20 Books of Summer 2020

Cathy at 746 Books is hosting her 20 Books of Summer reading challenge again this year. Last year was the first time that I have participated and unfortunately I failed miserably to read the twenty books on my original list. I think I managed nine. However, undeterred, I have decided to have another try! Cathy does, thank goodness, have a very relaxed approach to this “challenge” so I have succumbed. Although I seriously doubt I will manage twenty books between now and 3rd September I thought it may prompt me to tackle my toppling to be read book mountains. According to Cathy I can reduce the number if I wish to and may alter the list if I fancy too. This sounds appealing! I do know of other online book pals who are taking part which I think will encourage me in my attempt.



Due to my various reviewing commitments, chiefly for children’s books, the time available for reading simply for my own pleasure has diminished. Although I greatly enjoy the children’s books I review it will be refreshing to have complete freedom of choice. We all know how vital personal choice is for nurturing reading for pleasure in children so I am going to adopt the same approach for my own reading.  I had hoped that the Coronavirus pandemic restrictions would result in my reading more but I flit about from one disturbing news report to another instead. Having a list of titles will, I hope, encourage me to focus. So here goes…my #20BooksofSummer20 list. Perhaps you would like to read some of these too?

1. Can You See Me by Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott – this book is on this year’s Empathy Collection booklist for children. As Empathy Day takes place on 9th June and we are at present living in a world desperately in need of greater empathy this, I thought, was a good place to start.

The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick – the idea of a story with a librarian at the heart of it and a plot description that reads, “a librarian’s discovery of a mysterious book sparks the journey of a lifetime” was enough to persuade me to borrow this e-book from my own local library and I am looking forward to a cheerful escape. 

3. The Boy Who Dreamed of Dragons by Andy Shepherd 

4 . My Name is River by Emma Rea 

5. The Ghost Garden by Emma Carroll

These three books are all copies that I have received for review from children’s publishers. Andy Shepherd’s book is the latest in a popular young middle grade series combining a magical introduction to fantasy with a kind and gentle look at family life. Emma Rea’s new book,  My Name is River, is an adventure set in the Brazilian rainforest which does sound to have great child appeal. I always enjoy Emma Carroll’s historical fiction for children and am looking forward to her first novella for Barrington Stoke.

6. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – this was given to me by a friend who said she thought it was “my sort of book.” It has languished on my bookshelf for ages. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2015 I really have no excuses for not getting round to reading it.

7. On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

8. Toffee by Sarah Crossan.

Two teen/YA novels that are shortlisted for awards. Angie Thomas won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize in 2016 for The Hate U Give and On the Come Up is shortlisted for the Carnegie Award this year. This will be the first of her novels that I have read and I’m fascinated to see what I think of it. From The Weight of Water onwards I have enjoyed Sarah Crossan’s verse novels. Despite the fact that her writing is more suitable for an older audience than the primary school readers with whom I used to work I have always made time to read her books. Toffee is shortlisted for the UKLA Book Award and I am very much looking forward to reading it.


9. Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker – several people whose judgement I value have recommended this children’s book on Twitter so I could not resist the temptation to buy a copy.

10. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – another that has languished on my shelves for far too long. This story within a story holds great appeal and is another that is linked to books and the doors which they open to other lives, places and times.

11. The Old Ways – Robert MacFarlane – This is cheating a little as I have started reading this beautiful book but had to put it to one side due to other commitments. During the lockdown I have spent time walking in our local woods and the idea of history hidden in our footpaths and lanes is, for me, a comforting one. 

12. High Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson

13. Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange

14. Where the River Runs Gold by Sita Brahmachari 

These are three children’s books that have been neglected  due to being my personal reading choices and having to take second place to those I am reviewing in time for publication dates. Sharna Jackson’s book is published by Knights Of, a small publisher doing big, brilliant things and I have wanted to read this for ages. Lucy Strange’s debut, The Secret of Nightingale Wood, was the sort of book that I loved as a child and still do now. I am looking forward to reading her second title. Corey’s Rock written by Sita Brahmachari and illustrated by Jane Ray prompted me to buy her novel for older children last year and is another I am hoping to make time for.


15. The Phone Box at the End of the World by Laura Imai Messina translated by Lucy Rand – this was an impulse download from NetGalley and it was the descriptions of the hopeful nature of the story that attracted me. It is due to be published this month.

16 The Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool – winner of the Newbery Award in 2011 this novel has parallels with our world at the moment and I approach this one with a little trepidation. Will it reassure? I do hope so.

The following books are all childhood or teen treasures rescued from my parents’ house or second hand book finds from over the years. Each in their own way is important to me and I have added them to my list with a slight anxiety as to what I will make of them now.

17. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

18. Little Men by Louisa M Alcott

19. Our Friend Jennings by Anthony Buckeridge

20.  Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper 

Well, these are my twenty books. Will I change some? Yes, quite possibly but I do intend to try and keep to the original choices if possible. Even if I only manage to read a few books over the period it will be a valuable exercise in focusing on books I already own. The problem is going to be resisting my natural inclination to add to my collection. There are so many fabulous books being recommended to me at the moment I will undoubtedly be tempted but I am aware that this results in some older and just as fabulous books being neglected. Hence these unread beauties. #20BooksofSummer is a lovely idea and I am looking forward to taking part. I hope to post regular updates on my progress.





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

Hello and welcome to this week’s look back at the latest children’s book news. This is attempt number two so I have everything crossed that someone somewhere is able to read this! Sometimes there are occasions when I wish that I could escape to the imaginary worlds I read about and this has been one of those weeks. If you fancy escaping too I do hope that you find an article or book  here that helps you do just that.

What I’ve been reading…


This week I read Cloud Boy by Marcia Williams a very different story to those with which I usually associate this award winning author. You may well be familiar with her popular comic format books such as Bravo Mr William Shakespeare and Hooray for Women or her wonderful journal style story My War Diary by Flossie Albright. This is her first novel for a middle grade audience and it is a story of friendship, loyalty, loss and courage told by a believable main character. It’s accessible but its innocent narration deals with deep emotions. I will try and post a review in the coming days.

