Brilliant books for New Readers from Barrington Stoke

Are you looking for books to encourage new readers? Barrington Stoke have published some wonderful books for younger readers recently and here are just two of them to give you a taste of what is available.

Captain Whiskers by Jeremy Strong illustrated by Matt Robertson

8BA19E2C-E1DE-45AF-A9D6-BAAA113C155CEveryone in Jackson’s class has a pet and Jackson would love a pet of his very own. He has a little brother but that’s not quite the same thing. Then one day Jackson meets a mysterious man when walking to school. The mysterious man has a pet cat named Mrs Wilson who takes a shine to Jackson and very soon Jackson gets not just one cat but one hundred and one cats!

Jeremy Strong has a gift for writing humour in books for children and for knowing what will appeal to young readers. This story is at times laugh out loud funny and at others a thoughtful look at how children can learn to overcome shyness. The author uses humour to lighten the fact that what young Jackson really needs is a friend. The text is accompanied by cheerful illustrations by Matt Robertson and children will love the cats. All the cats! There are cats of every type, colour and disposition wandering through the story and the endpapers. There is also a spot the difference puzzle featuring the mysterious man who readers will discover at the end of the story is hiding a rather special secret. A lovely book sure to put smiles on faces.

Clever Cakes by Michael Rosen illustrated by Ashley King

BF2C5E65-13F8-4BF3-BC04-D41C4E4316D2These two fairy tales with a twist told by one of our best loved authors featuring clever children getting the better of a grizzly bear and a grumpy king are sure to be a hit with new readers.  In the first of the stories a little girl named Masha is lost in the woods near her Grandma’s house when she is whisked away by a ‘massive muscly bear’  who wants her to cook and clean for him. Masha is not happy about this at all and comes up with a cunning plan involving cakes to trick the bear which she hopes will allow her to escape and return home to Grandma. The massive, muscly bear is sure he is too clever to be tricked, but he may be wrong!

The second story features a grumpy and rather bored king. Despite his courtiers doing their best to entertain him he wants more. He proclaims that the person who is able to tell him the biggest lie will win The Great Golden Belly-button. So the search begins across the kingdom for the biggest liar. The king is unimpressed by all the people flocking to see him to tell lies then a small girl called Peggy arrives at the palace. Surely she is not a liar!  The charming illustrations throughout by Ashley King add to the fun of both these stories plus puzzles to solve inside the front and back covers. 

Both of these books are part of the fabulous Little Gems series from Barrington Stoke for young readers aged 5-8 and have a dyslexia-friendly layout, typeface and paperstock so that even more readers can enjoy them.

I would like to thank Kirstin Lamb and Barrington Stoke for providing my review copies. Both books are available now and can be purchased online by clicking on the titles above.

For more great titles from this publisher you may like to read my earlier reviews:  Barrington Stoke – Making Brilliant Stories Accessible to More Readers

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The Cockatoo from Timbuktu by William A E Ford illustrated by Ramile M Imac

A cheerful picture book following a baby cockatoo as he tries to find his way home, this is fun to share while also enabling young children to discover countries around the world alongside the little bird.


Kian the little cockatoo lives in a zoo and sings about his happy life back home in Timbuktu. He yearns for home and one day when the keeper opens his cage Kian sneaks out and flies off, homeward bound. But how will he find his way home? Which way should he go?

Young children will find Kian appealing and enjoy following him as he makes his way back to Africa and home. Luckily for the reader Kian takes a rather roundabout and scenic route visiting Antarctica, Australia, India, China, England, Egypt and many other countries on his journey. The story told in rhyme with use of repetition describes all the sights that he sees along the way including a variety of animals, famous landmarks and places so children learn as they listen or read along.


The illustrations are bright and cheerful depicting many of the animals and places mentioned on Kian’s journey. Young children will enjoy recognising some of these and it is also a good prompt for discussion and a mini geography lesson as well as being entertaining. There is also a little ladybird to find on every page, a map of the world at the beginning and end of the book showing the route that Kian takes plus a page of fun facts to complete the package.

A lovely picture book for sharing in the home or classroom. I should like to thank the author, William Ford, for my free review copy. The Cockatoo from Timbuktu is out now and available to purchase online

You may also enjoy Here We Are – Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers a beautiful guide to our world fir young children.

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The Pear Affair by Judith Eagle

I loved Judith Eagle’s debut, The Secret Starling, so it was with eager anticipation that I started reading her second book. I was not disappointed. Wonderful storytelling, an epic adventure, villains that make you boo and hiss, brave and resourceful children, the evocative Parisian setting and the mouthwatering French food, all blend together in an entertaining mystery. This book is a delight of a read.


