Featherlight by Peter Bunzl illustrated by Anneli Bray.

Inspired by real life lighthouse heroines Grace Darling and Ida Lewis, Featherlight combines family, myth and courage in a tender story of hope.

Stunning cover artwork by Evan Hollingdale

‘I am the lighthouse keeper’s daughter,

And I keep the lighthouse by the water.

Keep the oil lamps bright,

Through the stormy hours of the night.’

Peter Bunzl

Deryn is the daughter of the lighthouse keeper on Featherstone Island. He keeps the lantern lit to ensure that those who pass in ships and small boats are protected from the dangerous rocky coastline. One night an emergency means that Deryn’s father must take her mother to the mainland leaving Deryn alone with the responsibility of keeping watch over the lighthouse in their absence. When the lamp runs out of oil during a violent storm Deryn must find a way of warning a small fishing boat that they are in great danger. She receives help in guiding them from a most unusual and unexpected source.

The lines quoted above form the beginning of a poem written by Peter Bunzl that can be found at the end of Deryn’s story and I think they beautifully capture the feel of the book. As I read I was transported in time and place to a setting that has a magical quality. This is partly due, I think, to the sense of isolation that is conveyed so well. Deryn is left completely alone for a couple of days until her Grandmother comes to help and her solitary experience would, I think, be both surprising and impressive to today’s readers. Deryn is capable and sensible showing a courage that is admirable but she also displays an awareness of her own fears and worries making her a character that children will readily identify with and understand.

The merging of the traditional story of The Firebird with Deryn’s adventure is cleverly done and the writing in both its use of vocabulary and imagery and its themes does have the feel of a fairy tale in some ways. There is a balance between action and thoughtful description which together with the short chapters ensures that this story can be enjoyed by readers who may not yet have developed reading stamina. The charming black and white illustrations by Anneli Bray throughout the book depicting a young Deryn add to the perception of her as vulnerable yet brave.

This first book for Barrington Stoke by Peter Bunzl is gentle blend of myth and history, courage and family love centred around a child and a bird with an unbreakable bond.

Peter Bunzl had included at the end of the story the poem already mentioned, historical notes about Grace Darling, Ida Lewis and lighthouses all of which would encourage children to find out more about these two young women and the history of lighthouses in this country. The book could also link to other stories too, most obviously The Firebird and the music associated with it by Stravinsky. Although marketed as a story for children aged 8+ I think it could be read aloud to slightly younger also.

As with all books by Barrington Stoke Featherlight is produced in a design ensuring that it is accessible to dyslexic readers yet would also offer a short and satisfying read for more confident children. Featherlight is published on 1st April and I should like to thank Kirstin Lamb and the publishers for providing my review copy.

If you are interested in finding out more about Grace Darling you may enjoy this BBC Teach video in which you can listen to the story of her life, and describes the night she and her father rowed out in their tiny boat to save nine sailors. Teachers may find this Grace Darling: Topic pack created by the RNLI useful.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

Hello and welcome to this week’s round up of the latest news from the world of children’s books. The number of fantastic books being published at present is a cause for celebration and I try to include some of them each week. There is also news of awards, guidance for school libraries, and new resources too. I hope you find something helpful, entertaining or interesting among the links.

What I’m reading…

A Street Dog Named Pup by Gill Lewis, published next week by David Fickling Books, is an emotional and captivating read. During online book chats about children’s literature comment is frequently made about the appeal of classic stories and this book contains, I think, many of the qualities of epic animal stories such as Watership Down and One Hundred and One Dalmatians. I loved it.

The publishers Barrington Stoke are producing some fabulous books at the moment and I have reviewed a selection that were published this month here. This week I have also read two more of their titles due out next week, Featherlight by Peter Bunzl and Tragedy at Sea: the sinking of the Titanic by David Long and I will be posting reviews of these next week. I guarantee that among this selection there will be at least one that will tempt a young reader.

Can Bears Ski? by Raymond Antrobus and Polly Dunbar has featured in Reading Matters reviews recently and this week I listened to Nikki Gamble’s interview with the author. I found this helpful and interesting having worked with deaf children in the past and would highly recommend this as it will, I’m sure, prompt discussion and more understanding.

I have just started reading The Feast of the Evernight by Ross Mackenzie which I will be reviewing for The School Librarian magazine. It has all the dark, atmospheric feel of Evernight and has a dramatic opening that engaged me immediately. That’s my weekend reading sorted!

News, articles and resources…

The Tir na n-Og Awards Shortlists Announced – Congratulations to all the wonderful authors, illustrators and publishers on the Tir na n-Og 2021 shortlists. The Tir na n-Og Awards are the oldest and most popular awards for children’s literature in Wales. Established in 1976, the awards recognise, honour and promote excellence in books for children and young people. The English Language Shortlist is made up of three stories exploring Wales at different times through history and I am very much looking forward to reading them. I’ll be posting more about the books on my blog in the coming weeks. The winners will be announced in May.

Fleur Hitchcock and Gill Lewis joint launch event 30th March – Join authors Fleur Hitchcock and Gill Lewis for the launch of their new books Waiting for Murder and A Street Dog Named Pup and a chat about ten years of being published The Book Nook Facebook page.

See that cute animal? It’s about to go extinct: Dear Zoo gets an update – Look After Us, a companion book to the much classic interactive picture book Dear Zoo, delivers some lessons about saving wildlife. Creator Rod Campbell explains why in this Guardian article. Macmillan Children’s Books have created some colouring activity sheets for young children linked to the new book which are available to download here.

Bravery, hope and escape: the best books to cheer up kids in lockdown – From polar bears to murder mysteries, Katherine Rundell chooses a selection of books to lift children’s spirits.

How can Primary Schools use their libraries to their full potential? – an excellent and informative article by Joy Court and Tricia Adams both of whom have a wealth of experience in this field. It’s full of helpful links, advice and tips.

