Reading Matters – children’s book news

Welcome to this week’s look at what has been happening in the world of children’s books recently.

What I’m reading…

This week I would like to highlight books from The Emma Press, an independent publisher, specialising in poetry, short fiction and children’s books, who state that their mission is to “make literature and publishing as welcoming and accessible as possible.” It was founded by Emma Dai’an Wright in Winnersh, Berkshire, in 2012 and their books have been shortlisted for and won the CLiPPA and other awards. Over the last week or so I have been savouring some of their publications for children.

Cloud Soup, a poetry collection by Kate Wakeling illustrated by Elīna Brasliņa is included in this year’s Read for Empathy collection and is the sequel to Moon Juice, the CLiPPA award winner in 2017. The poems in this book vary greatly in theme, containing humour and thoughtful observation, moving from the everyday to the mystical. Some poems would prompt conversation, some will make you smile and others will make you sit and think quietly, but all feel natural. The charming illustrations work well with the text making this a delightful package that I would recommend for primary schools.

Na Willa and the House in the Alley written by Reda Gaudiamo illustrated by Cecillia Hidayat and translated by Ikhada Ayuning Maharishi Degoul and Kate Wakeling is the second in the series of stories featuring a small girl growing up in Indonesia with an East Indonesian mother and a Chinese-Indonesian father. Based on the author’s own childhood in the 1960s this delightful book celebrates the small moments in a child’s life that matter to them. Na Willa plays outside with her friends, listens to the radio with her mother, loves to sing and read and is always asking questions. I particularly liked the voice of Na Willa, she is an engaging and charming narrator and this is a testament to the skill of the author and translator who ensure that this does feel like the musings of a young child. Told in relatively short chapters this could be read independently by readers of about 8 plus and read aloud to younger children too.

Last but not least the Bicki-Books collection is well worth a look. These are a series of little postcard sized picture books each containing a poem, translated from Latvian, illustrated by a contemporary illustrator. Calm Beasts by Herberts Dorbe illustrated by Gita Treice is a gorgeous little celebration of the imaginary world created in children’s literature and there are several others available either as a bundle of books or part of a subscription package.

News, articles and resources…

Don’t Forget Empathy Day 8th June! – Empathy Day is a brilliant way to inspire young people to develop their empathy superpower, and change the world for the better. TAKE ACTION NOW! There are some wonderful, free Mission Empathy resources and activities which you can use from now onwards. Do register for your resources which will help you organise a powerful day with a lasting impact. Choose toolkits for your setting – Early Years, primary or secondary school or public library via the link above where you can register for the live online event on the day too. A free downloadable family activities pack is also available at .

Books For Keeps May 2023 Issue – the latest issue of this excellent online magazine for those interested in children’s books includes a guest editorial by Frank Cottrell Boyce, Authorgraph interview Jackie Morris; Rob Ramsden Windows into Illustration; ten of the best Irish children’s books; new Beyond the Secret Garden looking at belonging and nature in British Children’s books; plus reviews. A must read!

Discover the UK’s Largest Collection of Translated Children Literature From Around the World – A new video has been produced by Outside in World (OIW) to showcase the organisation’s work in exploring, celebrating and promoting children’s books in translation and presents its unique collection of 1,600 titles translated from many world languages into English. It highlights OIW as a valuable resource for publishers, educationalists, librarians, academics, researchers and students. This collection is the largest of its kind in the UK and is now part of Near and Far World Books at the University of Portsmouth Library. You can watch the video via the link above

Choosing Books To Read Aloud: Blog by Roy James – the latest in Roy’s series of blogs for Just Imagine includes input from several experienced class teachers and contains much helpful advice, plenty of excellent book suggestions and valuable video links to more advice.

Announcing the Shortlists for the School Library Association Community Award and Enterprise of the Year 2023 – Following the awards’ inaugural year in 2022, these two awards are continuing to celebrate the amazing projects that are getting the UK’s school pupils excited about reading. The Enterprise of the Year celebrates one-off or progressive projects which contribute towards reading and literacy in schools. The Community Award recognises the organisations and initiatives which partner with schools to promote and develop a reading culture.

Wales Book of the Year Award 2023 The English-language Shortlist – The Wales Book of the Year Award is an annual prize celebrating outstanding literary talent from Wales across many genres and in both English and Welsh. The shortlists were announced this week and the English language titles are: The Mab, Various Authors (Unbound), When The War Came Home, Lesley Parr (Bloomsbury Children’s Books) and The Last Firefox, Lee Newbery (Penguin Random House Children’s).

The Nero Book Awards – Caffè Nero announced this week that it is launching these new awards which will highlight winners in various categories. These categories: children’s books, debut fiction, fiction and nonfiction. The Nero awards will be open to books by writers based in the UK and Ireland, and will be administered by trade organisation the Booksellers Association. The awards are also in partnership with Brunel University London and Right to Dream.

The 100 greatest children’s books of all time – BBC Culture polled 177 books experts from 56 countries in order to find the greatest children’s books ever. This makes interesting reading and I’m sure we could all come up with a list and each would be different reflecting our experience, age and awareness of children’s literature. For that reason I find the individual choices of the experts particularly interesting. Whatever your view of the selection it is encouraging to witness this conversation about children’s books in main stream media.

Meet author Cath Howe to celebrate Empathy Day – with Empathy Day in 8th June rapidly approaching this free online event hosted by the National Literacy Trust on the day from 1.30pm – 2.15pm will be useful for schools. Cath Howe will discuss her books, her inspirations as an author, and tshare insights into her latest title, My Life on Fire published by Nosy Crow. This event is open to all school children and is suitable for pupils ages 8 to 12, and the session will include a live Q&A where pupils can ask questions and join in with thoughts and comments.

Diverse Libraries webinar 20th June – Patrick Ness: Handling difficult conversations around representation in children’s literature – another free online event from the National Literacy Trust, this time for library staff or teachers based in primary or secondary schools, public or community libraries across the UK. Award-winning author Patrick Ness will explore why it’s important that children can continue to access books which confront complex matters. Librarian Barbara Band will open the webinar with an exploration of how best to address the representation of neurodiversity in conversations about children’s literature. Booking via the link above.

Unveiling the KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Award winners 2023 – The winners of this year’s KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards were announced this at a ceremony held as part of International Literature Festival Dublin. Selected by an independent panel of expert judges, including a Young Judge, and a network of Junior Jurors nationwide, the winning titles include an illustrated retelling of Cinderella as Gaeilge; an anthology of unsung stories about Ireland’s mythical goddesses; a mischievous mystery for younger readers; a colourful adventure tale of bravery and friendship; and a supernatural page-turner for ages nine and up.

Jhalak Prize Winners Announced – First awarded in March 2017, the Jhalak Prize and its new sister award Jhalak Children’s & YA Prize founded in 2020, seek to celebrate books by British/British resident BAME writers. The winners of this year’s awards were announced this week, Congratulations to Travis Alabanzo, winner of Jhalak Prize for None of the Above and Danielle Jawando, winner of Jhalak C&YA Prize for When Our Worlds Collided.

The Week Junior Book Awards: Shortlists Announced – These new awards were launched this year by the Week Junior and The Bookseller. Showcasing top children’s books across nine categories, The Week Junior Book Awards aim to inspire children to read for pleasure. From magical adventures to real-life stories, there’s something for everyone to enjoy including fiction, non-fiction, illustrated (including graphic novels), best STEM book, debut book, audiobook and book cover. This week the shortlists were announced and readers have been asked to choose the winner of the award for the best Children’s Book Cover of the Year 2023.