Nell Magnificent usually does her best to avoid spending time with her awful parents. Her money obsessed father, Gerald and her fashion obsessed mother, Melinda show no interest in their daughter and treat her with disdain. It is therefore rather surprising that Nell should beg to be allowed to accompany them on a business trip to Paris. However Nell has a particular reason for wanting to visit the French capital. Her adored au pair, Perrine, or Pear as she was known, lives there and Nell is desperate to find her. Pear used to write regularly to Nell and had promised to rescue her from her miserable life but her letters have suddenly stopped. Nell is determined to find out why and to uncover the mystery behind Pear’s disappearance. Nell embarks on an adventure in which she makes new friends, hides in laundry rooms of grand hotels and races through secret tunnels and catacombs as she uncovers secrets beneath the bustling city.

This is an adventure with a traditional feel and is the type of story that encouraged me to become a reader as a child. The twists and turns of the plot, the gradual development of friendships and the growing bravery of Nell all encourage the reader to feel very much part of the action. Judith Eagle’s love of Paris shines through the entire book and the city comes vividly to life in the descriptions and the depiction of everyday life. The mouthwatering food, oh my goodness the food! I could almost taste the croque monsieur and the hot chocolate with the piece of chocolate melting in it. There are wonderful descriptions of the bakery delicacies, the fashion houses, the cobbled streets and the wide boulevards. In my head I was reading this with a French accent!

Nell is an extremely engaging character and her friendship with Xavier and his family and friends is believable and touching.  Readers will, I think, enjoy the bravery and resourcefulness that the young characters display and as the story is set in the 1960s there is a satisfying independence to their lives due to the absence of mobile phones and technology. There are several strands to the plot and these are brought together in a satisfying and rather unexpected ending.  A happy book imbued with a feeling of kindness and highly recommended.

The attractive cover and lovely chapter headings throughout are by Kim Geyer. I should like to thank Faber and Faber Publishers for providing my review copy,

The Pear Affair was published on 5th March and is available to buy online. If you are looking for another adventure for this age group I would recommend Sky Chasers by Emma Carroll coincidentally also set in France but this time during the 18th century.


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

Hello everyone and I hope you are managing to cope and to keep well during these strange times for us all. This week I have tried to balance news and articles with more links to book related resources available for children as we adapt to these very different circumstances.

What I’m reading…


Although I am finding it difficult to concentrate on any reading at the moment I have finished reading The Pear Affair by Judith Eagle. What a lovely book! Escaping to 1960’s Paris was just what I needed and this happy adventure is a joy to read. My review should be on the blog at the beginning of next week. I’m also catching up on Books For Keeps which is always entertaining and informative and I would highly recommend it.

Book related resources available for children…

If you missed my Reading for Pleasure – Resources to Help Children Enjoy Books at Home last week I have added some new links to brilliant creative and engaging resources that have been shared and will continue to update it regularly. Here are some more useful resources below.

Support for Out of School Learning – the School Library Association have a dedicated page on their website for the current crisis with a list of great resources & info about their upcoming webinar plan for librarians and teachers (you need to scroll to the bottom for the webinar info) It is being constantly updated.

BBC Bitesize Fact or Fake – Fact or Fake? – this new area on the educational website is designed to help children to identify fake news and misinformation through a range of engaging articles, videos and quizzes.

Free Resources from Barrington Stoke – From reading guides to colouring in sheets, their Young Editors Scheme to author videos, there’s something for every age of reader linked to some of this publisher’s wonderful books.

StoryTime4HomeTime with James Mayhew – From Monday 23 March, author and illustrator James Mayhew has been posting videos on Youtube at 3pm. Whether you’re in school or at home you can listen to a story and watch James draw upside down! A lovely, soothing end to the day.

Draw with Jim Field – learn to draw alongside illustrator Jim Field with these great videos of him drawing Oi Frog and more on his website.

News from the world of children’s books…

Censoring Anne Frank: How her famous diary has been edited through history – “Anne Frank’s diary was first published in 1947, two years after her death, and her words are now immortalised as a symbol of the victims of the Holocaust. But was it the story that Anne intended for us to read?” Thank you to @gaiabird for this link in her Winding Up the Week post last weekend.

FCBG Children’s Book Award Blog Tour: Owen and the Soldier Q&A with author Lisa Thompson – two lucky children get the opportunity to put questions to the author of this book shortlisted in the younger readers category on the Toppsta website.

A Point of View: Cause for Hope – Michael Morpurgo’s thoughts on hunkering down in his cottage in Devon waiting for coronavirus to pass on this BBC Radio4 broadcast, available to listen to now if you missed it.

Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer Wins The Brilliant Book Award – Congratulations to Tom Palmer winner of the Brilliant Book Award 2020 with Armistice Runner. Voted for by students in Nottingham, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.

Book Recommendations for Home Learning – more helpful lists compiled by Alison on @Booksfortopics for different age groups and free to download in PDF format.

Down The Rabbit Hole Episode 7 Spring Special with Levi Pinfold and Kes Gray and Jim FieldIn this special bumper episode of the Resonance FM programme, Imogen Russell Williams interviews award-winning artist Levi Pinfold about his extraordinary books and exquisite work on Harry Potter; and Jack Noel talks to picture book creators Kes Gray and Jim Field about their wildly brilliant Oi! partnership.

