Reading Matters – children’s book news

The big news this week has been the announcement of the winners of the Carnegie and Kate Greenway Medals. It was a treat to be able to watch the event live so cheerfully hosted by libraries champion Bobby Seagull. You can read all about the awards in the links below.

What I’m reading…

Over the last few days I have reviewed some new illustrated fiction titles that would be great for children who are just becoming independent readers.

My latest batch of books to review for The School Librarian, the quarterly magazine for School Library Association members, arrived this week so I have added yet more to my tottering to read piles. First up was The Secret Detectives by Ella Risbriger, a thoroughly enjoyable mystery which I think would appeal to fans of Robin Stevens’ Murder Most Unladylike series. Inspired by The Secret Garden the author asks questions of the attitudes displayed and criticised in the classic story.

News, articles and resources…

Winners of 2021 CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals Announced – Poet and novelist Jason Reynolds secures first Carnegie Medal win for Look Both Ways (Knights Of) Author and illustrator Sydney Smith wins second Kate Greenaway Medal for Small in the City (Walker Books) Manjeet Mann’s debut novel Run, Rebel (Penguin Random House Children’s) and Sharon King-Chai’s Starbird (Two Hoots) take home the Shadowers’ Choice Awards from the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medal shortlists respectively. I found the acceptance speeches moving and inspiring. A lovely ceremony, well done and thank you to everyone involved.

An interview with Carnegie Medal Winner Jason Reynolds – Hear from CILIP Carnegie Medal Winner Jason Reynolds as he talks about and reads aloud from his winning book Look Both Ways

Review of Small in the City by Sydney Smith – this wonderful review by Jake Hayes on the TygerTale blog beautifully conveys what makes this award winning picturebook so special.

Between the Cracks: An interview with Kate Greenaway Medal winner Sydney Smith – Jake Hope talks to Sydney Smith about Small in the City and winning the Kate Greenaway Medal for the second time in Books for Keeps magazine.

How I made the school library the heart of our school – an article by Jenny Howe of Queensbridge School in Birmingham for the Books2All website providing helpful advice and tips on how to maximise your school library’s potential and create a reading ethos in school.

True to nature: Robert Macfarlane, Helen Macdonald and more on the children’s books that inspired them – this is a lovely article by Melissa Harrison author of the new nature novel By Ash, Oak and Thorn with mentions for many wonderful books both old and new.

Reading and Recuperation: 2021 Teachers’ Reading Challenge Launch – The Teachers’ Reading Challenge, which will run from 10 July to 19 September 2021, is an opportunity for school and library staff to expand their knowledge of children’s books and develop their understanding of reading for pleasure pedagogy. This free event on 6th July sees a panel discuss this year’s theme’s links to well being and the impact the challenge can make.

Run a Booknic: A Reading Picnic! – included in the recent newsletter from Open University Reading for Pleasure this is a brilliant idea. A chance to read, relax, eat and discuss books together, to build reading together memories and offer support for holiday reading. Download the Booknic guide and join in the fun.

School Librarian of the Year 2021/21 Announced – Kristabelle Williams of Addey & Stanhope School has been awarded the honour of School Librarian of the Year 2020/21 by the School Library Association. Find out more about Kristabelle and the award in this Books for Keeps article. There is also a link to a great piece where she discusses her many initiatives for building a reading culture.

Dara McAnulty and Steve Backshall Revealed as Ambassadors for the Summer Reading Challenge 2021 – amongst the announcements from #SummerofReading this week was the news that teenage naturalist, award-winning writer and broadcaster Dara McAnulty and award-winning explorer, presenter, and writer Steve Backshall, are ambassadors for Wild World Heroes this summer. You can read about all the plans for this year’s Reading Challenge via the link.

In The Reading Corner with A M Dassu – Nikki Gamble interviews A M Dassu, author of Boy, Everywhere about her book, her research and the experience of Syrian families seeking refuge. Perfectly timed for Refugees Week.

The Astonishing Future of Alex Nobody by Kate Gilby Smith – blog tour – time travel and time slip novels are amongst my favourite books and this guest post on Jon Biddle’s blog by debut author Kate Gilby Smith is a lovely read as she writes a letter from the future to her younger self.

dPictus 100 Outstanding Picture Books Summer 2021 Selection – this is a beautiful selection and well worth a browse. The ongoing 100 Outstanding Picturebooks showcase features the titles which have been highlighted by the most guest curators, and includes an eclectic mix of new-and-soon-to-be-released picturebooks, as well as classic backlist titles. Thank you to Twitter chums Melanie and Karen for bringing this to my attention.

Author Interview: Maisie Chan Interviewed By Sarah Broadley – last week I shared a review of Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths from the My Book Corner blog and this follow up interview with the author, Maisie Chan, touches on the inspiration for her characters and the theme of ‘belonging’.

Books for Topics Summer Reading Bingo – if you are making plans to encourage children to keep reading I read the summer holiday this is a great idea. The focus is on reading for pleasure experiences rather than specific texts, with activities like make a den and read inside, read in the dark using a torch and read to a pet or a soft toy. This year’s updated version includes a choice of two bingo boards plus a Recommended Reads sheet. All free to download via the link.

Miss Cleveland: Primary Suitable Books I Will Share With Pride – primary school librarian Nicki Cleveland has generously collated a selection of books suggested by others on Twitter this week in response to her request for recommendations of Primary suitable books featuring gay characters. Titles range from picture books for KS1 to fiction for Year 6.

Pop Up: 10 Stories to Make a Difference – 10 Stories to Make a Difference is a collection of original illustrated stories published by children’s literature non-profit development agency Pop Up. In the reviews below I have included one of the titles from this new collection, Swallows Kiss, and this comprehensive blog post by Jo Cummins provides information about the initiative and a summary of all the titles.

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

Protest! How People Have Come Together to Change the World by Alice Hawarth-Booth and Emily Haworth-Booth – Books for Keeps Book of the Week and one that sounds like a must buy for school libraries. An excellent review of this timely information book and a link to a Q&A with the sisters who created it.