Get creative and win amazing prizes from Book Trust Writer in Residence SF Said – With a Bank Holiday weekend and half term stretching ahead of us, why not get creative? Writer in Residence SF Said is looking for children’s writing and art inspired by animals – and he has some great prizes on offer. There are resources, ideas and full details available on the website and the closing date is 5pm on Friday, 28 July 2023.

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

The Big Book of Nature Art by Yuval Zommer – the latest in this series of books by Yuval Zommer us full of creative inspiration for young children. Roy Moss’s review for Just Imagine explores the activities, the facts included and the nature vocabulary incorporated within its pages. A must have for schools and useful for families who like to ‘make and do’.

Midwinter Burning by Tanya Landman – this historical time-slip adventure for middle grade readers, from the Carnegie Medal-winning author is published next month and Kate Heap’s review has whetted my appetite. “…powerful historical story. a hero who has much to learn about life, adults who recognise and support a child in need, devoted friendship, and a wonderfully magical time-slip adventure. Tanya Landman is a master at weaving an engaging and heart-warming story that holds readers fast.”

Surprisingly Sarah by Terri Libenson – The seventh in the Emmie & Friends graphic novel series, Surprisingly Sarah could also be read as a stand alone according to this excellent review by Veronica Price. “An interesting, honest, humorous portrayal of young teens with all their conflicting emotions as they navigate friendships, school and the onset of adolescence…”

That’s everything for this week. I hope you have a happy bank holiday weekend and that the sun is shining where you are.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

Welcome to this week’s look at what has been happening in the world of children’s books. Once more there has been mention of children’s books on Radio4, or more specifically mention of the lack of attention children’s books receive in the media. We can only hope that this repeated refrain will soon lead to widespread, informed discussion about children’s literature in all its formats. Meanwhile I hope this weekly look at what is going on and spreading the word about new books, awards etc. helps a little.

What I’m reading…

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a fan of both the Lulu and Zeki series of books for little ones published by Alanna Max. I’m happy to report that this appreciation is now carrying on down the generations. My son tells me that his baby boy, now aged 8 months, loves sharing the Zeki books at bedtime which delights me. According to his mum and dad ‘the text is just right’ for reading aloud to him and he loves looking at the bright, cheerful illustrations which depict things he may now recognise and be familiar with. With impeccable timing there is another Zeki book out later this month, Zeki Goes to the Park with words by Anna McQuinn and pictures by Ruth Hearson. I will write a review in the coming days but I feel sure that this carefully created book celebrating family time and first experiences will be just as much loved by my grandson as its predecessors.

This week’s personal highlight was attending the announcement of the shortlist for the Klaus Flugge Prize at Waterstones Piccadilly on Wednesday evening. Before the announcement we had the pleasure of listening to award-winning illustrator of favourites including What the Ladybird Heard, Lydia Monks in discussion with Julia Eccleshare. I found this both entertaining and enlightening as Lydia shared her route into becoming a successful illustrator which involved much determination and resilience in addition to talent.

Huge congratulations to the five illustrators shortlisted illustrators (details below) and it is wonderful to see the talent and enthusiasm of new picturebook creators appreciated, nurtured and celebrated in this way. I don’t envy the judges their difficult task of selecting an eventual winner as all five books are special in different ways.

Over the last few weeks I have read a number of novels for children aged about 9 – 12 and I’ve reviewed a selection here that you may be interested in.

News, articles and resources…

Open University Reading for Pleasure: Top Texts for May – Dr Julia Blake has selected a wonderful collection of poems for reading aloud and each of her three choices are perfect for primary school libraries and classrooms.

Sunday Times Sports Book Awards: shortlists announced – These awards exist to highlight the most outstanding sports books of the previous calendar year, to showcase their merits and to enhance their reputation and profile. There are 11 categories in total and the ‘Children’s Sports Book of the Year’ category was added in 2020. The shortlist for this category this year includes All To Play For by Eve Ainsworth and illustrated by Kirsti Beautiman which I would highly recommend.

The British Book Awards Book of the Year Winners 2023 – a ceremony took place on Monday evening at which the winners of these awards was announced and following it online I, like many others I expect, gave a little cheer when SF Said won the children’s fiction category for Tyger. A stunning story beautifully illustrated by Dave McKean. You can see which books won all the different categories in the link above but a special mention for Harry Woodgate’s Grandad’s Camper which won the Children’s Illustrated category and A Better Day by Dr Alex George which won the Children’s Non-Fiction award.

InspiREAD 2023 Shortlist Out Now – InspiREAD began during the first Covid-19 lockdown as a virtual primary book award. It now runs annually during the summer term. It is a great way to help you develop your reading community, encouraging children to read for pleasure, and to include parents, grandparents, carers, teachers, and anyone who enjoys a good read to get involved. You can find out more about the award, the shortlisted titles in the three age groups plus videos and resources on the website above.

Garden Wildlife Week – another really lovely and interesting read in this series of blogs for Just Imagine by Roy Moss. In this one Roy explores the decline in the number of birds over the years and suggests some excellent books to help children learn about and encourage different species of birds into their gardens, on to their balconies or in to school grounds. As Roy says, a perfect way to turn Garden Wildlife Week into Garden Wildlife Season!

Reading ability of children in England scores well in global survey – the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls) results were announced recently and England’s nine and 10-year-olds have taken fourth place. This Guardian article explores the findings and includes comment by Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).

Booking Page British Library presents: Create a handmade library with Axel Scheffler and friends – Join Axel Scheffler and Jasbinder Bilan on 12th June at 11 am in this online event to discover how to create a handmade library for your classroom. Help celebrate the British Library’s 50th birthday by inspiring your students to make their own small books using non-fiction, storytelling and the power of crafting.

Dads and Art: some emotional landscape painting – this blogpost by Nick Swarbrick discusses fathers in picturebooks, notably two by Anthony Browne, Zoo and The Shape Game and a new book, Rory’s Room of Rectangles by Ian Eagleton and Jessica Knight reviewed below. This gave me a great deal to think about regarding the portrayal of families and fathers in particular in picturebooks for children.

Klaus Flugge Prize Shortlist Announced – the shortlist for this award celebrating the most promising and exciting newcomer to children’s illustration was announced at an event held at Waterstones, Piccadilly on Wednesday evening. The impressive longlist has now been whittled down to five books and it will be a hard task for the judging panel to decide on the eventual winner who will be announced in September. There is a lovely video and more information about the illustrators and their brilliant books on the official website above. Don’t forget the brilliant Klaus Flugge Prize Presentation created by Mat Tobin, mentioned last week, which explores all the books on the original longlist.

Lessons in Life, Andria Zafirakou: Author Chat with Nikki Gamble – if like me you couldn’t make this event live during the week you can now watch it on Nikki’s Book Channel. Andria Zafirakou joined Nikki to talk about inspirational teachers from around the world and her new book Lessons in life.

What to Read After…Dog Man – assistant headteacher Dean Boddington, creator of the monthly reading Newsletter – ‘No Shelf Control’, has written this article for Book Trust with loads of suggestions of books that will keep fans of Dog Man by Dav Pilkey laughing and loving reading.

Libraries Connected: Ready to Learn Campaign – the Ready to Learn campaign highlights the crucial role libraries play in helping young children prepare for school. Libraries Connected are calling on national and local government to put libraries at the heart of efforts to support children’s transition to formal education. This article includes reference to a recent poll of primary school teachers on the subject of public libraries and readiness for school.

Free Author Events for Summer Term 2023 – this is a valuable resource created and shared by The Literacy Hive. Take advantage of the many free online events this summer term to bring a little author magic into your classroom. There is something for everybody in this term’s selection and Literacy Hive will keep updating as new events are released.

