In the mid 90s I used to scan the local library shelves for children’s books even slightly linked to football in an attempt to find something to satisfy my two football mad sons. I needed something that wasn’t too overwhelming in length or complexity, that featured the game they loved but in a book that felt like a ‘real story’ and would be enjoyable to read. Sadly Barrington Stoke did not exist at that time or they could have solved the problem for me with these two books published this month.
All to Play For by Eve Ainsworth illustrated by Kirsti Beautiman
All to Play For tackles themes of poverty and grief threaded through a story of one boy’s love of football and his desire to achieve his ambition somehow. A positive and rewarding read that is just right for footie fans and may convert others to the beautiful game.
Lewis loves to play football. He needs to have a ball at his feet, to run with it, to practise getting his shots right. The problem is that he has to practise in secret, in his “happy place” the strip of grass behind the block of flats where he lives with his mum and he uses an old football given to him by his friend. Lewis’s mum doesn’t want him to play football partly because it is expensive to buy the kit, pay for the training and get to the games but maybe more importantly because she blames football for the death of Lewis’s dad. Despite her opposition Lewis can’t stop, his love for the game makes it impossible for him to give up his hopes and ambitions despite his close and loving relationship with his mum. When Ash, a local football coach, notices Lewis practising he sees the young boy’s potential and Lewis can’t keep his secret from Mum any longer.
Eve Ainsworth has thoughtfully centred this story on the inequalities that exist in society and sensitively brought in the subject of family loss and grief too. Despite these emotionally charged topics this is an exciting and enjoyable read. The drama of a closely fought football match between school boys is conveyed with all the importance of a premier league top of the table clash! The friction between those of a competitive nature and the importance of positive male role models are also incorporated without this feeling like an ‘issues book’. I would highly recommend this for readers aged 8+.
Football Mad: Teamwork! by Paul Stewart illustrated by Michael Broad
The final instalment of this action packed series sees Dale Juniors football team captain Scott face a dilemma when an unexpected event forces him into a position where his loyalties are put to the test and the expression ‘a good team player’ takes on a special meaning. Full of football action this will appeal to readers who prefer their reading to be fast paced and relatable.
Friendships are put to the test in this story. Scott and his team are already bracing themselves for a challenge as the charity match against their rivals, the school’s girls football team, approaches. Then on the day itself an accident results in the girls being a player short and it is decided that one of the boys will play for the opposition. Scott is horrified when his name is pulled out of the hat and he has to play against his friends.
This story raises interesting questions about loyalty and teamwork and children will be intrigued to see how Scott handles his tricky situation. The fact that the rival team is made up of girls adds another layer to the plot and I think this book could well prompt thought and debate. The exciting match with its fluctuating fortunes of play will keep young football fans completely enthralled. Although this is the final book in a series I think this story works perfectly well as a stand alone but I imagine children will want to read all the adventures of Scott and his friends if they have not already done so.
All to Play For and Football Mad: Teamwork! both have a dyslexia-friendly layout, typeface and paperstock so that even more readers can enjoy them and they have been edited to a reading age of 8.
I should like to thank Emma O’Donovan and Barrington Stoke for my review copies. Both books were published on 4th April and can be purchased on the Barrington Stoke website.
Tom Palmer writes meticulously researched historical fiction that always respects both his subject and his young readers; his new novel Resist is a shining example of his care. A book inspired by the teenage years of Hollywood star Audrey Hepburn this powerful story set in WW2 portrays the immense courage and humanity some are capable of in the face of the most unimaginable horror.
In 1943 the Netherlands is occupied by the Nazis and life for the ordinary people is hard and full of fear. Food is scarce and everyone lives with the knowledge that at any moment they could be arrested and sent away for hard labour or worse. Teenager Edda tries to help by volunteering at the local hospital after school but is then prompted by events that affect her immediate family to assist the local resistance movement. Tom Palmer enables us to accompany Edda as her involvement escalates to dangerous missions amidst an increasingly desperate situation for her family, neighbours and friends.
Resist is a compelling read from its opening pages onwards capturing both the darkness of life for those trapped in a Nazi occupied country and the bravery and determination of those who stood up against the invaders. In the first chapter Edda is delivering newsletters on behalf of the resistance and has to negotiate a German checkpoint. It is sometimes tempting to describe a character as being brave or fearless but what we immediately become aware of in Resist is that real courage is doing something extremely dangerous despite being afraid. Edda is terrified but persists in her task. Instantly the reader feels empathy for her and will follow her story wanting her to succeed.
The tension is built up so carefully and well that it would be a shame to give away too much of the plot, however Tom Palmer draws on many of the experiences of the remarkable woman who inspired the book. There is her love of dance, the events involving her mother, a Nazi sympathiser before the war, and the near starvation she experienced included within the story in addition to her work for the resistance. The research, attention to detail and the inclusion of real people gives this book an authenticity. Sometimes ‘historical fiction’ is a story set against an historical background, Resist is history brought to life. The reader is made aware that people in the past were no different to people now and the connections to those who lived before us are made clearer . This is a remarkable story told well and also told with understanding and care of the people involved. Tom Palmer has a knack for conveying great depth of emotion in a few words which I think increases the impact. What he could never have anticipated is that scenes of terrified families hiding in cellars and innocent people fleeing their homes as bombs fall would be repeated in Europe in the year this book is published. This inevitably gives the story an added emotional impact yet this book also provides hope in its portrayal of the power of the human spirit to survive and fight against evil and to protect others from it.