Antigua de Fortune of the High Seas by Anna Rainbow & Oli Hyatt – I really like the sound of “Tiggy” in this new book that blends pirates and folklore in an adventure for the middle years audience. Kate Heap says, “Readers will be swept away in this battle between good and evil, cheering on Tiggy and her friends while keeping one eye open for Sea Golems!”

Farther up, farther in: Review of From Spare Oom to War Drobe:
travels in Narnia with my nine year-old self by Katherine Langrish
– a thoughtful and interesting review by Chris Lovegrove of a book I am very much looking forward to reading. Yet again when reviewing Chris prompts questions and further research even if you are not a Narnia fan.

Swallows Kiss by Sita Brahmachari and Jane Ray – this book by a dream team partnership had already caught my eye but this review on the Mamma Filz blog has clinched it for me. The tempting peep at the illustrations and the details of the initiative behind the book’s production are definitely worth a look.

Good News by Rashmi Sirdeshpande Illustrated by Adam Hayes – Joy Court’s fantastic review on LoveReading4Schools should be enough to persuade many to get a copy of this new information book . In summary Joy says, “An invaluable and much needed resource from an author with a real facility for straight talking and not talking down to young people.”

That’s all the news for this week and I hope these links are helpful. I’m planning to do my bit to support Independent Bookshop Week over the coming days and hope you have a good week. Happy reading!

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New Children’s Books: Illustrated Young Fiction

When children first show an indication that they are ready to progress on to slightly longer independent reads they can still find pages of dense text a little daunting. Thankfully there has been a recent growth in highly illustrated quality fiction that is just right for this audience. They are attractively presented and appealing but still give young children that sense of achievement of having read a ‘proper book’. However it helps if the stories are exciting, memorable and include characters that readers find engaging. The following books are ones that I have read recently that I think fit the bill perfectly especially as they feature popular themes such as detectives, pirates, dinosaurs and knights on horseback; sometimes even a combination!

Kate on the Case written and illustrated by Hannah Peck

Kate on the Case by Hannah Peck is the first in a new series featuring a young would be super sleuth reporter and her trusty companion, Rupert a talking mouse. Packed with eccentric characters, an enjoyable plot and delightful illustrations this charming package would be just right for newly confident young readers.

Set on a train in true Agatha Christie style the story follows Kate as she, her father and Rupert set off to see her mum who is an explorer and scientist in the Arctic. No sooner has the train left the station than mysterious incidents start to occur. One passenger’s gymnastic trophies are stolen, ancient scrolls disappear and a packet of ginger nuts go missing. Quickly our intrepid heroine is on the case interviewing passengers in an attempt to decipher clues and find the culprit using her trusty Special Correspondent Manual as her guide. Kate suspects the rather severe Madame Maude but her investigations lead her down an unexpected path.

The illustrations throughout this book are lovely and full of detail to explore and complement the story perfectly. This action packed story is a full on complete adventure in itself and in no way feels like a ‘scene setter’ for the forthcoming series. No doubt children will be eagerly awaiting the opportunity to follow Kate on her next adventure.

Kate on the Case is published by Piccadilly Press on 8th July.

Dino Knights: Panterra in Peril by Jeff Norton illustrated by Jeff Crosby

Panterra in Peril by Jeff Norton is the first in a new trilogy merging two popular themes, dinosaurs and medieval knights, in an action packed adventure with a likeable hero. This could covert the most reluctant of readers.

Henry Fairchild is a lowly stable boy in a medieval land where dinosaurs still roam living side by side with people. His task is to care for the creatures who belong to the kindly Lord Harding and Lady Anwyn. When Henry finds himself promoted to the rank of Dino Knight his adventures truly begin and he finds out how brave he can be when it matters.

This adventure is full of thrills and daring do but there are important themes of loyalty, kindness and equality threaded through the story too. The fast paced plot will keep young readers’ attention and the dramatic illustrations by Jeff Crosby convey some of the story’s more exciting moments well and each chapter bears a lovely heraldic heading.

Presented in a spacious and slightly larger typeface this will be attractive to those who have not developed reading stamina. The book opens with illustrations and brief thumbnail descriptions of the characters and closes with a helpful Practical Field Guide to Dinosaurs from Henry which is a lovely touch.

Dino Knights: Panterra in Peril is published by Scallywag Press on 1st July.

Flintlock Bones: The Eye of Mogdrod by Derek Keilty illustrated by Mark Elkins

The Eye of Mogdrod is the second in another great trilogy for newly independent readers from Scallywag Press. It features a riotous assembly of pirate investigators sailing the seas solving crimes in a jolly adventure which is great fun.

Flynn, Red and the rest of the crew of the Black Hound return in this follow up to The Sceptre of the Pharaohs which would work perfectly well as a stand alone story. In an effort to trace a priceless golden chalice that has been stolen from Fergus McSwaggers, chief of the Bog Islands, Flynn and his friends must face the perils of the Frozen Sea, danger from the Ice Pirates and even the giant cat-like beast, Mogdrod. Excitement and intrigue mount as we join in on this wonderful mix of mystery and humour accompanied throughout by wonderful illustrations by Mark Elvins that add to this book’s appeal. The gallery of characters at the beginning of the book provides an introduction and the frequent double page spreads encourage readers to stop and explore the detail and the jokes.

Flintlock Bones: The Eye of Mogdrod was published in March by Scallywag Press.

I should like to thank the publishers, Laura Smythe and Antonia Wilkinson for providing my review copies.

If these appeal you may also like to try Mr Tiger, Betsy and the Golden Seahorse by Sally Gardner illustrated by Nick Maland.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

Welcome to this week’s round up of the latest news from the world of children’s books. Empathy Day raised the profile of children’s books and their importance this week and it was encouraging to see how much attention this initiative is now receiving. Congratulations to everyone involved.

What I’m reading…

I adored The Skylarks’ War by Hilary McKay so I was delighted when I heard she was writing another novel featuring the characters I had grown so fond of. The Swallows’ Flight is described as a companion book rather than a sequel nonetheless as its publication date drew near I started to fret. How could it possibly match the story I had loved so much? Well dear reader, I should not have worried. My review could be summed up in a couple of words. It’s perfect.

