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

Hello and welcome to another round up of the latest news from the world of children’s books. This week has been a whirlwind of book activity including Empathy Day when we celebrated the profound effect that quality children’s literature can have on behaviour and attitudes. We also had the opportunity to enjoy a variety of excellent online events sharing both book knowledge and enthusiasm for stories.

What I’m reading…


Sometimes I am asked why I still read children’s books. There is a long answer but a shorter version might be, because I can still learn so much from them. Can You See Me?  by Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott is a powerful and insightful read which is an excellent example of why children’s books are not only for children. The sequel, Do You Know Me? is now definitely on my wish list.

Can You See Me? features in this year’s Empathy Collection and is no doubt a book that is stocked in many school libraries. I wrote about  School Libraries – empathy factories for their communities this week as it is an aspect of school librarianship which is important to me and, I know, to many school librarians.

News and resources…

Exploring Pictures in Picturebooks – on Thursday evening a great many of us enjoyed a fascinating webinar generously provided by Mat Tobin, Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University. One hour full of knowledge and understanding sped by. If you were unable to make it Mat has kindly shared a video of the event (available through the link on the title)  and a comprehensive linked blogpost which could be used as the basis for a workshop or as a useful reference. You may also be interested in Mat’s wonderful Padlet of quality picturebooks for cross-curricular use in the classroom. Thank you Mat for your generosity in sharing this, it was a highlight of the week for many.

Seeing yourself as part of someone else’s story will bring justice to the world –  this reflective, gentle article by Wakanyi Hoffman is well worth a read. As she so rightly says…”One of the ways to discuss hard topics is through storytelling”

Young Wild Writer Competition for Hen Harrier Day 2020 – this blog by Gill Lewis provides details of a competition to get creative and celebrate British wildlife and Hen Harrier Day 2020. A chance to share wild words about the wild world in this competition for three different age groups from 5 – 16. Closing date 24th July.


Putting stories back in the curriculum –  a thoughtful, encouraging post by Xris Curtis on the importance of stories and reading enjoyment in the secondary school classroom.

Illustrating Great Art, Music and Children’s Stories – Leslie Tate, author and poet, interviews James Mayhew about his art, his collaborations with other authors and illustrators and his work with musicians and orchestras. A lovely insight.

#PassTheBookplate – a bookselling boost on shifting ground – A new plan to support independent bookshops, from author S F Said and Autumn Rosewall of Kenilworth Books and a call for authors and publishers to get involved.

45 Books to help children understand that black lives matter – Alison from Books for Topics has compiled a list including biographies, non-fiction, books that open conversations about racism and books that represent BAME characters.

Empathy Day Catch up with events – there were some fabulous interviews, talks and activities taking place live during the day on Tuesday. If you missed out you can still catch up by watching the videos now available on the official website. These would be brilliant to share in schools. I found the Empathy Discussion in the evening extremely hopeful.

Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell announce new ‘piratical adventure’ – this is exciting news! Pirate Stew will reunite the novelist and the illustrator in a rhyming tale for children due out this autumn.

‘Reading: whole class or small groups?’: The problem with the question. — Just Imagine – if you missed the recent webinar organised by Just Imagine this excellent write up providing details of research, current practice and informed discussion is an extremely interesting read.

CILIP Carnegie and Kate-Greenaway Twitter Takeover – To celebrate the 2020 shortlists of the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, the organisers will be holding a Twitter Takeover on Sunday 14 June. This will be an opportunity to engage and interact with judges and key personnel of the awards and to hear more from the shortlisted authors and illustrators. The full programme is available via the link and looks fabulous.


Diverse Voices – children’s books that celebrate difference – this is an excellent resource from LoveReading4Kids. They have created this Celebrating Diversity feature to highlight books that they have read and loved over the years, consolidating them into one easy to browse location. They will continuously update this category as they read and review new, relevant publications.

School Libraries Should Not Be Taken for Granted – an article from this month’s OURfP newsletter. This summary of recent research highlights the positive impact of library access on young people’s RfP and is written by Margaret Merga, an Australian researcher, whose own work explores libraries and students’ reading engagement.

Barnes Children’s Literature Festival 2020 At Home – if you were unable to join the events this week it is possible to watch the videos via the website. I particularly enjoyed Katie Webber’s interview with Kiran Millwood Hargrave and am looking forward to the Chris Riddell event this afternoon.

James Mayhew, Alex Redington & Siu Chui Li: performances of music, stories, & live art for children – a fantastic new venture on Patreon. Music, stories & art come together in exclusive films for children. Perfect for families, homeschool hub, teachers and educators. There are three levels from single household to schools with a range of resources available. This launches on 15th June and promises to be rather special.

Finally some reviews that caught my eye this week…

6F9E8FEF-2C4B-4A75-B2E0-F1EFFBA4BB3FMy Nana’s Garden by Dawn Casey and Jessica Courtney-Tickle – ‘one of the most beautiful picture books about love and loss I’ve seen in a long time.’ says Jill Bennett in her enchanting review of a book published this week by Templar Books.

Dragon Detective: School’s Out by Gareth P Jones illustrations by Scott Brown – Mary Rees describes this second adventure starring Dirk and Holly as a ‘fun-filled, magical, action-packed adventure with a perfect sprinkling of danger’ It sounds perfect for primary school libraries and classrooms.

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty – this much anticipated memoir is described by the Guardian as ‘a book that succeeds in describing the deep and complex pleasure of immersion in nature’.

The Enigma Game by Elizabeth Wein – featuring among the books of the month on the LoveReading4Kids website this ‘Cracking WWII story in which a young Jamaican Briton’s ingenuity makes remarkable impact’ sounds great.

That’s it for this week. A great many people to thank for their generosity in creating resources, courses, stories and art for us all to share and enjoy. It does, I think, make a difference and lift our spirits. I hope you have found something of interest among this week’s links. Happy reading…

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School Libraries – empathy factories for their communities


This week we mark Empathy Day created by Empathy Lab to build children’s empathy with the aid of high quality literature. Our world today has possibly never been in greater need of empathy. The organisers of this initiative have, despite the difficult circumstances, ensured that there are resources, books and ideas available to encourage and inspire children. Their wonderful website is full of details, including booklists, research and information regarding future plans. All of this is centred around the best books which act as the tools to increase empathy. Young readers need access to these children’s books to make this work. 

