The Little War Cat by Hiba Noor Khan illustrated by Laura Chamberlain

A beautiful story of kindness and hope in the midst of conflict The Little War Cat encourages empathy and understanding and celebrates how each small act of care can make a big difference. A picture book full of compassion.

Cover illustration by Laura Carmichael

We follow the story of a small, grey cat who lives happily in the city of Aleppo and begin with her sunning herself on a wall surrounded by sunshine and watching a butterfly above her head. But as we turn the page we see that everything changed for the people of Aleppo and for the little cat. War came and with war destruction and loss. The small animal wanders the streets looking for refuge, past boarded up shops, searching for food and hiding from the humans who bring noise and chaos. But then one day something happens that changes things once more. Someone shows the little cat kindness and she learns to trust again, better still she learns how to pass that kindness on to others. The circle of kindness may bring hope to others too.

This is such a beautiful book, the gentle text is perfectly pitched to describe the conflict at an appropriate level for young readers and the sensitive illustrations by Laura Chamberlain provide detail for children to discuss with parents or teachers. The contrast between peaceful Aleppo and the city under siege is sobering and yet the kindness offered to the little cat brings with it sunshine and a reminder of how things were before. We also see glimpses of people in the background offering small acts of kindness; holding a ladder for another or a comforting arm around shoulders.

That this story is inspired by a real person adds greater poignancy. As Hiba explains in her note at the end of the book, Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel, “the Cat Man of Aleppo”, stayed in the city and set up a sanctuary, a home for hundreds of cats. Gradually adults and children came to help him and the place became a haven of love and hope. This lovely book would be perfect for encouraging empathy and for prompting discussion about how we can be kind and help others even in small ways.

Thank you very much to Clare Hall-Craggs and MacMillan Children’s Books for providing my review copy. The Little War Cat was published on 17th September and is available at all good bookshops and online

You may enjoy this video of Hiba Noor Khan reading from The Little War Cat…

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

Hello and welcome to another weekly look at what has been happening in the world of children’s books. I hope that everyone is coping with the never ending barrage of concerning news and that some of the articles and links here will be a welcome distraction from stress and worry.

What I’m reading…

This has been such a busy week for me that not as much reading as I would like has taken place. However thanks to the announcement of the Klaus Flugge Prize I did reread When Sadness Came to Call by Eva Eland. I do love this picturebook, it is gentle, wise, reassuring and an excellent way to encourage children to think about and discuss their emotions. I have almost finished reading Moon over Manifest and taking it slowly as I don’t want to say goodbye to Abilene of whom I have grown rather fond.

The highlight of my reading week has been my interview with Wafa’ Tarnowska, the author of Amazing Women of the Middle East, to be published on Sunday 20th September. Please do read what Wafa’ has to say if possible, in my opinion she should be included in her own book. If you are interested in finding out more about Wafa’ and her book the online launch takes place on Sunday at 7pm and you may email info@pikkupublishing.com.  to receive an invitation and a link to the event.

News and resources...

Ones to Watch: New Children’s Fiction for Autumn 2020 – over on the Books for Topics website Alison Leach and her team have been busy checking a fantastic pile of upcoming middle-grade (ages 8-12) titles and have picked out eight top recommendations to watch out for from September to November 2020.

Carnegie and Greenaway Nominations 2021 – Calling all CILIP members! Nominations are now open for the 2021 Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals. Find out more and submit your favourite books to win these prestigious awards by Friday 25th September.

Give me 5 Books: featuring children with limb difference – Are characters with limb difference (the partial or complete absence of individual limbs) represented in your classroom book collection or school library? Author Susan Brownrigg picks her top five suggestions for Books for Topics.

Diversity in Children’s Literature – this helpful Padlet created by the Liverpool Learning Partnership featuring a collection to support educators in exploring issues of diversity and inclusion in children’s and YA books has recently been modified and updated.

BookTrust New Writer in Residence: Smriti Halls – Every six months, BookTrust appoints a new Writer or Illustrator in Residence to write blogs, run competitions and give us their own unique perspective on the world of children’s books. In the role, Smriti will concentrate on using books to help children navigate tricky times and new experiences. You can watch a lovely video of Smriti’s first message full of hope and positivity in the linked article.

Nicola Davies Introduces her New Picture Book: Last – Renowned author, Nicola Davies, introduces her deeply moving illustration debut Last, ahead of a live reading on World Rhino Day 2020 at 14:00 GMT over on Helping Rhinos’s YouTube channel.

Picture books featuring characters with SLCN (Speech, Language and Communication Needs) by Lucy Rowland – author Lucy Rowland brings together a collection of picture books featuring characters that may help children struggling to find their voice. This post on Picture Book Den is helpful and these books would be valuable in schools.

Jhalak introduces children’s & YA prize – The organisers of the Jhalak Prize, given for a book by a British writer of colour, have launched a new prize, for a children’s or YA book. Both prizes are worth £1,000 to the winner, and are open for entries. The judges for the children’s prize will be Verna Allette Wilkins, Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Candy Gourlay.

The Klaus Flugge Prize – Julia Eccleshare, critic and chair of the Klaus Flugge Prize is a guest on the CILIP Youth Libraries blog to explain why this new award for picture book illustrators is so important.

Books For Keeps Magazine September Issue – this wonderful online magazine is crammed full of reviews, regular features such as Beyond the Secret Garden by Darren Chetty and Karen Sands-O’Connor, interviews with Tom Palmer and Kevin Crossley-Holland. I always enjoy reading this and would highly recommend it for anyone with an interest in children’s books.

Building Bridges: Language and Cultural Exchange in Children’s Publishing from Wales – article by Megan Farr as part of World Kid Lit Month. Wales has one of the longest literary traditions in Europe, and its landscape, history, myths, people and language have long inspired children’s writers and illustrators.

Online launch of The Lost Spells by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris – This sounds an absolute treat! Join The Lost Words creators Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris as they celebrate the publication of their beautiful new book, The Lost Spells. Conjuring the wonder of everyday nature through both words and imagery, The Lost Spells evokes the importance of naming and knowing the living world, and reminds us of what we would lose if nature were to slip from our lives. It takes place on Thursday 1st October at 7pm.

