The S.L.A. Information Book Award – a celebration of nonfiction for children

The eighth School Library Association Information Book Award ceremony took place at Carmelite House London, the home of Hachette Children’s Publishers on Wednesday 7th November. This annual event shines a light on the very best information books for children from the youngest readers to secondary pupils.


A few years ago when as a school librarian I bought factual books for the primary school library I was often asked why, ”when everything is on the internet now.” It has been fascinating to watch how children’s authors, illustrators and publishers have fought back against this trend and made today’s nonfiction books for children so engaging, informative and attractive. That ‘Facts Matter’ has been brought home to us all over the last couple of years and well written information books can be relied upon to provide children with facts they need on many different aspects of life.  This year’s wonderful shortlist contained books that dealt with wide ranging subjects including deafness, food, refugees, prejudice, science and dinosaurs. The judges had the unenviable task of selecting one winner in each category and an overall winner. There was also a children’s award winner for each age group and an overall winner.


For the Information Book Award 2018, the overall winner chosen by the judges was Look I’m a Scientist published by Dorling Kindersley; whilst the Children’s Choice overall winner was 100 Things You Should Know About Food published by Usborne and illustrated by Parko Polo and Mariani Federico


More about the winners in each age group category and further details of the background to the award can be found here 



It was heartening to attend an event where nonfiction books were celebrated with the enthusiasm and importance usually seen at fiction award ceremonies. All reading, both of fiction and non-fiction, is valuable and is how young readers are encouraged and created. The most important factor is that children are enjoying what they are reading and for many it is information books about a favourite subject that opens the door to the world of reading and the wide range of books available to them. As a former primary school librarian I believe that fiction and nonfiction work in tandem as a means to enable young people to learn about the world around them. Often a well written novel will prompt a child to try to find out more about a particular historical event, a far away country or a situation they have not experienced. It is then that a high quality factual book can fill in the gaps in their knowledge. At last night’s ceremony the author Nicola Morgan said that both fiction and nonfiction contain truths about our world that enable children and teens to learn more both about themselves and others. As librarians and teachers we frequently talk about how fiction encourages empathy but it is nonfiction that provides young people with the facts that support them in the use of empathy in today’s world.

I have watched children poring over information books together at lunchtime in the library and then sharing what they have learned with others. Sometimes an eager child would rush up to me clutching a book to say, “Mrs. T. Did you know….?”  That is the magic of an information book, that sudden spark of interest and understanding that with help could grow to become knowledge used to create, solve or assist.


A highlight of the evening on Wednesday was the presentation of the Hachette Children’s Group Award for Outstanding Contribution to Information Books to Nicola Morgan. Nicola’s books have been influential in helping children and teenagers learn how to cope with mental health issues and stress. Her work is greatly valued by secondary school librarians across the country. That this particular author received this award is an indication of how very important information books are to young people and not only for finding out facts but also for learning about themselves.

Information books provide children with a window to the wider world but also an insight into themselves and others. Definitely a cause for celebration.

This month is National Nonfiction November and if you would like to find out more the Federation of Children’s Book Groups have lots of details and resources on their website.


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The Carnegie Award Nominations – a quick look at the list

The nominations have been announced for two prestigious literary awards. The CILIP Carnegie Medal is awarded for an outstanding book written for children and young people and the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal is awarded for distinguished illustration. This year, 254 books have been nominated for the 2019 Medals; 137 books for the CILIP Carnegie Medal and 117 for the Kate Greenaway Medal. This year, in addition to CILIP members, those able to nominate included bodies such as, BookTrust, CLPE, Commonword, IBBY, Inclusive Minds, National Literacy Trust and RNIB.

Following controversy last year over the lack of BAME authors on the long lists a review was carried out by CILIP and an action plan implemented which included enhanced diversity training for the judges and an equality, diversity and inclusion advisory panel to support and advise on the Awards process. Initial reactions to the nominations would suggest, I think, that some progress has been made regarding this and there are also titles that are English translations.

