Book Advent – Children’s Books for Christmas Week 1

The Dog That Saved Christmas by Nicola Davies illustrated by Mike Byrne 

Award winning author Nicola Davies tells this story, of a boy for whom Christmas is a strain rather than a joy and the dog that helps him to learn to cope, with sympathy and gentle humour. A Christmas story with a difference but still celebrating what Christmas is all about.

The Dog Who Saved Christmas

Each year Jake struggles with Christmas. He prefers his life to consist of a regular routine and at home his family adapt to help him learn to cope. His bedroom is an oasis of ordered calm where he feels safe and secure. School has the structure of a timetable that Jake knows and understands and the corridors and rooms with their familiar colours are soothing to him. However as Christmas grows nearer this regular routine both at home and at school is disrupted. Jake’s logical approach to life means that he struggles to cope with the fact that his Mum and Dad want a tree inside the house and the flashing lights and increased noise cause him stress. He decides that he will try to turn back time to prevent the arrival of Christmas. Then, when a new teacher at school does not understand his needs it all becomes too much for Jake to bear any longer. However it is then that Jake meets a little lost dog who may just be able to turn his life around.

Although it is never explicitly mentioned in the text it is clear to an adult reader that Jake has autistic spectrum disorder and Nicola Davies has handled this beautifully and in a way that young readers will be able to relate to and understand. His misunderstanding of words and phrases due to his literal attitude and his distress caused by sensory over-stimulation are described with care. This should also be comforting to children who feel similarly to Jake. There is kindness all around Jake even though he himself finds it difficult to understand other  people’s emotions. His parents are kind and patient, his teenage brother displays a gentle concern and the teacher assigned to Jake explains things to him and encourages him in his school work. The growing bond between Jake and Susan, the dog that he befriends gradually gives him the reassurance and confidence he so badly needs and this story has the happy ending that readers need and will be hoping for.

This is a lovely book highlighting that Christmas can be stressful and a struggle for some but also celebrates the true meaning of what Christmas is all about and how it can be found in everyday life. Part of the highly readable collection of books published by Barrington Stoke this would be enjoyed by readers aged about 8+ and is particularly suitable for struggling, dyslexic or reluctant readers. I also think that it would be a good read aloud story for younger readers being a quick read but a very satisfying one.

Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

Kate DiCamillo is an author who can break your heart but always provides her readers with hope. In this utterly beautiful picture book she teams up again with Bagram Ibatoulline who illustrated her popular children’s book, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. This is quite possibly the perfect pairing to create a Christmas book that will touch the hearts of its readers.


It is just before Christmas when an organ grinder and monkey appear on the street corner outside Frances’s apartment. Frances can see them from her window and, sometimes, when it’s quiet, she can hear their music. In fact, Frances can’t stop thinking about them, especially after she sees the man and his monkey sleeping outside on the cold street at midnight. Frances grows increasingly concerned about them and asks her mother if they can be invited in for dinner. Her mother, caught up in the frantic pre- Christmas preparations, says no. DiCamillo invites the reader to view the situation through the eyes of the child and Frances’s gradual realisation of the predicament of others not as blessed as her is very touching. Eventually when the day of the Christmas pageant arrives, Frances takes matters into her own hands with the result that for Christmas at least the organ grinder will find some happiness.

629205_3_excThis stunning picture book has a very nostalgic feel to it, set in the US possibly in the 1940s with an absent father, shown in uniform in a photo, maybe away in the war. The illustrations with the old fashioned cars, the lights twinkling from shop windows, the fashions and the ankle deep snow take me back to old Hollywood  films I watched in my childhood at Christmas time. There is a reassuring solidity about the scenes and the organ grinder’s sadness contrasts sharply with this. The lighting in the wonderful illustrations is stunning with Frances tiptoeing down stairs with her touch, the night time street scene and the opening of the door into the church all bathed in a golden glow.

Thanks to Frances, the organ grinder and his monkey will experience  joy at Christmas and the happy closing scene is reassuring for children. However we are left with questions about the future of these characters and thoughts about our attitude to strangers especially those less fortunate than ourselves. It is through a small child that joy is spread in this gorgeous picture book, an appropriate and thought provoking message at Christmas time.


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The Skylarks’ War by Hilary McKay

A wonderful story, characters you grow to love, a plot that carries you along with families as they grow from young children to adulthood set against the backdrop of a terrible war that affected so many, this is a book that I will remember for a very long time.


