Longlist for the 2022 Branford Boase Award Announced

The longlist for the 2022 Branford Boase Award was announced today. The award was set up in memory of award-winning author Henrietta Branford and her editor Wendy Boase, one of the founders of Walker Books, and is given annually to the author of an outstanding debut novel for children. It has an impressive record in picking out the most talented authors at the start of their career. Past winners and shortlisted authors have included Siobhan Dowd, Meg Rosoff, Mal Peet, Frank Cottrell Boyce and Patrick Ness as well as Frances Hardinge, M G Leonard and Philip Reeve.

Uniquely, the Branford Boase Award also honours the editor of the winning title and highlights the importance of the editor in nurturing new talent.

Chair of the judges, Julia Eccleshare says, ‘We are thrilled to announce record numbers of entries for the 2022 Branford Boase Award and excited that our longlist reflects the current dynamic state of publishing for children in the UK.’ It is also encouraging to note that several independent publishers are included in the longlist.

Personally, I am delighted to see some of my own favourites from the last few months included. The Book of Stolen Dreams by David Farr, edited by Rebecca Hill (Usborne) is an epic fantasy adventure that is exhilarating, exciting and compelling but also, ultimately, moving. A book with cinematic appeal. Coincidentally I am at the moment reading the sequel to Circus Maximus Race to the Death by Annalise Gray, edited by Fiona Kennedy (Zephyr) so am particularly interested to see this historical novel included. Hugely enjoyable, full of breathtaking action the story hurtles the reader into a different historical world featuring, in Dido, a character who today’s young readers will relate to and root for. The sequel is excellent too! The Hatmakers by Tamzin Merchant, edited by Natalie Doherty (Puffin) is set in an alternative Georgian London is an imaginative, magical adventure with underlying themes of co-operation, reconciliation and trust. It has a fresh writing style too, I think. And lastly a book that moved me when I first read it last January, The Valley of Lost Secrets by Lesley Parr, edited by Zöe Griffiths (Bloomsbury). A beautifully told, tender story of two young brothers, a mystery, and a community that holds secrets of its own this book captivated me from the opening scenes to its satisfying conclusion.

There are many more among the longlist, selected from the 69 titles nominated, that I am now tempted to try and my wish list gets ever longer. Here is the list in full:

The 2022 Branford Boase Award longlist in full:

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-ÍyÍmídé, edited by Becky Walker (Usborne)

Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen, edited by Carmen McCullough and Tricia Lin (Penguin)

Rapids by Anna Bowles, edited by Elaine Bousfield (Zuntold)

Love is for Losers by Wibke Bruegemann, edited by Rachel Petty (Macmillan)

Freddy vs School by Neill Cameron, edited by Anthony Hinton (David Fickling Books)

Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths by Maisie Chan, edited by Georgia Murray (Piccadilly Press)

The Girl Who … by Andreina Cordani, edited by Olivia Hutchings (Atom)

Me, My Dad, and the End of the Rainbow by Benjamin Dean, edited by Lucy Rogers (Simon and Schuster)

The Upper World by Femi Fadugba, edited by Emma Jones, Stephanie Stein & Asmaa Isse (Penguin)

The Book of Stolen Dreams by David Farr, edited by Rebecca Hill (Usborne)

29 Locks by Nicola Garrard, edited by Joan Deitch (Hope Road)

Maggie Blue and the Dark World by Anna Goodall, edited by Bella Pearson (Guppy Books)

Circus Maximus Race to the Death by Annalise Gray, edited by Fiona Kennedy (Zephyr)

Emmy Levels Up by Helen Harvey edited by Clare Whitson (OUP)

The Amazing Edie Eckhart by Rosie Jones, edited by Polly Lyall Grant (Hodder Children’s Books), illus by Natalie Smillie

The Hatmakers by Tamzin Merchant, edited by Natalie Doherty (Puffin)

Grow by Luke Palmer, edited by Penny Thomas (Firefly Press)

The Valley of Lost Secrets by Lesley Parr, edited by Zöe Griffiths (Bloomsbury)

The Peculiar Tale of the Tentacle Boy by Richard Pickard, edited by Kesia Lupo (Chicken House)

Digger and Me by Ros Roberts, edited by Ella Whiddett (Little Tiger)

The Boy who Made Everyone Laugh by Helen Rutter, edited by Lauren Fortune (Scholastic)

Grimwood by Nadia Shireen, edited by Ali Dougal (Simon and Schuster)

Something I Said by Ben Bailey Smith, edited by Ellen Holgate (Bloomsbury)

The Ice Whisperers by Helenka Stachera, edited by Emma Jones (Puffin)

The Lightning Catcher by Clare Weze, edited by Lucy Mackay-Sim (Bloomsbury)

This year the judges are Struan Murray, author and winner of the 2021 Branford Boase Award; critic Imogen Russell Williams; Farrah Serroukh, Research and Development Director CLPE; and Sonia Thompson, Head Teacher at St Matthew’s C.E. Primary School, Birmingham. The judging panel will be chaired by Julia Eccleshare, children’s director of the Hay Festival.

