Reading Matters – children’s book news

Hello and welcome to this week’s look at what has been happening in the world of children’s books. Sometimes it is difficult to avoid the feeling that many aspects of life are on hold but there have been some positive events this week that are well worth highlighting. Both the Read for Empathy collections and the Branford Boase Longlist were announced this week. We need empathy more than ever and this initiative from Empathy Lab is both important and inspiring. It has been a particularly challenging year for debut authors and the Branford Boase Award is a welcome opportunity to celebrate with the authors and editors involved. There are details of both included below. On a personal note my 89 year old Dad received his first Covid vaccination this week and I had to resist the temptation to skip out of the Epsom racecourse grandstand! I hope you have had something to smile about this week too.

What I’m reading…

On Sunday I read The Elephant by Peter Carnavas in one sitting. It tells the story of a brave little girl trying to put back together the broken pieces of her family. A small book brimming with love and hope. I think it is utterly beautiful and will post a review soon.

The Hatmakers by Tamzin Merchant was a joy to read this week. I escaped to a magical alternative Georgian London and experienced feuds and dastardly villains but hope and friendship too. Thank you to Nikki Gamble and Just Imagine for my copy and my review for them will be completed this weekend.

The Read for Empathy collections were announced on Tuesday and I wrote about them here. I am impressed yet again by the quality of the list and grateful to all those involved in this initiative which is growing each year both in impact and importance.

The 2021 Branford Boase Longlist was also announced this week and this is a welcome opportunity to celebrate new authors, their editors and their stories in what has been a most difficult time to launch their debut. This wide ranging list includes titles suitable for both primary and secondary school children.

News, articles and resources...

The 2021 #ReadforEmpathy Book Collection is here! – this link to the official Empathy Lab website takes you to full information, including guides to the primary and secondary collections, an interview with the founder, Miranda McKearney and details of the previous collections too.

Reading for Pleasure Padlet – teacher Andrew Rough, originator of the #SundayMorningBookBlether chat on Twitter, has kindly compiled a selection of useful websites, blogs, Padlets, Facebook groups and discussions that provide inspiration for reading for pleasure.

ReadingZone Picture Book Competition 2021 – Reading Zone are challenging children and young people aged 4-18 years to create a picture book on or around World Book Day, with the launch of the ReadingZone Picture Book Competition 2021. Author and illustrator Mini Grey (The Last Wolf, Traction Man) will judge this year’s competition. The competition will run from January to Friday 23rd April. The winners will be announced in early June 2021. The link takes you to full details including tips from Mini herself and guidelines for entry.

The Windermere Children – I missed this programme when it was first shown so was grateful for the opportunity to watch the showing this week timed to coincide with. Holocaust Memorial Day. It tells the true story of the children who inspired Tom Palmer’s book, After The War.

Children’s Author Tom Percival on Sky News – this is a great interview in which Tom says that books are essential for children, encourages the support of independent bookshops and stresses the importance of reading for pleasure. Helped a little by his dog!

A brilliant UK and Ireland children and young adults’ booklist – as we remain in national lockdown this wonderful list of fifty books on the Tripfiction website allows children and young people to read their way around beautiful Britain and Ireland.

New presenters for children’s book radio show and podcast Down the Rabbit Hole – “Down the Rabbit Hole” is starting 2021 with a new presenting and production team, including author Sam Sedgman, Scholastic’s Hannah Love, Little Tiger’s Charlie Morris and The Bookseller‘s Caroline Carpenter. The new format for the show will involve picking a monthly theme, inviting guests and examining books that link to the month’s discussion topic.

Newbery and Caldecott 2021 Winners – a write up on the Pragmatic Mom blog of this year’s winners and honours lists for each of these prestigious US book awards. Michaela Goade became the first Native American to win the Caldecott Medal for her illustrations in the children’s book “We Are Water Protectors”.

Seven Stories Digital Author Event with Michael Morpurgo – Thursday 11th February 2021, 1.30pm Recommended age: Y3, Y4, Y5 & Y6. This event will be live streamed through a private YouTube link and last approximately 45 minutes, including a talk from Michael and a Q&A at the end. Michael will be talking about some of his best-loved books including War Horse, The Butterfly Lion, Shadow and Private Peaceful, as well as reading from his latest book, Boy Giant.

Reading Zone Book Club – this newsletter includes their featured authors for January, Children’s Author of the Month Cat Weldon introduces the Vikings and Norse Gods in How to be a Hero and YA Author of the Month is KL Kettle with The Boy I Am, a powerful dystopian novel exploring gender and power. There are also chapter extracts to download and information about their forthcoming book club events. This is a very useful website.

BookTrust Represents, Knights Of and CLPE unveil new Black British anthology Happy Here – BookTrust has teamed up with the inclusive publisher Knights Of and the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) to produce a brilliant new anthology of stories from Black British authors and illustrators including Patrice Lawrence, Joseph Coelho, Onyinye Iwu and Selom Sunu. Happy Here, which is introduced by High Rise Mystery author Sharna Jackson, pairs ten Black writers and ten Black illustrators for stories and poems covering themes of joy, home and family.

Share A Story with World Book Day – the organisers of World Book Day launched the schedule of FREE events for the new Share A Story Live this week. Whether you’re at home or at school, join the £1 authors & illustrators in World Book Day week for 3 days of online fun from 3rd-5th March.

Children’s books roundup – the best new picture books and novels – another simply fabulous selection from Imogen Russell Williams. I always know I’m going to enjoy a book that Imogen recommends and I was happy to see two of my recent favourites included; The Valley of Lost Secrets by Lesley Parr and The House at the Edge of Magic by Amy Sparkes. I’m also reminded that I must buy Talk Like a River.