Two wonderful picture books landed on my doormat this week. Bloom by Anne Booth and Robyn Wilson-Owen and Perdu by Richard Jones. I loved them both and you can find out why here.

News and resources…

Not reopening but blooming: picturebooks for new beginnings – this is a beautiful and reassuring blog post by Martin Galway, of Herts for Learning Primary English, about picture books full of hope. If you only have time to read one item I share this week please make it this one.

From Harry Potter at Home to the National Shelf Service: bookish fun for the lockdown – An updating list of online treats for bibliophiles of all ages, including Hogwarts quizzes, Simon Armitage and a star-packed reading of James and the Giant Peach.

J.K. Rowling Introduces The Ickabog – speaking of Harry Potter…here is his creator’s latest offering for children. The Ickabog was written as a read-aloud book but it’s suitable for 7-9 year olds to read to themselves. J K Rowling is posting a chapter (or two, or three) every weekday between 26th May and 10th July on the website and asking children to provide illustrations of the characters to be share on social media. 

Mrs Noah’s Garden: An interview with James Mayhew – this beautiful sequel to Mrs Noah’s Pockets was published by Otter-BarryBooks on 21st May. Illustrator James Mayhew discusses working with author Jackie Morris on this book, their latest joint venture, on the Reading Realm website.


Choose Bookshops! The Lockdown KidsLit Band – independent bookshops are in a precarious situation due to the Coronavirus pandemic.  Children author Gareth P Jones wanted to find a way to get the message out so he put a call out for other children’s authors to contribute to a song to promote the #ChooseBookshops campaign. Have a lovely day! 

We Found a Hat | Free Performance for Children – Watch Ian Nicholson, Samuel Wilde and Jim Whitcher’s puppet-filled adaptation of ‘We Found a Hat’, the final instalment in Jon Klassen’s ‘Hat’ series by The Little A Theatre. This is an absolute treat.

Minerva Reads: Storytelling Specifically – an interesting blogpost by Clare Zinkin about the power of storytelling to give truth to the world outside.

Five ways to give children access to stories and reading material during lockdown – to support reading at home Alison Leach of Books for Topics has put together a list of the best places to access free children’s reading materials, from phonic readers and online comics to read-alongs and full length chapter books.

P is for Pandemic: kids’ books about coronavirus – article in The Conversation providing information about books which explore practical ways young children can avoid infection and transmission, and provide strategies parents can use to help children cope with anxiety. 

‘Time and time again’: Tom’s Midnight Garden and the Temporality of Lockdown – I was going to write about the experience of rereading time slip children’s novels during the lockdown and how affecting and reassuring I found the experience. Stella Pryce has written about it so beautifully I suggest you read this instead. Just like the books I think I’m going to have to keep rereading this too.

Top 100 Recommended Reads for Year 1 – Scott Evans, The Reader Teacher, has been busy again! This time he has updated his suggested book list for Year 1. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, picture books, chapter books, classics & newly published titles too. Complete with printable display posters & checklists to use in the classroom.

Further Fabulous First Chapter Books – Jo Cummins has provided a selection of wonderful books for readers who are looking for some that’s still highly-illustrated and engaging, but also a little wordier.

Where the World Turns Wild: Lockdown Reading for Anxious Children – this is a thoughtful article by Imogen Russell Williams discussing books ranging from classics to newly published titles that will console and encourage young readers.

40 Picture Books to Share with children who are returning to school this June – another helpful resource from Alison at Books for Topics, she has created lists of suggestions grouped into themes of worry, resilience, bereavement, happiness, following rules, fear, hope etc.


Letters from Lockdown – The Children’s Book Show has had to postpone their annual  programme of theatre performances and in-school workshops. Instead they have invited artists to write a short letter to be shared with classes online or via social media, to inspire them to write their own lockdown letter. These are lovely; beautiful to look at and to read.

YA Book Prize 2020 – Congratulations to the winner of the YA Book Prize 2020 ⁠— Meat Market by Juno Dawson. Find out more about Meat Market and the rest of the books on the 2020 shortlist and read free extracts of all of them and check out the Q&As with all of the shortlisted authors.

Prestigious national appointment for Professor Teresa Cremin– huge congratulations to TeresaCremin on being appointed Reading Expert for the English Hubs Council. Her role will be to help inform their programmes to improve the teaching of language and literacy to young children in England.  

Empathy Shorts – Empathy Day takes place on 9th June and Empathy Lab have ensured that children will have access to an empathy boosting story on the day by asking eight leading authors to write eight brand new stories. These include Jo Cotterill, Bali Rai and Gill Lewis.

A Monster Calls – Bristol Old Vic have teamed up with The Old Vic to bring A Monster Calls to the comfort of your own home. Adapted from the critically acclaimed bestseller by Patrick Ness, and directed by Sally Cookson (Peter Pan, La Strada), this Olivier Award-winning production of A Monster Calls offers a dazzling insight into love, life and healing.  It will be streamed live on Friday 5th June at 7pm and will be available for one week afterwards. Thank you to Mat Tobin for making me aware of this or I would have missed this exciting news.

Klaus Flugge: Pam Smy on finding an original voice in illustration – this guest post for Just Imagine  by Pam Smy lecturer with the Cambridge School of Art at Anglia Ruskin University provides an insight into the world of illustration and the pressures that may be experienced by illustrators.

Finally some book reviews that caught my eye this week...

Orphans of the Tide by Struan Murray – this review by Sam Creighton for Just Imagine has persuaded me that this is another that needs to go on my shopping list. In summary he says’  “the book, which perfectly sets up an already promised sequel, is a powerful mix of excitement and substance and deserves to be a staple text on every UKS2 bookshelf.”

Young Fiction Reads – a fabulous selection of  Jo Clarke’s favourite recent releases all guaranteed to enthral and entertain children. A mix of witches, monsters, vampires, zombies, dragons and ghouls so something for every possible taste.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson – ‘An addictive, clever YA crime thriller with a loveable female protagonist. Full of shocking twists and turns and set against the backdrop of modern teenage life.’ says Olivia Mitchell in her excellent review for The Bookbag.

