D-Day Dog by Tom Palmer – The inspiration for the story

One of my favourite children’s books from 2018 was the wonderful Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer. On 2nd May his latest book, D-Day Dog, is published in time to mark the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. It is another extremely thoughtful and powerful story. Tom has kindly written about his inspiration for D-Day Dog here. Thank you very much, Tom, for this interesting insight.

Putting Animals to War

How reading another animal at war story, The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico, inspired me to write D-Day Dog

 This was going to be a blog about why authors write about animals in war. There are a fair few children’s books that combine war and animals. Michael Morpurgo comes to mind, but there are others. Kate Cunningham. Megan Rix. Sam Angus. But I should let them speak for themselves and just say why I wanted to write about an animal’s role in war.

It was The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico for me. I didn’t read it until I was in my thirties, but when I did it got to me in a way none of the war films I’d watched or war comics I’d read as a kid got to me.

The Snow Goose is about a boat-owning solitary man, Rhayader, who lives out on the salt marshes of Essex. It’s set in 1940. With the help of a local girl he rescues and rehabilitates an injured goose. Then the call comes for small craft to save what is left of the stranded British Army. Rhayader has a boat. He works with the goose – who guides his boat – to help rescue stranded soldiers from Dunkirk.

For me it was the girl and her take on the man and the goose that drew me in. The emotional power!

I wasn’t a big children’s book reader until then. This changed my reading. And therefore, my writing.

So when I set about writing D-Day Dog I had that reading experience in mind.

My book is about a man, an animal and what happens to them on D-Day. As seen through the eyes of an eleven-year-old boy. I took Paul Gallico’s lead for this. For me Gallico’s story works because you see the adult-in-war and its relationship with an animal from a child’s point of view.

One of the big questions in D-Day Dog – for me – is whether it is acceptable to use animals in war. I was torn. I still am. If a pigeon can save a dozen soldiers’ lives – and survive itself – then why not? Ferrets are being used today to help rescue people from bombed buildings. But dogs with bombs strapped to them going under tanks? Never.

I wanted to explore my feelings and attitudes in D-Day Dog through a boy called Jack. Jack goes through the range of reactions I went through, thinking through his ideas about war.

I do my best not to sugar-coat animals’ involvement in war. The last scenes in D-Day Dog include Jack going to visit the grave of Glen, a Paradog, in France. And you hear – second hand – how Glen and his handler came to be buried there.

I’m still torn about whether animals should be used in war. But writing the book has helped me get my head round it.

Tom Palmer

Tom Palmer’s brilliant website includes interviews, chapter excerpts and a wonderful range of resources.



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No Ballet Shoes in Syria by Catherine Bruton

No Ballet Shoes in Syria tells the story of Aya, an eleven year old asylum seeker from Aleppo in Syria. It is a story of hope and of kindness. Aya provides a voice for all the millions of child refugees seeking a safe haven in our world today. This moving and thoughtfully told story for today’s generation of young readers contains echoes of the stories of previous generations of children who searched for a place they could call home. A wonderful and important children’s book.

We meet Aya as she waits in the local community centre with her mother and baby brother for information and advice about their application to stay in England and to receive aid from the volunteers who run the food bank. Her mother is traumatised and defeated by the family’s recent experiences so much of the decision making is falling on Aya who is too young to cope with these responsibilities. It is at this centre she discovers the local ballet class. The music, the voice of the teacher and the movements and attitudes of the young girls remind Aya of happy times in Syria before war struck. Gradually she is drawn into their midst when one of the pupils, Dotty, a whirlwind of enthusiasm, befriends her. Then the principal of the ballet school, Miss Helena, spots Aya’s talent and suggests a plan that may allow her to achieve her dreams. But at the same time Aya and her family must fight to remain in the country that she is slowly beginning to think of as home.

This moving and well told story builds up to an emotional climax slowly and carefully. The trauma of Aya’s escape from Aleppo and the subsequent journey to freedom is gradually revealed as her memories of the events are triggered by her situation in England. These are brief initially but expand to provide more details as the story progresses. This results in the reader getting to know Aya in a similar way to her new friends in the ballet class which allows for a dawning realisation of what she and her family have endured. This is always handled appropriately for the target age group for this lovely book but as a parent I ached for both Aya and her mother. The absence of Aya’s father is at the heart of their sad situation and this is poignantly portrayed by the author.