Lesson Plan: Discuss 22-year-old Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem “The Hill We Climb” – this article on PBS News provides a lesson in which students examine the poetry of Amanda Gorman, who was chosen to read her poem “The Hill We Climb” at President Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021. Gorman’s poem complemented Biden’s inaugural address and was written to reflect on “the history that we stand on, and the future that we stand for.” Thank you to the School Library Association for sharing this.

Children’s Bookshow Digital Festival 2021 – the organisers have programmed six brilliant LIVE digital author events over three days to celebrate World Book Day, and to encourage children to love reading and books. Line up includes Michael Rosen, Kwame Alexander, Catherine Johnson, Neal Layton and more. Thank you to Jon Biddle for sharing this.

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

A Shelter for Sadness,’ by Anne Booth, illustrated by David Litchfield – a couple of weeks ago I shared a lovely interview with the creators of this new picture book which was published last week. This review by Jo Cummins and personal reflection on sadness by Anne Booth is a thoughtful read. A book I am very much looking forward to reading.

Too Small Tola & The Three Fine Girls by Atinuke and illustrated by Onyinye Iwu – a lovely review by Nicki Cleveland of this second book in the series about Tola. “There is so much love and laughter packed within the pages, and I loved seeing such a connected, diverse community supporting each other.”

Amari and the Night Brothers’, by B.B. Alston – this book is receiving a lot of attention at the moment, it is also included in the Guardian Best Children’s Books article above, and was already pencilled in on my wish list. This great review by Nick Campbell has made me even more enthusiastic. How can we resist a book described as, “a big-screen, 3D, popcorn-munching romp of a novel” and it’s the first of a series too!

Front Desk by Kelly Yang – this is a fabulous and insightful review by Sam Creighton for Just Imagine in which he discusses the various themes covered in this book published by Knight Of. In addition to being both important and relevant Sam also found it thoroughly enjoyable,  “I completely and whole-heartedly loved reading this book and I can’t think of a stronger recommendation than that.”

What We’re Scared Of by Keren David – this is another book that I have already mentioned in Reading Matters, with the interview with Keren David on the Awfully Big Blog Adventure. This excellent review by Clare Zinkin explains why this new book matters so much. Definitely a book for all secondary school library shelves.

That’s it for this week. A reminder that the coming week is National Storytelling Week and you can find out more on the official website. Happy reading!

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2021 Branford Boase Award Longlist Announced

The longlist for the 2021 Branford Boase Award has been announced today. Set up in memory of award-winning author Henrietta Branford and her editor Wendy Boase, one of the founders of Walker Books, the Branford Boase Award is given annually to the author of an outstanding novel for seven year-olds and upwards written by a first-time novelist and also highlights the importance of the editor in the development of new authors. 

It has a notable record in picking out the most talented authors at the start of their career. Past winners and shortlisted authors have included such well known and respected names as 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. Despite the challenges of 2020, more than 60 books were submitted; 25 have made it onto the longlist, making it the longest in the award’s history. These include poet Patience Agbabi’s The Infinite, Wranglestone by Darren Charlton and The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates by Jenny Pearson, both shortlisted for the Costa Book Award, and A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll, recently announced as Blackwell’s Book of the Year. Previous winning editors on this year’s longlist include Sarah Odedina (2020 winner), and Rebecca Hill and Becky Walker (2018 winners).

Julia Eccleshare, chair of the judging panel says: ‘After the disruptions and challenges of 2020 we were delighted to receive so many entries for the 2021 award, and of such huge variety. Here are books to make readers laugh, to provoke and make us think, to make us hope. We are excited to share them with this year’s panel of judges

The 2021 Branford Boase Award longlist in full:

  • The Infinite by Patience Agbabi, edited by Jo Dingley (Canongate)
  • The Sky is Mine by Amy Beashel, edited by Shadi Doostdar (Rock the Boat, an imprint of Oneworld)
  • Wranglestone by Darren Charlton, edited by Katie Jennings (Stripes)
  • Tiger Heart by Penny Chrimes, edited by Lena McCauley (Orion)
  • Boy, Everywhere by A.M. Dassu, edited by Emma Roberts (Old Barn Books)
  • The Good Hawk by Joseph Elliott, edited by Annalie Grainger & Megan Middleton (Walker).
  • When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten, edited by Sarah Odedina (Pushkin Press)
  • A Clock of Stars: The Shadow Moth by Francesca Gibbons, edited by Nick Lake (HarperCollins Children’s Books), illus by Chris Riddell
  • Last Lesson by James Goodhand, edited by Ben Horslen (Penguin)
  • Orla and the Serpent’s Curse by C.J. Haslam, edited by Frances Taffinder (Walker Books)
  • Witch by Finbar Hawkins, edited by Fiona Kennedy (Head of Zeus)
  • And the Stars were Burning Brightly by Danielle Jawando, edited by Jane Griffiths (Simon and Schuster)
  • The Wild Way Home by Sophie Kirtley, edited by Lucy Mackay-Sim (Bloomsbury)
  • The Wolf Road by Richard Lambert edited by Mikka Haugaard (Everything with Words)
  • The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L.D. Lapinski, edited by Lena McCauley (Orion)
  • A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll, edited by Eishar Brar (Knights Of)
  • Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann, edited by Carmen McCullough (Penguin)
  • Orphans of the Tide by Struan Murray, edited by Ben Horslen (Puffin), illus Manuel Sumberac
  • Anisha Accidental Detective by Serena Patel, edited by Stephanie King (Usborne), illus Emma McCann
  • The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates by Jenny Pearson, edited by Rebecca Hill and Becky Walker (Usborne), illus Rob Biddulph
  • Are You Watching? By Vincent Ralph, edited by Tig Wallace (Penguin)
  • The Vanishing Trick by Jenni Spangler, edited by Jane Griffiths (Simon and Schuster), illus Chris Mould
  • The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke, edited by Naomi Colthurst (Puffin), illus Ayesha L. Rubio
  • The Pure Heart by Trudi Tweedie, edited by Kesia Lupo (Chicken House)
  • Diary of a Confused Feminist by Kate Weston, edited by Sarah Lambert (Hodder Children’s Books)

The shortlist for the Award will be announced on Thursday 29 April 2020. The winner will be announced on 15 July, COVID-19 rules permitting, at an award ceremony in London.