The Branford Boase Award is sponsored by Walker Books. The shortlist for the Award will be announced on Thursday 28 April 2022. The winner will be announced on 14 July 2022 at an award ceremony in London. For more information about the award, its history and the Henrietta Branford Writing Competition, the annual competition for young people which runs in conjunction with the award please visit the official website.

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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. I would like to highlight the latest issue of Books for Keeps which is a reliable and broad ranging source of information on children’s books and always an interesting read. Next week sees the announcement of the new Read for Empathy collection and you can learn a little more about the importance of these books in the video I’ve shared in the links below.

What I’m reading…

Last week I mentioned The Blue Book of Nebo by Manon Steffan Ros and I have now published my review of this insightful and deeply affecting novel. This is a YA crossover title that I would highly recommend for adult readers and one that would work well for book club discussion. I can well understand why the original Welsh edition of this book has won awards. Definitely a book that stays with you long after you’ve finished reading it.

Unfortunately my to read mountain remains exactly as high as it was last week as personal circumstances have prevented any reading this week. I’m hoping things will improve in the coming days and I have some wonderful books to look forward to reading. The Beatrice Prophecy is sitting by my bed so that’s first and Rivals on The Track by Annelise Gray is a book I’ve been looking forward to reading for ages so I have fingers crossed that I will have time to savour that too. Wrath by Marcus Sedgwick is waiting in the wings for when time allows.

Although I haven’t been able to read this week listening has proved to be a comfort instead and I can recommend this lovely episode of Word of Mouth with Michael Rosen and Dr Kathryn Mannix. It is full of thoughtful, kind, wise advice on how to listen well and how telling our stories helps us. It gave me a lot to think about.

Articles, news and resources…

Books for Keeps Latest Issue – I always look forward to this online publication packed full of interest for children’s book lovers. Beyond the Secret Garden investigates abridgements made when books are revised for younger readers and The Must Reads of 2022 include Phil Earle’s follow up to When the Sky Falls and the long awaited Tyger by SF Said.

Empowering & Inclusive Books for your Kids: Online event – in addition to the Life Changing Libraries event that I shared in last week’s Reading Matters Herne Hill Kids Lit Festival are also hosting this online discussion with an expert panel: Jeffrey Boakye, A.M.Dassu, Steve Antony, Alexandra Strick and Zoey Dixon. It takes place on Friday 4th February 7.00pm – 9.00pm. More details and registration via the link.

A good book ushers in the winter of wellbeing in public libraries – public libraries are joining Wales’ Winter of Wellbeing initiative by launching a campaign to promote the proven difference reading can make to young people’s lives and the power of public libraries to support them. You can find out more about this in this article on the Welsh Libraries website link above.

Sign up for the National Reading Champions Quiz 2022 – The NRCQ, provides an opportunity for students aged 10 – 14 to enjoy a book quiz with their peers and compete with other schools in their region. The heats will run online throughout March with the winning teams from 20 regions going forward to a star-studded, national final on 25 May in London where one team will be crowned National Reading Champions 2022. Full details and how to register via the link.

Exploring Language, Leadership, Love, and More: Teaching Ideas for The Beatryce Prophecy – if you attended Nikki Gamble’s recent Audience With Kate DiCamillo I think you may find this of interest as it contains many different suggestions for using this book in the classroom. If you didn’t the article may tempt you to read the book!

CLPE Book Launch with Scholastic for Lisa Thompson and Helen Rutter – a free online event to celebrate the release of Lisa Thompson and Helen Rutter’s new novels ‘The Rollercoaster Boy’ and ‘The Boy Whose Wishes Came True’ on 26th January, 2022 – 5.00 pm to 6.00 pm

Carnegie and Greenaway Shadowing 2022 – a reminder that if you would like to join this year’s Shadowing Scheme the long lists are announced in March and it would be a shame to miss out. Registration for the publicity packs closes on 4th February.

Portable Magic Dispenser, Vol. 4 Issue 5 – if you are a school librarian and haven’t already signed up to Lucas Maxwell’s regular newsletter I would definitely recommend it. This issue includes reading for pleasure ideas, online learning and podcasts for sixth formers.

Focus on phonics to teach reading is ‘failing children’, says landmark study – Guardian article commenting on the recently published research into the teaching of reading. You may be interested in the full report which can be accessed here.

CLPE named London Book Fair Charity of the Year 2022 – Each year, The London Book Fair launch their Charity of the Year initiative, inviting book, reading and literary-related non-profit organisations to apply. The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education has been recognised for the excellent work this charity does for all aspects of children’s literacy.

Reading for Pleasure: Supporting Secondary School Students – article by children’s author and former teacher Lucy Strange for the Open University Reading for Pleasure website providing tips and advice. She also highlights the work done by publishers Barrington Stoke in this area. Hurrah for Barrington Stoke!