Catherine Bruton wanted to tell a story that would make young readers look beyond the labels “refugee” and “asylum seeker” and I believe she has achieved this. Aya is an engaging, thoughtful character and I particularly liked her relationship with Moosa, her baby brother. The cast of supporting characters, including Mr Abdul, the kindly old man from Somalia and Mrs Massoud, desperate for news of her son in Damascus but ready and willing to look after little Moosa and sympathetic to Aya’s mum’s situation, all give a sense of real people enduring an intolerable situation.

The growing friendship between Aya and the other girls in the ballet class would be an interesting topic for discussion in the classroom. They are not all welcoming initially and the use of labels and that attitude of “otherness” that can be so damaging is well drawn. It is a thoughtful touch to provide a back story for Dotty too, as this helps strengthen the girls’ friendship.

Ballet loving readers will adore all the dance related references. I thought Miss Helena was a wonderful character and it is her story that provides the link to history and the way in which, sadly, the world has a way of repeating mistakes. Yet this is a story full of hope. It is a celebration of how much the kindness of others can achieve in the darkest of times for those in need. A valuable lesson for today’s young readers.

I loved this story very much.  In her introduction Catherine Bruton refers to the importance of books such as When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr for opening children’s eyes to important issues and broadening their horizons. No Ballet Shoes in Syria is a book that you could definitely add to the list. Highly recommended.

Thank you very much to Clare Hall-Craggs and the publishers, Nosy Crow Books for kindly providing my proof copy.

No Ballet Shoes in Syria is published on 2nd May.

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Jasper: Space Dog by Hilary Robinson illustrated by Lewis James

Published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing this entertaining book weaves fact and fiction together in a package that is designed to be accessible to a broad readership. Jasper would be a valuable addition to all primary school bookshelves.

The first in a new series by award winning author Hilary Robinson, this engaging book cleverly mixes facts with fiction in an entertaining way that results in children learning without them realising that they are doing so.

The story is told in the form of humorous letters between eight year old Charlie Tanner and Dr. Isabella Starr, a Rocket Scientist. Charlie asks questions about the moon and space travel on behalf of both himself and his extremely curious dog, Jasper. The questions young readers may want answers to themselves are put by this duo such as: Is the moon really made of cheese? How are space rockets powered? And, Why did one astronaut on Apollo 11 not walk on the moon? All these questions and more are answered with clear explanations and children will be learning while being entertained. Astrophysicist, Dr Suzie Imber acted as consultant for the book ensuring that all factual information is correct. In less than 100 pages it manages to cover a great deal and I even learned how Buzz Aldrin acquired his nickname!

A great deal of effort has been made to ensure that the book is designed with an inclusive approach and dyslexie font is used for the reduced text which is on cream paper and broken up by appealing illustrations. The artwork is provided by Lewis James, who is supported by The Prince’s Trust. Hilary Robinson also shared early drafts with teachers and children in several primary schools. All of this preparation has resulted in a package that should appeal to a broad range of young children, including both emergent and more confident readers.

This is the first in a new series, the second sees Jasper learning about the Vikings which sounds equally appealing.

I would like to thank Hilary and Strauss House Productions for sending me my proof copy.

Teaching Resources linked to Apollo Missions and the Moon Landings

If you are considering covering the anniversary of the moon landing and space travel in the classroom there are a range of online resources available. I have selected just a few that may be helpful.

Space Kids http://www.spacekids.co.uk/moon/ This site contains information about the Apollo missions including Apollo 11 and the first men who walked on the moon.

Peanuts and NASA http://ymiclassroom.com/lesson-plans/peanuts-nasa/ Fifty years ago Apollo 10, the NASA mission used Charlie Brown and Snoopy part of the U.S. space program when their names were used as call signs for the command and lunar landing modules. Now NASA and the Peanuts gang have teamed up to help students explore the history of space flight and the amazing technologies NASA will use to land astronauts on Mars. They have created separate activity sets and lesson plans for all primary school age groups which are available on this website.

ESA Space for Kids https://www.esa.int/kids/en/home The European Space Agency’s website for children. Information about spacecraft, the moon and more.

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The Copy and Paste Generation and The School Librarian

Each term the Surrey branch of the School Library Association holds a meeting where members have the opportunity both to network and to gain some CPD in the form of visiting speakers offering training, advice or new ideas.

