New Picture Books for Young Children – rainbows, waiting and hugs…

The Longer the Wait, the Bigger the Hug by Eoin McLaughlin and Polly Dunbar

In 2020 While We Can’t Hug by this picture book duo captured the feelings of many and was a source of comfort as families were separated and we tried to adapt to our changed circumstances. One year on and Hedgehog and Tortoise are back and now reunited and discover that it was worth the wait.

This gentle, hopeful book is sure to put smiles on faces with its humour and kindness. After a long hibernation Hedgehog wakes up and eagerly starts searching for his dear friend, Tortoise. But, where can Tortoise be? Lots of other friends come to say hello and play with Hedgehog but although Hedgehog tries to make the best of things, Squirrel, Badger and the others are just not the same. Hedgehog needs Tortoise. Polly Dunbar’s subtle water colour illustrations perfectly complement Eoin McLaughlin’s text depicting all the animals’ antics with a humorous touch. Observant children may even spot Tortoise before Hedgehog does.

A lovely picture book for young children and a good way of starting conversations about friendship, patience and separation from close chums and those we love most. The Longer the Wait, the Bigger the Hug was published by Faber Books in paperback in June and hardback this month.

Book Trailer from Faber Children’s Books

The Wonderful World was Waiting by Lauren Fennemore and Zoe Damoulakis

This rhyming story is full of experiences of different types, funny, exciting, and mundane but all of them are ones we have missed since the start of the pandemic. There are picnics in the park, swimming lessons, a trip to the zoo and a visit to a coffee shop all depicted in the joyful illustrations. All of these are described as events that the young readers have to look forward to and may now be enjoying as the world ventures out again. For adults this is both a sobering reminder of the things that children may not have experienced over the last year or so and a joyful celebration of the things that matter most to us.

There is a warmth and hopefulness to the text and it captures well the importance of the everyday, the things we may have previously taken for granted, and how we will now treat these with a new sense of appreciation and joy. The book is dedicated to ‘the brave who had no choice but to work; for the courageous who had no choice but to stop…’ This will, I think resonate with many adults sharing the book for whom there will be an added poignancy. However for young children this will be an entertaining and joyful book to share. They will enjoy spotting familiar items and places in the illustrations and this rhyming text makes this lovely to listen to at bedtime or storytime.

The Wonderful World was Waiting was published in June by Owlet Press.

There is a Rainbow by Theresa Trander and Grant Snider

Inspired by the rainbows seen so frequently in windows throughout the COVID19 pandemic Theresa Trinder has created a reassuring and positive picture book full of hope. The lyrical text acknowledges the difficult moments of separation from friends and loved ones, the adjustment to online schooling and the constraints placed upon us but at the same time highlights the connections still possible despite the situation. There is a kind uplifting tone to the message and the spare text, almost a poem, encourages the reader to linger over the illustrations and read more slowly. 

Grant Snider’s crayon illustrations have a smudged, childlike quality and depict scenes children will recognise from the last eighteen months; the ever present rainbows, the Zoom boxes on the computer screen which are now so familiar. However this could equally apply to any situation when we feel distanced from others or have suffered loss. Sometimes it is not only circumstances that cause children to feel separate from others, it may be emotions that overwhelm them. This gentle book encourages children to look ahead to the future with optimism as it stresses the support and connections available around us. An uplifting message of community and resilience. 

There is a Rainbow was published by Chronicle Books in April.

All three books can be purchased online by clicking on the titles.

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BookTrust Storytime – BookTrust unveils public library experience to encourage families to develop a reading habit

BookTrust, the UK’s largest children’s reading charity, has today announced plans to pilot a new, national library experience called BookTrust Storytime. Developed in partnership with libraries, local authorities and families, and funded by Arts Council England, the project will support disadvantaged families with children in their early years to engage with their local public library and develop an ongoing reading habit. 

Sharing stories is invaluable for children in their early years and creates lifelong positive impacts on health, wellbeing, creativity and education, yet children from disadvantaged backgrounds continue to face the biggest barriers to reading. A recent BookTrust survey of 1,000 families in poverty with a child under 5 across England, NI and Wales revealed that less than half (49%) of these families are registered with a public library.

Image from BookTrust The Next Chapter

In the wake of the COVID pandemic, BookTrust Storytime forms part of the charity’s new strategy, which is focused on finding the most effective ways of supporting the families who need more help beginning their reading journeys, so that more children can enjoy the transformative benefits of reading. The pilot also aligns with libraries’ aspirations to reconnect with their local communities after a year of closures, to kick-start visits as part of the ongoing recovery from the pandemic, and support more disadvantaged children.

At BookTrust we believe all children should reap the life changing benefits of reading, and our bold new strategy is focused on finding innovative ways to ensure children from disadvantaged families are not left behind.’ 