This is historical fiction bringing a different aspect of war to young readers and is a compelling story of an immensely brave teenager who showed strength of character and determination. Inspirational is a word used increasingly to describe people and stories but is apt in this case. It prompted me to research further into the Dutch resistance and Audrey Hepburn’s role in it and I believe it will encourage other readers to do the same. A novel of under two hundred pages this is most definitely a brilliant example of less is more. Long after I turned the final page of this moving and important story I was thinking about Edda, her courage and those she lived and worked alongside.
Resist is published by Barrington Stoke so is expertly produced and edited to ensure it is accessible to all and is part of their Conkers range. Resist is published in August with a stunning cover designed by Tom Clohosy Cole. I should like to thank Tom Palmer, Emma O’Donovan and Barrington Stoke for my proof copy. There will be a range of resources linked to Resist available on Tom’s excellent website so it’s worth keeping an eye out for when these appear. There is already a Cover Prediction Worksheet available to download here which would be a great way of introducing the book. If you are tempted by Resist and can’t wait until August you may like to try one of Tom’s other books which I highly recommend and I’ve reviewed several of them including After the War, Armistice Runner, Arctic Star and D-Day Dog.
Finally Barrington Stoke have produced this trailer below to whet your appetite still further.
Who can resist the idea of a treasure hunt? This latest offering by award winning author David Long for Barrington Stoke taps in to that desire to search and find, to follow maps and clues in search of long lost, fascinating items. Published to coincide with the one hundredth anniversary of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb this book is full of interesting facts and background information supported by Stefano Tambellini’s black and white illustrations incorporating helpful maps and diagrams. Tutankhamun’s Treasure would be a great addition to school library and classroom bookshelves.
David Long begins his book with a look at the role of archaeologists, at the way in which their discoveries shape our view of the way in which people lived their lives hundreds or thousands of years ago. Readers are then introduced to Ancient Egypt and its evolution, the pyramids and the Valley of the Kings with the text complemented by Tambellini’s illustrations. The author then moves on to the heart of the story, Howard Carter’s fascination with Egyptology and his partnership with Lord Carnarvon that was to yield success eventually.
As with his previous titles for Barrington Stoke, Tragedy at Sea: The Sinking of the Titanic and Survival in Space: The Apollo 13 Mission, David Long presents his information in an accessible and immensely readable manner. There is sufficient background detail given to enable young readers to gain an understanding of this event in an historical context but it also includes the personal element portraying the frustration felt by both men at the time it took to achieve their goal and the fact that luck and circumstance played a part in the discovery. The inclusion of labelled illustrations of the artefacts, diagrams of the rooms of the tomb and illustrations of the valley and a map of Egypt all provide a visual learning aid for readers which is helpful.
This would be a valuable book for primary schools studying Ancient Egypt and an enjoyable read for history lovers or budding archaeologists. This book has a dyslexia-friendly layout, typeface and paperstock so that even more readers can enjoy it. It has been edited to a reading age of 8. If you want to find out more Barrington Stoke have created this taster of the first chapter below.
I should like to thank Emma Harrison and Barrington Stoke for providing my review copy. Tutankhamun’s Treasure is out now and can be purchased on the publisher’s website.
The websites listed below have information on Ancient Egypt presented in a child friendly way. Just click on the images to access the sites…
Can it really be ten years since we met George? This month marks the publication of a special ten year anniversary edition of this hilarious, clever picture book by Chris Haughton so it is a good time to explore what makes George and his adventures so popular.
Ten years ago when a copy of Oh No, George! landed on my desk in the school library his face was frankly impossible to resist. This was never going to be a picture book you put to one side to explore later, George’s expression demanded that I opened the cover to read his story.
For those who have not yet read this fabulous picture book George is quite simply a dog who wants to be good but struggles to be. Temptation lurks around every corner in the form of delicious cake to eat, cats that need chasing, soil crying out to be dug up by eager paws. It is all a bit much for George who gives in to temptation while his friend Harris is out of the house. When Harris returns there are inevitable repercussions and George is truly sorry for his actions. So the two friends try again and go out for a walk with George working hard at resisting temptation. All is well for a while then a new temptation is spotted. A rubbish bin. Can the reformed George resist?
Every single child I have introduced to this book has loved it. Really that is the best single sentence review you need I suppose. They love the bold, simple outlines of the illustrations, the psychedelic colours used, the questions the texts asks of the reader or listener but most of all they love George. Do they identify with George? Quite probably. But what makes this really work, the bit of genius that makes it stand out, is the ending with its final question. What will George do? I will never forget the expressions on the very young children’s faces the first time I read this aloud to them in the school library. That open ending, the possibility that George may choose the ‘wrong’ option is brilliant. There is a little bit of George in all of us and that is part of his appeal.
The press release accompanying this anniversary edition includes 10 facts about George which prompted me to visit Chris Haughton’s website to find out more about his research when he started this book. Please do visit this page where Chris shares the video of Denver the dog who inspired George’s irresistible guilty expression. Apparently George is also inspired by the author’s childhood dog Tammy, a Jack Russell-Labrador cross who one year ate all of Chris’ sister’s Easter Eggs. One whole cake no longer seems quite so greedy!