Great school libraries act as empathy factories in their communities. The sharing of books with pupils and staff can connect individuals as a school family and encourage us to be empathetic and to show kindness in our daily lives. This can make a big difference in the school and perhaps in the wider community it serves too.

How do school libraries do this? Firstly by stocking the right type of books and making them available to people who need them at the appropriate time. As a primary school librarian I was asked almost daily for books about subjects ranging from teamwork, showing acceptance and friendship to those who may be a little ‘different’, learning to take turns, understanding the need to persevere and many, many more. All of these books would then be shared either by the teacher in the classroom, me in the library or a senior teacher at assembly. Time and time again these stories worked their magic and resolved tricky situations or sparked helpful discussion. Although a class library may sometimes have a suitable book, a school library will have a large and varied range of books available to everyone. Perhaps more importantly there will also be a librarian whose knowledge of the stock will mean they know where the right book is at the right time. This overview combined with book knowledge enables everyone in the school community to have the opportunity to share these stories together.


Secondly, school libraries will provide access to books with diverse characters and about weighty subjects at a level appropriate for all the different types of readers in the school. These books enable children to put themselves in others’ shoes briefly and give them an insight into lives very different to their own. This understanding will do much to break down barriers at a time when mistrust and fear have caused distress and conflict worldwide. Equally important are books in which children can see children like themselves with whom they can relate.  Books can also enable them to read about children with similar problems, worries and fears. A school librarian works with all the children in the school and this enables them to guide readers to a book that could make all the difference when they need it most. Sometimes a book may not be appropriate as a class read but could reassure, comfort or encourage a child at a particular time in their lives. A book in which they see a person coping with grief, family breakup, health issues or struggling with friendships can provide a life lesson that makes all the difference. A good school librarian knows both the children and the books and can fit them together just like solving a jigsaw puzzle.

Unfortunately not everything a great school library and librarian does can be counted and included in data. Just because it cannot be counted does not mean that it does not matter.  The library is unique in a school in that it is a neutral, shared space common to all members of the school community. The pastoral role of the librarian and the library as a refuge and haven for pupils is vital and may be underestimated by some. Every single school librarian can tell you of a child who has been ‘rescued’ by the library. The new pupil anxious about the hurly-burly of the playground or perhaps the worried child who needs some time alone and a quiet space to simply ‘be’. If for any reason a child feels out of place the school library can provide security and a place where they feel valued. For teenagers approaching exams the school library may be the only quiet place where they can concentrate, study and revise.

School libraries offer hope for the future. They help to nurture empathy, kindness and a sense of social justice.  We should not take any of this for granted.


For more information about the Great School Libraries Campaign please visit the official website.

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Can You See Me? by Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott – Book 1 of 20 Books of Summer 2020

Sometimes fiction makes difficult subjects accessible for children, sometimes it helps young readers understand people who are different to themselves and sometimes it encourages children to speak up about their own difficulties with increased confidence. This powerful collaboration between Libby Scott, an eleven year old girl with autism and Rebecca Westcott, a popular children’s author does all of those things. In addition Can You See Me? is a shining example of why children’s books are not only for children.

‘Actually, the more I think about it, the more I reckon that a lot of the cons of autism are not really caused by autism but by how other people react to it. I really do.’

The transfer to secondary school can be a challenging time for many and for Tally the worries mounted as the end of the summer holidays drew nearer. Tally is autistic and her anxiety about adapting to the many new aspects of school life is causing her problems. In addition her friends from primary school who had always supported her now appear to be subtly different; their interests and shared jokes feel alien to Tally. Increasingly she tries to conform to the requirements that others place on her to fit in which only adds to her difficulties. One of the boys has started to taunt Tally and she feel that there is no-one to help her. As the days pass Tally struggles to control her true feelings until eventually she discovers that they are too powerful for her to hide for ever.

This is a moving, powerful and, perhaps most importantly, insightful read. Rebecca Westcott, a teacher, writes with a knowledge and understanding of school life which ensures that the descriptions of the daily routines, the teachers’ behaviours and the attitudes of the pupils all feel authentic and relatable for young readers. The innovative approach, with Libby Scott providing input in the story itself and writing Tally’s diary entries which are interspersed with the story throughout, results in this book being an enlightening and at times slightly uncomfortable read. It highlights the expectations we as adults may have of autistic children that can make daily life harder for them. This would be a valuable read for both teachers and parents as it increases understanding and provides ideas for possible strategies to help. Rebecca Westcott has created in Tally’s family characters who care for and love her but at times experience both frustration and worry. Tally’s elder sister shows kindness yet also the understandable impatience of a teenager coping with her own issues. Tally’s diary entries, as written by Libby Scott, show a remarkable self awareness, honesty and maturity that is impressive. I found it an eye opening and gripping read. 

That this story features in this year’s Empathy collection is no surprise. Perfect for encouraging discussion, understanding and kindness this deserves a place in every school library and classroom. Can You See Me? is a wonderful read for all children preparing for transition to secondary school and it would be an excellent class read for both Year 6 and 7.

If you are looking for books to help you understand autism the Healthy Books website has a list of books, both fiction and nonfiction, suitable for a wide age range. Can You See Me? features on this booklist collated by Book Trust which aims to provide a range of children’s and teens’ books that feature characters who are on the autistic spectrum. A new self-help book, Autism, Bullying and the Child by Emily Lovegrove was published last month and you can read more information about it here.


This is the first book on my #20BooksofSummer2020 challenge organised by Cathy at 746 Books.  If you would like to see which other books I’m planning to read you can browse my list here.