The Carnegie Nominations

Each year I find that I have read more of the Greenaway list than the Carnegie. As a primary school librarian I have always tended to concentrate on picture books, younger and middle grade fiction and out of habit and sometimes preference that is what I continue to do. Therefore my assessment of the nomination lists will reflect that. It is wonderful to see such a wide range of titles nominated for the Carnegie this year and there are several that I have read and enjoyed very much. There are also many that I am now determined to move up my enormous reading pile to find out why they are highly regarded by others.

The full list can be viewed on the official website. Here is just a quick taste of some of my favourite books, not based on any judging criteria, but on my own enjoyment.

Moonrise by Sarah Crossan


Having said that I concentrate on middle grade fiction Sarah Crossan is a YA author that I always make an exception for. For me, she makes poetry accessible for all and her wonderful books always have an impact on the reader. I simply could not stop reading this until I finished it and read the book in one sitting. It is a remarkable, important and deeply affecting story.  If you read it I have a feeling you will never forget it. The story is a poignant examination of the death penalty and leaves the reader deeply affected by the loss and trauma experienced by the two brothers, Ed and Joe, around whom the story centres. If I was a betting type I would put money on Moonrise making it to the shortlist.

The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day by Christopher Edge

IMG_20180523_161915I love it when a book surprises me and this definitely did. This is a different but very satisfying read. The world of science combines with the unbreakable bonds of true family love in a well written story. The parallel timelines work brilliantly in my opinion and the reader is left guessing right until the end. Link to my review and teaching resources here.

The Goose Road by Rowena House


Historical fiction set in France during World War 1 this debut is beautifully told and provides a window on the lives of civilians living there at the time and how the war affected them.  I first met Angelique in the author’s short story for The War Girls collection and  loved and admired her persistence in that and again in this novel. The book tells the story of her epic journey across France in a desperate attempt to save the family farm for her brother who is fighting at the front.  Despite the sadness this is definitely a story of hope. It would be a great WW1 read for KS3 & mature YR6 readers too.

Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone

Sky Song coverI am delighted to see this book on the list. Having followed Abi’s progress from the early days of a proof copy of The Dream Snatcher I have seen the way in which her stories touch children.  Sky Song typifies why children’s books matter. Courage, kindness, acceptance & hope are wrapped up in a thrilling adventure. My favourite of all this author’s books so far. You can read my full review here.


Kick by Mitch Johnson

IMG_20180426_093829When I read this earlier this year I thought that it was an extremely impressive debut. It has at its heart a lead character with whom readers will readily engage. An important story told in an accessible way, endorsed by Amnesty International and is highly recommended for Yr6+.



As a lover of historical fiction for all ages I am so pleased to see Emma Carroll featured on the list. Not once but twice!

The Secret of the Sun King

91Ew9DtJNlLThis is an exciting adventure with heart bringing history to life for young readers. The two linked stories, one in 1920s London and the other in ancient Egypt, have themes that weave the two together in a satisfying whole. Friendship, secrets and efforts to correct past mistakes are part of an absorbing and well plotted adventure that moves at a pace sure to keep readers engrossed until the very last page. Here is a link to my review and some teaching resources.

Sky Chasers

Sky Chasers cover

I loved Sky Chasers. It is  fabulous fiction for children aged 8+ and is full of intrigue, thrills, bravery and loyalty. Set in 18th century France this is a period not often covered in fiction for this age group.  Historical events are made to feel fresh and relevant for today’s readers. You can find out more by reading my review.

There are many other wonderful titles that have been nominated and it is great to see a mix of established authors, previous winners and debuts from new voices too.

Among the many books that I hope to read before the long list is announced in February are Worry Angels by Sita Brahmachari and Jane Ray, Jelly by Jo Cotterill, Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay, The Muslims by Zanib Mian and The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf.

The judges have a staggering task with so many books to read before a long list can be produced. A huge thank you to them all for their time and commitment.







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The Kate Greenaway Nominations- a quick look at the list

The nominations have been announced for two prestigious literary awards. The CILIP Carnegie Medal is awarded for an outstanding book written for children and young people and the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal is awarded for distinguished illustration. This year, 254 books have been nominated for the 2019 Medals; 137 books for the CILIP Carnegie Medal and 117 for the Kate Greenaway Medal. This year, in addition to CILIP members, those able to nominate included bodies such as, BookTrust, CLPE, Commonword, IBBY, Inclusive Minds, National Literacy Trust and RNIB.

