November #52books2018

Read in fits and starts this month, from taking ages to read a short book to racing through others in a couple of days. Favourites were The Afterwards and Strange Star. It was also a pleasure (and a bit nerve-racking) to review Michael Rosen’s newest book for the Just Imagine podcast.

110. Jane Elson – Will You Catch Me?

Nell is the daughter of an alcoholic mother, and is frequently neglected as her mum goes off the rails. Luckily for Nell, a loving family is next door in the form of Aunty Lou, TJ and Michael, who regularly take her in.

Nell decides that having her father in her life will help both her and her mum, and sets about using the school’s historical pageant to make herself known to the absent dad.

There are some desperate, poignant moments in the book, none more so than when Nell and her mum go on a treasure hunt in their flat – the treasure being mum’s secretly-stashed bottles of alcohol.

Through her learning at school, Nell is inspired by another Nell – Nell Gwyn, a woman of prominence in the time of King Charles II, and it is she who provides modern-day Nell with inspiration and guidance.

During Nell’s search for her father, the importance of friendship and community come to the fore, as well as the message that school and education really can be a sanctuary for some children – the wonderful Mr Daniels looks out for Nell and fires her enthusiasm, allowing her to take her mind off mum’s problems for a brief moment or two.

111. Michael Rosen – Uncle Gobb and the Plot Plot

A review of this book can be heard here at 14:22.

112. Ally Sherrick – The Buried Crown

After the untimely death of his parents, and his brother’s duty with the RAF as part of the war effort, George Penny has to move in with Bill Jarvis, a mean-spirited, cantankerous and indeed violent character. George senses he is up to no good, and, fearing for his own safety, absconds.

He is taken in by Kitty Regenbogen and her grandfather, a former archaeologist. As Jews, the Regenbogens left Germany to seek safety, and some locals do not trust them, saying they are spies. Indeed, Grandpa is taken in by the authorities at one point.

George is told stories by Grandpa, stories of the buried crown, one that is said to belong to the Anglo-Saxon King Redwald. When George discovers the crown, he unleashes dark forces in his village – and he soon discovers he is not the only person interested in this ancient artefact.

A WWII story with a hint of magical realism, the book offers insights into modern and ancient British history. In terms of WWII, the Kindertransport, bombing raids, evacuation and the Home Guard are all points of discussion, while the story itself is fast-paced, full of daring, adventure and a sense of doing what is right. A really enjoyable read.

113. Emma Carroll – Strange Star

Taking Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as inspiration, this book is a gothic thriller that is at times dark, moody and tense as we follow, for the most part, Lizzie Appleby and her sister Peg as they uncover scientific experiments in their sleepy village of Sweepfield.

The story begins with servant Felix looking after Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, Percy Bysse Shelley and Clair Clairmont in their Swiss escape, Villa Diodati.

A knock on the door shatters the party atmosphere, for Lizzie has travelled from England to escape – and here her story takes over.

Lizzie is struck by lightning, losing her mum in the process, and is physically scarred and partially blinded as a result. When a scientist moves into Eden Court, Lizzie is intrigued, especially when her sister appears to be involved.

From here, the scientist’s true motivations are revealed, and Lizzie is in great danger. She escapes, and we return to the present in Switzerland. Tense throughout, this would be a great class read.

114. A.F. Harrold – The Afterwards

December, or Ember, lives with her father, Harry, but without mum, who passed away. December and her father have a clear, loving relationship – it’s brilliant to see such a strong father in a children’s story.

Ember’s world is shaken further when her best friend, Ness (Happiness) dies after an accident. What happens next transcends the real world and what we assume is the afterlife, a monochromatic place where time stands still. Ember finds herself there after her wayward Uncle ‘swaps’ her for his dead dog, but she is able to move between the two worlds with help from Mrs Todd and a mysterious cat (surely Zinzan from The Imaginary).

Much like the second world that Ember visits, Harrold’s writing moves slowly, thoughtfully as Ember contemplates what to do – could she harness Uncle Graham’s ability to swap the living for the dead? Can she bring back Ness?

The end of the book is particularly poignant and beautifully written. As a big fan of A.F. Harrold I have to declare bias, but this contemplation on life, death, grief and how we approach each is deep and powerful.