Developing a Library That’s REALLY For Everyone – this article by Kelsey Bogan a US High School Media Specialist is well worth saving and referring to as it highlights many vitally important points linked to ensuring that our school libraries are diverse and inclusive. It covers aspects from book stock to signage, from recommended book list to librarian’s personal reading.

The Laugh Out Loud Book Awards (the Lollies) Are Back – this is a book award searching for the very funniest children’s books published in the previous year. For 2022 the organisers are looking for books published in both 2019 and 2020 in three different categories: Picture Books, Books for 6-8-year-olds and Books for 9-13-year-olds. You can find out more about the award, the judges and past winners via the link above.

Storytelling for a greener tomorrow – this is an interesting and thoughtful article by children’s author Fiona Barker asking if children’s books can inspire behavioural change.

Raymond Antrobus: ‘Deafness is an experience, not a trauma’ – this interesting interview with the author of Can Bears Ski? perfectly complements the podcast I referred to above.

Marcus Rashford vows to reach children who have never owned book – a celebrity children’s author with a difference. You Are a Champion: How To Be the Best You Can Be by footballer and campaigner Marcus Rashford will be published in May.

The Alligator’s Mouth Award for illustrated early fiction – the longlist for this award organised by bookshop The Alligator’s Mouth in in partnership with Bright Illustration Agency and Gardners Books was announced this week. The award celebrates the best books for 6-8-year-olds and the longlist includes some very appealing titles.

Reading Zone Relaunched Website – I like the new uncluttered, welcoming appearance of this helpful website. It’s separated into sections including ones for children, families and schools and libraries. There are reviews, interviews, book suggestions, competitions and more all encouraging reading for pleasure. It’s well worth a browse.

Spring “Explorer’s Guide” to The Lost Spells – this is lovely. Lesson plans, activities, art challenges, outdoor learning, nature-literacy ideas created by Eva John linked to this beautiful book. The Guide is for use in classrooms, at home or in an outdoor space of your choosing. The various activities and challenges included can be dipped in and out of or used consecutively as a cross-curricular scheme of work.

Are books for young people a literature in their own right? by Elizabeth Bentley – an interesting look at The Age Between: personal reflections on youth fiction by Aidan Chambers and links to essays by Peter Dickinson and Melvin Burgess on the subject.

The Open University Reading for Pleasure Newsletter – the best source of advice and resources to support reading for pleasure in schools this special edition of the newsletter gives an overview of what has been happening over the last year and provides links to case studies, research and more. Definitely worth signing up for if you haven’t already.

Children’s books roundup – the best new picture books and novels – another fabulous selection from Imogen Russell Williams. I love the way in which Imogen captures and conveys the heart of a book in a just a few sentences and there’s always something I want to read. I imagine I’m not alone.

Seven Stories Author and Illustrator Events – Seven Stories Authors into Schools events bring inspirational authors and illustrators to your school. Events are live streamed through a private YouTube link. This means you can have multiple classes join in different rooms at the same time, allowing children to have a shared experience, despite distancing and bubble restrictions. All participating schools are asked to buy a set of the author’s books to the value of £70 in order to take part in each event.

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

Storm Dragon by Dianne Hofmeyr and Carol Thompson – I have glimpsed images from this lovely picture book shared online and it sounds hugely appealing. Jill Bennett clearly enjoyed it as in her review she describes it as “a MUST to share with foundation stage listeners”

Harley Hitch and the Iron Forest by Vashti Hardy & George Ermos – when reading reviews recently I’ve been on the look out for books that would be suitable for lower KS2 and this book sounds perfect for that age group and great fun. Kate Heap says in her review that Harley is “sassy and smart, impulsive and full of initiative – such a fantastic role model for girls and boys.“

“No Country”: An Interview with Patrice Aggs and Joe Brady – Ben Harris provides an overview of this graphic novel and then hosts an informative and revealing interview with its creators. I learned a lot from this and No Country has now made it to my lengthy books to buy list.

Just Like Me by Louise Gooding, Melissa Iwai, Caterina Delli Carri, cathyhookey, Angel Chang – This is a collection of the true stories of 40 inspirational figures from around the world, all of whom are physically or neurologically diverse. Reviewed on the Reading Zone website it is described as,  “a fantastic addition to any Upper Key Stage 2 classroom. It would work well to dip into, across the curriculum, to remind children of their potential and what they can achieve if they put their mind to it.”

That’s all for this week and it’s a bit of a bumper issue! I know that some schools have already broken up for Easter and others still have a few days to go and I hope everyone enjoys a well earned relaxing break if possible. Reading Matters will be taking an Easter break too as I need to tackle my ‘read and review’ heap (see photo below!) but I hope to bring Reading Matters back next month. Happy Easter.

Just part of my to read pile
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A Street Dog Named Pup by Gill Lewis

A Street Dog Named Pup is a profoundly moving, compelling and powerful read that will break the hardest of hearts yet is so full of love and loyalty that it restores your faith in the importance of the bond of friendship and the value of hope when times are dark and difficult. It could well change your attitude to dogs as well.

A Street Dog Named Pup cover illustration by Levi Pinfold

This is the story of Pup, a young dog dumped in the city streets, and his search for love and a home and in particular for ‘his boy’, the person who showed him love and kindness. When Pup is first abandoned he is alone and bewildered and must somehow learn to fend for himself. His trust in and loyalty to humans is sorely tested during his long and difficult journey to happiness. Initially befriended by Frenchi, a slightly gruff but kindly French bulldog, and subsequently becoming part of a pack of street dogs Pup has to learn quickly how to survive. As the story progresses he suffers highs and lows, makes friends and enemies, learns how to cope and adapt, discovers kindness and loses it again. But through it all Pup never ever gives up hope of being reunited with the boy he loved and who loved him in return. An epic story of determination and resilience this moved me greatly and not only because I am a dog lover. Gill Lewis has written what could in many ways be seen as a depiction of modern life and how humanity, or indeed the lack of humanity, makes a profound difference.