Diana Gerald, CEO of BookTrust

Launching in Autumn 2021, the large-scale national pilot, created with the support of library partners including The Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians (ASCEL), Libraries Connected, The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) and Youth Libraries Group (YLG), will bring together local authorities, libraries, authors and illustrators to test new ways of inspiring shared early years story experiences through local libraries. 

The project has been developed in collaboration with librarians and families to ensure the design and content reflects their experiences and meets their needs, including breaking down any limiting preconceptions – such as libraries being solely a place for reading books quietly – as well as showcasing the broader opportunities available with clear signage and a welcoming, friendly environment.

 ‘Projects like BookTrust Storytime are vital because libraries are places of possibility with the power to change lives.

Isobel Hunter, CEO, Libraries Connected

The BookTrust Storytime experience will offer a range of resources for librarians alongside activities for families that will bring the magic of reading to life, and to inspire sharing stories and visiting the local library to become a regular and long-lasting part of family life. 

These experiences will also incorporate the existing BookTrust Storytime Prize, which celebrates the best early years children’s books. This year’s shortlist, announced today, will be integrated into the experience and used to encourage families to make repeat visits to the library to read the different books and engage in the different activities on offer.

The BookTrust Storytime Prize celebrates the very best books for sharing with babies and children under five and is run in association with the CILIP Youth Libraries Group. Selected by a panel of experts, the six titles on the shortlist for 2021 are:

  • I Really, Really Need a Wee! by Karl Newson & Duncan Beedie (Little Tiger Press)
  • Octopus Shocktopus! by Peter Bently & Steven Lenton (Nosy Crow)
  • No! Said Rabbit by Marjoke Henrichs (Scallywag Press)
  • The Whales on the Bus by Katrina Charman & Nick Sharratt (Bloomsbury Children’s)
  • Lenny and Wilbur by Ken Wilson-Max (Alanna Max)
  • Arlo The Lion Who Couldn’t Sleep by Catherine Rayner (Macmillan Children’s Books)

‘ Every library is a pathway to enjoyment, knowledge and understanding, and, to me, every librarian is a hero because they pass on what they love to children, making readers and writers of them, and bringing joy to their lives.’

Sir Michael Morpurgo, President of BookTrust

Image from Book Trust The Next Chapter

This a wonderful scheme raising the profile of both public libraries and the pleasure of sharing books with young children. To find out more about the Storytime initiative and the Storytime prize please visit the BookTrust website.

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Know My Place by Eve Ainsworth

Know My Place by Eve Ainsworth is a sensitive story about a teenager searching for home and family that explores complex issues surrounding foster care with kindness and understanding. An empathetic read for teens, it would also be useful for secondary schools as a prompt for discussion and for use in PSHE lessons.

Cover design by Helen Crawford-White

Teenager Amy has been in foster care since the age of six. Her first placement has just ended and Amy is sent to live with her new foster family, the Dawsons. Experience has resulted in Amy being wary and at first she feels like an outsider and fears that this new relationship will break down just like the previous ones. Initially reluctant to trust, gradually she finds that the Dawsons are kind and she starts to relax and her hopes for a happy future increase. However after a turn of events she fears the worst and that this family has been too good to be true after all.

In short novellas such as this it is important that the reader quickly feels an involvement with the characters and the voice of this particular teenage narrator is perfect for encouraging this. Amy is instantly engaging. She tells her story through current events interspersed with a look back at her previous foster care experiences. This structure allows the reader to gradually understand why Amy is so vulnerable and lacking in trust.

Despite the complex issues involved in the subject of foster care and the sadness experienced by Amy in the past this is ultimately an uplifting story. Eve Ainsworth’s experience in pastoral and child protection roles gives this story an authenticity that increases the reader’s empathy with Amy. The adult characters are portrayed as people with a mix of flaws and strengths and this feels realistic. Whilst never straying into melodrama or mawkishness the author has created a story that conveys heartbreak, grief and loss with a compassion and understanding that results in this feeling a hopeful book. The ending is realistic and satisfying without being fairy tale like. I had grown to care about Amy and I think teen readers will do so too.

As with all Barrington Stoke books this is presented in a super readable style making it suitable for dyslexic and reluctant readers. It would also be a great book for a more confident reader looking for a quick read. Although the subject matter makes this a book for a teen audience it has been edited to ensure that it has a reading age of 8+.

I should like to thank Kirstin Lamb and Barrington Stoke for providing my review copy. Know My Place was published on 1st July and is available to purchase on the publishers’ website.

Another book from Barrington Stoke which deals with social issues experienced by families is Pickles The Dog That Saved the World (Cup) by Phil Earle. This tells the story of a family struggling with the prospect of homelessness and is another kind story but for a slightly younger readership.

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Blog Tour: How to Be Brave by Daisy May Johnson

How to Be Brave by Daisy May Johnson is a boarding school story with a difference. Johnson takes all the traditional ingredients; midnight feasts, secret passages, intrepid girls solving mysteries and putting right wrongs and presents them in an original and immensely appealing style. Full of fun with laugh out loud moments it also conveys how much friendship, family, love and loyalty matter. A delight from the first page to the last.