You may also like to watch this special ten year anniversary Oh No, George! trailer below:
Welcome to this week’s look at what has been happening in the world of children’s books. As the busy end of term takes place across the country no doubt you may have missed some of the news and I hope this collection of links will help you catch up a little.
What I’m reading…
The books that I have to read and review for both The School Librarian journal and Just Imagine have arrived within a couple of days of each other and this week I have concentrated on the picture books. A wide range of types, subjects and narratives were among this selection and it has been interesting to compare styles and approaches. From an interactive board book for toddlers to stories with themes of mental health and well being, empathy and family they have highlighted the importance of picture books for conveying important messages and themes.
Over the last few days I have also read The Hunt for David Berman, a debut by Claire Mulligan which I thoroughly enjoyed. An adventure set during WW2 with a touching bond between two boys from very different families at the centre of its exploration of how war affects families. It is published at the beginning of May so watch out on the blog for more about David’s story soon. I have also finished reading The Infinite by Patience Agbabi and can understand why this book has been so popular. The story is original, Elle is a great character and the representation of neuro-diversity is wide ranging and not stereotypical. I found it an eye-opening read.
News, articles and resources…
Children’s and teens roundup – the best new picture books and novels – I missed this brilliant selection reviewed by Imogen Russell-Williams last week. She has included Nour’s Secret Library, which I think is beautiful, and The Secret Sunshine Project a book I found brimful of positivity and thanks to Imogen’s comments I have added Beyond Belief to my personal wish list.
UKLA Book Awards 2022 Shortlists – there are extremely strong shortlists in each of the three categories this year. Once again small presses dominate and inclusion and diversity are key features of all the lists. There are a host of UKLA debut appearances with Nadia Shireen the only previous winner. These are definitely awards worth keeping an eye on and I don’t envy the judges having to decide between these excellent titles.
An Evening with Michael Rosen – Andersen Press and Nikki Gamble invite you to An Evening with Michael Rosen to celebrate the publication of Rigatoni the Pasta Cat, the latest in the Rosen and Ross series for fledgling readers. They will be discussing ways of supporting readers to become confident, independent and enthusiastic readers at this important phase in their reading development. Tuesday 5th April at 7pm and you can register via the link above. Tickets have been going quickly but there may be some left if you’re quick!
Pepper pots and Kaleidoscopes – The Secret of the Treasure Keepers by A.M. Howell – last week I reviewed this latest book by A M Howell but I had to include this review from Ben Harris. It is much more than a review it is an exploration of the appeal of historical fiction and a simply wonderful reading guide to this lovely book which will be of great value to those working in schools. It gave me a lot to think about and I am tempted to re-read The Secret of the Treasure Keepers now.
The Alligator’s Mouth Award for illustrated early fiction – Ten books have been longlisted for The Alligator’s Mouth Award 2022, which champions both authors and illustrators of highly illustrated children’s fiction. Now in its fourth year, the children’s book prize created by The Alligator’s Mouth children’s bookshop and The Bright Agency, celebrates the best books for 6-8-year-olds.
The Hay Festival Programme for Schools – the festival organisers this week announced the Programme for Schools, with in-person events for pupils in Key Stage 2 on Thursday 26 May and Key Stage 3 andr Key Stage 4 on Friday 27 May. The brilliant line-up includes Piers Torday, Alex Wheatle, Ben Garrod, Nadia Shireen, Cressida Cowell and Jeffrey Boakye. If you can’t make it in person, all the events are also available to watch online on the day, and will be free to watch again on Hay Player.
March Book Blast With Nikki Gamble – if you missed Nikki’s excellent round up of new books for this month it is now available on YouTube. This selection includes picture books, non-fiction and novels all described and displayed to give you a taste of the best books around at the moment.
Library Lives: Katie Kinnear, Camberley – this month’s British Library “Library Life” features a public librarian, Katie Kinnear, Strategic Manager for Development and Support Services at Surrey Library Service. Without our public libraries many more children would be missing out on books and reading so it is, I think, important to share articles such as this one highlighting the work they do. I love Katie’s quote: “You cannot be a half-hearted librarian!”
The Reader Teacher Monthly Must Reads March 2022 – Scott Evans’ choices for last month include The Comet by Joe Todd-Stanton and I think this would be one of my books of the month too. Click on the link to find out more about the other titles and download this month’s poster.
No Shelf Control March Newsletter for Teachers and Parents – Dean Boddington’s latest newsletter includes an interview with Jennifer Killick whose latest book Dread Wood is out now, a selection of poetry to read aloud and other new titles to whet your appetite including Benjamin Dean’s The Secret Sunshine Project which I think is lovely. You can download a PDF version via the link.
The 14 best football books for teenagers – I know that this would have been helpful to me when my own sons were teenagers so I’m sharing this feature from Goal Magazine as I have a feeling it may be helpful to others too.
Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2022 – huge congratulations to Hannah Gold who is this year’s overall winner with her book, The Last Bear. The other winners were Harry Woodgate for Grandad’s Camper and Ciara Smyth for Not My Problem. Full details of the winners and the shortlists in the three categories can be found in the link above.