This has for me similar qualities to those much loved childhood animal stories such as One Hundred and One Dalmatians and Watership Down. The story is told from Pup’s point of view providing a slightly different aspect to events and the ensemble cast of dogs feature distinct characters with traits both good and bad. The different dogs also reflect the aspects of each breed which we associate with them, for example Merle the protective Collie constantly counts and checks up on her ‘flock’ and Lady Fifi may be a tiny terrier but she certainly has a big personality. From the opening lines of the story itself I cared about Pup, it would be difficult not to do so. This is a story told with a love for and an understanding of dogs and Gill Lewis highlights the deep connection between man and dog. I love the prologue telling the story of Sirius, the ‘Dog Star’, the brightest star in the night sky and the myth of how it acquired its nickname. Sirius and its story are referred to during the book and I was drawn to the way in which the dogs used this story to comfort and console in much the same way as we use myths, legends and bible stories.

Illustrations by Gill Lewis

Although chiefly Pup’s story this is also about ‘his boy’ and the book is interspersed with sections written by the boy himself and this dual version of events adds a greater depth to the storyline and to its impact. Much like Pup the boy is searching for love and a sense of belonging so that the two need each other is both understandable and moving.

I loved this story and it is one of those books where as you read you lose an awareness of time and the world around you; a sure sign of an excellent novel. Pup’s story is one that encourages the reader to think about our attitude to animals in particular to dogs but it also shines a light on society and some of its failings. An important and powerful story.

This would undoubtably appeal to children who are dog lovers but I think it may be upsetting for more sensitive young readers, in particular those who may have recently lost a much loved pet. There are a scenes of organised dog fights and ill treatment of animals which need to be borne in mind when recommending the book to primary aged children.

This is an extraordinary book. It had a profound effect on me as reader; although heartbreaking and harrowing in places it is beautifully written and there is much kindness and wisdom in its pages. It has gone soaring up my list of favourite books of 2021 so far.

I should like to thank the publishers for providing my proof copy. A Street Dog Named Pup is published by David Fickling Books on 1st April and features appealing illustrations throughout by Gill and a gorgeous cover illustration by Levi Pinfold.

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New Children’s Books from Barrington Stoke

My admiration for Barrington Stoke as a publisher who believe that every child can be a reader grows year on year. Already in 2021, despite the issues facing the world of children’s publishing including book shops being closed for much of the year so far, they have launched a selection of fantastic books that will appeal to a wide range of readers and are accessible to many more thanks to their dyslexia friendly presentation style.

Just in case you have missed any of their recent titles here is a round up of the ones that I have read and enjoyed this month for different age groups.

The Dog Who Saved the World (Cup) by Phil Earle illustrated by Elisa Paganelli

First up is a book I reviewed a couple of weeks ago but want to highlight as I think it is a particularly important one. This is a special story dealing with the subject of homelessness in a kind and accessible manner. It would be particularly enjoyable for football fans but is a book that has a broad appeal and you can find out why I recommend it so highly by reading my full review here. That it is inspired by true life experiences and situations gives this thoughtful book an added impact. The book has a reading age of 8 and is aimed at a target audience aged 8 – 12.

The Animals of Madame Malone’s Music Hall by Laura Wood illustrated by Ellie Snowdon

One year on from when theatres across the country closed due to the pandemic this sensitive and imaginative story with drama at its core has an added poignancy. Callie is spending the summer with her Gran by the seaside but life isn’t what she expected. She is frustrated and bored stuck helping her Gran’s drama group save their local theatre and worst still she is worried about being expected to star in the forthcoming play. Then when Callie explores backstage one day she discovers a theatrical world like no other which will change her attitude and understanding.

This is a lovely reassuring story for children. It reinforces the importance of belonging to a community with a shared endeavour and also quietly encourages the reader to learn to believe in themselves and their abilities. These are valuable messages at any time but possibly particularly so at the moment. The idea of portal to another world is a long standing favourite of children’s fiction and Laura Wood’s cast of animal characters are charming. The illustrations throughout by Ellie Snowdon bring the characters to life with humour and detail. Another kind book aimed at the 8 -12 audience with a reading age of 8.

The Girl With Her Head in the Clouds by Karen McCombie illustrated by Anneli Bray

Historical fiction has long been one of my favourite genres and Karen McCombie has a knack of making her characters relatable to today’s young readers. She has achieved it again in this re-imagining of a remarkable young woman who became a pioneering aeronaut in the early 20th century.

The subtitle of this book is The Amazing Life of Dolly Shepherd who I admit I knew nothing about but this engaging story is both exciting and interesting. Set in 1904 we meet sixteen year old Dolly who is shortly to start work in her Aunt’s business, the Ostrich Feather Emporium. Dolly has other plans. She volunteers as a stand-in for a dangerous trick at Alexandra Palace and from that moment on her life takes an unexpected turn and a new and thrilling career opens up for her. This is an inspiring story and Dolly a fearless female lead. There are many dangerous moments and close shaves that unnerved this reader who has no head for heights!

A thoroughly enjoyable read this has the added bonus of revealing a little about the historical period and may prompt readers to find out more themselves. I particularly like the illustrations by Anneli Bray which provide a glimpse of Edwardian fashion and life. The Girl With her Head in the Clouds has a reading age of 8 and is suitable for the same audience as the previous titles mentioned.

The Last Hawk by Elizabeth Wein

Set towards the end of the Second World War and the final days of the Nazi regime this compelling story is told from the point of view of a young woman who has become part of their propaganda. Ingrid, a teenager with a stammer, is kept safe from the brutal treatment of those who those in power view as inferior by her flying skills. In the skies this timid girl is transformed and flies the glider planes with confidence and determination. Her talent brings her to the attention of Germany’s daring female test pilot Hanna Retich and her new role alongside Hanna training young pilots reveals to Ingrid some dangerous truths and secrets that gradually prompt her to question what she has been taught and force her to make difficult decisions.

