Reading Matters – children’s book news

Welcome to the first Reading Matters round up of the summer term. It would probably be futile to try and include everything that happened over the Easter break but I have attempted to sift through what people may have missed and highlighted a few events coming up and some interesting articles and podcasts you may enjoy.

What I’m reading…

In my final newsletter of the Spring term I mentioned The Silver Chain by Jion Sheibani and my review of this verse novel is now up on the Just Imagine website. This is a coming of age story, an insight into the impact of struggles with mental illness on a family and an exploration of the power of music to heal, encourage and restore. All of these subjects are conveyed through verse and illustration adding considerable impact to the theme of the importance of creativity to our wellbeing. Recommended for readers of about 14+.

Cover illustration by Paul Blow

Ravencave by Marcus Sedgwick is my outstanding read of the last couple of weeks. Moving, poignant and full of thoughtful kindness this is an emotional story of a family in crisis. The author’s writing style is beautiful in its spareness yet has a remarkable impact. It is, I think, a fitting and lasting legacy for an author who trusted his audience to understand and to care.

On a lighter note I have also enjoyed a lovely selection of picture books which have been published recently. My Pick of the New Picture Books includes making maths fun, teamwork and friendship, a celebration of Muslim women, nature in our own back yard and an invitation not to be too serious. Lots of choice and something for a range of tastes.

Barrington Stoke have published several retellings of the classics making them accessible to a wide readership the most recent of which is Laura Wood’s version of Louisa M Alcott’s Little Women. A perfect introduction to this much loved story of the four March sisters and great for readers of 10 up.

Last but not least my son bought me a copy of Richard Osman’s, The Bullet That Missed and I curled up with this whodunnit with a difference in the sunshine we had over Easter. It was great fun and I do very much enjoy getting to know the individual characters in this series.

News, articles and resources…

LIVE online announcement of the CLiPPA shortlist 2023 – CLPE, the National Poetry Centre for Primary Schools, is delighted to announce that for the first time in its 20-year history, the shortlist for the CLiPPA (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education Poetry Award) will be announced live at a virtual event at 2pm on Wednesday 3rd May to which all schools in the UK are invited. To receive their invitation, all schools need to do is to register for this year’s CLiPPA Shadowing Scheme. Chris Riddell, chair of this year’s CLiPPA judges, will host the event and it will include poetry performances from all the shortlisted poets.

Choosing Poetry for the Classroom – linking well with the announcement above, the Just Imagine review panel members share some of their favourite poetry books for the classroom in this helpful video.

Don’t forget to sign up for the National Literacy Trust Coronation draw-along with Rob Biddulph – a reminder that the live online draw-along with bestselling, award-winning children’s author and illustrator, Rob Biddulph takes place on Monday 24th April from 10 – 10.45am. Suitable for ages 7 to 11 (KS2/P4-P7), the live event will include the opportunity for children to craft their own coronation-inspired illustrations.

Love My Books Spring Newsletter April – in this latest issue find out about Michael Rosen on the new book in focus, Rigatoni the Pasta Cat, the top ten books to inspire young artists, an article by James Mayhew on his Katie’s Pictures series and three brand new activity pages plus congratulations to SF Said. A bumper issue and useful to both families and schools.

Blethering Together: Sustaining the Pleasure in Reading Conference – this event takes place on Saturday 17th June from 9.30-16.00. This conference will offer participants opportunities to explore research-informed practice and Norfolk Children’s Book Centre and UKLA bookshops will enrich the day. Workshops will be led by the OU RfP team and talented teachers, offering engaging ways forward.

British Translator-Author Daniel Hahn To Receive the Ottaway Award – Daniel Hahn has been named by Words Without Borders the 2023 winner of the Ottaway Award for the Promotion of International Literature. The honor will be presented to Hahn by the writer and translator Esther Allen on June 13 in New York.

Food and Farming in Children’s Books – this latest blog in the series by Roy James for Just Imagine is a fascinating and thought provoking read which encourages debate about the content of information books on this subject for children.

Bookwandering with Anna James is officially live! – The first episode of Anna’s podcast about the magic & power of children’s books is with Katherine Rundell on Charmed Life and can be accessed via the link above. Anna and Katherine also discuss Katherine’s 2019 essay, Why You Should Read Children’s Books Even Though You Are So Old and Wise, which does an excellent job of pitching the entire purpose of the podcast. I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode and have the second, focussing on The Little Princess, lined up for my weekend listening.

Free Virtual Event with Award Winning Author Phil Earle – to celebrate the launch of Phil Earle’s new book Until the Road Ends the publishers Andersen Press are hosting a live event for schools on 12th June at 2pm. Schools that sign up for the event by 5pm on 28th April have the chance to win 100 copies of Phil’s prize win game book, When the Sky Falls.

April 2023 Children’s Books I’m Most Excited About – Scott Evans’ selection for April includes several lovely picture books such as The Tree and the River by Aaron Becker and an excellent first chapter book, Budgie by Joseph Coelho and David Barrow.

Jhalak Prize 2023 Children’s and YA Shortlist – First awarded in March 2017, the Jhalak Prize and its new sister award Jhalak Children’s & YA Prize founded in 2020, seek to celebrate books by British/British resident BAME writers. This week the shortlists for both prizes were announced and the Children’s and YA list includes In Our Hands by Lucy Farfort and When Our Worlds Collided by Danielle Jawando.

Get Ready for Empathy Day on Thursday 8th June – the EmpathyLabUK team have announced geared up plans for Empathy Day 2023. These include: An assembly with Children’s Laureate, Joseph Coelho to be beamed into UK classrooms; An event with over 800 children at Manchester Libraries, featuring Rob Biddulph, Rashmi Sirdeshpande and Sophy Henn plus a free online festival. The link to the full press release giving more details plus how to register for the linked free resources for schools can be found on the official website above.

The Children’s Book Show Autumn Performances 2023 – The Children’s Book Show is a charity that inspires school children with a love of reading through an annual programme of in-theatre and digital performances and in-school workshops with the very best authors and illustrators from around the world. The team are busy finalising our autumn programme and booking opened on 19 April. Speakers include Michael Rosen, Frank Cottrell Boyce and Benji Davies with more performances announced very soon.

