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

Hello and welcome to this week’s look at all the latest children’s book news. This weekly round up is an attempt to highlight articles, news items and useful information, resources or ideas linked to books for children and young people. It’s not possible to include everything but I hope it gives a taste of what is available and is useful to those who read it each week.

What I’m reading...

Six years ago I was lucky enough to receive a proof copy of a debut to review for the Bookbag website in anticipation of its publication in February of the following year. When I read The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone I was immediately struck by the distinctive narrative voice and the understanding of the type of story many children love. This month Abi’s latest book, Jungledrop, the second in the Unmapped Chronicles, was published and I enjoyed this one just as much as her previous stories. You can read my review to find out why. This week the whole family have shared a new picture book from Tiny Owl, Where’s Baby Elephant? by Ali Khodai and we all, aged 3 to 89, have declared this a delight! I will post a review next week but this would be perfect for babies, toddlers and for use in early years settings.

On Wednesday I attended the online reveal of the new School Library Association patrons with no idea what to expect. What a treat it was! The new patrons are Juno Dawson, Sarah McIntyre and Smriti Halls and over an enjoyable hour they talked about what school libraries mean to them and how they hope to help and support them in the future. Thank you so much to the hosts for this presentation, Alison Tarrant and Bev Humphrey, for an entertaining and extremely heartening event. You can read a little more about the new patrons and the appeal announced this week in the news section below.

News, articles and resources…

Join Nikki Gamble and 10 Outstanding Authors for An Audience With… – this sounds absolutely wonderful. Nikki Gamble of Just Imagine has launched a curated programme of online events celebrating writers and illustrators of exceptional repute. Follow the link for more information and to book your place.

Creating a Community of Reading Teachers – a collaboration between a librarian and a teacher. – this excellent article by Barbara Band on the Great School Libraries website gives the background to the setting up of a Teachers as Readers group and would be helpful to anyone interested in becoming involved in this excellent initiative.

The Greatest Girls in Children’s Literature? – interesting and thought provoking blogpost by teacher Freya McLaughlin which has already prompted much online discussion. Thank you to Jon Biddle for making me aware of this.

25 years of His Dark Materials: Philip Pullman on the journey of a lifetime – incredibly it’s now twenty five years since we first met Lyra and this fascinating article in the Guardian is an enjoyable and insightful read.

Sarah McIntyre’s Teacher Comic Pack! – this is a great generous idea. Sarah McIntyre has created a half hour workshop leading children in making their own comics. There are videos, helpful advice and free worksheets to download all linked to Kevin and the Biscuit Bandit her new book created with Philip Reeve.

CLiPPA Poetry Award Show LIVE – if you missed this award ceremony being shown live last week you watch the recording of the Award show via the link to the Cheltenham Literature Festival website until December 31st:

CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Shadowers’ Choice Awards – The Shadowing Groups chose The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, illustrated by Anshika Khullar as their favourite book from the Carnegie shortlist and The Undefeated illustrated by Kadir Nelson and written by Kwame Alexander was voted the Shadowers’ Choice for the Kate Greenaway shortlist. You can find out more about the books and the scheme in this Books for Keeps article.

The 2020 Federation of Children’s Book Groups Children’s Book Award – I was delighted to see that Tom Palmer had won both the award for Books for More Confident Readers category and the overall Award last Saturday. You can find out more about all the winning books as voted for by the children who read them and watch the award ceremony via the link on the FCBG website above.

Pushkin Children’s Round Table October 28th 6.30 – 7.30pm – Pushkin Children’s Books are hosting their first ever round table event, six of their children’s authors – Ele Fountain, Liz Hyder, Kereen Getten, Susie Bower, H.S. Norup and Ayesha Harruna Attah – talking about all things writing, reading and publishing books for young readers. Chairing them in conversation will be Sarah Odedina, Editor-at-Large of Pushkin Children’s Books and editor extraordinaire to these authors. Free but you need to register via the link.

‘We can always fight’: World Burn Down author Steve Cole on how we can help our planet together – Steve Cole’s new book World Burn Down, which I enjoyed very much and reviewed here, was inspired by fires in the Amazon – and now, he’s sharing on the Book Trust website how we can all make a difference if we come together.

Writes of Passage, selected and with commentary by Nicolette Jones – Writes of Passage, to be published by Nosy Crow in May 2021, is a stunning and uplifting collection of over 100 pieces of writing – poems, prose, speeches, film, play, and song lyrics, quotations, and more – from Shakespeare to Stephen Hawking; Greta Thunberg to Galileo; and Lin-Manuel Miranda to Martin Luther King, Jr. This definitely sounds like one to put on the wish list for next year.

Desert Island Discs with Baroness Floella Benjamin – this is just lovely. Broadcaster, writer, politician and ‘national treasure’ Dame Floella shares her choice of music and talks about her life with Lauren Laverne.

Open University Reading for Pleasure Book Chat – Watch & download FREE resources to help children develop a love of reading. Featuring Ben Harris reading One Fox, Rich Charlesworth reading A House That Once Was and Teresa Cremin reading The Same Inside this is a valuable resource for both home and school. This team are also presenting a free webinar, Sharing the pleasure: the role of talk in reading on Tuesday 20th October 8 -9pm. If you’re quick you can still book a ticket here.