Well that’s all for this week. I think! Rather a lot of reading matter but I do hope that there is something here that appeals to you. I hope you have a lovely weekend and happy reading.


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Hope and Kindness for our Youngest Readers

This week two rather special picture books landed on my doormat. Their arrival was timely. On Monday some of our youngest children will return to their schools for the first time in many weeks. Their classrooms will look different, school life will have altered and their experiences over the last two months or so may have been unsettling. Teachers face the task of reassuring their small pupils and providing a sense of security for them. Picture books can help. Especially picture books that radiate kindness and hope. Bloom and Perdu are very different stories and yet they both feature a small child who makes a difference. Not by slaying dragons or defeating villains, or with magic or secret powers. These two little girls change lives by being kind. These hopeful, reassuring books empower little ones as they listen or read. They see that even the smallest voices can make a big difference when they are used to be kind. A valuable message for them in the world today. 

Bloom written by Anne Booth and illustrated by Robyn Wilson- Owen 

‘Good morning, beautiful flower’ she would say. ‘I think you’re wonderful. Thank you for being here for us. I love you.’

Each day a little girl admires a pretty flower that flourishes in a garden she passes on the way to school. She talks to it and appreciates its beauty; every morning it cheers her as she walks past. Unfortunately the man who lives in the house is possessive of his garden and shouts angrily at the small girl to stay away. Over the coming days without the little girl’s visits the flower droops and its beautiful petals no longer open. The furious man tries everything. He tells the flower how lucky it is, how important he is, he waters it and instructs it to grow however despite all his efforts the flower continues to pine. He has run out of ideas so perhaps the little girl can help him?


Text and illustrations combine in this thoughtful picture book to convey ideas and themes that matter. The child in her joyful innocent way appreciates the things about her that bring her happiness and she displays this appreciation in her behaviour and attitudes. The old gentleman is unable to do this. Materially he has more than the little girl and her family and yet he does not lead a happy life. The illustrations highlight this difference. On opposite pages we can observe as the girl, her brother and mother share meals together in the kitchen of their flat while the man meanwhile sits alone at a big table with people serving his meals. The children enjoy colouring together while the man leads a solitary, unhappy life complaining about others in his large house. Finally when he asks the little girl for her advice he discovers what a little kindness can achieve.

This is a lovely story tenderly told which ensures young children will be comforted and reassured. More perceptive children may ask why the old man is so grumpy and this could be an excellent prompt for further discussion. Sometimes we all need a small reminder of what matters most in life and Bloom confirms for us the importance of appreciating what we have, sharing our good fortune with others and showing kindness even to those who may not be kind to us, These can be difficult lessons to learn sometimes but this gorgeous story encourages readers to nurture one another.

Bloom is published by Tiny Owl Books on 11th June and this celebration of optimism and kindness is perfect for sharing with young children at the moment.

Perdu by Richard Jones 

“I must find my place thought Perdu. I must find my somewhere” 

Perdu, the little lost dog is all alone with no place to call home. Captivated by a fluttering leaf that floats down the stream alongside him he follows it in the hope that he will find ‘a place to be’. We follow his journey as he travels through forests and fields, the stream gradually becomes a river and he slowly makes his way to the large city in the distance. Poor Perdu finds the city a busy, noisy, scary place when you are feeling lost and small. But the observant reader may already realise that someone has noticed him and that this particular someone cares. 

This is the first picture book that Richard Jones has both written and illustrated and it is a gem. The text captures the sights and sounds of Perdu’s journey beautifully; “the grass was cold beneath his paws”, the leaf  “landed with a whispery tap on the water”, “tip, tip, tip, tip, tip, tip, tip, tip went his claws on the concrete”. The writing draws attention to the aspects of city life a small dog would notice such as the smells, the loud noises and the feel of things against him. It is beautifully done.

Although Perdu is growing increasingly anxious the reader may have noticed the small girl watching the little dog. Her red woolly hat matching Perdu’s beloved red neckerchief. I don’t think I am spoiling things by saying yes, there is a happy ending. When their paths cross the little girl speaks ‘softly’ and looks at Perdu with ‘kind eyes’. All will be well! 

The illustrations are beautiful with gentle colours and are a perfect match for the story. Richard Jones conveys Perdu’s emotions in the small but determined figure trotting along through the fields and in the droop of his head and tail in the city as he cowers after being shouted at. There is a lovely touch when a visitor from The Snow Lion makes an appearance and children who have read that book will be reassured to know an old friend is keeping an eye on things. 

In addition to the small lost dog, (Perdu is such a perfect choice of name) there are parallels to others who may be trying to find a place where they can belong be that those displaced from their own countries or people struggling to fit in with others. This is a soothing book to read and a celebration of the power of kindness. I loved it.

Perdu was published in April by Simon &  Schuster Children’s Books. 








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

Hello and welcome to this week’s look at some of the highlights in the world of children’s books during the last week. These are articles I have enjoyed, resources that I think may be helpful and some news items that caught my interest. I remain impressed by the work people are putting into creating an online children’s book world and there is such a plethora of high quality items I can only mention a few of them.

What I’m reading…


Over the last few weeks my reading habits have altered a little and in addition to rediscovering old favourites I have also found poetry something that I enjoy at the moment. Poetry to Comfort and Inspire During a Pandemic explains how and mentions a couple of books that have made an impact on me. This week saw the Klaus Flugge Prize 2020 Shortlist Announced and the five picture books featured on the list are a wonderful example of the vibrancy and range of children’s illustration available.

My Ten Day Picture Book Challenge has been completed and conversation with others taking part has been enjoyable this week. Some of the titles I included were The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski illustrated by P J Lynch a gorgeous Christmas picture book with illustrations to savour, a recent publication Felix After The Rain – written and illustrated by Dunja Jogan Translated by Olivia Hellewell
a lovely book full of kindness and hope and 
It’s a No-Money Day written and illustrated by Kate Milner an important and emotional look at our society today.