School libraries: Top tips for making them fun, safe places to be during COVID-19 – in case you missed this at the beginning of the month, BookTrust have compiled a list of helpful suggestions from school,librarians including Lucas Maxwell, former School Librarian of the Year.

How Can School Librarians Support Bereaved Students – this is a kind, thoughtful post by Barbara Band that will, I think be equally helpful to teachers. It includes a list of useful books for a wide range, from picture books to YA titles and links to helpful organisations.

50 Manga for your School Library – Lucas Maxwell has compiled this helpful list grouped by age from 10 to 16+.

Finally, some reviews that caught my eye this week…

The Smile Shop by Satoshi Kitamura – this picture book creator’s style is distinctive and appealing and I do love the sound of this new book. Rich Simpson says in his review, “A beautiful book to share and use to remind us that money isn’t necessary to be happy, and that kindness costs nothing but makes the world a nicer place to be a part of.” It sounds perfect.

The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston – I read this utterly lovely classic over the summer and never got round to writing a review. Now I don’t need to as this lovely one by Ann on the Cafe Society blog sums up its appeal to me so well.

Sona Sharma Very Best Sister by Chitra Soundar. Illustrated by Jen Khatun – as a school librarian I was sometimes asked to recommend a book that would help a child adapt to the arrival of a new baby in the family. Louise Nettleton’s review suggests that this should be on that list. “This is the perfect tale for younger children who are struggling to adjust to the idea of a new baby in the family. It is also a wonderful story of everyday life and celebration.”

The Tigers in the Tower by Julia Golding – I find historical fiction tempting and this review by Kate Heap has worked its magic and I’m keen to read this new title. Kate says “It teaches readers to be confident and strong even in the most difficult situations and to trust their instincts about what is right and who they are.”

The Invisible Boy by Alyssa Hollingsworth – this is Book of the Week in the current issue of Books for Keeps and I was struck by this review by Val Randall. Dealing with the challenging subject of modern slavery this would be an important addition to secondary school libraries.

That’s all for this week and I do hope that something has proved to be of interest or will be helpful to you. Happy reading!


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Amazing Women of the Middle East by Wafa’ Tarnowska – an interview with the author

This is a fascinating book. Fascinating, important and inspiring, this collection of ‘amazing women’ fully deserves a place in every school.

This beautifully presented book, fully illustrated throughout, is original in both concept and style. Readers are able to learn about a number of courageous and remarkable women from ancient history to the present day. Each mini-biography is introduced by Wafa’ Tarnowska in an inviting storytelling style that instantly engages the reader. The wide variety of women included, from ancient rulers to astronauts, from writers to ice skaters, come from every possible walk of life and from different countries within the Middle East. Young readers will be able to find one among these who could act as a role model. This brilliant book does much to challenge stereotypes and would be wonderful to share in the classroom either as a book to read aloud, for research or for independent reading for pleasure. There is a helpful map of the countries and a useful glossary is included too. I found this an enjoyable and eye opening read and think this is suitable for a wide readership. An excellent example of how nonfiction is able to broaden minds and educate all ages about our global community.

Amazing Women of the Middle East by Wafa’ Tarnowska illustrations by Christelle Halal, Hoda Hadadi, Sahar Haghgoo, Estelí Meza, Margarida Esteves is published by Pikku Publishing on 20th September.

The online launch takes place at 7pm on 20th September and promises to be an enjoyable event. If you would like an invitation, you can email info@pikkupublishing.com

Wafa’ Tarnowska has generously taken time to answer my questions on the blog today and I hope you find this interview as inspiring as I did. Wafa’ deserves a place in her own book!


Interview with Wafa’ Tarnowska


AT: Your previous books have been predominantly fiction including retellings of traditional tales for children; what prompted the change to non-fiction and specifically this collection of biographies? 

WT: The Me-Too movement. I wanted young people to know that Me-Too is a world movement not specific to the West, that it had started sprouting hundreds of years ago in the Middle East with heroines like Cleopatra, Zenobia, Semiramis, Nefertiti and the Queen of Sheba and that it continues to blossom in our days with women like Amal Clooney ( human rights lawyer), Nadia Murad (Nobel prize winner and activist),Dame Zaha Hadid (extraordinary architect) and Anousheh Ansari (the first Muslim woman to go to space) to name a few.

AT: There is a lyrical, storytelling quality to each of the biographies and I wonder how much of that was a natural inclination as a professional storyteller or if it was a deliberate style choice. 

WT:It is definitely a result of my love and practice of storytelling. A story is 27 times more memorable than a fact and the Middle East is famous for its storytelling tradition with the hakawati (storyteller) entertaining young and old in market squares and cafes. 

My personal role model is Shahrazade of the Arabian Nights who is included in my book. Anyone who entertained a man (Shahrayar) and a teenager (her sister Duniazade) for 3 years, i.e. for 1001 Nights, and kept them both interested in her stories, is worth emulating. She is a cultured woman with a dazzling imagination and a fantastic sense of humour.

AT: The women are inspiring role models who confound the traditional stereotype of the female from the Middle East. This book will do much to enlighten readers all over the world. What role do you think children’s books play in creating a bridge between cultures?

WT: Building bridges between East and West is my mission in this lifetime. And for bridges to be effective they should start at a young age. That’s why all my books are cultural bridges from the Middle East to Europe, America and the world. From Phoenician myths and legends, to Sufi tales, to the Arabian Nights, to Amazing Women of the Middle East, my books aim at opening the minds of the young to other worlds and other cultures that are part of our planet’s legacy.

The same goes with foods. When children taste hummus and olives and figs and dates, they ask questions, they want to know where theses foods come from. They might want to visit the countries that produced these foods one day.

I think the role of all educators and children’s writers is to broaden the horizons of young people to show them the beauty in diversity and the value of differences. Moving away from fear of the other, because they are different from us, into curiosity about the other, then acceptance, then love, is the journey we are all asked to take, young and old.