Set at the start of the twentieth century we follow the lives of  Clarry and her older brother Peter. Neglected by their widowed father who shows neither love nor any interest in his children, their lives are lifted by their summers in Cornwall. There they stay with their grandparents and spend time with their adored charismatic cousin, Rupert. But normal life resumes each September with boarding school for Peter and Rupert, and a boring life for Clarry at home with her absent father, as the shadow of a terrible war looms ever closer.

As a school librarian  I used to advise children who were having difficulty choosing a book to try the first page test. If they sat down with a selection of books they should then read the first page of each and then take home the one that they most wanted to turn the page and read on. Skylarks’ War has possibly the best first page I’ve read for years and I instantly wanted to find out more. Hilary McKay’s flowing and highly readable style conjures up images of both people and places beautifully. It is Clarry, whose full name, Clarissa so aptly means ”clear and bright”, who is the warm heart of this story. Despite the lack of love from her father she is steadfastly kind, thoughtful and cheery. This description makes her sound too good to be true but it never feels like that. Clarry is the sort of person the reader would love as a friend or sister and as the story progresses and she matures and develops it feels both real and engaging.

As a reader you immerse yourself in the childhood adventures of their sunny summers in the sad knowledge that world war and tragedy loom ever closer to the characters we have grown to care about. The departure of the much loved Rupert to the front affects everyone in his circle including Clarry, Peter and their friends Simon and Vanessa. The contrast between the childhood adventures and Rupert’s life in the trenches is dramatic and shocking and Hilary McKay does not shy away from descriptions of the effects of war on those involved. Clarry, still a child when Rupert departs, experiences a gradual realisation of the impact of war on both those fighting and those at home and this is portrayed with compassion allowing young readers to learn with her. All of the young people in the story are deeply affected by the war to varying degrees but by following them to adulthood we see the existence of hope despite the heartbreak.

Another thoughtful aspect of the story is the way in which Clarry is gradually offered both an education and encouragement to embrace the possibility of a future other than that expected by her father. The links to the suffrage movement at the time and the impact of the war on the role of women is deftly included in the plot in a natural manner. There are also moments of wry humour between Clarry and the wonderful Mrs. Morgan.

Hilary McKay has created a story and characters that will, I think, stand the test of time. It is rare nowadays for children’s books to deal with such a long time span and to allow characters to grow up but this is done so beautifully I believe readers will appreciate the chance to learn and grow with Clarry, her brother and their friends.

I love this book, a beautifully told story of friendship, love, loyalty, heartbreak and hope this is now a contender for my favourite children’s book of the year. Skylarks’ War has  the feel of a classic family saga and yet it also conveys thoughts and dreams that today’s young readers will both engage with and learn from. Gorgeous and highly recommended.


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The S.L.A. Information Book Award – a celebration of nonfiction for children

The eighth School Library Association Information Book Award ceremony took place at Carmelite House London, the home of Hachette Children’s Publishers on Wednesday 7th November. This annual event shines a light on the very best information books for children from the youngest readers to secondary pupils.


A few years ago when as a school librarian I bought factual books for the primary school library I was often asked why, ”when everything is on the internet now.” It has been fascinating to watch how children’s authors, illustrators and publishers have fought back against this trend and made today’s nonfiction books for children so engaging, informative and attractive. That ‘Facts Matter’ has been brought home to us all over the last couple of years and well written information books can be relied upon to provide children with facts they need on many different aspects of life.  This year’s wonderful shortlist contained books that dealt with wide ranging subjects including deafness, food, refugees, prejudice, science and dinosaurs. The judges had the unenviable task of selecting one winner in each category and an overall winner. There was also a children’s award winner for each age group and an overall winner.


For the Information Book Award 2018, the overall winner chosen by the judges was Look I’m a Scientist published by Dorling Kindersley; whilst the Children’s Choice overall winner was 100 Things You Should Know About Food published by Usborne and illustrated by Parko Polo and Mariani Federico


More about the winners in each age group category and further details of the background to the award can be found here 



It was heartening to attend an event where nonfiction books were celebrated with the enthusiasm and importance usually seen at fiction award ceremonies. All reading, both of fiction and non-fiction, is valuable and is how young readers are encouraged and created. The most important factor is that children are enjoying what they are reading and for many it is information books about a favourite subject that opens the door to the world of reading and the wide range of books available to them. As a former primary school librarian I believe that fiction and nonfiction work in tandem as a means to enable young people to learn about the world around them. Often a well written novel will prompt a child to try to find out more about a particular historical event, a far away country or a situation they have not experienced. It is then that a high quality factual book can fill in the gaps in their knowledge. At last night’s ceremony the author Nicola Morgan said that both fiction and nonfiction contain truths about our world that enable children and teens to learn more both about themselves and others. As librarians and teachers we frequently talk about how fiction encourages empathy but it is nonfiction that provides young people with the facts that support them in the use of empathy in today’s world.