London Book Fair 2023: Klaus Flugge Honored for Lifetime Achievement – The award recognizes “an individual who has made a truly significant mark in the sphere of global publishing.” Klaus Flugge founded Andersen Press in autumn 1976 and went on to publish acclaimed writer/illustrators such as David McKee, Tony Ross, Satoshi Kitamura, Sir Quentin Blake, and Chris Riddell.

Mr Dilly Meets – Emma Carroll, Natasha Farrant & Christopher Lloyd – Join Mr Dilly and award-winning authors Natasha Farrant and Emma Carroll celebrating Earth Day 2023 and chatting about their latest environmentally themed books and the importance of protecting our planet. If you missed this event earlier in the week the recording is now available via the link above. A great event for primary aged (7-12 yrs) children.

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

Brilliant picture books about books… – Catherine Friess shares three brilliant picture books about books which take different approaches to celebrating books and reading on her Story Snug blog.

Clutch by M.G. Leonard Illustrated by Paddy DonnellyClutch is the third instalment of M.G. Leonard’s Twitchers Club series and I frequently read positive comments about these books. This lovely review by Stephen Connor for Just Imagine explains its appeal, “it seems that each story is uniquely written, and the twists and turns come thick and fast. As a reader, you never quite know who to trust…”

The World that Feeds Us by Nancy Castaldo Illustrated by Ginnie Hsu – another Just Imagine review this time of an information book mentioned in Roy James’ blog linked above. Nicholas Carter says, “Informative, clearly structured and beautifully illustrated throughout by Hsu, this excellent non-fiction text about our food, sustainable farming and the environment is perfect for KS2 classrooms.”

Today, 22nd April, is Earth Day and to mark this event Faber Publishers have organised a blog tour to celebrate Natasha Farrant’s The Rescue of Ravenwood, a book that urges its readers to look after the precious places in our natural world. The tour kicks off today and I will be participating on Monday. Full details are shown below.

That’s everything for this week and I know I will have missed out quite a bit but hope this taste helps a little. Happy reading!

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Ravencave by Marcus Sedgwick

In the knowledge of the untimely death of Marcus Sedgwick late last year Ravencave, his last novel, takes on an even greater significance and poignancy. This unsettling, compelling and beautifully written story of family discord, loss, grief and ghosts is a profoundly moving exploration of the connections between those we love and those in whose footsteps we follow.

Cover illustration by Paul Blow

James and his family are on a trip to the Yorkshire Dales a place with strong family connections, particularly for his father. This is not a holiday as such but a journey home and all is not well. James’ teenage brother, Rob, is not talking to him, his writer mum has not been able to write anything for months and his dad has lost his job, whilst James himself is engrossed in his own thoughts. He is thinking back to a previous holiday to the same place last year but in happier circumstances. This second trip is dominated by disagreements and friction and one day on a hike through the dales James hears strange laughter and spots a young girl in the ruins of an old farm. She resembles the children his dad had told him about, the wild children of Crackpot Hall, mentioned in an old book in the local second hand bookshop. At first James resists her urges to follow him but when she appears a second time he runs after her and away from his family.

It is hard to do justice to this book in a review without spoilers however, for me as a reader, I found the subject matter and the character of James became entwined with the author himself. Marcus Sedgwick has written about a landscape that he clearly knew and that was important to him. There is a strong sense of place in Ravencave and of its importance to this particular family. Marcus Sedgwick’s writing style is fitting for a novella of this length conveying depth of emotion and layers of meaning with moving simplicity. In this instance a short read does not mean one without a lasting impact. Ravencave is about a family who feel strangely separate from each other initially but with each chapter a little more is revealed about them and their relationships to each other. This gradual understanding of their true situation increases the emotional impact and is executed with great skill.

There is social commentary too and a thoughtful look at the way in which circumstances may repeat themselves, and how working people may be negatively affected by the actions of those who employ or house them. What is equally apparent however is the author’s own belief in the goodness of people generally. The final pages are profoundly affecting in their message of family love and its infinite nature.

“We were there for each other. We still are.

This is a remarkable piece of writing by Marcus Sedgwick and to achieve this feat and still ensure that it is accessible to a wide readership is impressive. Ravencave is a fitting and lasting legacy for an author who trusted his audience to understand and to care.

I should like to thank Barrington Stoke for providing my review copy which will now be a treasured addition to my bookshelves. Ravencave was published on 2nd March and can be purchased on the publishers website. You may also like to read Marcus Sedgwick’s other YA novella for Barrington Stoke, Wrath, which was longlisted for this year’s Carnegie Medal.

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Pick of the New Picture Books

So many picture books have been published in recent weeks that it can be hard to keep up with them all. I have selected a few that I would like to recommend for both home and school as having that something extra that adds to their enjoyment and value.

That’s Mathematics (based on the lyrics by Tom Lehrer) by Chris Smith and Elina Braslina

That’s Mathematics is a picture book with a difference. Inspired by the song written by Tom Lehrer, maths teacher Chris Smith has created an entertaining book that will make maths fun for children. This is a brilliant way of showing children how mathematics is part of daily life conveyed through words and pictures.

Each double page is devoted to one line of the song with an explanation, challenges and activities designed to inspire youngsters. It’s a clever concept and has an appeal that will do much to dispel any anxiety a child might have about the subject. There are recipes, games, and puzzles to try and there is a lightness to this book that ensures it doesn’t feel too much like a teaching tool however it will educate as well as entertain. The vibrant illustrations by Elina Braslina incorporate much information too and everything is presented in an accessible manner. The spine on the cover of the book is designed to be used as a ruler too, such a thoughtful idea.

There is a helpful Parents’ Notes section at the end of the book and a link to downloadable activities plus answers to the puzzles posed throughout the book. A mathematical glossary is the final touch. Published by Mama Makes Books and highly recommended.