Following controversy last year over the lack of BAME authors on the long list a review was carried out by CILIP and an action plan implemented which included enhanced diversity training for the judges and an equality, diversity and inclusion advisory panel to support and advise on the Awards process. Initial reactions to the nominations would suggest, I think, that some progress has been made regarding this and there are also titles that are English translations.

So, the titles…so many of them this year. Happily, I have discovered that many of my favourites have made the lists and also many that I have intended to read but have not yet got round to doing so. This is one of the things I love about the nominations, they act as a prompt for me to both increase and broaden my reading of books for children and young people.

The Kate Greenaway Medal Nominations

The full list of titles can be seen on the official website. What a fabulous range of books are included; much loved favourites and previous winners such as Chris Riddell, Jon Klassen, Shirley Hughes, Anthony Browne, Mini Grey and Emily Gravett and newer but already much loved illustrators including, David Litchfield, Alex T Smith, Britta Teckentrup and Emily Sutton.

Although books are selected on the basis of fulfilling the award criteria rather than a book the judges have ‘loved’ I wanted to mention some on the list that have made an impression on me.

The Lost Words – Illustrator Jackie Morris, Author Robert McFarlane.

This remarkable, beautiful book probably 412tLlnwukL._SX357_BO1,204,203,200_needs no introduction such has been its impact. Nominated for both the Greenaway and the Carnegie awards this is truly a collaboration. A gloriously illustrated work of art, a collection of magic spells and most definitely a book to treasure this is a book for all ages and for all types. The Lost Words brings together poetic literature, fine art and a fascination with nature. Most importantly this is a book to share so that its message can grow, spread and work as its creators hope it will. I have written more about the background to this book here.

Mrs Noah’s Pockets – illustrator James Mayhew, Author Jackie Morris

s-l400 (1)

The heavy rains, Noah building his ark and the animals going in two by two to be saved. This most familiar of stories has been retold time and time again but not like this. This time there is twist and someone else quietly takes centre stage. When Mr Noah builds the ark, he makes two lists – one for all the animals who will come on board and one for those troublesome creatures he will leave behind. Meanwhile, Mrs Noah gets out her sewing machine and makes a coat with very deep pockets. Lots of pockets.

I loved this gorgeous story and Mrs Noah as a quiet rebel has become my heroine. The stunning illustrations bring the story to life in way that makes the reader want to linger on each page. Those familiar with James Mayhew’s work from his Katie and Ella Bella picture books will notice a difference, as for this collaboration he has adopted a dramatic new style using a different technique. This works beautifully in conjunction with the text. An absolute delight of a book

The Snow Lion Illustrator Richard Jones, Author Jim Helmore

the-snow-lion-9781471162237_hrCaro and her mother arrive at their new home in darkness. Once inside, the house is white, bare and empty. Caro wishes that she has someone to play with and feels a little lost and small. Then one day she hears a noise and a gentle voice asking to play. She has a new friend and a very special one. The Snow Lion has appeared as if by magic to help Caro learn how to make friends of her own and maybe find the courage she has been hiding inside.

What makes this book extra special is the way in which the text and illustrations work together. The darkness of the opening pages as Caro and her mother arrive in the night and then the stark whiteness of the house in the first days help to convey the feelings of the characters so well. When the lion arrives he stands out on a page of warm orange. The Snow Lion himself although kindly and reassuring has a quiet dignity and authority about him too; a little like a wise and thoughtful parent. As Caro grows in confidence the colour spreads through the house and it starts to feel more like a home. There are other subtle touches such as the toy lion clutched in Caro’s hand in one picture and the family cat mirroring the lion on one page too. As Caro plays happily with her friends the Snow Lion quietly disappears and we can just glimpse his tail as he goes upstairs.

This would be a wonderfully reassuring story to share with young children and not only those who are moving house. There are many situations when children can feel worried or scared and this beautiful book provides a gentle reminder that all you need to cope is a bit of kindness, a good friend and sometimes a little bit of courage too.