I have watched children poring over information books together at lunchtime in the library and then sharing what they have learned with others. Sometimes an eager child would rush up to me clutching a book to say, “Mrs. T. Did you know….?”  That is the magic of an information book, that sudden spark of interest and understanding that with help could grow to become knowledge used to create, solve or assist.


A highlight of the evening on Wednesday was the presentation of the Hachette Children’s Group Award for Outstanding Contribution to Information Books to Nicola Morgan. Nicola’s books have been influential in helping children and teenagers learn how to cope with mental health issues and stress. Her work is greatly valued by secondary school librarians across the country. That this particular author received this award is an indication of how very important information books are to young people and not only for finding out facts but also for learning about themselves.

Information books provide children with a window to the wider world but also an insight into themselves and others. Definitely a cause for celebration.

This month is National Nonfiction November and if you would like to find out more the Federation of Children’s Book Groups have lots of details and resources on their website.


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The Carnegie Award Nominations – a quick look at the list

The nominations have been announced for two prestigious literary awards. The CILIP Carnegie Medal is awarded for an outstanding book written for children and young people and the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal is awarded for distinguished illustration. This year, 254 books have been nominated for the 2019 Medals; 137 books for the CILIP Carnegie Medal and 117 for the Kate Greenaway Medal. This year, in addition to CILIP members, those able to nominate included bodies such as, BookTrust, CLPE, Commonword, IBBY, Inclusive Minds, National Literacy Trust and RNIB.

Following controversy last year over the lack of BAME authors on the long lists a review was carried out by CILIP and an action plan implemented which included enhanced diversity training for the judges and an equality, diversity and inclusion advisory panel to support and advise on the Awards process. Initial reactions to the nominations would suggest, I think, that some progress has been made regarding this and there are also titles that are English translations.

The Carnegie Nominations

Each year I find that I have read more of the Greenaway list than the Carnegie. As a primary school librarian I have always tended to concentrate on picture books, younger and middle grade fiction and out of habit and sometimes preference that is what I continue to do. Therefore my assessment of the nomination lists will reflect that. It is wonderful to see such a wide range of titles nominated for the Carnegie this year and there are several that I have read and enjoyed very much. There are also many that I am now determined to move up my enormous reading pile to find out why they are highly regarded by others.

The full list can be viewed on the official website. Here is just a quick taste of some of my favourite books, not based on any judging criteria, but on my own enjoyment.

Moonrise by Sarah Crossan


Having said that I concentrate on middle grade fiction Sarah Crossan is a YA author that I always make an exception for. For me, she makes poetry accessible for all and her wonderful books always have an impact on the reader. I simply could not stop reading this until I finished it and read the book in one sitting. It is a remarkable, important and deeply affecting story.  If you read it I have a feeling you will never forget it. The story is a poignant examination of the death penalty and leaves the reader deeply affected by the loss and trauma experienced by the two brothers, Ed and Joe, around whom the story centres. If I was a betting type I would put money on Moonrise making it to the shortlist.

The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day by Christopher Edge

IMG_20180523_161915I love it when a book surprises me and this definitely did. This is a different but very satisfying read. The world of science combines with the unbreakable bonds of true family love in a well written story. The parallel timelines work brilliantly in my opinion and the reader is left guessing right until the end. Link to my review and teaching resources here.

The Goose Road by Rowena House


Historical fiction set in France during World War 1 this debut is beautifully told and provides a window on the lives of civilians living there at the time and how the war affected them.  I first met Angelique in the author’s short story for The War Girls collection and  loved and admired her persistence in that and again in this novel. The book tells the story of her epic journey across France in a desperate attempt to save the family farm for her brother who is fighting at the front.  Despite the sadness this is definitely a story of hope. It would be a great WW1 read for KS3 & mature YR6 readers too.

Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone

Sky Song coverI am delighted to see this book on the list. Having followed Abi’s progress from the early days of a proof copy of The Dream Snatcher I have seen the way in which her stories touch children.  Sky Song typifies why children’s books matter. Courage, kindness, acceptance & hope are wrapped up in a thrilling adventure. My favourite of all this author’s books so far. You can read my full review here.


