Reading Matters – news from the world of children’s books

Hello and welcome to another look back at the highlights of the week in the children’s books world. Of course with World Book Day celebrated on Thursday this week has been dominated by activities and discussion about this event. However there has been other news too so why not settle down and have a browse through this selection of articles, resources and reviews.

What I’m reading…


The first two months of the year have seen the publication of several terrific children’s books and I have reviewed some Fabulous Fiction for Children – New Middle Grade Titles that I have read so far this year. At the moment I am reading Dust Road  by Tom Huddleston, the sequel to his thrilling Flood World  which I enjoyed very much last year. Tom will be answering questions on my blog next Friday as part of the blog tour so please watch out for that and the rest of the tour over the coming days.


News from the world of children’s books..

Children’s and teens roundup – the best new picture books and novels – I always enjoy the reviews for the Guardian by Imogen Russell Williams and this fabulous selection is so tempting I am sure they will be added to many reading lists.

Storytime Assembly – this is a wonderful post by headteacher and picture book lover, Simon Smith, providing useful tips on how to turn assemblies into joyful read aloud celebrations and he includes some great book suggestions too.

Children are Reading Less than Ever Before, Research Reveals  and How I Managed to Raise a Little Bookworm in the Age of Smartphones and Tablets – two articles published this week both of which prompted much discussion online.

Children and Young People’s Reading in 2019 – This report outlines findings from The National Literacy Trust’s ninth Annual Literacy Survey relating to children and young people’s reading.

A Reading for Pleasure Manifesto – this article by children’s author Andy Seed is not new but has been shared again this week coinciding with World Book Day and is a fantastic resource for schools. It is extremely comprehensive giving many tips, suggestions and inspiring ideas. A helpful and positive answer to the findings of the report mentioned above.

New Book Trust Illustrator in Residence Ed Vere is set to inspire with the power of pictures – following the news announcement last week this article explains how Ed Vere is to share his knowledge on developing confidence and self-expression in children through drawing.

Great School Libraries Campaign Phase 2 – the Great School Libraries Campaign team plan to lobby the Government to get the document Vibrant Libraries, Thriving Schoolsadopted by the UK Government for the other nations in the UK. You can read more details on this latest blogpost.

The Children’s Book Award Shortlists Announced – The Children’s Book Award organised by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups is the only national award voted for solely by children from start to finish. For this year the categories will be Books for Younger Children, Books for Younger Readers, Books for Confident Readers and Books for Older Readers, with three titles in each category.

There is a blog tour in progress at the moment where you can learn more about each of the shortlisted titles.


Picture Books to Treasure and Inspire – boosting the profile of reading across school –   This is an absolutely lovely blogpost on the Hertfordshire for Learning Primary English website showing how picture books prompt discussion and aid comprehension  in KS2.

Surrey Libraries’ Children’s Book Award – the shortlists for these awards have been announced and schools in Surrey are able to shadow these awards and receive promotional material and reading guides for each book.

Online Reading For Pleasure Course from the School Library Association –  this online course guides you through the research, best practice and how to get reading for pleasure started in your school.

How World Book Day Lost the Plot– a thoughtful look by author Marianne Levy at how World Book Day has evolved over the years.

Winners of the Blue Peter Book Awards 2020  – on World Book Day it was announced that Wildspark by Vashti Hardy and Rise Up: Ordinary Kids With Extraordinary Stories were this year’s winners. There is an opportunity to win copies of the prize winning books on the Book Trust website, see the link above.

LGBTQ+ Primary Hub – This brand new website has been created to ‘enhance the delivery of LGBTQ+ inclusive education in primary schools by providing teachers with the support they need.

Finally here are some book reviews that caught my eye this week…

The Pear Affair by Judith Eagle – ‘With endearing characters, an exciting plot and a beautifully realised setting, this is a hit.’ says Liam @notsotweets in his lovely review of a book that’s right at the top of my to read pile.

Crater Lake by Jennifer Killick – ‘I cannot recommend this highly enough it is just outstanding from start to finish!’ This wonderful review by Lily @lilyfae suggests this is a book for every school library.

Extraordinary by Penny Harrison and Katie Wilson – this review by Jo Clarke @bookloverjo and guest post by the author is a lovely reminder to savour the everyday ‘ordinary’ moments. Extraordinary is now on my shopping list.

That’s all for this week. I hope that this look back has captured some of the book love that has been so visible this week. Have a lovely weekend and happy reading.

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Fabulous Fiction for Children – New Middle Grade Titles

This year has got off to a stunning start for lovers of children’s fiction with some exciting debuts and highly anticipated new titles from established authors too. I have read and enjoyed some great books over the last couple of months and have finally found time to review them here. Here are my recent reads for the middle grade audience, children of about nine to twelve years old, suitable for a wide range of tastes.

Where the World Turns Wild by Nicola Penfold

A085EE5B-B8E1-4D25-A2BE-64C945427D83This exciting debut, a mix of dystopian fiction and epic survival story, is beautifully written capturing the author’s love for the natural world and its important themes will inspire thoughtful discussion among young readers. This is highly recommended.