Here We Are Notes For Living On Planet Earth Illustrator and Author Oliver Jeffers

71WsprVp1jLA tender guide written to his newborn son to help him make sense of the world around him. This lovely book is also a short but thoughtful essay on what makes our global community work and would be treasured by older children and adults too. Gorgeous illustrations full of detail and double pages that you want to linger over and examine. It would be brilliant to use in primary school classrooms. My full review and links are here.

There are many other books on the list that I have enjoyed and would recommend including Space Tortoise by David Litchfield and Ross Montgomery, The Day War Came by Rebecca Cobb and Nicola Davies, Luna Loves Library Day by Fiona Chambers and Joseph Coelho, I Do Not Like Books Anymore by Daisy Hirst, The Grotlyn by Benji Davies and I want To Be In a Scary Story by Jean Julien and Sean Taylor to name just a few.

Top of my to read list prompted by the Greenaway nominations are: A Stone for Sacha by Aaron Becker, Ruby in The Ruins by Shirley Hughes, Up the Mountain by Marianne Dubuc and Sarah Ardizzone, La La La: A Story of Hope by Jaime Kim and Kate DiCamillo, You’re Safe With Me by Poonam Mistry and Chitra Soundar and Moon by Britta Teckentrup. That’s just the start!

So many fabulous books which we can read, share and discuss with young readers. I remain convinced that illustration is a vital part of children’s literature for all ages and am grateful that this annual event shines a light on the very best examples.  It is a daunting task for the judges to narrow these titles down and I am looking forward to seeing which books will make it to the long list that is due to be announced in February 2019.

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White Feather by Catherine and David MacPhail

This is a powerful story about the tragic impact of the First World War on both the soldiers who fought and the families that they left behind.


The war is over and the whole town is celebrating as the soldiers march past. They are home at last. Sixteen year old Tony watches the parade but does not join in the celebrations. His brother, Charlie, is not coming home. Tony’s mother has refused to accept that her older son has died and sits at home watching and waiting for him to walk through the door. She has lost a grip on reality and although physically there the mother he knows is gone, temporarily or possibly for good. Tony is grieving both for the loss of his brother and his mother. There is worse still for him to bear as his brother died in circumstances he finds difficult to believe.  As Tony leaves the town after the parade  his former teacher hands him a white feather, the symbol of cowardice. The feather was for his beloved and admired brother, Charlie.

This is a moving and at times shocking story of a young man’s attempts to clear his brother’s name. Tony is so distraught at the accusation against Charlie that he is prepared to go to extreme lengths to prove that his brother was not a traitor. As his quest continues and he gets ever closer to solving the mystery surrounding his brother’s death it becomes apparent that even those who Tony considers his enemy may be suffering from the horrors of this war too.

Mother and son duo Catherine and David MacPhail have created a book that will make young readers pause and think about aspects of World War One not always covered in children’s books and this would prompt much discussion in the classroom. Although as a reader we have great sympathy for Tony’s distress it is clear by the end of the story that everyone, in different ways, has been altered by the trauma of war. Although we never meet Charlie his voice is a strong one and in some ways speaks for the many other young men who lost their lives. Several different themes are touched upon in this short but gripping book including, grief, shell shock, trauma and loyalty.  I think that this book would be a valuable addition to school library or classroom shelves.

Thank you to the publishers, Barrington Stoke, for providing me with this review copy. As with all their titles White Feather is presented in a super readable style making it especially suitable for dyslexic, less confident or reluctant readers of about 9+ The book cover artwork and vignettes are by Mary Kate McDevitt 

If you would like a taste of the story the first chapter is available here. 

If you are looking for more titles linked to World War 1 I can highly recommend Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer also published by Barrington Stoke. Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey have created a wonderful series of picture books for children of all ages. These include Peace Lily told from the viewpoint of a young nurse and The Christmas Truce a poignant retelling of the famous events of Christmas 1914.




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Corey’s Rock by Sita Brahmachari and Jane Ray

This is a beautiful book about the transformative power of stories which will in turn be able to offer the gift of consolation and hope to its readers.