Lots of Dots by Pippa Goodhart illustrated by Anna Doherty

I’m a big fan of the picture books created by Tiny Owl Books and this latest title by the duo of Pippa Goodhart and Anna Doherty, creators of Best Test, is a delight. A joyful story about friendship and inclusivity this would be lovely for Early Year settings.

Jaguar wants to make friends but can’t find anyone who is the exactly the same as her. Clever Ladybird points out what they have in common and is quickly joined by other creatures who highlight their similarities. So a joyful Dotty club is formed! However Zebra is stripy and a bit sad that he is unable to join. Welcome to the Patterns club! But then monkey would not be able to belong. But wait, monkey suggests the Everybody Club which is the perfect club as it welcomes all.

With its wonderful inclusive message, its colourful illustrations showing how we can be alike and different at the same time this is a fabulous picture book with an important and reassuring message. Alongside the kind theme there are opportunities for learning about shapes, patterns and colours so this is a great book to share with pre-school children at home or in nursery settings. A delightful book.

Not Now, Noor! by Farhana Islam illustrated by Nabila Adani

Not Now, Noor! tells the story of a curious child and her perseverance in trying to find an answer to her important questions. Her quest to find the reason why the women in her family wear hijabs becomes a celebration of Muslim women and a joyful look at Noor’s happy family life.

Noor loves her Ammu (Mum) and the other special women in her family but wonders why they all wear headscarves. She ponders on the various possibilities such as hiding snacks under them or to avoid catching nits, possibly even being a spy, and decides to find out the true reason. Unfortunately the eager little girl always times her questions for when the women are busy so the repeated response is… “Not now, Noor!” Poor Noor despairs of ever finding out the real reason. But then her Ammu comes home and Noor has one last try. Of course she has the right answer for her curious little girl.

Inspired by the author’s own experiences as a teacher and the questions children asked her, this is a charming story of family with humour in the vibrant illustrations but is also a lovely way of educating children with whom this lovely book is shared. Published by Puffin Books in March.

Daisy and Jack’s Perfect Pond by Rachel Lawton and Beatrix Castro

This bright and colourful picture book is a wonderful way of encouraging young children to create their own mini wildlife habitat in their garden. Subtly inclusive and with creatures to spot on every page Daisy and Jack’s Perfect Pond will bring children, families and nature together in a gentle and practical way.

When Daisy and Jack spot a little frog in their small garden, they decide to come up with a plan to make their new visitor feel at home. With the help of Papa and Daddy, and some new tools from the garden centre, the two children create their own plant pot pond, and soon discover that a small change can make a big difference to their local wildlife.

In addition to the creatures to spot and the information included in the story there is also a guide to frogs and toads and their life cycle at the end of the book. All the information has been checked by an environmental education specialist and this is a valuable teaching tool in addition to being a happy story of a family sharing a love of nature together. This latest in a series of picture books from Pikku Publishing inspiring a connection with nature would be a valuable addition to home and school bookshelves.

Don’t Be Silly by Padmacandra

A bouncy reminder that we don’t have to take life too seriously all the time, this happy picture book by the illustrator of The Tale of the Whale is great to read aloud and has a range of linked creative opportunities available too.

Bouncy Bo and Little Smudge live in a sombre castle with their serious father. The two children are full of mischief and laughter but the adult around them are all so serious it is as though they have all forgotten how to smile. But then one day the children visit their grandparents and they discover that perhaps not all grown-ups are as miserable as they thought! Children will enjoy the rhyme read aloud and the repeated instruction of ‘Don’t be silly’ encourages plenty of audience participation at story-time too. However this funny and entertaining book also explores stereotypes and takes a wry look at the bond across the generations too. It is grandparents who sometimes have the time to enjoy the ridiculous with their small grandchildren and this is captured beautifully in this book.

The range of teacher resources and activities available on the Scallywag Press website linked to this book are excellent and enable adults to use Don’t Be Silly to encourage creativity including art ideas, writing suggestions and drama.

I Heard a Bird by Rob Ramsden

Another gem from Scallywag Press and the last in the In The Garden series of picture books in which Rob Ramsden introduces very young children to the natural world around them. I Heard a Bird is a fitting finale gently encouraging little ones to watch, wait and listen and develop an understanding of their environment.

A little girl waves hello from her garden and then hears a bird who is frighten away by a pair of fighting cats. As she searches fro the missing bird she meets many other creatures on the way, insects buzzing, a mouse scurrying and also leaves rustling. She stops and listens to a calming silence and as she relaxes and waits wafting through the breeze she hears the friendly sound of her little bird saying hello.

This is a soothing and gently calming picture book with a simple text and repetition to read aloud and clear uncluttered illustrations amplifying this effect. The themes of noticing the little things going on around you is an important one for both children and adults alike and I Heard a Bird encourages this approach. The choice of vocabulary is thoughtful and conveys the quality of the sounds the little girl can hear as she wanders through her garden on her journey of discovery. Perfectly pitched for pre-schoolers this is a lovely introduction to our natural world. There are some great teaching resources for this book too on the Scallywag Press website.

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Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women – A retelling by Laura Wood

As a lover of the classic story of Little Women for as long as I can remember I approached this retelling published by Barrington Stoke with a degree of caution. However in Laura Wood’s capable hands this story of four sisters retains the heart of the original but ensures that it is accessible to those who may find the length and writing style of the classics overwhelming.

Cover artwork by Helen Crawford-White

The four March sisters are very different in character, sweet, kind Meg, tomboyish book loving Jo, shy, thoughtful Beth and precocious, artistic Amy yet they are bound together as a loving family with their wise mother and their father who is at present away at war. They entertain themselves and each other, make friends with their neighbours and enjoy making the most of any opportunities for fun. Their bond may be tested by disagreements, some larger and more upsetting than others, but they come together when things really matter and support each other in adversity with strength and love. What Laura Wood has managed to do in this entertaining version is capture the personalities of the individual girls and remove some elements of the plot that young readers today may struggle with, for example there is no mention of Pilgrim’s Progress in this version. It is the girls themselves who, I think, are key to the love of this book for many, so to keep their distinct characters and manage to make them feel real to the reader despite some parts of the original plot not being included is important.