Juniper Greene and her younger brother, Bear, live in a walled city with their Grandma. Nature  has been banished there, following the outbreak of a deadly man-made disease many years earlier. Most people seem reconciled  to living in this sterile environment but the two children have always known about their resistance to the disease, and dream of escaping to the wild. They long to journey  to the place where humans have survived outside of cities and to be reunited with  their mother. When scientists discover that the siblings provide the key to fighting the disease, the pair must flee for their lives. As they embark into the wildness together they soon learn that there is danger in nature as well as beauty.

Juniper is a wonderful character who I quickly found both sympathetic and interesting. Her relationship with her little brother is tenderly and believably described by the author displaying that loving but at times frustrating bond between older and younger siblings. The landscape and the natural world is key to this story and, inspired by Nicola Penfold’s love of the Lake District, this felt both beautiful and familiar to me. Although set in a dystopian future there is a chilling air of possibility about the premise of this story which adds to its relevance to today’s audience.

The children’s journey is utterly gripping, full of danger and difficulties. This is an exciting read but also an extremely thoughtful one. Juniper and Bear show courage, persistence, loyalty and kindness. The reader fears for their safety and cares for their future. This is a powerful story which grips the reader and ultimately makes them care and would prompt thoughtful discussion. I loved this.

Thank you to Leilah Skelton and Stripes Pubishing for my Net Galley copy.

The BigWoof Conspiracy by Dashe Roberts

06ACEC00-DF2E-466C-A5C2-F36CB10DDB7DThe first in the new Sticky Pines series this is a fast paced, extremely funny adventure with an endearing retro feel that should convert even the most reluctant of readers.

Twelve year old self confessed geek Lucy is obsessed with UFOs and following the disappearance of several people from her hometown of Sticky Pines she sneaks out one night to investigate. Unfortunately she finds more than she bargained for: a huge hairy creature! Together with her new friend Milo, Lucy finds herself involved in a mystery that threatens to engulf the whole town of Sticky Pines and its rather strange residents.

This is great fun. If you imagine a blend of Scooby Doo and the Goosebumps series with contemporary attitudes you would be fairly close. Lucy is a fabulous character, tenacious and given to outbursts of her own particular brand of curses such as “Crudberries” and there is never a dull moment as she and Milo, who form an unlikely friendship, try to solve the mystery. Their plans are hindered by creepy clowns and several close shaves with mysterious ‘monsters’.  I have a suspicion that this book and the Sticky Pines series will be a hit with a wide audience.

Thank you to Nosy Crow publishers for my review copy.

Orion Lost by Alastair Chisholm

E381758C-A7A5-46A9-81AF-4E50D9F7DD34This is a terrific, tense and entertaining sci-fi adventure that has completely converted this rather sceptical science -fiction reader.

The colony ship Orion is four months out of Earth when catastrophe strikes – leaving the ship and everyone on board stranded in deep space. Suddenly it is up to thirteen-year-old Beth and her friends to navigate through dangerous  and uncharted territory to reach safety. But a heavily-damaged ship, space pirates, a mysterious alien species, and an artificial intelligence that Beth is unsure that she can trust means that getting home feels an impossible task.

I will be honest when I first read about Orion Lost I did not think that it would be a book that I would enjoy. Sci-fi is not generally a genre a choose. You are never too old to learn! This hooked me completely. No conversation distracted me and I was utterly engrossed. It is often said that authors remove parents from the story early on allowing children to take centre stage for the ensuing adventure and Alastair Chisholm manages this with some style. The relationships between the different characters, the twists and turns of the plot and the moments of high drama make this a compelling read. The personalities of the children are distinctive with differing types that ensure readers will find one with whom they can identify. The tensions between the children and their friendships and quarrels are recognisable and believable. At its heart, despite the setting, the aliens and the ‘Jumps’ through space and time, this is a story of conquering your fears, learning how to work successfully with others and discover what values are most important to us. I enjoyed this immensely, so much so I had that slight feeling of loss when it ended.

Thank you to Nosy Crow publishers for my review copy.

Other great titles for this age group that I have read this year include Little Bird Lands by Karen McCombie and The Girl Who Stole an Elephant by Nizrana Farook. I have also read and reviewed Evernight by Ross MacKenzie for the School Librarian magazine, a darkly magical adventure with a brave and inspiring heroine at its heart and a truly terrifying villain.

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Reading Matters – news from the world of children’s books

Hello and welcome to another look back at news, articles and reviews related to children’s books from the last week. This weekly catch up is made up of links to interesting items that I hope may be helpful to busy school librarians, teachers, educators and possibly  parents too.

What I’m reading…


This week has been one of those weeks when I have had very little time to settle down with a book but I did find a moment or two to finish The BigWoof Conspiracy by Dashe Roberts which was great fun. I have also started reading Orion Lost by Alistair Chisholm and this may actually persuade me to read more sci-fi as I’m loving it so far.