Danish Company Creates Children’s Book to Make Ukrainian Refugees Feel at Home – a positive story from the Good News Network is the final link this week. Denmark has taken in thousands of refugees from Ukraine and the Mediabrands branch was inspired to write and create a free children’s book for Ukrainian-speakers called “Welcome to Denmark”. The booklet introduces refugees to the country, while highlighting the cultural similarities of the two nations, to help make the new refugees feel safer and more at ease. What a thoughtful idea.
Finally, some book reviews that caught my eye this week…
Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun by Tọlá Okogwu – this book due to be published in June sounds exciting. An action packed new middle-grade super hero title with plenty to recommend it and Fabia Turner’s excellent review has whetted my appetite for a genre that is not normally my first choice. “Themes of acceptance, belonging, family and friendship run throughout the exciting story, and with pacy high-stakes action, deceptive villains and a sequel-demanding ending” In addition the author’s knowledge of Nigeria will ensure that readers gain an understanding of Western Africa.
The Hunt for the Nightingale by Sarah Ann Juckes – I have noticed several people recommending this book online this week so looked up some reviews to find out more. This one on the Bookbag website, always a reliable source of information I think, provides an outline of the plot and more importantly explains why the book works well. Ruth Ng also says, “I have long been of the opinion that children’s books are not, and should not be seen as exclusively for children, and this is a very good example of one of those books that is a moving and poignant read for readers of any age.” Definitely going on my list!
That’s all for this week. I know that most schools have now broken up for Easter and I hope everyone enjoys a well earned relaxing break if possible. Reading Matters will be taking an Easter break too as I have lots of reading and reviewing to catch up on. Next weekend I am going to the Federation of Children’s Book Group National Conference on Saturday and Sunday and am looking forward to it very much. If any regular readers of this weekly newsletter are going to be there it would be lovely to say hello! Happy Easter and I hope to bring Reading Matters back after the break.
Welcome to this week’s round up of what has been happening in the world of children’s books.
What I’m reading…
The Secret of the Treasure Keepers by A M Howell is the type of fiction I loved as a child and still do. It is a mystery with a real sense of time and place that is a pleasure to read and I was impressed at the subtle way in which the author incorporates both the historical detail and the important emotional themes. There are many links to social history that mean that The Secret of the Treasure Keepers would be of value in the classroom too. It ticks lots of boxes!
At the moment I am reading The Infinite by Patience Agbabi in readiness for next week’s ‘Audience With’ this author, hosted by Nikki Gamble. It’s different to my usual reading choices and I’m enjoying the original idea and the unpredictability of the plot.
Lastly, this week in my capacity as a committee member of the Surrey Branch of the School Library Association we held our Spring Term meeting at which author Jo Cotterill was our guest speaker. Jo is such an engaging speaker, interesting and entertaining and I think we all left inspired by the discussion about the work of Empathy Lab, their Empathy Collections and the Empathy Day itself. I would highly recommend signing up for the newsletter on their website to find out more and to keep updated. You can find out more about Jo Cotterill, her books, school visits and work with Empathy Lab on her website.
News, articles and resources…
Just Imagine Discover Undiscovered Voices – Undiscovered Voices is an initiative from SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Illustrators and Writers) which gives a platform to up and coming voices in children’s writing. In this podcast Nikki Gamble caught up with two of this year’s authors, K L Kaine and Andrew James, along with Sara Grant from the organising committee to find out more about the project, how it supports new writing and the success it has had to date.
Making the most of your primary school library webinar – The School Library Association believes that every pupil is entitled to effective school library provision. To create an instant buzz about books in your school, join teacher and library consultant, Kate Spurrier, for this webinar on Wednesday 30th March 4-5pm.
Mr Dilly Meets – Sophy Henn and Steven Lenton – a free event taking place on Wednesday 27 April 11am – 12:15pm Discover the music with Sophy Henn & Draw a Long with Steven Lenton in this Mr Dilly Meets Author Illustrator Creativity Special. Plus the Mr Dilly Meets poet in residence Jonathan Humble from children’s poetry site The Dirigible Balloon is back with another wonderful poem to inspire and delight. Suitable for all primary aged children and everyone who loves story-telling and drawing.
Books for Keeps March edition – another wonderful selection of articles and reviews from the BFK team. I always enjoy this online magazine and the latest issue includes Joanna Nadin, Kate Read, Winnie and Wilbur, Lissa Evans, the latest Beyond the Secret Garden article which is always illuminating, a look at Joan Aiken’s books and lots of new children’s book reviews. A must read!
Shorter Chapter Books – as a primary school librarian I was constantly on the look out for this type of book. Erin Hamilton’s selection of new illustrated shorter fiction is perfect for newly independent readers and the wide range here should appeal to many different tastes.
Exploring Human Rights Through Children’s Books – a guest post on the CILIP website by Rowena Seabrook, Human Rights Education Manager at Amnesty International UK about ways of using children’s books as a means for discussing and exploring Human Rights. The suggestions would be excellent to use with pupils involved in shadowing the Carnegie and Greenway Awards and the article includes links to resources on Amnesty’s website.