How Bookshops are Helping with Isolation – As more countries go into lockdown, bookshops around the world are having to think of creative ways to serve their customers and communities, writes Clare Thorp on the BBC website.

How to Draw…a Panda with Jackie Morris – Children’s author and illustrator Jackie Morris made a special trip to see the pandas at Edinburgh zoo to create this gorgeous guide to drawing a panda bear for the Guardian. You can meet pandas and seven other types of other bears in Jackie Morris’s new book Something About A Bear.

Varied Voices 2020 4: Asha and the Spirit Bird, blog by Jasbinder Bilan – award winning author Jasbinder Bilan talks about her writing process for the School Library Association’s Varied Voices blog.

Book Sales Surge as ‘self-isolating’ Readers Stock up on ‘Bucket List’ Novels – plus according to Nielsen, “a 212% growth in volume sales for “home learning” titles, a 77% boost for school textbooks and study guides”

Learning at Home: Organising the Day – a blogpost on the Oxford Owl website by James Clements offering helpful and reassuring advice to parents coping with ‘home learning’ for the first time.

The Shortlist for the 2020 YA Book Prize Announced – Début author Holly Jackson is up against heavyweight names, including Malorie Blackman and Frances Hardinge. The judges for this award were also announced this week and include school librarian Lucas Maxwell.

‘One big virtual love-in’: how children’s book authors are creating online sanctuaries – ‘Authors are going live in real time to engage children and create a safe place where imaginations are fired’ article in Guardian Books by Justine O’Donnell about the response to the Coronavirus epidemic by illustrators and authors.

Tiny Owl Publishers Order Now Pay Later Offer! – the lovely team at Tiny Owl are providing the opportunity to order books by email with the option to pay now or choose to pay by 30th June.

Tir na n-Og Children’s Book Awards 2020 shortlists announced – Tales of dragons, families, myths and magic set amongst the mountains and coastlines of Wales feature in the English-language books shortlisted. 

Finally some reviews that caught my eye…

Dot Magazine from Studio Anorak – now may be just the time to take out a subscription to a regular magazine and this one reviewed by Jo @LibraryGirl&BookBoy sounds great for younger children. 

Lost by Adele Fountain – reviewed by Ruth Ng for The Bookbag @TheBookbag she describes this book as ‘full of adventure, and heartwarming family loyalty, this is an exciting and moving story.’

Max and the Midknights  by Lincoln Pierce – ‘the perfect story for escapism and reassurance – the world isn’t always perfect but a good band of friends can make it easier to cope’ says Louise Nettleton @Lou_Nettleton in her cracking review.

That’s all for this week. I hope that something here has made you smile or has been interesting or helpful.

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

Hello everyone and welcome to another Reading Matters and a look back at the week in children’s books.  This has been a difficult week for many and these are strange and worrying times. However I have decided to continue with these weekly updates for now as books can be a solace and an escape for us all so I hope very much that a guide to what is available may be comforting and helpful.

There has been an incredible amount of resources and information generously shared to support teachers and families following the closure of schools. This can at times feel bewildering and overwhelming. Therefore I am not including a vast number in Reading Matters this week as it would take up so much space but have written about these in a separate post Reading for Pleasure – Resources to Help Children Enjoy Books at Home I  have however selected three that I think may be useful for teachers and school librarians below.

What I’m reading…


This week I read Mr Tiger, Betsy and the Golden Seahorse by Sally Gardner and illustrated by Nick Maland. This was a very cheerful and entertaining read and is presented in a dyslexia friendly format so this charming story is suitable for a wide audience. Perfect for newly confident readers or to read aloud too.

At the moment I am reading and enjoying The Pear Affair by Judith Eagle and pretending I am in Paris. A happy escape! I hope to post a review next week.

Last Saturday I had a rewarding day at the Central and East Berkshire branch of the School Library Association’s unconference. It now feels a lifetime ago in many ways but it was a valuable, interesting and thought provoking day. School librarians sharing ideas and practical suggestions in a friendly environment and giving a warm welcome to those of us from outside the area too.  A tour of the Licensed Victuallers School Ascot’s library was included and here’s some photos for inspiration…


Just Imagine – The Reading Journey – The Reading Journey app is FREE. If your school is signed up and you have set up pupils logins, there are lots of books that they can discover at home, an online reading journal and challenges which can be submitted to you via the school dashboard.

The Book Whisperer’s Publisher and Author Resources – a huge list of links to a variety of activities linked to specific books collated by @TheBookWhisper2

Glenthorne School Library Literary Resources – school librarian Lucas Maxwell @lucasjmaxwell has put together a list of links to helpful resources for students and parents. Many of these are suitable for secondary age too.

News from the World of Children’s Books…

Shortlists for CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals Announced – eight-strong shortlists for the UK’s oldest book awards for children and young people were revealed on Thursday. The lists include books promoting environmentalism, acceptance, kindness and bravery. The shadowing website has a range of resources available and the CKG team will be updating the site in response to school closures.