Calla and her mum, Elizabeth are used to learning to be brave. The two of them have experienced hardship, difficulty paying the bills and worries about where the next meal will come from. Yet they are happy and very much a partnership. Elizabeth’s abiding passion is ducks and her extensive knowledge of a particular rare duck sees her asked to go on an expedition to the Amazon rainforest. While she is away Calla is sent to Elizabeth’s old boarding school, The School of the Good Sisters, run by an order of eccentric but kindly nuns who teach everything from baking to helicopter maintenance. However a new Head Teacher has been installed and Calla and her new friends are faced with the horrors of a rigid curriculum and appalling food. They are determined to put things right!

Traditional school stories have been popular for generations and this version is expertly executed in a way that feels fresh. It is a mix of classic and contemporary with cultural references that today’s readers will recognise and identify with yet retains the familiar framework of successful school series such as Malory Towers and the Chalet School. It is, I think, the narrative voice that gives the book its truly original feel. I have struggled to think of another children’s novel where footnotes are used so extensively but cannot. It is through these that the reader ‘meets’ our likeable narrator and is encouraged to feel part of the story rather than an observer. Although at first I wondered if this would work I was quickly converted as it is so amusing and subtly alters the reading experience.

This is great fun and made this particular reader yearn for a pink wafer biscuit and a custard cream and the chance to join in the girls’ revolt. A story with a wide appeal as adults will love some of the references and the nostalgic appeal. I simply loved the “I’m Spartacus” moment! There are some fabulous characters, I particularly liked the unstoppable Edie, a rebel with French flair, and Good Sister June who I do wish had taught me.

How to Be Brave is a wonderful, funny, school story but running through it are themes of family, loss, hardship, loyalty and friendship. The love between Calla and Elizabeth is central to the story and this is a kind story as well as a very amusing one. It would probably appeal to lovers of the Murder Most Unladylike series by Robin Stevens.

I was delighted to be able to take part in this blog tour and should like to thank Poppy Stimpson and Pushkin Press for providing my review copy. How to Be Brave was published on 1st July and is available to purchase at all good independent bookshops or online. Full details of the blog tour are below so do please catch up with the other reviews if you have missed them.

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The Royal Rebel: The Life of Suffragette Princess Sophia Duleep Singh by Bali Rai with illustrations by Rachael Dean

The Royal Rebel by Bali Rai is a retelling of the life of Sophia Duleep Singh, Royal Sikh Princess, god-daughter of Queen Victoria and suffragette. An extraordinary story told in an accessible, informative style this enlightening and important book is published by Barrington Stoke to coincide with South Asian Heritage Month.

Cover illustration by Rachael Dean

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh was born in 1876, the youngest daughter of the last Sikh ruler of the Punjab. When her father lost his empire and was exiled to England Sophia and her family lived in Suffolk where although the children experienced a privileged upbringing they also suffered tragedy and a sense of being ‘outsiders.’ Bali Rai tells Sophia’s story in three distinct sections, her childhood in England, her short return to India as a teenager, and her subsequent experiences as a young woman when she is back in England.

Sophia is only eight years old when we meet her and children will quickly become interested in her unusual family life with baboons and parrots in the extensive grounds of the family home and the descriptions of Sophia’s bond with her little brother, Eddie. However we quickly discover that all is not happy and secure in the family’s world. Mother is confined to her bedroom, unwell, and does not wish to spend time with her children and Father is slowly selling off the family’s valued possessions due to bankruptcy. Although Sophia is too young to fully understand the situation she does know that she does not want to leave the only home she has known and when the family embark on a trip back to India via Egypt the situation becomes worse for Sophia and her siblings.

Sophia is a fascinating and remarkable person and Bali Rai has presented her life in a way that will inspire and enlighten a young audience. The historic background to the British Empire and its relationship to India is presented in a factual and direct manner and it is through Sophia’s narration of the story and her conversations with her family and other contacts that we become aware of her sense of injustice. On her return to England in 1903 Sophia, now a young woman, says:

“I finally understood that I was an outsider – just a refugee like any other.”

Pg 86

Sensitive to injustice to both her family and others Sophia resolves to do something to help and becomes involved in supporting the Indian sailors who have been abandoned in London caught between two cultures and countries. She subsequently becomes involved in the Suffragette movement and the rest of the book is devoted to following Sophia and the other women as they fight for what they believe is right and fair.

This is a remarkable story and shines a light on a woman who has, I think, not been the focus of previous historical works for children. Although a biography the narrative style holds an appeal that will tempt more to find about about this unsung heroine. This book would be a valuable addition to the school library or classroom as both an enjoyable read and one that could be used as part of the history curriculum.

Attractively presented with a stunning cover and vignettes throughout by Rachael Dean this has the added bonus of being suitable for dyslexic readers due to its design and editing. This has a suggested reading age of 8+. At just over 130 pages this would also be appealing to confident readers looking for a quick read or for class teachers as a read aloud.

