing When Life Gives You Mangoes – this is a fascinating and informative interview by Mat Tobin, Lecturer in Primary English and Children’s Literature at Oxford Brookes University, with Kereen Getten whose book is shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize mentioned above.

An Interview with Sophie Anderson on The Girl Who Speaks Bear and her life as a writer – another lovely interview from Mat Tobin, this time featuring a book shortlisted for the Carnegie Award. I loved this; the sense of family and stories being handed down through the generations and being woven together is evident in Sophie’s books and in this delight of an interview. Thank you Mat and Sophie.

The Reader Teacher Top 100 Recommended Reads Year Group Book Lists – I realise that Scott Evans and his helpful lists probably need no introduction at all but just in case you missed this here are his latest updated lists for Nursery – Year 6.

History Through Books Timeline – teacher Dean Boddington has created many helpful resources and this is his latest. This is a historical timeline with a variety of books recommended for each topic/era to enable children to select and find books that may interest them. Dean offers all his resources for free but asks that if you are able to you either donate a book to his school or make a donation to Trussell Trust Foodbanks. You can download the timeline via the link.

The Tir na n-Og Award 2021: Elen Caldecott Interview – this interview on the Family Bookworms Wales blog is a fascinating insight into the writing process, research and motivation behind The Short Knife which is shortlisted for this children’s literature award. I’m will be reading this soon and this article has increased my expectations.

Carnegie Award Shadowers’ Challenge – This year’s Carnegie and Kate Greenaway shortlisted authors and illustrators have each set a challenge for Shadowers to get involved with. You can watch videos in which they share creative ideas inspired by their shortlisted books for the Shadowers to try, from planning their own stories, writing from the perspectives of characters in the books, telling their story through poetry, drawing their animal self portraits and capturing their neighbourhood through art or writing.

Oscar’s Book Prize 2021 Shortlist Announced – Oscar’s Book Prize has announced the 2021 shortlist, with six books making it through to the next round following the highest number of entries recorded to date. Now in its eighth year, Oscar’s Book Prize celebrates the best in storytelling for under-fives.

Moorlands Primary School Picture Book Assembly Ideas – this school is embedding their work on diversity and anti-racism across the school, and have put together an overview for a weekly assembly using picturebooks with this focus. The school has kindly made this free to borrow and adapt.

Philip Pullman ‘in conversation’ with Michael Rosen – This is a rare opportunity to listen to the acclaimed and inspiring children’s authors, Philip Pullman and Michael Rosen, in conversation about children’s literature. 

Chris Haughton In the Reading Corner Podcast – this is simply wonderful for any picturebook lovers. Nikki Gamble talking to Chris about his thoughtful approach to creating books for young children. Fantastic questions from Nikki and such revealing and informative answers ensured I learned a lot from this.

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

Three Exceptional Picture Books Featuring Grandfathers – this is beautiful. I think all three books deserve a place on our bookshelves but I’ll let Rachael’s thoughtful review explain why.

My Summer With Grandad by Tom Tinn-Disbury – part of the recent blog tour this lovely review by Melanie McGilloway includes a glimpse of Tom’s studio. This is another picture book featuring a tender inter-generational friendship and I definitely want to see a copy.

Kat Wolfe On Thin Ice by Lauren St John – the third in this mystery, detective series sounds great. I love this comment by Louise Nettleton in her review, “This story has the feel of a proper adventure – there is just the right amount of danger that the audience want to see how the situation is resolved, but not so much that young readers will be afraid to read it after lights out.”

The Swallows’ Flight by Hilary McKay – Skylarks’ War is one of my favourite children’s books of recent years so I am looking forward with eager anticipation to this follow up novel. Kelly Ashley’s review for Just Imagine has added to my enthusiasm. “Whether enjoyed as a read aloud, a class novel or a selection for group reading or literature circles for ages 9-11, The Swallows’ Flight by Hilary McKay is one to treasure.”

The Supreme Lie by Geraldine McCaughrean – the latest novel by twice Carnegie winner Geraldine McCaughrean is set during the 1920s but the themes are relevant to our current situation. Joy Court describes this as “vintage McCaughrean and highly recommended.” on the LoveReading4Kids website and I always value Joy’s opinion so it’s been added to my list.

That’s everything for this week and I hope that something among the links I’ve shared will be useful to you. Over the coming days I’m hoping to post reviews of some of the fabulous picture books that I’ve read recently including titles perfect for Earth Day which is marked next week. Happy reading!