AT: Your own life story as a refugee from Lebanon, award winning author and speaker serves as an example of what can be achieved. Would you ever consider writing an autobiography? 

WT: I have just signed a contract with Barefoot books for a story I wrote about two children living in a war zone. The story is influenced by my experience of living under the bombs as a teenager for several months in Beirut in 1975, and by an event that happened at the beginning of the Syrian war (in 2012) also involving teenagers. 

It took me 45 years to be able to talk about my war experiencesbecause I was traumatised by them. That’s why I don’t watch violence or read violence, and I’ve been a vegetarian since I left Lebanon aged 19. So yes, I am starting to think of an autobiography, very much one of gratitude to the countries that opened their doors to me and my family and allowed me to blossom and become the woman I am now.

AT: Your literary work includes translations into Arabic of children’s books for the publisher Mantra Lingua. September is World Kid Lit Month, a time to celebrate world literature for children and teens, especially fiction and nonfiction translated to English from other languages. How can we as librarians, teachers and parents ensure that children in the UK are made aware of and exposed to the rich variety of stories from other countries and cultures? Do you have any advice? 

WT: There should be International Book Day or week where every child is asked to look for a story that is not from the UK and share it with others during story time or geography. Children can dress up in the costumes of the countries these stories come from and bring food to share from these countries. Opening young people’s minds to diversity must be a joyful experience and not become another chore. Chores make people resentful, sharing experiences make people happy.

My “Amazing Women of the Middle East” has a map of the countries where these 25 women come from. It is to help teachers and parents situate the action of the stories. The book also has a glossary of words children might not have heard of. This is also to stimulate discussion in class or at home about a region that is usually known for war and not for inspiring role models.

AT: You are involved with the Stories in Transit project which organises storytelling workshops in the UK and in Palermo, bringing young migrant students together with artists, writers and musicians. How is this initiative helping these students and has it been able to continue during the pandemic? 

WT: Like all cultural activities that depended on face to face interaction, because of the Covid19 lockdown, we have had to recalibrate and think of ways to continue our workshops virtually until travel becomes safe. We just had a virtual meeting to discuss new projects. 

In the meantime, the migrant students of Palermo had started a group called Giocherendaa word that comes from pulaar (an African language). It means “solidarity, awareness of interdependence, strength through sharing and the joy of doing things together”.

In December 2019 they opened a shop in which they sell innovativestory telling tools to help teachers and students, workshop leaders and participants, become actors and creators of fantastic worlds andcaptivating stories. If your readers are interested in these storytelling tools please take a look at this link: https://giocherenda.it/en/our-games/

AT: Will you be pursuing the nonfiction approach in the future or do you have other plans? I would love to know what to expect next.

WT: I am researching a nonfiction book for young people and writing my first book for grown-ups. During lockdown, I have recorded 8 of my stories from my“Seven Wise Princesses” and “Arabian Nights” for the Qatar Foundation Read Aloud initiative on video. If you feel like listening to a story this evening please press on this link: https://www.qfi.org/read-alouds/

My plan is to continue expanding my creativity and to be open to new opportunities as a storyteller, broadcaster, translator, and writer, worldwide.

Thank you very much Wafa’ for this enlightening and inspiring interview. I have learned much from you and from your wonderful book which I hope is read widely by children and young people and, in fact, adults too.

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Winner of the Klaus Flugge Prize 2020 Announced

On the evening of 16th September the announcement was made that Eva Eland has won the 2020 Klaus Flugge Prize for the most exciting and promising newcomer to children’s picture book illustration. She won for her book When Sadness Comes to Call (Andersen Press), in which a young child opens the door to an unexpected visitor, Sadness, personified as a semi-transparent amorphous shape. As the two spend time together, the child comes to know and understand Sadness, and then one day wakes up to find the visitor has left. Described by the judges as “a masterpiece of minimalism”, it is a sensitive and profound exploration of a complex emotion in a story that will speak to every child, no matter how young.

Eva Eland grew up in Delft, Netherlands. She studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy and the School of Visual Arts in New York as well as at the Cambridge School of Art, where she received a distinction in children’s book illustration. She started working on the book while on the prestigious Cambridge MA course. Judge and winner of the 2019 Klaus Flugge Prize, Jessica Love says: “This book is profound in its simplicity. There isn’t a single line that Eva Eland puts down that doesn’t tell the truth. Perfect.”

On receiving the prize, Eva Eland said: “To be shortlisted for the Klaus Flugge Prize was such a delightful surprise and a huge honour, and now I’ve learned I won the award as well! It’s very encouraging to receive recognition like this and it will also help me to dedicate more resources to developing my work further. And I can’t help but smile at the fact that this often unwanted guest, called sadness, is now finding its way and being welcomed by so many more people and children, with a little help from my book and the Klaus Flugge Prize.”

Now in its fifth year, the Klaus Flugge Prize was founded to honour publisher Klaus Flugge, a supremely influential figure in picture books. Flugge set up Andersen Press in 1976 and has discovered and nurtured many of today’s most distinguished illustrators including David McKee, Tony Ross, Satoshi Kitamura, Ruth Brown and Susan Varley.

Chair of the judges, Julia Eccleshare said: “The Klaus Flugge Prize puts picture book illustration and illustrators into the spotlight and, in its fifth year, we were particularly excited by the standard of books submitted and by the talent and ambition demonstrated by the shortlisted illustrators. When Sadness Comes to Call stands out, however. It is very much a book for today when so many children will be experiencing sadness, struggling to understand why and how to express themselves. Yet it also has the makings of a classic, a perfect meeting of intention and delivery, and an example of how much picture books can do.”

The breadth of subject matter depicted in the shortlisted books indicates how varied picture books are at the moment. The five shortlisted books included an exploration of emotions, a reworking of the traditional counting book, a magical adventure full of family love, a funny dash through a department store and a quality reference book. The judges also chose to award Highly Commended to Sabina Radeva for her book, On the Origin of Species, an illustrated retelling of Darwin’s famous book. Judge, Mini Grey said: “It’s a work of ingenious inspiration that is able to take a complicated idea and make it visually simple, and that’s what On the Origin of Species does. Elegant illustrations help us venture deeper into the concepts and work on many levels: for example, showing the evolution of the eye, and convergent evolution. This beautifully produced book celebrates nature and the voice of Darwin.”