I should like to thank Kirstin Lamb and Barrington Stoke for my review copy. The Royal Rebel was published on 15th July and is available to purchase on the publishers’ website where you can also read a preview of the first chapter. I found the information contained on the Historic Royal Palaces website about Princess Sophia interesting and enjoyed seeing photos of both her and her family. She has rather come to life in my mind now and I think this book will prompt children to find out more about her too.

If you are looking for another book about a lesser known historical figure I can recommend Race to the Frozen North: The Matthew Henson Story by Catherine Johnson also published by Barrington Stoke.

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2021 CLiPPA (CLPE Children’s Poetry Award) Shortlist Announcement

Today, Monday 19 July 2021, as part of Poetry By Heart’s vibrant award ceremony at The Globe, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) announced the 2021 shortlist for the CLiPPA(CLPE Children’s Poetry Award).

Established in 2003, the CLiPPA is the UK’s only award for published poetry for children. This year’s shortlist, chosen from books published in 2020, demonstrates the vital resilience of poets and publishers. It celebrates exceptional poetry for children by brand new voices and the UK’s best-known and best-loved children’s poet.

The five books on the shortlist are:

Slam! You’re Gonna Wanna Hear This, chosen by Nikita Gill, Macmillan 
Nikita Gill brings together exciting new poets, all well known to poetry audiences but many making their first appearance in print; the judges hail this as a book to excite young people about all the potential of poetry, curated with skill and passion.

Bright Bursts of Colour, Matt Goodfellow, illustrated by Aleksei Bitskoff, Bloomsbury Education 
The poems in Matt Goodfellow’s collection range from the silly to the sensitive, and all will resonate with children aged 7 – 11. The judges admired the child’s eye view, the dynamic representations of real-life experiences, and the book’s understanding of a child’s sensibilities. 

Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann, Penguin
Compelling, powerful, and authentic, Mann’s verse novel speaks directly to its YA audience. The judges loved the fresh voice and how a form that could feel archaic is made new.

Big Green Crocodile Rhymes to Say and Play, by Jane Newberry, illustrated by Carolina Rabei, Otter-Barry Books
A collection of new nursery rhymes, this is a book for parents and adults to share with the very youngest to spark a lifelong love of poetry. The judges call it a perfect post-lockdown book, allowing adults and small children to connect and share poems. It’s beautifully presented and perfectly illustrated.

On the Move, Michael Rosen, illustrated by Quentin Blake, Walker Books
On the Move is both personal and universal, with messages of home, identity and family. The judges found it full of emotion, delivered with a perfect sense of understatement; they praised the way words and illustrations provide pauses, allowing readers space to think.

Allie Esiri, chair of the judges, said ‘If you think your child doesn’t like poetry, please share the books on this year’s CLiPPA shortlist. They are varied – a picture book, an anthology, outstanding single collections and a verse novel – but each one reminds us what the best poetry for children can do. The poets capture real life experiences that will excite their audience and speak directly to them; they plant images and ideas and allow them space to grow.’

This year the judges are poets Zaro Weil, who won the 2020 CLiPPA with her collection Cherry Moonand Amina Jama; Julie Blake, co-founder and Director of Poetry By Heart; and Charlotte Hacking, Learning Programmes Leader at CLPE. Allie Esiri, aka the ‘poetry powerhouse’, whose poetry anthologies include A Poem for Every Day of the Year and regularly top the bestseller lists, is chair of the CLiPPA 2021 judging panel.

The winner of the 2021 CLiPPA will be revealed at the The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival, on Monday 11th October, in a Poetry Show introduced by CLiPPAjudges, Zaro Weil and Allie Esiri, and featuring performances by the shortlisted poets. Schools across the UK and beyond will be able to watch the show on The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival platform and access poetry CPD sessions created by CLPE.

There is a free Shadowing Scheme to involve schools in CLiPPA 2021 and you can register your interest here.

The CLiPPA is delivered in partnership with the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) and supported by Arts Council England.

For further information please visit

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

Welcome to this week’s look at what has been happening in the world of children’s books. As many schools are now busy with end of term events with little time for children’s book news or reading this will be the last Reading Matters of this school year. Despite the fact I no longer work in a school I still tend to think in academic years rather than calendar ones, a habit it’s difficult to break! What a school year this has been. Thank you to everyone who has commented, pointed me in the direction of useful items or said hello. One of the positives of this last eighteen months has been the kindness and generosity of the lovely children’s book gang. Thank you everyone, it has really helped. I’m hoping that Reading Matters will return in September. Over the next few weeks I plan to catch up with my reading so there will be more reviews on the blog which I hope will be helpful.

What I’m reading..