115. Adam Kay – This Is Going To Hurt

A series of diary entries from (former) Dr Adam Kay, which tell of the hilarity and the difficulty of working a) with the general public and b) in the NHS. No subject is off-limit, ranging from the frankly brainless to the heart-wrenchingly sad.

In the background, struggling with being massively overworked and underpaid, it is also clear to see Kay’s life crumble ever so slowly. A wake up call to all who think NHS is an expendable commodity and a must-read for anyone who has ever used it (yes, that means all of us).

116. Karen Wallace – Think of an Eel

A lyrical, fluid study of the life-cycle of an eel, told effortlessly with both word and picture. Story, facts and image combine to bring the importance of this oft-forgotten fish to life.

117. Nikki Thornton – The Last Chance Hotel

Seth is a put-upon kitchen assistant at the Last Chance Hotel, and is spoken down to Mr Bunn, the chef, and teased and bullied by Bunn’s daughter, Tiffany.

When he sees the chance to earn some brownie points for a guest by baking an apricot dessert, he goes for it, and his beautiful creation is presented during a meeting. All is well, until one of the guests drops down dead.

Seth is of course suspected – but he knows he is innocent. He learns more about the guests, discovering their magical abilities, their possible motives, and the fact that no one can be trusted.

Can Seth solve the mystery of the murder in order to prove his own innocence?

A magical murder mystery, like Cluedo by Harry Potter.

118. Lynn Fulton – She Made A Monster

The story of Mary Shelley’s inspiration for Frankenstein, complete with moody imagery and a suitably dark tone throughout. Brilliant to use alongside Frankenstein, of course, but some of my children have used this alongside Emma Carroll’s Strange Star, which is itself an origin tale for Frankenstein.

Apart from showing Shelley’s inspiration, it also shows her determination to be recognised as an equal to her male counterparts, which itself would offer a lot of points for discussion in the classroom.

119. Philip Reeve – Fever Crumb

A prequel to the Mortal Engines series, set well before traction cities were up and moving, we meet Fever, a young Engineer who deals in facts and rational thought, a girl for whom emotion is not allowed.

This outlook on life is tested when she finds out the truth about her parents, and, when savage Londoners want her blood, she has to flee and seek protection.

We are given hints about what is to come in Mortal Engines, as ‘the Movement’ are certain to be the first to live in ME’s nomadic style, but really this story is about a person finding and accepting who they really are.

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October #52books2018

102. Peter Bunzl – Skycircus

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It’s Lily’s birthday, and, put out by the lack of attention she is getting, is intrigued by an invitation to a circus – the Skycircus. Despite feeling uneasy and unsure, she, along with Robert, Malkin and Tolly, go to visit, where they are shocked by what they see. Hybrids are used as a freak show, mocked by the ringmasters, and mistreated by all. And then it dawns on Lily why she was invited…

Another cracking adventure, this time seeing Lily and Robert work together to save not just themselves, but other hybrids who have been cast out by society. There are some moving moments as Lily becomes friends with one of the circus acts, sharing the story of Icarus and adapting it to suit their purpose.

If you liked the first two, you’ll like this, but I really hope Lily learns her lesson!

103. Jewell Parker Rhodes – Ghost Boys

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If this story doesn’t give you pause for thought, then no book will.

Told from the perspective of 12-year-old Jerome, now a ghost having just been shot by a police officer, we are taken into a world where other ghosts – other black American boys – have also been killed for a variety of reasons.

Jerome confronts the daughter of his killer, shadows his family as they struggle with his death, and witnesses court proceedings against the officer in question. As he does so, he befriends other ghost boys, chiefly Emmett Till, a name well known in America for his part in triggering the civil rights movement.

We travel back and forth in time, learning about Jerome’s final hours before his shooting, and the message is clear: that all lives matter, all lives should be valued equally, but they aren’t. And it’s 2018.

Poetically written, this is a highly affecting story that really does make you stop and think.

104. Kiran Millwood Hargrave – The Way Past Winter

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A wintry tale to chill the bones, as siblings Mila, Pipa and Oskar live and survive in the depths of the forest – until, one night, a stranger comes calling. The next day, Oskar has gone.

So begins a journey through winter that takes in mages, spells and a frozen environment vividly described by Kiran Millwood Hargrave.