Kick by Mitch Johnson

IMG_20180426_093829When I read this earlier this year I thought that it was an extremely impressive debut. It has at its heart a lead character with whom readers will readily engage. An important story told in an accessible way, endorsed by Amnesty International and is highly recommended for Yr6+.



As a lover of historical fiction for all ages I am so pleased to see Emma Carroll featured on the list. Not once but twice!

The Secret of the Sun King

91Ew9DtJNlLThis is an exciting adventure with heart bringing history to life for young readers. The two linked stories, one in 1920s London and the other in ancient Egypt, have themes that weave the two together in a satisfying whole. Friendship, secrets and efforts to correct past mistakes are part of an absorbing and well plotted adventure that moves at a pace sure to keep readers engrossed until the very last page. Here is a link to my review and some teaching resources.

Sky Chasers

Sky Chasers cover

I loved Sky Chasers. It is  fabulous fiction for children aged 8+ and is full of intrigue, thrills, bravery and loyalty. Set in 18th century France this is a period not often covered in fiction for this age group.  Historical events are made to feel fresh and relevant for today’s readers. You can find out more by reading my review.

There are many other wonderful titles that have been nominated and it is great to see a mix of established authors, previous winners and debuts from new voices too.

Among the many books that I hope to read before the long list is announced in February are Worry Angels by Sita Brahmachari and Jane Ray, Jelly by Jo Cotterill, Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay, The Muslims by Zanib Mian and The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf.

The judges have a staggering task with so many books to read before a long list can be produced. A huge thank you to them all for their time and commitment.







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The Kate Greenaway Nominations- a quick look at the list

The nominations have been announced for two prestigious literary awards. The CILIP Carnegie Medal is awarded for an outstanding book written for children and young people and the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal is awarded for distinguished illustration. This year, 254 books have been nominated for the 2019 Medals; 137 books for the CILIP Carnegie Medal and 117 for the Kate Greenaway Medal. This year, in addition to CILIP members, those able to nominate included bodies such as, BookTrust, CLPE, Commonword, IBBY, Inclusive Minds, National Literacy Trust and RNIB.

Following controversy last year over the lack of BAME authors on the long list a review was carried out by CILIP and an action plan implemented which included enhanced diversity training for the judges and an equality, diversity and inclusion advisory panel to support and advise on the Awards process. Initial reactions to the nominations would suggest, I think, that some progress has been made regarding this and there are also titles that are English translations.

So, the titles…so many of them this year. Happily, I have discovered that many of my favourites have made the lists and also many that I have intended to read but have not yet got round to doing so. This is one of the things I love about the nominations, they act as a prompt for me to both increase and broaden my reading of books for children and young people.

The Kate Greenaway Medal Nominations

The full list of titles can be seen on the official website. What a fabulous range of books are included; much loved favourites and previous winners such as Chris Riddell, Jon Klassen, Shirley Hughes, Anthony Browne, Mini Grey and Emily Gravett and newer but already much loved illustrators including, David Litchfield, Alex T Smith, Britta Teckentrup and Emily Sutton.

Although books are selected on the basis of fulfilling the award criteria rather than a book the judges have ‘loved’ I wanted to mention some on the list that have made an impression on me.

The Lost Words – Illustrator Jackie Morris, Author Robert McFarlane.

This remarkable, beautiful book probably 412tLlnwukL._SX357_BO1,204,203,200_needs no introduction such has been its impact. Nominated for both the Greenaway and the Carnegie awards this is truly a collaboration. A gloriously illustrated work of art, a collection of magic spells and most definitely a book to treasure this is a book for all ages and for all types. The Lost Words brings together poetic literature, fine art and a fascination with nature. Most importantly this is a book to share so that its message can grow, spread and work as its creators hope it will. I have written more about the background to this book here.

Mrs Noah’s Pockets – illustrator James Mayhew, Author Jackie Morris

s-l400 (1)

The heavy rains, Noah building his ark and the animals going in two by two to be saved. This most familiar of stories has been retold time and time again but not like this. This time there is twist and someone else quietly takes centre stage. When Mr Noah builds the ark, he makes two lists – one for all the animals who will come on board and one for those troublesome creatures he will leave behind. Meanwhile, Mrs Noah gets out her sewing machine and makes a coat with very deep pockets. Lots of pockets.