Yoto Carnegie Greenaway Award Videos – This year’s Yoto Carnegie and Kate Greenaway shortlisted authors and illustrators have each set a challenge for Shadowers to get involved with. The videos available via the link above share creative ideas inspired by the shortlisted books for the Shadowers to try. There are tons of great ideas to get your Shadowers engaged with the 2022 shortlists and to inspire creativity.
Love My Books March/ April Newsletter – the latest newsletter from this excellent website includes a feature on picturebooks which provide insight into children living in conflict, the current Book in Focus: Dragon Mountain by Katie and Kevin Tsang, Jon Biddle on the importance of independent bookshops and links to new activity pages. Both the website and the regular newsletter are fabulous to share with parents and carers being full of helpful suggestions and advice.
Exploring Manga: In Partnership with Peters Booksellers – Manga is becoming one of the most popular formats in school libraries. Are you seeking some guidance on things like stock, suitability, and budget? This School Library Association webinar, (free for members, £24 for non members) will guide you.
Kitty and the Woodland Wildcat by Paula Harrison, illustrated by Jenny Løvlie – this series sounds great fun and illustrated fiction is so important in encouraging young readers who are just becoming independent in both their choices and ability. Veronica Price’s positive review suggests it is perfect for that transition from KS1 to KS2 and includes links to her reviews of other titles in the series.
The Rewilders by Lindsay Littleson – I have heard and read only positive things about this new book and this review by Nicki Cleveland tells us a little more about its appeal. “This is a celebration of our natural world, a reminder of the delicate balance of ecosystems, and that we must take responsibility for looking after the world we live in before we damage it beyond repair.”
Perfectly Weird, Perfectly You by Camilla Pang – it can sometimes be hard to make self-help guides for children and teens attractive to their intended audience but Erin Hamilton’s review suggests that this one has got it right. “For some children, those guides to growing up can be daunting, overly body focused and cringe-worthy…but this book is about finding out who you are, what you love and what you want to focus on in your life.”
I hope that these links are helpful to you and that one of the books mentioned has caught your eye. Happy reading!
There are only thirty two pages in a picture book. Not much space to say a great deal you might think. This month two new picture books arrived on my shelves that say a great deal through both their words and their illustrations and each time I look again at them I notice more or am prompted to think of other possible meanings. That’s the power of picture books; they provide a means of accessing important themes and prompting thought and discussion. I have attempted to review these two books below but I think everyone who reads them will probably have their own thoughts and opinions depending on their own experiences.
The Comet by Joe Todd-Stantonpublished by Flying Eye Books
Nyla and her Dad live in a place of tall trees and big skies. They enjoy spending time in the countryside around them, they share stories, cooking and playing. When Dad needs a new job they move to the city, a very different world to the one Nyla knew before. A grey world, a noisy and busy world where Dad is always busy and Nyla can think only of what she is missing. Then one night she sees a comet in the night sky. As it glows before her Nyla is desperate to follow the light, perhaps to a place she can call home.
This is such a beautiful book. From the stunning cover to linger long over, the endpapers contributing to the story and the many small but important things to spot as you read this is a book to savour. The disruptive effects of moving or of change are feelings even the youngest child may experience and this kind and thoughtful story offers hope to a worried little person or perhaps even an older person. There are many layers to explore within the text and pictures including the power of imagination, the importance of noticing the wonder in the world and how it is possible to create a home and sense of belonging in a changing environment if you are open to new experiences.
The illustrative techniques used are clever and elements of the story are contained in the pictures showing the reader much that is not expressed in the text. The first double page spread from the window of Nyla and her Dad’s home is one of family detail that explains more about this little family and we watch the two of them, very much a pair, over the first few pages. The shrinking of the frames once they are in the city emphasise the constriction they must feel and portray the loss of joy more eloquently than words may do.
The story changes once Nyla spots the comet and it is from this point that I think interpretations may vary. I am reluctant to reveal too much but the return of happiness is depicted in a wonderful and touching manner. The switch from horizontal to vertical aspect on the final pages is well done too. I keep going back to this lovely book and each time it makes me smile. A hopeful and rather special book.
When Creature Met Creature by John Agard and Satoshi Kitamura
It is rather fitting that a story centred around friendship should be created by an award winning duo who became friends themselves. This thought provoking picture book is about more than friendship though, it demonstrates the power of language and communication both to form bonds and also to enable understanding of ourselves and others.
Creature-of-No-Words lives a mostly easy going life, content to be ‘furry and never in a hurry.’ He enjoys playing with pebbles, gazing at the sea and enjoying the feelings of warmth, happiness and security even though he does not know how to describe them. When things go a little wrong for him he can sense it is the case but not articulate why. One day another creature spots him and recognises that something is causing Creature-of No-Words unhappiness. She approaches and consoles him in a kind and understanding manner. This Creature-of Words is able to articulate his emotions and provide him with the vocabulary he needs. The two new friends now live together in a world of words and shared understanding. However so sure is their friendship that sometimes they do not need words at all and are happy to sit in companionable silence. Surely, the sign of the best of relationships.