News and resources…

BBC Drawn to Music with James Mayhew – a short series of films where children’s author and illustrator James Mayhew paints to performances by the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales. This is wonderful! I have been lucky enough to go to concerts where James Mayhew paints alongside a live orchestra and this programme allows families to have a taste in the comfort of their own homes. The series began with Mars by Holst (link in title) The second episode shown yesterday features Adams’s ‘Short Ride in a Fast Machine’

Natural talent: the 16 year-old writer taking the world by storm – Dara McAnulty is being hailed by the likes of Robert Macfarlane and Chris Packham as a bright new voice. He talks about life with autism and finding peace in the wilds of Northern Ireland.

Writing Tips from SF Said – last week I posted a link to the British Library’s Make a Miniature Book Activity and now top children’s author SF Said has created a video giving some writing advice that children may find helpful before they start their own books.

Empathy Day Family Pack – Empathy Day takes place on 9th June and there is now a Family Activities Pack available to download containing activities suitable for the whole family. They cover the three themes – Read, Connect, Act – but can be done in any order with just some scrap paper and a pen or pencil.

Beanstalk: Doodle with Liz Pichon Activity – Coram Beanstalk ambassador, Liz Pichon, has created a great colouring-in and doodling activity for children to do at home. Free to download from their website.

Celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week with Tiny Owl books!– a lovely blogpost by Tiny Owl Publishers stressing the importance of being kind and talking to one another and giving details of how some of their wonderful books can help.

Children’s Books to Support Mental Health Awareness – there are many helpful themed book lists on the Books for Topics website. This one has been created by Alison Leach to link to Mental Health Awareness Week but these books would be helpful at any time to open up conversations about mental health in age-appropriate ways.

Meet Tom Percival, author of new middle-grade series the Dream Team – World Book Day interview with Tom Percival author of a  brand new middle-grade series exploring anxiety in children through action & adventure & are a great way to introduce young readers to ways of managing worries. I love Tom’s picture books such as Ruby’s Worry and am looking forward to reading this. 

Klaus Flugge Prize Shortlist– To celebrate the 2020 Klaus Flugge Prize CILIP have a special broadcast of the #NationalShelfService by librarian Jake Hope sharing the 5 wonderful illustrated books that have made this year’s shortlist.

DKW Literary Agency Authors Launch Online Book Events – Date for your diaries! The DKW Literary Agency  Book Bash.  Join in and celebrate a host of recent and upcoming book releases Wednesday 27th May. As book launch events have been cancelled virtual celebrations such as this are a good way of keeping up to date with the latest titles. The schedule is shown below and you can follow on Twitter using #DKWBookBash.


A Little More Feeling – Just Imagine – Nikki Gamble has written about the recent Just Imagine training webinar which focused on Better Think Alouds. This is a fascinating and informative article which provokes thought about the reading experience for all ages.

Onjali Q Rauf on writing children’s books that do ‘much more than entertain’ – interview with this award winning author in The National about the background to the themes she chooses for her books and information about the charity she has founded.

National Book Tokens and Puffin Big Dreamers Writing Competition – A joint collaboration, this new writing competition for children aged six to 18 asks them to write a 300-word short story on the subject of “Big Dreams”. The deadline for entries is 28th May and the winning entries will be published on the website.

The School Library Association Information Book Award –   the tenth shortlist for this award was announced this week. This recognises the importance of non-fiction whilst highlighting the high standard of resources available. There are three age categories ranging from under 7 to 16 and there are links to activities  for each book on the website too.

Last but definitely not least…If you want to develop your knowledge, understanding and use of children’s books then the new Open University Reading for Pleasure chats on Twitter sound perfect! Follow #OURfPBookBlether to join in each week. The chats are being led by some wonderful teachers and educators. Here’s the timetable:


Finally some reviews that caught my eye this week…

Old Enough to Sace the Planet written by Loll Kirby and illustrated by Aledina Lirius– this new information book sounds as though it would be a wonderful addition to primary school library and classroom shelves. In their review BookTrust say: ‘This is a book to treasure and so too are the young people whose stories it contains. Celebrating young activists, in style, it will inform and inspire many more.’

There’s a Rang-tan in my Bedroom- James Sellick & Frann Preston-Gammon – on a similar theme to the nonfiction book above this picture book is based on the original Greenpeace film that became a viral sensation – revealing the plight of orangutans, the dangers of deforestation, and what we can all do to help.  On her Lily and the Fae blog Lily describes this as a ‘beautiful and empowering book that whilst exploring a sad human made disaster offers the potential and encouragement for young humans to make change.’

Empire’s End – A Roman Story by Leila Rasheed – part of the Voices collection published by Scholastic this book takes the reader on a journey from Libya to Britain during the time of the Roman Empire. Laura Ovenden reviewing this title for Just Imagine says this historical novel  ‘is packed full of well-researched details and is a rich source for Key Stage Two or Key Stage Three.

That’s it for this week and I realise it is rather lengthy but hope that this means there is something of value to different audiences. Have a lovely weekend and happy reading.






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Klaus Flugge Prize 2020 Shortlist Announced

The shortlist for the 2020 Klaus Flugge Prize was announced today by Jessica Love, winner of the 2019 prize for Julian is a Mermaid. This award was founded in 2016 to highlight the most promising and exciting newcomers to picture book illustration and honours Klaus Flugge, the founder of Andersen Press and winner of the Eleanor Farjeon Award for outstanding contribution to children’s books.

Five books have been selected from the original longlist of sixteen by the panel of judges comprising award-winning illustrator Mini Grey; Jessica Love, 2019 Klaus Flugge Prizewinner; Meera Ghanshamdas, bookseller at Moon Lane Ink; children’s book consultant Jake Hope; and Pam Smy of Anglia Ruskin University.

The breadth of subject matter depicted in the shortlisted books indicates how varied picture books are at the moment. Illustration can convey emotions and thoughts that children are unable to articulate themselves but will recognise and identify with; picture books are able to stretch a child’s imagination and display the complexity of the world in a manner they can understand and for these reasons and many more picture books matter. It is wonderful to see contemporary picture books being celebrated by this award.  These five shortlisted books include 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 Klaus Flugge Prize 2020 Shortlist

img_3458When Sadness Comes to Call, Eva Eland, editor Libby Hamilton, designer Rebecca Garrill (Andersen Press)
What the judges said: ‘beautifully simple and pared back; the page layouts seem sparse and crisp but the work the illustrations are doing is quite extraordinary in terms of the message that sadness is something we might have to live with.’