I loved this gorgeous story and Mrs Noah as a quiet rebel has become my heroine. The stunning illustrations bring the story to life in way that makes the reader want to linger on each page. Those familiar with James Mayhew’s work from his Katie and Ella Bella picture books will notice a difference, as for this collaboration he has adopted a dramatic new style using a different technique. This works beautifully in conjunction with the text. An absolute delight of a book

The Snow Lion Illustrator Richard Jones, Author Jim Helmore

the-snow-lion-9781471162237_hrCaro and her mother arrive at their new home in darkness. Once inside, the house is white, bare and empty. Caro wishes that she has someone to play with and feels a little lost and small. Then one day she hears a noise and a gentle voice asking to play. She has a new friend and a very special one. The Snow Lion has appeared as if by magic to help Caro learn how to make friends of her own and maybe find the courage she has been hiding inside.

What makes this book extra special is the way in which the text and illustrations work together. The darkness of the opening pages as Caro and her mother arrive in the night and then the stark whiteness of the house in the first days help to convey the feelings of the characters so well. When the lion arrives he stands out on a page of warm orange. The Snow Lion himself although kindly and reassuring has a quiet dignity and authority about him too; a little like a wise and thoughtful parent. As Caro grows in confidence the colour spreads through the house and it starts to feel more like a home. There are other subtle touches such as the toy lion clutched in Caro’s hand in one picture and the family cat mirroring the lion on one page too. As Caro plays happily with her friends the Snow Lion quietly disappears and we can just glimpse his tail as he goes upstairs.

This would be a wonderfully reassuring story to share with young children and not only those who are moving house. There are many situations when children can feel worried or scared and this beautiful book provides a gentle reminder that all you need to cope is a bit of kindness, a good friend and sometimes a little bit of courage too.

Here We Are Notes For Living On Planet Earth Illustrator and Author Oliver Jeffers

71WsprVp1jLA tender guide written to his newborn son to help him make sense of the world around him. This lovely book is also a short but thoughtful essay on what makes our global community work and would be treasured by older children and adults too. Gorgeous illustrations full of detail and double pages that you want to linger over and examine. It would be brilliant to use in primary school classrooms. My full review and links are here.

There are many other books on the list that I have enjoyed and would recommend including Space Tortoise by David Litchfield and Ross Montgomery, The Day War Came by Rebecca Cobb and Nicola Davies, Luna Loves Library Day by Fiona Chambers and Joseph Coelho, I Do Not Like Books Anymore by Daisy Hirst, The Grotlyn by Benji Davies and I want To Be In a Scary Story by Jean Julien and Sean Taylor to name just a few.

Top of my to read list prompted by the Greenaway nominations are: A Stone for Sacha by Aaron Becker, Ruby in The Ruins by Shirley Hughes, Up the Mountain by Marianne Dubuc and Sarah Ardizzone, La La La: A Story of Hope by Jaime Kim and Kate DiCamillo, You’re Safe With Me by Poonam Mistry and Chitra Soundar and Moon by Britta Teckentrup. That’s just the start!

So many fabulous books which we can read, share and discuss with young readers. I remain convinced that illustration is a vital part of children’s literature for all ages and am grateful that this annual event shines a light on the very best examples.  It is a daunting task for the judges to narrow these titles down and I am looking forward to seeing which books will make it to the long list that is due to be announced in February 2019.

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White Feather by Catherine and David MacPhail

This is a powerful story about the tragic impact of the First World War on both the soldiers who fought and the families that they left behind.


The war is over and the whole town is celebrating as the soldiers march past. They are home at last. Sixteen year old Tony watches the parade but does not join in the celebrations. His brother, Charlie, is not coming home. Tony’s mother has refused to accept that her older son has died and sits at home watching and waiting for him to walk through the door. She has lost a grip on reality and although physically there the mother he knows is gone, temporarily or possibly for good. Tony is grieving both for the loss of his brother and his mother. There is worse still for him to bear as his brother died in circumstances he finds difficult to believe.  As Tony leaves the town after the parade  his former teacher hands him a white feather, the symbol of cowardice. The feather was for his beloved and admired brother, Charlie.

This is a moving and at times shocking story of a young man’s attempts to clear his brother’s name. Tony is so distraught at the accusation against Charlie that he is prepared to go to extreme lengths to prove that his brother was not a traitor. As his quest continues and he gets ever closer to solving the mystery surrounding his brother’s death it becomes apparent that even those who Tony considers his enemy may be suffering from the horrors of this war too.