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

Rory’s Room of Rectangles by Ian Eagleton & Jessica Knight – teacher and book reviewer Paul Watson’s review of this new picture book highlights the way in which this could prompt thought or conversation about blended families or in fact what a family is.

Oh Maya Gods! by Maz Evans – Meet the brand-new Gods Squad led by Vesper, the bossy, football-mad adopted daughter of Elliot Hooper in this review by Tom Griffiths. Tom ranks this up there with the return of Neighbours has a highlight of 2023 so those who follow Tom on Twitter will appreciate that this is praise of the highest order!

Jericho Prize: Summer Reads – two new novels for children are reviewed on the Jericho Prize website, Kofi and the Rap Battle Summer by Jeffrey Boakye, illustrated by Beth Suzanna and Fablehouse by EL Norry, illustrated by Thy Bui. Thank you to Fabia Turner for her tempting and helpful reviews.

That’s everything for this week and I hope that you have found this collection of links and reviews helpful. Happy reading.

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New Novels for Children

So many books are being published at the moment that it can be hard to keep up with them all. I have selected just a handful of recent titles which I think prove that fiction for children can be both entertaining and enable children to see themselves and others in stories. These books celebrate difference and similarities, friendship and families using humour, understanding and experience to engage their readers.

Cover illustration by Fuji Takashi

My Name is Sunshine Simpson (Usborne Books) is a charming debut by G M Linton inspired by her own family background and told with tenderness, humour and kindness. Ten year old Sunshine is part of a loving extended family, with good friends and an enthusiastic approach to life. However when friction develops in a new friendship, the challenge of a stressful school event approaches and worst of all her beloved Grandad’s health starts to deteriorate Sunshine’s smile begins to slip.

The narrative voice of Sunshine captures effectively the hopes, dreams and worries of a child of her age and helps to create this delightful story’s appeal. The bond between Sunshine and her cherished grandad is both joyful and poignant and is at the heart of the novel. Her family is made up of distinctive and likeable characters and their pride in their heritage is integral to their way of life. There is laughter and tears, joy and heartbreak in this poignant story celebrating the Windrush generation and their achievements and a lovely message of hope, trust and the importance of self belief and positivity. The good news is this is the first in a new series.

Cover illustration Keith Robinson

Hilary McKay’s latest novel for Barrington Stoke, Jodie is an atmospheric, ghostly tale set in a desolate backdrop captured beautifully in Keith Robinson’s haunting illustrations. Hilary McKay has a knack of grabbing her reader with her opening lines and the first page or so of Jodie’s story was enough to make this a ‘read in one sitting’ book. The skill of providing a back story which provides an understanding of Jodie’s issues in a few lines is masterly and effective. In short sentences, family drama, loss and change is conveyed without delaying the story we are now starting.

Jodie is a reluctant participant in a residential school trip to a nature field centre and finds herself sharing a dormitory with girls from her class who don’t understand her. Although not unpleasant or cruel they make Jodie feel different and excluded so she escapes to the salt marshes where she can hear a small dog barking in the distance. Alone and in danger Jodie is trapped in the mud as the tide approaches. When rescue arrives it is both unexpected and welcome.

The details of the school trip made me smile in recognition and as ever Hilary McKay’s dialogue has a natural and believable ring to it. The voices of the girls, their happy chats and their inevitable disagreements are just right. Although I did not predict the final rescue scene it will reassure readers in its hopeful and kind message to those who may feel isolated or different. Jodie is a ghost story, deliciously spooky in places, but also a wise tale of friendship and loyalty.

Cover illustration by Yao Xiao

In The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei by Christina Matula illustrated by Yao Xiao (Inkyard Press) the author has done an excellent job of balancing a story of friendship and fitting in with an exploration of what it means to be of dual heritage. Holly- Mei is initially excited about moving across the world to Hong Kong for her mother’s new job, ready for a new start and new friendships. However she soon realises that the rules may be slightly different in her new environment and without the guidance of her loving grandma Holly-Mei starts to struggle and worries about letting her mother down.

Drawing on her own personal experiences Christina Matula has ensured that this book has an authentic and distinctive voice which enlightens the reader whilst also entertaining them. Heritage and cultural background are part of this story however the everyday issues adolescents face are typical for all but are happening to Asian youngsters in this particular book. Any child experiencing a move of home or school, or both like Holly, will find this positive story reassuring.

Portraits and Poison is the second book in The Lizzie and Belle Mysteries by J. T. Williams (published by Farshore) and despite not have read its predecessor I thoroughly enjoyed this historical adventure. The back story is helpfully supplied in the prologue and within pages I was immersed in this Georgian world of intrigue, corruption, friendship and courage. Lizzie Sancho works in her family’s tea shop in Westminster and Dido Belle is an heiress being brought up by her aunt and uncle in a grand house but although from different backgrounds they both love solving mysteries. When the portrait of their two families together is stolen during its unveiling the girls resolve to find it but soon find themselves in a far more dangerous world of intrigue and kidnapping than they could have ever anticipated.

The author has successfully combined a thrilling page-turner and an exploration of Black British history for her young audience. The two female leads are different enough in character to provide a balance in attitude and approach that adds to the drama. Although a work of fiction some of the characters are based on real historical figures and inspiring stories of Black resistance to the appalling treatment by some is incorporated in the plot increasing awareness and understanding. The first book in the series has appeared on several award lists and having read the second I think that it would be a valuable addition to school libraries.

I should like to thank the publishers for my review copies. All these books are now available to purchase at your local independent bookshop.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

Welcome to this week’s catch up with what has been happening in the world of children’s books.

What I’m reading…

Illustrations by Simone Douglas

Portraits and Poison is the second book in The Lizzie and Belle Mysteries by J. T. Williams and despite not have read its predecessor I thoroughly enjoyed this historical adventure. The back story is helpfully supplied in the prologue and within pages I was immersed in this Georgian world of intrigue, corruption, friendship and courage. The author has successfully combined a thrilling page-turner and an exploration of Black British history for her young audience. The two female leads are different enough in character to provide a balance in attitude and approach that adds to the drama. Although a work of fiction some of the characters are based on real historical figures and inspiring stories of Black resistance to the appalling treatment by some is incorporated in the plot increasing awareness and understanding. The first book in the series has appeared on several award lists and having read the second I think that it would be a valuable addition to school libraries. (Published by Farshore for aged 8-12).

News, articles and resources…

2023 English 4-11 Picture Book Awards – I missed the announcement of this shortlist so in case you did too I’ve included this helpful article from Books for Keeps providing details. The winners will be announced on Thursday 25th May.

The Klaus Flugge Prize Presentation – more picurebook delights! The shortlist for this award will be announced next Wednesday, 17th May and the fabulous longlist makes this a difficult task for the judging panel. Mat Tobin, former Klaus Flugge Prize judge and lecturer at Oxford Brookes University, has generously created and shared this wonderful presentation providing information, links and thoughts on the longlisted books. This would be brilliant to share in both schools and libraries. Thank you to Mat for this excellent resource.

Tom Palmer: Refugee Week in Fiction – Refugee Week, 19th – 25th June 2023, is a UK-wide festival celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary. Tom Palmer is creating 5 short stories, titled Boat People, which will be shared with print and video resources on the National Literacy Trust website. There will also be a virtual CPD event for teachers. These resources will be free and you can find out more and sign up for details/reminders on Tom’s website link above.

Young Quills shortlist 2023 – Each year, the Historical Association runs ‘Young Quills’, a competition for published historical fiction for children and young adults (14+). The judges are all adults, so to get the opinions of young readers, copies of the books were sent out to a number of schools, where the teachers have kindly volunteered to recruit pupils to read and review them and always receive a magnificent total of reviews, which guide the shortlisting process. A selection of the reviews will be added to the website in the next few weeks.