Alongside Mini Grey and Jessica Love, the judges are Meera Ghanshamdas, bookseller at Moon Lane Ink; children’s book consultant Jake Hope; and Pam Smy of Anglia Ruskin University. Julia Eccleshare, director of the Children’s Programme at the Hay Festival, is Chair of the Judges.

You can find out more information about the award and details of previous winners on the official website.

You may enjoy this lovely video created by Eva Eland showing the development of her award winning book.

Posted in Announcements and Awards, Book Awards | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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


Hello and welcome to another look at some of the latest news from the world of children’s books. It has been another busy week with awards, comment, resources and ideas linked to children’s literature circulating online.

What I’m reading…

I started the week by taking part in the blog tour to mark the publication of To the Island, a magical, fantastical picture book based on the Irish mythological island Hy Brasil. The Anisha, Accidental Detective series by Serena Patel had been on my book radar for a little while and this week I read and reviewed the second book, School’s Cancelled! It is a delight. Full of warmth and humour with an inspiring protagonist, this is definitely recommended.

Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool, a Newbery Medal winner, was recommended earlier in the year in one of those articles listing ‘books to read during a pandemic’. I eagerly sourced and bought a second hand copy but as gloomy news and uncertainty spread quite honestly I went off the idea. However I started it this week and am enjoying it very much so far, particularly the lead character, Abeline. I’ll keep you posted!

A highlight of the week in the world of children’s books was the announcement of the winner of the Branford Boase Award. Inevitably the ceremony took place online and I don’t think it is merely because I am now more used to this type of event that I found it thoroughly enjoyable. Fascinating discussions, entertaining authors and editors together with knowledgeable book lovers ensured an entertaining hour and a half. You can read more about it here.

News and resources…

Wellbeing and literacy: Resources linked to The Book of Hopes – the Literacy Trust In partnership with Place2Be and Bloomsbury Children’s Books have developed free resources based on the Book of Hopes, a beautiful collection with contributions from many well known authors, illustrators and poets, to support wellbeing and literacy. Each activity is linked to a story, illustration or poem and the resources include downloadable PowerPoints, differentiated material for KS1 and 2 and teacher guidance.

Online book readings and story time for World Kid Lit Month – a selection of links gathered together by the World Kid Lit team to a range of videos available online showcasing some wonderful translated and world children’s books.

BBC Radio4: A Point of View Thinking Otherwise with Michael Morpurgo – As children return to school, Michael Morpurgo argues that it’s time to rethink our education system and its use of endless data gathering and algorithms. This was broadcast last weekend but is still available to listen to.

Life in the Information Jungle – Susan Martineau – in this article on the CILIP website, Susan discusses the importance of critical literacy, navigating fake news and some of the background to the writing of Question Everything (reviewed below by Veronica Price). Both the article and the book highlight the need for school librarians to guide pupils through the maze of information available, sadly not all of it trustworthy.

The My Twist on a Tale: Everyday Heroes competition is officially open – run by Pearson, this free competition, is now open to four- to 19-year-olds across the UK. Encourage young people to let their imaginations run wild as they write a story based on the new theme for 2020: Everyday Heroes. Information and entry packs are available on the website.

North Somerset Teachers’ Book Awards – the shortlists for these annual awards have been announced, slightly longer than usual and with a variety of categories, these are a good way of keeping in touch with quality children’s books. Any teacher, teaching assistant or school librarian is able to vote for the awards so perhaps explore the website to find out more.

A look at the Klaus Flugge Prize Shortlist – the winner of this prestigious award is announced on 16th September and this article in Books for Keeps is a lovely reminder of the shortlisted picturebooks. There are teaching resources for each of the shortlisted books created by CLPE available here.

Rebel Rebel: how books and libraries can challenge mainstream narratives – this free webinar on 30th September run by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals featuring Jake Hope, Michael Rosen, Smriti Halls and Fen Coles is is aimed at public and school librarians and anyone with an interest in children’s and radical publishing.

Sixteen-year-old Dara McAnulty wins Wainwright prize for nature writing – Diary of a Young Naturalist hailed as ‘astute and candid’ by judges, who have called for the book to be added to national curriculum.

Bearmouth Wins the Branford Boase Award – Liz Hyder and her editor Sarah Odedina of Pushkin Children’s Books win the 2020 BRANFORD BOASE AWARD awarded to the author and editor of the outstanding debut novel for children.

On Black and Asian Authors Who Deserve to be Much Better Known – thank you to Imogen Russell Williams for this excellent article in the Times Literary Supplement. This overview would be a great starting point but as Imogen said on Twitter there are many more authors available but space only allowed for those mentioned.

Blue Peter Book Awards School Judges – Since 2000, the enormously popular and influential Blue Peter Book Awards have been recognising and celebrating the best authors, the most creative illustrators and the greatest reads for children. Application for School Judges for 2021 is now open. Deadline Friday 9th October, 5pm.

Reading for Pleasure: The Nectar of Imagination (free webinar) – Join The Reading Agency and the Open University for this exciting webinar. Sharing research and practical advice, the expert team including Teresa Cremin (researcher), Matt Courtney (teacher), and Sonia Thomson(headteacher) will also answer questions and offer news of the Teachers’ Reading Challenge.

‘H is for Harry’ online screening in aid of Coram Beanstalk Tursday 17th September. – a fundraising campaign called “Closing the Covid Gap” set up by Rosemarie Ghazaros has secured an exclusive online screening of ‘H is for Harry’ in aid of Coram Beanstalk, Action Tutoring and Think Forward. This thought provoking film follows 11 year old Harry as his teacher tries to help him overcome his illiteracy and years of feeling excluded from learning and opportunity. After the film, you may join Roz Pedder, a secondary school teacher, and a Zoom panel with co-director Edward Owles, Angela Fuggle, Head of Programmes at Coram Beanstalk and a representatives from the charity Think Forward. Tickets are £6. I have seen this film, it is most definitely worth watching. Tickets are available via the link above.