105. Gabrielle Kent – Knights and Bikes

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An entertaining homage to the 80s, a time in which children ran free on adventures close to where they lived. In this case, the children are Demelza, a girl who lives on a caravan park and has recently lost her mother, and Nessa, an adventurous free spirit who wants to explore as much as she can.

As the two become firmer friends, they discover the secrets of the Isle of Penfurzy as they venture deep into its hidden chambers – this is where the book reminded me a lot of the classic gameshow Knightmare.

There is lots of humour, a developing friendship, and two brilliant female leads that challenge gender stereotypes.

106. Shinsuke Yoshitake – It Might Be An Apple

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When a boy comes home to find an apple on the table, his mind begins to explore what else it could be. A tribute to the power and importance of imagination – I’d love to share this with a class to see what they make of it.

107. John Boyne – The Boy at the Top of the Mountain

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A desperately grim story of Pierrot, an orphan taken in by his aunt, who is working for Hitler.

Ages six when he begins life at the Berghof, Hitler’s residence, we follow Pierrot’s – latterly Pieter – descent into following Hitler: he talks like him, shows contempt for others like him, belittles people like him, but ultimately receives nothing in return. From being a scared, innocent boy, his descent into a fully contemptible teenager is shocking.

Towards the end, there is a line that gives you hope for Pierrot’s future; whether that comes to be is unknown.

108. Ross MacKenzie – The Elsewhere Emporium

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We’re back with Daniel and Ellie for a new adventure, and back with the Nowhere Emporium, no longer hidden away and shrouded in secrecy, but led by Daniel as a celebration of magic.

Little does Daniel realise that Mr Silver has left a secret behind, a monster from 1967 that has been trapped behind a mirror in the darkest recesses of the Emporium. When an unsuspecting punter is taken in by the mirror’s charms, a curse is unleashed that threatens the existence of Daniel, the Emporium, and indeed magic itself.

There’s a fast pace to this, but not fast enough that the burgeoning relationship between Daniel and Ellie is given space to grow. If you liked the first one, you’ll love this.

109. Amy Wilson – Snowglobe

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A highly original magical tale in which Clementine, a twelve-year-old girl who is being bullied at school, comes to realise her potential in her search for her missing mother.

She first uses her power at school, throwing one of the bullies of his chair and earning a suspension in the process. When she later sees a house that nobody else does, she enters to find a world of snowglobes, and in each one is a trapped magician.

Clementine travels from globe to globe, learning about the power held by Io, the lady of the globes, and Ganymede, the owner of the house. It’s here that she discovers more about her mother, and why she has been missing for the last ten years.

Lots of magic, and an unashamedly fantastical adventure through various worlds, in a search for friendship and family.

September #52books2018

92. Piers Torday – The Lost Magician

lostmagician

A spell-binding adventure that reminds us all of the importance and magic of stories.

Four children stumble into the world of Folio via a disused library, and quickly learn that there are the Reads and the Unreads – fiction and fact. The two groups are at war with one another: imagination against reality, stories against information, and, in choosing their sides, the children learn more about themselves than they thought possible.

I loved Evie’s story in particular. She has been seriously affected by the air raids of WW2, and no longer believes in stories as she is of the belief that there is no happy ever after. What she does learn, however, is that stories have taught her about herself and about others, and this might also apply to Simon, her brother, who has found reading difficult.

A wonderful homage to Narnia, and a book that quite literally wears its message on its sleeve.

93. Karl Nova – Rhythm and Poetry

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Some wonderful poetry from the award-winning Karl Nova, often autobiographical in its nature. Best of all are the commentaries alongside which show that poetry can be about anything you want it to be.

94. Tomi Adeyemi – Children of Blood and Bone

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A far-reaching fantasy epic that has blood and guts, love and war, magic and mythology and much more.

Zelie and her community are cast out of society on the basis of their history – clans with different magical abilities were seen as a threat to the monarchy, and mass murder was committed. However, Zelie has the chance to bring back magic, and bring back a sense of equality for her people – but to do so she must risk her own life.

Zelie is hunted by the crown prince, and she struggles to come to terms with her new-found power – and her new found feelings.

There are twists and turns a-plenty, and the plotline is full of action. Not a book for primary level, but a hell of a read.