CILIP School Libraries Group: Why Should I Develop My Skills – article by Barbara Band for SLG Connect containing helpful advice for school librarians. Barbara highlights the CPD opportunities available for school librarians and the reasons why maintaining and improving knowledge and understanding of developments is important both for the librarians and the schools they serve.

Coming soon! The Read for Empathy Collection – the new book collection for this year’s Empathy Day launches on 26 January 2022. Watch the expert judges reflect on the selection process and why this collection feels so important right now in the video available via the link above.

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

The Boy Whose Wishes Came True by Helen Rutter – the title suggests magic and fairy tale to me but as I read Andrew Rough’s thoughtful review I realised that this book is about important things such as trust, empathy, hope and confidence. Thank you Andrew, I want to read this now and I think others will do too.

The Famous Five Graphic Novels: Five on a Treasure Island and Five Go Adventuring Again by Béja and Nataēl – this sounds like a wonderful way to bring these classic adventures to a whole new audience. The first two in the series are published next month and you can find out more in Matt Wilson’s enthusiastic review.

Viking Boy: The Real Story by Tony Bradman – A non-fiction guide to the Viking world, told by the hero of Tony Bradman’s bestselling novel Viking Boy. Nicki Cleveland says “This would make a fantastic read for pleasure for anyone who loves finding out about different cultures in history, with the gruesome bits left in, and would be a perfect addition to any Key Stage 2 Vikings topic box.”

Monstrous Devices by Damien Love – I had missed this book published last year but it is now one I would like to read thanks to Paul Watson’s cracking review. Paul describes it as “a belter of a book” so you may want to find out more and read his review too.

That’s everything for this week and I do hope that something here will be helpful to you. Happy reading!

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The Blue Book of Nebo by Manon Steffan Ros

Eloquent and insightful, the English adaptation of the award winning Welsh novel The Blue Book of Nebo by Manon Steffan Ros is a memorable read. As I turned the last page of this deeply affecting story I wanted to go back to the beginning and start again.

Set in the year 2026 this post nuclear apocalypse novel is told in a dual narrative by fourteen year old Dylan and his mother Rowenna. Together with Dylan’s baby sister, Mona, they are surviving alone in the isolated village of Nebo in north-west Wales. Six years previously their lives were changed irrevocably by The End, when the electricity went off for good following a catastrophe during a nuclear war. Mother and son record their thoughts, both of life before and their struggles for survival, in a notebook they find which Dylan names The Blue Book of Nebo. Rowenna and Dylan share a close and loving relationship but through their journal entries the reader learns both the secrets they keep from each other and their fears, hopes and hidden emotions.

It is fascinating to watch how both mother and son develop. Dylan matures, becoming capable, taking on responsibility and protective of both his mum and his baby sister. There is initially a lack of worldly understanding due to his situation and his young age when everything changed and yet through his experiences he discovers a sense of self, fitting in well to this new life and it is in some ways a coming of age for this young man. Dylan has few memories of before The End and it is through Rowenna’s writing that we learn of the panic and the breakdown of normal society. Rowenna was a quiet and reserved young woman and possibly overlooked previously. Her shyness and insecurities were a barrier and limited her in some ways. Now she is a “warrior” preserving what matters most to her. The resilience and determination she displays are impressive and I was moved by her attitude and her admirable fortitude.

This story is at times raw and heartbreaking and at others tender and hopeful. Although Rowenna and Dylan face loss, privation and hardship, this is balanced with a shared love and understanding. Some aspects of their experience resonate with the reader even more due to the book’s timely nature as we face the ongoing effects of the Covid pandemic. Key to the story is an exploration of our understanding of what matters most. There are many layers to this story and to the ideas and themes it conveys. It portrays the importance of our shared humanity and the balance between what we actually need and what we want or indeed expect from life. When everything is stripped away and survival is highlighted people may discover previously unknown strengths. Both Rowenna and Dylan display resilience and an appreciation of the natural world and their place in it.

The importance of books, faith, spirituality and the value of preserving the Welsh language run through the heart of this profoundly affecting story and I now want to learn more about some of the Welsh books mentioned. This fascinating interview with the author has helped me and you may find it of interest too.

Manon Steffan Ros had created a remarkable story which encourages thought, discussion and further reading. Although a novella aimed at the YA audience this is an excellent read for adults of all ages; great for book clubs I think. Published by Firefly Press on 6th January and highly recommended. Thank you very much to the publishers for my proof copy.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

Welcome to this week’s round up of what has been happening in the world of children’s books. My usual system of collating news on a daily basis fell victim to unforeseen events this week I’m afraid so this is posted today with fingers crossed that I have not missed something vitally important. I do hope that you find this week’s collection helpful.

What I’m reading…


Regular readers of the blog will know that I am a fan of the publishers Barrington Stoke who aim to produce super readable books that enable all children and young people to experience the joy of reading. The classics can be daunting for many as the language, the complexity and the length may be a struggle to overcome. Laura Wood’s accessible adaptation of Pride and Prejudice for Barrington Stoke will ensure that this classic story reaches a new audience.