Isla and her Mum and Dad have moved to the Isles of Orkney following the death of Isla’s beloved five year old brother, Corey. Isla’s mother’s relatives are from the islands and her father is from Africa and the little family  had previously lived in Edinburgh. Ten year old Isla is struggling to cope with all the changes; adapting to country life after the city, a new school and classmates but, most importantly, with the loss of her little brother. It is the discovery of the ancient folklore of the Selkies that gradually opens the doors to recovery for Isla. She learns about these strange half human half seal people and the links to the sea that surround the islands. Slowly these stories provide the key to acceptance and the understanding that life will continue for Isla and her family.


This is a beautiful and profoundly moving story that as a reader provoked in me a feeling of stillness. The writing is almost poetic and the weaving together of the different strands is smoothly and skilfully done. Jane Ray’s simply beautiful illustrations are an integral part of the story. It was the wonderful cover that attracted me to the book initially. The family silhouetted against the horizon with the expanse of sea behind is both eye catching and moving. The love between the parents and the child is apparent and yet there is a feeling of sadness too. It made me want to find out more about these people. Throughout the book the illustrations highlight both the emotional impact and also the importance of the sea in the story. Personally I find the sight of the sea soothing and at times of grief or sorrow the expanse of ocean and its permanence can provide comfort. Jane Ray has captured this feeling perfectly. The colours convey both the sight of the sea and the warmth of the family home and the gradually lightening as the family start their recovery.


I liked the kindness shown by individuals in Isla’s recovery in particular the lovely librarians who lend her the selkie story initially and Magnus the thoughtful, gentle boy in her class who befriends Isla. There are many themes touched upon in this gentle book including home, family, loss, grief and the suffering of those fleeing their own homes and countries. The book has been endorsed by Amnesty International for illuminating human rights values.

Tenderly written and beautifully illustrated this story of grief, loss, acceptance and ultimately hope is a quiet but wonderful example of the power of stories. It would be a valuable addition to school library or classroom shelves where it would help children dealing with their own grief or help other children understand a classmate’s experience. It may help adults too.

This website provides details of the origins of selkie folklore which you may find interesting.




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The Ink House by Rory Dobner

Welcome to the Ink House, an artist’s mysterious mansion built on a magical lake of ink that inspires creativity in anyone who lives there. When the artist goes away on a trip an array of animals great and small venture into his home ready to prepare for the Annual Ink Extravaganza.

The Ink House

This eye catching book is quite difficult to put into a category. In a large format with its black cover and gold typeface it has an instant appeal and I immediately wanted to pick it up and examine it. The wonderful ink illustration of the artist’s mansion on the first pages has a gothic look to it with a slight fairy tale feel too. Each page introduces the different animals starting with Maestro the Mouse, the music maker, and Freddie Foxglove, the fox who acts as master of Ceremonies and then continues through the wide variety of friends. My personal favourite was Huxley, the body-surfing hedgehog!  Rory Dobner is an artist and product designer and his beautiful illustrations are intricate and detailed. Some pages have a dramatic impact and I thought the procession of silhouettes as the animals departed was beautiful.


This striking book is primarily a work of art. There is a lack of narrative with the text being a description of the animal guests or maybe I should more accurately describe them as gatecrashers or squatters! This lack of storyline may be an issue for some but I do think that children will enjoy examining the wonderful illustrations. Perhaps they will also be inspired to be creative and use the pictures as an inspiration to design their own party guests.

Maybe we don’t need to be able to assign a particular label to a book but it does help to be able to identify its core market. Personally I think this is a book that will appeal to older children and adults too and its beautiful appearance ensures it will probably be bought as a gift.


Rory Dobner has also created a range of homeware featuring the Ink House animals. There is more information about this and his other artistic creations on his website.

Thank you to the publisher, Laurence King Publishing for providing my review copy.

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The Lost Magician by Piers Torday

When I was about eight or nine years old I was given the book  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a present. It was the book that turned me into ”a reader”. For the first time I felt a sense of shock and disbelief at events told by the author and I truly cared about and identified with the characters. I later re-read the story at different points in my childhood with a greater understanding of its meaning and it is, of course, a book mentioned by many adults as a childhood favourite. The story had a great impact on Piers Torday and such was its effect that he has now written his own book, The Lost Magician, in homage to the C S Lewis classic.