Last weekend I finished reading How To Be Brave by Daisy May Johnson and it was a treat. Take the best of traditional school stories and blend with eccentric but hugely likeable nuns, add a dash of ducks, mix in a few brave girls and you have the recipe for a winner. The blog tour marking the publication of this joyful book is taking place at the moment and my review will be posted up on 22nd July. Please do follow the rest of the tour to find out more.

I have also read a number of happy and uplifting picture books over the last few days and have reviewed a couple of them. What if, Pig? by Linzie Hunter is a perfect picture book for anyone who has ever let a small worry get out of hand. A reassuring and funny gem of a book, this is already a hit with the youngest member of our family. Ready, Steady School by Marianne Dubuc is tailor made for children who are starting school. This large format book is wonderful for sharing with lots to explore and discuss. I would highly recommend both of these excellent picture books and not only for very young children as there is much to enjoy and learn for older children too.

News, articles and resources…

First up is a suggestion that if you are on Twitter it would be a good idea to follow Nicolette Jones @NicoletteJones #threeofakind a regular Tweet she is posting highlighting current themes in picturebooks and drawing attention to more of them.

7 historical books that transport us to the past, chosen by Hilary McKay – if Hilary McKay recommends a book I am confident it will be excellent. As a lover of historical fiction I have read several of the titles Hilary selected and have now added a couple more to my reading list.

Nikki Gamble Presents an Audience With – the first series of these wonderful evenings has been a highlight of the past year for me. Nikki is an excellent interviewer making us feel part of the discussion and the guests are outstanding. I would highly recommend this second series. Booking is open now and full details are available via the link.

School Transition and Reading Survey – Bounce Together in partnership with the School Library Association bring you a free survey that will help you find out more about how and what your pupils read, their views towards reading and how they feel about going to a new school. You need to register for this offer by 19th July so don’t miss out!

The 2021 Branford Boase Award Ceremony 15th July – this year’s Branford Boase Award ceremony will be broadcast from 6.30pm on Thursday 15 July. In a new partnership this year’s ceremony will be hosted as part of the LoveReading LitFest as a special event open to all those interested in children’s literature. The event features all the shortlisted authors and some special guests.

Health Literacy in Schools Toolkit – This is a promotional video created for the Schools’ Health Literacy Toolkit, a resource provided by a team of health librarians, for use by school librarians and other professionals who work with children. The toolkit covers different aspects of health literacy from staying healthy to spotting fake news and looking after your mental health.

Writing about teenage boys: Body image, bullying, big feelings and more – Cardboard Cowboys author Brian Conaghan chats to Book Trust about writing for teenage boys and why it’s vital that they see themselves reflected in books.

The Klaus Flugge Prize Shortlist Sketchbook – thank you to Mat Tobin for making me aware of these great videos from the individual illustrators. These are being regularly added to and are a delight, providing an insight into the creative process behind the wonderful picturebooks included on this year’s shortlist.

The Teachers’ Reading Challenge – a reminder that this launches today, 10th July. This is an opportunity for school and library staff to expand their knowledge of contemporary children’s books and develop their understanding of reading for pleasure pedagogy. Run by The Reading Agency in partnership with the Open University with funding from Goldsmiths, University of London. There was a live event on Tuesday evening that is still available to watch via Facebook if you missed it.

Inclusive Indies – Inclusive Indies was set up by Knights Of and Jacaranda Books in partnership with Spread the Word in 2020, as a response to the impact of Covid-19 on independent presses. The aim for this year’s campaign running from 3rd – 17th July is to highlight the important work done by these small indies who often don’t have the marketing budget to reach new readers, and shine a spotlight on the important work they are doing.

The Week Junior: The Summer of Reading – this newspaper is one of my favourite publications for children, always packed full of useful news, articles and features. They are encouraging children to find their reading superpower this summer. What a great idea! There is a fantastic book list to choose from and details of how to get involved on the website via the link above.

Free Books Campaign – this organisation is collaborating with Marcus Rashford’s Book Club and MacmillanKidsUK to get 400 copies of brilliant children’s books into vital youth services across the UK & Ireland. You can read more about the campaign and how to request a copy via the link.

Summer 2021 Recommended Reads – Books for Topics have put together a list of some of their favourite new children’s books out this summer, listed by age group. The summer selection includes stories of far-away islands, creatures of the deep, treasure quests and plenty of adventures in the great outdoors.

The Alligator’s Mouth Award 2021 – you can watch the announcement of this year’s winner, Pizazz by Sophy Henn, on the video available via the link and find out more about this award for early illustrated fiction and the shortlist here.

A New Chapter’s Summer Reading Challenge – this is a great way to motivate children to read over the summer holiday without overwhelming them. Each challenge comprises ten books suitable for each year group from Reception to Year 11 with downloadable sheets to track progress available. A great resource and one worth exploring.

Teacher Hug Book Club – Primary School librarian Rumena Aktar discusses and reviews the latest children’s books and talks to the authors and illustrators on Teacher Hug Radio on Sunday at 11am. Tomorrow, 11th July, Rumena will be chatting with author Rashmi Sirdeshpande and illustrator Diane Ewen.