The Branford Boase Award is sponsored by Walker Books

For more information about the award, including a full list of past winners, and the Henrietta Branford Writing Competition visit .

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Empathy Lab Announce the 2021 Read For Empathy book collection

“Empathy is learnable – only 10% of our empathic ability is genetic. Scientists say that reading builds empathy, and this collection will play a direct role in helping raise an empathy-educated generation.”

Miranda McKearney OBE, EmpathyLab’s founder

EmpathyLab have revealed the 2021 Read For Empathy book collection after an expert judging panel weighed up hundreds of publisher submissions to select 50 of the very best contemporary empathy-boosting books for 4-16 year olds.

During my twenty years as a librarian I have seen how school libraries can act as empathy factories in their communities. The sharing of books with pupils and staff can connect individuals as a school family and encourage us to be empathetic and to show kindness in our daily lives. By stocking the right type of books and making them available to people who need them at the appropriate time libraries make a difference. These two carefully selected collections will enable this to happen more easily.

The primary collection is for 4-11 year olds and consists of 30 books; the secondary collection features 20 books for 12-16 year olds. Many of the books help readers understand the lives of those experiencing tough situations, from witnessing domestic violence to becoming a refugee. Others gently explore everyday situations and emotions, like friendship problems. Several help readers understand the experience of living with autism. The range of creators, formats and genres helps expand children’s world view and understand others better.

Read for Empathy Collection 2021

The 2021 Read For Empathy book collection comes at a time when empathising with others has never been needed more. The judges said: “We have an unprecedented chance to do things differently, building on the wave of community caring we’ve seen in the pandemic. This collection seizes that chance with both hands. The books will help children be their best selves; to think “we”, not “me”. Right now, what could be more important?” The judges also applauded a rise in books reflecting diverse perspectives and experiences – an antidote to hatred and prejudice, and key for building empathic insight. 42% are created by authors and illustrators of colour. The titles include picture books, graphic novels, poetry, novels in verse, early readers and novels so the wide range provides something for all tastes.

Primary Read for Empathy Collection

There are several of my personal favourites included and I am looking forward to exploring the collection over the coming weeks and sharing them on this blog. This year Empathy Day takes place on 10th June and the collections will be used by parents, teachers and librarians in the run- up to Empathy Day and beyond to instil empathy values and skills. This year’s theme is Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes.

Secondary Collection

Free downloadable guides, with tips on how to use the books with children and young people in the home or learning settings, are available online for free at EmpathyLab’s work on the book collection is supported by specialist book suppliers Peters.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

Hello and welcome to this week’s look at what has been happening in the world of children’s books.

What I’m reading…

My family know me well so my Christmas and birthday presents included a wonderful selection of titles plus book tokens so I could indulge myself still further. One of the books my eldest son gave me was Dear Reader by Cathy Retzenbrink, which I finished last weekend. I loved this comforting mix of memoir, homage to the power of books to heal and encourage and many tempting book lists to explore. It is a book I will cherish for many reasons and one I will return to.

Turning to children’s books, this week I read Darwin’s Dragons by Lindsay Gavin. This is a story so compelling that I carried it around with me; every single chapter revealed a new challenge for our hero. Historical fiction that brings science and exploration to life for young readers and a book I would highly recommend for Year 4 upwards. You can read my review and a link to some great teaching resources created by Scott Evans here.

News, articles and resources…

Holocaust Memorial Day resources– A reminder that there is an excellent range of resources to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day (27th January) available on the Literacy Trust website. These include five short videos by award winning author Tom Palmer (with worksheets) encouraging children to write a story based on the testimony of a refugee.

Virtual library gives children in England free book access – Internet classroom Oak National Academy created the library after schools moved to remote learning for the majority of pupils until February half-term. Formed with The National Literacy Trust, the library will provide a book a week from its author of the week. This is a help to those primary schools which do not have an ebook platform and may encourage children to use the ebook facility at their local library too.

The best new children’s books — space dads and everyday wonders – James Lovegrove reviews new titles for the Financial Times. I am looking forward to reading every single book he mentions.

Ones to Watch: New Children’s Fiction for Spring 2021 – the Books for Topics team has been taking a look at some of the brilliant new middle-grade titles (ages 8-12) coming up this term. They have picked out ten top recommendations to watch out for from January to March 2021.

Thunder and Lightnings by Jan Mark: Walking the Norfolk Sky – last year I took part in an online book chat organised by Ben Harris linked to Thunder and Lightenings and enjoyed it very much. Even if you are not familiar with the book this is an excellent read and a chance to explore the Norfolk countryside despite being confined to our homes. Thank you to Jon Appleton and Mat Tobin who shared this lovely piece last weekend.

Short Story Collections – if you are looking for short stories to share with children during lockdown Jo Cummins has selected some of her favourites.

Welcome to nature 2.0 for a new generation of Ladybird readers – During the late 1950s and early 1960s, four children’s books about the natural world were published. They bore the title What to Look for in… followed by each of the four seasons: Spring, SummerAutumn and Winter. Now, more than 60 years later, Ladybird Books is publishing a new series under the same title, written by Elizabeth Jenner and illustrated by Natasha Durley. Like the originals, they aim to inspire budding young naturalists to learn more about the wild creatures they might see during the different seasons.

Authors and illustrators lend a hand during lockdown – The Bookseller has provided this online round-up of what some children’s authors and illustrators are offering during lockdown featuring Michael Rosen, Emma Carroll, Piers Torday and many more.