Our Spring term meeting took place this month at City of London Freemen’s School in Ashtead where we welcomed Sarah Pavey who was to speak on the subject of plagiarism, copyright and the role of the school librarian. Sarah is a former school librarian and now an independent trainer, consultant and author.

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This is obviously a wide ranging and important topic that in one and half hours we were only able to briefly discuss. Sarah’s usual training session on this subject is a one day course but nonetheless we were able to take away some valuable points and ideas to share with teachers and use in our libraries. We began by talking about the issue of academic honesty and the need to stress to pupils the importance of showing respect for other people’s intellectual property. The issue of conveying what constitutes plagiarism is a key part of the school librarian’s role in preparing children and young people to be responsible in their use of information in further education or the workplace.

Plagiarism is not simply the copying of someone else’s work, it is pretending that it is your own, no matter what form this work is in. In years gone by this would refer only to material printed in books but now of course the situation is much different with information being stored and accessed in many different sources including online, visual, audio, gaming etc. Sarah engaged us all in an activity where we each listed reasons for copyright on a sheet of paper which was then marked by our partner who then replaced the name on the list with their own. Those who had the most correct answers were rewarded with a sweet. If you missed out on a sweet because your partner had claimed your list as their own you were justifiably miffed! This exercise would work well with children of all ages serving to show what it feels like to have your own work stolen by someone else for reward.

We discussed the different forms of plagiarism, both intentional and unintentional and which types of children may be tempted to cheat. Sometimes pupils may plagiarise work under the misapprehension that it is permissible to paraphrase or they may not know how to use citations correctly. This is something that the school librarian is qualified to teach and therefore could successfully work with teachers to ensure that children understand how to cite the sources they use and how to use note taking skills effectively. We also looked at the way in which assignments are marked and noted that if research skills and referencing were marked by teachers this would encourage the correct use of information.

Sarah also included in her presentation links to the useful anti-plagiarism software now available, both free and paid for. These included https://www.paperrater.com/plagiarism_checker and https://www.duplichecker.com. We went on to look at how to teach referencing skills using practical examples in the library and tools that make referencing easier for us all such as apps like http://www.easybib.com

Finally we looked at the tricky issue of copyright in schools discussing everything from use of DVDs in the classroom and the copying of newspapers to the creation of online teacher resources and fan fiction. We could have carried on for so much longer and Sarah’s enjoyable session gave us all much to think about and talk through with colleagues.

There are many sources of information and advice about the subject of copyright and you may find this website, Copyright and Schools useful. The School Library Association has produced some publications that are helpful such as Credit Where It’s Due: The School Library Preventing Plagiarism Sarah Pavey has also co-written Cultivating Curiosity: Information Skills and The Primary School Library which is a valuable aid in encouraging younger children to use information correctly and responsibly.

Thank you very much to Sarah Pavey for an excellent and thought provoking session and for Sue Dawes, the librarian at City of London Freemen’s School, for her warm welcome to her lovely library.

Our next branch meeting takes place on Wednesday 12th June at Heath Educational Books, Sutton when we are looking forward to welcoming Imogen Russell Williams, children’s book critic for the Guardian and editorial consultant. If you would like to stay in touch don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @UK_SLA_Surrey

My colleague on the Surrey branch committee, Cathi Woods @Cathilibraryreg has written about our Autumn term meeting which you may like to read to find out more about what we do.

Finally Sarah Pavey has contributed to an excellent book The Innovative School Librarian which I can thoroughly recommend as it is full of practical advice and is an inspiring read for all school librarians.

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The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum

This debut set in a dystopian near future is an absorbing story of boundaries tested, forbidden friendships made, propaganda and questioning, and developing the courage to find your own voice and speak the truth.

Eleven year old Maggie is a middler, sandwiched between Jed, the eldest and Trig, the youngest, she feels invisible and unimportant. Jed is held in high regard by his parents, teachers and community in the same way as all the eldest children in Fennis Wick where Maggie and her family live. The inhabitants of this town are enclosed and protected from the outside world by a boundary. They are told that beyond this barrier the dirty, dangerous, deceitful wanderers roam and the Quiet War rages. As this quietly menacing and unsettling story unfolds Maggie and the reader discover that the eldest may not be being singled out for something special but for something sinister instead.