At the beginning of the week I read the much acclaimed The Blue Book of Nebo by Manon Steffan Ros. Everyone raving about this remarkable story was right, it is an affecting and memorable read which although undeniably poignant and even raw at times manages to convey positivity and the depth of love too. Unfortunately my review has not yet been written due to my disrupted week but I’m hoping to post it in the next couple of days.

News, articles and resources…

Make a Miniature Book with Axel Scheffler – join Seven Stories for a very special school event with author and illustrator Axel Scheffler hosted in partnership with the British Library. Wednesday 19th January 2022, 11am Recommended age: Y3, Y4, Y5 & Y6 . Registration is FREE and open to schools anywhere. This sounds lovely and more details are available via the link.

OU Reading for Pleasure: Developing Informal Book Chat with Jon Biddle – In this 2-minute video, Jon Biddle explains how his school encourages informal booktalk. He highlights the need for initial scaffolding and teacher modelling as well as strategies that help to trigger more spontaneous child-led book blether reader to reader.

Which Books Do You Use in Your Year 1 Classroom? – Please can you support this research by Matthew Courtney @mattheweduk exploring representations of ethnic minority groups, LGBTQ+ identities & characters with disabilities in the books used in Year 1 classes. Sharing with other educators will help provide a fuller picture which will add value and make this research useful in the future. For more information and to complete a very quick survey please see the link above.

Literacy Year – thank you to OU Reading for Pleasure for sharing this in their newsletter. Literacy Hive have produced a free online calendar of events, awards, festivals and competitions to help with your literacy planning and encouraging reading for pleasure.

Tamzin Merchant on the Magic of Clothes in Stories – Tamzin Merchant’s debut novel for children, The Hatmakers, is Waterstones’ Book of the Month and in this blog for them she discusses the iconic clothing of children’s literature. I enjoyed reading The Hatmakers and if you want to find out more you may be interested in my review for Just Imagine.

Pulling a White Rabbit Out of a Hat: Interview with Zaro Weil – When Poems Fall From the Sky is one of my favourite recent poetry books for children and this interesting interview on the Reading Realm provides an insight in to Zaro’s creative process.

Branching Out: How to move readers on when they are stuck on a particular series or author – a guest post by Alison Leach of Books for Topics on the Peters website. Recommending books to pupils is key to a school librarian or teacher’s role in supporting reading and Alison has some excellent suggestions.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit Holocaust Memorial Day Event with Michael Morpurgo – another event from Seven Stories The National Centre for Children’s Books. Thursday 27th January 2022, 11am
Recommended age: Y5, Y6, Y7, Y8 and Y9. An opportunity to hear Michael Morpurgo talk about the book and his friendship with Judith Kerr. You will also be able to see childhood drawings and notes from the Seven Stories archive and hear extracts from the book.

Sophia Duleep Singh: Princess and suffragette inspires children’s book – Sufiya Ahmed’s new book, My Story: Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, for nine to 13-year-olds, has been launched at Ancient House museum in Thetford, Norfolk, which was founded by Sophia’s brother, Frederick Duleep Singh, in 1921. Only last year I discovered this remarkable woman thanks to Bali Rai’s book The Royal Rebel and now want to read this new look at her life.

What To Do When a Teen Tells You They Hate Reading – an excellent and helpful article for Book Riot by school librarian Lucas Maxwell containing useful ideas to persuade teens who think reading is “boring”.

National Literacy Trust Holocaust Memorial Day Resources – a reminder of these free resources for schools. A live event on Monday 24th January with author Tom Palmer and a Holocaust survivor has been added to these and it is necessary to register for this. Full details and links to the additional resources are available via the link above.

Authorfy Author of the Week Videos – in case you have missed this great free resource, each week a different author is highlighted and a video and downloadable book extract is available on the website. This is a good way to introduce your students to new authors and books.

National Storytelling Week 2022 – this annual celebration of storytelling takes place 29th January – 5th February and is a chance to promote and encourage storytelling in your classroom. You can find out more about three event via the official website, link above. You may also be interested in the teaching resources available on the BBC website here.

Life-Changing Libraries: How to develop a Reading for Pleasure culture – online event supported by Arts Council England for primary teachers, literacy leads, school librarians and parents. Emily Drabble and Catherine Millar will be talking about their work with Cressida Cowell on her ‘Life-Changing Libraries’ campaign. Thursday 3rd February 19:30 – 21:00 and you can register via the link

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

Kew Lift and Look Birds by Tracy Cottingham – published just in time for the Big Garden Bird Watch at the end of this month this board book sounds perfect for encouraging very young children to enjoy the birds in their local area. Andrea Reece highlights both its interactive appeal and the fact it is full of information in her review for LoveReading4Kids .