The summer issue of TSL magazine arrived this week and I have enjoyed reading both the reviews and articles. In my early days as a school librarian this quarterly School Library Association magazine was my window on the world of children’s books, a lifeline at times, and I still find it interesting. It was a lovely surprise to see an excellent article by primary school librarians Caroline Finch-Stanford and Rumena Aktar giving their tips on how to get the most out of social media to support school libraries. I feel sure they will convert many.

This week saw the publication of The Cooking Club Detectives by Ewa Josefkowicz and I was delighted to take part in the blog tour featuring an article by Ewa about the charity which inspired her enjoyable book.

Over the next few days my plan is to share reviews of some of the picture books that I have read and enjoyed recently.

News, articles and resources…

Empathy Day Live – if you missed any of the many events broadcast by Empathy Lab on Thursday you can watch any or all of them via their catch up facility on the official website, link above. These include the Empathy conversation with Michael Rosen, David Baddiel, Catherine Johnson and Professor Dr Robin Banerjee,

Carnegie and Greenaway Awards Ceremony Wednesday 16th June 12pm– the highlight of the coming week. Hosted by Bobby Seagull, live from the British Library, Bobby will be joined by this year’s Chair of Judges, Ellen Krajewski with special speeches and a Q&A with the Medal winners plus we hear from the Shadowers’ Choice Awards winners voted for and announced by the young shadowers. It will be possible to stream this event in school libraries and classrooms.

Teacher Hug Book Club – this is a regular feature on Teacher Hug Radio and is hosted by school librarian Rumena Aktar. This weekend there is a special edition linked to the Kate Greenaway Award featuring interviews with David Ouimet and Sharon King Chai on Sunday 13th June at 11.00am. You can listen via the link above or afterwards on the listen again section.

The Inspirations Behind When the Sky Falls by Phil Earle – regular readers of Reading Matters will know how highly I rate this new book. Phil has written a piece for the Foyles blog where he shares some of the other books and authors that have inspired his writing and fed directly into his new novel which I found interesting and I hope you do too.

How Tove Jansson’s love of nature shaped the world of the Moomins – this article by Susannah Clapp is a fascinating read and contains details of a forthcoming exhibition at Walthamstow Wetlands linked to this admired author and her love of nature.

Musical Truth: An interview with Jeffrey Boakye – Darren Chetty interviews his friend and sometime writing partner Jeffrey Boakye about his book Musical Truth for Books for Keeps. This is an fascinating article which left me wanting to find out more. You can read a review of Musical Truth in the reviews section below and listen to the playlist here.

Free Euro 2020 Literacy Resources – the long postponed football tournament has finally started and children’s author Tom Palmer and the Literacy Trust have created some great linked activities. Children can follow Tom’s live story online and there is wall chart and activity pack too, plus a competition. Lots to enthuse and definitely worth a look.

Paper Bound Magazine Summer Issue – this free online magazine is jam packed with interviews, writing prompts and reviews. Paper Bound has been going for a year now and would be great for secondary schools.

Pack your suitcase with Paddington – this is a fabulous resource and creative idea from the British Library Learning site. Children are asked if they were going on a journey like Paddington from Peru to a new life in London what would they pack? There are suggest from several different books and children’s authors plus a template to download. From 7 June to 16 July, share photos of children’s suitcases, art and creative writing on Twitter tagging @BL_Learning, or by emailing childrens.books@bl.uk. Lucky winners will be picked out of Paddington’s (virtual!) hat to win book tokens. Suitable for primary. Full details via link above.

The Summer of Reading – Co-ordinated by The Reading Agency and supported by Arts Council England and the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, the Summer of Reading initiative aims to get children and families reading for pleasure over the coming months. A full programme has been planned and new activities and events, both online and in person, will be announced every week until 17 September.

The School Library Association Information Book Award Shortlist – the shortlist for this award, now in its eleventh year, was announced this week. The IBA aims to emphasise the importance of non-fiction by highlighting and celebrating the high standard of children’s information books. The awards are divided into three age categories, judged by a panel of educators. Children will also have the opportunity to vote for their favourites in each group, as well as their favourite overall, to determine four additional Children’s Choice winners.

The Power of School Librarians – an excellent article by Elizabeth Hutchinson as schools start to return to “normal” on how to capitalise on the skills of your school librarian. As she so rightly says, “Normal for many school librarians is very frustrating. Normal for many school librarians is hidden behind the lack of understanding of what a school librarian does and normal for many school librarians is a constant battle to demonstrate the expertise hidden behind the school library door.” Elizabeth provides examples and research to support her argument and this is most definitely worth a read.

Book Trust Announce this year’s Book Buzz Titles – the 17 titles in this year’s collection were revealed this week and feature a range including shorter novels and non-fiction so something for everyone. There’s still time to register and get your Year 7/8s involved.

Books for Topics Book Compass: Football – the awesome Alison at Books for Topics has compiled a list of books for children who love football. As the Euros kicked of last night I’ve a feeling this will be useful over the coming weeks! Starting with Spot the Dog and Topsy and Tim and moving up to novels by Tom Palmer and Mitch Johnson this is suitable for a wide age group. There’s a downloadable poster too. Thank you, Alison.

Free Pop Up Festival – although I have mentioned this free on line event previously this is a reminder that it takes place next week from 14th – 18th June and is suitable for primary, secondary and special schools and it’s still possible to register. There’s a fantastic line up of writers and illustrators.

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

We Want Our Books by Jake Alexander – this post by Melanie McGilloway as part of this week’s blog tour coinciding with publication features a Q&A with the creator alongside Melanie’s review. I have a copy of this picture book published by Two Hoots and completely agree with Melanie’s comment, “We Want Our Books is a wonderful ode to the importance of libraries, community cohesion and to the power of young generations to make a change. An empowering read for young readers!”

Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths By Maisie Chan, Illustrated Anh Cao – This book is now on my radar thanks to this review by Sarah Broadley on the My Book Corner site. She says, “Maisie Chan, along with Anh Cao’s glorious illustrations, have brought Danny’s predicament to life in this funny yet heart-warming story of a boy and his grandmother bonding over lychees and bingo.” There will be an interview with the author on the blog next week too.