This profound and rather beautiful book could be interpreted in many ways and it encourages the young reader to reflect upon what they have read. Kitamura’s distinctive illustrations are stunning and work in perfect partnership with the text. There is a slightly surreal feel to the artwork giving the creatures an alien look yet there is a vulnerability to their expressions, their demeanour and behaviour increasing their appeal. This is another book with many layers of possible meaning. It could refer to the acquisition of language in young children, encouraging readers to think about younger siblings or toddlers frustrated by the inability to explain what they want or need. Does Creature-of-No-Words not know how to explain his emotions or maybe not understand them himself? In the past I have worked with children with selective mutism and used with care this book may help children in a similar situation. All kinds of discussion could be sparked by this clever book. The final pages are just lovely.
The Comet by Joe Todd-Stanton is published by Flying Eye Books and When Creature Met Creature by John Agard and Satoshi Kitamura is published by Scallywag Press and both books are out this month. I should like to thank the publishers for my review copies.
The Secret of the Treasure Keepers, A M Howell’s latest historical novel for children is an atmospheric mystery in which clues are uncovered like small pieces of treasure found in the archeological dig that inspired the story. With family secrets, hidden emotions, and past events gradually uncovered this is a satisfying and ultimately hopeful read.
It is February 1948 and Ruth is waiting anxiously in the British Museum as her archaeologist mother is interviewed for a post in the museum in which she at present volunteers. Ruth’s impulsive decision to answer the ringing telephone results in mother and daughter travelling to an isolated farmhouse in the Fens to investigate some long buried treasure. Once there they discover that the ancient artefacts are only one aspect of the mysterious Rook Farm. Mary who phoned the museum initially is in poor health and struggling to cope with the farm following the death of her husband. Her son, Joe, is terse and unfriendly and land girl Audrey is watchful and quiet and Ruth’s initial enthusiasm for the treasure hunt wanes as the situation is revealed to her. Then a theft, a storm and mounting complications and secrets encourage Ruth to turn detective.
Usually when I am reading and reviewing a book for children I do so with my librarian hat on. Within a few pages of starting The Secret of the Treasure Keepers I was ten years old again. The blend of history, mystery and a likeable character, that feeling of involvement and, importantly, a real sense of time and place was the magic combination that encouraged me to be a reader as a child. I have a feeling that A M Howell is achieving the same for many of today’s children.
Ruth is an appealing character, a sincere, thoughtful and aware only child with an understanding, albeit from a child’s perspective, of her parents’ difficult position . She is determined and focused but a little impulsive as befits a twelve year old. As the story progresses the initial hostility between Ruth and Joe gives way to a gradual understanding and a subsequent blossoming friendship that is endearing and believable.
The atmospheric descriptions of the setting increase both the feelings of involvement and the air of isolation and secrecy. The time period is excellently portrayed for the age of the book’s readership, with the immediate post war years not often depicted in current children’s literature. There are references to WW2 but A M Howell also highlights social history of the time including the shortages, rationing, loss of income and the lingering grief. The plot includes mention of the forthcoming NHS and this starkly brings home its value.
Many life lessons are conveyed with subtlety including grief and coping with loss, family break up, truth and loyalty and how deception, even when well intended, results in complications and stress. This subtlety is also evident in the plot structure as small clues are scattered but not signposted, allowing the reader to ponder and assess the situation and attempt to solve the mounting mysteries as they occur. Although it could be described as a gentle read in some ways, the mention of air raids and the accompanying fear and destruction of lives, homes and businesses brings home the enormity of the impact of war at an appropriate level for the intended readership.
The cover artwork and enticing map by Rachel Corcoran are attractive and there are motifs depicting key elements of the plot included as chapter headings and endings with coins used to mark time lapses within the text too. The overall appearance adds to the book’s shelf appeal.
A M Howell’s own interest in archeology inspired this story and in turn this book could well inspire young archeologists of the future. I particularly liked the thread that bound many of the characters together in this book as they had in common a respect for the past and a need to learn from it. This is a lovely read with a kind and empathetic tone.
Usborne have created a section on their QuickLinks website to pair with The Secret of the Treasure Keepers and after a quick browse I think this would be of great value in the classroom. There are comprehensive sections on World War 2, life immediately post-war, the Land Girls, farming and the Fens, and a look at archeology and the dig that inspired this story. In her author’s note A M Howell also suggests that her readers may be interested in finding out more about The Young Archeologists’ Club for 8-16 year olds.
I should like to thank Fritha Lindqvist and Usborne Books for providing my review copy. The Secret of the Treasure Keepers is published on 31st March and is available to pre-order/purchase online at Bookshop. If this book appeals you may also like to try The Mystery of The Night Watchers another book by this author that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Welcome to the latest round up children’s book news. This week there is news of awards, some interesting events and useful resources to encourage reading for pleasure.
What I’m reading…
It has been another week when reading has had to take a back seat I’m afraid. However, I did finish reading Welsh Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends by Claire Fayers one of the four books on the Tir Na n-Og English Language Award shortlist (see below). I enjoyed this, it’s written in a modern accessible style appropriate for young readers and Claire Fayers has given them her own twist. Stories of dragons, love, rivalry, monsters and fairy folk that would be good to read aloud and an excellent introduction to Welsh folklore. Ben Harris @onetoteach is running a book club discussing the shortlisted titles on Twitter once a week throughout April so if you are on Twitter you may like to get involved. Dates are to be confirmed.