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

Taking Time by Jo Loring-Fisher – this picture book published by Lantana Publishing sounds beautiful. A journey around the world witnessing special moments through a child’s eyes and savouring them will surely encourage mindfulness. A gorgeous review by Jill Bennett.


Question Everything! An Investigator’s Toolkit by Susan Martineau and Vicky Barker – this is the guide mentioned in the CILIP article above and Veronica Price’s helpful review giving detail of a book she describes as “ the perfect complement to information and digital literacy aspects of the primary school curriculum.”


The Magician and his hat: A review of The Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson – as part of #WorldKidLit month Chris Lovegrove has shared his thoughts on this popular children’s classic. I always enjoy Chris’s excellent reviews and learn something new from them each time I read them and this one is no exception. It has also resulted in me rescuing my copy from the shelves for a reread!


The Thing at Black Hole Lake by Dashe Roberts – I enjoyed the BigWoof Conspiracy very much, an entertaining and amusing story and this sequel sounds to be just as good. In his review Chris Soul says “Sticky Pines is fast becoming that must-read series” so this is definitely book to look out for.

Zombierella by Joseph Coelho and Freya Hartas – one of the Just Imagine Summer School sessions this year looked at the influence of fairy tales and examined the reimagining of them in children’s literature. This great review by Mat Tobin has reminded me of that discussion. I think it is impossible to resist a book “that drips with cunningly dark imagery and design whilst managing, somehow, to include a lightness of touch and humour that will leave readers grinning.”

Well, I think that is it for this week. It’s been another busy one with yet more fabulous new books appearing for us to read, share and talk about. I hope that something in this compilation has piqued your interest. Happy reading!

Posted in Reading Matters Children’s Book News | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Anisha Accidental Detective: School’s Cancelled! by Serena Patel illustrated by Emma McCann

The second in this series sees science loving Anisha hoping to represent her school in the forthcoming science fair. However all does not go as planned and Anisha soon finds that her detective skills will be required to sort out the muddle. Full of humour, this fast paced story with its likeable lead is great fun for readers aged 8 plus.

Firstly, a confession, I have not read the first in the series and happily it did not affect my enjoyment at all, this book works well as a stand alone. However I feel sure that young readers would enjoy this so much they will want to read the first and indeed the third book, a taster of which is included in the final pages of School’s Cancelled!

In this sequel Anisha can’t wait to show off her volcano project at the science fair and, she hopes, maybe win the prize trip to the national space centre. But when the volcano explodes and floods the school, Anisha is disqualified. She knows that it wasn’t her fault so feels that this is unfair. Together with her best friend Milo, his pet rat, and a high-school vlogger she sets out to catch the true culprit. Interspersed with the mystery and the school setting is Anisha’s home life which adds so much to the enjoyment. The multi generational family, the forthcoming birthday celebrations for Grandma and the friction with newly acquired ‘cousins’ give the story an added depth. The reader feels immersed in and part of this bustling, warm and likeable family.

Serena Patel has drawn from her own experience to create this narrative and thus allow children to see themselves in an adventure that is accessible and enjoyable for all. This is not an issues driven drama but a highly amusing, kind story starring in Anisha a ten year old British Indian girl from a mixed Punjabi and Gujarat background. At a time when only 4 per cent of children’s books feature a character from a minority ethnic background this is vitally important. In addition I love the narration by Anisha as Serena Patel has, I think, captured the voice of a girl this age wonderfully well. I can hear children I have taught in her speech and manner and this makes the book feel believable and will do so for young readers too. In addition to being likeable and relatable Anisha is also an inspiring role model, an added bonus.

The book is illustrated throughout by Emma McCann and her entertaining and amusing touch adds to the overall enjoyment. The use of fonts, the helpful footnotes describing the different foods and the science experiment and recipe complete the package and make this even more inviting to children. Having read only good things about the first in the series I was hoping that this would be an enjoyable read. It was, very much so and I would recommend this to children aged 8 upwards. A lovely, happy book with a thoughtful message for its readers.

I should like to thank Fritha Lindqvist and Usborne Books for my review copy.

You may enjoy this interview with Serena Patel in the Federation of Children’s Book Groups website in which she explains how she became a published author.

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Branford Boase Award Winner 2020


The winners of this year’s award to the author and editor of the outstanding debut novel for children and young people has been announced by last year’s winner Muhammad Khan in an online ceremony. This year’s Branford Boase Award was presented to Liz Hyder and her editor Sarah Odedina for the powerful dystopian novel, Bearmouth published by Pushkin Children’s Books. In an exceptional year for debuts, Katya Balen and her editor Lucy Mackay-Sim were awarded Highly Commended for The Space We’re In.

Based on real-life stories of nineteenth century child miners, Bearmouth is set in a deep underground mine, and told in a distinctive dialect, invented by Hyder and maintained throughout. It was also named winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize Older Readers Category in July. Muhammad Khan says of the winning novel: “Bearmouth is a tour de force of a page turner with an intricate and stylised plot. Liz Hyder has created a gritty world for her hugely likeable protagonist, Newt, and a unique language which evolves as the exciting story unfolds. Original and unforgettable.

Chair of the judging panel and founder of the award, Julia Eccleshare, summarised the wining book’s appeal, “We all agreed that Bearmouth is the outstanding novel on the list, a hugely brave and impressive piece of writing, testament to the skill of both author and editor in successfully creating such characters and such a narrative. It’s a book that sends shivers down the spine, truly astounding.” 

Now in its twenty-first year, the Branford Boase Award was set up in memory of award-winning author Henrietta Branford and her editor Wendy Boase of Walker Books, who both died in 1999, and is unique in honouring editor as well as author. It is regarded as one of the most important awards in children’s books and has an impressive record in picking out star authors at the start of their careers. Previous winners include Meg Rosoff, Mal Peet, Siobhan Dowd, Marcus Sedgwick and Frances Hardinge.