The voice of Maggie, the story’s narrator, is compelling and matures as the storyline progresses. It is her meeting with Una, a wanderer girl who is desperate for help that sparks the change. Trusting and innocent at the start of the book Maggie starts to question the rules and realises that she has been told lies for many years. There are many themes running through the narrative that resonate today. The boundaries are not only between places but also between people. The sinister controlling of people’s attitudes towards those who are ‘different’ or who do not conform is well written as is the creation of this alternative but believable world.

The adventure through which the themes are conveyed is tense, exciting and well plotted. There were a couple of moments when as a reader you want to hold your breath and the children’s courage will keep young readers gripped. The wonderful characters including Maggie herself, the lovable Trig and of course Una, the wanderer girl are engaging and believable.  When I started reading this book I wasn’t sure what to expect but was completely won over by Kirsty Applebaum’s exciting debut. This is dystopian fiction for middle grade readers with an understanding of what matters to children; family, friendship and being valued.

Thank you very much to the lovely people at Nosy Crow publishers who sent me my review copy. The book, published on 4th April, has a fabulous cover designed by Nicola Theobald that features artwork by Matt Saunders.



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For the Love of Libraries

On Sunday 10th March I battled my way through gales, engineering works on Southwest Trains and fallen trees on Southern Rail to attend an event at the British Library. It was definitely worth it.  The afternoon brought together three wonderful authors, Sir Philip Pullman, Salley Vickers and Dame Jacqueline Wilson in a thoughtful discussion about the effect libraries had on them as children, as readers and as writers and, of course, why they love libraries.

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The discussion was chaired by Sue Wilkinson of the Reading Agency. She introduced the afternoon by explaining that as a body they work with many different partners but that one of the most important is libraries. She also went on to say that “personal choice creates readers.” Libraries help to provide that choice to everyone.

There were many important points raised and discussed during this event and I am still thinking about these several days later. There were some comments made that particularly resonated with me.

All three authors stressed how important it is that library usage and a love of reading starts in childhood. Philip Pullman said that if you develop a love of reading as a child you probably hang on to that love. Jacqueline Wilson told us that her mother obtained special permission for her to join the library as she was so young. Salley Vickers described the librarian after whom the lead character in her latest novel, The Librarian is named. The original Miss Blackwell displayed an impressive knowledge of children’s literature and an ability to know not just which book a child may want to read but also, perhaps more importantly, which book a child needed to read. This wonderful professional introduced Salley Vickers to The Moomins by Tove  Jansson, a series also beloved by Philip Pullman.

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Jacqueline Wilson had fond memories of graduating to the adult section of Kingston upon Thames library at a very young age and reading Jane Austen. Again there was a common thread as all three said that thanks to libraries and librarians they had been introduced to authors and books that otherwise they may never have known. This availability and range of choice is a key argument in the fight to maintain our public libraries. Without this access, this wonderful opportunity to happen upon literary gems almost by accident, reading could be a narrow and somewhat limited experience. Phillip Pullman said that the most popular area in a public library is the returns shelf. This comment was greeted by knowing smiles from the librarians in the audience! I think that his description of a library as “a treasure chest of serendipity” is just perfect. That feeling of wandering the shelves and discovering new worlds and new friends among the books is what I love most about libraries.

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Salley Vickers movingly described how a children’s book, The Owl Service by Alan Garner, brought her back to reading during a dark and difficult time in her life. She highlighted the social role of libraries commenting that the government could  be saving money on mental health if they invested in libraries. She also asked where better to find out about diversity than in a library? Libraries could be centres where literature and information are used for social benefit. Jacqueline Wilson summed this aspect up excellently with her description of a library as  “a place of refuge and of inspiration.” The library became her place, her home and somewhere that she was able to lose herself completely.

The descriptions of the writing process and the authors’ relationship with their books and their readers were fascinating. Often the author may not consciously be trying to express a particular point and sometimes meaning only really exists once the book is read. We all read in a subtlety different way and a story may be multi layered with different readers taking differing experiences from the book.  Salley Vickers expressesd the view that very good books can convey serious subjects through the imagination not through the mind. Philip Pullman voiced concern that in schools it is now harder for teachers to read aloud to children aloud simply for the joy of it and that often exercises or tests are linked to books read in the classroom. He said perhaps the best way to create a reader was to take a child into a library and allow them to choose. As a school librarian I agree that the freedom to choose reading material is key when encouraging reading for pleasure.