Much of Elizabeth Wein’s writing is inspired by her own love of flying and this well researched novel conveys that love to the reader as the descriptions of flight are vivid and emotive. Hanna Reitsch is real historical figure and it is she who inspired the story but it is Ingrid who perhaps the reader will become involved with. Ingrid’s stammer is a plot detail that influences the story and this aspect is portrayed with sensitivity and provides an insight into the frustration and embarrassment this can cause for some. This is a story that would work well in the classroom prompting discussion about the various historical aspects, the role of women in war and the Nazi regime itself. This is a fascinating and thought provoking read with a reading age of 8 and aimed at a teen audience.

I should like to thank Kirstin Lamb and Barrington Stoke for providing my review copies. All of these books are available to purchase on the publisher’s website.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

Hello and welcome to this week’s catch up with what has been happening in the world of children’s books. The highlight for many I’m sure has been the announcement of the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Award shortlists and full details of these are included in the links below.

What I’m reading…


Regular visitors to Reading Matters will already know that I’m a big fan of the publishers Barrington Stoke who do so much to ensure that the high quality books they produce can be read by as wide an audience as possible. This week I read one of their newest titles, The Dog Who Saved the World (Cup) by Phil Earle, and I loved it, it is a special book dealing with the subject of homelessness in a kind and accessible manner. I would highly recommend it. There were several great books published earlier this month by Barrington Stoke which I finished reading this week and I plan to post reviews very soon.

I recently read and reviewed Circus Maximus: Race to the Death by Annelise Gray, a compelling story which I thoroughly enjoyed so I was delighted to see that Nikki Gamble had interviewed Annelise for her Exploring Children’s Literature podcast. I found this fascinating, particularly the emphasis on the importance of research and the conversation about Latin providing us with a glimpse of people and their lives rather than learning grammar by rote. I am now eager to read the second instalment of Didi’s story next year.

Last night I started reading Street Dog Named Pup by Gill Lewis and already I am drawn into this story and care about Pup and wondering about what the future holds for him. The cover image by Levi Pinfold and the illustrations by Gill herself are gorgeous too. More updates to follow…

New, articles and resources…

Lancaster LitFest: The Art of Nature: Jackie Morris and Shaun Tan – what a wonderful hour this was last Saturday. I felt as though I was eavesdropping on a rather special conversation between two wise and thoughtful creators of beautiful books. I would highly recommend catching up on this if you missed it last weekend. Thank you to Alison Brumwell and Jake Hope the two librarians who made this event possible.

Books For Keeps March Issue – one of my favourite sources of information about children’s books, I always look forward to reading this. The current issue is packed full of fascinating articles, including the regular features and reviews of many new books and is a must read for anyone interested in children’s books.

The Greatest Mothers in Children’s Literature? – this blogpost by Freya McLaughlin was shared online by teacher Jon Biddle on Mothering Sunday and is an interesting read any day.

Sydney Smith on Collaboration – this video, shared by Mat Tobin last weekend, is a fascinating insight into this award winning illustrator’s work and well worth a watch. It is particularly timely as Sydney Smith’s wonderful Small in the City has been shortlisted for the Greenaway Award.

Registration now open for the National Reading Champions Quiz 2021 – This summer, the National Literacy Trust are hosting a quiz for students. Schools can enter either one or two teams, and each team should be made up of four students, plus a reserve. Students must be aged between 10 and 14 inclusive, and the entrance fee is just £20 per team. More details via the link.

The Reading List Project: Teachers Helping Teachers – thank you to school librarian Lucas Maxwell who shared this in his recent newsletter. This is a host of texts curated by English teachers, for English teachers for KS3 students including a range of genres and a balance of classic and new titles.

OURfPBookBlether curriculum recommendations – The February one-hour Twitter Book Blethers focussed on the curriculum and books to read aloud, enjoy and connect with. Mary-Rose Grieve and Marilyn Brockelhurst kindly collated all of the recommendations and they are available to browse and purchase via the link.

Introducing the Barnes & Noble Children’s & YA Book Prizes – These awards will spotlight and celebrate outstanding new and emerging talent in children’s publishing across three categories: Picture Books, Young Readers and YA.

Shared reading of the lockdown kind: delivering parent/carer support sessions remotely – this blogpost by Martin Galway for Herts Learning English is full of wisdom, tips and advice on how to use what has been learned over the last year to further support parents.

Love my Books March Newsletter – I think the Love My Books website is a wonderful resource, it was referenced in the blogpost above too, providing many ideas for activities linked to a wide variety of books. This latest newsletter includes all the recent additions to their site including The Beat and the Piano by David Lichfield and Last by Nicola Davies.

CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals Shortlists Announced – 16 titles have been shortlisted for the 2021 Medals (8 on each shortlist) selected from a total of 40 longlisted titles, read by an expert volunteer team of 15 librarians from across the UK. It is wonderful to see independent publishers such as Barrington Stoke, Knights Of, Book Island and Otter Barry books on the lists. Some of my favourite picturebooks feature on the Greenaway list and I loved The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson and am looking forwarding to exploring the Carnegie list further.

Shortlist for Carnegie medal offers locked-down children ‘hope and escapism’ – article by Alison Floid exploring the various titles on both awards lists.

Nathan Byron has been named the first ambassador for Puffin World of Stories – Puffin World of Stories aims to address some of the key challenges facing reading for pleasure in schools where budget constraints often mean investing in school libraries and librarians and buying new books is not an option. Over the course of Nathan Bryon’s ambassadorship, he will promote the importance of reading for pleasure to participating schools via virtual content and in-school visits, as well as interactive resources based on his books.

Children’s reading news, research, resources – Anne Harding produces regular compilations of children’s book news and this one contains links to recent research on reading and literacy. Definitely useful to save to refer to as needed. Thank you, Anne.

The British Book Awards Book of the Year Shortlists – The British Book Awards (aka The Nibbies) were launched in 1990 and now run by The Bookseller have several categories among them are Children’s Fiction and Children’s Illustrated and Non-Fiction. The winners will be announced on 13th May.