The main elements of the storyline remain including the growing friendship between the March girls and Laurie, the young man who lives with his grandfather next door. Inevitably in order to condense the story to novella length there are some episodes that of necessity are omitted however this would not affect the enjoyment for a reader new to the book. It is worth mentioning that modern editions, and film versions, tend to combine Little Women and Good Wives in one volume. In order to keep this version to a manageable length Laura Wood has retold only the first part, and as some of the events many associate with this classic novel take place in the Good Wives section this may be unexpected for those familiar with the plot. However, this does mean this Barrington Stoke retelling is even more suitable for a slightly younger audience.

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting my old friends again and think Laura Wood’s version would be a valuable addition to school libraries for readers of about 10 or 11 upwards. Published on 6th April by Barrington Stoke 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 9. I should like to thank the publishers for my review copy.

Barrington Stoke have published retellings of several of the classics and I have in the past reviewed Laura Wood’s version of Pride and Prejudice and Tanya Landman’s retellings of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights all of which I would also recommend.

Little Women as both a book and a film has always held a special place in my heart and I have in the past written about its appeal and if you are interested you can read about that here.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

Welcome to the this week’s look at what has been happening in the world of children’s books. This will be the last round up for this term and Reading Matters should be back some time after the Easter school holidays all being well.

What I’m reading…

For some time I have been following Scott Evans @MrEPrimary on Twitter and have regularly shared his recommendations, book lists and videos in Reading Matters. When I was asked if I would like to read and review his new book 100 IDEAS for Primary Teachers: Reading for Pleasure I was delighted to agree. The book is practical, accessible and brimming with enthusiasm and will, I think, help teachers implement some innovative suggestions in their own classroom and nurture a reading community in their school. A deceptively slim book that could make a big difference.

I have just finished reading Flower Power by Keith Campion, the sequel to Flower Boy and found myself caring greatly for James, the lead character. The story features the transition from primary to secondary school and James is a boy who has to deal with social anxiety and shyness making the transition all the harder for him. His friendship with Mrs Samuels, a local elderly woman continues in this sequel and this cross generational bond is a touching element of the satisfying plot. James’ development and gradual increase in confidence will reassure readers who share his feelings and the ending is an upbeat and positive one too. I can see this being a useful book for encouraging discussion in both Year 6 and 7. Keith Campion, a teacher, has thoughtfully included activities and research prompts for each chapter at the end of the book giving this an added appeal to schools.

Display in Richard Challoner School Library

The Surrey branch of the School Library Association held our Spring Term meeting this week kindly hosted by Fiona Glassett, librarian at Richard Challoner School, New Malden. Members were able to browse the spacious library and talk about library matters offering each other advice and support. The highlight however was our discussion with Pat Freestone-Bayes, owner of the Regency Bookshop in Surbiton, and Elizabeth Perry, Manager of Daunt Books, Summertown, Oxford. We learned a great deal about the world of publishing and book supply and most importantly the many services and tips that independent bookshops offer to school librarians. A reminder to make the most of the specialist service offered by your local indie bookshop.

News, articles and resources…

St Fagans’ Diversity Picture Book Awards 2023 – the aim of this award created by teacher Gethin Wallace is to promote reading for pleasure and widen learners’ world by celebrating diversity and inclusion. The school are hoping publishers will submit copies of recently published books to add to their longlist. If you are a publisher or author and would like to support this great initiative please contact the school via this email: The link above will take you to their Twitter account too.

Children’s and teens roundup – the best new picture books and novels – A bullying beetle; an Irish myth; the search for a magical beast; and a gripping coming-of-age story set in Ghana are featured in this latest selection of new books for children chosen by Imogen Russell Williams for the Guardian.

English Language Shortlist Revealed for Tir Na N-Og Awards 2023 – The Tir na n-Og Awards are the oldest and most popular awards for children’s literature in Wales and are held every year by the Books Council of Wales, sponsored by CILIP Cymru Wales. They celebrate the talents of authors and illustrators who either create original works in Welsh, or who write about authentically Welsh themes or backgrounds through the medium of English. The shortlist was announced last week and can be found via the link to the website above.

The Week Junior Book Awards Judging Panel – Each of the categories in this new award will be judged by a panel of three experts and a category chair. You can see the Shortlist Committee, responsible for selecting entries against the criteria who will meet in person to agree on the final shortlist for the Judges and the Judges themselves who include, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Cerrie Burnell and Scott Evans (See What I’m Reading!) and also find out more about the award on the website.

Bridging the gap between picture books and middle grade stories by Esi Merleh – Esi Merleh author of the Making Faces series has written a guest article for the Federation of Children’s Book Groups on a subject that will be of interest to parents and teachers.

Factual Books for Pleasure: Andy Seed on Children’s Reading – a guest post by Andy Seed, a Blue Peter Book Award-winning author, on the Books for Topics website about the place of information books as part of reading for pleasure for all. He discusses why some children prefer Non-Fiction and how factual books can work well as a way to get some children reading.

The 2023 Little Rebels Award Longlist – On behalf of the Alliance of Radical Booksellers the 2023 Little Rebels Award longlist was revealed this week. The award celebrates radical fiction for children aged 0-12 and the shortlist will be announced on Monday 24th April.

Bookshops help us understand humanity’s complexities – when I returned home from my SLA meeting focussing on the many good things about an independent bookshop I came across this really lovely article by Robin Ince for the Big Issue. What perfect timing! This description is just perfect: “Passing on beauty, delight and compassion is one of the wonders of the library and the bookshop.”

BBC Front Row Programme featuring library funding – Front Row on 28th March included a feature on public libraries including an item on Stockton on Tees library and an interview with Nick Poole, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP). You can catch up with this at about 15 minutes in on BBC Sounds above.

Dr Shini Somara:Engineers Making a Difference – if like me you missed this live event the recording is now available on The Book Channel with Nikki Gamble. Dr Shini Somara discusses her engineering background and her book Engineers Making a Difference with Nikki.