In view of my own relationship with and memories of the Narnia chronicles I approached this new story with a mixture of excitement and slight trepidation. I need not have worried. Piers Torday has captured what made The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe so special and created in this new exciting, thoughtful and wise story a celebration of reading, books, libraries and the power of the imagination.

Library Rule No. 1 ”If you can imagine it, it must exist. Somewhere.”

We meet the four children, Simon, Patricia, Evelyn and Larry in 1945 as they arrive at the home of Professor Diana Kelly where they are to spend the summer holidays while their parents cope with the aftermath of the Blitz and find a new home for them all. Once there first Larry and then the other children in turn find a mysterious secret Library door through which they reach the magical world of Folio. Those who live in this kingdom, The Reads made up of talking bears, miniature knights and other characters familiar from fairy tales, stories and legends are in an eternal battle with The UnReads an army of metallic robots lead by a Queen made of glass through which columns of numbers shine.  The children find themselves caught up in this conflict and their only hope of resolving the situation is to find the creator of this world,  a magician called The Librarian who has been lost for centuries.

This outline of the plot sounds familiar and yet as you read you discover so much more and gradually the relevance to our modern world becomes apparent. The battle between the inhabitants of Folio could be described as a conflict between facts or knowledge and the world of the imagination. There is another element to this magical world that terrifies all who live there, the Never Reads, representing ignorance. As the children’s quest continues they and the reader discover some important truths about both themselves and the world.

The characters of the four children are wonderfully drawn and young readers will find much to identify with in their different personalities. Each of them has been affected by the trauma of war and in their individual ways are trying to cope with its impact on them. Larry the youngest, always clutching his beloved Grey Bear, has an instant appeal having an open, gentle and trusting manner. His belief in the magic of stories and imagination is the driving force beneath all that takes places.  I like to imagine him becoming a children’s author eventually! Evie is the child possibly most traumatised by her war experiences and this manifests itself in a determination to discover the truth behind everything. She feels she has been fobbed off by stories and now questions and wants answers. Patricia, a sensible and thoughtful girl, has been forced to grow up too quickly and in some ways takes on a maternal role with her siblings. Simon is a very interesting character who, although at times hard to warm to, is hiding his own feelings of inadequacy. A young man desperate to live up to his father’s expectations and experiences but struggling to know how to do so. It is a thoughtful touch to make it clear that Simon is dyslexic too, reinforcing the message that stories are for everyone even if you don’t find it easy to read them yourself.

It is hard to describe more of the story without giving spoilers but this is, like its inspiration, a book that can be read on many levels. After the scene setting opening the excitement mounts at a great pace and the story telling and world creation is wonderful. I really could see the beautiful valleys, the great plains and the forbidding mountains. I loved all the moments of recognition of old friends from other stories of which there are many. The most obvious being Larry and his dear friend bear bumping along behind him and the three talking bears who provided wonderful porridge for the children. There are moments where I relived episodes from my beloved Narnia but this never felt like a replication more a gentle reminder of previous wonders.

This is a cracking adventure that children will enjoy but they will then go away and ponder and remember. It is then that the magic of the storytelling by Piers Torday, a magician himself, will make them realise what they have learned. The readers will learn that although we need information and knowledge we need stories to help us make sense of them. We need previous experience found in stories and history to help us make decisions and avoid making the same mistakes. Perhaps also we need to learn not to be arguing amongst ourselves and instead work together against a common enemy.

I loved this book and will undoubtedly return to it. It is a story that makes you think, makes you care and makes you imagine. Perhaps best of all it is a story that speaks to the nine year old inside us all.  I suspect that in years to come today’s children will look back at this wonderful story as one that made them ”readers” too. The satisfying ending reveals that there will be further adventures in the land of Folio and I am very much looking forward to being part of them.

Lastly, the wonderful cover illustration by Ben Mantle is simply perfect for the story.


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The School Librarian of the Year Award – a celebration of superheroes

On Tuesday 9th October the School Librarian of the Year award ceremony took place in the Judge’s Court above Brown’s Restaurant, Covent Garden. Librarians, authors and members of the children’s books community gathered together to celebrate the wonderful work carried out by some remarkable school librarians.