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

The Forgettery by Rachel Ip and Laura Hughes – a picture book about the bond between grandma and granddaughter and a sensitive exploration of memory and the reality of life when the occasional forgetfulness becomes a cause for concern. This lovely review by Rachael at Picture Book Perfect and the interview with author Rachel Ip has tempted me to add this to my wish list. The illustrations by Laura Hughes look stunning too.

Melt by Ele Fountain – I am fortunate enough to have a copy of this book on my ‘to read shelf’ and this review by Paul Watson has made me look forward to reading it even more. Paul always includes a helpful ‘teacher bit’ in his reviews providing tips for using the books he has reviewed in the classroom too.

The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife by Maz Evans, illustrated by Chris Jevons – I enjoyed reading this happy, positive review by Veronica Price of a book that sounds equally happy. In summary Veronica says “This is a marvellous book, bursting with joy and good sense and celebrating love in its many forms. I am sure that it will become a much-loved addition to your classroom, library or home and I certainly hope that there will be more books featuring Scarlett Fife.”

The Lightening Catcher by Clare Weze – this children’s debut due out in May was already on my radar as something a little different but this great review by Fabia at Candid Cocoa has increased my anticipation. Fabia says it is, “an intelligent, highly charged, imaginative novel where science and fiction mesh and fizz extraordinarily to create a weird and wonderful adventure.”   

Bone Music by David Almond – I have just discovered Beth’s Bookcase and the wonderful reviews by @f33lthesun “The Lovely Beth” and this one of the latest David Almond YA novel due out next month has sold this book to me. I will be following Beth’s reviews from now!

That’s everything for this week and there’s rather a lot to get through but I do hope that something here has helped or prompted you to try one of the books mentioned. Happy reading.

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The Dog That Saved the World (Cup) by Phil Earle illustrated by Elisa Paganelli

Everyone has stories to tell, we are surrounded by stories of all kinds and we pass on stories over time to others. Phil Earle’s story of a girl, a dog, football and family is one that is full of love and hope, dreams and determination. Another definite winner from the Barrington Stoke team. That it is inspired by true life experiences and situations gives this thoughtful book an added impact.

Elsie and her dog Pickles love football and their lives revolve around it. When Elsie’s team, and Pickles, get the opportunity to play in a half time match at the World Cup Final at Wembley they think that all their dreams have come true. However despite the joy that football brings to both Elsie and Pickles life at home for them is hard and made even more so when Elsie’s dad loses his job and they have to move into temporary accommodation. Things deteriorate even further and it looks as though all Elsie’s dreams will be shattered but her loyal friend, Pickles, is determined to do something to save the day.

My own love of football and dogs dates back to childhood and the lovely true story of Pickles the dog and the 1966 World Cup is one that has always made me smile. Phil Earle has used this true event as a catalyst for a book that illustrates how important football is for many people. One of the most appealing aspects for many is that feeling of being part of a team and Phil Earle has captured that spirit and enthusiasm well. Elsie reminded me of so many football mad children I have watched over the years. The importance of being part of a team is mirrored in Elsie’s family. Although only a team of three, Elsie, Dad and Pickles, the feeling of love and loyalty between them is conveyed beautifully. Dad is fulfilling the role of single parent in a situation that would be a struggle for anyone but he does so with such thoughtful kindness and care that Elsie is largely cushioned from the worst of the situation, at least at first.

The story is narrated by Pickles himself and this ensures that the difficulties the family experience through poverty and homelessness are conveyed in a manner that is both appropriate and understandable for young readers. There were many moments when I as an adult reader ached for the man hanging on to his dignity and role as provider for his child. The important and often quoted statement by Rudine Sims Bishop, about books acting as windows, sliding doors and mirrors is fitting for The Dog that Saved the World. Homelessness is something that affects an increasing number of people and unfortunately stories that deal with this aspect of modern life need to be available to children so that they can understand and empathise with others or gain comfort and support from seeing themselves portrayed in current fiction.

Despite the heartbreaking difficulties that Elsie’s family face the overriding theme of the book is a positive and inspirational one. A lovely example is when another family in the same situation reach out to welcome them and offer help and companionship. Phil Earle even manages to bring a little humour to events using Pickle’s perspective of the situation. The story ends with hope and optimism for the future and this is such an important aspect of the book. In the author’s note at the end of the story the reader learns that in addition to Pickles the dog who saved the day Phil Earle was also inspired by the life of footballer Fara Williams. Fara was not defeated by her own difficult circumstances but persevered with determination and Elsie’s attitude reflects that in this story.

The book is illustrated throughout by Elisa Paganelli and these pictures capture the bond between the girl and her dog well and also depict a family life that is full of love. As with all books published by Barrington Stoke this book is published in a dyslexia friendly font on cream paper to reduce glare.

The Dog Who Saved the World (Cup) was published on 4th March. I should like to thank Kirstin Lamb and Barrington Stoke for providing my review copy.

I think that another book published by Barrington Stoke, It’s A No-Money Day by Kate Milner, would be perfect to pair with this one to prompt discussion. Phil Earle and Barrington Stoke have created some excellent teaching resources to use with his book and they are freely available to download here.

You may also be interested in this article in The Big Issue: How Pickles the dog, an England footballer and homelessness inspired new book.

Finally, Phil Earle recorded this 20 minute video for Tales on Moon Lane @MoonLaneTV all about the influences behind the writing of THE DOG THAT SAVED THE WORLD (CUP) which would be wonderful to share with children.

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

Hello and welcome to this week’s round up of news from the world of children’s books. I hope that it has gone well for all of those of you who were back in school this week.

