Hello and welcome to the first Reading Matters of 2021. It’s difficult to find the right words to describe this first week and yet again I hope that the world of children’s books will provide us with some cheer, comfort, escape and maybe even guidance. Despite the difficulties there is a kindness in the children’s book and education community that makes things easier. I hope that this newsletter gives you the excuse to sit down with a cuppa, relax and catch up with what you may have missed during a frantic week.
For everyone who is trying to cope with online teaching and learning again I have produced a new version of Reading for Pleasure – Resources to Help Children Enjoy Books at Home. This updated and extended version includes resources, activities and ideas created by generous organisations, authors, illustrators and publishers. I do hope that these links will be useful to teachers, school librarians and parents. There are some more links that may be of help in the news section below.
What I’m reading…
Over the Christmas and New Year break I read several children’s books, some of which were for review for the School Librarian Magazine and others were proofs I was lucky to receive from publishers and authors. So many to choose from but these were my favourites. First up is The Valley of the Lost Secrets a debut by Lesley Parr. I loved the story, the writing style and most importantly the characters. Selected as Waterstones’ Book of the Month I do hope this wonderful book reaches as many young readers as possible despite the closure of book shops. You can read a thoughtful article by Lesley in the links below. I also very much enjoyed The Silver Arrow by Lev Grossman which was published in September, the combination of sibling adventure, magical journey and environmental message is wonderfully done. The House at the Edge of Magic by Amy Sparkes is a fabulous and funny introduction to the fantasy genre for year 3 and 4+ and is published this month. The Boy Who Sang with Dragons written by Andy Shepherd and illustrated by Sara Ogilvie was published this week and is a perfect finale to this lovely series combining magic & family. I am taking part in the blog tour over the next couple of weeks so do watch out for that to find out more.
My highlight of this week was reading The Children of Swallow Fell by Julia Green followed by attending The Audience With Julia interview chaired by Nikki Gamble on Thursday evening . The book is thoughtful story about resilience, survival and hope. A rich and lovely read that is fitting for us all during lockdown. The interview was a treat. The conversation between Julia and Nikki touched on many aspects of Julia’s books and on the writing process. I particularly like both Julia’s view of children as readers; treating them as intelligent people although with less life experience and the importance she attaches to providing clarity in her writing giving the child reader a chance to fill the gaps. It was a wonderful evening.
News, articles and resources…
Books for Topics: Favourite Books of the Year – Children’s Books of the Year – as selected by a super-knowledgeable community of teachers, TAs, authors, librarians & booklovers, who’ve been nominating their favourite children’s books of 2020. This is definitely worth a look to find out what you may have missed last year.
Book Trust: New Children’s Books for January – every month the BookTrust team review dozens of books for children and share their favourites by age group. A great place to find some new reading suggestions.
2021 in books: what to look forward to this year – the Guardian provides a comprehensive look at the literary year ahead including books for children and teens to watch out for.
SF Said: Virtual Author Visits – a helpful blogpost by SF Said, author of Varjak Paw, describing how his virtual visits have worked during the pandemic. This will inspire and reassure authors and schools in equal measure. In addition, to replace school visits during lockdown, SF Said will be doing a live Twitter chat on Tuesdays from 2-3pm, answering questions about his books, & chatting about reading, writing & books in general. PARENTS & TEACHERS: please tweet SF Said questions from your children. Use the hashtag #whatSFSaid
Tom Palmer: Holocaust Memorial Day Resources – Tom Palmer’s website is full of useful resources for teachers and pupils and these special resources include a pre-recorded assembly, resource pack, a five part story and much more. Excellent for Yr5 – 8. Holocaust Memorial Day takes place on 27th January.
Costa Book Award Category Winners Announced – the winners of each shortlist were announced earlier this week and the winner of the 2020 Children’s Book Award is Voyage if the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant. The overall winner is announced on Tuesday 26th January, could it be the children’s winner?
The Bishop’s Stortford College Festival of Literature – this festival brings acclaimed authors, illustrators, and poets together to inspire both children and adults to read for pleasure. Now entering its 12th year, the Festival will take place online for the first time. Available to watch live, or on catch up, the Festival will run between the 2nd and 12th of February 2021 and has a Schools Programme aimed at pupils aged between 4-18 years-old as well as an evening Open Events programme for sixth form and adults.
The Northern YA Literary Festival 15th – 17th January – this looks great for secondary school librarians and teachers or any YALit lovers. The programme includes Patrice Lawrence, El Norry, Leila Rasheed & Bali Rai, Sally Nicholls and Eve Ainsworth. You need to register to attend the online events, more info via the link.
Empathy Lab News – the new Read for Empathy Collections will be announced on 26th January and Empathy training takes place in March in readiness for Empathy Day in June. You can find out how to get involved via the link to their official website.
A Night with Knights of… 20th Jan, 7.00-8.00 pm – Join the Reading Agency and publisher of diverse and inclusive books for children, Knights Of, for an evening of author and illustrator chats, news on new titles coming up through 2021 and the landscape of children’s publishing, before opening the floor to audience questions. Tickets are free but you need to register via the link above.
The Houses That Look Like Ours: An Essay by Lesley Parr – Lesley Parr wrote The Valley of Lost Secrets to reflect the values and environments of her working-class childhood in South Wales. In this exclusive piece, the author of the Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month for January picks her favourite children’s books that feature working-class children and communities.
My ‘issue’ book, by Keren David – a blogpost by author Karen David for The Awfully Big Blog Adventure about her new book, What We’re Scared Of, about anti-semitism which is published this month. An important read.
Finally, some book reviews that caught my eye this week…
This Love by Isabel Otter and Harriet Lynas – a picture book celebrating love in its many different guises. This review by Emma Kuyateh “This Love ensures that all children feel included & able to see themselves somewhere in the story” and the glimpse of the artwork has sold this to me.
The Boy Who Met a Whale by Nizrana Farook – I enjoyed The Girl Who Stole an Elephant, Nizrana Farook’s debut, last year so was already looking forward to this book and this review by Ben Harris, one of my favourite trusted reviewers, has pushed it up the list.
The Humiliations of Welton Blake by Alex Wheatle – Nikki Gamble’s fabulous interview with Alex Wheatle has inspired me to read more of his work and this insightful review by Mat Tobin has encouraged me to include this title published by Barrington Stoke on my wish list. It sounds like a must have for all secondary school libraries.
Climate Crisis for Beginners Written by Andy Prentice, Eddie Reynolds Illustrated by El Primo Ramon – Andrea Reece, expert reviewer for LoveReading4Kids says this is, “Full of clearly presented facts and figures, plus useful advice on ways they can make a difference, this is an excellent introduction to the climate crisis for young readers.” Published by Usborne it contains links to helpful websites too.
That’s all for this week and I do hope that this varied selection means that there is something here for all tastes and that you have found something interesting, helpful or enjoyable. Happy reading!