Mother and son duo Catherine and David MacPhail have created a book that will make young readers pause and think about aspects of World War One not always covered in children’s books and this would prompt much discussion in the classroom. Although as a reader we have great sympathy for Tony’s distress it is clear by the end of the story that everyone, in different ways, has been altered by the trauma of war. Although we never meet Charlie his voice is a strong one and in some ways speaks for the many other young men who lost their lives. Several different themes are touched upon in this short but gripping book including, grief, shell shock, trauma and loyalty.  I think that this book would be a valuable addition to school library or classroom shelves.

Thank you to the publishers, Barrington Stoke, for providing me with this review copy. As with all their titles White Feather is presented in a super readable style making it especially suitable for dyslexic, less confident or reluctant readers of about 9+ The book cover artwork and vignettes are by Mary Kate McDevitt 

If you would like a taste of the story the first chapter is available here. 

If you are looking for more titles linked to World War 1 I can highly recommend Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer also published by Barrington Stoke. Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey have created a wonderful series of picture books for children of all ages. These include Peace Lily told from the viewpoint of a young nurse and The Christmas Truce a poignant retelling of the famous events of Christmas 1914.




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Corey’s Rock by Sita Brahmachari and Jane Ray

This is a beautiful book about the transformative power of stories which will in turn be able to offer the gift of consolation and hope to its readers.


Isla and her Mum and Dad have moved to the Isles of Orkney following the death of Isla’s beloved five year old brother, Corey. Isla’s mother’s relatives are from the islands and her father is from Africa and the little family  had previously lived in Edinburgh. Ten year old Isla is struggling to cope with all the changes; adapting to country life after the city, a new school and classmates but, most importantly, with the loss of her little brother. It is the discovery of the ancient folklore of the Selkies that gradually opens the doors to recovery for Isla. She learns about these strange half human half seal people and the links to the sea that surround the islands. Slowly these stories provide the key to acceptance and the understanding that life will continue for Isla and her family.


This is a beautiful and profoundly moving story that as a reader provoked in me a feeling of stillness. The writing is almost poetic and the weaving together of the different strands is smoothly and skilfully done. Jane Ray’s simply beautiful illustrations are an integral part of the story. It was the wonderful cover that attracted me to the book initially. The family silhouetted against the horizon with the expanse of sea behind is both eye catching and moving. The love between the parents and the child is apparent and yet there is a feeling of sadness too. It made me want to find out more about these people. Throughout the book the illustrations highlight both the emotional impact and also the importance of the sea in the story. Personally I find the sight of the sea soothing and at times of grief or sorrow the expanse of ocean and its permanence can provide comfort. Jane Ray has captured this feeling perfectly. The colours convey both the sight of the sea and the warmth of the family home and the gradually lightening as the family start their recovery.


I liked the kindness shown by individuals in Isla’s recovery in particular the lovely librarians who lend her the selkie story initially and Magnus the thoughtful, gentle boy in her class who befriends Isla. There are many themes touched upon in this gentle book including home, family, loss, grief and the suffering of those fleeing their own homes and countries. The book has been endorsed by Amnesty International for illuminating human rights values.

Tenderly written and beautifully illustrated this story of grief, loss, acceptance and ultimately hope is a quiet but wonderful example of the power of stories. It would be a valuable addition to school library or classroom shelves where it would help children dealing with their own grief or help other children understand a classmate’s experience. It may help adults too.

This website provides details of the origins of selkie folklore which you may find interesting.




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The Ink House by Rory Dobner

Welcome to the Ink House, an artist’s mysterious mansion built on a magical lake of ink that inspires creativity in anyone who lives there. When the artist goes away on a trip an array of animals great and small venture into his home ready to prepare for the Annual Ink Extravaganza.

The Ink House

This eye catching book is quite difficult to put into a category. In a large format with its black cover and gold typeface it has an instant appeal and I immediately wanted to pick it up and examine it. The wonderful ink illustration of the artist’s mansion on the first pages has a gothic look to it with a slight fairy tale feel too. Each page introduces the different animals starting with Maestro the Mouse, the music maker, and Freddie Foxglove, the fox who acts as master of Ceremonies and then continues through the wide variety of friends. My personal favourite was Huxley, the body-surfing hedgehog!  Rory Dobner is an artist and product designer and his beautiful illustrations are intricate and detailed. Some pages have a dramatic impact and I thought the procession of silhouettes as the animals departed was beautiful.