Winning author, Liz Hyder says: “The Branford Boase Award is such a prestigious award and I love that it celebrates both editor and author. It was a true partnership to work with Sarah on Bearmouth. I learnt so much from her and can honestly say that the experience changed my life in so many ways.” This award highlights the importance of the editor and the special chemistry between the writer and editor that results in great fiction. This became more apparent during the interesting conversation following the presentation of the award. As Sarah Odedina says, “To win the award in partnership with an author confirms that this task of bringing stories to young readers is a work of collaboration and one that is most successful when author and editor listen to one another and enjoy the process of creating a novel.”

It is encouraging to note the quality of new fiction being published at present and as submissions in 2020 were particularly strong, the judges chose to award Highly Commended to Katya Balen and her editor Lucy Mackay-Smith for The Space We’re In, a moving story about a boy and his relationship with his younger brother, who is autistic. A book Muhammad Khan describes as, “An incredible first novel.”

I thoroughly enjoyed the online ceremony itself and the discussion between Muhammad Khan, his editor Lucy Pearse and judge, Sue Bastone was, I thought, illuminating. Muhammad described how his own experience informed the narrative of his prize winning novel, I am Thunder. As a teacher and then an author he felt it was important to capture the voices of the pupils he taught. His comment that “when you sideline and other a section of society you leave them vulnerable.” explains in part the inspiration for his story. I am Thunder is now being used as a school text opening up honest discussions about challenging subjects such as Islamophobia. Although progress has been made in recognising the problems there is still more to be done.

As Julia Eccleshare said during the ceremony the judges of this important award are “looking for a book that will touch a reader” and explain what is going on in the lives of children and young people. Long may this award continue to do so!

As well as encouraging publishers to find and promote new writers, the Award sets out to alert readers of all ages to the work of interesting newcomers. This is welcomed by all who enjoy reading books for children and young people and discovering new talent. Many congratulations to the winners and thanks to the organisers and the judging panel for making this possible. For more information about the award and the Henrietta Branford Writing Competition please visit the official website.

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To the Island by Patricia Forde illustrated by Nicola Bernardelli

This lyrical story by award winning author Patricia Forde accompanied by Nicola Bernadelli’s stunning illustrations is based on the mythical Irish island of Hy Brasil, which, according to tradition, lies off the west coast of Galway. The book was commissioned as part of the Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture programme and is also published in Irish by Little Island Books who have published this English edition. The legend of Hy Brasil describes how this beautiful island is said to appear just once every seven years with its next scheduled appearance due in 2020. Perfectly appropriate! 

The story with its magical quality and the illustrations showing familiar Galway scenes suffused with a golden glow combine in a beautiful book. A young girl named Fia, who lives in the town, gazes from her window hoping to spy the mysterious island which she so longs to visit. In the middle of the night she magically makes her way across the calm bay to discover a secret land where fabulous creatures live and enjoy the beautiful setting. To the Island has a fairy tale appeal that children will find engaging. 

On the first day of the blog tour organised by Little Island Books to celebrate the publication of this charming picture book I am delighted to share Patricia Forde‘s thoughts on the stunning illustrations by Nicola Bernadelli and the links to her home city. 


Nicola Bernardelli is Italian.  He has never been to Galway and yet his illustrations in To The Island perfectly capture not just the look of the old town but the atmosphere too. There is a stillness about his nightscapes in particular that resonates with me. I grew up on Market Street right in the heart of Galway city, only it wasn’t a city then, but a small sleepy town in the west of Ireland. Three stories up, in a house that was two hundred years old, was my bedroom.  The window with its deep window seat looked onto the street, and on a winter’s night, when I opened that window, there was a magical hush about the place. Nicola has captured that feeling, and I can feel that hush again in the spread where Fia is running through the streets in the moonlight.

In that same spread, you see the spire of The Collegiate Church of St Nicholas which dates back to 1320 and is the largest Medieval church still functioning in Ireland and is situated at in Lombard Street, down at the bottom of Market Street.

The church is dedicated to St Nicholas of Myra, patron saint of children and of sea farers. The bell ringers woke me every Sunday morning, the pealing bells competing with the seagulls, who are the soundtrack to Galway life. I grew up listening to stories about the church at the end of our street and indeed it had a long and interesting history. Christopher Columbus visited it on one of his unsuccessful attempts to get to the new world, and Cromwell’s soldiers galloped through it, beheading statues and leaving the track of the horses’ hooves on the stone floor.

In another spread, Fia runs down to the old stone arch before leaving for Hy Brasil. This is the famous Spanish Arch and Nicola captures it perfectly. In Irish it’s called The Blind Arch ( An Poirse Caoch) The arches date back to 1584 and were built as an extension to the 12th century Norman built wall built to keep out unfriendly visitors.


Galway is also a place of castles. I grew up near the most famous one – Lynch’s Castle. From our living room window we could see the remains of the old cobbled yard where once the horses of the castle were housed. The castle was owned by the Lynch family, and the first story I ever wrote, at about age ten, was inspired by the story of how Lynch hanged his own son. James Lynch Fitzstephen was Mayor of Galway in 1493 and he executed his hapless son after he murdered a Spanish sailor so bringing the term ‘lynching’ to the English language, according to folklore. The two men fell out over a beautiful girl and I wrote the story from her point of view.


On Quay Street, you can still see Blake’s Castle. It was built in 1470 by the Blake family who were said to be descended from one of the Knights of the Round Table. When I first read about that it sent me running to the library to read all about Arthur, Lancelot and the famous knights. In To The Island Fia passes it on her way back home.


I love Nicola’s illustrations and I think they breathe life into the story of Fia and Hy Brasil. We had been looking forward to welcoming Nicola to Galway in May for the launch of the book but unfortunately the pandemic put paid to that plan.  Hopefully he will get to see Galway in real life very soon.

Patricia Forde

Thank you very much to Patricia for sharing this fascinating insight. When next possible I would love to revisit Galway, a place I remember from my childhood.

To the Island is published on 10th September. Please do follow the rest of the blog tour to find out more about this special story.