Book Blast Children’s Book Choices of the Month – another great initiative from Nikki Gamble. Join Nikki on the last Friday of each month to hear about forty new children’s books in twenty minutes. Hosted on Zoom you can register via the link above.

UKLA announce the winners of the Our Class Loves This Book Award 2020 AND 2021 – This award asks teachers to explore a book in detail with their classes and encourage children’s creative responses to the chosen book. I am delighted to see Ben Harris and his Year 6 class as the deserved winner of the 2021 award. Ben is such an excellent advocate of reading aloud, reading for pleasure and all aspects of children’s literature and generous in his sharing of knowledge with others it is lovely to see him rewarded. All three winners’ inspiring videos are worth watching.

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

Zeki Gets a Checkup by Anna McQuinn illustrated by Ruth Hearson – I love this insightful review by Fabia on Candid Cocoa. It highlights beautifully the importance of excellent picture books such as this one for toddlers as part of the learning experience in addition to being a joy to share.

Bumble & Snug and the Angry Pirates by Mark Bradley – a lovely, informative review by Melanie McGilloway on the Library Mice blog of this new graphic novel for emerging readers plus five fabulous graphic novels recommended by Mark himself.

An Escape in Time (The Time-Seekers series) by Sally Nicholls – this review by Kate Heap on Scope for Imagination is particularly helpful as it looks at the series as a whole and also includes input from Kate’s daughter.

Between Sea and Sky by Nicola Penfold – Where the World Turns Wild was a book I very much enjoyed last year so I was already looking forward to this but this really great review has tempted me further. Mike on This Book is Brilliant also includes a letter from Nicola to a child born on July 8th 2021 to be opened on their 13th birthday which I found poignant yet hopeful. A little like the book itself perhaps.

Little Light by Coral Rumble illustrated by Shih-Yu Lin – this novel told in verse deals with difficult subjects and the hard challenges that some children and families face. Rebecca Simpson-Hargreaves, in her review for Just Imagine, gives examples of how this book could be used in schools and provides a detailed look at the story.

That’s everything for this week and until September. I hope that everyone has a good summer with family and friends. For the teachers who are reading this I will leave you with this wonderful piece by Jackie Morris. It is a beautiful thank you to teachers for all you have done throughout the pandemic from her and also from the rest of us who don’t have quite the same gift with words. Happy summer!

And I know it’s not remotely book related but as a football fan since childhood I’ve found the last couple of weeks exciting, cheering, tense and almost every emotion in between. I confess to singing along loudly to Sweet Caroline in the car. I know…sorry! Here’s something for the footie fans among you to hum along to… I have everything crossed for tomorrow.

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Picture Book Review: Ready, Steady, School! by Marianne Dubuc, translated by Sarah Ardizzone

Ready, Steady, School! by Marianne Dubuc is the perfect book to share with children who will shortly be starting school. Every single page contains detailed illustrations packed with much to talk about and enjoy. It is a wonderful book that will reassure and entertain.

This large format book grabs your attention as soon as you see the front cover. The reader can see Pom at the centre of a busy hive of activity with animals involved in a variety of different pastimes. Already adult and child have plenty to talk about. Oops! Look, little wolf has dropped his book. What is squirrel counting? What kind of animal is that asleep next to the jigsaw? We are tempted to stop and look and this sets the scene for the rest of this lovely, search and find book.

As we turn the page we follow Pom, a small gnome whose gender is not specified, on an adventure through several different animal schools. Pom has to decide which school to go to next year but it’s going to be difficult to select one as they all appear to have so much to offer. Perhaps Pom’s school will be a combination of all of them. That would definitely be a reassuring message for small readers!

Each school depicts a different aspect of school life. The rabbits are learning to count, the frogs are being creative with arts and craft, the foxes are keeping fit playing different sports and (my favourite!) the wolves are enjoying reading and book chat in the library. Every double page spread is packed with appealing detail to explore and talk about. In addition Marianne Dubuc has hidden specific details for children to search for in every school. For example: an animal having a nap, an animal eating a snack or and animal visiting from another school. She has also included a character from a well known fairy tale enjoying life in each school. This adds an extra dimension to the sharing of the book and increases children’s involvement.

The Library

As a family we have enjoyed browsing this lovely book and my adult son commented that it reminds him of Richard Scarry’s Busy Town and What do People Do All Day, which he adored when he was little. He is right, it has a similar appeal. The style of the illustrations, familiar from Mr Postmouse and Up the Mountain, is clear and appealing to children. The translation by Sarah Ardizzone gives the text a conversational tone as though we are actually listening to the animals talking with little snippets of chats being overheard in different places. Each time you revisit a page you discover more.