Coram Beanstalk #StayHomeAndReadEveryDay Poster – Now we’re all stuck indoors again let people know what books you are sharing together at home with this new #SHARE poster to colour-in & display. A lovely idea to get children talking about books and reading.

World Book Day in Lockdown – the organisers of World Book Day have updated their FAQ page to provide information about how this event will run this year and using the special book tokens. The website contains a wealth of useful resources suitable for home and school.

Climate activism, through fiction: Middle Grade Fiction – an excellent selection on the Climate Fiction Writers League website including books by Piers Torday, Tom Huddleston, Ele Fountain and Gill Lewis. A good place to start if you are looking for titles to inspire children.

School Library Association Webinar: Empathy Lab book collection – this year’s Read for Empathy Collections for primary and secondary will be announced on 26th January. Run by Sarah Mears MBE, Libraries Connected Programme Manager, this webinar will highlight these books chosen by experts. Sarah will be talking about some of her favourite books in the collection and explain the ‘empathy angles’ that guided their selection and the skills they hope that using the books will build. She will be suggesting ways to use the collection within an empathy context and sharing some of the exciting plans Libraries Connected have for Empathy Day 2021. It is free for SLA members and £18 for non-members. Further details via the link.

The Golden Beano – six digital issues of The Beano are free to download on this website. Thank you to Jon Biddle for sharing this link.

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

The Song for Everyone written and illustrated by Lucy Morris – chosen as a Debut of the Month by LoveReading4Kids this picture book celebrating music and its power to change lives sounds extremely appealing. Andrea Reece says “The illustrations come as close as you can get to a visual representation of music and are full of warmth and fellowship.”

Swan Song by Gill Lewis – I am lucky to have a proof copy of this sitting on my shelves and was already looking forward to reading it. This lovely review by Roy James for Just Imagine has made me want to read it even more! “What struck me so powerfully was the sense of freedom running through its pages. And it’s with this that Gill Lewis weaves together a story of personal growth, family, and healing wrapped up in nature.”

The House at the Edge of Magic by Amy Sparkes – I read and reviewed this book over Christmas for the School Librarian magazine and think that Louise Nettleton has captured its appeal in her review, “This story is going to be a hit with children who are a bit young for the darker themes of the middle-grade market but want something more challenging than younger fiction titles offer

The Hungry Ghost, by H.S. Norup – although I have already included a review of this book published last September this excellent and insightful review by Nick Campbell is definitely worth a read. His comment, “This is one novel that gives the lie to any claim that ‘issues novels’ and ‘novels of the imagination’ are in any kind of hierarchy, or even a binary: the wide-open terrain of the children’s novel allows ‘issues’ to be explored with whatever storytelling device is most effective, and most powerful.” resonated with me. I must read The Hungry Ghost soon!

Lastly, there is a book of poetry being published later this year by Amanda Gorman that is most definitely on my literary shopping list. Here is the reason why….The Hill We Climb: the Amanda Gorman poem that stole the inauguration show

Happy reading!

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Darwin’s Dragons by Lindsay Galvin

Darwin’s Dragons is a story so compelling that I carried the book around with me; every single chapter revealed a new challenge for our hero. Historical fiction that brings science and exploration to life for young readers and a book I would highly recommend for upper primary onwards.

Lindsay Galvin has combined fact and fiction in an adventure so vividly drawn that the fantastical feels possible. Authors often take that “What if” question and explore a world that is a joy to inhabit temporarily even though we know it is one conjured by the imagination. Darwin’s Dragons is a story set in a world that is historically and scientifically accurate and so it all feels real. Briefly the reader wonders if the impossible is actually plausible.

It is 1835 and we meet our hero Syms Covington on the Galápagos Islands where, as a former cabin boy and now assistant to the naturalist Charles Darwin, he is helping his master in the gathering of specimens. A storm breaks and as they try to row back to their ship, The Beagle, first Darwin and then Syms end up fighting for their lives in the ocean. As the storm subsides Syms finds himself washed up on a volcanic island. Alone.

From this dramatic opening our young Robinson Crusoe struggles to cope with no water, very little food and a lack of shelter. He knows he must try and survive somehow until his master and the crew come to rescue him but the situation then becomes even more dangerous than he anticipated with the arrival of a huge and terrifying beast. However Syms is not as alone as he thinks and assistance is close at hand in an unusual and unexpected form.

This is a cracking adventure of the traditional type and every heart stopping challenge is met by Syms with a quiet, dogged determination. The chapters are short and the writing rich in detail and imagery which, I think, would make this a treat to read aloud to slightly younger children too. That the story is based on truth and includes real people gives this a greater impact and will awaken curiosity in readers to discover more about this fascinating period in history. I particularly enjoyed the cameo appearance by a young Queen Victoria.

There are aspects to this story that resonate strongly today. Charles Darwin’s scientific discoveries were greeted with scepticism by many initially and he waited many years to publish his findings. This sceptical attitude is still seen today in the attitude of some to the threat of climate change and this book could be used as a prompt for discussion on this subject.

The book itself is beautifully packaged and designed and the cover illustrations by Gordy Wright incorporate maps and images of Darwin’s works adding to the feel that this is a journal. There is information about the people and the places featured in the story at the end of the book and an interesting interview with Lindsay Galvin plus a timeline of events and suggested reading list. All of which will add to children’s enjoyment and understanding of this hugely enjoyable story.

There are chapter by chapter teaching resources created by Lindsay Galvin and Scott Evans available on the Chicken House Publisher’s website plus videos and an extract of the book to whet your appetite.