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


Welcome to the first edition of Reading Matters for the new academic year and I hope it has been a restful summer despite the fact that this has been such a different one for us all. This weekly recap of some of the news, reviews and articles that I have enjoyed or found useful first started as my 2020 New Year resolution and no one is more surprised than me to find myself still compiling them in September. However as, despite everything, there is still children’s book news aplenty and better still a book loving community to share it with here is the latest offering. After a long gap this is bit of a bumper issue, so perhaps settle down with a cuppa and explore!

What I’m reading and what I read over the summer…

One rather special highlight of the summer was the online course run by Nikki Gamble and the Just Imagine team, Exploring Children’s Literature, when for one session per week for six weeks we looked at different aspects including, fairy tales, poetry, well being, taboo subjects, nonfiction and humour. This will be taking place again next year and I can wholeheartedly recommend it. Put a reminder in your diaries now! I am currently reading Nikki’s excellent book which is both fascinating and informative.

I have read a variety of books over the last few weeks and have enjoyed them all for differing reasons. After the War by Tom Palmer was a book I read at the end of July and has stayed in my memory since. Beautiful, thoughtful and respectful this is an important story and suitable for Year 6 and older. Many others have sung the praises of this special book over the last few weeks and I would urge you to read this if you have not already done so.

Freedom we Sing by Amyra Leon and Molly Menoza is a beautiful, vibrant picture book to empower and start conversations, perfect for assemblies or class discussions on human rights.

Amongst the other books I have read and enjoyed is The Midnight Library by Matt Haig which I felt lived up to the prepublication hype. The Unwinding by Jackie Morris is a soothing, uplifting and beautiful book to dip in to as needed; reading can be the best medicine at times. Sequin and Stitch by Laura Dockrill and Sara Ogilvie is another thoughtful children’s book published by Barrington Stoke and My Name is River would be excellent for Years 5 and 6 and links perfectly to studying the Rainforest. Among the many books being published this week is The Key to Finding Jack by Eva Jozefkowicz which is a mystery with a difference and a story I very much enjoyed.

Resources and news…

Reading for Pleasure – Resources to Help Children Enjoy Books at Home – when schools temporarily closed in March I compiled a list of resources to help schools and families at that time. Many of these links will still, I think, be useful so I am including them here in case they will help over the coming weeks.

The Literacy Calendar 2020 – 2021 – this wonderful and extremely helpful resource created by Sadie Phillips (Literacy with Miss P) was included in the last Reading Matters but I’m mentioning it again as it is so useful when planning for the coming academic year. It includes a mixture of writing and reading competitions, events, days, weeks, festivals and shadowing schemes suitable for primary pupils. It is available to download in both PDF and Word formats.

Reading is Magic Festival – Have you seen the amazing line up of bestselling authors & illustrators for the Reading is Magic Festival? Six days of FREE digital events designed especially for schools takes place 27 Sep to 2 Oct. You can find out more and sign up at the link above and there is a list of all the fabulous events here.

Children’s books roundup – the best new picture books and novels – I always enjoy these round ups by Imogen Russell Williams for the Guardian and this selection is just as tempting as usual.

MMS Publishers – this link takes you to excellent site featuring catalogues for the coming year from the likes of Lantana Publishing, Alana Max Books, Milet Publishers and more. Thank you to Mat Tobin for making me aware of this site.

Read Me a Story in Year 6: Tips for Reading Aloud – the third in a series of blogposts by teacher Ben Harris this is an excellent and encouraging guide for teachers and school librarians giving advice on how to make reading aloud work for you and the children. Part one with suggestions for books to read aloud in Year 6 can be found here and part two here. A brilliant and generous resource.

Love My Books Newsletter – the latest newsletter for parents and educators from this excellent reading charity is packed with information & ideas including simple ways to support children’s reading, new activity pages based on great books & challenging racism through children’s books.

Branford Boase Award 2020 Zoom Winners Announcement – This special event on 9th September celebrates the announcement of the winners of the 2020 Branford Boase Award for author and editor of the outstanding debut novel for children and to celebrate twenty years of this unique award. This special webinar will feature a discussion with 2019 winning author Muhammad Khan and his editor Lucy Pearse, followed by the announcement of the winners of the 2020 Branford Boase Award and a chance to put questions to them. The event will run on Zoom and is free but make sure you register for the event via the link.

Reading groups and the enabling adult – this informative blogpost on the Just Imagine website explores ways in which teachers can support reading in your classroom through their own reading practice.

September is World Kid Lit Month – this month we celebrate and promote world literature for children. We have the chance to explore the world through books for children and teens. Where will you travel to by book? This helpful website includes links to books by country and information about translated texts.

Qatar Foundation Read Alouds – this would be lovely to link to the World Kid Lit initiative. QFI is releasing read-alouds of various children’s books, working with authors, publishers, and writers from across the Arab world.

Tata Storytime – although mentioned in Reading Matters earlier in the year a reminder as you may be interested in using this YouTube channel to link to World Kid Lit Month. Tata Storytime is a new online kids show where fantastic actors read beautiful picture books. With Authors from African, Caribbean & African American heritage these stories will engage your children. Aimed at Pre-school to 8 year olds,

Top 50 Illustrators Borrowed from Public Libraries – this detailed and informative article by illustrator and author Sarah McIntyre is a must read for anyone interested in children’s books. The power of illustration to nurture readers is apparent to anyone involved in this area and this in-depth look at the current position is both fascinating and important.

CILIP Announces the Key Dates for the 2021 Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards – The key dates for #CKG21 are announced here alongside news of revised judging criteria for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal similar to that adopted for the Carnegie following the consultation after the Diversity Review.

The Boy Who Grew Dragons by Andy Shephard Authorfy Masterclass – this latest master class from the fabulous Authorfy team is wonderful. ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons’ is the perfect series for ages 7-9 and now you can discover where she got her inspiration from, how she plans her stories and more. It’s free to join Authorfy and they provide wonderful support and ideas for children, teachers and families.

First Issue of PaperBound Magazine – this looks great for use with secondary age pupils in particular. ‘A writing magazine for the young, and the young at heart. Our aim is to bring you useful writing advice, brilliant book recommendations, and get you writing creatively. Whether you are a young person, a parent, a teacher, librarian, someone who would like to write for young people or you just enjoy reading MG and YA fiction, we hope you find something useful within these pages.’