The four Honour Award Librarians, Emma Suffield, Alison Kennedy, Dr. Cchavi Jain and Nicki Cleveland with author Lauren St John

The very best librarians are those that meet the needs of their community and this is particularly obvious in the work done by school librarians. Their role is a unique one being a blend of both academic and pastoral and also catering for every single pupil within their school. At the moment I am reading The Lost Magician by Piers Torday and in the opening chapters he says this about librarians:

Although, Evie supposed a librarian was kind of halfway between a parent and a teacher.”

I was reminded of this during the presentations for all four of the outstanding librarians on this year’s Honour List. The schools they work in are very different to each other, an international school in India, a Lancashire C of E Academy, an independent boarding and day school for girls and a state primary school. This illustrated perfectly the range of skills required of today’s librarians. However there was a common thread running through the comments made by both the pupils and staff at these schools. The libraries were welcoming places where people felt safe and happy.  At one of the schools pupils said the library was “exciting” and “felt like home.” That’s a tricky combination to pull off successfully and yet the librarian had managed to do it. Both teachers and pupils discussed how the librarians acted as a mentor, supporter and almost as a friend. In addition to teaching how to access information successfully and use it productively, encourage reading for pleasure and nurture readers who enjoy a wide range of fiction these librarians were guiding pupils over career choices, exam technique and life’s everyday problems.

Emma Suffield, winner of this year’s School Librarian of the Year Award, encompasses all of these skills in her role as Learning Resources Centre Manager at St Wilfred’s C of E Academy in Blackburn. She is viewed as both a friend and member of the family by both pupils and parents. Emma has a creative and positive approach to her work that has made a big impact on her school in her time there. Incredibly she has achieved a 450% increase in book borrowing since she took over four years ago.


Emma Suffield School Librarian of the Year 2018

Children’s author Lauren St John presented Emma with her award and in her speech beforehand Lauren stressed the importance of libraries and librarians. She said that she had read research that stated that “reading is training in the art of being human.” Libraries and librarians enable access to books and reading for all regardless of income or situation.  Lauren St John said that she was blown away by the standard of the  librarians on this year’s Honours List. She went on to describe librarians as “superheroes” and “particularly now in our world when many people in power don’t realise the importance of libraries.”

In his closing remarks, Alec Williams former chair of the School Library Association, said that there is so much more to the role of school librarians than the traditional image. He mentioned the growth in creative use of social media by school librarians, particularly in engaging children with authors. This was particularly evident in the primary school, I thought, with pupils saying they had met authors they had never heard of but loved their books.

All four of the school librarians being honoured are wonderful ambassadors for their profession. In her lovely acceptance speech Emma Suffield thanked last year’s winner, Lucas Maxwell for his help, support and sharing of ideas. Emma has already started to do the same via Twitter and I am excited to see what the coming year holds for Emma and the #GreatSchoolLibraries campaign for which she, and the other three librarians, are such an excellent advert.


A chapter of School Librarians of the Year past and present, Lucas Maxwell, Emma Suffield, Amy McKay and John Iona

The Great School Libraries Campaign is a joint campaign officially launched last month by the School Library Association (SLA) and CILIP School Libraries Group (SLG) campaign supported by CILIP to ensure that every child has access to a great school library.

For news, information and downloadable resources please visit the dedicated website for the campaign

Please do support this very important campaign. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all children had the opportunity to have school librarians such as those celebrated at this happy occasion

Thank you very much to Alison Tarrant, CEO of the School Library Association for inviting me to the ceremony, it was a delight to be part of such a special afternoon.



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Perfect Picture Books for Libraries Week

Libraries Week takes place between the 8–13 October to celebrate the nation’s much-loved libraries.
This year, with a focus on well being libraries across the country will showcase how they bring communities together, combat loneliness, provide a space for reading and creativity and support people with their mental health.It’s not just public libraries – libraries of all kinds in schools, workplaces and universities have amazing services that improve our wellbeing.

Picture books are a wonderful way of sharing and celebrating all that libraries do to make children’s lives better. Here are a few that have been enjoyed by young listeners in the school library over the years. I hope they work their magic for you too.

Madeline Finn and The Library Dog by Lisa Papp.