Use them or Lose Them – Our Precious Indies– blogpost by children’s author, Fleur Hitchcock. This is ever more important. Many independent bookshops are taking online orders and some are delivering too. Don’t forget that if you order via Hive Books a percentage of the price goes to an independent bookshop of your choice.

Five Books That Explain Germs, Hand Washing & Viruses – Help your children to understand about germs and the importance of hand washing with this helpful list of children’s books about germs, viruses and hand hygiene  compiled by Alison Leach of Books for Topics.

Why We Need Angry Girls in Children’s Books More Than Ever– author Nicola Skinner’s article for The Independent is an interesting read.

Another Twist in the Tale by Catherine Bruton – Jo Clarke @bookloverjo revealed the cover of this forthcoming book  published by Nosy Crow on 5th May.  This author’s No Ballet Shoes in Syria was one of my favourite reads of 2019 so I am very much looking forward to this.

DustRoad The Playlist– if you followed the recent blog tour with Tom Huddleston or read my review last week you may already have a copy of Dust Road. Tom has created a brilliant playlist to go with the book that will make you feel as though you are on the road trip with Kara and Joe!

Mental Health, Well Being and the School Library – the #GreatSchoolLibraries campaign has moved on to its next phase one strand of which is the role of the school library and librarian in supporting the mental health and well being of the school community. Vice-chair of the campaign, Barbara Band, has written about this important aspect examining research and asking for case studies.

British Book Awards 2020 – Tiny Owl are joint winners with Jacaranda Press of the inaugural Small Press of the Year Award. Tiny Owl publish some very lovely books for children and their website is well worth a browse.

Booktrust interview with Jessica Sanders, author of Love Your Body – When Jessica Sanders realised that she didn’t know any women who hadn’t experienced a negative body image when they were growing up, she decided to do something about it and write a book. Love Your Body is out now,  illustrations by Carol Rossetti.

Finally here are some reviews that caught my eye this week…

Matisse’s Magical Trail by Tim Hopgood and Adam Boughton –  shortlisted for Children’s Book Award this review is part of the linked blog tour and Scott Evans @MrEPrimary says ‘ I hope this book reaches the hands & hearts of many a reader, whether that be in a classroom, a library or a home because this is one that deserves to be read and reread, shared and re-shared over and over again.’ It sounds wonderful.

How Does Your Garden Grow? – a beautiful selection of tempting books reviewed by Jo @LibraryGirl&BookBoy that will encourage green fingers and welcome Spring. Perfect timing for stay at home families who are able to get out into a garden.

Talking to the Moon by S E Durrant – Andrea Reece describes this as ‘a poignant, thoughtful examination of family relationships, memory and loss’ on the LoveReading4Kids website. Another for my lengthy list.

That’s all for this week and I hope that you have found something of interest. Over the coming days and weeks although we have to practise social distancing we can meet up online and share a love of stories, escape to an imaginary world, visit new places or make new friends in the pages of a book. Keep well everyone and happy reading.

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Reading for Pleasure – Resources to Help Children Enjoy Books at Home

Today all over the country teachers and parents are preparing for schools to be closed for an indefinite period. Teachers are faced with creating ways that children can access education online and parents are wondering how they can home educate or occupy their children. Thankfully organisations, charities, authors, illustrators, school librarians and teachers have been sharing resources for several days. This is extremely generous but at times the vast quantity available can feel bewildering. Therefore I have selected some book related resources  that I think primary school children will enjoy and parents will find useful. I hope to update these on a regular basis without making the list too long and overwhelming.

Organisations,  Charities and Literacy Websites 

The Literacy Trust Family Zone – a brilliant place to start, this is a comprehensive web portal for parents created by The Literacy Trust. Split up by age group, you will find ideas and guidance for simple activities that will engage children at home, while also benefiting their reading, writing and language development. You’ll be able to access free reading and writing resources, audiobooks, videos, competitions and reading challenges.

Love My Books – another free website providing resources, activity ideas and book suggestions for children aged 0-9. Pages of great ideas for parents and children sharing books together.

World Book Day – Browse their booklists for children and young people at all ages and stages – for ideas and inspiration. There are stacks of links to book related resources and videos too. They have just added the Book Ideas Hub to the website which looks fabulous.

Authorfy – this is a great website. Full of free resources, activity packs, writing  prompts, author videos and brilliant book recommendations this is a good way to entertain and educate children as it is so engaging.

The British Library Discovering Children’s Books – this new website has a wide range of information and resources available from how to draw a Gruffalo to how to make a mini book.

The Reading Realm– there are now some free learning packs available on this website based on animals and nature, fairy tales and creative writing prompts.

Audible Stories – Audible have launched a free service that offers educational and entertaining audiobook content for kids, teens, and families.

Book Trust Stories and Games – lots of lovely interactive books to read online or watch with signing plus stacks of games and activities to share. They have now added a Home Time page with links to lots of fabulous activities. This is definitely worth a look.

