Hello and welcome to the last Reading Matters newsletter of the year. Despite the difficulties we have faced in 2021 there is a kindness in the children’s book and education community that makes things easier. Thank you to everyone who has created, shared, or inspired the lovely book chat that has cheered and comforted us all. There are too many to name but I appreciate it very much and hope that you have a happy and, most importantly, a healthy Christmas.
What I’m reading…
It has been a bit of a Paul Jennings week for me. Following Nikki Gamble’s Audience with this popular author last week I borrowed the audio version of A Different Dog and A Different Land from my library to complete my reading of the trilogy. A Different Dog, in a similar way to A Different Boy, took me in a different direction to the one I was anticipating from the opening pages. Paul Jennings’ writing style is spare and yet revealing. He leaves the reader to fill the gaps and each story has contained a great deal of emotion without the writing expressing those emotions directly, if that makes sense. I’m halfway through his memoir, Untwisted, which is both revealing and interesting. This weekend I plan to listen to A Different Land.
I have already mentioned how much I enjoy picture books illustrated by Richard Jones and this week I wrote my review of Little Bear, the second book Richard has both written and illustrated. It is a beautiful book, both the text and the pictures are full of thoughtful kindness and understanding. It would be a lovely Christmas present and contains a reassuring message for children.
News, articles and resources…
Books on Christmas TV List – Compiled by Helen Smith, librarian at Eckington School, this free guide provides details of films and TV series with literary links that are available to watch over Christmas. This is a vast amount of work for Helen and it has become a Christmas tradition among school librarians each year to share this among pupils, staff and parents. Thank you very much, Helen.
42 best books for children 2021 – stories for all ages chosen by The Sunday Times’ children’s book experts Nicolette Jones and Alex O’Connell. This is a comprehensive collection featuring picture books, festive titles, fantasy, historical, non-fiction and YA titles. Great for Christmas presents and for highlighting gems you may have missed.
Black Children’s Books for Christmas 2021 – this fantastic selection of books is handpicked by Fabia Turner on her Candid Cocoa blog and all are good quality in terms of Black cultural/ethnic representation. A lovely list well worth exploring.
Why Can’t We Let Fictional Kids Be Mean? By Ross Montgomery – this guest post on the Federation of Children’s Books Groups by the author of The Midnight Guardians and The Chime Seekers is definitely worth a read. It would be a brilliant book club discussion prompt.
Julia and the Shark’s writers on their pandemic-driven book lauded by Waterstones – This stunning novel written and illustrated by husband-and-wife duo, Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de Freston, has been named children’s gift of the year by Waterstones. You can read more about the inspiration for the story in this article in the Guardian.
2021 PEPELT December Reading Challenge – this is a really lovely version of the adventure calendar. Behind each of the 24 doors is a video read-aloud by a picture book author/ illustrator or an animated version of a picturebook. Apologies that this is a little late, I only discovered this last weekend, it would be great to share and you may like to catch up with what you’ve missed.
The best children’s and YA books of 2021 – chosen by Imogen Russell Williams for the Guardian this selection of books are inspiring, magical, moving and enlightening and are an example of the quality literature available for children and young people at the moment.
Reading Africa Week 2021 – First launched by Catalyst Press in 2017, #ReadingAfrica week is gaining momentum, with more and more readers are sharing their favourite African books on social media with the hashtag. The team at World Kid Lit have put together a list of their favourite children’s books from Africa. You can check out the list and find out more about this annual event via the link.
Q&A with Natasha Farrant author of The Girl Who Talks To Trees – another fascinating guest post on the Federation of Children’s Book Groups website, always a reliable source of interesting and entertaining articles. This one is full of ideas to encourage children to engage with nature.
BookTrust New children’s books we love – December’s collection of picturebooks, fiction and non-fiction for all ages from babies to teens includes books on a Christmas theme and a range of genres for all tastes. There are several that I have read, enjoyed and reviewed included and I do like the sound of The Christmas Department Store.
Young Quills 2021 – the winners – A little later than usual the Historical Association announced the winners of the Young Quills Awards for Historical Fiction for Children for 2021. I was delighted to see After the War by Tom Palmer awarded the prize for the 10-13 year group. Congratulations, Tom! You can find out who won the other categories and view the shortlists via the link.
Harper Collins Children’s Books snaps up Beverley Naidoo’s first novel in over a decade – Children of the Stone City by Carnegie Medal winning Naidoo will publish in the UK and US in October 2022. It is set in a world where Adam and Leila and their friend Zak “live as Nons under the Permitted ruling class”. The publisher said, “it is a thrilling, resonant and inspiring novel about justice, privilege and the power of the young to strive for change.”
#Narniathon21 begins – I’m really looking forward to this! Participants are asked to read the Chronicles of Narnia in publication order, beginning with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe & continuing with one book per month. If you would like to join in you have the chance to feedback on the last Friday of each month both on Chris Lovegrove’s blog and on Twitter. The first one will actually be on Thursday 30th December to avoid New Year’s Eve. Chris explains it more clearly on his blog!
Become a story-making superstar with Andy Jones and Olaf Falafel – a free event from the Reading Agency. A virtual story-making workshop for schools on 15 December. Suitable for KS2 and you can register via the link.
Children’s and teens roundup – the best new picture books and novels – another tempting selection from Imogen Russell Williams. This includes another mention for The Christmas Department Store and two non-fiction books I rate highly, We All Celebrate and Black and British: An Illustrated History.
Finally, some book reviews that caught my eye this week…
The Christmas Star by Hilary Robinson and Ciara Ni Dhuinn – the poignant World War 1 series of picture books by Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey are cherished by both school librarians and teachers so I was interested to read this review. Paul Watson describes this new retelling of the Nativity story as, “A perfectly gentle retelling that makes the reader know how important it is to shine your brightest to be your best self.”
Lucy’s Magical Stories, A Series by Anne Booth illustrated your Sony Williams – as part of the recent Let’s Get Festive blog tour Lily on the the Lily and the Fae blog describes this kind series for newly independent readers. Full of magic, tender friendships with animals and a Christmas feel these sound just right for the run up to the big day.
Vi Spy Never Say Whatever Again by Maz Evans – we are all, both adults and children, in need of a good giggle at the moment. Enter Maz Evans with her second story featuring Vi to provide some humour. This sounds to have gone down a treat with young readers who are the people who matter most really, but in her review Karen says, “Maz Evans is a master of comedy and she’s absolutely done it again with Never Say Whatever Again, and you will find yourself laughing out loud throughout.” So it’s got the adult vote too!
Blue Running by Lori Ann Stephens – this YA dystopian novel is a Books for Keeps’ Book of the Week. Suitable for age 14+ and adults the review finishes with, “If there is one teenage novel this year that readers will surely never forget, it must be this one.” If that tempts you the review by Nicolas Tucker provides a deeper look at the book.
That’s all for this week and for this year too. I hope it has been useful to you. All being well Reading Matters will be back in January 2022. Happy Christmas!