42E2E6C1-BB9B-43A4-AC33-303FF4531DBAThe Star in the Forest, Helen Kellock, editor Anna Ridley, designer Aaron Hayden (Thames & Hudson)
What the judges said: ‘few books these days use light and tone or traditional watercolour skills to tell stories; it’s worked into something quite magical here.’



Where is Your Sister?, Puck Koper, editor Suzanne Carnell, designer Jo Spooner (Two Hoots)
What the judges said: ‘goes at a wonderful pace, with laugh out loud moments. It’s stylish and feels very sophisticated for a first book’.



On the Origin of Species
, Sabina Radeva, editor Anna Barnes Robinson, designer Keren Greenfeld (Puffin)
What the judges said: ‘It’s full of detail and really reflects the beauty of nature. A feat of managing that amount of detail without it feeling cluttered. A wonderful reference book, a real companion for a child.’


5BC49EA5-7E82-49B0-B80A-A70259B8D1D7One Fox: A Counting Thriller Book, Kate Read, editor Suzanne Carnell, designer Jo Spooner
What the judges said: ‘Visually stunning. There’s real drama here and the way the story is told is joyous. She’s done a very clever thing and created a counting book while keeping within the beats of a story.’


This selection provides a taste of the gift offered to readers of all ages through the world of illustration. Picture books are fundamental to a child developing a love of reading and these particular titles are shining examples of how this happens. Chair of the judging panel, Julia Eccleshare summed up their appeal:

Our shortlist demonstrates the vibrancy of contemporary illustration for children. Here are five very different books – the illustrators have different styles, use different techniques and have different intentions, but each achieves exactly what they set out to do with pictures that perfectly tell their stories.’

The winner will be revealed on Wednesday 16th September 2020 and will receive a cheque for £5,000. There is more information about the award on the official website.

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Poetry to Comfort and Inspire During a Pandemic

Like many others I have found it harder than I expected to concentrate on reading during the Coronavirus crisis. I had hoped to savour all those treasures on the bookshelves that I have not had time to enjoy previously and yet I have found myself returning to old favourites and comfort reads. I have made tackling my to read lists even more difficult by increasing the lists with impulse buys. No doubt fellow book lovers will recognise this weakness! However these impulse purchases were made in response to the current circumstances in which we find ourselves. Additionally a couple of them are not my usual genre. Poetry I have discovered is a perfect read for me at the moment; two very different books have made a considerable impact, one a letter and the other a collection they are both welcome additions to my personal library.

For Every One by Jason Reynolds 

14148F13-E92E-43BE-8264-76040CD8E32DTold in the form of a letter this is poetry that simultaneously inspires and comforts the reader. Jason Reynolds addresses the ‘dreamers’ encouraging them to persist through setbacks, to value the importance of their hopes and dreams and yet to notice the world around them as they make their progress. This is not a self help book or a how to succeed manual it is an understanding look at the difficulties people, and young people in particular, face as they plan and hope for their futures. Jason Reynolds does not pretend that he has all the answers instead through verse he becomes the reassuring and encouraging voice of a good friend. The author is 2020–2021 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and although perhaps primarily a book that will resonate with a more youthful reader this, as the title so aptly says, is truly a book for everyone. We are never too old to have dreams and plans and this thoughtful book contains an important message that it is not the achievement itself that matters most but the efforts we make as we attempt to reach our goal. Reynolds also confirms that dreams are not only the preserve of the creative types but for everyone whatever their passion be that in the field of athletics, business, family or community.

The prose is passionate, direct and rousing presented in an accessible pocket sized format. The use of different spacing, typeface size and position encourage the reader to read sections at a different pace and concentrate on key points.  I have returned to this several times over the last couple of weeks and am so glad I bought it. It would be a thoughtful present for a teen or young adult and a wonderful addition to secondary school library shelves.

For Every One is published by Knights Of, a small independent publisher doing wonderful things and who need our support even more at present. I bought this and another title from them in response to a plea on Twitter and their range of books for children and teens are groundbreaking and important. You can find out more here

These Are the Hands: Poems from the Heart of the NHS edited by Deborah Alma and Dr Katie Amiel

8A2E6C04-C333-4870-9988-2944BABDB09FWith a forward by Michael Rosen this collection of poems written by both those working within our National Health Service and several well known poets is immensely moving, humbling and at present also heartbreakingly important. Beginning with Michael Rosen’s beautiful These Are the Hands written to mark sixty years of the NHS, we are given an insight into every aspect of the medical profession by those who know it best.

There are poems written by surgeons, nurses, consultants, therapists, porters and radiographers, by GPs, domestic assistants, librarians, midwives and psychiatrists; every possible department and area of medicine is included and the reader is left with the inescapable conclusion that every single person cares and makes a difference. It is hard to read this without adding your own personal experience to your understanding of the poetry and I found the poems dealing with aging and end of life care particularly poignant. But there is joy and love in this poetry too, particularly love. Not the hearts and flowers type but the everyday, nitty gritty, caring type that I and countless others have witnessed first hand and this collection highlights so beautifully.

Among the well known poets featured in addition to Michael Rosen are Roger McGough, Wendy Cope, Lemm Sissay and Kate Clanchy. The collection is divided into sections including Look How we Start,  Inside and Solidarity each concentrating on different areas of hospital life. This book draws attention to the numerous different departments and aspects of the NHS and the teamwork involved in its daily life. The poetry is of many different styles and is engaging and full of humanity and hope. This would be a wonderful anthology at any time but at the moment its impact and importance hits home.

All proceeds from the sale of this book will go to NHS Charities Together which supports over 135 official NHS Charities raising money for the many different NHS services. These are the Hands is published by Fare Acre Press and if you would like to find out more or purchase your own copy you can find out more here.  There is additional information and links to readings of some of the poems on The Bigger Picture website. 