EmpathyLab Events – with Empathy Day on 8th June now rapidly approaching do please have a look at these EmpathyLab events, launches, and appearances at festivals and conferences. The video of the official launch with a briefing for supporters, featuring teachers, librarians, and authors like Maisie Chan and Frank Cottrell-Boyce, who speak on what to expect from Empathy Day 2023, ways to get involved, and the crucial need for empathy in our world is now available to watch and there are several excellent events still to come. You can sign up via the link above.

Puffin Schools Virtual Visits – Each of these free webinar sessions will include a presentation giving pupils a behind-the-scenes look at different author’s/illustrator’s books, characters, and creative process before setting an exciting activity for the class. Forthcoming events include, Lee Newbury, Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeolo, and Ed Vere. More information and registration details are on the website.

Barnes Children’s Literature Festival Tickets now on sale! – this popular annual event is taking place on the weekend of 24th and 25th June and tickets went on sale today. The programme is wonderful with plenty for children from toddlers upwards. Highlights include Emma Carroll, SF Said, Dara MacAnulty, M G Leonard, Chris Riddell, Alex Wharton, Cressida Cowell and oodles more. Well worth a browse of the programme and making the trip if you are near enough.

The Winner of the 2023 Oscar’s Book Prize – the winner of this award, The Boy With Flowers in His Hair by Jarvis, was announced at an event in London this week. You can read more about the award, the winner and the shortlisted books in the Books for Keeps article above.

Book Blast With Nikki Gamble – join Nikki for this recording of her blast through some of the best books published in April and early May. It is organised in chapters for easy viewing. An excellent way of keeping up to date with the best of the new publications for children.

Library Lifeline 14: How do I help pupils see themselves as readers? – the latest blog by Dawn Woods of the School Library Association in this helpful series for the National Literacy Trust provides an overview into how to help pupils to form positive beliefs about themselves as readers which in turn will influence their behaviours towards reading for pleasure.

Graffeg Announce New Welsh Imprint – Graffeg have announced plans for a new imprint, named Cadno (Welsh for fox), focusing on Middle Grade books in English with uniquely Welsh content. Keen to develop the idea of Wales as an important and positive literary setting for children’s books, Graffeg’s plans centre on identifying high quality literary texts (both fiction and creative non-fiction) either set in Wales or involving characters from Wales, and which are preferably written by authors with strong connections to Wales. Graffeg will have the support of the Books Council of Wales who are providing both funds and expertise to help get the imprint underway. Subscribers to The Bookseller can read more about it via the link above. Thank you to Jo Bowers of Just Imagine for making me aware of this.

Create a handmade library with SF Said and friends – for teachers and librarians a free webinar on Tue 23 May, 16:00 – 17:30. Join this inspiring session with author SF Said, pop-up book artist Paul Johnson, teacher Karen Stringer, and Learning Officer Sue Newby from the Brontë Parsonage. Discover imaginative ways to spark reading and writing for pleasure in the classroom, engage in playful book-making activities, see tiny handmade books created by the Brontë siblings, and find out how to help your class celebrate the British Library’s 50th birthday.

The Creative Process and Working Together – a beautiful article by Roy James on the Just Imagine website about collaboration, books, love, life and fairy tales marking the publication this week of The Frog’s Kiss by James Mayhew and Toto.

The Indie Book Awards 2023 – The Indie Book Awards, chosen by independent booksellers, celebrate the best summer paperbacks, whether you are reading at home or on the beach or somewhere further afield. There are four categories to choose from – Fiction, Non-Fiction, Children’s Fiction and Picture Book – so there’s something for everyone.

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

Can I Come Too? by Owen Davey – the attention this new picture book received on Twitter recently encouraged me to find out more and this excellent review on the Just Imagine website suggests it’s a must have for early years and KS1. “Full of warmth and heart, children will love making connections between their own sibling relationships and spotting themselves within the story.”

Small Bites Back by Hannah Moffatt – the sequel to the popular Small was published this week and judging by this positive review on the Reading Zone website will be just as big a hit. “Packed with comic characters, fizzing with dashes of inventive humour, this will amuse all those many children who like books that make them laugh.” Suitable for 7+.

Deadlock by Simon Fox – I really like the sound of this new thriller for readers aged about 10-14, due out next month from Nosy Crow. This description in the review for The Bookbag has sold it to me: “With a proper, audience-respecting level of peril, a ticking countdown that is not overplayed, and a satisfyingly deep pile of trouble for our leads, this is a fine stand-alone thriller drama.”

That’s everything for this week and I hope something here is helpful to you. Happy reading.

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Reading Matters- children’s book news

Welcome to this week’s look at what has been happening in the world of children’s books recently. More awards news and a brand new podcast on children’s books are just some of the highlights and I hope there is something included here that will be interesting to you.

What I’m reading…

Hilary McKay’s latest novel for Barrington Stoke, Jodie is an atmospheric, ghostly tale set in a desolate backdrop captured beautifully in Keith Robinson’s haunting illustrations. Hilary McKay has a knack of grabbing her reader with her opening lines and the first page or so of Jodie’s story was enough to make this a ‘read in one sitting’ book for me last weekend. The details of the school trip made me smile in recognition and as ever Hilary McKay’s dialogue has a natural and believable ring to it. The voices of the girls, their happy chats and their inevitable disagreements are just right. Jodie is a ghost story, deliciously spooky in places, but also a wise tale of friendship and loyalty.

I’ve just finished reading The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei by Christina Matula Illustrated by Yao Xiao and thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Hong Kong alongside the endearing Holly-Mei and her family. Christina Matula has done an excellent job of balancing this story of friendship and fitting in with an exploration of what it means to be of dual heritage. Drawing on her own personal experiences the author has ensured that this book has an authentic and distinctive voice which enlightens the reader whilst also entertaining them. Any child experiencing a move of home or school, or both like Holly, will find this positive story reassuring.

News, articles and resources…

The Island of Brilliant With Frank Cottrell Boyce and Nadia Shireen – this new podcast is a total delight for adult children’s book lovers and will probably convert others to the joys of children’s literature too. Nadia and Frank will be chatting about what’s new and brilliant in children’s writing with the help of visitors to the island and reviews delivered via sea-shell from the doyen of children’s literature critics, Emily Drabble.

Children’s and teens roundup – the best new picture books and novels – A war between fruit and veg; a colourful study of germs; the world’s most badly behaved fairy; a masterful ghost story from the late Marcus Sedgwick; and more are among the selection chosen by Imogen Russell Williams in her latest round up for the Guardian.

The Reader Teacher: May 2023 Children’s Books I’m Most Excited About – Each month Scott Evans puts together these ‘Coming Soon’ videos previewing his most anticipated children’s books releases. This month includes I Am, You Are: Let’s Talk About Disability, Individuality and Empowerment by Ashley Harris Whaley and Ananya Rao-Middleton a book I would also recommend for primary school libraries and classrooms.

Shortlist for the CLiPPA 2023 Announced – In celebration of twenty years of the CLiPPA (CLPE’s Children’s Poetry Award ) 2023, the shortlist was revealed at a live online event, hosted by Chris Riddell streamed into thousands of schools across the UK. All the shortlisted poets on the shortlist gave a reading at the event. As well as celebrating outstanding poetry, the CLiPPA encourages schools to explore the shortlist with their pupils through the Shadowing Scheme. It’s a wonderful selection on the shortlist and suitable for a wide age range too. Andrea Reece also wrote an article celebrating the award on the Children’s Poetry Summit website that you may enjoy reading too.