Why Sita Brahmachari wants you to discover the amazing history in your street – Sita Brahmachari’s new story When Secrets Set Sail is all about children discovering the hidden history of their home – and now she wants you to do the same. Read this article on the Book Trust website to find out more.

Mythical beasts roam the world of children’s books – a wonderful selection of new children’s books in this round up by James Lovegrove for the Financial Times.

Interview with Andre Reece, Editor of Books for Keeps – Books for Keeps has for many years been a magazine that have I found enormously helpful. Jake Hope’s interview with Andrea, editor since 2010 is lovely and an example of the positivity of children’s book enthusiasts. If you have not already discovered Books for Keeos I would highly recommend it.

Simon Smith’s Year 1 – Year 6 Picturebook Lists – last but most definitely not least I want to include these wonderful lists just in case there is anyone who has missed them. Fabulous books, old and new, compiled by a headteacher who loves them and loves sharing them.

Finally, some recent book reviews that caught my eye…

It is impossible to list all the fabulous books that have been published over the summer, particularly as this week has seen a surge of titles but these are just a few for a range of ages and tastes that may tempt.

Superheroes Don’t Get Scared…Or Do They? – by Kate Thompson, illustrated by Clare Elsom – as children all return to school with many of them having been exposed to worries and uncertainty in recent months this sounds like just the right type of book to reassure the youngest among them. You can find out more in this review by Jo Clarke.

Jumbo the Most Famous Elephant Who Ever Lived by Alexandra Stewart and Emily Sutton – picture book nonfiction is a wonderful way for children to learn and this beautiful book is an excellent example. In his helpful review teacher Paul Watson describes this ‘cracking read’ and provides suggestions as to how to use this book in the classroom.

Be an Artist Everyday by Susan Schwake and Charlotte Farmer – a pocket sized journal to prompt creativity with ideas, shape challenges and colour tests. In her review Louise Nettleton says, ‘This would be a lovely treat at the start of the new school year. It is no bigger than most notebooks and would slip nicely into a school bag for playtime or lunchbreak activities.’


Mason Mooney Paranormal Investigator by Seaerra Miller – my own knowledge of graphic novels is limited so I rely on the advice of others for recommendations. This great review by Mat Tobin provides a wonderful taste of what to expect from this one. ‘This is a beautifully presented debut, rich in humour and with a diverse cast.’ I’m now very much looking forward to reading this.

October, October by Katya Balen illustrated by Angela Harding – this is a lovely review by teacher Andrew Rough who describes the book as ‘a strong story about relationships and coming to terms with your place in the world’ and excellent for Upper Key Stage 2 (aged 8plus) Perfect for primary school libraries and classrooms and publishes on 17th September.

The Hungry Ghost – H.S. Norup – another lovely review! This time by Rich Simpson. I love the sound of this for Rich says, ‘This was a thrilling, exciting, thoughtful and moving story. It kept me gripped from start to end, desperate to find out more and have the secrets revealed.’ Published on 24th September and another for the shopping lists.

The Wanderer by Peter Van Den Ende – this looks simply stunning. A wordless picturebook that comes recommended by Mat Tobin is definitely going on my wish list and his beautiful review, ‘a ‘visual delight’ would be selling Peter Van Den Ende’s creation short.’, has convinced me to put this one near the top of that list.

The Girl Who Became a Tree by Joseph Coelho; illustrated by Kate Milner – this fabulous review by Ben Harris has persuaded me that I need to get a copy of this book which sounds both intriguing and remarkable. One for older readers of KS3 and above Ben has described this as ‘without doubt one of my books of the year’ which is good enough for me.

That’s all for this week. I do hope that this contains something of interest or a resource or idea that will be helpful. Have a happy weekend with some time for reading and warm good wishes for a happy and healthy Autumn term.

Next week I am taking part on the blog tour to celebrate the publication of To the Island by Patricia Forde illustrated by Nicola Bernardelli so do please look out for this to find out more.





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The Key to Finding Jack by Ewa Jozefkowicz cover illustration by Katy Riddell

Flick and her older brother Jack have a close bond, spending time together and sharing a love of solving riddles each evening. When Jack goes missing following an earthquake while on a gap year trip in Peru Flick is determined to follow the clues to find her beloved brother. Gradually she realises that perhaps the biggest mystery of all is the person you think you know the best.

Cover illustration by Katy Riddell



After Jack’s disappearance Flick discovers a tiny golden key left by her brother with a message mentioning an ‘SF’. As Flick follows the clues first to try and identify the mysterious SF and subsequently to find her missing brother she forms new friendships, is brought closer to a family member and learns much about the brother she thought she knew so well. Alongside her quest Flick is also writing her own mystery story at school and learning of the secret treasures from long ago in ancient Peru and these combine in a book that has strong themes of family, love and friendship.

This is such a clever and thoughtful book. I enjoyed trying to unravel the clues alongside Flick who is an immensely likeable character. The family relationships are depicted with warmth and understanding and these are good, kind people who may sometimes get things wrong. There are lessons here to be learned on the danger of making assumptions, of not allowing children the freedom to follow their own paths and passing judgement without truly knowing the people we are dealing with. Ewa Jozefkowicz‘s writing is filled with an understanding that encourages you to empathise with each of the characters. This would be a fabulous book to prompt discussion and I can see this working well with and being enjoyed by readers from Year 6 upwards.

If we have learned anything at all from 2020 it is not to take things for granted. Most especially not the people who matter to us the most. This is a mystery story with a difference. I loved the gradual development of the separate stories within the story and how they merged to create a whole that encourages the reader to think about the way in which we are connected to one another. Each life in a family and in a community touches others in ways that may not be immediately apparent as we rush around in a state of busyness. Acts of kindness may have lasting effects and create a web of unexpected events. Ewa Jozefkowicz has captured this beautifully.

I should like to thank Fritha Lindqvist and Zephyr Books for kindly providing my review copy.

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