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

Welcome to this week’s look at the latest news from the world of children’s books. The global news continues to be disturbing and there are days when it can feel overwhelming. The world of children’s books however tends to be a positive one and even now there are things to celebrate and share. This coming week we mark Empathy Day and initiatives such as this are a source of hope. More good news this week was that the Knights Of and Jacaranda Publishing #InclusiveIndies campaign raised over a staggering £100,000 and this figure continues to climb. Both of these publishers ensure that everyone will have a voice and be able to see themselves in literature. Also, generous people continue to create and share resources and ideas freely across social media to ensure that our children are still able to access stories. So there is some good news.

What I’m reading…


This week I have rather concentrated on what I am planning to read rather than reading itself. Once again I am participating in the 20 Books of Summer Reading Challenge. This is organised by Cathy at 746Books You can browse my rather ambitious selection of titles here. The first book on my list is Can You See Me by Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott which is on this year’s Empathy Collection list and I can now well understand why. It is a moving and enlightening read.

 News and resources…

Children’s books roundup – the best new picture books and novels – another fabulous collection of suggestions from Imogen Russell Williams for the Guardian. Every time I say I am not buying any more books Imogen manages to tempt me!

The Bird Within Me Written and illustrated by Sara Lundberg Translated by B.J. Epstein Teacher Notes – ‘teacher notes’ does not really do this comprehensive resource created by Martin Galway for Book Island Publishers justice. There are discussion prompts, writing ideas, art and cross curricula projects included making this invaluable for schools. I re-read my copy of this thoughtful book last weekend with Martin’s notes beside me and it made for a richer reading experience. Highly recommended.

Love My Books Newletter – the latest newsletter provides links to yet more wonderful creative activities linked to popular books. New additions include The Astounding Broccoli Boy by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Beetle Boy by M G Leonard. There are free activity books too and ideas for picture books for all ages. In addition I suggest some possible titles to follow popular, classic picture books.


Rain Before Rainbows by Smriti Halls and David Litchfield – this beautiful picture book full of kindness and hope is free to download from the Walker Books website. The illustrations are simply gorgeous, I have to keep going back for another look. The book supports the #SaveWithStories campaign from Save the Children and is a generous gesture by its creators.

The Humble Mayor of Grumble by Hilary Robinson and Steven Johnson Free Downloadable Story – a lovely review by @BookMonsterAlly of a story of hope resilience, community & gratitude during a pandemic with a link to download this illustrated poster story, ‘a fable for our time’ for use in the classroom or at home.

31 Children’s Books to Support Conversations on Race, Racism, and Resistance – a children’s book list for anti-racist activism including picture books, novels and biographies.

#BlackLivesMatter 21 stories for teens – a downloadable poster created by school librarian Lucas Maxwell featuring books that are popular with pupils at his school.

Book Trust announces the Book Buzz titles – 17 exciting books for Bookbuzz 2020: a wide variety of titles, from non-fiction reads for curious minds, to fast-paced page-turners. Bookbuzz has something for everyone. Registration is extended until October this year so there’s still plenty of time to get your school involved.

30 Picture Books to Promote Black Representation in Children’s Literature – a collection of wonderful books selected by primary school teacher Miss Newton @MissNewton91 on Twitter.

Before You Get to Year 7 Booklists – another fabulous resource from Lucas Maxwell. These booklists are divided into genres including comics, horror and books for fans of the Wimpy Kid series.

Fly with Tiny Owl: Access extensive library of free resources – Tiny Owl not only produce gorgeous picture books but they have also worked with others to create many wonderful resources for schools. There are links to videos, creative ideas and teaching ideas.

Empathy Read Aloud – Enjoy listening to wonderful empathy boosting stories and poems from the empathy book collections read aloud by authors, illustrators and poets.

Exploring Empathy: the importance of teaching empathy in the classroom – Miranda Mckearney OBE – Empathy is an important life skill for children to learn, and a force for good. Miranda McKearney, the founder of EmpathyLab, explains how Empathy Day uses books to boost empathy by teaching children to see things from other people’s perspectives.


Chicken in the kitchen read by Lucian Msamati | Tata Storytime. Kids book read aloud – a big thank you to Mat Tobin for sharing this on Twitter this week. It’s absolutely great and a master-class in how to read a story aloud. I have been exploring the other videos on Tata Storytime and they are perfect for sharing.

Year 6 Transition to Secondary School Booklist – this booklist is on the Books for Topics has been collated by @TheBookWhisper2 who blogs at

No reader is too young to start’: anti-racist books for all children and teensIt’s never too early to learn that racism is wrong and we should be doing something about it. These books will help show our kids how, writes publisher and bookseller Aimée Felone for the Guardian 

Barnes Children’s Literature Festival At Home 2020 – this annual treat for children’s book lovers is brought to us all for free this year thanks to their At Home programme. The line up includes S F Said, Emma Carroll, Jeremy Strong and more.

Librarians Under a Lockdown: Rising to the Challenge – this article by Bev Humphrey of the School Library Association for NACE, in addition to detailing the different ways in which school librarians have adapted to the Coronavirus pandemic, also provides links to online CPD and guidance on planning for the future.

Summer Reading Challenge – This year, Silly Squad, the Summer Reading Challenge 2020, will celebrate funny books, happiness and laughter. Children taking part in the Challenge will join the Silly Squad, an adventurous team of animals who love to have a laugh and get stuck in to all different kinds of funny books!

Finally, some book reviews that caught my eye…

Mrs Noah’s Garden by written by Jackie Morris illustrated by James Mayhew – my own copy of this gorgeous picture book arrived last weekend and this review by Jo Bowers for Just Imagine captures its appeal beautifully.

A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicol– as we approach Empathy Day I think this book may we’ll feature on future Empathy Collection lists. Jo Cummins says ‘I would urge all educators, anyone who knows or works with autistic children, and anyone who enjoys a powerful story, to read this book!’ It is suitable for aged 9+

Thank you for reading. I do hope that you have found something of interest among this week’s items and enjoy a restful weekend with time for some reading.