Longlist for the Information Book Award (IBA) 2023 Announced – Now in its thirteenth year, the IBA aims to emphasise the importance of non-fiction by highlighting and celebrating the high standard of children’s information books. The School Library Association in partnership with Hachette Children’s Book Group (HCG), and Peters, recently announced this year’s long lists. The awards are divided into three age categories, judged by a panel of educators. Children will then also have the opportunity to vote for their favourites in each group, as well as their favourite overall, to determine four additional Children’s Choice winners. Some excellent titles are included and you can find out more via the link above.

Book Trust: Books We Love This Month: May – Every month, the Book Trust team review dozens of books for children and teenagers. The ones they like best in May include Sheep School by Ross Montgomery and Marisa Morea, highly recommended by my assistant reviewer aged 6, and My Name is Sunshine Simpson by GM Linton which is highly recommended by me. I’ve added some to my wish list too.

National Share a Story Month 2023 Competitions and Resources – National Share A Story Month is the Federation of Children’s Book Groups annual month-long celebration of stories and aims to bring children and books together in new ways. The theme for 2023 is Sail Away in a Story and you can find details of two competitions for children and resources and suggested reading lists on the website linked above.

The Bookbuzz 2023 books are here – Book Trust have revealed this year’s Bookbuzz selection. Each Bookbuzz student can choose their book to take home and keep, and all Bookbuzz schools will get two copies of every book to boost their bookshelves. There is a wide variety of titles, from non-fiction reads for curious minds to fast-paced page-turners.

Free Webinar: The connection between reading for pleasure and empathy – on 16 May 6.30-7.30pm, during the run-up to Empathy Day on 8 June, this free, professional learning webinar explores how the core life skill of empathy can be developed and honed through reading for pleasure. The speakers are A.M. Dassu, Professor Teresa Cremin and Jon Biddle.

Books for Topics Updated Year Group Booklists – Each of the Books for Topics Year Group Recommended Reads lists contains 50 books specially picked out for reading for pleasure in each primary year group, from Preschool to Year 6. The lists are designed to provide recommendations of age-appropriate and accessible books across a range of genres and styles. These lists differ from the topic booklists, as the books are purely selected for the purpose of reading for pleasure at each age group.

Mr Dilly Meets SF Said & Friends – on Wed, 24 May 11:00 – 12:00 Mr Dilly Meets best-selling, award-winning author SF Said discussing the phenomenal Tyger, ahead of its paperback launch later in the year. PLUS start your Empathy Day countdown with a special preview with authors and illustrators Tom Percival, Nicola Davies, Polly Ho Yen and Stewart Foster joining SF Said, to discuss the importance of empathy in their books and how to get involved with Empathy Day 2023 on Thursday 8 June. This event will be a LIVE STREAM on YOUTUBE. You will be sent a link to watch the event after you book your place.

Lucas Maxwell’s Newsletter: The Portable Magic Dispenser – the latest issue contains Lucas’s helpful tips and some ideas from other schools plus his recent online discussion with Just Imagine on the subject of reading for pleasure.

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

Monster Support Group: The Werewolf’s Tale by Laura Suarez – this new graphic novel published by Flying Eye Books sounds like a great read, with links to Ancient Greece and with a thoughtful message too. Paul Watson’s helpful review tells you more.

Finn Jones Was Here by Simon James Green illustrated by Jennifer Jamieson – I love the sound of this book published this month by Scholastic. In his thoughtful review Tom Griffiths describes it as one of his favourite books of the year so far. I admire an author who can convey the difficult emotions experienced during a period of grief and to make it accessible to children is even more impressive.

Wild by Ele Fountain – I thought Melt was an excellent read and this review by Jo Cummins of the latest middle grade novel by Ele Fountain has whetted my appetite for Wild too, “Her writing is guaranteed to draw you in and take you on a journey- in the case of ‘Wild,’ literal and metaphorical!”

That’s everything for this week and I hope another long Bank holiday weekend is going to provide me with an opportunity to catch up on the enormous pile of books in my ‘to be read’ heap. Wishing you a happy coronation weekend.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

Welcome to this week’s look at what has been happening in the world of children’s books. There have been a few highlights including the announcement of both the Little Rebels and Branford Boase Awards shortlists details of which are included below.

What I’m reading…

Last weekend I finished reading the first of the Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer, The Case of the Missing Marquess. These stories are now well known thanks to the Netflix series but I had never read the books so was interested to find out more about their appeal. Enola is, I think, a character with a relatable quality for readers and the scene setting descriptions of Victorian London are well done. With dastardly villains, clues to solve and occasional touches of humour this book is a winning combination of styles. You can find out more in my review for Just Imagine.

Cover illustration by Fuji Takashi

My Name is Sunshine Simpson is a charming debut by G M Linton inspired by her own family background and told with tenderness, humour and kindness. Ten year old Sunshine is part of a loving extended family, with good friends and an enthusiastic approach to life. However when friction develops in a new friendship, the challenge of a stressful school event approaches and worst of all her beloved Grandad’s health starts to deteriorate Sunshine’s smile begins to slip. There is laughter and tears, joy and heartbreak in this poignant story celebrating the Windrush generation and their achievements and a lovely message of hope, trust and the importance of self belief and positivity. The good news is this is the first in a new series.

News, articles and resources…

Top tips for helping children to become readers – Book Trust Writer-in-Residence, SF Said, has spoken to expert teachers and leaders in education to find out what really works to help children discover a love of reading. A must read and full of helpful and encouraging advice.

National Literacy Trust announces new primary school libraries partnership with Portal Trust – The National Literacy Trust has partnered with London-based charity, The Portal Trust, to help improve library and reading spaces in primary schools across the capital. Initially in Lambeth, the first year of the three-year programme, will work with nine primary schools, providing them with new reading spaces, teacher training and 300 books.

Children read almost 25% more books last year, UK and Ireland study finds – The 2023 What Kids Are Reading report, which surveyed children in the UK and Ireland, was published this week. The links with social media trends is an interesting point highlighted in this article in the Guardian. The report itself is organised by Renaissance, the company behind Accelerated Reader.

CLPE’s March’s New Books Round-Up – Each month CLPE’s Librarian, Phoebe Demeger, will reveal some of her favourite books she has recently added to their Literacy Library.

The Reading Agency’s April booklist for Children and Young People – A Race Against Time – The Reading Agency’s April booklist is full of exciting and gripping reads. From books exploring the climate crisis and planet Earth to heart-stopping thrillers and tales of magic and wonder, there’s something for everyone.

The Portable Magic Dispenser Vol 5, Issue 7 – this regular newsletter from school librarian Lucas Maxwell is always full of helpful suggestions and tips. You can sign up to receive it via email too.

Kate Saunders obituary – the sad news of the death of the prize-winning novelist, Kate Saunders, who won the Costa award for Five Children on the Western Front and whose Belfry Witches stories were adapted for TV was announced this week.

Comic Boom – Comics in Education – a reminder of this regular podcast exploring graphic novels, their appeal, their creation and their place in the classroom and school library. Recent episodes include chats with primary school teacher and graphic novel enthusiast, Richard Ruddick and Paul Register, founder of the Excelsior Award, the biggest book award for graphic novels and manga in the UK.

Book Wandering With Anna James – I’m running a week behind with this great new podcast from author Anna James and enjoyed her chat with bestselling author Gabrielle Zevin about the children’s classic A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, both its joys and its problems. This week’s episode is with Nikesh Shukla talking about his lifelong love for Spider-Man. What a variety!

Little Rebels Award Shortlist Announced – The Little Rebels Children’s Book Award celebrates radical fiction for children aged 0-12. The award is given by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers and was established in conjunction with Letterbox Library. This year’s shortlist includes books on subjects such as racism, disability, gender identity, political activism and the criminal justice system.