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

Hello and welcome to another look back at the children’s book news from the last few days. This week there is information regarding the possible re-commencement of physical and digital library services in primary and secondary schools which will be useful to both school librarians and senior leadership teams. Generous people continue to create fabulous resources, to encourage reading for pleasure, for sharing in schools and homes and I have included several of these this week. There are also articles, reviews and news of book awards. I hope you find something of interest.

What I’m reading…


This week I was nominated by Ben Harris, teacher, book lover and creator of many fabulous book chats on Twitter, to choose a different favourite picture book each day for ten days and provide a three word descriptive summary. This has prompted me to reread some much loved titles, which have so far included the thoughtful exploration of emotions in Felix After the Rain, Mrs Noah’s Pockets featuring a wise woman I have a soft spot for,  The Snow Liona kind story about learning how to be brave and Alfie Gets in First, a personal family favourite.

News and resources…

Books for Keeps May Issue – jam packed full of reviews and interesting articles including Ten Essential Books for Young Readers chosen by Frank Cottrell Boyce and the latest in the Beyond the Secret Garden series looking at BAME characters featured in stories about health workers. This is always an interesting read.

Covid19 Guidance for School Libraries– This Guidance has been developed by a Working Party convened jointly by CILIP, the CILIP School Libraries Group and the School Library Association. It is clear that a great deal of work has gone into creating a document intended to inform discussions between school library staff and school leadership about the safe re-commencement of physical and digital library services in primary and secondary schools. It will be updated as necessary.

The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months – this article tells a very different and infinitely more uplifting story than the William Golding classic. 

Not now, Bernard … I’m on my iPhone: classic children’s text reissued for digital era – author David McKee reveals why, 40 years on, his cautionary tale of the perils of ignoring children is still relevant. 

Research Rich Pedagogies Reading for Pleasure Newsletter – this month’s issue is simply chock full of resources, ideas, recommendations and tips. I particularly like the reading invitations, with different versions for a range of age groups. These are a fabulous way of encouraging book talk and related creative activities. If you sign up to the newsletter you won’t miss out in future. It is suitable for teachers, librarians and parents.

The Reader Teacher Year 2 Top 100 Recommended Reads – Scott Evans has updated his helpful list for this age group and I love that it has such a wonderful mixture of old favourites, new titles, picture books and nonfiction. It’s ideal for encouraging a wide range of reading at this stage of a child’s reading journey.

Reading For Pleasure Tube Maps for Children – Dean Boddington has updated his brilliant Tube Maps designed to encourage children to explore different authors and titles. There are three versions, one for approximately two 7+ (Lower KS2) and another for 9+ (UpperKS2)  plus another for the infant (KS1) age group. All are free to download and would make a great and useful display for classrooms and libraries. Dean has asked for a donation to charity in lieu of payment if at all possible and there are details in the link.

Carnegie and Greenaway Award Free Shadowing Webinar – Registration is now open this free Shadowing Webinar on the 3rd of June.  Featuring judges, authors and illustrators this promises to be a lively and entertaining session. There are details of how children and teens can watch and submit questions beforehand.

Toppsta Free Reading Pack – Georgina Atwell at Toppsta has created a great free resource for schools and families. It includes a 15 Minutes a Day Reading Challenge,  a Fun Bingo Game with prizes, brilliant book recommendations, review templates and a list of online resources. All available to print for class or individual use.

BookTrust Story Time Prize – This prize, which is now in its second year, celebrates and promotes the best books for sharing with young children and is run in association with the CILIP Youth Libraries Group. This shortlist includes some delightful books sure to be enjoyed at home or in school.

British Library asks children to create miniature books at home – this is a lovely idea and is supported by children’s authors and illustrators such as Axel Scheffler, Philip Ardagh and Jacqueline Wilson.

Children’s Books Make Good Companions in a Crisis – I love this article by Amanda Craig about the need for and value of children’s literature during the current crisis.

Books for Topics Storytime Online – Alison Leach has been busy finding some of the best online storytimes for children to access freely at home. The QR codes and links in the downloadable document link to story readings on Youtube and all of the books are read aloud by their authors and illustrators.

Indie Book Awards 2020 – the shortlists for these awards were announced this week and include Children’s Fiction and Picture Book categories. There are some wonderful titles for a wide range featured this year.

Inspire ELS New Online Primary Book Award – the aim of this brand new award,  InspiREAD2020, is to get everyone reading children’s books; pupils, teachers, parents, grandparents, carers, schools, families and friends. The award will run during the Summer Term and there are some fabulous books in the three categories, picture books, shorter books and longer novels. You can find out more via the link and by following @InspireELS on Twitter 

Ten Word Tales from Learn to Love to Read – there are lots of reading resources on this website including the Ten Word Tales in which children choose ten interesting words to inspire The Story Spinner to create brand new five-part stories. The creators hope this will encourage conversations about language.

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

Trailblazers Simone Biles Golden Girl of Gymnastics by Sally J Morgan – Veronica Price says “this is a fantastic addition to the Trailblazers series and a fascinating book for anyone of 10+” Biographies that provide young people with role models are always welcome and this new title sounds as though it does just that.

Wilde by Eloise Williams – this has “everything you could possibly want in a contemporary story about growing up and fitting in.” says Jo Cummins in her review.     It’s definitely going on my to read list!

Rise of the Shadow Dragons by Liz Flanagan –  Joanne Owen describes this as having  “the sweeping atmosphere of a classic hero story, Joe’s story is shot-through with themes of acceptance, making amends, courage and concord, against a backdrop of political – and volcanic – eruptions.”

That’s all for this week. Happy reading!

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

Welcome to another look back at the latest children’s book news and a visit to some useful resources encouraging reading for pleasure. As I write this there is continued speculation regarding the timing of the reopening of schools across the country. No matter what form education takes over the coming weeks, whether at home, at school or in some combination of the two reading continues to be important as it nurtures, informs and entertains our children.  I hope that among the links I have shared here you will find something that helps you.