95. Catherine Johnson – Freedom

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A short story (138 pages) offering a fascinating and depressing insight into the lives of slaves in Britain at the end of the 18th century.

Nathaniel is brought from Jamaica to Britain with the sole purpose of looking after pineapples. It’s his belief that Britain is a place of freedom; his dream is soon quashed.

He hatches a plan to escape, in order to feel real freedom, and along the way meets figures who would go down in history as the slave trade edged towards abolishment.

There is a brilliant ending here, one laced with hope, determination and spirit, and the treatment of slaves is detailed so that children can begin to understand the seriousness and cruelty of it.

96. Peter Brown – The Wild Robot Escapes

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The inevitable return of the fabulous Roz, the robot who thinks and feels. She is working on a farm, charged with the most menial tasks, but has a plan to escape.

And she does.

With the help of her adopted goose son, Brightbill, Roz has to travel over land and sea to find home, to find out where she has come from, and then find out what – and who – she truly is.

Full of warmth and love, and a tale that encourages to think about what it is to belong.

97. Megan Shepherd – The Secret Horses of Briar Hill

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A deep, rich read here, one that raises questions about life and death, and reality and other worlds.

Emmaline is in a children’s hospital, being cared for by the Sisters of Mercy during World War II. She, and the other children, suffer with tuberculosis, and therefore being outside represents huge risk.

Emmaline believes she can see winged horses in the mirrors of her home, and becomes attached to one that is injured – Foxfire. She then finds a letter from The Horse Lord, a man who lives beyond the mirrors. His fear is that an evil Black Horse is out to end Foxfire, and all of the other winged horses, and Emmaline is asked to save them by creating a spectral shield.

Her mission becomes her obsession, and as she works to save the horses, her health deteriorates.

The ending is stunning, supported – enhanced – by Levi Pinfold’s artwork. The reader is left with more questions than answers, but this is no bad thing. A story to settle in the heart for some time.

98.Candy Gourlay – Shine

shine

A story that follows Rosa, a girl who lives in the island of Mirasol, and who lives almost in solitary confinement, for she has The Calm, an illness shrouded in superstition and bad fortune.

Through her loneliness, she befriends Ansel95, an internet user who has taken photographs of the area in which Rosa lives. Who is he? And what does he know about Rosa that he’s not letting on?

Bubbling in the background of this story are the chapters written by Kara (Rosa’s deceased mother) to her twin sister, Kat. This made little sense to me until the final quarter of the book, when things simmer quickly before really coming to the boil. The end is quite hard-hitting, taking the reader in a direction it didn’t seem to be going halfway through, which I enjoyed.

Loss, loneliness and trust are key themes here, as well as mental health issues.

99. Heather Morris – The Tattooist of Auschwitz

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Any story of the Holocaust is, by definition, one of sadness, a bleak reminder of our recent history. However, this one, based on Lale Sokolov’s real life experience, also offers some kind of humanity in the midst of the horror, and, sometimes even in only the briefest of moments, the hope that people are good.

100. Jakob Wegelius – The Murderer’s Ape

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A sprawling novel which follows the determination of Sally Jones, a gorilla whose best friend, the Chief, has been convicted of a crime he swears he didn’t commit – the murder of Alphonse Morro. When letters are discovered, Sally Jones believes they are from Morro, and sets out to track him down in order to prove he is alive and that the Chief is innocent.

That, in a nutshell, is the story. But really it is so much more – Sally Jones is a wonderful lead character, observing human folly with honesty, wit and a discerning eye. Maybe it’s a comment on how humans can be greedy, dishonest and underhand; maybe it’s also showing what true love really means.

A story to get lost in.

101. David Almond – The Dam

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Inspired by a true story, this stunning picture book explores the loss of a community, how an abandoned village was filled in with water, and how that loss is remembered. Levi Pinfold’s artwork here is something to savour.

Six to Read

Last year, I had a small group of children who were fixated on genres – one week they wanted to read mystery books; the next, something emotional. One of my reluctant readers became deeply interested in picture books, and another girl loved stories told in verse, such as Cloudbusting or Love That Dog.