The Coronation draw-along with Rob Biddulph – To mark the Coronation the National Literacy Trust, in partnership with digital bank, Chase, is running a 2023 Children’s Book Celebration. The celebration invites pupils from across the UK to vote for their favourite book to create a Chase Coronation Booklist. To launch this celebration the National Literacy Trust invite you to a live online draw-along with bestselling, award-winning children’s author and illustrator, Rob Biddulph. Suitable for ages 7 to 11 (KS2/P4-P7), the live event will include the opportunity for children to craft their own coronation-inspired illustrations. To take part in Rob Biddulph’s live online draw-along on 24 April at 10am sign up on the website above.

News from Usborne March 2023: Peter Usborne CBE, died on Thursday 30th March – this is such sad news. For me and for countless others the Usborne name is synonymous with reliability and high quality children’s books. Sending condolences and sympathy to Peter Usborne’s family.

The Alligator’s Mouth Award for illustrated early fiction – Ten books have been longlisted for The Alligator’s Mouth Award 2023, which champions authors and illustrators of highly illustrated children’s fiction. Celebrating its fifth 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 Reader Teacher Monthly Must Reads for March – Scott Evans’ picks of the month include Can You See Rainbows in Space? a book I mentioned last week and Where The River Takes Us, one of my favourite reads of the year so far.

Shortlists Announced for the UKLA Book Awards 2023 – The UKLA Book Awards are the only UK children’s book awards judged entirely by teachers. Key points from the shortlists announced this week include: a unique double shortlisting for past winner Manjeet Mann, author Susin Nielsen could be the first to win a category three times, UKLA and Carnegie shortlisting double for Katya Balen and Flying Eye Books the top performing publisher.

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

The Boy Who Disappeared and Other Stories by Rob Keeley – I don’t see many reviews of short story collections so this positive one on The Bookbag definitely should be highlighted. “This collection has something for everyone and concentrates on friendships and school settings. The stories are playful and engaging but always rooted in the real world of children’s lives. We loved them.

Crookhaven The School for Thieves by J J Arcano – Books for Keeps Book of the Week this first in a new mystery series sounds like a cracking read. “The plot is full of twists and turns, and cracks along at a very satisfying pace, and Crookhaven is definitely somewhere readers will want to spend time.”

That’s everything for this week and this term. I hope those of you now breaking up for the Easter holidays have a relaxing time and wish you a happy Easter.

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Blog Tour: 100 IDEAS For Primary Teachers: Reading for Pleasure by Scott Evans

Practical, accessible and brimming with enthusiasm, 100 IDEAS for Primary Teachers: Reading for Pleasure will help teachers implement some innovative suggestions in their own classroom and nurture a reading community in their school. A deceptively slim book that could make a big difference.

Many years ago as a school librarian at a meeting with parents I said that teachers taught children ‘how to read’ and that my role as a librarian was to teach them ‘how to be a reader’. Those roles, I think, have now become less distinct in the primary sector due to the increased focus on the importance of reading for pleasure and the rise in the number of teachers who are now ‘Reading Teachers’. This new book shines a light on some wonderful examples of how this works in practice, providing its readers with the tools they need to replicate this in their own schools.

Scott Evans has gathered together a selection of tried and tested ideas, advice and suggestions that teachers can use to create a reading for pleasure culture in their classroom, school and wider community. Perhaps even more importantly they will also help sustain that culture. A big plus of this guide is the concise and clear presentation of the subject. The book is divided into 11 parts, each part focusing on a particular aspect such as, Creating a Reading Classroom, Being a Reading Teacher, Understanding Text Types, Love Your Libraries and Participating With Parents and Families. Within each part are individual ideas each having a relatable quote, a summary and a step by step guide to implementing the suggestion. There are also teaching tips, and ideas on how to expand on the activities incorporated plus bonus ideas. This comprehensive approach enables teachers to use as much or as little as they need from the suggestions and to select ideas suitable for their own school.

Scott Evans makes it clear from the introduction onwards that Reading for Pleasure should not be an add-on to the curriculum but integral to teaching. His knowledge and enthusiasm will inspire his readers and his practical advice will enable them. This excellent guide is perfect for teachers at any stage of their career and also suitable for school librarians who could adapt many suggestions for use in the school library. Despite the title this book would also be useful to secondary teachers too. An excellent resource and highly recommended.

100 IDEAS for Primary Teachers: Reading for Pleasure is published on 30th March by Bloomsbury Education. You can follow Scott Evans on Twitter @MrEPrimary and his helpful website can be found here. I should like to thank Enisha Samra and Bloomsbury Education for my review copy and for inviting me to participate in the blog tour.

You can follow the rest of the blog tour organised to coincide with publication over the next few days and full details can be found below.

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FCBG Children’s Book Award Blog Tour: While the Storm Rages by Phil Earle

Welcome to my stop on the Children’s Book Award Blog Tour! 

Today I am delighted to share a blog from Phil Earle all about his shortlisted title While The Storm Rages.

First a little information about the award itself.

The Children’s Book Award is the only national award for children’s books that is voted for entirely by children. It is owned and coordinated by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups and is highly respected by teachers, parents and librarians. It has brought acclaim and strong sales to past winners such as J.K. Rowling, Patrick Ness, Andy Stanton, Malorie Blackman, Anthony Horowitz and Michael Morpurgo, who has won a record four times. The award has often been the first to recognise the future stars of children’s fiction and has the ability to turn popular authors into bestsellers.

Who will win? Children nationwide are now invited to vote for their favourite of the ten shortlisted books. The deadline for online voting is 12 noon on Friday 12th May.  The category winners and the author of the best children’s book published in the 2022 nomination period will be announced at a glittering awards ceremony which takes place in Central London on Saturday 10th June, and will be live-streamed.

Vote online here –

Now over to Phil Earle who has kindly written this guest piece about While The Storm Rages.

History can be unbelievably harsh, packed with horrors and unbelievable cruelty. So should we leave it where it is, or should we show it for what it is, in the hope that we never make the same mistake again?