This week I attended this term’s School Library Association Surrey Branch committee meeting and we have exciting plans for a Saturday event in May providing an opportunity for school librarians to share best practice on the theme of collaboration. More details to follow soon…

News from the world of children’s books…

10 Picture Books to Shine a Positive Light on 2020 – Author Rachel Bright picks her top positive picture books to share with little ones in 2020 for Book Trust.

Reflecting on Black presence in children’s books – article written by Farrah Serroukh and Karen Sands O’Connor for the British Library. The characters that we meet in children’s books shape the way that we see ourselves and our community around us.  This article takes  a look at the history of Black British representation.

Library Insights – Information Literacy Project – this new case study on the Great School Libraries website looks at how an information literacy programme at St Ninian’s High School equips pupils with the research skills that they need. 

Audio Books and Literacy Resources – following the publication of the their audiobooks and literacy research review last week, The National Literacy Trust have now created resources to help teachers and parents make the most of audiobooks to support children’s literacy in the classroom and at home.

New + Girl Detectives Book List – Looking for tales to thrill & captivate? This new Girl Detectives booklist compiled by CLPE is the place to look! Check out this latest collection, featuring girl detectives in a variety of historical and contemporary settings.

Diversity in Children’s Literature Padlet – Jenny Holder of the Liverpool Learning Partnership has created this excellent resource, a collection to support educators in exploring issues of diversity and inclusion in children’s and YA books.   

World Book Day is about more than dressing up – the latest newsletter from the Open University Reading for Pleasure team @OpenUni_RfP has examples of how to focus on reading for pleasure on the Big Day and all year round too. If you haven’t already signed up to this regular newsletter I would highly recommend it.

Book Award Winners 2018 – 2019 – another extremely helpful resource compiled for the Open University Reading for Pleasure website. This list includes the winners of top children’s awards.

Monster Slayer: a Beowulf Tale – this new retelling published by Barrington Stoke with wonderful illustrations by Chris Riddell is out now. Caroline Fielding asked author Brian Patten some questions for TeenLibrarian linked to both this book and his writing in general.

Tears at bedtime: are children’s books on environment causing climate anxiety? – interesting Guardian article by Patrick Barkham featuring many of the current children’s books, both fiction and non-fiction, on the theme of our natural world and its protection.

Ed Vere Named New Illustrator in Residence for Book Trust – Best selling author/illustrator Ed Vere  will succeed current writer in residence Cerrie Burnell on 2nd March. He will share knowledge on developing confidence in children through drawing and invite parents, artists and children to create an online picture gallery.

National Writing Day – This year’s National Writing Day is Wednesday 24th June. It is an annual celebration of the pleasure and power of writing creatively, inspiring people of all ages and abilities to try writing for fun and self-expression. Register on the official website for full information and free resources.

Statutory Storytime – Egmont publishers are calling on the Government to make storytime statutory, to change the curriculum to make space for reading aloud, so that all children up to the age of 11 hear a story every day, just for fun. You can download a letter to send to your MP or sign the petition by clicking on the link above.

Finally some book reviews that may help you choose your next read…

The House of One Hundred Clocks by A M Howell – this is already on my wish list but  Mr Ripley’s @enchantedbooks has reminded me that I need to get hold of a copy sooner rather than later, as he says, ‘This story is a joy to read.’

The House of Hidden Wonders by Sharon Gosling – Veronica Price @vonprice says ‘she was utterly enthralled from beginning to end’ and this ghostly mystery with its links to Sherlock Holmes sounds as though it would be an excellent transition to secondary title.

Marvellous Middle Grade Reads – a selection of must have fiction for primary school libraries and classrooms reviewed by Jo Clarke @bookloverjo. There’s something here for all tastes.

That’s all for this week. I hope that you have found an article of interest, a helpful resource or a book to add to your shopping list. Have a lovely weekend and happy reading.


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Reading Matters – news from the world of children’s books

Hello and welcome to another Reading Matters and a look back at some of the news from the children’s books world over the last week.

What I’m reading…


This week I read and reviewed the special 40th Anniversary edition of The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch illustrated by Michael Martchenko. This delightful picture book with its strong message still deserves its place in primary school libraries and classrooms.

I have also read and very much enjoyed When the World Turns Wild by Nicola Penfold. This is a thoughtful story that will resonate with many young readers due to its message of valuing our environment and I warmed very quickly to the two main characters, Juniper and Bear. My review should follow very soon. At the moment I am reading The Bigwoof Conspiracy which is great fun.

News from the world of children’s books…

Creating a Reading for Pleasure Culture in School – article written by Emily Guille-Marrett for Wise Words giving advice and tips on how to embed a love of reading in your primary school.

Q & A with Jasmine Richards by Cerrie Burnell– Jasmine Richards writer and founder of Storymix answers questions from Cerrie Burnell, current writer in residence with Booktrust on why it is important that children have access to diverse books.

Edspresso Episode 11 – How could the magic of picture books be used to enable the development of critical thinking skills? – a wonderful podcast on the New South Wales Government website: Education for a Changing World, in which they speak to Mary Roche, who makes the case for using children’s picture books to teach critical thinking skills to younger learners.