What I’m reading…


A lovely picture book was a highlight this week. Child of Galaxies by Blake Nuto and Charlotte Ager is a thoughtful introduction to philosophy for children and will inspire, encourage and reassure young readers with its poetic text and lovely illustrations. I also finished reading The Children of Green Knowe a wonderful story for now with its nostalgic yet curiously timeless appeal. It had, for me, echoes of Tom’s Midnight Garden with the old house taking a central role and the bond between a young boy and an elderly woman. I am also treating myself to the latest Anne Tyler, The Redhead at the Side of the Road. Yes, I do sometimes read adult fiction!

News and resources

Walker Books celebrates 40th anniversary by funding 40 School Library Association memberships – this popular children’s publisher is generously sponsoring 40 free memberships to the School Library Association for one year. Applications are open to UK schools who haven’t previously been a member, and SLA will aim to split them evenly between primary and secondary schools. Applications will be picked at random. The deadline for applications is 12th June 2020. I can vouch for the fact that SLA membership is extremely helpful for school librarians and teachers who want to make the most of their libraries.

Barrington Stoke Homeschooling Help for Lockdown – this is a brilliant free resource from Barrington Stoke full of helpful advice, information and links all presented in an extremely user friendly format.

Some of the best new children’s nature books to read this spring – From picture books about bats or microscopic species, to guides about climate change and celebrating environmentalists, there’s a wide range of amazing titles being published for children reviewed here.

Children’s books roundup – the best new picture books and novels – A badminton-playing panda, a celebration of the avocado, a travel agency with gateways to other worlds and more are all reviewed by child book expert Imogen Russell Williams for the Guardian.

This is Not My Hat: Free performance for children by The Little A Theatre – Watch Ian Nicholson, Samuel Wilde and Jim Whitcher’s puppet-filled adaptation of ‘This is Not My Hat’, Jon Klassen’s sequel to ‘I Want My Hat Back’. Just as good as the first one this is delightful.

The Loss: Picture Books About Loss – headteacher and picture book lover Simon Smith has compiled a beautiful selection of picture books which explore grief and loss and would be perfect for helping children understand and maybe talk about these emotions.

Reading Rocks at Home with Hachette Schools – Hachette publishers have teamed up with Reading Rocks to create a series of online lessons and activities to support home learning.

Books for Keeps – a reminder that this wonderful website has 13,500 different book related articles and reviews. All available to read now, for free!

Booklings Chat–  School librarian Lucas Maxwell and his pupils have interviewed a number of children’s and teen authors including those shortlisted for the YA Book Book Prize. Lots to listen to here.

dPictus 100 Outstanding PictureBooks – The 100 Outstanding Picturebooks showcase features the titles which have been highlighted by the most guest curators, and includes an eclectic mix of new-and-soon-to-be-released picturebooks, as well as classic backlist titles.

Make Your Own Story Dice – Coram Beanstalk and Nick Sharratt have created these lovely story dice templates to colour in, stick together and use for endless storytelling. This is a great way for adults and children to create and share stories. 

Empathy Day 9th June – there is a truly fabulous line up of authors and illustrators arranged for this special day. There will be brilliant online events and fun home-based activities to help children read, connect and act using empathy. The packs for schools and libraries are available now and family packs will be released on 18th May.

Hay Festival On Hay Player – the online schools programme features a veritable Who’s Who of children’s authors including Cressida Cowell, Onjali Raif, Patrice Lawrence and many more. Starts 18th May with treats all week.

On a Mission to Save BAME Books – article in The Voice about the #InclusiveIndies Fund launched for diversity-led indie publishers by Knights Of and Jacaranda Books.

Authorfy Writing Competition– Write a Laugh competition is an opportunity for children to win tons of prizes and to share some fun with friends and family and maybe even see their story in print. All entries must be in before 31st May.

Portable Magic Dispenser – this month’s  update from school librarian Lucas Maxwell with ideas suitable for both libraries and classrooms.

Some book reviews that caught my eye this week…

The Wonder of Trees by Nicola Davies and Lorna Scobie – this fabulous and comprehensive review by Nikki Gamble for Just Imagine has made me want to buy this nonfiction book for myself! In summary: “This is a super book for the classroom or library and would make a gorgeous gift for a child – or adult. There are lots of very good books about trees, but if you can only buy one, I suggest you consider this one.”

Burn by Patrick Ness – the award winning author for teens is “back to his barnstorming best with a novel set in an alternate Cold War era America” according to this great review by The Bookbag.

That’s all for this week. Happy reading!

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Child of Galaxies by Blake Nuto and Charlotte Ager

Children ask questions all the time. Some of those questions are easier for parents and teachers to answer than others and some may even be ones that adults are searching for answers to themselves. This beautiful picture book is a lyrical look at life’s biggest questions that will gently reassure while at the same time encouraging children to celebrate the joy of life. An appropriate book for the world we find ourselves in at the moment.

Your body was made from the STUFF of the STARS,
You’re a CHILD of GALAXIES dreaming…

This poignant picture book takes the reader on a journey through the world of ideas and looks at the deeper meaning of the everyday things that we may often take for granted. It begins with a broad look at the universe and earth’s place in it and the opening pages are a celebration of life and the infinite world of possibilities that lie in wait for young children. We are then reminded that as we progress on life’s journey there may be worries and anxiety about what the future may hold for us but the poetic text then reassures us that we are a small part of a big world that has continued for millions of years. There is a comfort in the joy of the every day; sunshine, rain, the seasons, and the love of friendship. Positivity and hope shine through the remainder of this thoughtful book.

I imagine that when Blake Nato and Charlotte Ager created this gentle introduction to philosophy for young children they had no idea how events across the world would add even more to the impact of this picture book. The reminder of the crowded city streets bustling with people “heading nowhere at all, on a life giving ball” feels like a life left behind us now. The double page spread of the two children reaching out to each other has for me, and for many others I imagine, an added poignancy as we are separated from our families and loved ones due to social distancing at present. The two small figures nestled on outstretched hands, looking rather like flying carpets journeying through the adventure of life, and the accompanying text are both touching and reassuring. A reminder of the importance of connecting with others.