Whole class guided reading in KS2: Finding the right balance for all children (Part 1) – this blog from HFL Education, the first of two parts, will guide teachers to reflect on strategies to ensure that all children can access learning in all class reading lessons and develop a love of reading.

The Branford Boase Award Shortlist Announced – Founded in 2000 to commemorate prize-winning author Henrietta Branford and influential Walker Books editor Wendy Boase, the Branford Boase Award is given annually to the author of the year’s 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. This year sees an all female shortlist for only the second time in the award’s history and explores themes including threats to our environment; toxic masculinity; identity and belonging.

Pyjamarama is back for 2023 – On Friday 16 June, children all around the country – in schools, nurseries, and at home – will spend the day reading, enjoying, and sharing stories all in the comfort of their pyjamas to raise vital funds to help every child get a bedtime story. You can find out more and sign up for the event via the Book Trust website link above.

Words and Art in Picturebook Poetry – another thoughtful blog on the Just Imagine website by Roy James. This time Roy discusses the varying role of illustration in poetry books, depicting the poems themselves, conveying emotions or helping to explain meaning.

Poetry for Primary Schools – this excellent and extremely comprehensive feature by Nikki Gamble is definitely worth saving for future reference as an aid to bringing poetry to life in the classroom. Nikki uses her considerable knowledge to bring together some suggestions by age group to help schools make selections so that children meet a wide variety of poets and forms of poetry throughout their primary years from Early Years to Year 6.

Explore the Ready, Set, Read! Book Collection – Get ready for a whole load of team spirit, your fave sporty heroes, and plenty of fun with The Reading Agency’s latest collection for the 2023 sports and games themed Summer Reading Challenge: Ready, Set, Read! Each book has been specially chosen by an expert group of readers for everybody taking part to enjoy. There are picture books, early readers and middle grade fiction to choose from.

The Reader Teacher Monthly Must Reads April 2023 – Scott Evans’ selection each month is always worth a look and he has provided a poster which you can download for free too.

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

Silver Linings by Fiona Woodcock – I have read many positive comments about this new picture book about different perspectives and this lovely review by Jo Cummins and interesting guest feature by Fiona Woodcock, part of this week’s blog tour, has completely sold it to me.

The Ship of Doom by M A Bennett – the first in a new series this adventure linked to the Titanic is highly praised by teacher/reviewer Tom Griffiths. “With a captivating, original sci-fi concept which will have you gripped, along with some lingering questions which will mean you must get book 2, The Ship of Doom is far from doomed like that fateful ship but is the thrilling start to a marvellous series.”

Graphic Novel Review: School Trip by Jerry Craft – this is an excellent review of the third in the series of novels about Jordan Banks and published by published by Quill Tree an imprint of Harper360UK on 27th April. Veronica Price describes it as one of her books of the year and says, “There is humour, warmth, and real character growth as students and teachers learn lessons about themselves and each other as they navigate a foreign city.

That’s everything for this week. I hope you have a happy and restful Bank Holiday weekend.

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Blog Tour: Celebrating Earth Day with The Rescue of Ravenwood

Today it’s my turn on the Celebrating #EarthDay Blog Tour with Natasha Farrant’s The Rescue of Ravenwood and I’m delighted to share again my review of this lovely book.

Sometimes when life feels overwhelming, when the enormity of the things that are out of your control hits home you need to be reminded that it is possible to bring about change in a small way. This is especially important for children and young people. Natasha Farrant has tackled the vast issues of the day such as the climate crisis and conservation of our natural environment and more personal themes such as family dynamics and relationships and drawn them together in an adventure that is compelling, exciting and at times emotionally moving. The Rescue of Ravenwood encompasses so much, empowering its readers but does so with a gentle touch.

The old house of Ravenwood is situated in the north of England, sitting high up on the hillside overlooking the bay and surrounded by ancient woodland. The house has been a home for hundreds of years and at present is it home to Bea and her Uncle Leo and Raffy and his mum, Martha, a blended and happy little family. In the summer holidays after Bea and Raffy have left primary school everything changes; Noa a girl from the village comes to stay, Bea’s parents from she has been estranged contact her saying they want her to join them on a trip abroad and Uncle Jack visits with his friend both of whom who have plans for Ravenwood and its land. 

Bea, Raffy and Noa, so different in personality, are united in their wish to protect Ravenwood and as the adventure develops these three children take on challenges they would have previously thought unimaginable as they fight to save something precious. Although separated by circumstances they unite in their endeavours and the story told from their different viewpoints whisks the reader to London, across Europe and up to the topmost branches of the ancient tree that guards the entrance to Ravenwood, named Yggdrasil by Leo after the tree of folklore. 

I will struggle to avoid clichés as I describe this book as it really does have a feel of a classic and I genuinely couldn’t put it down! As I read I would occasionally mutter to anyone in the same room, “this is really good”. So, how to explain its appeal? Natasha Farrant is skilful at providing just enough detail to draw her reader in then tease them with a thought or comment which makes them want to discover more. The narrative switches between the three children’s point of view giving the story an immediacy and an added sense of involvement. The fabulous setting had a nostalgic appeal for me as an adult reminding me of beach settings in Blyton books, and the old house and its surroundings, if further south, could have been Rebecca’s Manderley. Bea, Raffy and Noa are well rounded and believable characters and the fact that all three develop in maturity and understanding throughout the book is an aspect that adds to its impact for young readers.

The Rescue of Ravenwood covers a great deal, looking at what makes a family, the importance of somewhere to call home and, central to the plot, the need to protect our natural world from those who may despoil it either by greed or lack of understanding. A book with an important message and one that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I would like to thank Bethany Carter and Faber Books for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and for providing my review copy. The Rescue of Ravenwood was published on 23rd February.

Please do check out the other stops on the Blog Tour to read more about this fantastic book from these wonderful bloggers. Finally Faber Books have published some excellent teaching resources linked to The Rescue of Ravenwood which you can download here.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

Welcome to the first Reading Matters round up of the summer term. It would probably be futile to try and include everything that happened over the Easter break but I have attempted to sift through what people may have missed and highlighted a few events coming up and some interesting articles and podcasts you may enjoy.

What I’m reading…

In my final newsletter of the Spring term I mentioned The Silver Chain by Jion Sheibani and my review of this verse novel is now up on the Just Imagine website. This is a coming of age story, an insight into the impact of struggles with mental illness on a family and an exploration of the power of music to heal, encourage and restore. All of these subjects are conveyed through verse and illustration adding considerable impact to the theme of the importance of creativity to our wellbeing. Recommended for readers of about 14+.

Cover illustration by Paul Blow

Ravencave by Marcus Sedgwick is my outstanding read of the last couple of weeks. Moving, poignant and full of thoughtful kindness this is an emotional story of a family in crisis. The author’s writing style is beautiful in its spareness yet has a remarkable impact. It is, I think, a fitting and lasting legacy for an author who trusted his audience to understand and to care.

On a lighter note I have also enjoyed a lovely selection of picture books which have been published recently. My Pick of the New Picture Books includes making maths fun, teamwork and friendship, a celebration of Muslim women, nature in our own back yard and an invitation not to be too serious. Lots of choice and something for a range of tastes.

Barrington Stoke have published several retellings of the classics making them accessible to a wide readership the most recent of which is Laura Wood’s version of Louisa M Alcott’s Little Women. A perfect introduction to this much loved story of the four March sisters and great for readers of 10 up.

Last but not least my son bought me a copy of Richard Osman’s, The Bullet That Missed and I curled up with this whodunnit with a difference in the sunshine we had over Easter. It was great fun and I do very much enjoy getting to know the individual characters in this series.