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20 Books of Summer 2020

Cathy at 746 Books is hosting her 20 Books of Summer reading challenge again this year. Last year was the first time that I have participated and unfortunately I failed miserably to read the twenty books on my original list. I think I managed nine. However, undeterred, I have decided to have another try! Cathy does, thank goodness, have a very relaxed approach to this “challenge” so I have succumbed. Although I seriously doubt I will manage twenty books between now and 3rd September I thought it may prompt me to tackle my toppling to be read book mountains. According to Cathy I can reduce the number if I wish to and may alter the list if I fancy too. This sounds appealing! I do know of other online book pals who are taking part which I think will encourage me in my attempt.



Due to my various reviewing commitments, chiefly for children’s books, the time available for reading simply for my own pleasure has diminished. Although I greatly enjoy the children’s books I review it will be refreshing to have complete freedom of choice. We all know how vital personal choice is for nurturing reading for pleasure in children so I am going to adopt the same approach for my own reading.  I had hoped that the Coronavirus pandemic restrictions would result in my reading more but I flit about from one disturbing news report to another instead. Having a list of titles will, I hope, encourage me to focus. So here goes…my #20BooksofSummer20 list. Perhaps you would like to read some of these too?

1. Can You See Me by Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott – this book is on this year’s Empathy Collection booklist for children. As Empathy Day takes place on 9th June and we are at present living in a world desperately in need of greater empathy this, I thought, was a good place to start.

The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick – the idea of a story with a librarian at the heart of it and a plot description that reads, “a librarian’s discovery of a mysterious book sparks the journey of a lifetime” was enough to persuade me to borrow this e-book from my own local library and I am looking forward to a cheerful escape. 

3. The Boy Who Dreamed of Dragons by Andy Shepherd 

4 . My Name is River by Emma Rea 

5. The Ghost Garden by Emma Carroll

These three books are all copies that I have received for review from children’s publishers. Andy Shepherd’s book is the latest in a popular young middle grade series combining a magical introduction to fantasy with a kind and gentle look at family life. Emma Rea’s new book,  My Name is River, is an adventure set in the Brazilian rainforest which does sound to have great child appeal. I always enjoy Emma Carroll’s historical fiction for children and am looking forward to her first novella for Barrington Stoke.

6. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – this was given to me by a friend who said she thought it was “my sort of book.” It has languished on my bookshelf for ages. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2015 I really have no excuses for not getting round to reading it.

7. On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

8. Toffee by Sarah Crossan.

Two teen/YA novels that are shortlisted for awards. Angie Thomas won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize in 2016 for The Hate U Give and On the Come Up is shortlisted for the Carnegie Award this year. This will be the first of her novels that I have read and I’m fascinated to see what I think of it. From The Weight of Water onwards I have enjoyed Sarah Crossan’s verse novels. Despite the fact that her writing is more suitable for an older audience than the primary school readers with whom I used to work I have always made time to read her books. Toffee is shortlisted for the UKLA Book Award and I am very much looking forward to reading it.


9. Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker – several people whose judgement I value have recommended this children’s book on Twitter so I could not resist the temptation to buy a copy.

10. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – another that has languished on my shelves for far too long. This story within a story holds great appeal and is another that is linked to books and the doors which they open to other lives, places and times.

11. The Old Ways – Robert MacFarlane – This is cheating a little as I have started reading this beautiful book but had to put it to one side due to other commitments. During the lockdown I have spent time walking in our local woods and the idea of history hidden in our footpaths and lanes is, for me, a comforting one. 

12. High Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson

13. Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange

14. Where the River Runs Gold by Sita Brahmachari 

These are three children’s books that have been neglected  due to being my personal reading choices and having to take second place to those I am reviewing in time for publication dates. Sharna Jackson’s book is published by Knights Of, a small publisher doing big, brilliant things and I have wanted to read this for ages. Lucy Strange’s debut, The Secret of Nightingale Wood, was the sort of book that I loved as a child and still do now. I am looking forward to reading her second title. Corey’s Rock written by Sita Brahmachari and illustrated by Jane Ray prompted me to buy her novel for older children last year and is another I am hoping to make time for.


15. The Phone Box at the End of the World by Laura Imai Messina translated by Lucy Rand – this was an impulse download from NetGalley and it was the descriptions of the hopeful nature of the story that attracted me. It is due to be published this month.

16 The Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool – winner of the Newbery Award in 2011 this novel has parallels with our world at the moment and I approach this one with a little trepidation. Will it reassure? I do hope so.

The following books are all childhood or teen treasures rescued from my parents’ house or second hand book finds from over the years. Each in their own way is important to me and I have added them to my list with a slight anxiety as to what I will make of them now.

17. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

18. Little Men by Louisa M Alcott

19. Our Friend Jennings by Anthony Buckeridge

20.  Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper 

Well, these are my twenty books. Will I change some? Yes, quite possibly but I do intend to try and keep to the original choices if possible. Even if I only manage to read a few books over the period it will be a valuable exercise in focusing on books I already own. The problem is going to be resisting my natural inclination to add to my collection. There are so many fabulous books being recommended to me at the moment I will undoubtedly be tempted but I am aware that this results in some older and just as fabulous books being neglected. Hence these unread beauties. #20BooksofSummer is a lovely idea and I am looking forward to taking part. I hope to post regular updates on my progress.





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

Hello and welcome to this week’s look back at the latest children’s book news. This is attempt number two so I have everything crossed that someone somewhere is able to read this! Sometimes there are occasions when I wish that I could escape to the imaginary worlds I read about and this has been one of those weeks. If you fancy escaping too I do hope that you find an article or book  here that helps you do just that.

What I’ve been reading…


This week I read Cloud Boy by Marcia Williams a very different story to those with which I usually associate this award winning author. You may well be familiar with her popular comic format books such as Bravo Mr William Shakespeare and Hooray for Women or her wonderful journal style story My War Diary by Flossie Albright. This is her first novel for a middle grade audience and it is a story of friendship, loyalty, loss and courage told by a believable main character. It’s accessible but its innocent narration deals with deep emotions. I will try and post a review in the coming days.

Two wonderful picture books landed on my doormat this week. Bloom by Anne Booth and Robyn Wilson-Owen and Perdu by Richard Jones. I loved them both and you can find out why here.