Authors, Illustrators and Publishers

Rob Biddulph Draw Along Videos – these are great. Each Tuesday and Thursday at 10am Rob Biddulph is posting a video of him drawing a character for children to copy. These are stored on his website for you to watch later.

Peter Bunzl Cogheart and Moonlocket School Resources– these include some great creative projects such as design your own mechanical robot and making a flip book animation.

Chicken House Books Education Hub – Here you’ll find educational resources that work alongside this publisher’s most popular books books. Although designed for use in schools the videos and PDF downloads etc. could be enjoyed at home too.

Elise Gravel Free Comic– Illustrator Elise Gravel has created a free to download comic which explains the Covid19 situation to children.

Abi Elphinstone Jungle Drop – author Abi Elphinstone has shared 7 videos of her chatting about her latest book due out in May. You can have a sneaky peep at the opening chapters here too.

Caryl Hart Author Events Online – This is an excellent resource. Authors and illustrators are creating loads of resources that children, teachers and families can access from home. These include videos, live broadcasts on Instagram and Facebook, and printables and these have been collated and shared on this site by author Caryl Hart.

Steve Lenton’s Draw-Along-A-Lenton – Children’s Illustrator Steve Lenton’s YouTube channel is full of  great videos showing children that everyone can draw and is being updated frequently.

Nosy Crow Activity Sheets– lots of free to download ideas, games, creative activities and puzzles linked to some of Nosy Crow’s best loved books including picture books and fiction for the 8 -12 age group.

Tom Palmer Literacy Resources – in addition to a range of great resources linked to Tom’s books he has also provided Free Reads and a daily video of him reading aloud from his books.

Kids Poems and Stories With Michael Rosen – This is the official Michael Rosen video channel. All videos and playlists on this channel have been approved by Michael Rosen and are safe to watch.

Nick Sharratt’s Drawing Tips – Lots of videos with drawing activities based on his well known books such as the Daisy series by Kes Gray plus the characters for Jacqueline Wilson’s books and more.

Robin Stevens The Detective Society’s Top- Secret Files – loads of activities linked to Robin’s books plus ‘How to Have the Perfect Midnight Feast’ and other such delights.

Walkers Picture Book Party – ACTIVITY SHEETS: drawing, spot-the-difference or escape some mazes, there’s something for everyone!

That’s all for now, I will add others as and when I find them. These will, I hope, add fun to reading at home. Don’t forget if you are a member of your local library they will provide a range of online resources that are included in your membership.


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Mr Tiger, Betsy and the Golden Seahorse by Sally Gardner illustrated by Nick Maland

The third in this magical series by Sally Gardner this delightful book is a treat for young readers. The story is told with bags of humour and a touch of the ridiculous and this, combined with the wonderful illustrations by Nick Maland throughout, results in a perfect package for newly confident readers. The fact that it is printed in blue ink in Dyslexie, a font designed to make reading easier and more fun, ensures that Betsy and Mr Tiger’s adventures can be enjoyed by a wider audience.


We, the alphabet, are a family of letters. It is, we agree, a rather large family. Nevertheless, we muddle along without too many hiccups. We see ourselves as magicians of words. We sprinkle spells, make up stories, tell tall tales, spin yarns into a fabric of fables.”

So begins this adventure into a magical world of talking tigers, mermaids, shipwrecks, treasure and copious amounts of ice cream. When Sally Gardner is the magician weaving words into tales to enchant children we know that we are entering a world of vivid imagination and Betsy’s adventures have a surreal feel to them. Yet the magic is grounded by an ingenious plot and believable relationships between the quirky characters. This is a thoroughly enjoyable read and I had somehow missed the first two books in the series but now want to put that right.

In this story we discover that all is not well in the underwater world of Mermaid City. Sea Pig’s prized seahorse, Pudding Pie, has gone missing and the cantankerous octopus is implicated in the disappearance. Betsy and her friend Mr Tiger must go to the rescue in their submarine and search for a happy ending for everyone. All does not go smoothly for our adventurers and the intrepid and determined Betsy finds herself having to cope alone at times and rises to the challenge magnificently. There is a reassuring wisdom about Mr Tiger who has touch of the wise professor about him as he conducts himself with dignity even when wearing a deep sea diving suit.

The wonderful illustrations by Nick Maland including several double page spreads add greatly to the appeal and also break up the text in a manner that makes the book look less overwhelming for children who have not yet developed reading stamina. I think children would have a sense of achievement and satisfaction on completion of this happy story. This would also be a treat to read aloud either at home or in the classroom. Highly recommended.

I should like to thank the publishers Zephyr Books for providing my review copy.

Mr Tiger, Betsy and the Golden Seahorse is available to purchase in all good bookshops or online

If you are looking for a book by Sally Gardner suitable for older children I would recommend Invisible in a Bright Light another story with a fairy tale quality.

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

Welcome to another Reading Matters and the chance to catch up on children’s book news that you may have missed during the week. This week’s news has been dominated by the possibility of school closures so some of the links include online resources that may be helpful. If you are on Twitter it is worth having a look at #FreeResources too. 