Picture Books for Whole School Projects – if you are looking for suggestions for one book that can be used across the whole primary school Books for Topics provides five suggestions that would make great whole school projects.

Preview of Dust Road by Tom Huddleston – the sequel to the thrilling Flood World will be published by Nosy Crow next month and you are able to read the first chapter and get a taste of what to expect on the Nosy Crow website.

Maia and What Matters Kickstarter campaign – the publishers Book Island Books are trying to raise vital funds to reprint a unique picture book, Maia and What Matters, which tackles cultural taboos surrounding ageing, illness and loss in a brave and meaningful way. You can find out more by clicking on the link.

Strong Fairy Tale Heroines – a series – Katherine Langrish, YA and children’s author, has started a new series on her blog about heroines in traditional fairytales, kicking off by asking why many so many people think fairy tale heroines are passive. This ties in well with the anniversary of The Paper Bag Princess

Create a Story with Chicken House publishers – Maz Evans, Holly Rivers, Emma Shevah and Christopher Edge appear on a new video on the Chicken House website designed to inspire children to hatch their own creative stories. There are accompanying teacher notes and resources too.

Longlists for Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals Announced – The 40-strong list of titles for the 2020 Medals (20 on each longlist) were selected from a total of 162 nominations, read by an expert volunteer team of 14 children’s and youth librarians from across the UK. The shortlists will be announced next month.

Blue Peter Celebrates 20 Years of Book Awards It’s time to choose an overall winner. From a top ten shortlist of previous Blue Peter Book Award winners viewers will have the opportunity to choose their favourite title on the Blue Peter website. The winner will be announced on World Book Day.

Audiobooks and Literacy – the National Literacy Trust has produced details of research they carried out that shows that audiobooks can be used to support children’s learning. They have also created a range of resources for teachers and parents on the subject.

The British Library Discovering Children’s Books – Discover centuries of well-loved children’s stories and lesser-known tales with this new online resource for children, teachers and lifelong book-lovers. This looks fabulous and very useful.

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

Troofriend by Kirsty Applebaum – I loved Kirsty’s debut, The Middler, last year and Lucas Maxwell loved this, her second book saying in his review, ‘Troofriend is a really amazing novel that touches upon several important issues like friendship, bullying and the ethics surrounding AI.’ Another for my list!

A Sprinkle of Sorcery by Michelle Harrison – the sequel to A Touch of Magic this is described as ‘another spellbinding adventure that will take your breath away and make you believe in magic’ by Beverley Somerset for the Reading Zone. It sounds lovely.

That’s all for this week I hope you have found something to inspire or help you among the articles. If you are returning to school on Monday and are organising World Book Day, good luck! Here are a couple of easy to organise activities that I have used successfully in the past. Happy reading!



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Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of The Paper Bag Princess – Story by Robert Munsch Art by Michael Martchenko

In 1980 a picture book was published that upturned the traditional fairy tale princess stereotype and provided a revolutionary look at the role models portrayed in young children’s stories. Since then over 7 million copies have been sold and the book has been translated into many languages. To mark the 40th anniversary of The Paper Bag Princess Canadian children’s publisher Annick Press have produced a special edition with forewords by Chelsea Clinton and writer Francesca Segal and also an afterword from Ann Munsch with Robert Munsch providing an insight into the inspiration behind the story.


This is the story of a princess. The princess Elizabeth, who is all set to marry her Prince Charming, or in this particular case her Prince Ronald. All these plans are frustrated when a dragon smashes into the castle and whisks Ronald away after first burning all the princess’s clothes. Elizabeth is remarkably unfazed by this and donning a paper bag she sets off after the dragon to rescue her Prince.  She outsmarts the dragon using her quick wits and saves Prince Ronald. The ungrateful prince tells off Princess Elizabeth for looking ‘a mess’ and says she must return when she is ‘dressed like a real princess.’ Elizabeth tells Ronald that although he may look like a real prince he is in fact ‘a bum’ and with that she skips off happily into the sunset without him.

This is a short story that would make a relatively quick read yet it says a great deal. The themes addressed in this alternative fairy tale include gender stereotyping, the importance of not judging people on appearance and learning to develop positive self-esteem. The happy ending for Elizabeth may not be the conventional one that the reader expects but it is nonetheless a happy one. The bright illustrations by Michael Martchenko are child friendly and add to the enjoyment and understanding of the text. The one depicting the prince and princess at the start of the story is rather telling, I feel. The besotted princess is shown gazing adoringly at the prince while he has his back to her and wears a rather snooty expression. Perhaps a hint of what is to unfold.

This special package to mark the 40th anniversary contain interesting extras that add to the overall appeal of the story. There is a forward by Chelsea Clinton describing how much they loved reading this book as a family with her children and as she remarks:

I think it is critical that our daughter and our sons and all our daughters and sons grow up to believe they can defeat their own dragons and rescue themselves”

The inspiration for this story as described by Ann Munsch is rather lovely.  When she and Robert Munsch worked together in child care centres in the US in the 1970s he started telling stories to the older children while the younger ones slept. These stories often involved princes and princesses, dragons and castles and the hero was always the prince. Many of the children at the centres came from single parent families in which the mothers were truly being heroic and from this observation the Paper Bag Princess was born.