School Library Association New Patrons and Launch of Fundraiser – the new Patrons, Juno Dawson, Sarah McIntyre and Smriti Halls, have launched a fundraiser to look at the impact of lockdown on school libraries. The good & the bad; every service pivoted, every LMS moved to the cloud, every child left without. Please do read about this initiative and support it if you can. Sarah McIntyre published a fabulous new poster on Friday supporting this fundraiser and it is available to download on her website.

Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Awards 2020 – the winners of this award were announced on Friday, now in their 11th year the awards aim to encourage parents and carers to spend more time reading with their children.

Also the return of Open University Reading for Pleasure Book Blether! Here’s the timetable if you are on Twitter and would like to join in.

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

The Tindims of Rubbish Island written by Sally Gardner illustrated by Lydia Corry – Printed in dyslexia-friendly font with pictures on every page and perfect for the reluctant reader aged 5+, the Tindims show keen young ecologists how to help protect our planet for the future. In her review for LoveReading4Kids Andrea Reece says, “Children will love them and their recycled world, and these stories are beautifully accessible and perfectly illustrated by Lydia Corry.”

Cherry Moon: Little Poems Big Ideas Mindful of Nature by Zaro Weil ill. Junli Song – the winner of this year’s CLiPPA is revived on the Achuka website, “Thought-provoking, sensitive and delightfully original, Cherry Moon poses big questions about life with poems and other small gatherings of word.”

Midnight Magic by Michelle Harrison, illustrated by Elissa Elwick – the first in a new series this magical mystery story sounds suitable for newly confident readers or to read aloud as Jo Clarke says: “Effortlessly engaging and entertaining, this is a marvellous start to a new series.”

The Ghost of Gosswater by Lucy Strange – I love Lucy Strange’s writing style and her latest book combining a Lake District setting, a ghost and a mystery would have been my ideal read as a ten year old. This lovely review by Emma Kuyateh has made me want to read it now and I’m considerably older than ten!

Witch by Finbar Hawkins – this is an outstanding review by Gordon Askew, and I always trust his reviews. He described this novel as his “YA debut of the year” but goes on to say “I have read only a few other novels this year that can stand comparison with the breathtaking quality of this one.” Witch has now gone soaring up my to read list and I would urge you to read this review to find out more.

Well, another busy week! I hope some of the links are useful to you. Happy reading.

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Jungledrop by Abi Elphinstone

The second story in the Unmapped Chronicles is full of adventure, magic, threat and danger and, most importantly, of the transforming power of kindness and understanding.

Cover illustration by George Ermos

“Take the marble. Then run, girl, run headlong into this adventure. The Unmapped Kingdoms have chosen you and, when magic sets its sights on someone, it’s remarkably hard to wriggle free.”

The Petty-Squabble family is not a happy one. Eleven year old twins Fox and Fibber are united in only one way, a desperate desire to inherit the family fortune and avoid being banished to Antarctica by their business obsessed parents. The children’s separate plans find them together in a mysterious antique shop in a small Bavarian town where an old man reveals that Fox and Fibber have unwittingly released long hidden magic and that magic has chosen them to travel on a quest to save the world.

When the twins are then whisked away to the magical world of Jungledrop, one of the Unmapped kingdoms in charge of our world’s weather, they quickly learn that everything they have been taught by their parents; stamping on others to get on in the world, showing kindness is a sign of weakness and success is measured by wealth, all of this is no use at all when you are up against an evil harpy named Morg and time is running out. They are going to have to learn a different way of behaving and perhaps most difficult of all they are going to have to learn to work together.

Although inspired by the Amazon rainforest the land of Jungledrop is a gorgeously imagined one and Abi Elphinstone has once more created a world that will enchant young readers just like Narnia did for previous generations. This is a world of magical rooftop pathways, mysterious caves holding secrets and enchanted temples. The threat to this magical kingdom mirrors the threat to our own habitats and the story encourages children to notice the beauty and the fragility of the natural world about them and to help to protect it if they can.

In addition to the fabulous setting the reader meets equally fabulous characters. My own favourite was the talking parrot, Heckle, who not only is able to read your mind but also never stops telling everyone what those thoughts are. She has, as you may imagine, a large part to play in the adventure! There are panthers, apothecaries, flying creatures, magical plants and an enchanted map among other delights and this imagined cast of characters build together to create an intricately plotted and satisfying story. At the heart of it all are Fox and Fibber, two of the most unlikely, and in Fox in particular, frankly unlikeable heroes. Yet their development throughout the adventure is what gives this story its heart and the important theme that does, I think, give this book an added impact. This is ultimately a story of redemption, of discovering that kindness is important and that by opening yourself up to others and sharing goals and ideas life can be easier and happier for everyone including yourself.