The lyrical text lends itself to being read aloud and this is a book to be shared and pondered over. Charlotte Ager’s illustrations have a fresh look and their style conveys the emotions described in the text beautifully. The change in tone and colour when we touch on the worry and uncertainty encountered match the mood well and add to the feelings experienced by the reader. Likewise the joy experienced in the special but everyday moments is apparent and the double page spread of sunflowers is delightful. The pictures show a range of diverse and inclusive characters adding to the broad appeal.  Both the text and the illustrations could have many interpretations and although described as a book for aged 3+ I envisage this being used with much older children to prompt thoughtful discussion. Each time I return to this book I notice more.

A lovely book full of hope and optimism for all ages that will comfort, reassure and inspire. Thank you to Flying Eye Books for sending me my copy.

Although slightly different in theme Here We Are – Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers is another beautiful picture book encouraging the reader to celebrate the world we live in that you may like to have a look at.

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

Welcome to this week’s look back at the latest news from the children’s books world. I am aware that teachers and school librarians are under a great deal of pressure at present and hope that some of the links collated here will, in a small way, provide some support. Reading at home is something that families can enjoy together so maybe some of the book suggestions and ideas will be useful for parents too.

If you are looking for a wider range of resources supporting reading you may find my earlier post Reading for Pleasure – Resources to Help Children Enjoy Books at Home helpful.

What I’m reading…


Since Shackleton’s Journey won the Kate Greenaway Award in 2015 Flying Eye Books have continued to publish wonderful illustrated non fiction and Ancient Games: A History of Sports and Gaming – Iris Volant and Avalon Nuovo is another to add to the list. This week I have been reading The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M Boston and now halfway through I feel as though I have travelled in time. A lovely read.

News, resources and articles…

Reasons to be cheerful: poetry and stories to give hope to adults and children alike – Children’s author Katherine Rundell introduces original poems, stories and illustrations by the likes of Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson and Axel Scheffler brought together in a compilation dedicated to the doctors, nurses, carers and all those working in hospitals to protect us.

The Book of Hopes: Words and Pictures to Comfort, Inspire and Entertain Children in Lockdown – here is the link to the book created by Katherine Rundell and her fellow children’s authors and illustrators. Having dipped into this often during the week I can vouch for its hopefulness.

Branching Out: Resources to Support Reading For Pleasure – a brilliant idea from Alison at Books for Topics. Book recommendations for children who have been hooked in by a particular series or author and are ready to branch out. Free to view, download and share.

BBC Sounds The Dam with David Almond – I mentioned this in last week‘s Reading Matters but if you missed it the programme is available to download for some time. David Almond talking about the story behind The Dam, the stunning picture book he created with Levi Pinfold. An absolute treat of a listen.

The Big Book Weekend –  a 3-day virtual festival, taking place on MyVLF.com, that brings together the best of the British book festivals cancelled due to coronavirus, featuring among others, Michael Morpurgo, Neil Gaiman, Juno Dawson and Patrick Ness.

100 Books (and counting!) to read before you leave secondary school – Lucas Maxwell, award winning librarian at Glenthorne School, has added to his remarkable list of books he has read and reviewed. There is a downloadable list, searchable by theme. All books are suitable for 11+ unless otherwise stated.

The whole world in a bedroom: seven of the most imaginative picture books for lockdown life – I should have included this article last week. A selection of picture books to encourage connection, curiosity and adventure in children when you’re stuck in isolation.

Lockdown Librarian: Ways to Connect to Your Patrons – practical advice from school librarian Lucas Maxwell in his helpful article

Fly With Tiny Owl – Check out read along and how-to videos from Tiny Owl Publishers’ fabulous authors and illustrators so that you can keep little ones entertained. Lots of teachers are among the many story read alouds featured and this is a lovely resource for parents and teachers.

Facebook Live Chat with author Tom Palmer Tuesday 5th May 10am – Tom Palmer will be talking about reading and writing on the Second World War, answering questions and doing his first ever reading from After the War, due out later this year.

The Branford Boase Award Shortlist AnnouncedSince 2000, the Branford Boase has been awarded annually to the author of an outstanding debut novel for children. Uniquely, it also honours the editor of the winning title and highlights the importance of the editor in nurturing new talent. More great books to add to your reading list! 

Using Padlet to Support a Remote Book Talk Session – Mat Tobin, lecturer in Primary English and Children’s Literature at Oxford Brookes University, has created an extremely helpful video in which he presents an overview of the ins and outs of Padlet and how he has used it to promote a booktalk session, remotely. Invaluable for those trying to put this in place for their pupils at the moment.

Herts Primary English: Weekly Primary English Digest – the second volume published this week includes teaching ideas, CPD, news and reviews. This week’s whole school book study resource focuses on Nothing by Mick Inkpen. The many varied ideas based on this much loved picture book could also be adapted for use at home.

School Library Association Webinar Training Sessions – the School Library Association is hosting webinars over the coming weeks on a variety of topics including Wellbeing and Reading and Engaging Reluctant Readers.

Publishing for the future: how children’s books have changed in 20 years – a fascinating article by children’s book expert, Julia Eccleshare, in The Bookseller, discussing trends in children’s fiction.

National Share a Story Month 2020 – celebrated each May the  theme for 2020, The Planet We Share, is very wide and can include anyone or anything we share this planet with. There are book lists, competition details and book related activities available on the website. 


The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L.D. Lapinski – Veronica Price ‘loved L.D. Lapinski’s world-building, protagonists and ability to combine an important message within a fast-paced contemporary fantasy for MG readers’. Read her review to find out more.

The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates by Jenny Pearson – I love this review by Ben Harris… ‘The book spoke to me as a teacher. I kept thinking as I read it – “I can’t wait to be back to school! I want to share this with my class! We will love this book together!” As a a school librarian I was always being asked ‘Where are the funny books?’ It definitely sounds as though Freddie Yates would be there!

The Vanishing Trick by Jenni Spangler, illustrated by Chris Mould – Jo Clarke says ‘I was drawn into this original and dark drama and devoured it in one afternoon.’ This debut has been receiving a lot of attention and I’m looking forward to reading it.

That’s all for this week. Happy reading!

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