As soon as I read about the great animal massacre of 1939, I knew I had to write about it: to try and make sense of it, if nothing else. Imagine the scene, it’s September 1939, and your father has just marched off to war. Before he leaves, you make him a promise: to behave, to not give your mum any lip, and above all else, to look after his beloved dog, Winn. You wouldn’t refuse, would you? Imagine two weeks later then that a government booklet drops on your doorstep, telling you to have your animal put to sleep. That due to the incoming bombs and destruction, this is the safest and kindest thing to do. Many, many people faced this dilemma when ‘Air Raid Precaution For Animals’ dropped onto their doormat. Many people panicked. Who can blame them? And as a result of that booklet, 750,000 innocent animals saw their lives ended in just 30 days. That’s twice as many pets killed as British soldiers in the entirety of the war.

When I first read this, I thought it must have been made up, the ultimate shaggy dog story. But it wasn’t, and when I realised this, I knew there was a story for me to tell. The only question I needed to ask was: what if? What if, when the booklet was delivered, the boy whose dad had marched off to fight, said no? What if he kept his promise and kept the dog safe, no matter what.

I loved Noah as soon as he popped into my head. He’s not like me. He’s braver for starters. He acts in the moment, driven by his overwhelming impulses. He loves his dog, and he loves his dad (he IS more like me in this regard) and though he is hugely reckless, he is overwhelmingly pure in his every intention. None of what he does is for himself. It’s for those he adores and because he needs to keep his promise. I hope that Noah’s journey is an entertaining one to follow. I hope it leaves you breathless by the end. I love reading books like that, so it’s wonderful to have it recognised by this brilliant shortlisting. To be on a shortlist where every vote is cast by children is a bit special. So thank you. And happy reading.

Thank you, Phil. I loved Noah too! This is the last post in the blog tour to mark the announcement of the Children’s Book Award shortlists and if you missed any of the previous posts you can see where to find them in this graphic below. Thank you to the Federation of Children’s Book Groups and particularly Erin Hamilton for their help in preparing this post.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

Welcome to this week’s look at what has been happening in the world of children’s books over the last few days.

What I’m reading…

Regular readers will know how highly I rate the publishers Barrington Stoke for all they do to encourage reading for pleasure for every single child. This week I read and reviewed a selection of new titles published by them recently, all suitable for the primary age group. The stories include humour and finding your special talent, family, loss & friendship, ponies & adventure, history & mystery. There is something included here for every possible taste! I have another couple of new Barrington Stoke books for secondary age readers which I hope to read soon.

I also read and reviewed a selection of picture books this week that I think will be useful to have in schools. New Picture Books Helping Children and Families would be helpful for teachers and librarians also as they deal with subjects and situations that may cause worry and well chosen books can be enormously useful in providing reassurance and for prompting conversation.

Can You Get Rainbows in Space? by Dr. Sheila Kanani vibrantly illustrated by Liz Kay is an inviting non-fiction title just right for curious children and budding scientists. It is full of information and perfect for both browsing and learning. The enticing introduction encourages children to read on and then the information is divided into the colours of the rainbow, each section explains how we see that particular colour, and explores nature linked to it. It’s a clever presentation and one that is littered with the kind of facts which appeal to children such as What Colour is a Polar Bear Under Its Fur? Why Are Frogs Green? and What Came First: Orange or THE Orange? Published this week by Puffin Books and a must buy for primary school libraries. It would make a great present too.

This week I also read The Silver Chain by Jion Sheibani, a verse novel about mental health and the healing power of music which I found a compelling and thought provoking book. The format of this story in differing styles of poetry and accompanying illustrations incorporating musical symbols is both original and affecting. I can well understand why this was long listed for the Carnegie and hope to write my review for Just Imagine over the coming days and will share it next week.

News, articles and resources…

Poetry can move souls and thrum hearts: why wouldn’t we teach our children about it?: Joseph Coelho – following the recent publication of a report from the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education and Macmillan Children’s Books this article by our Children’s Laureate is full of positivity about the teaching of poetry in schools and includes links to his Poetry Prompts initiative with Book Trust and other related activities.

If you want children to read, let them read what they love! – excellent article by SF Said in his capacity as Writer in Residence for Book Trust in which he stresses the importance of choice in encouraging reading for pleasure. “Because choice is such a vital part of being a reader; an autonomous, lifelong reader, of the kind we want all kids to be...”

Taking a look behind What the World Doesn’t See by Mel Darbon – Tracy Darnton – a couple of weeks ago I reviewed What the World Doesn’t See by Mel Darbon, a book that will undoubtedly be among my top reads of the year, and this interview on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure explains a little more about the background to this story, its inspiration, personal relevance and its importance.

Talking About Representation: Reading Diversity in the Primary Curriculum with Atinuke – Hays Education, in collaboration with partners All Around Reading, are hosting a FREE online Author-led CPD event which will take place on Thursday 30th March from 4.30-6pm. Join respected author Atinuke, who later this year will be publishing Brilliant Black British History. The session will cover: An update on CLPE Reflecting Realities research and The Lit in Colour research, The author’s perspective and how Brilliant Black British History came to be written, Resource suggestions and How to support inclusive education in schools.

Do You Know What’s In Your Child’s School Library? – a downloadable infographic from the ever helpful Lucas Maxwell. This is a great resource highlighting the many roles of the school library and great to share with parents.

Reading for pleasure: Sustaining and developing your school’s reading culture – article by Prof. Teresa Cremin for Headteacher Uodate magazine. This contains excellent advice on how to use the recent World Book Day focus as a launchpad to establishing a reading culture within a school community.

PaperBound Magazine Spring Issue – the latest issue of this free online magazine is packed full of author interviews, book recommendations, writing tips and more. Featuring Daisy May Johnson, Oisín McGann and Liz Flanagan.