Comparisons have been made with both C S Lewis and Roald Dahl and I can understand why, the idea of a portal to another world is similar and one that has long held an appeal to readers. The names of many of the characters are reminiscent of Dahl and made me chuckle; how can you not feel sympathy for a magical flying stallion named Total Shambles or want to visit an apothecary called The Constant Whinge? Yet there are important differences. In Narnia the fantasy world was used partly to convey religious themes whereas the Unmapped Chronicles are focussed on the climate crisis which is something that resonates strongly with today’s young readers and could never have been imagined when C S Lewis wrote his books. Abi Elphinstone uses humour in Jungle Drop just as she did in Rumblestar but her humour is subtly different to that of Dahl, kinder and more forgiving. Perhaps in Dahl’s version of this story Fox would have been punished as the irritating children in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were? In Abi Elphinstone’s hands Fox is guided and reassured in order to encourage change which is a much more hopeful and positive message for children.

This exciting story is an escape from reality but rooted in real life concerns. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and feel sure young readers will too. Although the second in the series Jungledrop works perfectly well as a stand alone as sufficient background to the Unmapped Kingdoms is included, however I imagine children will want to read the others in the series too, the first of which is Everdark followed by Rumblestar. Everdark is to be rereleased in a dyslexia friendly format too. I should like to thank Abi Elphinstone and Simon and Schuster for providing my review copy.

Jungle Drop was published on 1st October and is available at your local bookshop or online.

Teachers may be interested in the range of teaching resources, video clips and ideas available on the Authorfy website. It is free to register on the site.

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

Hello and welcome to this week’s catch up of news from the children’s book world. Black History Month is marked in October, this week saw both Libraries Week and Dyslexia Awareness Week and today is World Mental Health Day and all of these events are of course linked to books and this week’s round up reflects this.

What I’m reading…

This week I read two very different books published by Barrington Stoke, Daisy and The Unknown Warrior by Tony Bradman and World Burn Down by Steve Cole and enjoyed them both. Although different in themes I was struck by the way in which they could both link to the curriculum within schools so have reviewed them in a joint post and linked to teaching resources here in case that would be helpful.

Years ago I read and enjoyed Dame Floella Benjamin’s memoir, Coming to England and this week saw the publication of a picture book version. It is lovely and I would recommend it for both home and school, you can read my review to find out why.

As part of Libraries Week, Tiny Owl Books kindly invited me to write a guest blog post about the need for diverse and inclusive books in libraries. I think that when a school library is inclusive and recognises diversity it sends a positive message to children and helps build bridges and creating understanding. If you are interested you can read my post here.

News, articles and resources…

2020 Children’s Book Award winners to be announced on 10th October – Join hosts Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve to discover who has won the CBA awards for 2020. Sarah and Philip will also read you a brand new story – written especially for the Book Awards! – and Sarah will be sharing a drawing masterclass. Saturday 2pm, today!

The Lost Spells by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris celebrates the magic of British wildlife – this article from the Guardian explains how the authors hope The Lost Words followup will inspire action and change. My copy of this beautiful book arrived this week and it is a book to cherish.

The Lost Spells Explorer Guide – a free 35-page Autumn Explorer’s Guide to The Lost Spells, by education consultant Eva John. Lesson plans, activities, writing & art challenges, outdoor learning, nature-literacy all free to download.

An interview with illustrator Daisy Hirst – Jake Hope’s interview with this popular illustrator about her work, influences and techniques is an interesting read. Daisy also talks about her book I Do Not Like Books Anymore being selected for the 2020 Read for Empathy Collection.

Jungle Drop by Abi Elphinstone Teaching Resources – the second in the Unmapped Chronicles is out now and there are a range of teaching resources, video clips and ideas available on the Authorfy website. It’s free to register!

Diversifying knowledge of children’s literature by Matthew Courtney – Looking for diversify your knowledge of children’s literature? Be sure to check out this blog post by teacher Matt Courtney on the OuRfP site for advice and links to resources to help teachers and school librarians become ‘agents for change’.

Dyslexia Awareness Week: Dyslexia Creates – Awesome Authors – Jo Cummins has written this interesting blog post featuring some well-known children’s authors who have been quite open about their struggles with dyslexia and how they’ve worked around their difficulties to produce some of our favourite children’s books.

MindYourself – the Mental Health & Wellbeing Reading Guide – Launched this week by Children’s Books Ireland in partnership with ISPCC Childline & JigsawYMH. This guide is a ‘first-aid kit’ for worries, sadness, anxiety & any number of feelings a young person may want to explore. I am impressed by the amount of work that has gone into creating this free and comprehensive guide; full of practical advice and wonderful book lists covering board books for babies all the way to YA titles this is a brilliant resource.

UKLA Book Awards 2021 Longlists Announced – The longlists for the 13th year of these unique book awards highlight a diverse range of authors, from exciting debuts to prize-winners and best-sellers. All the books exemplify the award criteria’s aim of encouraging teachers’ knowledge of high-quality children’s books that can reflect all identities and promote diversity.

Author Tom Palmer’s Free Remembrance Day Resources – This is so helpful and generous. Free resources for schools, including a pre-recorded assembly, a live Q&A, posters, short films from the Somme and Normandy linked to Tom’s books Over the LineD-Day DogArmistice Runner and the Wings RAF series.

Black Lives, Black History & Anti-Racism Book Suggestions – Books for Topics have put together a list of children’s books that celebrate black lives and that explore black history both in the UK and around the globe. They have also included some key titles that support conversations about systematic racism in a child-friendly way. A useful all year round resource and not only for Black History Month.  