We are well stocked at school, but I sometimes didn’t have the right book to hand, or, on other occasions, the time to sit and talk through a range of books based on the genre they’d asked for. For a couple of the children, I quickly wrote out a ‘six books to read’ reference for a couple of genres – adventure/mystery, humour, and poetry.

 

I thought this might be a useful resource for my class coming up next year, so have tried to improve it a little.

Six To Read is a quick reference guide, and is therefore by no means definitive. It has largely been based on:

a) what I know about the children I have in my class next year

b) books I’ve read myself (with a couple of exceptions)

c) books I know we have in school (I don’t see the value in a child asking me about a book then me sending them away empty-handed).

The complete list is available to download here as a PDF, but I’m more than happy to send over the editable version if anyone wants to change it to suit their class and book knowledge.

The current lists (should) have working QR code links to extracts (from the excellent lovereading4kids site), reviews, trailers and the like, or alternatively a simple blurb. I’m thinking of either printing these as A3 posters, or binding them together in some sort of book for the classroom.

I’m thinking there are lots of different avenues that could be explored too, such as a list for wordless picture books, sports-themed stories, auto/biographies, myths and legends, graphic novels… or even more specific, such as dragons or wolves. This is largely for Y5/6 children so if anyone wants to make a Y3/4 one, that would be great too.

That’s it. Enjoy.

Click to download the full set.

June #52books2018


62. Elizabeth Laird – Song Of the Dolphin Boy

doplhin boy

This is the fifth of Elizabeth Laird’s books that I’ve read, and is very different from the others.

Set on the Scottish coast, Finn is struggling to make friends with children in the community, and is chased by one of the boys after a disagreement. He hides under a pier, slips, and realises he has a special power.

From here, the story doesn’t quite go in the direction you’d think – magical powers and fabled creatures make appearances, but instead the theme of the book focuses on the environment. Finn learns that dolphins and other animals are being killed by rubbish, and when he learns that a local supermarket plans to release 5000 balloons to celebrate its opening, he overcomes his shyness and forms a protest group with the other children.

Secret Seven-esque, and would be great for years 3 and up.

63. Adam Baron – Boy Underwater

boyunderater

A wonderful story, told by Cymbelline Igloo (this will make sense at the end of the story), a 9 year old boy who boasts that he’s a brilliant swimmer – in fact, he’s never been swimming, and is rescued, shorts round his ankles, from the pool by a classmate.

What isn’t expected is what happens to his mum, who suffers a breakdown as a result of Cym’s accident. Cym has to live temporarily with his auntie and uncle, when he uncovers a secret about his mum that gets him puzzled.

The pace is fast, the humour is non-stop, and the emotion hits hard. Baron does a brilliant job of voicing a nine-year-old’s misplaced confidence and trust, while also leaving lots of jokes for older readers.

Read this – you won’t be disappointed.

64. Ele Fountain – Boy 87

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Set in an unnamed country, Shif and best friend Bini plan to escape in order to avoid military service – but they don’t act quickly enough.

Sent to prison in the middle of the desert, they are left in a container with a variety of ‘deserters’ – people who have spoken against the government and punished. They are left with the decision of whether to escape and risk their lives, or stay and meet certain death.

Shif and Bini’s friendship is a highlight here, all knowing looks and unspoken understanding. It isn’t until the escape that the action really picks up, with new characters offering more questions.

This would work really well with Eoin Colfer’s ‘Illegal’, as it depicts the struggle people have to find a better place, risking lives and being exploited along the way.

Thoughtful, thought-provoking and raw.

65. Sophie Anderson – The House With Chicken Legs

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Based on the Slavic folk tale of Baba Yaga, this story turns tradition on its head: Baba Yaga has always been painted as a witch, an evil character plotting and magicking against others. Here, we see Baba Yaga as a loving grandmother to Marinka.

Marinka assists her grandmother as she sends the dead through The Gate, from one world to the next; however, Marinka’s frustration with her repetitive life, and inability to make lasting, meaningful friendships, leads her to make some questionable decisions.

Throughout the book, Marinka is torn as to what is right and what is wrong – she always seems to have made her mind up, but her stubborn streak is often scuppered by her sense of duty and loyalty to her grandmother, and to her house with chicken legs.