What I’m reading…


This week I have read and very much enjoyed Dust Road by Tom Huddleston. This dystopian thriller, the sequel to Flood World,  is excellent for young readers who enjoy exciting and dramatic storylines but like books which make them think and ask questions too. I was delighted to take part in the blog tour to mark Dust Road’s publication and to host an interesting and enlightening Q & A with Tom Huddleston which added even more to my enjoyment of the story.

I have also read Mr Tiger, Betsy and the Golden Seahorse written by Sally Gardner and illustrated by Nick Marland. This is a entertaining and magical story which would be a treat to read aloud and my review will be on the blog next week. 

News from the world of children’s books…

From Watership Down to War Horse: Books about heroic animals – Damian Barr celebrates animal bravery in wild tales about battles, cruelty and kindness in his article for the Guardian

Marvellous Mums (book list) – with Mothers’ Day coming up on 22nd March Alison Leach of Books for Topics has created this helpful list of books celebrating mums. She has also added some thoughtful suggestions for sole Dads, grandparents and maternal bereavement.

Graphic Novels with Curriculum Links– Secondary school librarian, Melanie McGilloway @librarymice has compiled a helpful list of graphic novels grouped by curriculum subjects.

What do Artists Do All Day? – Shirley Hughes – a BBC4 programme shown again last Sunday and available to watch for a little while yet. Well worth watching especially if you are a fan of Shirley Hughes’s wonderful books.

Desert Island Discs with Chris Riddell author, illustrator and former Children’s Laureate – if you missed this last weekend it is still available to listen to and well worth a catch up. A lovely uplifting listen. 

Shortlist Announced for the KPMG Children’s Book Awards Ireland – The ten titles competing for this year’s awards have been revealed, as part of Belfast Children’s Festival. These include Toffee by Sarah Crossan and The Tide by Clare Helen Walsh illustrated by Ashling Lindsay. 

Flood World and Dust Road by Tom Huddleston Teaching Resource Pack – these two thrilling reads would be great for use in the classroom and publishers Nosy Crow have produced an excellent teaching pack including links to subjects such as democracy and morality and society plus creative writing prompts.

Register for the 2020 Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Award Shadowing Scheme – the shortlists are announced on 19th March and time is running out to register your school for the excellent shadowing scheme. There are a range of downloadable resources available and a shadowing tool kit.  

The Book Whisperer – a brand new blog from @TheBookWhisperer2 featuring reviews of the latest children’s books and recommended reads. There is also a link to a variety of free online educational resources. 

Custom Eyes Large Print Children’s Books – available via the Guide Dogs for the Blind website, from Dr Seuss to Shakespeare, from inspirational fiction to educational textbooks, over 4,200 large print books available for purchase for visually impaired children. Although too late for this year they do also provide large print copies of the World Book Day books. 

Free Reading Realm Home Learning Pack: Nature and Animals – Ian Eagleton, creator of the Reading Realm App, has produced this FREE Nature and Animals Home Learning Pack with drawing activities, extracts to read, spelling/grammar/punctuation tasks for any parents, teachers, schools who might need it. 

Registration now open for Bookbuzz 2020 – Bookbuzz is a reading programme from BookTrust that aims to help schools inspire a love of reading in 11 to 13-year-olds. (Years 7/8) Participating schools give their students the opportunity to choose their own book to take home and keep from a list of 17 titles. 

Books for Keeps March Issue out now – initially I selected a couple of articles to highlight but quite honestly the whole issue is worth making time for. Thoughtful articles and great reviews for children’s book lovers. 

Cast of Thousands Children’s Books for Educators – featuring hand picked quality books this website is for educators everywhere, school, home, museum.  Age adaptable activities and information linked to children’s books that support learning across a range of subjects.

Love My Books– helpful website for creative book based literacy activities designed for home learning with more books and activities added recently. 

Finally, some reviews that caught my eye this week…

The Lost Book by Margarita Surnaite – Andrea Reece, of LoveReading4Kids describes this picture book as ‘An intriguing book about the power of stories, and the importance of keeping your eyes open, beautifully and sensitively illustrated.’ 

Fierce, Fearless and Free by Lari Don illustrated by Eilidh Muldoon – reviewed on Books for Topics this anthology ‘simply showcases genuine traditional tales about girls who are the stars of their own stories.’ 

Bearmouth by Liz Hyder– Lucas Maxwell says that ‘Bearmouth is truly a unique YA that is near impossible to put down’ in his review. Suitable for aged 13+ and excellent for secondary school libraries.

That’s all for this week, I hope that this round up has been helpful and that you have found something of interest to you. I’m off to a day with the Berkshire branch of the School Library Association to share with and learn from school librarians. Have a great weekend and happy reading. 


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Dust Road by Tom Huddleston

Dust Road, the sequel to Flood World, is another epic adventure on a grand scale. Its gripping plot, vicious villains, courageous heroes and thought provoking themes combine to make this a rewarding read for children and teens. 