I should like to thank Laura Smythe and Chicken House Publishers for providing my review copy. Darwin’s Dragons was published on 7th January and is available to purchase online at Waterstones or via your nearest independent bookshop which can be found on this map

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Blogtour – The Boy Who Sang With Dragons by Andy Shepherd illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Having followed Andy Shepherd’s progress from newly published author to popular and established writer I was delighted to be asked to take part in the blogtour for The Boy Who Sang With Dragons. Every so often a book, or in this case a series of books, comes along that a school librarian can recommend far and wide with confidence and it has been wonderful to witness the enthusiasm that has greeted Andy’s magical stories. This enchanting and likeable series reaches a conclusion in this fifth and final book and although young readers will be sad to say goodbye to Tomas, his friends and of course the dragons this is a perfect finale.

Tomas is now an experienced dragon grower, well versed in the needs of his charges and able to cope with all manner of problems resulting from their antics. However it is problems of a different sort that he must overcome in this latest instalment. He uncovers a secret and together with his new friend Aura he sets off on the most challenging adventure so far. With the help of their loyal group of friends and all the dragons of different sizes and skills Tomas and Aura solve the mystery that lies at the heart of the story of the dragons and discover the true depths of their friendship.

This final adventure is told with all the humour and warmth that we have come to expect from the previous books. Central to the story are Tomas and his likeable family in particular the relationship between Tomas and his Grandad and this aspect adds greatly to the emotional response of the reader. These are relatable and likeable people. Tomas is maturing and learning how to adjust to the changing dynamics of his group of friends as some depart to live elsewhere and new friends increase in importance. This is a useful life lesson for children who will discover through Tomas’s story the way in which friendships can alter and be tested but still remain constant. When Tomas feels threatened by developments it is Grandad with his wisdom and his toffees who comes to the rescue yet again.

But, importantly, this is also a story of humour and excitement! The plot has moments of peril and danger that are sure to keep children gripped. There is a lot of fun in this book but a lot of heart too. Andy Shepherd balances the adventure and the danger with tenderness and thoughtfulness too. I have mentioned it before but she has a knack of describing emotions and situations in a way that young readers will understand. I love the way in which she encourages her readers to stop and take notice so as not to miss the magic that is all around them if they look carefully.

Andy Shepherd has a wonderful website full of information and entertaining stuff for children including yummy recipes, dragonfruit fact sheets and quizzes.  The range of teaching resources Andy has thoughtfully created for schools is extensive and covers everything from creative writing to art and research to media and these are available to download here. These would be fabulous to use in the classroom but are also perfect for home learning during the lockdown too.

Thank you very much to Andy and Piccadilly Press for providing my review copy and inviting me to take part in this blog tour. The Boy Who Sang With Dragons was published on 7th January and is available to purchase at Waterstones online or via your nearest independent bookshop which can be found on this map.

Don’t miss the rest of the tour to find out more.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

Hello and welcome to this week’s look at what has been happening in the world of children’s books. It has been a busy week for me and for children’s books and although I know I have not been able to include everything I hope that this selection is enjoyable and helpful.

A reminder that if you are looking for resources linked to reading for pleasure to share online as part of home learning I have collected lots of sites and ideas together here.

What I’m reading…

One of my favourite genres is historical fiction both for children and adults and this week I read and reviewed The Ghost Garden by Emma Carroll for Just Imagine. This is Emma’s debut for Barrington Stoke and I am delighted that a wider audience will now be able to appreciate her work. This is one of those wonderful stories that feels as though it has always been there and Emma has woken it up for us to all enjoy.

As a child I enjoyed the story of the Ugly Duckling and in the Fairy Tale Revolution series Kamila Shamsie provides in Duckling a thoughtful, relevant and feminist version of this popular tale and the illustrations by Laura Barrett are lovely too. I preferred this to the original! There are many important themes covered in this picture book and it would be an excellent book for the classroom.

Last but not least my son gave me Dear Reader by Cathy Retzenbrink for Christmas and I am enjoying it very much. Her descriptions of life as a bookseller are so similar to the world of librarians in many ways; the matching of book to reader and developing a skill in identifying a title from the vaguest of descriptions!

News, articles and resources…

Nikki Gamble’s An Audience With Sita Brahmachari – Are you interested in children’s books, reading, creative writing, or publishing? An Audience with Sita Brahmachari on 4th February sound fabulous. Tickets, including reduced-price student tickets, can be purchased direct from Eventbrite now via the link. I can wholeheartedly recommend these evenings as I have found each so far both interesting and enjoyable.

A Shelter for Sadness – interview with Anne Booth and David Litchfield – this is soothing, interesting and highly recommended. A lovely, thoughtful interview, reading and Q&A with the creators of this picturebook due to be published on 21st January. The LitFilmFest website is full of excellent resources that can be shared in the classroom and online. I’m glad I discovered this and have been browsing the website since.

Optimism in Stories for Children – Experiments in Living – This links beautifully with the interview above and is an uplifting and rewarding listen. I now want to join this band of hope-ists. How do you give hope to children when you’re not feeling hopeful? What’s the difference between optimism and hope? How do children’s writers balance light and dark, joy and sadness? And what kind of language sustains and nurtures us through difficult times when we’re young? Smriti Halls, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Kate Fox and Gaia Vince join Ian McMillan on this Radio 4 programme.

Books for Keeps January Issue – this latest edition of my favourite book related magazine contains many reasons to be cheerful in 2021. There is a look back at recent positive stories, reviews of excellent new books and great articles by Teresa Cremin, Alex Wheatle, Darren Chetty and Karen Sands-O’Connor amongst others. This is my weekend reading sorted.

Engaging readers remotely – a helpful blogpost by teacher Christopher Harrison providing strategies to help keep children reading during lockdown.

Why The School Library Was My First Investment – Richard Gerver – the newly appointed president of the School Library Association urges schools to recognise the power of school libraries in this important article for the Teaching Times.

Authorfy – Publisher Permissions During the Lockdown – if you are consider reading books online to pupils this is a helpful resource. Mel Taylor-Bessent of Authorfy has contacted her publishing partners to bring you their permissions policies and guidelines for sharing stories online during the Covid-19 pandemic. There are details via the link but sure to check the guidelines in full via their websites as they may be updated from time-to-time.