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Unlocked: Stories of Hope from Tiny Owl Artists in Lockdown

Unlocked is a beautiful picture book so full of hope and kindness. A reflection on the last year that notices the best of it, the nurturing of people and of things. It is simply perfect for now and for sharing and encouraging children as we move out of lockdown.

Cover illustration by Anna Doherty

This is a truly unique picture book. Tiny Owl publishers asked their illustrators to reflect on the past year and how they have coped with lockdown; how they spent their time, what helped and most importantly what gave them hope and inspiration. This is a gorgeous selection of words and pictures from fifteen artists from all around the world capturing the global nature of the pandemic experience. Each illustrator showcases their individual styles yet they blend together in perfect harmony in this collaborative collection celebrating humanity and resilience.

The cover is wonderful. A building in which the businesses on the ground floor are closed and yet above them, in homes, life goes on with people playing, reading, cooking, exercising and growing plants, whilst outside people are wearing the obligatory masks. The endpapers feature vignettes depicting the many different ways people passed their time during the period of lockdown, a variety of ages and types but they highlight nurturing, creativity and kindness setting the tone, as does the cover, for the rest of the book.

Endpapers illustration by Sarah van Dongen

Turning the pages we read words and look at pictures from many countries including the UK, the Netherlands, and Italy from Canada, Iran and South Africa. The global nature of the contents and the diverse voices are woven together in a way that highlights how much we have in common with each other. There are connections everywhere; the similarities in the human response to our predicament are visible. There is humour, there is a slowing down to notice things, to listen more, to create and to nurture and to find a way to communicate with those from whom we are separated. All of this is conveyed eloquently and in a manner that will gently encourage and inspire children who read this lovely book .

I particularly like the concentration on positivity and kindness. The different artists have done a simply wonderful job of highlighting optimism, community and hope. We all need hope in difficult times and this book is simply brimming with it. Unlocked is a treat to savour, to linger over and to think about and to reflect upon. A beautiful book that you feel better for having read.

I should like to thank Tiny Owl Publishing for sending me my copy, I will treasure it.

The publishers have created a lovely trailer for Unlocked which you may like to watch:

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Tragedy at Sea – The Sinking of the Titanic by David Long illustrated by Stefan Tambellini

The Titanic has been the subject of numerous books, TV and film productions over the years, many of them concentrating on the human tragedy itself. Award winning children’s non-fiction writer David Long has taken a subtly different look at this famous story and this book is packed full of astounding facts and details. Supported by informative black and white illustrations by Stefan Tambellini this is a must have book for school libraries and classrooms.

Inevitably it is the scale of the human tragedy which has resulted in the Titanic disaster having a lasting impact on the public for over one hundred years. David Long’s retelling begins before the event and includes the creation of this famous ship and tells the story of the people involved in the building of it and the preparation for the maiden voyage. The book opens with a double page illustration of the Titanic by Stefan Tambellini detailing the different parts of the ship and their uses providing a helpful image to refer to throughout the book. Long describes trans-Atlantic travel at that time and sets the scene with details of the competing companies involved and the expectations of travellers. The design and creation of the ship itself is fascinating and includes plentiful detail and interesting facts. As an adult I found this interesting and the accessible manner in which it is presented makes this a riveting and engaging read for children. Everything from the fixtures and fittings of the luxury cabins to the radio equipment, from the number of crew, (883!) to the real palm trees in one of the cafes is covered. This attention to detail is supported by the helpful illustrations, including maps and a cross section of the ship, which all add to the reader’s understanding and appreciation.

The story builds to the sinking itself and describes the reasons for the disaster and the events which followed. David Long presents this without melodrama but with a well researched and careful presentation of the facts. Although an excellent read for children I think this would also be a helpful guide for time pressed teachers who want to quickly access reliable information.

David Long has succeeded in presenting the story of the Titanic, including an impressive amount of detailed information, in an accessible and highly readable style within eighty pages. This little book is big on detail and history and will be useful to children and teachers. If you want to find out more Barrington Stoke have created this taster of the first chapter below.

I should like to thank Kirstin Lamb and the publishers Barrington Stoke for providing my review copy. Tragedy at Sea – The Sinking of the Titanic was published on 1st April and is available to purchase on the publishers’ website.

A few years ago I visited the Titanic exhibition at Liverpool Maritime Museum and found it moving and informative. There is a comprehensive teaching resource pack available to download free from their official website which would work well in conjunction with this book.

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