I greatly enjoyed rediscovering this classic and hope it continues to reach a wide audience for many years to come.

Thank you very much to Amy Dobson and Annick Press for kindly providing my review copy. The anniversary edition is published on 20th February and is available to buy in all good bookshops or online

Annick Press have produced this lovely trailer featuring Robert Munsch to mark the anniversary.


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Reading Matters – News from the world of children’s books

Hello everyone and welcome to another Reading Matters and the opportunity to catch up with news from the world of children’s books and school libraries that you may have missed during a busy week. For all those who work in schools a very happy half term holiday to you!

What I’m reading…


This week I finished reading Little Bird Lands by Karen McCombie and you can read my review here. Spoiler…I loved it! Out now and perfect for lovers of children’s historical fiction.

This week I have also been reading the latest issue of Literacy, the journal published by The United Kingdom Literacy Association. So many fascinating and informative articles but one about school libraries is open access online: School libraries fostering children’s literacy and literature learning: mitigating the barriers  and I would highly recommend reading this as it draws attention to many issues faced by school librarians.

News and views from the world of children’s books…

The Non-Negotiable Role of School Librarians– article from the National Association of School Principals on collaboration between teachers and school librarians and how to ‘unlock the power of your library to drive a culture of deep learning in your school’.

21 Essential LGBTQ+ Kids & YA Books To Share in 2020 – to mark LGBT History Month in February Charlie Morris, Senior Publicist for Little Tiger Press and Stripes Publishing, has selected a range books for children, teens and young adults for the Toppsta website.

The School Library is a Litmus Paper – the latest blog on the Great School Libraries website written by former  Ofsted inspector, Larraine Harrison. It explains why school libraries are so important.

Picture Books for Children Reviews – Imogen Carter, for the Guardian, reviews a selection of picture books with a wide appeal covering nature, humour, acceptance and history.

The Imagine Children’s Festival – this annual festival is on now at the South Bank Centre and is dedicated to families experiencing and enjoying all kinds of art and culture together. Many popular children’s authors are featured. A wonderful half term treat!

The Importance of Diversity in School Libraries – “Diversity in school libraries isn’t about the numbers, it’s about the impact it has on the lives of the students who use them.” says former School Librarian of the Year, Lucas Maxwell, in his article for Book Riot.

Books to Engage Children With Environmental Issues – A range of titles on topical issues to prompt discussion or to use in the primary school classroom chosen by Jo @librarygirlandbookboy for the Copyright Licensing Agency website.

Topic Reading Lists – Helpful booklists on a variety of topics including Celebrating Difference, Emotional Well-being, Graphic Novels and many more are free to download from the Children’s Books Ireland website.

Longlist Announced for the Klaus Flugge Prize – Twenty debut picture books are in the running for this illustration prize that highlights the most talented newcomers. Previous winners include My Name is Not Refugee by Kate Milner and Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love.

CLPE Wins the Eleanor Farjeon Award 2019– The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education had been awarded the prestigious Eleanor Farjeon Award.  The prize, administered by the Children’s Book Circle, is given annually to acknowledge those individuals or institutions whose work and commitment to the world of children’s books has been deemed to be outstanding.

UK BAME Authors and Illustrators – School Librarian Matt Imrie has compiled and updated his lists of BAME authors for children, teens and young adults, illustrators, poets and publishers on the helpful Teen Librarian website.

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

Flights of Fancy–  Stories, pictures and inspiration from ten Children’s Laureates. This anthology is now available in paperback. ‘If you want to inspire children to let their imaginations soar, then you really, really must have a copy of this cracker of a book in your home or classroom’ says Jill Bennett in her review.

First Chapter Books from Stripe Publishing – reviewed by Jo @librarygirlandbookboy who says they are ‘an excellent choice for anyone aged 5+ who still loves the vibrant, full-page illustrations of picture books but want a little more text to go with them.’ They sound wonderful and perfect for emerging and newly confident readers.

Demelza and the Spectre Detectors by Holly Rivers – “an excellent debut, tackling some heavy subject matter with heart, humour and care.” says Alex Mitchell in this tempting review for The Bookbag @TheBookbag

That’s it for this week. I hope you’ve found something of interest and maybe an idea for a book to read. Have a lovely week and happy reading!

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Historical Fiction for Children – Little Bird Lands by Karen McCombie

Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres and historical fiction for children particularly so, therefore this sequel to Little Bird Flies has been eagerly anticipated since I first heard about it. I was not disappointed. Little Bird has matured, the setting has changed but this is just as vivid, entertaining and enjoyable as the first instalment. The sense of time and place draws you in and you journey alongside Little Bird as she discovers a new land, new friendships and new opportunities.