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

516bJ6hobcL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Madeline Finn does NOT like to read. But she DOES want a gold star from her teacher. But, stars are for good readers. Stars are for understanding words, and for saying them out loud. 
Fortunately, Madeline Finn meets Bonnie, a library dog. Reading out loud to Bonnie isn’t so bad; when Madeline Finn gets stuck, Bonnie doesn’t mind. As it turns out, it’s fun to read when you’re not afraid of making mistakes. Bonnie teaches Madeline Finn that it’s okay to go slow. And to keep trying. 

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

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

A1zojB6zoDLWhen Bear reluctantly agrees to go with his friend, Mouse, to the big library, neither rocket ships nor wooden canoes are enough for Bear’s picky tastes. How will Mouse ever find the perfect book for Bear?

The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara

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

61IhboR+pLLWhen we are fast asleep in bed, the Midnight Library opens its doors to all the night-time animals. Inside the library the little librarian and her three assistant owls help each and every animal to find the perfect book. But with a noisy squirrel band, an upset wolf and a slow-reading tortoise to help, they could all be in for a very busy night.

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

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

61pVNjnHxjL._AC_SY400_Rapunzel sits on the sixteenth floor of an inner city block, bored, dreaming and looking out at the rain.  No one can rouse her from her apathy, not the milkman or the postman or the baker or her aunt – or even the prince. But when at last a letter is delivered, it contains news that has Rapunzel on her feet again. She has a new job at the library! And suddenly her life is busy, sparkling, exciting and stimulating.

Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar by Emily Mackenzie

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

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

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

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Secrets of a Sun King by Emma Carroll – Review and Link to Resources

Five years ago this month I reviewed Emma Carroll’s debut novel Frost Hollow Hall for The Bookbag. At the time I said that the ten year old me would have loved the book. Each of her subsequent novels has reminded me why I enjoyed as a child, and continue to enjoy, historical fiction. This latest title, both an exciting adventure and a window to long ago worlds is sure to hook young readers and encourage them to explore history further.


When Lilian Kaye finds a parcel on her grandad’s doorstep, she is shocked to see who sent it: a famous Egyptologist who had been found dead in mysterious circumstances and is the subject of the newspaper headlines that day.

Lil’s Grandad tells her that the mysterious package holds the key to a story. A story of secrets and wrongs that must be put right in order to break the deadly curse. So Lil and her friends, Tulip and Oz embark on an incredible journey – to return the package to its proper resting place, to protect those they love, and to break the deadly pharaoh’s curse.

Tutankhamen’s story has great appeal for both adults and children and Emma Carroll has captured that feeling of mystery and lost youth perfectly. The long lost writings describing the last days of this famous pharoah starkly bring home how young he was and this will undoubtedly add to the appeal to today’s children. The two stories, one in 1920s London and the other in ancient Egypt, have themes that weave the two together in a satisfying whole. Friendship, secrets and efforts to correct past mistakes are part of an exciting and well plotted adventure that moves at a pace sure to keep readers engrossed until the very last page.

Lil is a strong yet very likeable character and both she and Tulip supported by Tulip’s mother and, surprisingly to me, Lil’s father are feminist role models. This is also a book were diversity is recognised in a subtle and at times almost incidental way which, I think, normalises acceptance of differences. A lovely and thoughtful touch. There is mention too of the attitudes of many in 1920s England to other countries and peoples which would prompt interesting discussion and comparison to our world today.

This book has caused an excited buzz among primary school teachers and I can well understand why. It would work brilliantly as a class read linked to Ancient Egyptians. However, it certainly qualifies for a place on primary school library and classroom shelves even if this is not a topic being studied as it is an adventure with heart that can most definitely be enjoyed for its own sake. Emma Carroll, Queen of Historical fiction for children? Yes, I think so!

If you are looking for teaching resources linked to the novel Faber Publishers have some excellent ones free to download on their website

The websites listed below have information on Ancient Egypt presented in a child friendly way. Just click on the images to access the sites…


Children's university of manchester

Finally the excellent Books for Topics website has a list of books, both fiction and non-fiction, related to Ancient Egypt that children will find both interesting and informative.

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