News and resources…

Not reopening but blooming: picturebooks for new beginnings – this is a beautiful and reassuring blog post by Martin Galway, of Herts for Learning Primary English, about picture books full of hope. If you only have time to read one item I share this week please make it this one.

From Harry Potter at Home to the National Shelf Service: bookish fun for the lockdown – An updating list of online treats for bibliophiles of all ages, including Hogwarts quizzes, Simon Armitage and a star-packed reading of James and the Giant Peach.

J.K. Rowling Introduces The Ickabog – speaking of Harry Potter…here is his creator’s latest offering for children. The Ickabog was written as a read-aloud book but it’s suitable for 7-9 year olds to read to themselves. J K Rowling is posting a chapter (or two, or three) every weekday between 26th May and 10th July on the website and asking children to provide illustrations of the characters to be share on social media. 

Mrs Noah’s Garden: An interview with James Mayhew – this beautiful sequel to Mrs Noah’s Pockets was published by Otter-BarryBooks on 21st May. Illustrator James Mayhew discusses working with author Jackie Morris on this book, their latest joint venture, on the Reading Realm website.


Choose Bookshops! The Lockdown KidsLit Band – independent bookshops are in a precarious situation due to the Coronavirus pandemic.  Children author Gareth P Jones wanted to find a way to get the message out so he put a call out for other children’s authors to contribute to a song to promote the #ChooseBookshops campaign. Have a lovely day! 

We Found a Hat | Free Performance for Children – Watch Ian Nicholson, Samuel Wilde and Jim Whitcher’s puppet-filled adaptation of ‘We Found a Hat’, the final instalment in Jon Klassen’s ‘Hat’ series by The Little A Theatre. This is an absolute treat.

Minerva Reads: Storytelling Specifically – an interesting blogpost by Clare Zinkin about the power of storytelling to give truth to the world outside.

Five ways to give children access to stories and reading material during lockdown – to support reading at home Alison Leach of Books for Topics has put together a list of the best places to access free children’s reading materials, from phonic readers and online comics to read-alongs and full length chapter books.

P is for Pandemic: kids’ books about coronavirus – article in The Conversation providing information about books which explore practical ways young children can avoid infection and transmission, and provide strategies parents can use to help children cope with anxiety. 

‘Time and time again’: Tom’s Midnight Garden and the Temporality of Lockdown – I was going to write about the experience of rereading time slip children’s novels during the lockdown and how affecting and reassuring I found the experience. Stella Pryce has written about it so beautifully I suggest you read this instead. Just like the books I think I’m going to have to keep rereading this too.

Top 100 Recommended Reads for Year 1 – Scott Evans, The Reader Teacher, has been busy again! This time he has updated his suggested book list for Year 1. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, picture books, chapter books, classics & newly published titles too. Complete with printable display posters & checklists to use in the classroom.

Further Fabulous First Chapter Books – Jo Cummins has provided a selection of wonderful books for readers who are looking for some that’s still highly-illustrated and engaging, but also a little wordier.

Where the World Turns Wild: Lockdown Reading for Anxious Children – this is a thoughtful article by Imogen Russell Williams discussing books ranging from classics to newly published titles that will console and encourage young readers.

40 Picture Books to Share with children who are returning to school this June – another helpful resource from Alison at Books for Topics, she has created lists of suggestions grouped into themes of worry, resilience, bereavement, happiness, following rules, fear, hope etc.


Letters from Lockdown – The Children’s Book Show has had to postpone their annual  programme of theatre performances and in-school workshops. Instead they have invited artists to write a short letter to be shared with classes online or via social media, to inspire them to write their own lockdown letter. These are lovely; beautiful to look at and to read.

YA Book Prize 2020 – Congratulations to the winner of the YA Book Prize 2020 ⁠— Meat Market by Juno Dawson. Find out more about Meat Market and the rest of the books on the 2020 shortlist and read free extracts of all of them and check out the Q&As with all of the shortlisted authors.

Prestigious national appointment for Professor Teresa Cremin– huge congratulations to TeresaCremin on being appointed Reading Expert for the English Hubs Council. Her role will be to help inform their programmes to improve the teaching of language and literacy to young children in England.  

Empathy Shorts – Empathy Day takes place on 9th June and Empathy Lab have ensured that children will have access to an empathy boosting story on the day by asking eight leading authors to write eight brand new stories. These include Jo Cotterill, Bali Rai and Gill Lewis.

A Monster Calls – Bristol Old Vic have teamed up with The Old Vic to bring A Monster Calls to the comfort of your own home. Adapted from the critically acclaimed bestseller by Patrick Ness, and directed by Sally Cookson (Peter Pan, La Strada), this Olivier Award-winning production of A Monster Calls offers a dazzling insight into love, life and healing.  It will be streamed live on Friday 5th June at 7pm and will be available for one week afterwards. Thank you to Mat Tobin for making me aware of this or I would have missed this exciting news.

Klaus Flugge: Pam Smy on finding an original voice in illustration – this guest post for Just Imagine  by Pam Smy lecturer with the Cambridge School of Art at Anglia Ruskin University provides an insight into the world of illustration and the pressures that may be experienced by illustrators.

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

Orphans of the Tide by Struan Murray – this review by Sam Creighton for Just Imagine has persuaded me that this is another that needs to go on my shopping list. In summary he says’  “the book, which perfectly sets up an already promised sequel, is a powerful mix of excitement and substance and deserves to be a staple text on every UKS2 bookshelf.”

Young Fiction Reads – a fabulous selection of  Jo Clarke’s favourite recent releases all guaranteed to enthral and entertain children. A mix of witches, monsters, vampires, zombies, dragons and ghouls so something for every possible taste.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson – ‘An addictive, clever YA crime thriller with a loveable female protagonist. Full of shocking twists and turns and set against the backdrop of modern teenage life.’ says Olivia Mitchell in her excellent review for The Bookbag.

Well that’s all for this week. I think! Rather a lot of reading matter but I do hope that there is something here that appeals to you. I hope you have a lovely weekend and happy reading.