Tom Huddleston has set his stories in a dystopian world where the rising sea levels have flooded cities while other parts of the world are now barren and desolate. This all feels disturbingly believable which adds to the impact. In Flood World we first met Kara and Joe who survive in The Shanties, the sunken ruins of a once great city. They unwittingly find themselves drawn into a battle between sinister crooks and The Mariners, a group of ruthless sea pirates. The situation quickly spirals out of control and Kara and Joe find their courage and loyalty tested repeatedly. 

Dust Road takes up Kara and Joe’s story as they embark on a perilous journey across the Atlantic and then through the barren wastelands of the US with a band of sinister outlaws who are determined to destroy the Mariners and steal their world and resources. The mounting danger and the moments of nail biting tension make this an exciting read and the powerful descriptions of both landscape and events again give Dust Road a cinematic feel. The places and the people felt real to me and this engagement adds to the reader’s enjoyment. The illustrations add to the appeal and I particularly like the fabulous map by Jensine Eckwall. Since childhood I have always been drawn to books with maps as for me this strengthens the belief in the world created by the author. 

The risks the children take and the danger in which they find themselves ensures that this sequel is a gripping read. There are sinister aspects to the villains that promote thoughts about modern politics and the use of power. There are new evil characters that Kara and Joe must tackle and old enemies from the previous book return too. Interesting themes are conveyed within the story too. There are times when the children have to make difficult choices and this novel will encourage readers to think about individual responsibility and loyalty to friends and family. These are not stereotypes or one dimensional characters, these children make mistakes, have doubts and struggle at times to cope with their predicament. Yet they are also brave, resourceful and determined, all qualities that will inspire young readers.  I particularly liked the way in which Kara and Joe mature throughout the story and there is an important message about helping others conveyed within the adventure. Tom Huddleston combines cliff hanging tension and high drama with moments of humanity and thoughtfulness with great effect. I enjoyed this very much. 

A gripping and original read with some unforgettable characters and tense moments. Dust Road would be excellent for readers of about 10+ who love thrills and excitement. 

Thank you very much to Tom Huddleston, Rebecca Mason and Nosy Crow Books for providing my review copy. Dust Road is available to purchase in all good bookshops or online

There are excellent teaching resources available on the publisher’s website linked to the two books. 

You can get a taste of Dust Road with this extract: 


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Blog Tour – Flood World and Dust Road by Tom Huddleston – Q&A with the author

Today I am pleased to host the final day of the Flood World and Dust Road blog tour. I thought that Flood World was a fabulous, exciting and thought provoking read so I was delighted to learn that there was to be a sequel.  Dust Road is, I think, even better, full of tension, drama and thrills featuring, in Kara and Joe, engaging characters with a broad appeal. 


Both books would be excellent for readers of about 10+ who love thrills and excitement and are rewarding reads that will encourage young readers to think and ask questions too

I am delighted that Tom has kindly agreed to answer some questions on the blog today.

1. The theme of climate change, central to both FloodWorld and Dust Road, is timely and a subject that children have become engaged in fully in recent years. Did that engagement influence your decision to use this for the world in which these stories take place or is it something that you have wanted to write about for some time?
Well the very first draft of FloodWorld was written more than 10 years ago, long before the school climate strikes started. In fact, the issue I was most keen to explore initially was to do with terrorism, and the way an entire group of people can be demonised by the actions of a few extremists. That’s still a pretty timely theme, obviously.
But the first draft wasn’t very good, and the book ended up going into a drawer for quite a few years. It was when I was working on a much later draft, after my publishers Nosy Crow got involved, that the climate strikes began in earnest. I found them really inspiring, and they definitely influenced the way I felt about the book. It gave everything new meaning and new urgency. I really wanted to make the book as clear and forceful as it could be, to add my voice to this ongoing conversation around climate change.

2. The settings are vividly brought to life and feel real to me as a reader but are very different in the two books. What made you choose the locations?
I live in London, so that’s why I chose it as the location for FloodWorld – albeit in a much more waterlogged form! I find a story much more convincing if the writer really knows the place they’re writing about. If I’m honest, it wasn’t a very practical choice: London is not exactly close to the sea, so it’d take an extreme rise in tidal levels to flood the city. But I felt like it was more important that the story feel real than that it actually be real, if that makes sense. I sacrificed scientific fact in favour of a more emotional connection to the story and the location.
With DustRoad I wanted a stark contrast, somewhere that felt completely unlike the bustling, flooded city of the first book. A few years back I’d taken a road trip across the southern states of America, from Houston to California through the desert. Again I wanted that sense of realism, so I took inspiration from that journey – plus a couple of earlier road trips – to map out the story, and make the locations feel as real as possible. Hopefully it paid off.