Book Trust’s Great Book Guide 2020 – the Book Trust team have put together this guide of 100 books from the last year carefully chosen to engage and excite children all the way up to age 11. They are grouped by interest age.

October 2020 Children’s and Young People booklist – Brilliant books by black authors and illustrators – a helpful list compiled by the Reading Agency of 65 brilliant books created by black authors and illustrators. There is something for everyone with fantastic poetry, graphic novels, fiction and non-fiction titles.

Library Insights: Supporting Student Social and Emotional Well-being through Inquiry Based Learning – School librarian Emma Wallace describes how carefully structured lessons in the library can have a positive effect on pupils’ well being on the a Great School Libraries website.

Floella Benjamin on turning Coming to England into a picture book – a fascinating insight into the writing process that created the lovely picture book I reviewed above. The importance of teamwork in its creation and balancing the need for historical facts with an awareness of the sensibilities of young children is covered in this a Book Trust interview.

Through the Looking Glasses: A Free Anthology – anthology of illustrations and bedtime stories from wonderful children’s writers and illustrators from around the world edited by Nicolette Jones. Free to download this book has been created to promote the Glasses in Classes campaign.

The Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize 2020 – this year’s shortlist was announced this week with titles on a variety of subjects, from the tiny microbes in your gut, through the poetic language of code to the wonders of space and beyond. The Prize aims to promote literacy in young people and to inspire them to read about science. It also supports the writing of excellent, accessible STEM books for under-14s. The Prize is unique in that the winner is selected by judging panels made up of young people at schools across the country from a shortlist curated by an adult judging panel.

Zafon Weil wins 2020 CLiPPA (CLPE Children’s Poetry Award) – Poet Zaro Weil was announced the winner of this annual poetry award yesterday for her collection of nature poems, Cherry Moon, published by ZaZaKids Books/ Troika Books and illustrated by Junli Song. You can read more about the award and the shortlisted books in this article in Books for Keeps.

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

Britannica All New Children’s Encyclopaedia: authored by various, Christopher Lloyd (ed) – Nikki Gamble’s Book of the Week on the Just Imagine website. A wonderful, informative review. This new edition sounds to have adapted what was best of the old version & made it work for today’s children, nurturing curiosity too.

Big Bright Feelings – Tom Percival – I am fond of this series of picture books. Sometimes young children lack the vocabulary to be able to articulate their feelings and these books are a perfect way to prompt conversations and also to reassure and comfort. Jo Clarke’s lovely reviews explain how they do this.

The Miracle on Ebenezer Street by Catherine Doyle – if you are super organised you may be planning your Christmas reading and possibly present lists too. This review by Veronica Price has put this on my Christmas wish list as she says, “Catherine Doyle has written a remarkable story which celebrates the colour, beauty, hope and love of Christmas.”

Cherry Moon written by Zaro Weil illustrated by Junli Song – beautiful review by Andrea Reece on LoveReading4Kids by Andrea Reece of the winner of this year’s CLiPPA (see above) “At a time when children need nature more than they ever have, Cherry Moon is a book to treasure.”

That’s all for this week and I do hope that something has proved to be of interest or will be helpful to you. Happy reading! 

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Coming to England by Floella Benjamin illustrated by Diane Ewen

A picture book that captures the optimism and positivity of Dame Floella herself this inspiring true life story is a joy to read and is made accessible to the youngest of readers.

When Floella Benjamin was ten years old, she and her siblings, sailed from Trinidad to England to join their parents and begin a new life in London. As a child the young Floella was excited about what the future held for them but life in England wasn’t what she had expected. Dame Floella’s memoir was one of the first books I ordered for the school library over twenty years ago and since then it has become an important part of the curriculum in many schools. It is wonderful that this new picture book version will bring her inspirational story to a younger audience.

When this book first arrived on my doormat on a damp, drizzly morning I said at the time that it felt as though the sun had come out and I really can’t better that description now. This is a joyful picture book with a powerful and optimistic message at its heart; that determination and courage and of course kindness can overcome many things in life. Dame Floella’s personal story is complemented perfectly by Diane Ewan’s vibrant illustrations which are a delight. The cheerful cover illustration depicting the family’s arrival is followed by endpapers showing the stunning natural world of Trinidad and then the details of family life from both before and after the journey contain detail for young readers to pore over. It is an inviting and eye catching package.

This deeply personal story of the Windrush generation is as important now as it has ever been. I was struck by the words on the very first page spoken by Dame Floella’s father, “We have been invited to go to England.” We need to remember that word, ‘invited.’ This lovely story empathises the importance of kindness and the difference it can make. The scenes where the young Floella is trying to make friends at her new school will resonate with young children everywhere. A beautiful picture book for schools and families spreading a thoughtful and important message.

I should like to thank Clare Hall-Craggs and MacMillan Children’s Books for kindly providing my review copy. Coming to England was published on 8th October and is available at all good bookshops and online.

If you would like to find out more about Dame Floella Benjamin you may like to visit her official website.