Ready, Steady, School! is perfect for preparing little children for school. It will encourage and reassure and give parents and teachers an opportunity to talk about different aspects of school life. It is also great fun trying to find all the hidden animals and characters. There are some fantastic Teaching Notes created by Martin Galway of Hertfordshire Learning available to download from the Book Island website which provide ideas for a more structured discussion about the book. You may also enjoy this lovely video with Mariannne Dubuc giving more background to Ready, Steady, School!

Ready, Steady, School! was published in June and is now available to purchase at your local independent book shop or direct from the publisher, Book Island.

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What if, Pig? By Linzie Hunter

What if, Pig? by Linzie Hunter is the perfect picture book for anyone who has ever had a niggling worry that has got out of hand. Wonderful for little worriers and bigger ones too, it will open up conversation about anxiety and will reassure as it is full of kindness and understanding. I love this!

Pig is wonderful; a kind and thoughtful friend and much loved by everyone, a thoroughly nice chap. When Pig decides to throw a party for his friends this should be a source of joy for him and for his chums. He draws up his party check list and sends out his invitations. However Pig is a worrier. As the party draws near he starts to think, ‘what if’ …what if no-one comes, what if no-one enjoys the party, what if a ferocious lion eats the invitations or worse still the guests? Poor Pig is beside himself with worry and decides he must cancel the party. Then his wise and loyal best friend Mouse comes to his aid.

This is an absolutely wonderful picture book. The text flows with a lovely rhythm making it perfect to read aloud and the illustrations are gorgeous. Linzie Hunter conveys huge amounts of emotion in pig’s changing expressions and the detail begs to be explored as you read. From the party checklist to the invitations winging their way to the guests there is so much to talk about. Who are Uncle Potato and the Bunny Bros? I think we need a sequel to find out more. There is a quiet double page spread where a disconsolate Pig is being led along the path through a dark forest by small, cheerful Mouse then, as we turn the page, he protects Pig from the storm clouds above as he negotiates stepping stones across a river to the sunny land on the other side. With his friend to guide and support him through the difficult bits of life Pig will be able to enjoy the happy times ahead.

The humour and the optimistic tone of this appealing book lighten the important message it conveys. We know that for some children worries can mount up and anxiety can be a problem for many. What if, Pig? acknowledges this and is simply perfect for opening up conversations about worries, both the small and the more serious. There is a lovely point in the story when the animals reveal their own worries to each other and find reassurance in doing so. The horse who worries that “people cannot tell I’m a horse” and the bear who is not very ‘outdoorsy’ made me smile. The power of friendship is conveyed beautifully and Pig discovers that he is not alone, that others care and that he is accepted and understood.

This is a funny book, funny and kind. This has been enjoyed by everyone I have shared it with and this smashing book has an appeal for both children and adults. It is for anyone who has ever worried about things and that is probably all of us. What if, Pig? is a simply gorgeous debut picture book that should be in every primary school classroom.

What if, Pig? was published on 10th June by Harper Collins and is available to purchase online. There are some lovely activity sheets to download free on the publisher website that you may like to share.

If you are looking for another picture book to reassure worried or anxious children I would recommend the rather lovely Felix After the Rain.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

Welcome to this week’s look at what has been happening in the world of children’s books. I feel that I say this every week but there has been a great deal happening with award announcements, important research and articles plus of course lots of great new books. So although there are a lot of links here I hope that it will be worth making time to explore them further.

What I’m reading

Last week I mentioned The Three Impossibles by Susie Bower and the interesting interview with Nikki Gamble and last weekend I finished reading this lovely story. You can read my review to find out why I liked it so much. I think it would appeal to fans of Abi Elphinstone’s books.

Over the last few days I have been reading and reviewing books for the School Library Association journal, The School Librarian (TLS). Reviews have to be short which I sometimes find tricky when a book warrants a longer discussion. One picturebook amongst my selection was When We Say Black Lives Matter by Maxine Beneba Clarke and luckily it was reviewed on the Lily and the Fae blog this week so I have included it below.

At the moment I am reading How to Be Brave by Daisy May Johnson and finding it endearingly eccentric. Having followed Daisy since I joined Twitter nine years ago it’s a delight to see her love of children’s school stories culminating in her producing one that will have a new generation of readers trying to pack their trunks and join in the fun.

News, articles and resources

Children’s books roundup – the best new picture books and novels – another wonderful selection of the latest books reviewed by Imogen Russell Williams for the Guardian and it’s lovely to see Nen and the Lonely Fisherman and The Secret Detectives included. There are even more titles added to my wish list now too.

International Board on Books for a Young People Interview with Greet Pauwelijn founder of Book Island – this is a fascinating interview with Greet and an insight into both picture books and children’s literature in translation.

Libraries are at the forefront of combatting loneliness and inequality – not strictly speaking a children’s books article but nonetheless we all know how important public libraries are in providing access and encouragement to young readers so I have included it. Pamela Tulloch chief executive at the Scottish Library and Information Council highlights their importance in this article for Big Issue.