3. There is a real cinematic feel to both books and they would be wonderful on the big screen. If you could choose, who would the director be and which actors would be great as some of the main characters?
Well I’m a giant film nerd – writing about cinema was my main job for years, and I still do a fair bit of freelancing. So I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t imagined how FloodWorld might look on the big screen!
I think there are loads of directors who’d do a great job. Edgar Wright’s balance of spectacular action and smart humour would be perfect. Taika Waititi is able to get amazing performances out of kids. And I’ve rarely seen a better book adaptation than Greta Gerwig’s recent version of Little Women – though obviously, this one would involve a few more explosions.
As for actors, I never had anyone in mind for Kara or Joe. But I do have one very clear casting choice for the FloodWorld movie. Mahershala Ali would be perfect as the Mariner captain, John Cortez. I had him in mind all the way through writing, in fact watching his performances helped me to find the character. I think he’d be incredible.

4. Kara is an interesting character, is she inspired by someone from real life?
A few readers have assumed she was inspired by Greta Thunberg, which isn’t the case – in fact, Kara’s essential character is one of the very few things in FloodWorld that hasn’t really changed since that first draft a decade ago. Embarrassingly, I didn’t even notice the parallels until a reviewer pointed them out. But it’s a very happy coincidence – Greta is one of my living heroes, and if Kara has even an ounce of her bravery and brilliance then I’m very pleased.
All that said, Kara definitely does have real-life parallels – there’s a lot of my older sister in her, and a bit of my mother too, who was a lifelong activist (the character of Joe’s teacher Miss Ella was partly based on her as well). And there are little hints of friends in there, people I grew up with, women I’ve admired, it all goes into the mix!

5. As a journalist and film critic have you always wanted to write for children?
I’ve always just wanted to be a writer, in whatever form I could. The first couple of novels I wrote were for adults, but neither have been published nor, I suspect, will they ever be! It was only when I started working on my first book for younger readers, The Waking World, that I felt like I’d found my voice. It just felt right.
I finished the first draft of The Waking World at the exact same time I started writing film reviews online. It just turned out that, for me at least, it was easier to make a living writing about film than writing fiction, and I needed to eat! So I took a job on the film desk at Time Out, and wrote stories at the weekends. The Waking World came out while I was at Time Out, and by the time I left that job I was working on my Star Wars and Warhammer books and the FloodWorld deal was ready to be finalised, so I was lucky enough to be able to switch over into writing fiction almost full time.

6. What type of books did you enjoy reading as a child and has that influenced your own writing style?
I read everything I could get my hands on: joke books, books of facts, film tie-ins, the Beano. But I always loved sci-fi, fantasy and adventure stories: writers like Ursula Le Guin (still my favourite), John Christopher, Susan Cooper, Nicolas Fisk and Rosemary Sutcliffe.
Thinking about what unites those writers, one important thing seems to be clarity: they all tell really clear, precise stories, and their descriptions are always simple but evocative. They don’t spend pages describing a castle or a spaceship or a landscape, they just give you a few key pieces of information and let your imagination do the rest. It’s something I’ve struggled with – my natural instinct is to over-describe and over-explain everything. These writers taught me to trust my readers to fill in the blanks.

7. The books’ covers are stunning and I also love the maps. Did you have any input into the design of these?
They’re gorgeous, aren’t they? Manuel Sumberac designed the covers, and he did an amazing job. It took quite a few goes to get the cover of FloodWorld just right, and the process was led by the design team at Nosy Crow with only a little input from me.
I was much more closely involved in the maps, which were drawn by the absurdly talented Jensine Eckwall. I’d scribbled out an extremely rough map while I was writing FloodWorld, which was then re-drawn in more detail by my talented partner Rosie so I could send it out with the book when I was looking for a publisher. Jensine took that version and made it her own, gave it life and movement and all these lovely, eccentric little details. For DustRoad, she worked directly from my rough sketches – how she managed to translate my scrawls into such a beautiful map I’ll never understand…

Map by Jensine Eckwall

8. What next for the characters? Will there be more or is there an idea for something different on the way instead?
Well the plan is definitely for a third and final book in the FloodWorld trilogy – it’s all planned out, but obviously I can’t give anything away! And I’m working on a couple of other ideas, one for an adventure story in a similar vein to FloodWorld, and another that’s completely, totally different… In the meantime there are three more instalments in my Warhammer Adventures series on the way – the next one’s out in June.

9.And finally do you have any writing tips for young readers who would like to follow in your footsteps?
I suppose my biggest tip would be – don’t stop just because it’s rubbish! Thinking about my first draft of FloodWorld, which was this huge, messy, rambling load of nonsense, it would’ve been easy just to chuck it in the bin. But instead I put it away for a while, and when I came back to it I could see more clearly what was actually good about it (the flooded London setting, and the characters of Kara and Joe) and what wasn’t working (almost everything else). It took a lot of work, but eventually I was able to shape it into something that was fit for other people to read. So don’t expect to get it right first time – and if you get disheartened, don’t give up.
Thank you very much, Tom, for taking the time to answer my questions so fully. It has been fascinating and made me want to read the books all over again! I’m also delighted to learn that there is to be another book in the series. 
If you missed any of the blog tour this week you can still catch up with previous posts. 





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