This striking book is primarily a work of art. There is a lack of narrative with the text being a description of the animal guests or maybe I should more accurately describe them as gatecrashers or squatters! This lack of storyline may be an issue for some but I do think that children will enjoy examining the wonderful illustrations. Perhaps they will also be inspired to be creative and use the pictures as an inspiration to design their own party guests.

Maybe we don’t need to be able to assign a particular label to a book but it does help to be able to identify its core market. Personally I think this is a book that will appeal to older children and adults too and its beautiful appearance ensures it will probably be bought as a gift.


Rory Dobner has also created a range of homeware featuring the Ink House animals. There is more information about this and his other artistic creations on his website.

Thank you to the publisher, Laurence King Publishing for providing my review copy.

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The Lost Magician by Piers Torday

When I was about eight or nine years old I was given the book  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a present. It was the book that turned me into ”a reader”. For the first time I felt a sense of shock and disbelief at events told by the author and I truly cared about and identified with the characters. I later re-read the story at different points in my childhood with a greater understanding of its meaning and it is, of course, a book mentioned by many adults as a childhood favourite. The story had a great impact on Piers Torday and such was its effect that he has now written his own book, The Lost Magician, in homage to the C S Lewis classic.


In view of my own relationship with and memories of the Narnia chronicles I approached this new story with a mixture of excitement and slight trepidation. I need not have worried. Piers Torday has captured what made The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe so special and created in this new exciting, thoughtful and wise story a celebration of reading, books, libraries and the power of the imagination.

Library Rule No. 1 ”If you can imagine it, it must exist. Somewhere.”

We meet the four children, Simon, Patricia, Evelyn and Larry in 1945 as they arrive at the home of Professor Diana Kelly where they are to spend the summer holidays while their parents cope with the aftermath of the Blitz and find a new home for them all. Once there first Larry and then the other children in turn find a mysterious secret Library door through which they reach the magical world of Folio. Those who live in this kingdom, The Reads made up of talking bears, miniature knights and other characters familiar from fairy tales, stories and legends are in an eternal battle with The UnReads an army of metallic robots lead by a Queen made of glass through which columns of numbers shine.  The children find themselves caught up in this conflict and their only hope of resolving the situation is to find the creator of this world,  a magician called The Librarian who has been lost for centuries.

This outline of the plot sounds familiar and yet as you read you discover so much more and gradually the relevance to our modern world becomes apparent. The battle between the inhabitants of Folio could be described as a conflict between facts or knowledge and the world of the imagination. There is another element to this magical world that terrifies all who live there, the Never Reads, representing ignorance. As the children’s quest continues they and the reader discover some important truths about both themselves and the world.

The characters of the four children are wonderfully drawn and young readers will find much to identify with in their different personalities. Each of them has been affected by the trauma of war and in their individual ways are trying to cope with its impact on them. Larry the youngest, always clutching his beloved Grey Bear, has an instant appeal having an open, gentle and trusting manner. His belief in the magic of stories and imagination is the driving force beneath all that takes places.  I like to imagine him becoming a children’s author eventually! Evie is the child possibly most traumatised by her war experiences and this manifests itself in a determination to discover the truth behind everything. She feels she has been fobbed off by stories and now questions and wants answers. Patricia, a sensible and thoughtful girl, has been forced to grow up too quickly and in some ways takes on a maternal role with her siblings. Simon is a very interesting character who, although at times hard to warm to, is hiding his own feelings of inadequacy. A young man desperate to live up to his father’s expectations and experiences but struggling to know how to do so. It is a thoughtful touch to make it clear that Simon is dyslexic too, reinforcing the message that stories are for everyone even if you don’t find it easy to read them yourself.

It is hard to describe more of the story without giving spoilers but this is, like its inspiration, a book that can be read on many levels. After the scene setting opening the excitement mounts at a great pace and the story telling and world creation is wonderful. I really could see the beautiful valleys, the great plains and the forbidding mountains. I loved all the moments of recognition of old friends from other stories of which there are many. The most obvious being Larry and his dear friend bear bumping along behind him and the three talking bears who provided wonderful porridge for the children. There are moments where I relived episodes from my beloved Narnia but this never felt like a replication more a gentle reminder of previous wonders.

This is a cracking adventure that children will enjoy but they will then go away and ponder and remember. It is then that the magic of the storytelling by Piers Torday, a magician himself, will make them realise what they have learned. The readers will learn that although we need information and knowledge we need stories to help us make sense of them. We need previous experience found in stories and history to help us make decisions and avoid making the same mistakes. Perhaps also we need to learn not to be arguing amongst ourselves and instead work together against a common enemy.