That public libraries are under threat has been well documented in recent years. Although Jacqueline Wilson has visited some wonderful examples of vibrant city centre libraries she also noted that the smaller library once found in every town is disappearing. As Philip Pullman so succinctly described it, “We must have libraries where people are.” If local town centre libraries shut then a mobile library service is even more vital. His own mobile library used by the elderly or young mums with toddlers in pushchairs who are unable to get to the city centre, has been removed. Sadly it appears to be that the places where libraries are needed the most are those where the service is cut.

Perhaps the final word should go to Dame Jacqueline Wilson, former  Children’s Laureate, who said.

”We must put our shoulders behind the campaign to preserve our public libraries.”

The packed theatre audience of library lovers wholeheartedly agreed.

 

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Children’s Books, Choice and Reading for Pleasure.

C8B96B5C-E4B9-4DD5-8703-10466DC019B0Which books do children read? The answer to this question varies according to which source of information you consult. A more pertinent question might be, which books do children choose to read? The announcement this week of the shortlisted books for the Children’s Book Award, the only national award where the titles are chosen entirely by the children themselves, is a very good indicator of which books children enjoy reading. I always find it fascinating to compare the lists for this award with the lists for other awards selected by adults. In the younger readers category in particular, books are often ones with plentiful humour or illustrations or sometimes a combination of the two. This year’s titles, FUNNY KID – STAND UP By Matt Stanton, MR PENGUIN – THE FORTRESS OF SECRETS Written and illustrated by Alex T Smith and THE DOG WHO LOST HIS BARK Written by Eoin Colfer, illustrated by P.J. Lynch are an excellent example of this trend. This is a wonderful selection and particularly so because the children consulted across the country to create this shortlist clearly value these books highly.

Coincidentally, this week an article appeared in TES referring to a recently published report that once again confirmed that  children reading for pleasure has a direct bearing on their attainment.  Everyone who is involved in any way with children’s books has known of this link between reading for pleasure and attainment for some time. However what do we mean by ‘reading for pleasure’? When I read for pleasure it means that I am reading something that I want to read, that I have chosen to read myself.  Children may choose to read a book for a variety of reasons but we know that motivation to read increases their engagement with reading. Therefore their choices are an important part of reading for pleasure. It may not always be a book that an adult considers a challenge or would have selected for the child themselves but children need to feel that their choice is a valid one or they may be deterred from choosing again. Learning how to be a reader involves a child in experimenting with different authors and genres to discover where their own tastes lie. Often primary aged children may choose a picture book, or a highly illustrated young fiction title or maybe a graphic novel. They may also select a book that is linked to a personal interest or hobby.  These are all “proper books”.

A40ACD06-0F16-4246-B0D0-1E68E2047A64As a school librarian I felt sympathy for a child who brought a carefully selected book back to the library the following day saying “Mum says this is too easy for me.” or “ I’ve been told I need a more challenging book.” It is of course possible that the child in question is easily capable of a more challenging book but surely it is preferable to respect their original choice and then nudge them gently towards something considered more appropriate next time. Fifteen years as a primary school librarian have shown me that illustrated books of all types are very popular with children all the way through primary school and beyond. Any concentration on books being ‘too easy’ or ‘too young’  may be linked to the following of reading schemes and levels but once a child is able to read independently they often want to revisit old favourites and read them themselves or simply read for fun. If we persist in describing reading as something that children should do or as something that is good for them in the same way as eating vegetables then we should not be surprised if they do not then see it as fun. If they are allowed to become involved in their reading progress by choosing books they like they are much more likely to feel that they are participating in an active and enjoyable way. The Rights of The Reader poster by Daniel Pennac and illustrated by Sir Quentin Blake summarises excellently the varies ways in which reading can be encouraged.

The books studied in the classroom or read aloud by a class teacher provide an opportunity for the child to experience a book in which the vocabulary or some of the themes may be too tricky for them to handle independently. It is then that their reading experiences can be stretched and guided further by the teacher and librarian working in tandem. Books borrowed from the school or public library or bought by parents provide an opportunity for children to choose for themselves, gain confidence in their ability to select books and develop their own identity as a reader. Perhaps choice could follow a discussion and books could be of varying types and levels of difficulty to widen the range available but nonetheless it is important to remember that children’s own reading choices are a vital part of  both encouraging reading for pleasure and creating true readers and therefore need to be valued.