Firefly acquires debut middle-grade from book blogger Jo Clarke – this announcement on Tuesday made me beam! I’m thrilled for Jo who has worked so hard for this and love the sound of her debut. Due out in April 2022, Libby and the Parisian Puzzle will be illustrated by Becka Moor, this is a book to look forward to.

Young adult books roundup – review – this selection chosen by Fiona Noble for the Guardian includes the new title from Angie Thomas, Concrete Rose and What We’re Scared of by Keren David featured in an article in last week’s Reading Matters.

New Resources for the Classroom from Authorfy – these resources linked to popular children’s books are created by the publishing partners of Authorfy and are free to download. They are useful for schools, libraries or home learning.

Helping Home Learning: Reading with TRUST – This comic strip is designed to be shared with parents to support them in maximising the benefit of shared reading time with their child. Free to download from the Education Endowment Foundation website.

Bourneville Bookfest for Schools – Bournville BookFest for Schools is going online – and this year their storytelling events are for schools…families..everyone! All Free. All Digital. Register your interest via the link. Speakers include Cressida Cowell, Benjamin Zephaniah, Michael Rosen, Nick Sharratt, Serena Patel, Tom Palmer, Steven Lenton and Steven Butler, Matt”Poet with Punch” Windle and storyteller Anna O’Brien.

Time is short – time for short stories: enriching reading & writing with perfectly formed tales – This useful and interesting new blog by Martin Galway of Herts Primary English includes: Updated short story recommendations booklist, designed to be a quick, medium, or longer read, why they matter in our reading offer – especially now.

Young Quills 2020 – the shortlist – the Historical Association’s annual awards for best historical fiction for young people were delayed due to the pandemic but the shortlists in each of the three categories were announced this week. Lots of great titles to choose from.

Guest Post by Poet James Carter – How to enthuse children whilst delivering online – this special guest post on Jo Cummins @LibraryGirl&BookBoy is full of excellent ideas and suggestions and some lovely poems too.

Books for Topics Free Storytime Online – a reminder that these free Storytime Online resources are still available to all. Children use a QR code to access a range of stories being read by their authors. There are separate sheets for ages 3-5, 5-7, 7-9 and 9-11 to download & share.

Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant Teaching Resources – Scott Evans (The Reader Teacher) has written chapter-by-chapter resources for this Costa Award winning book with comprehension questions, writing opportunities & cross-curricular activities. Available to download from the Faber website via the link.

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

Saving Hanno: A Refugee Boy and His Dog by Miriam Halahmy – this sounds lovely. Mary Esther Judy says in her review “With flowing language, a steady, strong pace and a vivid voice Saving Hanno… is a fantastic book for children ages 7 and up, or to read together.”

Chocolate Milk, X-Ray Specs and Me by Bethany Walker, illustrated by Jack Noel – this review and interview on Nicki Cleveland’s blog made me smile and the book sounds great fun. We all need a bit of fun right now.

Crater Lake Evolution by Jennifer Killick – Crater Lake was a big hit with teachers and pupils so there is great excitement online about the sequel due out in May. Teacher and blogger Andrew Rough has whetted our appetites further with his cracking review. I imagine this is going to be preordered by many!

The Broken Raven – Joseph Elliott – somehow I missed the first instalment of Joseph Elliott’s Shadow Skye trilogy but this review by Rich Simpson of the second book in the series has convinced me that I should correct that. Rich says that “Alongside all the drama and action, however, there is also a mix of humour, empathy for the characters and a message of hope.” A great read for YR7+

I hope that you have enjoyed this week’s round up of news and reviews. A quick reminder that the blog tour for The Boy Who Sang with Dragons by Andy Shepherd is taking place at the moment and you can read my review tomorrow.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

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!

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Reading for Pleasure – Resources to Help Children Enjoy Books at Home

Update January 2021

As the new term starts teachers, support staff and parents have been faced with a last minute turn around regarding the opening of schools and once again on-line learning is to be adopted for the majority of the children across England.

When the first lockdown took place in March 2020 I compiled a list of online resources linked to children’s books and reading for pleasure in the hope that it would be helpful to teachers, school librarians and parents. As new resources were produced I updated the lists and over the following weeks these various resources were shared many times. They are going to be needed again. I have spent some time checking and updating links and have also added some more. The presentation has been adjusted slightly so that they are organised into a more readily searchable structure. I hope they are useful to you and help ease the stress of the situation a little.

In March 2020 I wrote this and it still applies. Thank you to all the generous people who rose to the challenge then and are doing so again,

Today all over the country teachers and parents are preparing for schools to be closed for an indefinite period. Teachers are faced with creating ways that children can access education online and parents are wondering how they can home educate or occupy their children. Thankfully organisations, charities, authors, illustrators, school librarians and teachers have been sharing resources for several days. This is extremely generous but at times the vast quantity available can feel bewildering. Therefore I have selected some book related resources  that I think primary school children will enjoy and parents will find useful. I hope to update these on a regular basis without making the list too long and overwhelming.

Organisations,  Charities and Literacy Websites 

Words for Life – a brilliant place for parents to start, this is a comprehensive web portal for parents created by The Literacy Trust. Split up by age group, you will find ideas and guidance for simple activities that will engage children at home, while also benefiting their reading, writing and language development. You’ll be able to access free reading and writing resources, audiobooks, videos, competitions and reading challenges. Their new Virtual School Library site also offers author videos, free books, exclusive videos and their top three recommended reads.

School Library Association Support for Out of School Learning – this fabulous resource has just been updated and is full of helpful links for school librarians and teachers and parents too. They are divided into helpful categories and include links to resources, ideas and advice. The most comprehensive selection I have found.