Historian David Olusoga read Coming to England on CBeebies earlier this month and if you are quick you can still watch it here.  It is available until the end of the month and is wonderful.

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Using Barrington Stoke Books in the Classroom

As a school librarian I have long been a fan of the books published by Barrington Stoke. For over twenty years they have produced stories that are inviting to children, written by top authors, of a length that is not too daunting and including appealing illustrations. Also, and very importantly, they are presented in a style that is dyslexia friendly using a special typeface, extra line spacing and off white paper. In addition to terrific stories that hook new readers their books are of a length that make them great quick read aloud stories for the classroom. Sometimes they link perfectly with the curriculum enabling teachers to use them to introduce a topic or to encourage further discussion around a particular subject. These two books published this month would be excellent for educating as they entertain with links to World War 1 and the Amazon rainforest. I have included links to teaching resources for each book.

Daisy and the Unknown Warrior by Tony Bradman illustrated by Tania Rex

Tony Bradman brings history to life in this moving and thoughtful story written to mark the centenary of the burial of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey in 1920. This would be an excellent choice to use in the classroom as part of the History curriculum.

It is the end of October 1920 and although the war is long over life has not returned to what is was before for twelve year old Daisy. Her Dad did not return home; her family had been told he was missing presumed dead in 1918. There has been no funeral, no opportunity for them to say goodbye. The family now live in a cramped flat with Daisy’s mother working long hours to support her three children. Daisy helps us much as she can by taking her younger brothers to school and looking after them until her mum gets home. Throughout this Daisy has bottled up her grief over the death of the Dad she loved very much and wishes she could have said a proper goodbye to him. At school one day she learns that an unknown soldier is to be buried at Westminster Abbey representing all those who were killed but whose bodies were never marked with a named grave. Daisy feels sure that this soldier is not unknown at all but is in fact the father she misses so much. She resolves to be there to say her final goodbye.

In telling this story through the eyes of a child experiencing the trauma of grief Tony Bradman has enabled young readers to view this historical event as a personal experience giving it a poignancy that will be understood by a 21st century readership. The family experience and the struggles to cope with their loss are important to us today as we face our own challenges but the significance of the centenary commemoration should never be forgotten. The author has carefully balanced the need to convey historical facts within the captivating story and children will learn from Daisy’s story while growing to care about her too. At under sixty pages this is a short read but an emotionally satisfying one. Tony Bradman has included a helpful historical note at the end of the book.

There is an assembly Power Point available on learning section of the Westminster Abbey website which would work in conjunction with this book. They also have a selection of images related to Remembrance Day for use in the classroom to download here The BBC Teach website has a comprehensive range of resources suitable for both Primary and Secondary schools. The British Legion has created resources everyone can access and learn about the heritage and tradition of Remembrance.

Barrington Stoke have published other books linked to World War 1 including Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer and White Feather by Catherine and David MacPhail. You may also like to try Owen and the Soldier by Lisa Thompson.

World Burn Down by Steve Cole illustrated by Oriol Vidal

A potent mix of survival story and thrilling adventure this book is also a powerful reminder of the devastating destruction of our rainforests and the threat to our planet. I read this in one nerve wracking sitting.

Carlos’s mother works for IBAMA, Brazil’s Environmental Authority. Her role as head of a special task force protecting the Amazon from those who are illegally destroying the precious rainforest results in Carlos being left alone at home a great deal. He resents this and does not share her commitment. However when her actions upset the land grabbers they decide to get their revenge by kidnapping her son, Carlos and taking him deep into the forest. Although Carlos quickly escapes his ordeal is far from over as he is trapped by fast moving fires and the threat that his world is about to burn down around him.

This is a stunning read, full of fast paced action and nerve wracking tension. The development of Carlos as a rounded character as the story progressed was convincing and the reader is made aware of his dawning understanding. The global issue at the heart of this story is unavoidable and adds to the intensity of its powerful descriptions and the impact of the events within the plot. The author’s note at the end of the book is as powerful as the story itself. Steve Cole says that although Carlos spends much of the book running to escape he eventually realises he must fight and likewise humanity must not run away from our global crisis but face up to it and help. I am glad I read this book and I think it will have a similar impact on the young people who read or listen to it.

For children who have slightly more reading stamina looking for a longer read on this topic I would suggest My Name Is River by Emma Rea .

The Rainforest Alliance has downloadable lesson plans on different aspects of rainforest life. If after reading this book children want to know how they can help Kids Saving the Rainforest has lots of suggestions and information. Mongabay is a popular site about the rainforest. It provides information about tropical rainforests in a format suitable for children as well as rainforest materials for educators.

I should like to thank Kirstin Lamb and Barrington Stoke for providing my review copies. Both books are now available to purchase at your local bookshop or online by clicking on the titles above.


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

Hello and welcome to another look at all the latest news in the world of children’s books. What a busy week! Many fabulous books were published on 1st October and also on Thursday as part of the National Poetry Day celebrations the shortlist for this year’s CLiPPA award was announced. There is so much to try and keep up with and I hope the items I have selected will be of interest.