Chapter Book Round-Up: 10 You Might Have Missed – another helpful collection from Alison at Books for Topics. A good range from books suitable for those just venturing into reading chapter books to thought provoking reads for children in Year 6.

A Year of Reading Activities: How this primary school put the love back into its library – read how assistant headteacher Deborah Texeira encouraged children at her primary school to develop a habit of reading for pleasure with a revamped library, a whole year’s worth of fun reading activities and author visits.

Literacy Hive – a comprehensive library of the programmes and resources available to inspire young writers, support individual readers and promote whole school reading for pleasure. This website has a search facility to enable you find suitable resources and is suitable for both primary and secondary.

Lit in Colour: Diversity in Colour in English Schools – The 35-page report forms part of the Lit in Colour campaign launched last year by Penguin Random House (PRH) and the Runnymede Trust. Published this week it has “the aim to find innovative and practical ways to give schools the support and tools they need to introduce more books by people of colour into the classroom for all ages.” An important read for everyone involved with children’s books. You can watch Benjamin Zephaniah being interviewed about the report for BBC News here.

Best Books for our Time – Caroline Bradley of Just Imagine looks at books suitable for our present situation as we look to the future and the need to support children’s well being. She also suggests some titles for Year 6 in the final weeks of this academic year.

Young adult books round-up – review – Fiona Noble reviews the latest books for teens including the second novel by Manjeet Mann and some funny books ideal for the summer holidays.

100 best children’s books from the last 100 years – chosen by the team at Book Trust these lists are broken down into four age groups. There’s a quiz to check how many you have read. Are your favourites included?

The Reader Teacher Monthly Must Reads for June – Scott Evans has chosen his favourite reads for the last month, including the wonderful When the Sky Falls by Phil Earle. You can read Scott’s reviews and download a free poster.

A Summer Reading List for KS3: Readers aged 11-13 – super school librarian Lucas Maxwell has used his considerable experience to compile a list that is suitable for a wide range of interests and reading abilities. It would be useful for Year 6 too.

The Song That Sings Us: Cover Reveal – this is a treat to look forward to. The new novel by Nicola Davies will be published in October with a cover featuring art by Jackie Morris. Simon on the Family Bookworms blog provides us with a taste of what to expect including a video of Nicola Davies reading an extract.

Book Blast with Nikki Gamble Monday 7th July 7pm – a twenty minute breeze through the best books of the month plus an opportunity to chat and share. This sounds great fun and a good way of keeping up to date with the latest books.

Waterstones Children’s Book Prize winners 2021 – on Thursday it was announced that Elle McNicoll’s A Kind of Spark is the Overall Winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2021. The Best Illustrated Book Winner is The Grumpy Fairies by Bethan Stevans and the Best Book for Older Readers is Wranglestone by Darren Charlton. Congratulations to all the winners. You can read articles by winners via the link.

Children’s Book Show – this arts funded charity is returning to live theatres this autumn with a fabulous programme of authors, poets and illustrators appearing across the country. The line up includes Michael Rosen and Valerie Bloom plus Catherine Rayner and Jo Empson. It also has an international flavour with visits from Sydney Smith and Kwame Alexander. Funding has also allowed for every child attending the events to receive a free book. There are also in school workshops available. Please follow the link above to find out more.

The 2021 UKLA Award Winners Announced – The 2021 UKLA Awards are the only national awards judged by class teachers. This year saw the first ever joint winners for the 11-14+ category, UK #OwnVoices debut authors win two categories and the entire judging process, including the winning ceremony, conducted virtually. Find out who won via the link!

The Reader Teacher Coming Soon Video – June has whizzed by and here we are again with Scott Evans’ round up of the books he is recommending for the coming month.

2 months to go: get ready to celebrate #WorldKidLitMonth in your school – some ideas for teachers and educators of how you could celebrate translation and global reading in your school community this September. This is great resource with links to all manner of creative ideas to enjoy translated stories and global fiction.

Finally, some book reviews that caught my eye this week

When We Say Black Lives Matter by Maxine Beneba Clarke – this is a valuable picture book for many reasons and this detailed review provides a snapshot of both the poem and the illustrations within its pages and the reasons it should be in schools and homes.

Miles Morales: Shock Waves by Justin A Reynolds, illustrated by Pablo Leon – graphic novels are growing in popularity and reading this review by Fabia on Candid Cocoa it is easy to understand why. She says this new book is, “the perfect way into graphic novels for children in KS2 this thrilling, superhero adventure will be enjoyed by middle-grade readers everywhere”

SkyWake Invasion by Jamie Russell – there has been a real buzz online about this new sci-fi novel and this review on the This Book is Brilliant blog captures the enthusiasm shown by those who have read it already. “The writing in SkyWake is awesome! It’s fast-paced and exciting, and had us racing through the chapters so we could find out what happened next.” There is also a guest post from author Jamie Russell about the inspiration for this new series.

Phew! That’s it for this week, I think. I hope it has been helpful.

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