The Deep Blue by Charlotte Guillain and Lou Baker Smith – this week marked World Oceans Day and this book sounds like just the ticket to follow up a child’s awakening interest in our vast seas. Reviewed on the This Book is Brilliant blog you can find out how “This book really opened our eyes to the wonders of the underwater world – a beautiful springboard to learn and discover more about the incredible wildlife that inhabits our earth.”

Musical Truth by Jeffrey Boakye and Ngadi Smart – The Listening Party for Musical Truth by Jeffrey Boakye, illustrated by Ngadi Smart took place this week and Fabia’s review on Candid Cocoa features PASS THE DUTCHIE by Musical Youth from 1982. Bringing back happy memories!

Future Girl written and illustrated by Asphyxia – the creator of this new YA book is a deaf artist, writer and public speaker and well known Australian activist for deaf people. This review by Tricia Adams for LoveReading4Kids provides an overview that has whetted my appetite to find out more. She says, “This book should be in every secondary school – it gives such a vivid picture of life for a deaf person, whilst the presentation is so beautiful it draws the reader in. Do read it!”

Well, it’s been a busy week with lots to celebrate and enjoy and the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway announcements to look forward to next week too. This weekend the annual School Library Association “Leading School Libraries” conference takes place online and although I’m unable to attend I am hoping to pick up interesting details via Twitter #SLALeaders afterwards.

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The Swallows’ Flight by Hilary McKay

The Swallows’ Flight by Hilary McKay is the companion novel to her Costa Award winning novel, The Skylarks’ War, a book that I adored and which was quite possibly my book of the year in 2018. Initially I was delighted that I would be reunited with those wonderful characters who had become friends to me however this feeling gradually altered to a slight trepidation, even worry, that this could not possibly match the book that meant so much to me. I should never have worried. The Swallows’ Flight is superb, a story of immense hope and love which restores your faith in the infinite possibilities that life holds.

Spanning the period from 1931 until 1947 we meet again Clarry, Rupert, Peter and Vanessa from Skylarks yet this story focuses on the next generation of young people who will grow up against the backdrop of another world war. It may be helpful to know that this beautiful story does work as a stand alone in its own right. Three separate narratives unfold alongside each other as the story develops. In England Kate, the youngest of Peter and Vanessa’s brood of nine children, perhaps a little over protected, and Ruby Amaryllis, god-daughter to the delightful Clarry and a little lacking in confidence, are two girls who lead very different lives but will find themselves thrown together in friendship when war breaks out. Meanwhile in Berlin ten year old Erik and his best friend Hans are wrapped up in their shared interest in the city zoo and Erik’s attempts to save some baby swallows, little imagining the horror that will change their lives in a few years time. Finally in a city scrapyard an old neglected dog languishes with no hope for the future. Meanwhile as the threat of war grows ever more inevitable Rupert and Clarry do what they can to work towards peace.

Hilary McKay’s writing is exquisite and I can think of no other author who is able to capture families and their conversation quite as well as she does. The tiny everyday details, the shorthand speech that requires no full explanation, an entire message in one look, the love, the humour, the irritations and the warmth all shine from the page as you read. Her style makes reading feel effortless too and her characters become real flesh and blood people. The sections telling the story of Erik and his best friend Hans depict the closeness of their bond as their relationship becomes almost like that of brothers. As they grew to young men I was struck by how their jokes and banter, covering a love between the two, reminded me very much of my own two sons, now adults. Erik and Hans will go on to become Luftwaffe pilots. The telling of the story from both sides adds an important extra dimension to this work of historical fiction.

Hilary McKay does not shy away from the horrors of this war, the losses and the dreadful impact on so many yet she always gives her reader a glimpse of light in the darkness. The different threads to the story, all equally engaging, are gradually brought together in a beautiful tapestry of life that is both immensely moving and immensely hopeful. A sensitive yet powerful story, exquisitely told and one that has a profound impact on the reader. Highly recommended and a book I will treasure.

If you have not already read it I can wholeheartedly recommend The Skylarks’ War, the story of Clarry and her family and friends. You may also like to try The Time of Green Magic, a contemporary family story by the same author.

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The Cooking Club Detectives by Ewa Josefkowicz Blog Tour

Today sees the publication by Zephyr Books of The Cooking Club Detectives by Ewa Josefkowicz and I am delighted to be participating in the blog tour coinciding with its launch. As we mark Empathy Day today this book is an example of how children’s books can both promote and encourage empathy and understanding.

Cover artwork by Katy Riddell

You can read my review of The Cooking Club Detectives below but first of all Ewa Josefkowicz has kindly offered to tell us a little about the charity that inspired this lovely book and her first hand experience of its work through her role as a school governor.

Ewa Josefkowicz – The Magic Breakfast Charity

The Cooking Club Detectives is the story of Erin, Tanya, Sam and Frixos who all come from different backgrounds and are brought together through their passion for cooking. They love to hang out at Skipton Community Centre, which may look ramshackle, but soon turns out to be at the centre of their lives – it’s also where their cooking club is hosted. When Skipton is threatened with closure, the gang gets together to figure out who is responsible.

The story is inspired by the work of Magic Breakfast, a wonderful charity which I first came across when I was a governor at a school in North London. It provides healthy breakfasts for children at risk of hunger across the UK. In our school, the teachers spoke of the huge difference that the breakfasts made to the children. They were able to concentrate much better in class, they were more eager to share their ideas in lessons, and they had far more energy.

But another wonderful element of these breakfasts was the fact that they provided an opportunity for socialising across year groups. Our school’s breakfasts were sometimes themed, with a focus on music, creative writing or a whole range of other activities. I could see that it was where many new friendships were formed.

A couple of years ago, I had the honour of interviewing Magic Breakfast’s former CEO, Alex Cunnigham, for a school podcast and found out a great deal more about the charity’s work and its impact. You can listen to it here. Magic Breakfast’s aim has always been to do itself out of a job, but sadly things haven’t improved in recent times.