In the mid 1800s Bridie, or Little Bird as she is known, has landed in America, far from her home in Scotland and far from the danger that caused her family to flee. First to the busy streets of New York then to the icy land of Michigan and finally to the prairies of the west, Little Bird holds tight to secrets and dreams of freedom. Then, on her journey she must overcome new perils and come face to face with an unwelcome ghost from her past. However, Little Bird, though small and fragile in some ways, has grown in self belief so determines to face whatever befalls her with courage and hope.

Karen McCombie has created in Little Bird a character who feels both thoroughly believable and also completely engaging. Now a teenager she has matured from the previous book and accompanying her as she discovers a new land and new people will enable young readers to discover them too. With a vivid sense of time and place and a hint of period language children will learn much from this entertaining story. Through the eyes of a young Scottish girl we see what life was like for families arriving in a strange place and how overwhelming this new world felt for them as they tried to find a place to call ‘home’. With its themes of emigration and finding a place of safety and acceptance this has a resonance today and the author, through the character of Little Bird, displays an understanding of the effects of their arrival on the Native Americans whose home it already is. Historical fiction provides a way of looking at issues, both from long ago and today, through a slightly different lens. This book, without ever being preaching or didactic in tone, displays a compassion and understanding for the people involved in a way that will appeal to children’s sense of fairness.

The story is an exciting one combining mystery and adventure with domestic ritual and family life in a manner that makes this feel believable and encourages the reader to care about individual characters. The growing friendship between Bridie and Easter, the black maid at the mine owner’s house is a lovely one and compensates Little Bird in a small way for the absence of her sisters. Doctor Spicer, the female doctor who becomes friends with Little Bird and her family, is a wonderful character and a role model for Bridie as she looks to the future. I love Bridie, she refuses to let physical frailty stand in her way, she is brave and determined but compassionate and understanding too. A fabulous character.

The detail included in both the descriptions of the setting and of every day routine brings this world vividly to life and I learned facts that I did not know before. Although first and foremost this is a fabulous story children will learn as they read and this would therefore be an excellent book to use in the classroom. I think this would appeal to readers who have enjoyed The Little House on the Prairie series or books by Emma Carroll.

The story reaches a hopeful resolution yet still leaves the possibility of another book in the series. I do hope so, I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to Little Bird just yet.

I should like to thank Rebecca Mason and Nosy Crow publishers for providing my proof review copy. The striking cover illustration of the finished copy is by Jasu Hu. Little Bird Lands was published on 6th February and is available to purchase at all good bookshops or online

Karen McCombie has written some story starters for Just Imagine, the educational consultants, and you may like to share Why the Begining of a Story Has to Pop!

Karen also recommends a helpful website: Facts for Kids: Ojibwa Indians should you wish to find out more about this aspect of the book.

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Reading Matters – news from the world of children’s books

Hello everyone and welcome to another look back at what has been happening in the children’s books community this week. It has been a very busy few days with award ceremonies and shortlist announcements, many new books published and interesting articles to read. These are just some of the items that I noticed.

What I’m reading…


This week I have read a selection of books for younger children that would tempt even the most reluctant readers and reviewed them here:  New Books Out This Month – Facts and Fiction Made Accessible for Children

The publishers Tiny Owl kindly sent me a copy of Felix After The Rain by Dunja Jogan translated by Olivia Hellewell. This is a very special book about coping with difficult emotions and I would highly recommend it to children and adults alike.

There are many great children’s books being published this month and I would love to be able to read them all. This week I made time for Little Bird Lands by Karen McCombie and am now halfway through and enjoying it very much. My review will follow soon.

News and views from the world of children’s books…

Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) “Visibly invisible”: publish, support, and promote authors of colour – The latest blog in the #ReflectingRealities series looks at the link between quality of ethnic representation in children’s books & authorship, written by Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold.

Book Clinic: Stories to captivate reluctant boys –  in this regular feature from the Guardian Jasbinder Bilan (winner of the Costa Children’s Book Award 2019) chooses books that may tempt twelve year old boys.

Twenty Seven of the Best: A Personal Reading Journey by Daniel Hahn – this article was published in Books for Keeps last year but feels appropriate to share this week as each of the stories comes from a different one of the twenty-seven countries who will continue to constitute the European Union.

It’s a My Book Corner Take Over by Zoe Armstrong – a lovely interview with Emma Perry, founder of My Book Corner, and author of I Don’t Like Books. Never. Ever. The End. which was published this week.

Book Trust: New Children’s Books We Love – February is a busy month for children’s book lovers with many new titles published. The team at Book Trust have selected their favourites for ages 3 – teens.

Black History Month – 20 Recommended Authors – Jim Dean @JimYaYeah has selected some of his favourite titles from Middle Grade through YA to Adult in this list.

Reading Well Book List for Children – The Reading Agency has created this list in response to data about children’s mental health in the UK. The list covers areas such as anxiety, bereavement and bullying with books by Michael Rosen, Tom Percival, Zanib Mian and Joseph Coelho selected by leading mental health experts to support the mental health and wellbeing of children. 

Picture Books on Prescription – this interesting article from the Guardian on the power of picture books on prescription & the expert-endorsed new Reading Well for children booklist launched this week mentioned above.