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Hope and Kindness for our Youngest Readers

This week two rather special picture books landed on my doormat. Their arrival was timely. On Monday some of our youngest children will return to their schools for the first time in many weeks. Their classrooms will look different, school life will have altered and their experiences over the last two months or so may have been unsettling. Teachers face the task of reassuring their small pupils and providing a sense of security for them. Picture books can help. Especially picture books that radiate kindness and hope. Bloom and Perdu are very different stories and yet they both feature a small child who makes a difference. Not by slaying dragons or defeating villains, or with magic or secret powers. These two little girls change lives by being kind. These hopeful, reassuring books empower little ones as they listen or read. They see that even the smallest voices can make a big difference when they are used to be kind. A valuable message for them in the world today. 

Bloom written by Anne Booth and illustrated by Robyn Wilson- Owen 

‘Good morning, beautiful flower’ she would say. ‘I think you’re wonderful. Thank you for being here for us. I love you.’

Each day a little girl admires a pretty flower that flourishes in a garden she passes on the way to school. She talks to it and appreciates its beauty; every morning it cheers her as she walks past. Unfortunately the man who lives in the house is possessive of his garden and shouts angrily at the small girl to stay away. Over the coming days without the little girl’s visits the flower droops and its beautiful petals no longer open. The furious man tries everything. He tells the flower how lucky it is, how important he is, he waters it and instructs it to grow however despite all his efforts the flower continues to pine. He has run out of ideas so perhaps the little girl can help him?


Text and illustrations combine in this thoughtful picture book to convey ideas and themes that matter. The child in her joyful innocent way appreciates the things about her that bring her happiness and she displays this appreciation in her behaviour and attitudes. The old gentleman is unable to do this. Materially he has more than the little girl and her family and yet he does not lead a happy life. The illustrations highlight this difference. On opposite pages we can observe as the girl, her brother and mother share meals together in the kitchen of their flat while the man meanwhile sits alone at a big table with people serving his meals. The children enjoy colouring together while the man leads a solitary, unhappy life complaining about others in his large house. Finally when he asks the little girl for her advice he discovers what a little kindness can achieve.

This is a lovely story tenderly told which ensures young children will be comforted and reassured. More perceptive children may ask why the old man is so grumpy and this could be an excellent prompt for further discussion. Sometimes we all need a small reminder of what matters most in life and Bloom confirms for us the importance of appreciating what we have, sharing our good fortune with others and showing kindness even to those who may not be kind to us, These can be difficult lessons to learn sometimes but this gorgeous story encourages readers to nurture one another.

Bloom is published by Tiny Owl Books on 11th June and this celebration of optimism and kindness is perfect for sharing with young children at the moment.

Perdu by Richard Jones 

“I must find my place thought Perdu. I must find my somewhere” 

Perdu, the little lost dog is all alone with no place to call home. Captivated by a fluttering leaf that floats down the stream alongside him he follows it in the hope that he will find ‘a place to be’. We follow his journey as he travels through forests and fields, the stream gradually becomes a river and he slowly makes his way to the large city in the distance. Poor Perdu finds the city a busy, noisy, scary place when you are feeling lost and small. But the observant reader may already realise that someone has noticed him and that this particular someone cares. 

This is the first picture book that Richard Jones has both written and illustrated and it is a gem. The text captures the sights and sounds of Perdu’s journey beautifully; “the grass was cold beneath his paws”, the leaf  “landed with a whispery tap on the water”, “tip, tip, tip, tip, tip, tip, tip, tip went his claws on the concrete”. The writing draws attention to the aspects of city life a small dog would notice such as the smells, the loud noises and the feel of things against him. It is beautifully done.

Although Perdu is growing increasingly anxious the reader may have noticed the small girl watching the little dog. Her red woolly hat matching Perdu’s beloved red neckerchief. I don’t think I am spoiling things by saying yes, there is a happy ending. When their paths cross the little girl speaks ‘softly’ and looks at Perdu with ‘kind eyes’. All will be well! 

The illustrations are beautiful with gentle colours and are a perfect match for the story. Richard Jones conveys Perdu’s emotions in the small but determined figure trotting along through the fields and in the droop of his head and tail in the city as he cowers after being shouted at. There is a lovely touch when a visitor from The Snow Lion makes an appearance and children who have read that book will be reassured to know an old friend is keeping an eye on things. 

In addition to the small lost dog, (Perdu is such a perfect choice of name) there are parallels to others who may be trying to find a place where they can belong be that those displaced from their own countries or people struggling to fit in with others. This is a soothing book to read and a celebration of the power of kindness. I loved it.

Perdu was published in April by Simon &  Schuster Children’s Books. 








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

Hello and welcome to this week’s look at some of the highlights in the world of children’s books during the last week. These are articles I have enjoyed, resources that I think may be helpful and some news items that caught my interest. I remain impressed by the work people are putting into creating an online children’s book world and there is such a plethora of high quality items I can only mention a few of them.

What I’m reading…


Over the last few weeks my reading habits have altered a little and in addition to rediscovering old favourites I have also found poetry something that I enjoy at the moment. Poetry to Comfort and Inspire During a Pandemic explains how and mentions a couple of books that have made an impact on me. This week saw the Klaus Flugge Prize 2020 Shortlist Announced and the five picture books featured on the list are a wonderful example of the vibrancy and range of children’s illustration available.

My Ten Day Picture Book Challenge has been completed and conversation with others taking part has been enjoyable this week. Some of the titles I included were The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski illustrated by P J Lynch a gorgeous Christmas picture book with illustrations to savour, a recent publication Felix After The Rain – written and illustrated by Dunja Jogan Translated by Olivia Hellewell
a lovely book full of kindness and hope and 
It’s a No-Money Day written and illustrated by Kate Milner an important and emotional look at our society today.

News and resources…

BBC Drawn to Music with James Mayhew – a short series of films where children’s author and illustrator James Mayhew paints to performances by the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales. This is wonderful! I have been lucky enough to go to concerts where James Mayhew paints alongside a live orchestra and this programme allows families to have a taste in the comfort of their own homes. The series began with Mars by Holst (link in title) The second episode shown yesterday features Adams’s ‘Short Ride in a Fast Machine’

Natural talent: the 16 year-old writer taking the world by storm – Dara McAnulty is being hailed by the likes of Robert Macfarlane and Chris Packham as a bright new voice. He talks about life with autism and finding peace in the wilds of Northern Ireland.