I loved this book and will undoubtedly return to it. It is a story that makes you think, makes you care and makes you imagine. Perhaps best of all it is a story that speaks to the nine year old inside us all.  I suspect that in years to come today’s children will look back at this wonderful story as one that made them ”readers” too. The satisfying ending reveals that there will be further adventures in the land of Folio and I am very much looking forward to being part of them.

Lastly, the wonderful cover illustration by Ben Mantle is simply perfect for the story.


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The School Librarian of the Year Award – a celebration of superheroes

On Tuesday 9th October the School Librarian of the Year award ceremony took place in the Judge’s Court above Brown’s Restaurant, Covent Garden. Librarians, authors and members of the children’s books community gathered together to celebrate the wonderful work carried out by some remarkable school librarians.


The four Honour Award Librarians, Emma Suffield, Alison Kennedy, Dr. Cchavi Jain and Nicki Cleveland with author Lauren St John

The very best librarians are those that meet the needs of their community and this is particularly obvious in the work done by school librarians. Their role is a unique one being a blend of both academic and pastoral and also catering for every single pupil within their school. At the moment I am reading The Lost Magician by Piers Torday and in the opening chapters he says this about librarians:

Although, Evie supposed a librarian was kind of halfway between a parent and a teacher.”

I was reminded of this during the presentations for all four of the outstanding librarians on this year’s Honour List. The schools they work in are very different to each other, an international school in India, a Lancashire C of E Academy, an independent boarding and day school for girls and a state primary school. This illustrated perfectly the range of skills required of today’s librarians. However there was a common thread running through the comments made by both the pupils and staff at these schools. The libraries were welcoming places where people felt safe and happy.  At one of the schools pupils said the library was “exciting” and “felt like home.” That’s a tricky combination to pull off successfully and yet the librarian had managed to do it. Both teachers and pupils discussed how the librarians acted as a mentor, supporter and almost as a friend. In addition to teaching how to access information successfully and use it productively, encourage reading for pleasure and nurture readers who enjoy a wide range of fiction these librarians were guiding pupils over career choices, exam technique and life’s everyday problems.

Emma Suffield, winner of this year’s School Librarian of the Year Award, encompasses all of these skills in her role as Learning Resources Centre Manager at St Wilfred’s C of E Academy in Blackburn. She is viewed as both a friend and member of the family by both pupils and parents. Emma has a creative and positive approach to her work that has made a big impact on her school in her time there. Incredibly she has achieved a 450% increase in book borrowing since she took over four years ago.


Emma Suffield School Librarian of the Year 2018

Children’s author Lauren St John presented Emma with her award and in her speech beforehand Lauren stressed the importance of libraries and librarians. She said that she had read research that stated that “reading is training in the art of being human.” Libraries and librarians enable access to books and reading for all regardless of income or situation.  Lauren St John said that she was blown away by the standard of the  librarians on this year’s Honours List. She went on to describe librarians as “superheroes” and “particularly now in our world when many people in power don’t realise the importance of libraries.”

In his closing remarks, Alec Williams former chair of the School Library Association, said that there is so much more to the role of school librarians than the traditional image. He mentioned the growth in creative use of social media by school librarians, particularly in engaging children with authors. This was particularly evident in the primary school, I thought, with pupils saying they had met authors they had never heard of but loved their books.

All four of the school librarians being honoured are wonderful ambassadors for their profession. In her lovely acceptance speech Emma Suffield thanked last year’s winner, Lucas Maxwell for his help, support and sharing of ideas. Emma has already started to do the same via Twitter and I am excited to see what the coming year holds for Emma and the #GreatSchoolLibraries campaign for which she, and the other three librarians, are such an excellent advert.


A chapter of School Librarians of the Year past and present, Lucas Maxwell, Emma Suffield, Amy McKay and John Iona

The Great School Libraries Campaign is a joint campaign officially launched last month by the School Library Association (SLA) and CILIP School Libraries Group (SLG) campaign supported by CILIP to ensure that every child has access to a great school library.

For news, information and downloadable resources please visit the dedicated website for the campaign

Please do support this very important campaign. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all children had the opportunity to have school librarians such as those celebrated at this happy occasion

Thank you very much to Alison Tarrant, CEO of the School Library Association for inviting me to the ceremony, it was a delight to be part of such a special afternoon.



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