In fact, the pandemic has had a huge impact on food insecurity, and Magic Breakfast predicts that 2.3 million children are now affected. So through The Cooking Club Detectives, as well as writing a mystery (my favourite type of story), I wanted to show how important community is to us all. I also want to make sure my readers know that they should always ask for help if they need it.

Thank you, Ewa for enlightening us about the valuable work this charity is doing and for the link to the interview which provided more information too.

Review of The Cooking Club Detectives by Ewa Jozefkowicz

Engaging from the first page this story features a group of children who bond though a cookery club and find themselves turning detective to try and save the building in which the club takes place. The mystery and the opportunity to solve the clues alongside Erin and her friends will be hugely appealing to young readers. Threaded thorough the storyline are themes of food poverty, online bullying and the need for community and friendship, gently observed and conveyed with a light touch by Ewa Josefkowicz, Interspersed with several recipes suitable for children to follow, this is a lovely read.

When we meet Erin she and her mum, Lara, have just moved into a new area and Erin is having to learn how to settle into a new school. Money has always been tight for Erin and Lara so when Tanya, one of Erin’s new classmates, reveals she has a housekeeper and a wealthy Dad Erin fears they will have little in common. However the girls quickly bond at the weekly after school cooking club forming new friendships with two boys who attend it too. The community centre hosting the cooking club provides services that many rely on and the threat to its survival prompts the children to try to trace the person responsible and put things right.

There is so much to praise in this sensitively written book. The relationship between Erin and Lara is portrayed sympathetically as are the developing friendships. The characters are convincing and the plot with its gradual reveal and the dropping of clues along the way is absorbing and satisfying. Ewa Josefkowicz’s writing shows an understanding of people, both children and adults and highlights the importance of community and connecting with those around us. A kind story with a reassuring and encouraging tone for its young readers.

I should like to thank Ewa for her thoughtful words about the Magic Breakfast charity and Fritha Lindqvist for providing my review copy and for help in producing this post.

The blog tour continues tomorrow and full details are given below and you can catch up with any posts you have missed too.

You may like to try other books by Ewa Jozefkowicz and I would highly recommend The Key to Finding Jack, another charming mystery focusing on family relationships and the importance of everyday connections and friendships.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

This week’s collection of news has been gathered in a slightly haphazard fashion due to life in general getting in the way of my organisation but I hope that I have managed to include something that is of interest or helpful. The highlight of the coming week is Empathy Day, which takes place on Thursday 10th June and has grown in both importance and impact in recent years.

This week also sees the blog tour coinciding with the publication of The Cooking Club Detectives by Ewa Jozefkowicz. I am delighted to be taking part in this and on Empathy Day Ewa will be visiting the blog to tell us all about the Magic Breakfast charity which inspired her story. I hope you’ll join us and follow the rest of the tour to find out more about this lovely story of connection, cooking and community.

What I’m reading…

Nikki Gamble’s ‘Audience With’ events have all been a joy to attend and I’ve learned so much from the discussions with different authors and illustrators. This month’s took place on Thursday and was with David Almond. Well, as you would expect, it was a fascinating discussion and I have been thinking about David’s comments about memory, imagination and childhood influences since. In readiness for the event I read A Brand New Boy which was published last year but I had not got around to reading yet. The depiction of school life and the voices of the children were accurate, funny and touching and then gradually the story evolved into one with depth and thoughtful observation on friendship , creatitivity, responsibility and what makes us human. It would be a great starting point for discussions on empathy and philosophy.


This week saw the publication of The Small Things, Lisa Thompson’s latest book for Barrington Stoke. I thought this was lovely; a kind, wise and empathetic read just as we have come to expect from this author. She conveys a genuine understanding of children in her writing. You can read my review here.

News, articles and resources…

Empathy Day 10th June Live Programme – this is a link to the fabulous online programme of creative activities with authors, illustrators, poets to engage children and all who live and work with them. Schools and libraries can stream Empathy Day events from this page and get everyone involved in making Empathy Resolutions.

Toria Bono interviews Miranda McKearney TeacherHug RadioToday, Saturday 5th June 10am. Join Toria as she finds out all about the “Origins” of Miranda McKearney OBE. Miranda is a social justice entrepreneur who has spent thirty five years turning kitchen table ideas into nationwide campaigns culminating in founding The Reading Agency and more recently the Empathy Lab.

A Musical Story for Empathy Day – children’s author Jo Cotterill and teacher Ben Harris have teamed up in a special collaboration to mark Empathy Day using music and art in conjunction with ‘The Shorts’, a series of short stories published for use in schools. This is lovely.

Children’s books roundup – the best new picture books and novels – Imogen Russell Williams yet again knows how to tempt me when I’ve resolved not to buy any more books for a while. This is a great selection ranging from picture books and poetry for the young to the latest YA from Holly Bourne.

An Interview with Emily Haworth-Booth on The Last Tree – Mat Tobin asks the creator of The Last Tree and The King Who Banned the Dark about her inspiration for the Last Tree and her activism. A fascinating discussion.

The Klaus Flugge Prize Shortlist – An overview by Eva Eland – Eva Eland, winner of the Prize in 2020 with When Sadness Comes to Call, looks at this year’s shortlisted books in this interesting post for CILIP.

Moose Kids Comics – these are free to download via the link in PDF format or you can read them online. There are now four issues available and activity worksheets too.

Authorfy Club – Authorfy have been adding to their already impressive list of authors this week and this is a reminder that the deadline to sign up for this fabulous resource for next term is 31st July. There are ‘Authors of the Term’, lesson plans, videos and all sorts of goodies.

The Reader Teacher Coming Soon Video for June – Scott Evans has selected his pick of the month in this regular video feature. He’s included some of my favourites, When the Sky Falls by Phil Earle, Small Things by Lisa Thompson and Nen and the Lonely Fisherman by Ian Eagleton and James Mayhew plus many on my reading list. A good resource to share with parents.

Mini Book Club Year 7 Transition – Mini Book Club – Year 7 Transition is an engaging set of questions and activities based around everyone reading the same book organised by Book Clubs in Schools. It is for new Year 7s to do over the summer as part of their preparation for secondary school. This year’s book is When Secrets Sail Sail by Sita Brahmachari and you can find out how to get involved via the webisite, link above.