Harley Hitch and the Missing Moon by Vashti Hardy – illustrated young fiction is brilliant for encouraging reading for pleasure and this second book in a series by award winning author Vashti Hardy sounds like an excellent example of the genre. As Erin Hamilton says in her review: “this series goes from strength to strength.

Raven Winter by Susanna Bailey – any review that says “Perfect for fans of Gill Lewis, Susanna’s books unpick challenging issues, whilst celebrating the great outdoors and the healing power of nature.” is guaranteed to pique my interest. I have not read any books by this author yet but Emma Kuyateh’s positive review has persuaded me to add this title to my wish list.

That’s everything for this week and I hope to be able to catch up with anything I have missed, particularly book reviews, and share it with you next Saturday. Happy reading!

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Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – A Retelling by Laura Wood

The publishers Barrington Stoke aim to produce super readable books that enable all children and young people to experience the joy of reading. The classics can be daunting for many as the language, the complexity and the length may be a struggle to overcome. The story of Elizabeth Bennett and Darcy contains themes that would appeal to teen readers and Laura Wood’s accessible adaptation will ensure that this classic story reaches a new audience.

Cover artwork by Helen Crawford-White

When rich and handsome Mr Bingley moves into the local area Mrs Bennett, mother to five daughters, cannot contain her excitement. She plots and plans, cajoling her husband into making invitations. Elizabeth, the second eldest daughter, and a spirited, witty and intelligent young woman has no wish to make a marriage of convenience. While her older sister Jane develops an attraction for Mr Bingley, Lizzie finds his equally wealthy and handsome friend Mr. Darcy aloof, proud and selfish. She sets her face against any prospect of marrying such an unagreeable man. However in a confined society their paths are destined to cross again and again and perhaps the first impressions of both may have been mistaken.

Condensing this beloved story into an abridged form told in contemporary language must have been a daunting task but Laura Wood has managed to retain the lightness that helped to make the original so popular. Inevitably some parts of the story have to be left out and the author fills in the gaps with care so that the main storyline and the relationships between the characters are conveyed to today’s young readers. Elizabeth’s spark and stubbornness is still there and Mr Darcey, although a little more sympathetic than I remember him initially, retains that aloof dignity. The story itself is told in short chapters and in a concise form but still has that recognisable appeal.

This would be an excellent book for secondary school libraries and classrooms providing an accessible version for dyslexic readers or children for whom English is not their first language. Its engaging style may also encourage reluctant or nervous readers to try the original version. It would be a valuable reference or quick reminder of the basic plot too. As with all Barrington Stoke books this is produced in a dyslexia friendly format and has been edited to a reading age of 9+ but with a teen readership in mind.

Pride and Prejudice: a retelling by Laura Wood was published on 6th January and I would like to thank the publishers for providing my review copy. Barrington Stoke have published other abridged adaptations of classic books and I would recommend Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights both by Tanya Landman.

Barrington Stoke have made the first chapter of this book available to provide a taste:

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

Welcome to the first Reading Matters newsletter of 2022 and I hope that everyone had a happy and healthy Christmas holiday. This week’s round up includes both a look back at the best of 2021 and a preview of some books we can look forward to at the start of this new year. There are events and resources too so why not settle down and explore.

What I’m reading…

Before we get stuck into a new year of reading I did have a look back at some of the wonderful books that I enjoyed most last year. You can find out more about them in 2021 – A Year in Children’s Books. One beautiful illustrated book stood out for me last year and I do think that Once Upon A Tune: Stories from the Orchestra by James Mayhew deserves a place in every primary school as it is both inspirational and enjoyable.

Over the Christmas break I caught up with some books that I had been intending to read for ages. Untwisted: the story of my writing life by Paul Jennings was a fascinating read and contains excellent advice for would be writers and also for educators trying to instil a love of reading and writing in their pupils. Keeper of Secrets by Sarah J Dodd is a beautiful and sensitive story exploring our relationship with wild animals and how nature can sometimes help to heal grief. A debut published in September 2021 with teaching resources available on the publishers’ website I think this would be excellent for upper primary children.

This week I have read Yusuf Azeem is Not a Hero by Saadia Faruqi. Published to coincide with the commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, this is a powerful and important book. Excellent for KS3 and YR6 this book demonstrates the value of writing about recent historical events for young people to aid their understanding.

All of these books plus those included in the reviews section below can be purchased online via Bookshop.org

The highlight of my week was definitely Nikki Gamble’s Audience With Kate DiCamillo. One of my favourite authors she has a knack of conveying emotion and humanity in a few well chosen words. Listening to her was wonderful and I gave up writing down all the quotable things she said as it all resonated with me, and with everyone else attending I think. I will highlight one particular phrase which I recognised personally and maybe you will too, ‘I feel most like myself when I’m reading.’ Thank you to Nikki for making this special evening possible.

News, articles and resources

BooksForTopics Books of the Year 2021 – the community of primary teachers, TAs, librarians, authors and children’s book lovers were asked to vote for their favourite children’s books published in 2021 and the winners were announced last week. There are several categories and this is a fabulous selection for the primary age group.