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The Truth of Things and Lark by Anthony McGowan

The publishers Barrington Stoke are responsible for a wide range of books that are created to be accessible to all readers including those with dyslexia or children and teens sometimes described as reluctant readers. Sometimes “reluctant” readers are simply young people who have not yet found that right book that sets them off on their reading path. What makes Barrington Stoke so successful in what they do is that they select accomplished authors who create stunning, shorter stories that are equally as involving as lengthy novels. Their books are just as likely to appeal to fluent and enthusiastic readers as to their target market.

As a primary school librarian I have tended to concentrate on their books for younger ages but now I have the opportunity to read some of their titles for teens. Lark, the final story in a hard hitting YA series by Anthony McGowan, about brothers Nicky and Kenny was published in January. This was on my wish list but first I wanted to read the three earlier novellas Brock, Pike and Rook now published in one volume as The Truth of Things. So this weekend I started reading… I didn’t stop. Stunning spare writing, realistic characters and stories that are unsentimental but emotionally affecting combine to create an outstanding and unforgettable read.

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When we meet the two brothers their life is hard, their mum has left, their dad is drinking and in trouble with the police and Nicky has to look after his elder brother, Kenny, who is learning disabled from birth. Nicky is also struggling to deal with poverty at home and dealing with bullies at school. One early morning the boys witness the senseless killing of an innocent animal and together the two boys salvage something from this horror and gradually life changes for them in ways that they never expected. The four stories then follow Nicky and Kenny through the coming months and years as they mature and develop and their family situation changes. Despite the bleakness we see how the boys’ father gradually pulls himself back from the brink, how Nicky deals with first love and watch Kenny as he finds courage. The relationship between Nicky and the blunt but very endearing Kenny is at the heart of the storyline and Kenny himself is a wonderful character with his love for his brother, animals, stories and the truth of things.

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Nicky’s voice is a powerful one and as a parent I obviously found this affecting in a different way but Nicky’s character is wonderfully drawn and Anthony McGowan has captured that mixture of awkwardness and bravado of some teenage boys so well. There is a lot of love in these stories. Not the romantic, hearts and flowers, sentimental type but the steady, dependable, practical, often unspoken love found in families that makes all the difference when coping with what may seem like insurmountable difficulties.

 

There is a respect and understanding of nature running through these books that provides the link between both the stories and the themes contained in them. It is partly the care the boys show for living creatures that helps ultimately to save them too. The parallels between the creatures after which the stories are named and the content of them is cleverly written and some of the descriptions of the natural environment and its inhabitants are breathtaking.

So my reading weekend was one of many emotions. There were moments were I gasped aloud, several when I couldn’t stop the tears falling even though I tried and a couple when the hairs on the back of my neck tingled. Incredibly there is also a fair bit of humour underlying almost all the two boys do. I am so glad that I have read these and can now well understand the acclaim they have already received.

All four of these wonderful stories are uncompromising in their use of language and events so these books are part of the Barrington Stoke collection for those aged 13+ . The individual novellas have a reading age of approximately 9 years but the collection of three would require more reading stamina and would therefore be suitable for more confident readers.

Thank you very much to Kirstin Lamb and Barrington Stoke for sending me my copies.

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The Boy Who Flew by Fleur Hitchcock

I loved this thrilling story with a Dickensian feel. The Book Who Flew is brimful of murder, a chilling, sinister villain, rooftop escapes, adventure and a brave hero who has dreams, secrets and a warm heart.

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Athan Wilde and his friend and mentor, Mr Chen, share a secret.  In the heart of the city, in the rooms of Mr Chen’s house, they are working together on creating a flying machine. Athan dreams of soaring over the rooftops and his mysterious friend has the knowledge to turn these dreams into reality. Then one dreadful day the gentle Mr Chen is brutally murdered and Athan, together with his friend Tod, resolve to stop the flying machine from falling into the wrong hands. But their plans  put them both at great risk and gradually Athan’s family are drawn into the mounting danger and Athan faces a dreadful decision. Does he choose his dreams of flight or the family he loves?