Books for Topics Year Group Lists Updated – these helpful lists are regularly updated and the newest versions now include the latest titles plus old favourites and classics, graphic novels and picture books and nonfiction too. A useful resource for time pressed teachers with posters to download too.

Brave girls and boarding school books! – Join Pushkin Children’s Books for a fun and raucous evening with two brilliant writers for children in conversation. Pushkin Children’s Books Editor-at-Large Sarah Odedina will be interviewing debut novelist Daisy May Johnson (How to be Brave) and super talent Susie Bower (The Three Impossibles, School for Nobodies) on Wednesday 16th Junebetween 7pm and 8pm on Zoom.

The tired clichés of Africa being a dull and indistinct place made me write a children’s book about Nigeria – Efua Traoré talks about her debut novel, Children of the Quicksands, published in the UK this week.

Marvellous Middle Grade Reads – Jo Clarke, @bookloverjo takes a look some of her favourite things new books for the middle years age group. I’m delighted to see a couple of my recent favourites included and have added to my wish list. Thanks, Jo.

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

My Daddies by Gareth Peter and Garry Parsons – June marks Pride Month and Rachael on Perfect Picture Books kicked the month of in style with this a chat with Gareth about his debut picture book. The interview includes a tempting peep at the lovely illustrations too.

50 Ways to Score a Goal and Other Football Poems by Brian Bilston cover by Joe Berger – as the mother of football loving sons I have a feeling this would have engaged them with poetry when they were young. However, Jo Cummins also says in her review, ‘’The humorous nature of the poems mean that children will enjoy them whether they like football or not.’’

Skyborn by Sinéad O’Hart – Veronica Price describes this book for the 9+ audience as ‘’a hugely enjoyable work of speculative fiction combining a brilliant blend of circus, steampunk and fantasy.’’ I’m extremely tempted and it does sound like a great read aloud too.

Otherland by Louie Stowell– there has been a buzz about this book online recently and I have enjoyed The Dragon in the Library series so was intrigued. This review on the Bookbag site has whetted my appetite still further. ‘’Stowell has taken your average pre-teen adventure setting and shown just how horrifying it would be to actually visit, while playing the ensuing horror for dark comedy.’

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna – this YA debut has received a great deal of attention and this is an extremely comprehensive and helpful review by Laura Ovenden for Just Imagine. For age 14+ and “perfect for a secondary school library and to recommend to fans of Tomi Adeyemi.”

That’s all this week’s news and apologies if I have missed something vital. Happy reading and I hope the sun is shining where you are.

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The Small Things by Lisa Thompson illustrated by Hannah Coulson

The Small Things by Lisa Thompson is a story that displays this author’s understanding of children and their worries and at the same time encourages them to accept themselves for who are they are rather than who they think others expect them to be. A kind and empathetic book that is full of wisdom.

Anna is not unhappy at school yet she always feels slightly on the edge of her group of friends. Their lives sound so exciting and shy Anna believes she has little to contribute to their chatter of hobbies and interesting outings thinking herself small and dull by comparison. Then things take an unexpected turn when a new girl, Ellie, joins Anna’s class and her teacher selects Anna to be the new girl’s partner. This is not as straightforward as it sounds for Ellie is unwell and unable to attend school in person so participates via a robot. Slowly Anna starts to build a friendship with Ellie answering her questions about school and her family. But in an effort to keep up with her classmates and impress Ellie Anna does not tell the truth about her weekend activities and then it becomes difficult to escape from the embellished stories she tells Ellie and impossible for her to confess and tell the truth. Anna fears her lies will be exposed and worries that her new friendship will not survive.

There will be many children who will identify with Anna and recognise those feelings of inadequacy, discomfort and lack of self confidence. It takes maturity and a certain amount of resilience to learn to accept that you don’t have to compete with others to be of value. There are many important themes in this compassionate story and one of the most valuable is that it is the “small things” that matter most. Being kind, thoughtful and loyal, making the most of your own talents, skills and interests and recognising that expensive possessions and outings are not the way to make true friendships are valuable life lessons. Through the storyline the reader sees that Anna’s family is a loving one and their relationships are tenderly portrayed by Lisa Thompson.

The story is inspired by a true event and the author’s note provides more background on this. The use of a robot controlled by a child, as is made possible by technology created by the company, No Isolation, would be a fascinating topic for discussion in the classroom particularly in light of children’s experiences of online education during the pandemic. It would also raise awareness of how some children have to adapt to this form of learning.

Lisa Thompson is adept in capturing the voice of a child and understanding those worries that matter to them and written a story that will comfort and encourage young readers. This is an enjoyable read but one full of sympathetic guidance too.

The Small Things is published by Barrington Stoke on 3rd June and is illustrated throughout by a Hannah Coulson. Presented in this publisher’s usual accessible format it has a reading age of 8+. I should like to thank Kirstin Lamb and Barrington Stoke for providing my review copy. The Small Things can be purchased online at Bookshop.org There are also teaching resources to download here.

You may also be interested in Owen and the Soldier and The House of Clouds Lisa Thompson’s other excellent books for this publisher.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

Hello and welcome to this week’s look at what has been happening in the world of children’s books. There’s been a lot happening and it can be hard to keep track of it all so I hope this collection will be something that you can browse over half term. Yet again I’ve been struck this week by the kindness, enthusiasm and supportive nature of the children’s book community.

What I’m reading…

When the Sky Falls by Phil Earle more than lived up to all the plaudits it is receiving from respected children’s authors. I loved this book and the wonderful characters around whom the story centres. Joseph and Mrs F. are real people to me now and will long remain so. Please do read my review to find out why I think this book is so special. You really don’t have to be a fan of historical fiction to enjoy this, it is a story that will have an impact on many. There was an excellent launch event this week chaired by Sarah Crossan which I enjoyed very much and would highly recommend, the link is included below.

In last week’s Reading Matters I mentioned the English Association Book Awards and this week I reviewed the winner of the Non-Fiction 4-7 category, A New Green Day by Antoinette Portis and her book Hey, Water both of which are an excellent introduction to the world of information books.