Love My Books – another free website providing resources, activity ideas and book suggestions for children aged 0-11. Pages of great ideas for parents and children sharing books together.

World Book Day – Browse their booklists for children and young people at all ages and stages – for ideas and inspiration. There are stacks of links to book related resources and videos too. They have just added the Book Ideas Hub to the website which looks fabulous.

Authorfy – this is a great website. Full of free resources, activity packs, writing  prompts, author videos and brilliant book recommendations this is a good way to entertain and educate children as it is so engaging.

The British Library Discovering Children’s Books – this new website has a wide range of information and resources available from how to draw a Gruffalo to how to make a mini book. Since last year new activities have been added and this a great website to browse for ideas and articles.

The Reading Realm– there are now some free learning packs available on this website based on animals and nature, fairy tales and creative writing prompts. The creators of this website are continually updating and adding to this helpful site so it is well worth revisiting to keep up with updates.

Audible Stories – Audible have launched a free service that offers educational and entertaining audiobook content for kids, teens, and families.

Book Trust Stories and Games – lots of lovely interactive books to read online or watch with signing plus stacks of games and activities to share. They have now added a Home Time page with links to lots of fabulous activities. This is definitely worth a look.

Hay Festival Programme for Schools Free Events Online – Watch authors from Hay Festival Programme for Schools filmed over the last 3 years. There are 55 fun filled and inspiring events to choose from including Ade Adepitan, Gemma Cairney, Emma Carroll, Eoin Colfer, Julian Clary, Abi Elphinstone and Andy Stanton.

#LibrariesFromHome brought to you by Libraries Connected – amongst the range of digital resources available are the excellent online rhyme times, story times and lego clubs that keep children engaged and support early literacy and creative thinking.

Open University: Supporting Reading at Home – this website, such a fabulous resource for educators, now has new section on the site in response to the pandemic and it is updated regularly. Highlights include ‘Book Chat: Reading with your child’ and a reading treasure hunt.

Toppsta Books with linked activities – this popular website offers book recommendations, reviews and much more. The link above takes you to a selection of books with activities suitable for a wide age group.

Authors, Illustrators and Publishers

Free Resources from Barrington Stoke – From reading guides to colouring in sheets, their Young Editors Scheme to author videos, there’s something for every age of reader linked to some of this publisher’s wonderful books.

Rob Biddulph Draw Along Videos – these are great. Each Tuesday and Thursday at 10am during the March lockdown Rob Biddulph posted a video of him drawing a character for children to copy. These are stored on his website for you to watch at any time. He is also doing new live videos each Saturday at 10am.

Peter Bunzl Cogheart and Moonlocket School Resources– these include some great creative projects such as design your own mechanical robot and making a flip book animation.

Emma Carroll Online Writing Workshops – this is so tempting as I love Emma’s books. Emma is in the early stage of writing a new book and she is going to share the early stages of her writing journey, twice a week until half term in February. 2021 You can join in by writing your own story. It starts on 12th January and you can find out how to join in via the link.

Chicken House Books Education Hub – Here you’ll find educational resources that work alongside this publisher’s most popular books books. Although designed for use in schools the videos and PDF downloads etc. could be enjoyed at home too.

14 Stories in 14 days from Egmont Publishers – a website, inspired by the recommended 14 days of self-isolation, offering 14 days of free content to provide entertainment and educational support for parents, carers and children across the UK.

Our Corona Diary – founded by Kathryn Evans this initiative hopes to document the experience through the eyes of young diarists and inspire a creative response to the crisis. Suitable for all ages from early years to young adult there are stacks of creative ideas plus information for parents, teachers and carers.

Elise Gravel Free Comic– Illustrator Elise Gravel has created a free to download comic which explains the Covid19 situation to children.

Abi Elphinstone Jungle Drop – author Abi Elphinstone has shared 7 videos of her chatting about her latest book due out in May. You can have a sneaky peep at the opening chapters here too.

Draw with Jim Field – learn to draw alongside illustrator Jim Field with these great videos of him drawing Oi Frog and more on his website.

Caryl Hart Author Events Online – This is an excellent resource. Authors and illustrators are creating loads of resources that children, teachers and families can access from home. These include videos, live broadcasts on Instagram and Facebook, and printables and these have been collated and shared on this site by author Caryl Hart.

The Bookwanderers Club – a live book club hosted by children’s author Anna James last year every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 2pm while schools are closed due to COVID-19 and the videos of these interviews are still available to watch. A great selection of authors in these enjoyable interviews. It feels like eavesdropping on friends!

Stay at Home Story Time with Oliver Jeffers – watch author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers reading one of his books every weekday on Instagram and talking about some of the things that went into making it. This link takes you to his website where all the videos have been collated.

Steve Lenton’s Draw-Along-A-Lenton – Children’s Illustrator Steve Lenton’s YouTube channel is full of  great videos showing children that everyone can draw and is being updated frequently.

StoryTime4HomeTime with James Mayhew – last March author and illustrator James Mayhew started posting videos on Youtube each day and they are still available to watch. Whether you’re in school or at home you can listen to a story and watch James draw upside down! A lovely, soothing end to the day. Highly recommended.

Elle McNicoll Lockdown Writing Class – the author of A Kind of Spark and Show Us Who You Are, both published by Knights Of is generously sharing these free sessions every Monday and Friday and will be assigning tasks at the end of each. These are suitable for young readers aged 9+.

Staying Home Picture Book Free e-book by Sally Nicholls and Viviane Schwarz – this lovely picture books is still available to everyone as a free download from the Andersen Press website as part of their continued effort to entertain and occupy children and their parents during lockdown.

Nosy Crow Free Resources – these publishers have put together lots of activities, resources, free Nosy Crow books and other content which they hope will help keep families happy.  There are lots of links to fabulous stuff here.