Without wanting to reveal too much, one of my favourite things about the book was that Marinka made bad decisions, and largely had to pay the price for them. This is an important lesson for children to learn as it can often be the case that stories have characters making the wrong decision, but then everything works out just fine. Not the case here, and it’s all the better for it.

Brilliant world-building, a strong female lead and suspense throughout – a great read.

66. Jess Butterworth – When The Mountains Roared

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Ruby moves to India with her father after her mother’s death, from which the family are reeling and become embroiled in debt. Once there, dad vows to develop a hotel at the foot of a mountain – one that is supposedly cursed.

Overcoming her fears, Ruby begins to explore and learns that the mountain’s curse is atually inflicted on the animals, particularly the leopards, who are being culled for their fur. Ruby tries to gain the trust of locals in order to expose what she has discovered – but can she act quickly enough?

Lots of discussion to be had around animal rights and conservation here, and this story would be a great start with years 4 and up.

67. Kate DiCamillo – Flora & Ulysses

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Flora adopts a squirrel which has had the misfortune to be vacuumed. Since this incident, the squirrel starts behaving strangely, typing poetry, fighting cats and flying.

Flora’s mother wants the squirrel dead, and the story tracks how their relationship ebbs and flows. Flora’s cynicism about life recedes and she realises all she wants is her mother’s love.

The comic book references are frequent and act as a form of guidance for Flora, and there is a lot of light humour and silliness.

Not one of my favourite DiCamillo books, but still full of thoughtful prose and an interesting, sideways look at life.

68. Peter Reynolds – The Word Collector

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Jerome is a hoarder, an enthusiastic collector of words that intrigue and beguile him. He keeps them with him as he explores their impact, and there is a lovely ending that is a play on words in itself.

A love letter to vocabulary and its power.

69. Philip Pullman – The Firework Maker’s Daughter

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Lila wants to become a firework-maker, just like her father, but he thinks she should find a husband instead.

Outraged, Lila leaves the home to receive official recognition that she is indeed good enough to be a firework maker, but her hastiness leads her, and her father, into danger. Together, they have to work to prove their talents.

Quick, adventurous and a strong message about having total belief in yourself.

70. Diana Wynne Jones – Howl’s Moving Castle

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A story full of magic, led by Howl (or Howell), a magician with an eye for the ladies and who is permanently escaping the wrath of the witch and her curse.

Sophie Hatter has already incurred said wrath, and as such is transformed into an octogenarian. She sets about Howl in order to reverse the spell, but instead finds herself involved in all of his capers.

I have to admit I’m not the biggest fan of stories of magic/fantasy, and this story bypassed me somewhat. I should return to it one day, perhaps.

71. Nicola Davies – The Day War Came

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A stunning picture book that lays bare the destruction of war, not just of a home, a building, a town, but of a life.

The story shows a child’s normal school day being destroyed by war, which then follows her as she has to escape her home, her town and her country. She eventually finds herself in a foreign land, where she is generally shown no love, trust or compassion. This is addressed at the end.

Through my own ignorance, I hadn’t heard of the 3000 Chairs campaign, started in revolt against the government’s decision to refuse unaccompanied children from Syria. This picture book started as a poem based on this event and would be a wonderful starting point for discussion in KS2 classrooms.

72. S.E. Durrant – Little Bits of Sky

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A story told through a collection of diary entries written by Miracle (Ira for short). She and her brother Zac are in care, and have experienced the parentage of lots of different people. When they move to Skilly in London, they have no expectation that this will be any more permanent or rewarding.

Ira finds a letter written by a former resident at the care home, and the spirit of the author helps Ira to become stronger and more focused on her future. When Martha, a woman who wants to help orphaned children, gets in touch through a charity, Ira starts to hope a little more.

A touching and thoughtful story which does a great job tackling a difficult subject. Ira and Zac were authentic, troubled characters who you couldn’t help but feel sorry for, and their story of having hope built up and being knocked down again is one that must be true for so many children, including those we teach.

May #52books2018

I think the first book on this list will remain a favourite for many years. I also fell back in love with David Almond this month – his newest novel is fantastic.

49. Graeme Baker-Smith – The Rhythm of the Rain

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Beautiful words, beautiful illustrations and beautiful colours combine to tell the story of the water cycle. A book to promote awe and wonder.