Alongside the children’s books I am also regularly dipping into Monty Don’s My Garden World which I am finding is an excellent way to slow down and relax. Even ten minutes reading his descriptions of nature is enough to soothe and encourage me to look at our small suburban garden in a different way.

News, articles and resources…

Virtual Launch Event: When The Sky Falls by Phil Earle – Sarah Crossan talking to Phil Earle about this wonderful book feels a little like eavesdropping on friends chatting. It’s entertaining, funny and enlightening. The insight in to the editorial process, the emotional input in the story itself and the tempting details of Phil’s next book all make this a joy. Thank you Phil and Sarah.

Phillip Pullman in Conversation with Michael Rosen – I had booked to attend this virtual interview but the change of date meant that I was no longer able to do so. Thankfully the recording has been made available for us all to watch. An absolute treat and not only for children’s book lovers.

How do we connect students to LGBT resources? – an article by school librarian Verity Jones on the CILIP School Libraries Group blog providing helpful advice and tips on everything from book lists to display.

Graphic Novels Are Real Books! New Infographic From Capstone! – super school librarian Shannon McClintock Miller shared this brilliant infographic poster last weekend. It shows the benefits, the skills developed and even a few fun facts regarding graphic novels which readers love and is free to download.

Scottish Teenage Book Prize winner – the winner of the Scottish Teenage Book Prize 2021 is Evernight by Ross MacKenzie. This book and the sequel, Feast of the Evernight, are fantasy stories with a real taste of danger and intrigue and I enjoyed reading both of them. You can watch the announcement and find out more about the winning book via the link above.

Puffin Schools Virtual Author Visits – there are some fabulous authors in this line up and 45-minute webinar session will include a live presentation by an author giving pupils a behind-the-scenes look at their books, characters and writing process. Thank you to Jon Biddle for flagging this up.

Little Rebels Award Shortlist Announced – on Tuesday the nine books shortlisted for this award were announced. The Little Rebels Award celebrates children’s fiction which challenges stereotypes, promotes social justice and advocates for a more peaceful and fairer world. A wonderful selection and well worth exploring, these are the sort of books that can make a difference.

KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards – The winners of the 2021 KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards were announced this week. Since 1990, these prestigious awards have identified, honoured and promoted excellence in books for young people, and continue to offer a significant opportunity for national and international recognition of Irish talent. There are several categories including a Reading Hero Award which is a great idea. Full details of all the winners can be found via the link.

Jhalak Prize Winners – 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. Congratulations to the first Children’s and YA winner, Patrice Lawrence for Eight Pieces of Silva .

Interview with Fabia Turner – find out more about the Jericho Prize and why it exists in this interesting interview with its founder on the Writers and Artists website. Fabia can also be found in her Candid Cocoa blog.

50 Recommended Reads for PreSchool and Nursery – Alison and her team at Books for Topics have created yet another helpful list of their choices for best books for this age group. There is a lovely balance of old favourites and new titles with something here to tempt our littlest book fans on to the reading journey.

Eric Carle, The Very Hungry Caterpillar author and illustrator, dies at 91 – sad news that prompted an outpouring of love and respect for a man who encouraged generations of children to enjoy stories and pictures. We must all have happy memories of reading, sharing and enjoying Eric Carles’s wonderful books. I particularly like this article also from the Guardian: Children’s authors on Eric Carle: ‘He created readers as voracious as that caterpillar’

Waterstones Children’s Book Prize Shortlist 2021 – This year’s selection – as always chosen by Waterstones’ booksellers – are in three categories; Illustrated Books, Young Readers and Older Readers.

The Alligator’s Mouth Award for illustrated early fiction – Five books have been shortlisted for The Alligator’s Mouth Award 2021, which champions authors and illustrators of highly illustrated children’s fiction. Now in its third 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.

2021 Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Shadowers’ Choice Awards – a reminder that voting for the Shadowers’ Choice Awards closes next Wednesday, 2nd June. The winners will be revealed at the live event on 16th June.

The Reader Teacher May Must Reads – Scott Evans has selected his favourites from this month and they include poetry, picture book and fiction. There’s a free downloadable poster for use in libraries or classrooms too.

Barnes Children’s Literature Festival – the programme for this excellent children’s book event was published yesterday and is crammed full of appealing speakers such as Frank Cottrell Boyce, Lauren Child, Hilary McKay, Phil Earle and many more. The tickets go on sale today and will undoubtedly be snapped up quickly.

Last but most definitely not least, this evening at 8pm on Instagram a special party to celebrate the publication of Nen and the Lonely Fisherman by Ian Eagleton and James May next week. Listen to Stephen Fry read this tender and hopeful story.

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

Omar, the Bees and Me by Helen Mortimer and Katie Cottle – the Book Trust team describe this new picture book as a “perfect balance of fact and narrative, this heartwarming picture book will engage and delight young children, and is sure to inspire them to encourage bees into their own outdoor spaces.”

The Incredible Talking Machine by Jenni Spangler & illustrated by Chris Mould – this is a rather enticing review by Kate Heap. Although I have not read the first in the series yet this does sound great fun. I love the cover by Chris Mould too.

Irresistible Illustrated Fiction – librarian and children’s author Jo Clarke is also one of the judges for the Alligator Award mentioned above so we know we can count on her recommendations for young fiction. This is a lovely selection.

Cardboard Cowboys by Brian Conaghan – I know from discussions with other school librarians that it can sometimes be difficult to find the right sort of book to bridge the transition from fiction for the middle years audience to the YA market. This sounds like just the ticket. Ben Harris in his helpful review for Just Imagine says “Around the ages of 10-13, it’s so important for boys and girls to learn about what’s going through each other’s minds, to understand how the outside appearance of each other can actually hide very similar anxieties and joys… Reading a book like Cardboard Cowboys will be not only a life-enhancing experience for the story it tells but for the opportunities for connection and reflection it offers its target audience.

Fake News by C J Dunford – ‘fake news’ was selected as Collins Dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2017 and any story that helps children and teens to think about this and learn to identify valid information is a good idea. This review on Mr Ripley’s Enchanted Books suggests that this one should be top of the shopping list. “It’s thrilling, emotional, thought-provoking, and very topical. Yet it’s told in a clever, comical, and imaginatively contemporary way.