I am now halfway through The Secret of the Treasure Keepers by A M Howell and am transported back to the nine year old reader still hidden somewhere within me. Probably not that well hidden! Anyway, this is a treat of a mystery and I’m willing Ruth on in her adventure. I will update you next week!
Despite the busy week I did squeeze in a little listening and if you haven’t already heard this I can recommend this episode of Last Word on BBC Sounds. You can listen to Tom Vulliamy talk about life with his mum, Shirley Hughes, Julia Eccleshare on her illustrations and Shirley Hughes herself reading her own stories. It’s lovely. I subscribe to Nikki Gamble’s In The Reading Corner and last night I listened to the sublime conversation between Nikki and Kate Di Camillo. When I read Kate’s books I always feel comforted and this thoughtful and wise discussion about The Beatryce Prophecy and writing for children in general affected me the same way. I would highly recommend listening.
News, articles and resources…
Tir Na n-Og Awards Shortlist 2022 – The books shortlisted for the Tir Na n-Og Awards 2022 in each of the three categories have now been announced: Welsh Language Primary, Welsh Language Secondary, and English Language. The winning titles in each category will be announced on 20 May on the Radio Wales Arts Show (English-language) and on 2 June at the Urdd Eisteddfod in Denbighshire (Welsh-language). The four in the English Language category are a lovely selection.
Get Everyone Reading by Alec Williams – This publication is free for all schools to download from the School Library Association website and is a ‘primer’ for how to go about encouraging reading for pleasure in your school. The two appendices include an ‘Ideas Bank’ and a list of reading celebrations throughout the year, so you can discover more ways and more days to continue encouraging reading for pleasure.
Michael Rosen and Book Trust reading for pleasure competition – BookTrust’s new Writer in Residence, Michael Rosen wants to celebrate the amazing work teachers and librarians have been doing to encourage reading for pleasure. Share the brilliant things you’ve been doing to encourage reading for pleasure and it might just win your school a prize. The deadline is 1st July.
War and Peace in Picture Books by Chitra Soundar – a thoughtful article on the Picture Book Den website discussing the role of picture books for children in prompting discussion about people affected by war and for encouraging tolerant and kind behaviour towards others. The article includes some helpful links to book lists on these topics too.
Jhalak Prize 2022 Children and Young Adults Long List Announced – congratulations to the authors, illustrators and publishers of the 12 books included in this long list announced on Tuesday. A varied selection from picture books to information titles to YA fiction. The shortlist will be announced on 19th April. The Jhalak Children’s and YA Prize accepts books for children, teens and young adults including picture books, chapter books, graphic novels, poetry, non-fiction, and all other genres by writers of colour and aimed at young readers
Yoto Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards Short Lists Announced – these awards celebrate outstanding achievement in children’s writing and illustration respectively and are judged by children’s and youth librarians, with the Shadowers’ Choice Award voted for by children and young people. Personally I am delighted to see that When the Sky Falls by Phil Earle is included as this story was a stand out one for me over the last year. However, I am looking forward to reading more of the books in both categories over the coming weeks. 16 books have been selected in total – eight for the Yoto Carnegie Medal and eight for the Yoto Kate Greenaway Medal – from a longlist of 33 titles.
An Evening with Jennifer Killick – Join popular children’s author Jennifer Killick in conversation with Nikki Gamble to celebrate the launch of her new series, Dread WoodTime on 29th March at 7pm.
ReadingZone Bookclub – free author events – a reminder of these free sessions featuring a range of authors and illustrators including Emma Carroll, Phil Earle and Sam Sedgman. The bookclub is aimed at classrooms and libraries that are keen to develop a love of reading. Events are for ages 5-11 years. Full details and how to register via the link.
School Libraries in Lockdown Report – the School Library Association has published the findings of research carried out in to the impact COVID19 had on the role of school libraries and librarians. Although this makes sobering reading in many ways it does also provide an opportunity to reflect and learn and to build for the future. This is an important read for school librarians and for senior leaders in education.
An Evening with Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom – if, like me, you missed this event on Tuesday evening hosted by Nikki Gamble it is now available to watch via YouTube. I’ve long been a fan of their books so am looking forward to watching this over the weekend. Their new book about women adventurers and explorers sounds exciting.
Finally, some book reviews that caught my eye this week…
Yesterday Crumb And The Storm In A Teacup by Andy Sagar – what an irresistible title! A girl called Yesterday Crumb could never be ordinary and this story sounds great fun. Nicki Cleveland in her lovely review says that this book is, “An utter delight from beginning to end, this is a spell-binding adventure that will leave you with a smile on your face, hope in your heart, and craving tea and cake!”
That’s all for this week and I do hope that something among the links I’ve shared here is of interest to you. The sun is shining here and I hope it is for you too. Happy reading.
Finally, this week I’ve been on #MagnoliaWatch prompted by Tim Lihoreau of Classic FM and spotted this beautiful one peeping out in the sunshine the other day. I’ll be checking up on its progress this weekend.
Welcome to this week’s look back at what has been happening in the world of children’s books. It’s been a busy few days and I may have missed something but I hope this selection of links includes something helpful to you.
What I’m reading…
The Secret Sunshine Project is such a fitting title for this optimistic and hopeful book. Benjamin Dean’s follow up to Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow is a book I enjoyed very much, the characters are wonderful and I think the way it highlighted the best in people is such a positive message for young readers. Grief is lightened by hope and kindness, it’s an excellent example of using literature to help and support.