There is much to enjoy in this new adventure from Fleur Hitchcock. From the opening pages the reader enters a world of narrow streets, dark buildings, steep rooftops, and poverty but with friendship and family at the heart of Athan’s life.  This world feels both different and realistic and once we are part of it the adventure, and in particular the characters, draw the reader in and the tension mounts to an utterly thrilling and moving climax.

This, I felt, had a real Dickensian feel to it. The city itself, although inspired, I think by Bath, reminded me of Dickens’s London and the distinctive characters such as the sinister Colonel Blade and Athan’s slightly grotesque Grandma all fit perfectly into this world.  The relationship between Athan and his friend Tod and his own family give the story its heart. It is in fact Athan’s love for his family and in particular his frail younger sister, Beatty, that eventually puts his own life at risk. The plot is engrossing and the gradual build up of tension and danger is well done. There are some gruesome events described which those of a sensitive disposition may find a little unsettling but this is a wonderful thriller for children having all the components that keep a reader hooked. By the final third of the book the pace of the story and my growing attachment to the characters resulted in that curious mixture of me wanting to find out what happened but not wanting to say goodbye. It takes a good story to do that! Thank you, Fleur Hitchcock.

Recommended to readers who have enjoyed Peter Bunzl’s or Philip Pullman’s books. The wonderful cover, sadly not on my review copy, is by Ben Mantle. However the little golden paper bird I received with my proof now holds a greater significance and will be carefully treasured.

Thank you very much to Nosy Crow for providing my copy.

 

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Super Readable Children’s Books

Book post from publishers Barrington Stoke is always a treat and February got off to a good start when these two books arrived through my letter box. Both titles have a dyslexia-friendly layout, typeface and paperstock so that even more readers can enjoy them. They have been edited to a reading age of 8.

In my experience as a primary school librarian Barrington Stoke books have a very wide appeal being suitable for young readers who prefer a shorter less daunting looking story. Both these great books reviewed below are excellent examples.

 

Ellie and the Cat by Malorie Blackman illustrated by Matt Robertson

img_2725Ellie has gone to stay with her grandma while her Dad travels abroad on business yet again. She makes it very clear that she does not want to be there at all and her bad behaviour is driving poor grandma mad. Ellie is quite possibly the rudest, most objectionable child Grandma has ever met and eventually Grandma reaches breaking point and decides that it is time that Ellie learned a lesson. It is a lesson that Ellie will never forget.

Malorie Blackman’s comic tale with a gently told moral is a very enjoyable read that will appeal to boys and girls of about 7 or 8 plus. A winning combination of adventure, friendship and a little bit of magic plus engaging illustrations give this a wide appeal. At the start of the story Ellie is, to be frank, a total pain and well deserves the punishment she receives. However her behaviour, although not excusable, is perhaps a little understandable as she feels both unwanted and friendless and confused by the constant moving around. When Grandma teaches Ellie a lesson by swapping Ellie’s body with Jolly her cat Ellie has to work hard to prove that she can be good. Perhaps with the help of some new found friends Ellie will learn to mend her ways.

This lovely story will amuse and entertain children and maybe give them pause for thought too. Published January 2019

Toad Attack by Patrice Lawrence illustrated by Becka Moor

4240A25C-5369-4832-99A2-143B79EF635BAfter a toad lands on his head as he leaves his house one morning, Leo is determined to find out where it has come from and why. When he discovers that his best friend Rosa has also seen a strange flying toad the two of them resolve to come up with some answers before the angry residents of Upper Dab take matters into their own hands and destroy the toads!

What a delight this story is! With teachers named Mr Pringle and Miss Quaver and a chapter titled A Toad Called Twerky it is full of humour that made me chuckle and the adventure has a sense of the ridiculous but with elements of everyday school life that children will recognise and relate to. Becka Moor’s distinctive illustrations add to the fun and this should engage even the most reluctant of readers. Another extremely important aspect of the book is the way in which a number of diverse and inclusive characters are introduced in an understated manner.

The wacky storyline of mysterious flying toads, an inter school garden competition, a bad tempered neighbour with a cat named Nigel and Leo’s family umbrella business combine to create an exciting and humorous story but one with friendship and tolerance at its heart. Another must have for primary school classrooms and libraries. Published March 2019.

Thank you to Kirstin Lamb and Barrington Stoke for providing these review copies.

 

 

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