Tom Palmer Literacy Resources – in addition to a range of great resources linked to Tom’s books he has also provided Free Reads and a daily video of him reading aloud from his books.

Kids Poems and Stories With Michael Rosen – This is the official Michael Rosen video channel. All videos and playlists on this channel have been approved by Michael Rosen and are safe to watch.

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

Gaspard and the Quiet Day – If you are a parent, carer or teacher trying to find a comforting way of explaining the current situation to young children this is wonderful. A video of a special story written by Zeb Soanes and illustrated by James Mayhew, it is both thoughtful and reassuring. Perfectly done.

Nick Sharratt’s Drawing Tips – Lots of videos with drawing activities based on his well known books such as the Daisy series by Kes Gray plus the characters for Jacqueline Wilson’s books and more.

Robin Stevens The Detective Society’s Top- Secret Files – loads of activities linked to Robin’s books plus ‘How to Have the Perfect Midnight Feast’ and other such delights.

Fly With Tiny Owl Learning Resources – the publishers of some of my favourite picture books have created some lovely resources linked to their books. These include: Author readings/ bedtime stories, Activity packs, Crafts and Teacher resources.

Piers Torday Storytime – Piers Torday will be reading The Dark Wild* at 2.30pm every weekday from Weds 6th Jan, a chapter a day, live on Instagram, or catch up later on YouTube.

Art with Clara Vulliamy – Author and illustrator Clara Vulliamy has started sharing entertaining art and drawing activities on her YouTube channel based on the characters from her much loved books.

Walkers Picture Book Party – ACTIVITY SHEETS: drawing, spot-the-difference or escape some mazes, there’s something for everyone!

Coronavirus: A Book for Children – Publishers Nosy Crow have produced a free information book explaining the coronavirus to children, illustrated by Gruffalo illustrator Axel Scheffler, with expert input. This is excellent & can be downloaded via the link above.

That’s all for now, I will add others as and when I find them. Don’t forget if you are a member of your local library they will provide a range of online resources that are included in your membership.

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Farewell 2020 – a year of blogging, tweeting and reading children’s books

It is New Year’s Eve 2020 and a time to reflect on the last twelve months. Others have written about their favourite books and I have compared lists of top tens, top twenties and even mammoth collections of one hundred titles. Despite the number of books I have read this year I know there are many excellent ones on my shelves and lists that I have not yet got to. So I am not collating a ‘best of 2020’ list. Instead I prefer to reflect on the highs and lows of being part of the children’s book community. In 2020 I think it has been overwhelmingly the highs that have made the difference.

My reading year began really just before the end of 2019. My birthday is at Christmas so my poor family have a double problem of what to buy me as a present. Unsurprisingly this often means books. Somehow, without me saying anything at all, my sister knew that The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy was a book I would love. However neither of us knew then what a solace the book would be as the new year progressed. It sits on my bedside table and I dip into it as needed, always finding something wise or kind that helps me to get up and face the day.

My new year’s resolution was to attempt to try and keep up with all the latest children’s book news so I decided that a weekly newsletter would be the prompt I needed to ensure this happened. I wrote the first Reading Matters partly for myself but the comments I received made me realise that others found it helpful too. So it became a weekly fixture much to my family’s bewilderment. There are times when it has been difficult to keep up with the news but the support and feedback I receive make it worthwhile and I still find it helpful to know where all the links are to articles I want to keep ‘just in case’.

In March real life changed for us all and it is no surprise that my most viewed post of the year is Reading for Pleasure: resources to help children enjoy books at home as education increasingly went online and school librarians, teachers and parents needed access to as many resources as possible. Despite the difficulties people were still trying to make their school libraries work for their communities and Creating a Primary School Library which I wrote at the beginning of 2019 has been visited by many this year. During the first lockdown both adults and children in particular read to escape or to be comforted and the numbers reading Why Do Adults Enjoy Reading Children’s Books? suggest many were rereading old favourites or sharing new books with their children.

The online children’s book community formed a kind corner in an increasingly strange world and teachers like Ben Harris @one_to_read and Andrew Rough @teacher_mr_r started weekly book chats where we not only compared book tastes but made new friendships too. In the summer I attended the online Exploring Children’s Literature Summer School run by Nikki Gamble of Just Imagine with some excellent guest speakers. I learned so much from this and found it a valuable and rewarding experience. I can wholeheartedly recommend next year’s school if you are interested in children’s literature. I also discovered podcasts this year and have enjoyed listening to Deeper Reading with Jake Hayes and In the Reading Corner with Nikki Gamble (again!)

Having said that I was not going to create a Best of 2020 list there are one or two books I do want to mention. After the War by Tom Palmer had a profound impact on me and I think it is a shining example of why children’s books matter. It is also my most viewed review of the year so others are discovering this wonderful book too. There are some stories that need to be told and this is one of them. I also loved The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay which although published last year I only read this autumn. I think it is beautiful and magical in the most believable and affecting way. There were lots of gorgeous picture books published this year and I enjoyed far too many to list here. However two that mean a lot to me because of the kindness they contain are Perdu by Richard Jones and Bloom by Anne Booth and Robyn Wilson-Owen. The world would be a happier place if some politicians read picture books, well I think so anyway!

So as the year progressed I adapted to Zoom School Library Association committee meetings and branch quizzes and online literature festivals, even virtual book launches and seminars became the ‘new normal.’ Through it all I chatted online with book chums, fellow bloggers and tweeters, school librarians, teachers and lecturers, authors, illustrators and publishers. Always they have managed to make me smile no matter how bleak the news. I am grateful to them all and am daring to hope that we may be able to meet up in real life before the end of 2021.

So the year comes full circle and for Christmas this year my sister gave me The Book of Hopes curated by Katherine Rundell. A book that so perfectly fits this year and our wishes for the future. Wishing everyone a healthy and I hope easier year ahead.

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