Reading Matters – children’s book news

Hello and welcome to the first Reading Matters round up of the Summer Term. I hope everyone had a happy Easter and a restful break if possible. As I am writing this the gradual reopening of places is lifting my spirits, a trip to my local bookshop and library was a treat and I realised how much I have taken this for granted in the past. I also took my Dad for his second vaccination this week and yet again I was impressed with the kind efficiency; something else to be grateful for.

What I’m reading…

It is interesting to look back at what I have read since the last Reading Matters as it highlights the wide range of literature available for children and young people at the moment. Picture books, fantasy, humour, history, magic, adventure, all have featured and all portrayed in an individual and distinctive manner.

First up are two books from Barrington Stoke. Peter Bunzl’s debut for this publisher, Featherlight, which was a thoughtful blend of history, traditional tale and magic and a lovely read. I thought David Long’s book about the Apollo 13 mission was excellent and his new book, Tragedy at Sea: The Sinking of the Titanic was equally detailed and informative. Both these books are available now.

I loved The Incredible Record Smashers by Jenny Pearson, it manages to be both hilarious and tender. It made me giggle and it made me care. Jenny Pearson is, I think, an author who understands children and her book is published on 29th April. Ross Mackenzie’s Feast of the Evernight, sequel to Evernight, which I read and reviewed for The School Librarian magazine, was every bit as good as the first instalment. It is a compelling story, an epic battle between good and evil set in a richly imagined fantasy world. It is due to be published in May.

A highlight among the picture books I have read over Easter is Unlocked: Stories of Hope from Tiny Owl Publishing. This beautiful book is a look back on the last year that is full of hope and kindness and is perfect for sharing with children as we come out of lockdown.

Among the books I was sent to read and review for Just Imagine was Two Sisters: A Story of Freedom by Kereen Getten. This is a powerful and emotional story of half-sisters Ruth and Anna from Jamaica, their journey to Georgian England and their subsequent battle for survival. An excellent addition the Scholastic Voices series I would highly recommend this for secondary schools and possibly mature Year 6 readers. This week I also finished reading Skin Taker by Michelle Paver. When a story takes the reader to another place with its vivid imagery, skilful world building and tense storyline it is sometimes difficult to know what to read next and that is how I feel at the moment. Over the weekend I will be collecting my thoughts about this remarkable book and writing my review for Just Imagine. Meanwhile I shall take refuge with my new Monty Don book until I feel ready for another story!

News, articles and resources…

Libraries change lives’: Read Cressida Cowell’s open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson – In my view this was the most important children’s book related piece of news of the week. Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell has just launched her Life-changing Libraries project, which highlights the importance of library spaces for primary schools. You can watch her share her open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in which she calls for ring-fenced funding for school libraries, or read it in full via the link above.

Primary School Library Review launched – the National Literacy Trust supported by Penguin Random House launched their Primary School Library Review this week. This project will look the provision and impact of primary school libraries, pre, during and post COVID-19, and will seek to imagine what the future of primary school libraries could look like. The call for evidence is targeted at librarians, teachers, schools, organisations and charities within education. Please do take the time to respond if you can in order that evidence can be obtained and presented.

Hay Festival Online Programme for Schools 24th – 28th May – the organisers of this popular literature festival have announced their new Programme for Schools which is taking place online this year for free. The programme is now available online and registrations are open via the website. The line-up of authors is wonderful, far too many to list here, and suitable for ages from KS1 of KS4. Don’t miss this wonderful opportunity

UKLA Book Awards Shortlists 2021 – despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic which made the judging and sharing process for these awards chosen by teachers harder the shortlists in the various categories were announced this week. It’s a really lovely range including some I have read and enjoyed and some to add to my reading list too. It’s worth exploring the lists if you haven’t already done so.

100 Books (and counting!) to Read Before You Leave Secondary School – Lucas Maxwell, librarian at Glenthorne School, has been steadily adding to this list of recommended reads for his pupils and there are now over 280 MG and YA titles suitable for KS3 and above. The list is available via Google Docs.

It takes a village to raise a reader – this extract from the 2021 Storyliners Margaret Mahy Lecture by Julia Marshall is a lovely read and emphasises the need for reading role models.

National Teen Book Club launched to aid lost-learning in the UK – The National Teen Book Club is a UK-wide virtual book club for teenagers launched by educational equality charity Speakers for Schools and Book Clubs in Schools in association with HarperCollins. This will start on 9th June and you can find out more information about the club via the website.

Jhalak Prize Children’s and YA Shortlist 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 shortlist is varied and tempting.

An Interview with Kereen Getten on Writing When Life Gives You Mangoes – this is a fascinating and informative interview by Mat Tobin, Lecturer in Primary English and Children’s Literature at Oxford Brookes University, with Kereen Getten whose book is shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize mentioned above.

An Interview with Sophie Anderson on The Girl Who Speaks Bear and her life as a writer – another lovely interview from Mat Tobin, this time featuring a book shortlisted for the Carnegie Award. I loved this; the sense of family and stories being handed down through the generations and being woven together is evident in Sophie’s books and in this delight of an interview. Thank you Mat and Sophie.