The Tir na n-Og Awards are presented every year to honour the work of authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults. There are three categories – Welsh-language Primary, Welsh-language Secondary, and the best English-language title with an authentic Welsh background. At the moment I am reading Welsh Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends by Claire Fayers which is on the shortlist announced yesterday in the Best English Language category. I’m enjoying this collection so far and think it would make a great read-aloud book.
How Shirley Hughes explored the dramas of children’s lives in a changing world – I make no apology for including another article about Shirley Hughes as this one is by Michael Rosen and is such a perfect description of her talent and skill but perhaps even more importantly her understanding of small children and families. As he so wisely says, “Her body of work is a gift, given to children and those who care for children. It enables us to care for each other.”
Women Who Led the Way by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom – to mark International Women’s Day this is a guest blog post on the Federation of Children’s Book Groups website in which Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom talk about the inspiration for their new information book for children. This duo have been creating inviting non-fiction since the 1990s and this new book sounds like another winner.
Lost for words: protecting libraries and archives in Ukraine – Nick Poole – the CEO of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals writes about the importance, and the bravery of librarians in Ukraine as they ask for our help in keeping their culture spoken about and “to keep the idea of Ukraine alive with our words.”.
2022 Yoto Carnegie and Greenaway Awards Jason Reynolds Special Event – in anticipation of the Carnegie and Greenaway shortlist announcement next week this free event for Shadowing Schools with 2021 Carnegie Medal winner, Jason Reynolds chaired by 2022 judge and librarian Kelly Fuller, the event will take place live on Zoom from 12.30-1.30pm on 15th. Full details and registration via the link above.
OUTSIDE AND IN: Furthermoor’s Cover Art – last week I included teacher Richard Simpson’s review of Furthermoor and this week I enjoyed reading this feature by author Darren Simpson on the Reading Realm website about the design of the cover. There is also an extract from the story to tempt you further.
Not all stereotypes are true! Dispelling myths about boys & girls readers – a free seminar hosted by Open University Reading for Pleasure on 22nd March 2-3pm. Dr Laura Scholes, Associate Professor in Education and Literacy at the Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education, Australian Catholic University will share data and findings on research linked to this subject. Full details and registration via link.
CLPE CLiPPA 2022 announcement of this year’s judges – The Judges for the CLiPPA (CLPE Poetry Award) 2022 have been announced alongside plans for its biggest celebration of poetry for children yet. This announcement kick-starts what promises to be an amazing programme of CLiPPA events with live events including the announcement of the shortlist at Manchester Poetry Library at Manchester Metropolitan University on Wednesday 4 May. Find out more plus details of the Schools’ Shadowing scheme via the link.
Empathy Day Live Line Up Announced – a jam-packed programme of free events and activities featuring authors and illustrators streaming live on Empathy Day 9th June from 7.30am. Put the date in your diaries to share in school or at home on the day!
Empathy Builder publisher scheme announced – EmpathyLab also announced this week Empathy Builders – a major new partnership with 40 children’s publishers, all committed to driving forward a powerful new book-based empathy movement. The joint aim is to reach over one million children a year by 2026. You can see a list of all the publishers involved and read the manifesto detailing the pledges made via the link above. This initiative is going from strength to strength.
Ukrainian children’s book to be published in UK as charity fundraiser – Larysa Denysenko, a Ukrainian writer, lawyer and public activist’s children’s book Maya and Her Friends, illustrated by Ukrainian artist Masha Foya, will be released by Bonnier Books UK in April. All of the company’s profits from the book will be donated to Unicef and their efforts to support the children of Ukraine in the ongoing invasion.
Finally, some book reviews that caught my eye this week…
Don’t Ask the Dragon by Lemn Sissay illustrated by Greg Stobbs – this is the first children’s book by author Lemn Sissay and I do like the sound of it. A modern fable with themes of belonging, reviewed here by Fabia Turner who says “this memorable story explores profound truths about the essentials we all need in life and where we can find them.” The illustrations looks stunning too.
The Tide Singer by Eloise Williams & illustrated by August Ro – I have noticed a bit of a buzz about this book online this week. Award winning author Eloise Williams’ new title for Barrington Stoke is a fantasy story drawing on Welsh folklore and Kate Heap’s review is tempting, “this is a one-of-a-kind story of the wild unknown.”
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson by Laura Williamson Illustrated by Tammy Taylor – I am a fan of the First Name series published by David Fickling Books. These biographies contain an impressive amount of information yet are balanced with an appealing graphic style presentation. This well known wrestler, although lacking the historical importance of some others in the series, will no doubt tempt some who may not normally consider themselves readers. Roy James’ helpful review for Just Imagine tells you more.
The Drowning Day by Anne Cassidy – A thrilling, thought-provoking story of survival and hope, from the award-winning author of Looking For JJ. Nicki Cleveland describes this book which is due to be published next month as “A devastatingly brilliant, darkly dystopian tale of climate disaster and deadly disease.” and recommends it for secondary school age readers.
That’s everything for this week. I’m going to continue reading Welsh Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends this weekend and hope you have time for some reading too.