What I’m reading…

This week I have reviewed two very different picture books that were published in September. All Sorts by Pippa Goodhart and Emily Rand is a joyful picture book celebrating how differences enrich our world and would be perfect for Early Years or KS1. Last: The Story of a White Rhino by Nicola Davies, inspired by the true story of Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino, is a powerful picture book which will encourage children to think about global conservation and how we can help preserve endangered animals. 

Barrington Stoke had several books published this week and I always enjoy finding out what they have in store for young readers. The Griffin Gate is Vashti Hardy’s first book for this publisher and I think it will prove to be extremely popular. The good news is there is a follow up due to be published in 2021!

This week I attended some more online events and discussions including on Thursday evening the virtual launch of The Lost Spells by Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane. It was an enchanting hour of words, thoughts, music and hopes that nurtured readers and listeners of all ages. There are other brilliant events that are still available online if you missed them this week included below.

News, articles and resources…

Children’s books roundup – the best new picture and novels – a simply superb range of books suggested by Imogen Russell Williams in her latest round up for the Guardian. I want to read every single one of them.

Exploring Children’s Literature Interview with Tom Palmer – Nikki Gamble’s regular interviews with authors and children’s book experts are always a treat but I particularly enjoyed this one as Tom Palmer’s book After the War is one of my favourite books of the year. A fascinating insight into the real life story that inspired this remarkable book and a thoughtful discussion about Tom’s research and writing process.

Top authors hope you’ll give this book away to change young lives – “The greatest gift of reading is literacy,” says Robert Macfarlane in this article about a new and important book. He, Philip Pullman, and 21 others give backing to literacy charity Room to Read in a new anthology titled the Gifts of Reading. It sounds wonderful.

World Book Day £1 Books Announcement – Thanks to National Book Tokens and many book publishers and booksellers, World Book Day, in partnership with schools all over the country, distribute over 15 million £1 World Book Day book tokens to children and young people every year. The books for 2021 were announced on Tuesday and you can watch the video trailer here.

Create a classroom full of poets – to celebrate National Poetry Day on 1 October, the British Library is inviting schools to share their poetry creations all month. To get you started, superstar poet Joseph Coelho shares the secrets of his notebooks and sets an activity for pupils that he uses to write his own poems.

Recommended Poetry Books from Books for Topics – if National Poetry Day has prompted an interest you may like to check out these lists of lovely suggestions on this helpful website for early years through to Year 6.

YA Novels are Not Just for Teens – this article on MyVLF (the free global virtual literary festival) includes suggestions of great titles that may appeal and includes one of my favourite reads of the year, Toffee by Sarah Crossan.

The Diverse Book Awards 2020 Shortlist – The shortlists for these awards were announced this week with 5 diverse UK books in three categories: Children’s, YA and Adult fiction. The winner will be announced on an online awards ceremony 7pm October 22nd 2020

Rebel Rebel: how books and libraries can challenge mainstream narratives – If you missed this excellent event during the week the recording is now available to watch. This webinar looks at the role and power of books in challenging mainstream narratives and the importance of radical books as part of the UK’s publishing and library traditions. Jake Hope, is joined by award winning author and former Children’s Laureate, Michael Rosen; the co-Director of Letterbox Library and co-organiser of the Little Rebels Prize Fen Coles; and one of this year’s Little Rebels shortlistees Smriti Halls, author of The Little Island.

The CLiPPA Poetry Award – lovely blog by Charlotte Hacking of CLPE on the CILIP website that really encourages you to explore and savour poetry. Lots of helpful links for schools are included.

Black History Month Books – Book Trust have put together a booklist of historical stories from Black History around the world. From picture books to teen novels, spanning fiction and non-fiction, these books are bound to captivate and inform.

CBeebies Bedtime Stories David Olusoga – Coming to England – Historian David Olusoga reads Coming to England, the true story of Baroness Floella Benjamin’s journey from Trinidad to London in 1960. This is wonderful. I am lucky to have received a copy of this new picture book version of this hopeful biography which is published next week and this is a great way of sharing it. The recording is available until the end of the month.

Books for Keeps Poetry Guide – with an introduction by Michael Rosen this special supplement is full of poetry recommendations, reading and writing tips, and a rundown of the shortlist for the CLiPPA2020.

Reading is Magic Festival – if you missed this fabulous free event this week don’t worry because it is still freely available to watch online until the end of the year.

Finally, some reviews that caught my eye this week…

The New Girl by Nicola Davies & Cathy Fisher – I was interested in this new picture book as soon as I heard about it as The Pond by this author and illustrator team was a beautiful book. This lovely review by Mary Esther Judy has confirmed my interest, “While the words of the story are given to us from the point of view of the bully, the illustrations show us the tale from the perspective of the new girl.”

Lottie Loves Nature: Frog Frenzy by Jane Clarke illustrated by James Brown – a series for newly confident readers this sounds great fun and should be enjoyed particularly by young nature lovers. Jo Cummins’ review also features a pen interesting look at the author’s lifetime love of nature too.

Fearless: The Story of Daphne Caruana Galizia by Gattaldo – this wonderful review by Ben Harris has pushed this book right up my wish list. The book and the inspirational woman who features in it sound remarkable. “Become friends with the book, listen to the truth of its messages, hold this story in your hands and heart.”