Writing Tips from SF Said – last week I posted a link to the British Library’s Make a Miniature Book Activity and now top children’s author SF Said has created a video giving some writing advice that children may find helpful before they start their own books.

Empathy Day Family Pack – Empathy Day takes place on 9th June and there is now a Family Activities Pack available to download containing activities suitable for the whole family. They cover the three themes – Read, Connect, Act – but can be done in any order with just some scrap paper and a pen or pencil.

Beanstalk: Doodle with Liz Pichon Activity – Coram Beanstalk ambassador, Liz Pichon, has created a great colouring-in and doodling activity for children to do at home. Free to download from their website.

Celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week with Tiny Owl books!– a lovely blogpost by Tiny Owl Publishers stressing the importance of being kind and talking to one another and giving details of how some of their wonderful books can help.

Children’s Books to Support Mental Health Awareness – there are many helpful themed book lists on the Books for Topics website. This one has been created by Alison Leach to link to Mental Health Awareness Week but these books would be helpful at any time to open up conversations about mental health in age-appropriate ways.

Meet Tom Percival, author of new middle-grade series the Dream Team – World Book Day interview with Tom Percival author of a  brand new middle-grade series exploring anxiety in children through action & adventure & are a great way to introduce young readers to ways of managing worries. I love Tom’s picture books such as Ruby’s Worry and am looking forward to reading this. 

Klaus Flugge Prize Shortlist– To celebrate the 2020 Klaus Flugge Prize CILIP have a special broadcast of the #NationalShelfService by librarian Jake Hope sharing the 5 wonderful illustrated books that have made this year’s shortlist.

DKW Literary Agency Authors Launch Online Book Events – Date for your diaries! The DKW Literary Agency  Book Bash.  Join in and celebrate a host of recent and upcoming book releases Wednesday 27th May. As book launch events have been cancelled virtual celebrations such as this are a good way of keeping up to date with the latest titles. The schedule is shown below and you can follow on Twitter using #DKWBookBash.


A Little More Feeling – Just Imagine – Nikki Gamble has written about the recent Just Imagine training webinar which focused on Better Think Alouds. This is a fascinating and informative article which provokes thought about the reading experience for all ages.

Onjali Q Rauf on writing children’s books that do ‘much more than entertain’ – interview with this award winning author in The National about the background to the themes she chooses for her books and information about the charity she has founded.

National Book Tokens and Puffin Big Dreamers Writing Competition – A joint collaboration, this new writing competition for children aged six to 18 asks them to write a 300-word short story on the subject of “Big Dreams”. The deadline for entries is 28th May and the winning entries will be published on the website.

The School Library Association Information Book Award –   the tenth shortlist for this award was announced this week. This recognises the importance of non-fiction whilst highlighting the high standard of resources available. There are three age categories ranging from under 7 to 16 and there are links to activities  for each book on the website too.

Last but definitely not least…If you want to develop your knowledge, understanding and use of children’s books then the new Open University Reading for Pleasure chats on Twitter sound perfect! Follow #OURfPBookBlether to join in each week. The chats are being led by some wonderful teachers and educators. Here’s the timetable:


Finally some reviews that caught my eye this week…

Old Enough to Sace the Planet written by Loll Kirby and illustrated by Aledina Lirius– this new information book sounds as though it would be a wonderful addition to primary school library and classroom shelves. In their review BookTrust say: ‘This is a book to treasure and so too are the young people whose stories it contains. Celebrating young activists, in style, it will inform and inspire many more.’

There’s a Rang-tan in my Bedroom- James Sellick & Frann Preston-Gammon – on a similar theme to the nonfiction book above this picture book is based on the original Greenpeace film that became a viral sensation – revealing the plight of orangutans, the dangers of deforestation, and what we can all do to help.  On her Lily and the Fae blog Lily describes this as a ‘beautiful and empowering book that whilst exploring a sad human made disaster offers the potential and encouragement for young humans to make change.’

Empire’s End – A Roman Story by Leila Rasheed – part of the Voices collection published by Scholastic this book takes the reader on a journey from Libya to Britain during the time of the Roman Empire. Laura Ovenden reviewing this title for Just Imagine says this historical novel  ‘is packed full of well-researched details and is a rich source for Key Stage Two or Key Stage Three.

That’s it for this week and I realise it is rather lengthy but hope that this means there is something of value to different audiences. Have a lovely weekend and happy reading.






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Klaus Flugge Prize 2020 Shortlist Announced

The shortlist for the 2020 Klaus Flugge Prize was announced today by Jessica Love, winner of the 2019 prize for Julian is a Mermaid. This award was founded in 2016 to highlight the most promising and exciting newcomers to picture book illustration and honours Klaus Flugge, the founder of Andersen Press and winner of the Eleanor Farjeon Award for outstanding contribution to children’s books.

Five books have been selected from the original longlist of sixteen by the panel of judges comprising award-winning illustrator Mini Grey; Jessica Love, 2019 Klaus Flugge Prizewinner; Meera Ghanshamdas, bookseller at Moon Lane Ink; children’s book consultant Jake Hope; and Pam Smy of Anglia Ruskin University.

The breadth of subject matter depicted in the shortlisted books indicates how varied picture books are at the moment. Illustration can convey emotions and thoughts that children are unable to articulate themselves but will recognise and identify with; picture books are able to stretch a child’s imagination and display the complexity of the world in a manner they can understand and for these reasons and many more picture books matter. It is wonderful to see contemporary picture books being celebrated by this award.  These five shortlisted books include an exploration of emotions, a reworking of the traditional counting book, a magical adventure full of family love, a funny dash through a department store and a quality reference book.