Discover CLPE staff’s favourite reads in 2021 – another wonderful range of books selected by the experts at the Centre for Literacy for Primary Education. The list is free to download and includes helpful summaries of the titles too.

The Reader Teacher January 2022 Books I’m Most Excited About – now looking ahead, Scott Evans previews some of the ‘middle grade’ books due to be published this month in his Coming Soon video and the year is getting off to a cracking start!

Costa Book Award Winners Announced – on 4th January the winners of the the different categories were announced and Crossings by Manjeet Mann is The Costa Children’s Book Award 2021 Winner. I have read several excellent reviews of this verse novel and hope to read it soon. You can find out who won the other categories and view the shortlists via the link above.

Tom Palmer’s Holocaust Day Memorial Day Resources – Holocaust Memorial Day takes place on 27th January and award winning author Tom Palmer has collaborated with the Literacy Trust to produce a range of free resources including videos and worksheets etc. The resources are designed to be used throughout the week beginning Monday 24 January 2022, and are suitable for use with students aged 9 to 14 (Upper Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3). More information is available via the link above.

Narniathon21: A Jovial Comedy – I have thoroughly enjoyed reading and participating in the series of posts discussing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe over the last week or so as part of this initiative organised by Chris Lovegrove. The link above takes you to Chris’s review and summary of this first book in the Narnia series. If you are interested in finding out more I would also recommend this post #Narniathon21: Through the door and the discussion in the comments which is fascinating. January sees the reading and discussion of Prince Caspian.

New research Girls: The Reluctant Girl Readers – the National Literacy Trust in partnership with Estée Lauder have produced a report on an aspect of reading that does not always receive attention. Data from their 2021 Annual Literacy Survey, in which 21,696 girls aged 8 to 18 from across the UK participated, indicates that more than 2 in 5 (44.1%) of them don’t enjoy reading. For more background and fuller details please use the link above.

January Book Blast with Nikki Gamble – on Monday 10th January at 7pm catch up with the children’s books out in January with Nikki Gamble and there is the chance to win some lovely books too. Registration is free via the link above.

Book Trust: 10 films based on children’s books due in 2022 – some favourite children’s books are being turned into movies in 2022, find out which ones via the link plus there are versions being made for TV too.

Book Trust: New Children’s Books We Love – every month, the Book Trust team review dozens of books for children and teenagers. Here are the ones they like best in January divided into age group categories.

The Most Popular Manga for High School Students – school librarian Lucas Maxwell’s article for Book Riot highlights the titles that are most popular with his students from age 11 or 12 right up to 18.

Mr Dilly Meets – Christopher Lloyd and Jenny Pearson – a date for your diary. On Wednesday, January 19th 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM a free event for schools. If you are unable to watch live, the event will also be available to view directly afterwards on the MR DILLY YOU TUBE channel. You can find our more about the event and register via the link above.

Firefly Press publishes Manon Steffan Ros’ The Blue Book of Nebo – the English adaptation of this award winning book was published this week and this article has pushed it to the top of my reading pile.

Jericho Prize Finalists Announced – The Jericho Prize is a new prize for unpublished and self-published Black-British writers. The five finalists in two categories, picture book (4+) and short chapter book (7-9) are Cabbi Charles, Diane Ewen, Seymour Lavine, Ellah Dinnall and Abimbola Salami. The 2021 award winners will be announced on 27 January 2022. You can meet the finalists in the video via the link.

An Evening with Anne Fine – Nikki Gamble, David Fickling and Old Barn Books invite you to an Evening with Anne Fine on 1st February at 7pm. Anne has two new novels publishing in February: Shades of Scarlet, published by David Fickling Books and Aftershocks published by Old Barn Books. The webinar is free and you can register via the link.

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

The Queen in the Cave by Julia Sarda – Mélanie McGilloway reviews this picture book and hosts an interview with its creator in this fascinating blogpost. Published in October 2021 I had missed this book but the peep provided looks stunning and it is so interesting to learn about the story behind the art.

Meg and Merlin: Making Friends by Tanya Landman & Sonia Albert – the latest title by Tanya Landman for Barrington Stoke was published this week. In my experience ‘pony books’ are popular in school libraries and Kate Heap says in her review: “This lovely story is perfect for horse lovers and anyone who has a dream.’’ One for school librarians’ to buy lists!

The Secret of the Treasure Keepers by A.M. Howell – regular readers of the blog will know that I have a soft spot for historical fiction and I very much like the sound of this. Veronica Price says, “You rapidly lose yourself in the mystery, making it very difficult to put the book down or cease to think about the characters and their plight even when you have to break away and return to everyday reality!” This author’s previous books have been immensely popular with teachers in the classroom and this sounds like another winner.

The Sad Ghost Club Volume 1 by Lize Meddings – there has been chat online about the popularity of this graphic novel in secondary school libraries so this review caught my attention. The first book was published in December with the second due out this month. The Sad Ghost Club community has over half a million followers on instragram so it clearly has that special something. I’m tempted to get hold of a copy now. The LoveReading4Kids review linked above tells you more.