News, articles and resources…

LIVE online announcement of the CLiPPA shortlist 2023 – CLPE, the National Poetry Centre for Primary Schools, is delighted to announce that for the first time in its 20-year history, the shortlist for the CLiPPA (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education Poetry Award) will be announced live at a virtual event at 2pm on Wednesday 3rd May to which all schools in the UK are invited. To receive their invitation, all schools need to do is to register for this year’s CLiPPA Shadowing Scheme. Chris Riddell, chair of this year’s CLiPPA judges, will host the event and it will include poetry performances from all the shortlisted poets.

Choosing Poetry for the Classroom – linking well with the announcement above, the Just Imagine review panel members share some of their favourite poetry books for the classroom in this helpful video.

Don’t forget to sign up for the National Literacy Trust Coronation draw-along with Rob Biddulph – a reminder that the live online draw-along with bestselling, award-winning children’s author and illustrator, Rob Biddulph takes place on Monday 24th April from 10 – 10.45am. Suitable for ages 7 to 11 (KS2/P4-P7), the live event will include the opportunity for children to craft their own coronation-inspired illustrations.

Love My Books Spring Newsletter April – in this latest issue find out about Michael Rosen on the new book in focus, Rigatoni the Pasta Cat, the top ten books to inspire young artists, an article by James Mayhew on his Katie’s Pictures series and three brand new activity pages plus congratulations to SF Said. A bumper issue and useful to both families and schools.

Blethering Together: Sustaining the Pleasure in Reading Conference – this event takes place on Saturday 17th June from 9.30-16.00. This conference will offer participants opportunities to explore research-informed practice and Norfolk Children’s Book Centre and UKLA bookshops will enrich the day. Workshops will be led by the OU RfP team and talented teachers, offering engaging ways forward.

British Translator-Author Daniel Hahn To Receive the Ottaway Award – Daniel Hahn has been named by Words Without Borders the 2023 winner of the Ottaway Award for the Promotion of International Literature. The honor will be presented to Hahn by the writer and translator Esther Allen on June 13 in New York.

Food and Farming in Children’s Books – this latest blog in the series by Roy James for Just Imagine is a fascinating and thought provoking read which encourages debate about the content of information books on this subject for children.

Bookwandering with Anna James is officially live! – The first episode of Anna’s podcast about the magic & power of children’s books is with Katherine Rundell on Charmed Life and can be accessed via the link above. Anna and Katherine also discuss Katherine’s 2019 essay, Why You Should Read Children’s Books Even Though You Are So Old and Wise, which does an excellent job of pitching the entire purpose of the podcast. I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode and have the second, focussing on The Little Princess, lined up for my weekend listening.

Free Virtual Event with Award Winning Author Phil Earle – to celebrate the launch of Phil Earle’s new book Until the Road Ends the publishers Andersen Press are hosting a live event for schools on 12th June at 2pm. Schools that sign up for the event by 5pm on 28th April have the chance to win 100 copies of Phil’s prize win game book, When the Sky Falls.

April 2023 Children’s Books I’m Most Excited About – Scott Evans’ selection for April includes several lovely picture books such as The Tree and the River by Aaron Becker and an excellent first chapter book, Budgie by Joseph Coelho and David Barrow.

Jhalak Prize 2023 Children’s and YA Shortlist – First awarded in March 2017, the Jhalak Prize and its new sister award Jhalak Children’s & YA Prize founded in 2020, seek to celebrate books by British/British resident BAME writers. This week the shortlists for both prizes were announced and the Children’s and YA list includes In Our Hands by Lucy Farfort and When Our Worlds Collided by Danielle Jawando.

Get Ready for Empathy Day on Thursday 8th June – the EmpathyLabUK team have announced geared up plans for Empathy Day 2023. These include: An assembly with Children’s Laureate, Joseph Coelho to be beamed into UK classrooms; An event with over 800 children at Manchester Libraries, featuring Rob Biddulph, Rashmi Sirdeshpande and Sophy Henn plus a free online festival. The link to the full press release giving more details plus how to register for the linked free resources for schools can be found on the official website above.

The Children’s Book Show Autumn Performances 2023 – The Children’s Book Show is a charity that inspires school children with a love of reading through an annual programme of in-theatre and digital performances and in-school workshops with the very best authors and illustrators from around the world. The team are busy finalising our autumn programme and booking opened on 19 April. Speakers include Michael Rosen, Frank Cottrell Boyce and Benji Davies with more performances announced very soon.

London Book Fair 2023: Klaus Flugge Honored for Lifetime Achievement – The award recognizes “an individual who has made a truly significant mark in the sphere of global publishing.” Klaus Flugge founded Andersen Press in autumn 1976 and went on to publish acclaimed writer/illustrators such as David McKee, Tony Ross, Satoshi Kitamura, Sir Quentin Blake, and Chris Riddell.

Mr Dilly Meets – Emma Carroll, Natasha Farrant & Christopher Lloyd – Join Mr Dilly and award-winning authors Natasha Farrant and Emma Carroll celebrating Earth Day 2023 and chatting about their latest environmentally themed books and the importance of protecting our planet. If you missed this event earlier in the week the recording is now available via the link above. A great event for primary aged (7-12 yrs) children.

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

Brilliant picture books about books… – Catherine Friess shares three brilliant picture books about books which take different approaches to celebrating books and reading on her Story Snug blog.

Clutch by M.G. Leonard Illustrated by Paddy DonnellyClutch is the third instalment of M.G. Leonard’s Twitchers Club series and I frequently read positive comments about these books. This lovely review by Stephen Connor for Just Imagine explains its appeal, “it seems that each story is uniquely written, and the twists and turns come thick and fast. As a reader, you never quite know who to trust…”

The World that Feeds Us by Nancy Castaldo Illustrated by Ginnie Hsu – another Just Imagine review this time of an information book mentioned in Roy James’ blog linked above. Nicholas Carter says, “Informative, clearly structured and beautifully illustrated throughout by Hsu, this excellent non-fiction text about our food, sustainable farming and the environment is perfect for KS2 classrooms.”

Today, 22nd April, is Earth Day and to mark this event Faber Publishers have organised a blog tour to celebrate Natasha Farrant’s The Rescue of Ravenwood, a book that urges its readers to look after the precious places in our natural world. The tour kicks off today and I will be participating on Monday. Full details are shown below.

That’s everything for this week and I know I will have missed out quite a bit but hope this taste helps a little. Happy reading!

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Ravencave by Marcus Sedgwick

In the knowledge of the untimely death of Marcus Sedgwick late last year Ravencave, his last novel, takes on an even greater significance and poignancy. This unsettling, compelling and beautifully written story of family discord, loss, grief and ghosts is a profoundly moving exploration of the connections between those we love and those in whose footsteps we follow.

Cover illustration by Paul Blow

James and his family are on a trip to the Yorkshire Dales a place with strong family connections, particularly for his father. This is not a holiday as such but a journey home and all is not well. James’ teenage brother, Rob, is not talking to him, his writer mum has not been able to write anything for months and his dad has lost his job, whilst James himself is engrossed in his own thoughts. He is thinking back to a previous holiday to the same place last year but in happier circumstances. This second trip is dominated by disagreements and friction and one day on a hike through the dales James hears strange laughter and spots a young girl in the ruins of an old farm. She resembles the children his dad had told him about, the wild children of Crackpot Hall, mentioned in an old book in the local second hand bookshop. At first James resists her urges to follow him but when she appears a second time he runs after her and away from his family.