The Reader Teacher Top 100 Recommended Reads Year Group Book Lists – I realise that Scott Evans and his helpful lists probably need no introduction at all but just in case you missed this here are his latest updated lists for Nursery – Year 6.

History Through Books Timeline – teacher Dean Boddington has created many helpful resources and this is his latest. This is a historical timeline with a variety of books recommended for each topic/era to enable children to select and find books that may interest them. Dean offers all his resources for free but asks that if you are able to you either donate a book to his school or make a donation to Trussell Trust Foodbanks. You can download the timeline via the link.

The Tir na n-Og Award 2021: Elen Caldecott Interview – this interview on the Family Bookworms Wales blog is a fascinating insight into the writing process, research and motivation behind The Short Knife which is shortlisted for this children’s literature award. I’m will be reading this soon and this article has increased my expectations.

Carnegie Award Shadowers’ Challenge – This year’s Carnegie and Kate Greenaway shortlisted authors and illustrators have each set a challenge for Shadowers to get involved with. You can watch videos in which they share creative ideas inspired by their shortlisted books for the Shadowers to try, from planning their own stories, writing from the perspectives of characters in the books, telling their story through poetry, drawing their animal self portraits and capturing their neighbourhood through art or writing.

Oscar’s Book Prize 2021 Shortlist Announced – Oscar’s Book Prize has announced the 2021 shortlist, with six books making it through to the next round following the highest number of entries recorded to date. Now in its eighth year, Oscar’s Book Prize celebrates the best in storytelling for under-fives.

Moorlands Primary School Picture Book Assembly Ideas – this school is embedding their work on diversity and anti-racism across the school, and have put together an overview for a weekly assembly using picturebooks with this focus. The school has kindly made this free to borrow and adapt.

Philip Pullman ‘in conversation’ with Michael Rosen – This is a rare opportunity to listen to the acclaimed and inspiring children’s authors, Philip Pullman and Michael Rosen, in conversation about children’s literature. 

Chris Haughton In the Reading Corner Podcast – this is simply wonderful for any picturebook lovers. Nikki Gamble talking to Chris about his thoughtful approach to creating books for young children. Fantastic questions from Nikki and such revealing and informative answers ensured I learned a lot from this.

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

Three Exceptional Picture Books Featuring Grandfathers – this is beautiful. I think all three books deserve a place on our bookshelves but I’ll let Rachael’s thoughtful review explain why.

My Summer With Grandad by Tom Tinn-Disbury – part of the recent blog tour this lovely review by Melanie McGilloway includes a glimpse of Tom’s studio. This is another picture book featuring a tender inter-generational friendship and I definitely want to see a copy.

Kat Wolfe On Thin Ice by Lauren St John – the third in this mystery, detective series sounds great. I love this comment by Louise Nettleton in her review, “This story has the feel of a proper adventure – there is just the right amount of danger that the audience want to see how the situation is resolved, but not so much that young readers will be afraid to read it after lights out.”

The Swallows’ Flight by Hilary McKay – Skylarks’ War is one of my favourite children’s books of recent years so I am looking forward with eager anticipation to this follow up novel. Kelly Ashley’s review for Just Imagine has added to my enthusiasm. “Whether enjoyed as a read aloud, a class novel or a selection for group reading or literature circles for ages 9-11, The Swallows’ Flight by Hilary McKay is one to treasure.”

The Supreme Lie by Geraldine McCaughrean – the latest novel by twice Carnegie winner Geraldine McCaughrean is set during the 1920s but the themes are relevant to our current situation. Joy Court describes this as “vintage McCaughrean and highly recommended.” on the LoveReading4Kids website and I always value Joy’s opinion so it’s been added to my list.

That’s everything for this week and I hope that something among the links I’ve shared will be useful to you. Over the coming days I’m hoping to post reviews of some of the fabulous picture books that I’ve read recently including titles perfect for Earth Day which is marked next week. Happy reading!

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6 Responses to Reading Matters – children’s book news

  1. setinthepast says:

    I really liked The Skylarks’ War.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. bvalentini says:

    There’s so much in here to attract attention and plump up the already plump wish list. I look forward to reading all of your comments and review, and am definitely looking forward to reading the new Jenny Pearson’s and Ross McKenzie’s books. Meanwhile, Two Sisters and The Supreme Lie will be put at the top of my tbr pile. Thank you. X

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Cheryl Sharpe says:

    Good morning.

    For World Book Night I’ve been asked to record myself reading a short book suitable for years 5 to 8 and lasting about an hour. Have you any suggestions? I’d be very grateful!

    Many thanks.

    Cheryl Sharpe
    Alameda Middle School


    • alibrarylady says:

      Hello Cheryl, that’s a difficult question, first it obviously depends on how quickly you read aloud. Apparently audiobooks are pitched at 150 -160 words per minute so that’s a guide. A whole novel in an hour would be hard. Have you considered short stories? Then you wouldn’t be stressing about the timing as much. Maybe The Book of Hopes as that’s an optimistic theme for the present climate. The novellas published by Barrington Stoke are shorter and appeal to a wide age range so maybe suitable. Sorry not to be more helpful. Good luck.


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