The Open University Research Rich Pedagogies –  Developing Reading for Pleasure – this wonderful site contains links to research, examples of good practice and a free to download PowerPoint presentation which makes a case on the importance of Reading for Pleasure in schools that may be useful for staff meetings.

BookTrust research has revealed that more than a quarter of a million UK primary school children are experiencing literary poverty. – A child in literary poverty is defined as a child who is read to or with for pleasure, for less than 15 minutes a week outside of school. In response to the report Book Trust has launched its fundraising Pyjamarama campaign to call on families to rediscover the joy of reading.

Evernight by Ross Mackenzie Scottish Book Trust Schools Book of the Month – I was lucky enough to review this wonderful book for The School Librarian and this is an interesting interview with the author and an opportunity to win a copy of the book for your school too.

Waterstones Children’s Book Prize Shortlists Announced – Congratulations to all the authors, illustrators and publishers of this fabulous selection of books. I’m delighted to see The Middler and Asha and The Spirit Bird on the younger list.

Winners of Laugh Out Loud (Lollies) Book Award Announced – The books were chosen by teachers on behalf of their classes from shortlists drawn up a judging panel chaired by Michael Rosen.

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

Pie in The Sky by Remy Lai – ‘A brilliant read for empathy, and one that should be in every school.’ says Nicki Cleveland @MissNCleveland in her lovely review of this book about emigration and loneliness.

Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Missing Diamonds by Annabelle Sami (Illustrated by Daniela Sosa) – a contemporary new series for fans of The Sinclair’s Mysteries and the Murder Most Unladylike books. “I would recommend this to anyone who is a fan of a lighthearted mystery, very enthusiastic fangirls, secret staircases, mazes, dancing at weddings, and very enthusiastic adorable dogs!” says @starshynebrite in her review.

Sticky Pines: The BigWoof Conspiracy by Dashe Roberts – “It’s glorious, utterly glorious and comes with our highest recommendation.” says @ReaditDaddy in his tempting review of this debut published by Nosy Crow.

CLPE Teacher YouTube Book Reviews – have you seen these weekly video book reviews explaining how to use special books in the classroom?  This one by Charlie Hacking from CLPE on The Dam by David Almond and Levi Penfold is a great one to start with.

Thank you for reading and I hope that you have found something interesting or helpful within this week’s links. Don’t forget it’s International Book Giving Day on 14th February so you may like to find out how to share some book love on Valentines Day by visiting their official website

Back with more news next week…



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Felix After The Rain – written and illustrated by Dunja Jogan Translated by Olivia Hellewell

This is such a beautiful book. Wonderful illustrations which encourage the reader to linger combine with a rich text to create something that will comfort and reassure. Highly recommended for children of all ages and quite probably adults too. 


Felix is an unhappy boy. He carries a large black suitcase around with him everywhere. Although he does not really understand what is in the suitcase it contains the grief he felt following the death of his grandmother, the hurt felt when friends are unkind and the worry felt when his father told him off. All these feelings are locked away in the case. Until one day a little boy opens the suitcase while Felix sleeps and releases the sorrow, fears and troubles that have been hidden inside. Felix is uplifted and, full of joy, he rejoins the world around him and discovers that he is welcomed.

Sometimes pictures convey emotion in a way that touches the reader more than words are able to. Dunja Jogan’s beautiful illustrations are full of feeling and understanding, encouraging the reader to empathise with Felix and, perhaps, to identify their own worries and emotions too. As in all the best picture books much of the story is depicted in the illustrations and as I read this book for the first time I found myself lingering and ‘reading’ the pictures too.

When we first meet Felix he is slumped next to the large black suitcase. His dejection is matched by the gloomy background in sombre colours, the branches of one of the trees sweeping down mirroring Felix’s stance. As the story progresses the suitcase grows larger as the weight of Felix’s troubles becomes heavier for him to bear. The reader notices too that there is light and colour on the pages but not around the figure of Felix. There is a happy world out there but it is just out of the reach of Felix.

When the small boy opens the suitcase and all the unhappiness is released Felix must weather the intense storm of feelings that swamp him and the tears that flow. Calm again he returns to a world of colour and joy that he can be part of and finds that he is welcomed and embraced by others. The dark swirling clouds, weeping faces and clenched fists of the storm are replaced by vibrant colours, smiles and happy scenes. Felix has discarded his black clothes, and lifts his face up to the beautiful world around him. The joyous cover of the book shows Felix after the storm has passed and invites the reader to follow his journey to an optimistic and hopeful ending.

The translated text by Olivia Hellewell is rich and almost lyrical and this would be lovely to read aloud. The vocabulary working so well with the pictures; during the storm Felix ‘felt a rumble in his head’ and “tears ran down his cheeks like the rain’. Happy again he feels ‘like a fish in water’ rather than feeling like he does not belong.