The Klaus Flugge Prize 2020 Shortlist

img_3458When Sadness Comes to Call, Eva Eland, editor Libby Hamilton, designer Rebecca Garrill (Andersen Press)
What the judges said: ‘beautifully simple and pared back; the page layouts seem sparse and crisp but the work the illustrations are doing is quite extraordinary in terms of the message that sadness is something we might have to live with.’


42E2E6C1-BB9B-43A4-AC33-303FF4531DBAThe Star in the Forest, Helen Kellock, editor Anna Ridley, designer Aaron Hayden (Thames & Hudson)
What the judges said: ‘few books these days use light and tone or traditional watercolour skills to tell stories; it’s worked into something quite magical here.’



Where is Your Sister?, Puck Koper, editor Suzanne Carnell, designer Jo Spooner (Two Hoots)
What the judges said: ‘goes at a wonderful pace, with laugh out loud moments. It’s stylish and feels very sophisticated for a first book’.



On the Origin of Species
, Sabina Radeva, editor Anna Barnes Robinson, designer Keren Greenfeld (Puffin)
What the judges said: ‘It’s full of detail and really reflects the beauty of nature. A feat of managing that amount of detail without it feeling cluttered. A wonderful reference book, a real companion for a child.’


5BC49EA5-7E82-49B0-B80A-A70259B8D1D7One Fox: A Counting Thriller Book, Kate Read, editor Suzanne Carnell, designer Jo Spooner
What the judges said: ‘Visually stunning. There’s real drama here and the way the story is told is joyous. She’s done a very clever thing and created a counting book while keeping within the beats of a story.’


This selection provides a taste of the gift offered to readers of all ages through the world of illustration. Picture books are fundamental to a child developing a love of reading and these particular titles are shining examples of how this happens. Chair of the judging panel, Julia Eccleshare summed up their appeal:

Our shortlist demonstrates the vibrancy of contemporary illustration for children. Here are five very different books – the illustrators have different styles, use different techniques and have different intentions, but each achieves exactly what they set out to do with pictures that perfectly tell their stories.’

The winner will be revealed on Wednesday 16th September 2020 and will receive a cheque for £5,000. There is more information about the award on the official website.

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Poetry to Comfort and Inspire During a Pandemic

Like many others I have found it harder than I expected to concentrate on reading during the Coronavirus crisis. I had hoped to savour all those treasures on the bookshelves that I have not had time to enjoy previously and yet I have found myself returning to old favourites and comfort reads. I have made tackling my to read lists even more difficult by increasing the lists with impulse buys. No doubt fellow book lovers will recognise this weakness! However these impulse purchases were made in response to the current circumstances in which we find ourselves. Additionally a couple of them are not my usual genre. Poetry I have discovered is a perfect read for me at the moment; two very different books have made a considerable impact, one a letter and the other a collection they are both welcome additions to my personal library.

For Every One by Jason Reynolds 

14148F13-E92E-43BE-8264-76040CD8E32DTold in the form of a letter this is poetry that simultaneously inspires and comforts the reader. Jason Reynolds addresses the ‘dreamers’ encouraging them to persist through setbacks, to value the importance of their hopes and dreams and yet to notice the world around them as they make their progress. This is not a self help book or a how to succeed manual it is an understanding look at the difficulties people, and young people in particular, face as they plan and hope for their futures. Jason Reynolds does not pretend that he has all the answers instead through verse he becomes the reassuring and encouraging voice of a good friend. The author is 2020–2021 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and although perhaps primarily a book that will resonate with a more youthful reader this, as the title so aptly says, is truly a book for everyone. We are never too old to have dreams and plans and this thoughtful book contains an important message that it is not the achievement itself that matters most but the efforts we make as we attempt to reach our goal. Reynolds also confirms that dreams are not only the preserve of the creative types but for everyone whatever their passion be that in the field of athletics, business, family or community.

The prose is passionate, direct and rousing presented in an accessible pocket sized format. The use of different spacing, typeface size and position encourage the reader to read sections at a different pace and concentrate on key points.  I have returned to this several times over the last couple of weeks and am so glad I bought it. It would be a thoughtful present for a teen or young adult and a wonderful addition to secondary school library shelves.

For Every One is published by Knights Of, a small independent publisher doing wonderful things and who need our support even more at present. I bought this and another title from them in response to a plea on Twitter and their range of books for children and teens are groundbreaking and important. You can find out more here

These Are the Hands: Poems from the Heart of the NHS edited by Deborah Alma and Dr Katie Amiel

8A2E6C04-C333-4870-9988-2944BABDB09FWith a forward by Michael Rosen this collection of poems written by both those working within our National Health Service and several well known poets is immensely moving, humbling and at present also heartbreakingly important. Beginning with Michael Rosen’s beautiful These Are the Hands written to mark sixty years of the NHS, we are given an insight into every aspect of the medical profession by those who know it best.

There are poems written by surgeons, nurses, consultants, therapists, porters and radiographers, by GPs, domestic assistants, librarians, midwives and psychiatrists; every possible department and area of medicine is included and the reader is left with the inescapable conclusion that every single person cares and makes a difference. It is hard to read this without adding your own personal experience to your understanding of the poetry and I found the poems dealing with aging and end of life care particularly poignant. But there is joy and love in this poetry too, particularly love. Not the hearts and flowers type but the everyday, nitty gritty, caring type that I and countless others have witnessed first hand and this collection highlights so beautifully.

Among the well known poets featured in addition to Michael Rosen are Roger McGough, Wendy Cope, Lemm Sissay and Kate Clanchy. The collection is divided into sections including Look How we Start,  Inside and Solidarity each concentrating on different areas of hospital life. This book draws attention to the numerous different departments and aspects of the NHS and the teamwork involved in its daily life. The poetry is of many different styles and is engaging and full of humanity and hope. This would be a wonderful anthology at any time but at the moment its impact and importance hits home.

All proceeds from the sale of this book will go to NHS Charities Together which supports over 135 official NHS Charities raising money for the many different NHS services. These are the Hands is published by Fare Acre Press and if you would like to find out more or purchase your own copy you can find out more here.  There is additional information and links to readings of some of the poems on The Bigger Picture website. 



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