That’s everything for this week and I hope you have found something among the links of interest or helpful. My reading weekend is starting with Laura Wood’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice for Barrington Stoke. I hope you have a happy weekend with some time for reading. A reminder that all the books featured in this newsletter can be bought on the Bookshop.org website. Happy reading!

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Yusuf Azeem is Not a Hero by Saadia Faruqi

Yusuf Azeem is Not a Hero by Saadia Faruqi was published to coincide with the commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and is a powerful and important book at any time. Despite the subject matter of discrimination and prejudice this is a story of hope and understanding.

Twelve year old Yusuf is starting middle school and although a little nervous he is looking forward to new adventures and most especially to competing in the regional robotics competition. On his first day he discovers a note in his new locker bearing a cruel message and his joyful anticipation dwindles.

Yusuf’s family are Pakistani Americans, his father owns the local store, his mother works from home and Yusuf is close to his little sister. They are part of a friendly Muslim community who are working together to build a new mosque just outside the town of Frey where the family live. Yusuf does not confide in his parents about the notes which appear almost daily in his locker, nor does he tell his best friend Danial. However as the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks draws near the forthcoming commemorative parade prompts a hostile group of townspeople to protest against the mosque. Yusuf is also finding himself up against a bully at school whose father is leading the protest. As the Muslim community becomes more nervous Yusuf’s school life, his friendships and his family life struggle in the face of prejudice and discrimination.

Saadia Faruqi deftly conveys this story across two time periods with the inclusion of Yusuf’s Uncle Rahman’s journal which he has passed on to the boy. The interweaving of the events of 2001 and the present day captures the trauma of the attacks on the American people and the lasting impact they have had on the communities affected. Although the subject matter is distressing Faruqi has an understanding of her readers and descriptions are not graphic but they do convey the emotions felt by the people involved. As an inter -faith activist the author concentrates on the power of communication and understanding to breach the divide between people and this is a hopeful and positive read.

The everyday school life, the boys’ friendships and family life are full of the little details that children will recognise and enjoy reading. There are some interesting characters in Yusuf’s life, both adults and children. His teacher, Mr Parker, is full of enthusiasm and kindness, and school boy Jared deserves a story of his own. The dynamics of the friendships as they are tested and reconciled are well written and young readers will, I think, engage with these character and the moments of humour. Yusuf himself is a wonderful blend of shy, quiet and maybe a bit of a nerd, but on the other hand loyal, principled and determined, learning to stand up for what he believes and for what is right.

Yusuf Azeem is Not a Hero is a powerful story with an important message. As Yusuf’s Uncle Rahman says, “History informs the present , …and so it affects the future.” This book would be excellent for KS3 and YR6 and demonstrates the value of writing about recent historical events for young people to aid their understanding. There are teaching notes available on Saadia Faruqi’s website.

I should like to thank the publishers, Quill Tree Books, for my proof copy. Yusuf Azeem is Not a Hero was published in October 2021. You may be interested in A Thousand Questions also written by Saadia Faruqi which is set in modern day Karachi, and is told from the perspectives of two eleven year old girls.

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Keeper of Secrets by Sarah J. Dodd

An animal story with a difference Keeper of Secrets, Sarah J. Dodd’s debut, explores our relationship with wild animals and how nature can sometimes help to heal grief. This is a perfect, thoughtful winter read.

When eleven year old Emily arrives at Badger Cottage with her vet Dad shortly after the death of her mother she does not think that it will ever be like home for them both. Feeling lost and lonely and with her father coping with his own desperate sense of loss Emily is in need of friendship and kindness. In the midst of a local battle between a local conservation project to rewild the lynx in the woods and the local farmers who are against the initiative, Emily forges a friendship with a baby animal. She then has a mystery to solve and misunderstandings with new neighbours to negotiate and Emily gradually finds her life changing in ways she had not anticipated.

This story of grief, loneliness, friendship and compassion is told with a quiet understanding of young readers who may share Emily’s experiences or perhaps some of them. As an exploration of coping with grief and loneliness this is both kind and reassuring. Emily is quiet and sad but brave and resourceful too. Sometimes quiet books such as this one convey messages that speak to many children and the themes of re-wilding and country life are topical and interesting to young readers. It would prompt an interesting discussion on the different attitudes of those living in rural and urban neighbourhoods to nature and our relationships with it too. Both the characters and the conflict are written in a believable manner that adds to the understanding.

Sarah Dodd has combined an involving plot with a sensitive study of the effects of grief and loneliness in a book that is both accessible and enjoyable. It is an impressive achievement and I can see this book being popular with the upper primary age group and perhaps used as a class reader. The setting in a snowy, wood as Christmas approaches, beautifully captured in the writing, lends the story to a winter evening read and this would be a perfect book to curl up with.