This is a wonderful book to prompt discussion with children about emotions and how to handle feelings of sadness, depression or anxiety. It could also be a useful and comforting read for children experiencing bereavement. The story ends with Felix being gently embraced by those around him. I think this is perfect. Felix is being treated with care, he will not be overwhelmed by others as he rejoins the world he had cut himself off from. This will, I think, reassure children that should they be brave enough to communicate their worries and not hide them away they too will be treated with gentleness and care.

Thank you very much to the publishers, Tiny Owl Publishing, for providing my review copy, I will treasure it.

Felix After the Rain is published on 20th February and this lovely video trailer provides a taste of what to expect:

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New Books Out This Month – Facts and Fiction Made Accessible for Children

As a primary school librarian I was always looking out for books that would hook those children that it was a little bit harder for me to reach. The children who found reading a little tricky or maybe just not much fun. One of the more positive aspects of children’s publishing over the last few years is the growth in the number of titles available that make this an easier job for librarians and teachers.

Today on the blog I am sharing three great books published this month that should engage a wide range of children and not only the avid bookworms in your life.

Five Ways to Make a Friend by Gillian Cross illustrated by Sarah Horne

C230B644-7D32-421C-9956-67B636935339A lovely story about finding friendship, this title from Barrington Stoke deals with common anxieties that children face with kindness and humour. The exuberant illustrations accompanying the text complete the appeal of this touching book which I think will reassure young readers.

It is Ella’s first day at her new school and she is feeling a little worried. She is missing her old school and her friends but does not want to let her Dad know and worry him. Her first day proves to be worse than she had imagined. The other girls in her class don’t seem interested in her and at lunch break, like many new pupils, she goes to the library rather than be on her own in the playground. On the shelves she discovers a book called Five Ways to Make a Friend. Could this be the answer to her problem thinks Ella. Perhaps it will be but maybe not quite in the way that she imagined.

This is a gentle story told with humour and kindness. Although it covers the problems that children starting a new school may encounter it deals with them in positive manner that I think children will find comforting. Gillian Cross has written a story that will encourage children to find the confidence to be themselves. It also shows how true friendship may be hiding in plain sight, perhaps a useful lesson. The accompanying illustrations are jolly  and relatable for young readers. One other point worth mentioning is that there is no mention of Ella’s mother and this book may be useful if you looking for fiction depicting single parent families.

Five Ways to Make a Friend is available to purchase at all good bookshops or online

Anna Gain and the Same Sixty Seconds by Guy Bass illustrated by Steve May 


This is Groundhog Day for children and is both entertaining and very funny. The illustrations match the mood of the story perfectly and this is a book that should be a hit with even the most reluctant reader. I think it would be great read aloud too.

Anna Gain thinks that it is very important to be punctual. She is never late for anything. She is certainly never late for the school bus each morning. Then one morning something happens. Actually several somethings and poor Anna misses the school bus. She is horrified. But then she finds herself transported back in time and has the opportunity to put things right. However no matter how hard Anna tries things don’t work out and she misses the bus again. Over and over again she tries and fails. Will she ever catch the bus or is she being taught an important lesson?

I loved this and think it will appeal to young readers. Guy Bass has taken a scenario that is instantly recognisable to children and twisted it into an hilarious and chaotic adventure. However Anna learns a valuable lesson through her experience and realises that instead of treating time as something that can be beaten in fact every second is precious.

Both those books are published by Barrington Stoke and are presented in a style that is dyslexia friendly using a special typeface, extra line spacing and cream paper. However they would also be an excellent quick read for more confident readers.

Anna Gain and the Same Sixty Seconds is available to preorder here

Jasper: Viking Dog by Hilary Robinson illustrated by Lewis James

C3A7915D-20C9-4E77-9ADA-0156413B4A04The second in this new series finds Jasper discovering what life was like as a Viking. Through a series of letters written to an expert historian he and his friend Charlie Tanner discover fascinating facts while sharing lots of laughter along the way. A perfect introduction to history for young children.

The first book in this series Jasper: Space Dog linked to the anniversary of the first Moon landing and taught young readers about space. In this book Jasper thinks that he may be descended from the Vikings so his friend Charlie writes to the curator of the Bogna Viking Museum to find out if indeed Vikings had dogs and if so what they were like. The obliging curator, Astrid, advises the curious duo that yes, they did, and they were used for hunting bears and moose. So begins a series of exchanges in which Astrid answers questions, sorts out misunderstandings and teaches the boy and his dog all about the Vikings. There is a lot of information included in this little book and young readers will learn as they are entertained. We discover that Vikings were fond of bleaching their hair, were keen skiers and that wireless technology Bluetooth is named after a Viking leader. We even learn that fossilised Viking poo was discovered in York! How will children resist sharing this fact?

The illustrations have bags of appeal for children and this book is presented in a style that makes it readily accessible for emerging readers. This is a lovely way of blending facts and fiction that will engage and enthuse children. I would recommend this book for primary classrooms and school libraries.

Jasper: Viking Dog is available to preorder here

Further books are planned and will cover Everest, Eco Living and more. A series to watch out for!

Thank you to Kirstin Lamb, Barrington Stoke, Hilary Robinson and Strauss House Productions for providing my review copies.

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