When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten – this debut sounds as though it would be an excellent addition to school bookshelves. “As well as the entirely gripping mystery and suspense, ‘When Life Gives You Mangoes’ allows children to experience Afro-Caribbean culture and explore some of the history of colonial Britain.” says Emma Kuyateh on her Primary Teacher Bookshelf blog.

A Story About Afiya by James Berry illustrated by Anna Cun – “a beautiful book about the wonder and magic of noticing and celebrating what we found around us. The gentle use of magic realism helps readers to identify what is magical and special about their own natural surroundings.” a really lovely review of this new picture book on the Books for Topics website by Jenny Holder.

Boy, Everywhere by A. M. Dassu – this debut for readers of 11+ sounds excellent. It chronicles the harrowing journey taken by Sami and his family from privilege to poverty, across countries and continents. “Read this book – it’s needs to be in classrooms everywhere – it will change you and stay with you.” says Tricia Adams in her review for Love Reading 4 Kids.

That’s all for this week and there is rather a lot to read but I hope it will be helpful. Book lovers have a special few days to look forward to; it is #BookshopDay today, Saturday 3rd October, a perfect excuse to buy that special book you have coveted for ages, and Libraries Week next week, 5th -10th October so yet more books to enjoy without breaking the bank. What a treat. Happy reading!

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CLiPPA (CLPE Poetry Award) Shortlist Announced

Today, 1st October, National Poetry Day, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education(CLPE) announced the 2020 shortlist for the CLiPPA (Centre for Literacy in Primary Poetry Award). Established in 2003, the CLiPPA is the UK’s only award for published poetry for children. There has been a renewed focus on the value of poetry this year with many more people, including children, accessing verse online possibly as a source of comfort and encouragement. I know I have read more poetry than I usually do. The 2020 shortlist reflects the extraordinary vitality of the UK’s poetry publishing for children. 

The full shortlist is:

Midnight Feasts. Tasty Poems chosen by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Katy Riddell, Bloomsbury. The judges said: a delicious and quirky collection of poems old and new, skilfully curated and perfectly paced. 

Poems the Wind Blew InKarmelo C. Iribarren, illustrated by Riya Chowdhury, translated from Spanish by Lawrence Schimel, The Emma Press. The judges said: a book to carry around with you, proof that poetry is ideas, thoughts and emotions captured in words.

The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How-To Poems, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Richard Jones, Walker Books. The judges said: a wonderfully varied collection of poems that will speak directly to young children, full of beautiful examples of the craft of poetry

Wain. LGBT Reimaginings of Scottish FolkloreRachel Plummer, illustrated by Helene Boppert, The Emma Press. The judges said: a fresh voice and take on something that could have felt archaic but is made to feel new.

Cherry MoonZaro Weil, illustrated by Junli Song, ZaZaKids Books/ Troika Books. The judges said: meditative and nicely paced; Weil presents beautiful snapshots of the natural world and has thought carefully about the form for each.

The shortlisted titles

Steven Camden, poet, winner of the 2019 CLiPPA commented: “I was pretty nervous going into the judging meeting because I felt really strongly about my choices. My favourites on the list really affected me and I was apprehensive about fighting their corner with people I didn’t really know. Within five minutes it was clear that those books that touched me had touched the other judges just as strongly and what followed was a gorgeous celebratory conversation of some truly stunning creations. What a treat and privilege.”

In a first for the CLiPPA, thanks to a new partnership with The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival, the winner of the 2020 Award will be revealed at the culmination of the festival’s schools’ programme, on Friday 9th October in a Poetry Show introduced by CLiPPA judges, poets Valerie Bloom and Steven Camden, and featuring performances by the shortlisted poets as well as live drawing by former Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell. 

Schools across the UK and beyond will be able to watch the show for free on The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival platform and access poetry CPD sessions created by CLPE. The free Shadowing Scheme to involve schools in CLiPPA 2020 will launch alongside the announcement of the winner. It is wonderful news that registrations for the scheme are set to be twice what they were in 2019 as 350 schools had enquired about the scheme even before it opened. If you are interested you can find out more about the CLiPPA shadowing scheme on the CLPE website.

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The Griffin Gate by Vashti Hardy illustrated by Natalie Smillie

Vashti Hardy’s first title for Barrington Stoke contains all the components required of the perfect adventure story for children. A brave if somewhat impetuous lead character, clues to solve, villains to defeat, a wise and loyal companion and a map. Oh, and the ability to teleport! The steampunk fantasy style that this award winning author has become known for is presented here in a shorter but equally exciting version. This will introduce even the most reluctant of readers to a whole new world of adventures with further stories to follow in the series.

Grace’s family are wardens of the Griffin map, the most important piece of technology in the city of Copperport, and have been since the days of Great Grandma Griffin. They use the map to protect the whole country of Moreland and keep law and order throughout the land. The portals on the map allow them to travel to wherever help is needed and once there they right wrongs with the help of technology and skill. However Grace is still training for the role and when her Mum and older brother, Bren disappear on their missions she is left behind. Grace longs to join them and one day she seizes the opportunity to show them that she is capable of being a fully fledged warden too. However her ensuing adventure is not as straightforward as she had hoped.