I should like to thank the publishers, Firefly Press for my review copy. Keeper of Secrets was published in September 2021 and is available to purchase online at bookshop.org The publishers have created a comprehensive range of teaching resources which can be downloaded on their official website here.

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Untwisted: the story of my life by Paul Jennings

Untwisted is an enjoyable and revealing look at a writer’s life. Paul Jennings explores both the inspiration to write and the effects a need to write have on an author with a refreshing candour that ensures this book is a fascinating read.

Paul Jennings is a natural storyteller. The writing is sensitive and humorous and his style has an openness that provides an insight into the author’s mind and reading this book feels rather like sitting down together for a chat. I can well understand why young readers find Jennings’ style so engaging. His appeal to children in his novellas and short stories transfers successfully to an appeal to adults in this thoughtful memoir.

Rather than telling his life story in a strict chronological order Paul Jennings uses anecdotes and episodes grouped in themes which move around periods in his life. This works well as the links and common threads are picked up again and again as you read. He is refreshingly candid and not afraid to discuss marriage breakdown, mental health and family relationships. In particular the writing about his relationship with his father is at times deeply affecting. There are funny anecdotes, memories of childhood and snapshots of life as a teacher with all its joys and difficulties. At times funny and at others heartbreaking I found Paul Jennings an engaging narrator.

Unsurprisingly this book contains excellent advice for would be writers and also for educators trying to instil a love of reading and writing in their pupils. Jennings submitted a short writing piece to a magazine when he was 13 which was rejected. Dismayed and demoralised by what he perceived to be a failure he did not write again until he reached 40. His success as a children’s author may partly be explained by his understanding of the worries, concerns and emotions of children and what matters most to them. His vivid recollections of childhood problems and experiences are inspirations for many of his stories.

This interesting and enjoyable memoir would be of particular interest to any children’s book lovers however the reflection on life, on choices made, the joy shared and the difficulties encountered is relevant to all. I thoroughly enjoyed this fascinating book.

Untwisted: the stories of my life by Paul Jennings is published by Old Barn Books. I would like to thank Ruth Huddleston for providing my proof copy and apologies that it took me far too long to get round to reading it. I wish I had read it earlier now!

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Once Upon A Tune: Stories from the Orchestra by James Mayhew

2021 saw the publication of many thoughtful and inspiring picture books of different types. One book in particular defies categorisation and yet is one that deserves a place in every single primary school. Once Upon A Tune: Stories from the Orchestra by James Mayhew is wonderful; stunning, evocative illustrations paired with beautiful storytelling. This is a gorgeous book and perfect for introducing children to the world of classical music.

Six traditional stories from many lands that inspired classical composers are retold in James Mayhew’s beautiful storytelling style with its lyrical phrasing ensuring that this book would be a treat to read aloud. We enjoy the mayhem of the magical broom in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, sail the seas with Sinbad in the stories told by Scheherazade, and learn about the hero William Tell. Although the stories are famous these versions full of magic, love, bravery, epic journeys and adventures are written with a young audience in mind and have a fairy tale quality to them.

The multi-layered illustrations are sumptuous with collage of printed papers, rubbings, fabric, lace and music manuscript brought together in an exquisite style. The changing tones used for the different stories captures both the essence of the stories and the countries from which they originate. The bright skies and cheerful colours of Northern Europe contrast with the sweeping richness and vibrancy of Persia. It is beautifully done and would encourage the reader, or listener, to linger and look for longer.

This stunning book is truly a labour of love, its publication was delayed and it was worth the wait. The last two years have been hard for the arts with theatres shut for a long period, musical concerts cancelled and galleries inaccessible for many. Children have missed out on something of great value and James Mayhew has brought the world of the arts to them in one complete and appealing package. Once Upon A Tune: Stories from the Orchestra provides great cross-curricular potential for schools and I think a copy of this book should be in every primary school library. There are helpful musical notes at the end of the book where you can find out more about the stories and music plus James’s recommend recordings to download and listen to.

I have had the privilege of attending some of James Mayhew’s concerts in the past and I love how he demystifies classical music for children, and for families too. The combination of magical stories, stunning painting and live music is an unforgettable experience. When ever I hear Scheherazade on the radio now I instantly see James painting in my mind! Once Upon A Tune has brought some of that experience to an even wider audience. The arts are important for so many reasons and the effect they have on our well being is just as important as their value educationally and this lovely book does so much to convey that importance. James has created a Spotify list to accompany the book, and there are teaching notes created by James Mayhew and Siu Chui Li available on the Otter Barry website. All of this enables schools to bring the magic combination of stories, art and music into the classroom. What an achievement and what a special book.

I should like to thank the publishers, Otter Barry Books, and Catherine Ward for providing my review copy. Once Upon a Tune: Stories From the Orchestra was published in September 2021 and is available to purchase online at Bookshop.org.

“Disclosure: If you buy books linked to our site, we may earn a commission from Bookshop.org, whose fees support independent bookshops.”

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