Hay Festival Schools Programme – this year’s Programme for Schools takes place THURSDAY 25 MAY & FRIDAY 26 MAY, with in-person events for pupils in Key Stage 2 on Thursday 25 May and Key Stages 3 & 4 on Friday 26 May. All events will be livestreamed on the day and are free to watch again later on Hay Player(captioned in English and Welsh). You can buy books on site from the Hay Festival Shop. All events are approximately 45 minutes in duration. It’s a brilliant line up so do please explore what’s on via the link above.

The Yoto Carnegies Events Week – Scholastic are to be the official book supplier for the Yoto Carnegie Awards 2023 and are hosting a week of free virtual events celebrating this year’s shortlists starting on Monday 27th March. You can register and find out details of timings etc on the website above.

Waterstones Children’s Book Prize Winner 2023 The Cats We Meet Along the Way was this week announced as both the winner of the Books for Older Readers category and the Overall Winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2023. You can read about the winners in each category, guest posts by the winning authors and the shortlisted books on the Waterstones website above.

Caboodle Classroom Launched – Caboodle is an online virtual platform, part of Authors Abroad, where top children’s authors, poets and illustrators come together so students anywhere in the world can be inspired about reading and writing. For each age category, from Early Years to aged 16, a new author event is released every month during term time and the sessions are available to view for two months. Teaching Notes provided by CLPE are supplied with every author visit. You can find out about the various subscription packages available and watch a video taster in the link above.

Books For Keeps March Issue – for many years this has been one of my favourite sources of information about children’s books as it’s also full of useful articles, interviews and reviews. This latest issue includes a guest editorial by Mary-Rose Grieve, co-chair of the Great School Libraries campaign, a feature by Nicholas Tucker about the late Marcus Sedgwick and regular features such as Beyond the Secret Garden.

CLPE’s February’s New Books Round-Up by their librarian Phoebe Demeger – Each month CLPE’s Librarian, Phoebe Demeger, reveals some of her favourite books she has recently added to the CLPE Literacy Library. These are divided into categories from Early Years Foundation Stage to KS3.

Where The River Takes Us by Lesley Parr Educational Resource Pack – last week I mentioned how much I enjoyed this novel set in 1970s Wales written by Lesley Parr and this week I noticed that Bloomsbury have published these excellent resources created by Scott Evans, The Reader Teacher. Free to download.

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

Moon’s Ramadan by Natasha Khan Kazi – this new beautifully illustrated picturebook depicts a journey of celebration around the world introducing Ramadan to young children, It explains events & traditions & the role that the moon plays in determining when Eid celebrations can begin. Catherine Friess on her Story Snug blog says, “It’s a fabulous book to read in an Early Years / Key Stage classroom to raise children’s awareness of the rituals and the significance of Ramadan.”

That’s Mathematics Based on Lyrics By Tom Lehrer, Chris Smith Illustrated by Elīna Brasliņa – I am lucky enough to have a copy of this brilliant book and think that Jo Cummins has summed up its appeal in her review which was part of the blog tour to mark its publication. “A great way to encourage children to think differently about maths and pick up plenty of mathematical vocabulary whilst having lots of fun.

Super Questers: The Case of the Missing Memory by Lisa Moss and Dr. Thomas Bernard; illustrated Amy Willcox – this insightful and fascinating review by Ben Harris gives a flavour of the book itself and also the reasons for its appeal. Perfect for puzzlers and would be coders. Ben says, “I’m so glad a series like this exists today, that treats young children with the respect they deserve in the field of programming: coding is only complicated when we have our ‘grown up glasses’ on; kids massively enjoy it and they succeed as a result.”

The Way of The Dog by Zana Fraillon illustrated by Sean Buckingham – Nicki Cleveland has completely sold this book to me in her lovely review, “Scruffity will long live on the bookshelf in my heart.” The guest article by Zana Fraillon is a thoughtful and interesting read too.

That’s everything for this week and I hope something here is helpful to you. On Monday I’m participating in the blog tour highlighting the Top Ten reads on the shortlists for the FCBG’s Children’s Book Award. You can see full details of the blog tour below.

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New Picture Books – Helping Families and Children

Sometimes emotions can be conveyed more easily through picture books, especially those created for younger children. There are times too when they can be invaluable for helping to explain a situation a child may not understand or need some reassurance in order to learn how to cope with it. These three recently published books do all of this well.

Two Places To Call Home by Phil Earle illustrated by Jess Rose

The bright and cheerful cover of Two Places to Call Home sets the tone for this positive and uplifting book about a little girl learning to adapt to living in two different houses, one with Dad and another with Mum, and discovering that both places can be ‘home’. Phil Earle writes with a kind understanding of the reality of separation and divorce ensuring the story acts as a wise guide to children reading or listening.

Florrie loves her Dad and her Mum and she knows that they both love her too. What Florrie finds hard is leaving one parent behind when she goes to visit the other. Her sensible parents give the little girl something to take with her to each home, a special stone from Dad’s and a magic flower on a necklace from Mum’s. Armed with this reassurance Florrie discovers that she is brave enough to manage this new situation and the story depicts her playing, using her imagination and, importantly, sharing her happiness with both parents.

This delightful story would do a great deal to reassure an anxious child in a similar situation that even when a family doesn’t live under the same roof they are still a family. Two Places to Call Home would be an excellent book for a school staff collection, for school libraries and Early Years settings. Phil Earle wrote this insightful article about the reasons for writing this book which you may find interesting. Two Places to Call Home was published on 16th February by Ladybird Books.

When I’m Gone by Marguerite McLaren illustrated by Hayley Wells

This profoundly moving picture book was written by Marguerite McLaren in response to her own situation and will help children learn how to cope with bereavement and grief. She has managed to find the right words to convey her message beautifully yet it is hard to find the right words to review this tender and gentle book.

The endpapers depict happy photos of precious family memories of a new baby’s arrival, holidays, Christmas, outings and family gatherings. There is love in these warm tinted pictures and this warmth and love is evident in Hayley Wells’ illustrations throughout. The book is a love letter to the author’s children, wise, kind and tender urging her children to live their own lives full of joy and adventure but also reassuring them that her love for them will endure. In writing When I’m Gone Marguerite McLaren hopes that it will help her own children and others in similar situations. This book also lets children know that their own emotions and reactions are normal, be they angry, confused or sad. An utterly lovely book, both heartbreakingly sad and life affirming at the same time.