That’s all the news for this week. I hope that those of you enjoying a half term holiday this week have a restful break and maybe even time to sit in the sunshine.

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Learning With Picture Books

A New Green Day by Antoinette Portis recently won the English Association Book Award 2021 for Non-Fiction for the 4-7 age group and was also nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal 2021. It is an excellent example of how picture books are able to present facts and learning in a manner that both engages and entertains young children.

This book follows a small child through a summer’s day as she explores the natural world around her. Told through a series of riddles that invite the reader to think and encourage curiosity this book is refreshing in both its original delivery and the lyrical style of its presentation. A voice from nature itself asks the questions and as we turn the page we discover the answer and the next question is posed.

The riddles prompt thought and end with discovery, some are trickier for children than others but all awaken a sense of the ordinary and everyday being something special. Who might be “scribbling on the path in glistening ink”? A snail of course. But what ”races up the hill while lying at your feet”? Your shadow! The language is rich and encourages discussion and there is a poetic quality to the text in places.

“I’m a black coat slipped around Earth’s shoulders.

Count my shiny buttons.”

Says night.

The bold artwork complements the text perfectly and the slighter smaller format hardback lends itself to being held and explored by young children. This is a delightful book and I can well understand why it received the English Association Award as it encourages a sense of wonder and discovery.

The publishers, Scallywag Press, have created a lesson plan to tie-in with A New Green Day which would be excellent for KS1 and is available to download here.

A New Green Day is a book of summer and at the moment after the wettest May on record that is what we are all looking forward to. However despite our wish to say goodbye to the rain for a while water is something that we cannot live with out and in Hey, Water! her other book for Scallywag Press Antoinette Portis celebrates that water is everywhere.

Once again we accompany a child as she explores and discovers allowing the young reader to learn alongside her. We observe that water comes in many different forms, shapes and sizes and in nature, weather, in our homes and even in our bodies. The text describes the manner of its movement and how we use it and react to it depending on its form and the illustrations and the one word descriptions provide an understanding of the different examples of water in our world. This is a clever introduction to the topic of water and yet presented in a simple child friendly manner.

The final pages provide a more structured description of the water forms, water cycle and water conservation together with ideas for playing with and learning about water and a short quiz. The artwork throughout is bold, bright, striking and attractive to young readers enticing them to open the book and browse. This is a wonderful introduction to information books and would be an excellent addition to school libraries and classrooms. There is a lesson plan suitable for Year 4 created by Jenny Guest on the publisher’s website which you can download here

You may enjoy this interesting tour of Antoinette Portis’s art studio:

I should like to thank Scallywag Press for providing my review copies of these books. Both books are available to purchase from their website. You may also enjoy their lovely In the Garden series by Rob Ramsden introducing younger children to the wonderful world of nature.

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When the Sky Falls by Phil Earle

When the Sky Falls by Phil Earle is an extraordinary story told with compassion and understanding. Dealing with the darkest of human emotions; anger, loss, grief, fear and humiliation it shows us that these can be overcome with love, understanding and forgiveness if we can only learn to allow it. A book with a powerful impact that will move readers and start discussions, it is a story I will not forget.

When The Sky Falls cover illustration by Levente Szabo

Set in 1941 this World War 2 story opens with twelve year old Joseph arriving at a city station as others his age are travelling in the opposite direction as evacuees. He has been sent to stay with Mrs F. a woman as gruff as Joseph is angry. She lives alone and the only things she appears to love are her rundown zoo and one of its occupants, a huge silverback gorilla named Adonis. Joseph is then sent to the local school were a small number of children are still being taught and his difficulties mount. As days and weeks pass and the city is battered by bombs gradually secrets are revealed and cautious friendships are made. However Joseph still struggles to lower his guard and allow others to reach him until eventually he learns a lesson in trust from Adonis.

Inspired by a true story When the Sky Falls depicts a wartime setting that is frequently used in fiction for children and teens and yet this is at its heart a story about the struggles of one boy to make sense of his emotions and the blows life has dealt him. All the characters have experienced loss in some form but Joseph adds guilt to his suffering. Experience has taught him that life hurts so he has built up barriers to protect himself and it is hard for him to admit that he needs help and almost impossible to ask for it. Phil Earle writes with great understanding of the complexity of human nature and his characters are real flesh and blood people to the reader. Mrs F is a woman of few words but huge determination and Syd, the girl who helps Mrs F at the zoo and goes to school with Joseph, has an admirable air of positivity despite her own loss. And then there is Adonis the massive silverback gorilla who so intrigues Joseph. The growing bond between animal and boy is breathtaking in its power on the page. Sometimes as I read I marvel at the magic of words to create images and the manner in which those images create an emotional response in the reader. This book does that with an intensity that is at times heart breaking and at others hopeful of the ability of kindness and understanding to heal.

Joseph himself is unable to read and this plays a large part in his problems. Although not actually mentioned in the story it is clear that this is due to dyslexia and Phil Earle addressed this in his author’s note. Although thankfully dyslexia is now better understood than it was in the 1940s the challenges that children still face and the determination needed to overcome them are still there.

This is a beautiful story. Despite the anger, the gritty darkness of some aspects and the sadness it is profoundly moving and hopeful in its depiction of learning how to love and to accept love. The gradual build up to the climax of the last fifty pages is vivid, powerful and deeply affecting. I confess to sitting in stunned silence as I turned the final page. This is, I think, quite outstanding and deserves to become a book as well loved as those classic World War 2 stories such as Goodnight, Mr Tom.

When the Sky Falls is published by Andersen Press on 3rd June and will be available at your local bookshop or online.

Earlier this year I reviewed another book by Phil Earle which I would also wholeheartedly recommend. The Dog that Saved the World (Cup) is for a slightly younger age group and is published by Barrington Stoke so accessible to a wide range of readers. If you are looking for another title set in World War 2 featuring children and evacuees I have enjoyed both The Valley of Lost Secrets by Lesley Parr and Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll.

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