It is hard to do justice to this book in a review without spoilers however, for me as a reader, I found the subject matter and the character of James became entwined with the author himself. Marcus Sedgwick has written about a landscape that he clearly knew and that was important to him. There is a strong sense of place in Ravencave and of its importance to this particular family. Marcus Sedgwick’s writing style is fitting for a novella of this length conveying depth of emotion and layers of meaning with moving simplicity. In this instance a short read does not mean one without a lasting impact. Ravencave is about a family who feel strangely separate from each other initially but with each chapter a little more is revealed about them and their relationships to each other. This gradual understanding of their true situation increases the emotional impact and is executed with great skill.

There is social commentary too and a thoughtful look at the way in which circumstances may repeat themselves, and how working people may be negatively affected by the actions of those who employ or house them. What is equally apparent however is the author’s own belief in the goodness of people generally. The final pages are profoundly affecting in their message of family love and its infinite nature.

“We were there for each other. We still are.

This is a remarkable piece of writing by Marcus Sedgwick and to achieve this feat and still ensure that it is accessible to a wide readership is impressive. Ravencave is a fitting and lasting legacy for an author who trusted his audience to understand and to care.

I should like to thank Barrington Stoke for providing my review copy which will now be a treasured addition to my bookshelves. Ravencave was published on 2nd March and can be purchased on the publishers website. You may also like to read Marcus Sedgwick’s other YA novella for Barrington Stoke, Wrath, which was longlisted for this year’s Carnegie Medal.

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Pick of the New Picture Books

So many picture books have been published in recent weeks that it can be hard to keep up with them all. I have selected a few that I would like to recommend for both home and school as having that something extra that adds to their enjoyment and value.

That’s Mathematics (based on the lyrics by Tom Lehrer) by Chris Smith and Elina Braslina

That’s Mathematics is a picture book with a difference. Inspired by the song written by Tom Lehrer, maths teacher Chris Smith has created an entertaining book that will make maths fun for children. This is a brilliant way of showing children how mathematics is part of daily life conveyed through words and pictures.

Each double page is devoted to one line of the song with an explanation, challenges and activities designed to inspire youngsters. It’s a clever concept and has an appeal that will do much to dispel any anxiety a child might have about the subject. There are recipes, games, and puzzles to try and there is a lightness to this book that ensures it doesn’t feel too much like a teaching tool however it will educate as well as entertain. The vibrant illustrations by Elina Braslina incorporate much information too and everything is presented in an accessible manner. The spine on the cover of the book is designed to be used as a ruler too, such a thoughtful idea.

There is a helpful Parents’ Notes section at the end of the book and a link to downloadable activities plus answers to the puzzles posed throughout the book. A mathematical glossary is the final touch. Published by Mama Makes Books and highly recommended.

Lots of Dots by Pippa Goodhart illustrated by Anna Doherty

I’m a big fan of the picture books created by Tiny Owl Books and this latest title by the duo of Pippa Goodhart and Anna Doherty, creators of Best Test, is a delight. A joyful story about friendship and inclusivity this would be lovely for Early Year settings.

Jaguar wants to make friends but can’t find anyone who is the exactly the same as her. Clever Ladybird points out what they have in common and is quickly joined by other creatures who highlight their similarities. So a joyful Dotty club is formed! However Zebra is stripy and a bit sad that he is unable to join. Welcome to the Patterns club! But then monkey would not be able to belong. But wait, monkey suggests the Everybody Club which is the perfect club as it welcomes all.

With its wonderful inclusive message, its colourful illustrations showing how we can be alike and different at the same time this is a fabulous picture book with an important and reassuring message. Alongside the kind theme there are opportunities for learning about shapes, patterns and colours so this is a great book to share with pre-school children at home or in nursery settings. A delightful book.

Not Now, Noor! by Farhana Islam illustrated by Nabila Adani

Not Now, Noor! tells the story of a curious child and her perseverance in trying to find an answer to her important questions. Her quest to find the reason why the women in her family wear hijabs becomes a celebration of Muslim women and a joyful look at Noor’s happy family life.

Noor loves her Ammu (Mum) and the other special women in her family but wonders why they all wear headscarves. She ponders on the various possibilities such as hiding snacks under them or to avoid catching nits, possibly even being a spy, and decides to find out the true reason. Unfortunately the eager little girl always times her questions for when the women are busy so the repeated response is… “Not now, Noor!” Poor Noor despairs of ever finding out the real reason. But then her Ammu comes home and Noor has one last try. Of course she has the right answer for her curious little girl.

Inspired by the author’s own experiences as a teacher and the questions children asked her, this is a charming story of family with humour in the vibrant illustrations but is also a lovely way of educating children with whom this lovely book is shared. Published by Puffin Books in March.

Daisy and Jack’s Perfect Pond by Rachel Lawton and Beatrix Castro

This bright and colourful picture book is a wonderful way of encouraging young children to create their own mini wildlife habitat in their garden. Subtly inclusive and with creatures to spot on every page Daisy and Jack’s Perfect Pond will bring children, families and nature together in a gentle and practical way.

When Daisy and Jack spot a little frog in their small garden, they decide to come up with a plan to make their new visitor feel at home. With the help of Papa and Daddy, and some new tools from the garden centre, the two children create their own plant pot pond, and soon discover that a small change can make a big difference to their local wildlife.

In addition to the creatures to spot and the information included in the story there is also a guide to frogs and toads and their life cycle at the end of the book. All the information has been checked by an environmental education specialist and this is a valuable teaching tool in addition to being a happy story of a family sharing a love of nature together. This latest in a series of picture books from Pikku Publishing inspiring a connection with nature would be a valuable addition to home and school bookshelves.

Don’t Be Silly by Padmacandra

A bouncy reminder that we don’t have to take life too seriously all the time, this happy picture book by the illustrator of The Tale of the Whale is great to read aloud and has a range of linked creative opportunities available too.

Bouncy Bo and Little Smudge live in a sombre castle with their serious father. The two children are full of mischief and laughter but the adult around them are all so serious it is as though they have all forgotten how to smile. But then one day the children visit their grandparents and they discover that perhaps not all grown-ups are as miserable as they thought! Children will enjoy the rhyme read aloud and the repeated instruction of ‘Don’t be silly’ encourages plenty of audience participation at story-time too. However this funny and entertaining book also explores stereotypes and takes a wry look at the bond across the generations too. It is grandparents who sometimes have the time to enjoy the ridiculous with their small grandchildren and this is captured beautifully in this book.

The range of teacher resources and activities available on the Scallywag Press website linked to this book are excellent and enable adults to use Don’t Be Silly to encourage creativity including art ideas, writing suggestions and drama.

I Heard a Bird by Rob Ramsden

Another gem from Scallywag Press and the last in the In The Garden series of picture books in which Rob Ramsden introduces very young children to the natural world around them. I Heard a Bird is a fitting finale gently encouraging little ones to watch, wait and listen and develop an understanding of their environment.

A little girl waves hello from her garden and then hears a bird who is frighten away by a pair of fighting cats. As she searches fro the missing bird she meets many other creatures on the way, insects buzzing, a mouse scurrying and also leaves rustling. She stops and listens to a calming silence and as she relaxes and waits wafting through the breeze she hears the friendly sound of her little bird saying hello.

This is a soothing and gently calming picture book with a simple text and repetition to read aloud and clear uncluttered illustrations amplifying this effect. The themes of noticing the little things going on around you is an important one for both children and adults alike and I Heard a Bird encourages this approach. The choice of vocabulary is thoughtful and conveys the quality of the sounds the little girl can hear as she wanders through her garden on her journey of discovery. Perfectly pitched for pre-schoolers this is a lovely introduction to our natural world. There are some great teaching resources for this book too on the Scallywag Press website.

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