This has the feel of a big adventure despite being told in fewer than one hundred pages. A great plot, characters who develop throughout the story and a realistic fantasy world are all created by Vashti Hardy. The importance of family and the use of power for good is incorporated into an irresistible adventure with care. Grace is a brilliant character, I warmed to her and think readers will do so. The illustrations by Natalie Smillie throughout the book add to the enjoyment and complement the text well capturing the essence of the characters and the storyline.

This is a book combining fantasy and technology with friendship and family in a world created by an author who understands what appeals to young readers. We have episode two, The Puffin Portal, to look forward to in 2021 as well.

As with all books published by Barrington Stoke Unique The Griffin Gate is produced in a dyslexia-friendly font specially created to make reading easier and an accessible layout and heavier paper with a gentle tint helps reduce visual stress. Careful editing ensures that this story can be enjoyed by children with a reading age of 8+.

I should like to thank Kirstin Lamb and Barrington Stoke for sending my review copy. The Griffin Gate is published on 1st October and will be available in all good bookshops and online at independent bookshop Bear Hunt Books.

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Last: the Story of a White Rhino by Nicola Davies

Inspired by the true story of Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino, this powerful picture book will inspire children to think about global conservation and how we can help preserve endangered animals.

Award winning author Nicola Davies has written over sixty books and many of them have dealt with the world of nature or have made difficult subjects accessible for younger readers. In this, her debut as an illustrator, she combines both. Last is a book for our world today, an important reminder of what we are in danger of losing and a rallying cry to join together to do our part to help. Children care about conservation and Last will, I think, resonate with them.

A rhinoceros remembers his life before captivity in the zoo in which he now paces. Before this world of grey there was colour, familiar sights and smells, and his mother. Then his mother is killed by poachers and the young rhino is transported in a cage to a zoo in an unfamiliar and unwelcoming place. He fears he is the last. But he is not alone, there are other animals in the zoo alongside him. Perhaps they are the last ones too. As he longs for home there is someone watching who cares and who may rescue him and enable him to return to a life of colour and to home.

The text and the illustrations together make the reader aware of the contrast between the life of the rhino before and during captivity. The grey bleakness of the city zoo and the animal’s misery depicted on the cover and the first pages are starkly different to the vibrant pages that follow showing his life in his natural habitat. The illustrations of the city incorporate quotes from advertising and environmental speeches translated into different languages. Nicola Davies says her aim was to ‘contrast the bleakness of advertising with inspirational words.’ The story ends with a feeling of hope for the future and the author’s note at the end of the book provides more information about Sudan and a note of encouragement to the reader on how to help further.

Last would be a valuable and important addition to primary school libraries and classrooms prompting discussion and encouraging children to find out more.

Thank you to the publishers, Tiny Owl Books for providing my review copy. Last was published on 22nd September and is available to purchase at all good bookshops and online

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All Sorts by Pippa Goodhart and Emily Rand

A joyful picture book celebrating how differences enrich our world, this is a story told with a kindly understanding that will reassure and guide young children.

”It takes all sorts” my Mum used to say to me occasionally. She was right, then she often was. However for some people all sorts may mean something subtly different. Frankie loves to sort things, almost everything in her little world is put into categories. She sorts her toys in her bedroom, she sorts everything in the kitchen, she tries to sort flowers, trees and animals. Some things are easier to sort than others and Frankie adopts different systems to classify items, using colour, shape and size to help her. Then she decides to sort people and things become a little trickier. In fact it dawns on Frankie that it may not be possible which is a worry, particularly as she does not know where she fits in.

This is such a lovely package of a book. The story really starts with the cover as little Frankie stands beside a chaotic heap of things, a colourful muddle of familiar objects. On the back cover these objects have now been sorted into neat rows; a procession of vehicles, a line of colouring pencils, a row of stripy socks and so on. The busy endpapers continue this theme with those at the front of the book a glorious, colourful tangle of items recognisable to children. The endpapers at the back of the book depict regimental rows marching across the white space.

Frankie is a competent sorter, methodical in her approach and yet when she comes to look at the people in her world and sorting them her composure slips. Some people clearly belong to each other but with some it is less obvious. As this recognition dawns on the little girl the narrative switches to give her own version of events making her concern more apparent to the reader. Swiftly this concern turns to excitement as Frankie realises that having a world where differences don’t matter and everyone simply lives together in a glorious muddle is absolutely fine.

I particularly like how this book incorporates its message in a subtle and gentle way, just right for the youngest readers. The illustrations by Emily Rand are a total delight; colourful and full of detail they will encourage slow browsing and chat about all those familiar objects. This would reassure the anxious child for whom untidiness or lack of order prompts stress or a child who is struggling to fit in for whatever reason. In addition it would work as an introduction to mathematical concepts; Frankie’s people sorting even involves a Venn diagram!

This is a delightful book with a variety of uses and one that will appeal to the youngest of readers with its cheerful appearance and gentle, comforting themes. Highly recommended for Early Years and KS1.

Thank you to the lovely team at Flying Eye Books for my review copy. All Sorts was published on 1st September and is available to purchase at all good bookshops or online

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