What I’m reading…

At the end of December my older son gave me a copy of The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman for my birthday and it has been sitting on my bedside table unread and looking accusingly at me ever since as my attention has been held by the many excellent children’s books being published at the moment. This week I read it and have driven my other half mad by giggling loudly and often. It helps that in my head I’m listening to the author’s voice and deadpan delivery. I loved it and thanks to my giggling everyone in the family wants to read it now. Imagine an Agatha Christie set in a retirement home, with a poignancy and a wry look at life, this has been a bestseller for many weeks so it doesn’t really need my recommendation but I shall give it anyway. This week it was just what I needed to avoid the news and online sadness but I promise to return to children’s books next week.


News, articles and resources…

Wigtown Book Festival 22nd -27th March – this children’s book festival BigDog takes place from 22 March. Find out more and book free tickets to online events via the link above. The line-up includes Ross Mackenzie, Abi Elphinstone and Clare Rayner and there are workshops, sensory storytime and lots more.

We read books to my daughter from birth, which enriched all our lives – a lovely article by Donna Ferguson in the Guardian about the joy of sharing books with babies and young children.

School Librarian of the Year 2021: Inspirational School Librarians Honour List – Caroline Bradley, Creative Director of Just Imagine writes about these fabulous school librarians and shares their good practice. A shining example of what is possible when school librarians and libraries are valued.

Inspiring Young Readers: An Interview with Kate Pankhurst – In the month in which we celebrate International Women’s Day, Elaine Chant talks to Kate Pankhurst about her Fantastically Great Women series for Books for Keeps.

Six Questions for Alec Williams, author of Get Everyone Reading – Q&A with Cathal Coyle, Publications Co-ordinator (SLA) about his experiences and views on reading, libraries, and storytelling. In case you missed it last week here’s the link to download your free copy of Get Everyone Reading.

Inaugural Long List for Jhalak Children’s & YA Prize – this award celebrates books by British/British resident BAME writers and the long list includes great titles for both primary and secondary schools.

“Keep hopeful!”: Smriti Halls says goodbye as Writer in Residence – as her six months as Writer in Residence for Book Trust comes to an end Smriti Halls shares five things she’s explored, experienced and learned during her residency which she hopes we’ll be able to hold onto as we move to a sunnier future.

Fiction for older children – reviews – Kitty Empire’s selection of titles suitable for the middle year’s audience includes Amari and the Night Brothers and Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow plus How to Change Everything which she describes as “essential reading”.

The Reading Agency partners with WWF for nature-focused Summer Reading Challenge – This year’s Summer Reading Challenge theme is ‘Wild World Heroes’. To deliver it The Reading Agency has teamed up with WWF to encourage children across the country to engage in fun reading activity focused on environmental issues. This year, with the help of the new digital platform, the charity will be aiming to increase its impact even further and reach 1 million children.

Dara McAnulty: It’s time to grab the slippery eel of hope – after the last twelve months sometimes it is hard to remain hopeful but both Smriti Hall’s article above and this piece have boosted my hopes this week.

Shortlist for the KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards 2021 Announced – The titles competing for this year’s KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards have been revealed, giving an impressive and powerful picture of the status of contemporary Irish children’s literature. The selection is made up of a spread of books for young readers of all ages – from picturebooks to young adult novels, and of the eight shortlisted titles, five are published by independent Irish publishers.

Letters of Kindness – On World Book Day Children’s Laureate Wales Eloise Williams has launched the Letters of Kindness project. Over the next month, children are encouraged to write a letter of kindness to themselves to highlight kind things that they do or have done, and things about themselves and in their lives that they appreciate and are proud of. Letter templates are available via the link.

Teaching resource: All our stories! from the British Library – this is wonderful from British Library Learning. Download All our stories! teachers’ guide to find out how to use the Discovering Children’s Books website to celebrate ethnic diversity and develop a rich primary reading curriculum. There are articles introducing each of the themes, book lists and suggested activities.

Weird, Wild and Wonderful: An interview with James Carter – this post on the Reading Realm website provides a fascinating insight into the work of this particular poet and James Carter also gives dome advice to teachers about the ‘teaching’ of poetry.

Bookbuzz 2021 – a reminder that registration for Bookbuzz, Book Trust’s programme for students aged 11 – 13, is now open. This scheme supports and encourages reading for pleasure in Years 7 & 8 in schools.

Norton Juster, author of The Phantom Tollbooth, dies aged 91 – The US author was beloved for his pun-filled bestseller following a bored boy who drives into a magical kingdom, and for The Dot and the Line

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

A Fox and His Music: Gaspards’ Foxtrot by Zeb Soanes and James Mayhew – the third in the series inspired by a real urban fox this lovely review by Mary Esther Judy conveys the book’s appeal and the concert linked to the book sounds beautiful too.

The Tale of the Whale by Karen Swann and Padmacandra Meek – at the risk of sounding like an M&S advert this is not just a review this is a thoughtful journey through a rather special picturebook with Mat Tobin as our guide. I love the sound of this book published by Scallywag Press and its themes of appreciating our natural world and taking some action, no matter how small, to protect it.

Cinderella Liberator by Rebecca SolnitIllustrated by Arthur Rackham – another in the Fairy Tales Revolution series this review by Ben Harris for Just Imagine of this modern version of a traditional tale, “an intelligent, multi-layered and highly rewarding production, warmly recommended to mature readers in the junior classes prepared for some in-depth thinking and discussion.” has whetted my appetite to find out more.

Vampirates 1: Demons of the Ocean- Justin Somper – although this is not a new book I am sharing this review by Rich Simpson, part of this week’s blog tour, as the original series of books have been repackaged and there are three new titles being published this month by Uclan Publishing. The original books are brilliant for adventure lovers so these new titles are definitely worth looking out for. Author Justin Somper reveals his favourite adventure films too and there’s also a link to the online launch of the new books.

Swim, Shark, Swim by Dom Conlon illustrated by Anatstasia Izlesou – a poem that celebrates the endangered shark and the diversity of our oceans; this sounds wonderful and I enjoyed seeing a glimpse of the pages themselves and the beautiful illustrations. Sam Kelley of Just Imagine says “Swim, Shark, Swim is a book I would recommend for all ages in a primary school. It is the best kind of literature having a glorious combination of words and pictures which cast a spell over the reader.”