The book ends with expert advice from the charity Child Bereavement UK and their website address. When I’m Gone was published on 9th March by Ladybird Books.

My Momma Zo by Kelly and Zoey Allen illustrated by Tara O’Brien

This vibrantly illustrated picture book shows how a family support each other through a time of change and also conveys how families can come in all shapes and sizes.

Told by little Molly she describes how she lives with her brother George and her two mums: Mommy Kel and Momma Zo. Molly lists their likes and dislikes, their similarities and their differences. Through Molly’s narration we learn that Momma Zo used to be called Daddy and was frequently unhappy and reluctant to join in family fun. Molly then goes on to describe how happy Momma Zo is now. The text and illustrations show the family with their pet dog and enjoying spending time together. There is mention of how some people can be unkind but the emphasis throughout is on the strength of the family bond and the love they share, “no matter what.” A sensitively written and thoughtful book.

Zoey Allen wrote a guest piece on the importance of representation on the My Book Corner blog to coincide with publication of this book and you can read it here. My Momma Zo was published on 2nd March by Uclan Publishing.

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New Books for Children From Barrington Stoke

The team at Barrington Stoke have been busy and there has been a flurry of new titles published recently or due out very soon. I have gathered together a selection here all suitable for the primary age group but different in style and content to appeal to a variety of tastes.

Sheep School by Ross Montgomery illustrated by Marisa Morea

Although he has written several other books for Barrington Stoke this is Ross Montgomery’s first Little Gem, a series perfectly put together for younger readers aged 5+ in a chunky format with a well designed layout. Ross Montgomery recently wrote about the appeal of funny books and their importance to young readers for Barrington Stoke and in his latest title for this publisher he certainly proves he knows how to make readers giggle. I know I’m not the target audience but this brightened up my day no end!

William the lamb is not exactly a model pupil. He loves to dance and sing and unfortunately is not able to stop himself doing so in the middle of the classroom. This does not go down well with Miss Bleater his teacher. All the other little lambs are being taught to ‘stand still’ but William is physically incapable of doing so. In the end William is expelled from school and cast out of the flock to the shame of his parents. However all is not lost as William witnesses the sheep being captured by the Big Bad Wolf. Can William, resplendent in his rainbow wellies, come to the rescue!

This laugh out loud story does contain a thoughtful message about celebrating those who are different rather than forcing them to conform and also of maximising on your talents. The illustrations are entertaining and allow the eagle eyed young reader to be aware of possible plot twists before they happen. A happy tale and one that will definitely encourage new readers.

Budgie by Joseph Coelho illustrated by David Barrow

Another new title in the Little Gems series and very different in tone to Sheep School, Budgie is a gentle story of family, loss and love told, as one would expect from poet Joseph Coelho, in a beautiful lyrical style. This is an early reader with depth in the story and kindness and understanding in its style. The tender illustrations by David Barrow complement the story perfectly and add another level to the emotional impact.

Miles lives in a flat in a city tower block and loves to climb the nearby trees with his friend Chris. Mr Buxton an elderly neighbour, always appears to be cross and grumpy and shouts at the boys chasing them away. One day when his friend is away on holiday Miles discovers a lost little budgie which he takes home to look after with the help of his mum and his little sister Mary. It is through his new pet that Miles discovers more about Mr Buxton and gradually learns lessons about acceptance, understanding and grief.

This sounds like heavy content for young readers but the subjects are so beautifully conveyed that this book is quite uplifting in tone. With subtlety both author and illustrator combine to show how first impressions may not always be correct and that people are more alike than different in many ways. The loving bond between the family and the blossoming friendship following initial misgivings is depicted with care. This is a beautiful story and one, I think, that would repay sharing with an adult due to the ideas and conversations that it may prompt.

Meg and Merlin: Running Away by Tanya Landman illustrated by Sònia Albert

The third instalment in this popular series by award winning author Tanya Landman is an action packed adventure just perfect for pony loving readers. When Meg’s mum agrees that she may meet up with her new friend Sam Houseman and go for a long picnic ride together Meg is thrilled at the thought of this idea. Everything goes as well as Meg has dreamed until on the way home she takes a wrong turn and things go badly wrong.

There is a lot of excitement in this story which will keep young readers involved until the end and Tanya Landman also conveys the strong bond between the young rider and her pony. Meg has to learn how to cope in a difficult situation and it should be encouraging for children to witness this achievement. Even if young readers never have to control a runaway pony! I would like to mention that the depiction of Meg calmly working out what to do at one stage in the plot is helpful to children and one they may remember. It is a nice touch to include a recap of the story so far so that children new to the series will be able to enjoy reading this book without having read the previous books in the series however I feel sure this has a growing army of regular readers. Produced in an accessible style and with lively illustrations through this has been edited to a reading age of 7.

The Curio Collectors by Eloise Williams illustrated by Anna Shepeta

The Curio Collectors entwines family, history and adventure in a charming story with engaging characters and a satisfying conclusion. Eloise Williams has a bewitching writing style, drawing you in slowly and gently and then building tension and drama as the story unfolds into a historical mystery complete with dastardly villain.

Cover illustration by Anna Shepeta

Lily and Tom travel the country with Ma Hawker in their caravan entertaining crowds with tales about their collection of curios. When by chance the two youngster acquire a strange piece of scrimshaw it attracts the attention of a young girl who is looking for a special shell that belonged to her mother. Lily and Tom then join with their new friend to solve the mystery and to avoid the sinister gentleman who will stop at nothing to obtain the shell for his own ends. With subtle references to feminism and honesty this is a captivating mystery which has the feel of a big adventure told in a short and accessible format accompanied by lovely illustrations throughout. Suitable for readers aged 9+ with a reading age of 8.

I should like to thank Barrington Stoke for my review copies and you can purchase these books on their official website.

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