That’s everything for this week, I hope something here has proved to be helpful or interesting. Next week I’m looking forward to seeing which books make it on to the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Award Shortlists on Thursday. It is sure to prompt debate and book chat!

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Reading Matters – children’s book news

Hello and welcome to this look back at some of the latest news from the world of children’s books. This week has been dominated by the World Book Day celebrations and the ways in which schools and libraries have adapted to the current restrictions has been impressive and heartening. The day is really all about inspiring children to love reading and encouraging families to share stories and it is interesting to read about what the day achieved last year in this impact report. As children return to school on Monday I imagine that this weekend will be one of both anticipation and concerns and I hope that something in this week’s round up of news provides a distraction or is of help.

What I’m reading…

It is never too early to introduce children to books and I read and reviewed a perfect picture book for the youngest of our readers this week. Zeki Loves Mummy by Anna McQuinn and Ruth Hearson tells the story of a baby’s typical day and is full of joy and love and I would highly recommend it for both families and Early Years settings.

During a chat about reading last weekend I said that I enjoyed reading because there is always a book suitable for every occasion or every mood and this week I fancied an escape. Circus Maximus:Race to the Death fitted the bill perfectly. A children’s book debut by Annelise Gray I found this exciting story hugely enjoyable and Dido the lead protagonist a fabulous heroine. Highly recommended particularly for horse lovers and fans of historical fiction but this, I think, has a wide appeal. I’m already looking forward to the sequel.

News, articles and resources…

Children’s books roundup: the best new picture books and novels – another wonderful selection chosen by Imogen Russell Williams for the Guardian. I was delighted to see Space Detectives by Mark Powers illustrated by Dapo Adeola included as I think this book will encourage new readers to develop the reading habit, a glorious mix of humour and adventure.

Free Resource: Digital Library – this is brilliant and although created with World Book Day in mind it will be a valuable resource any time. There are several versions that can be used all across primary and KS3. Click on a book and it will take you to a YouTube reading of it. Huge thanks to Steph @eenalol for creating this it must have taken ages!

Celebrating Science Children’s Book List – British Science Week takes place 5th-14th March and this helpful list on the Books for Topics website includes books that examine key scientific concepts as well as stories that explore scientific thinking & highlight famous (& not-so-famous) scientists.

Five Picture Books About the Wonders of Science – still on the science theme, award winning author Nicola Davies has selected some beautiful picture books that will spark an interest and offer a route into science for young readers.

Book Clubs in Schools – Book Clubs in Schools (BCiS) takes the normal book club model and makes it suitable for schools, both primary and secondary. Book Clubbers read the same book, then discuss it in small weekly book clubs held during school time, facilitated by Book Club Leaders, who are older pupils. At the moment they are also running Mini Book Club at Home. There are more details via the website link above.

As if by magic, Mr Benn first appeared on our screens 50 years ago – and he’s still as popular as ever – how is it possible Mr Benn is 50? This is a lovely article in which his creator David McKee discusses this iconic character.

Books to develop insight into the culture, people and history of Wales – published to mark St David’s Day earlier this week this is an excellent and comprehensive post providing recommendations for different year groups and suggestions for activities too. Some of my recent favourite titles are included and I have added yet to more to my ‘want to read list’.

The Story of Reading During Lockdown – The World Book Day charity has brought together the UK’s leading reading and educational charities – BookTrust, CLPE, National Literacy Trust, and The Reading Agency – and the leading children’s publisher Egmont, as well as Nielsen Books, in a collaboration providing insights into the impact of the last year on reading for pleasure, and children’s life chances. This provides a comprehensive overview highlighting both the positives and areas of concern and would be a useful reference for discussion regarding the role of reading for pleasure in the future.


“Libraries changed my life”: Author Kelly Yang on the mysterious power of reading – I love this article for Book Trust as it highlights the many different ways in which school libraries can make a difference to a child including the idea of it as a ‘sanctuary’, an often forgotten yet important aspect.

New Children’s Books that Book Trust Love – Every month the Book Trust team review dozens of books for children and teenagers. Here are the ones they liked best in March: guaranteed to get your child reading.

YA Book Prize 2021 Shortlist Announced – The YA Book Prize launched in 2014 to award a YA title written by an author living in the UK or Ireland. It is the first prize in the UK and Ireland to specifically focus on fiction for young adults and addresses an important need for a prize in the growing YA and teen market. Among the books on the shortlist are Cane Warriors by Alex Wheatle and The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff.

Get Everyone Reading by Alec Williams: Free publication from SLA – This publication is free for all schools to download, and is a ‘primer’ for how to go about encouraging reading for pleasure in your school. The two appendices include an ‘Ideas Bank’ and a list of reading celebrations throughout the year, so you can discover more ways and more days to continue encouraging reading for pleasure.

Blue Peter Book Awards 2021 Winners Announced – The winners were announced during a special edition of Blue Peter on World Book Day, Thursday 4 March 2021. The award for Best Story was awarded to A Kind of Spark, the brilliant debut novelby Elle McNicoll. The award for Best Book with Facts went to Mike Barfield and illustrator Jess Bradley’s hilarious book,  A Day In The Life Of A Poo, A Gnu And You.

School Libraries Group Virtual National Conference 2021: Shaping Their Futures – The SLG Conference is the key professional development opportunity for School Librarians in the U.K. After this challenging year for School Librarians SLG’s Conference will provide an opportunity to come together to explore how we move forward. ‘Shaping Their Futures’ will include keynotes on ‘Children Reading for Pleasure Research’ ‘The Black Curriculum’ The Future of Education’ and ‘Reading for Information and Learning’ plus seminars, brilliant authors slots and much more! The conference takes place from 30/04/2021 to 02/05/2021

Children and Young People’s Book List: Wonder Women – March is Women’s History Month, so the Reading Agency have created a booklist to celebrate some of our favourite stories about inspirational girls and women or fantastic books written by them. You can join in with the conversation online using #WonderWomenBooklist on Twitter

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

What Did the Tree See? Charlotte Guillain (text) & Sam Usher (artwork) – I have seen pictures of this lovely picture book shared online so caught up with this post on the Library Mice blog earlier this week. The comments by both Melanie McGilloway and Charlotte Guilain are interesting and I enjoyed the glimpse of Sam Usher’s illustrations. There is also a trailer and a link to resources. This sounds like a perfect book to encourage children to think and investigate.

Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow by Benjamin Dean illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat – selected as a debut of the month on the LoveReading4Kids website Joy Court describes this book as “such a rewarding, positive and inclusive read that it deserves a place in every school and in every home.” One for shopping lists then!

Show Us Who You Are by Elle McNicoll – A Kind of Spark, Elle McNicoll’s debut novel last year, attracted a great deal of attention and positive reviews, also winning the Blue Peter Book Award this week, so following it was always going to be a daunting task, I imagine. However judging by this wonderful review by Ben Harris, Show Us Who You Are is also an excellent read. I particularly like the way in which Ben has provided questions to think about when reading the book rather than a précis of the plot. I’m very much looking forward to reading this.

Although I’m sure everyone has already watched this wonderful, happy video I wanted to finish with a smile. A great big thank you to Sophie Anderson for the inspiration and Gavin Hetherington for the creation. Happy reading and good luck next week…

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Circus Maximus: Race to the Death by Annelise Gray

Circus Maximus: Race to the Death is an epic adventure with a personal story at its heart and is a book that both excites and engages the reader from the opening page. Hugely enjoyable, full of breathtaking action the story hurtles the reader into a different historical world featuring, in Dido, a character who today’s young readers will relate to and root for.


In Rome during the reign of Emperor Tiberius Dido dreams of becoming the first female charioteer at the legendary Circus Maximus. She adores Porcellus, a wild, tempestuous horse she longs to train and race. But these ambitions are forbidden to girls and Dido must be satisfied with helping her father Antonius, the trainer of Rome’s most popular racing faction, The Greens. When her father is murdered, she is forced to flee Rome and seek refuge with an unlikely ally. But what of her dream of Circus triumphs and being reunited with the beloved horse she left behind in Rome? And the threat to her life isn’t over as she faces a powerful new enemy… the emperor Caligula.

Annelise Gray has a classics doctorate and worked as a Latin teacher and a historical researcher so this meticulously researched debut children’s novel has an authenticity to it that adds to the enjoyment and the realistic atmosphere conveyed throughout the story, However this never feels like a history lesson or a text that is trying to cram in facts and I enjoyed it hugely. The excitement and the drama is combined with a coming of age story that is moving and engaging. Dido, the name itself conjuring up an image of the strong woman of legend, is brave, intelligent and loyal and her dreams of competing in a man’s world are what drive her ambition and hard work. The plot however also allows the reader to witness her kindness and vulnerability and also her desire for justice and revenge. Dido’s love and understanding of horses is central to her dreams and this aspect will have huge appeal to horse loving readers. The cast of characters includes some real historical personalities, notably Caligula, and this careful mix of story and reality subtly draws the reader in to an ancient world of intrigue and power and increases the sense of being part of something that actually took place.

The chariot race scenes are full of vivid action and danger and the author conveys the atmosphere of tension and drama effectively. The publicity material describes this book as National Velvet meets Ben Hur and I have wracked my brains for an alternative but none sums up this cracking adventure so aptly. There are quieter moments too and I enjoyed the development of the relationships and watching Dido mature as the story progressed. It is refreshing to read a novel aimed at a middle years audience that is set in this historical period and this is a story that may well whet the reader’s appetite to discover more.

With my background in school libraries I can’t quite let go of the habit of matching books to readers in my mind as I read a children’s book and there were a great many I would have paired with Circus Maximus. A thrilling story, a fabulous lead character and best of all this is the first in a new series with the second title due to be published next year. This, I think, would particularly appeal to readers at the transition stage of primary to secondary.

I should like to thank Fritha Lindqvist and the publishers Zephyr Books for providing my review copy. Circus Maximus:Race to the Death was published on 4th March and is available to purchase online or via your nearest independent bookshop which can be found on this map


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Zeki Loves Mummy – Words by Anna McQuinn Pictures by Ruth Hearson

The latest in the Zeki series is a joy filled look at a baby’s typical day featuring those everyday moments that are in reality the important moments at the heart of a toddler’s life. A small book full of love and perfect for new babies and new mums.

We meet Zeki and his mummy first thing in the morning as she wakes him with a game of peek-a-boo and follow them through their day until bedtime when Zeki curls up with mummy for cuddles and a story. Each double page spread features an activity that will be familiar to a little person and will encourage them to engage, look and listen. There is den building with cushions, a trip to baby gym, a bike ride, lunch and painting. All of this is presented as being great fun and there are smiles on every page; encouraging both the mum who is reading it and the toddler listening.

The text is in rhyming couplets making this a delight to read aloud and giving it a happy bounce. I think it would encourage actions as you read too. The illustrations by Ruth Hearson complement the text perfectly and depict the loving bond between parent and child. Their closeness in the pictures and the mirroring of actions and expressions is beautifully done. Zeki has a small cuddly toy that accompanies him everywhere, a concept familiar to both children and parents, and the little seahorse is visible on every page, sometimes peeping from a pocket, or behind a cushion. This gives the child listening to the story a chance to become involved by searching for the seahorse and identifying where it is. A lovely touch for teaching vocabulary.

The book is made of sturdy card with rounded corners making it suitable for eager little hands who want to share the story fully. I love Zeki Loves Mummy, it made me smile and I think it will make parents and toddlers smile too. This would be a lovely present for a new baby or for Mothers’ Day and useful for early years settings too.

Thank you to the publishers Alana Max for providing my review copy. Zeki Loves Mummy is published on 28th February and is available to purchase online

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