50. Victoria Jamieson – Rollergirl

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A coming-of-age story about Astrid, a young girl who is trying to find her place.

Her interest is piqued by the local roller derby club, but joining means threatening a lifelong friendship, lying to her mother, and the realisation that she’s not that great at skating.

Ultimately a story that shows that teenage years can be difficult, filled with what seem like life-changing decisions and a desperation to be loved and to succeed.

51. Gail Honeyman – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

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Universally acclaimed and so doesn’t need my two-penneth, but here it is anyway: the story of Eleanor is at times harrowing, at times laugh-out-loud, and one that sheds a sorry light on how ‘outsiders’ are treated by the majority – whether co-workers mocking behind people’s backs, or how Eleanor’s struggles to communicate ‘normally’ are met by strangers. Eleanor’s tale is heroic and desperate at the same time, but should make you stop and think.

52. David Almond – The Tale of Angelino Brown

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Bert the bus driver thinks his time his up when he feels a fluttering around his heart, but is shocked (and pleasantly surprised) to find an angel in his breast pocket. He takes it home to his wife, Betty, and the two of them name him Angelino.

Angelino attends school, where he plays football, becomes the focus for art lessons, and farts music. He brings happiness to all – but others are hunting for him.

The social commentary on what is happening in our schools is brilliant, as the children are shown to thrive in exploration of a variety of subjects, rather than the narrowed-down education that the school inspector wants to bring. Angelino inspires the children and even some of the adults, while Betty and Bert’s story is equally warm and heartening.

Humour with a thoughtful message.

53. Kwame Alexander – The Crossover

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Written largely in free verse and narrated by Josh, twin to Jordan, the narrative explores the difficulties of growing up – loving sport, but finding love elsewhere. How can the two be combined?

Meanwhile, Dad, a former pro basketball player, is hiding his own struggles whilst living vicariously through his sons’ successes in the court.

Packed with emotion, action and drama, a great read for anyone who likes their fiction served a little differently.

54. Elizabeth Laird – The Fastest Boy in the World

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An easy-to-follow short story of Solomon and his grandad. Grandad decides to take a trip from their village to the capital, Addis Ababa – on foot.

What seems like a pointless journey is given poignancy as Grandad reveals secrets of his past before falling ill, at which point Solomon decides to run all the way home for help.

Solomon’s relationship with his grandfather is warm and loving, and the story shows the (literal) lengths families will go to for one another.

55. Elizabeth Laird – Oranges in No-Man’s Land

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A very short story that follows Ayesha’s journey across no-man’s-land as she fetches medicine for her sick grandmother. Lebanon is divided, but on her travels Ayesha encounters the true essence human spirit – sharing, kindness, empathy and goodwill.

56. Various – Make More Noise

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Ten short stories that celebrate females overcoming the ignorance of their male counterparts.

Featuring authors such as Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Emma Carroll, M.G. Leonard and many more, the stories show female characters battling against others in their quest for what is right – whether to be treated equally to men in competition, or in interests, or in strength (physical and emotional).

Lots to enjoy here – my favourites were Emma Carroll’s story about otter hunting, and Ella Risbridger’s ghostly tale.

57. Jo Cotterill – Looking at the Stars

stars

A fictional world that reflects much of what is happening in the world today. Amina and Jenna become refugees after warescalates in their country, under a regime that makes women second class citizens. They get separated from their family in varying circumstances, and the two have to survive how they can – for Amina, this means telling stories.

Her stories entertain other camp-dwellers, give hope to those who have lost it, and allow those who are suffering to escape, even it is just for a few short minutes. Through her story-telling, Amina’s confidence grows, which helps the girls propel themselves to their ultimate goal of finding their family.

58. Ally Sherrick – Black Powder

blackpowder

A fictitious account of the infamous Gunpowder Plot, featuring all of the real protagonists (Fawkes, Catesby et al) alongside Tom Garnett, a young boy whose father gets mixed up in the religious upheaval of the time.

Tom gives the game away to the local constabulary, and the hunt for his father begins – Tom determines that the best course of action is to follow him and warn/help him. On his way, he comes across a mysterious character who refers to himself as The Falcon; Tom starts to trust him – but at what cost?

Lots of historical insight into the class divides as well as well as the religious background to the Gunpowder Plot – fast-paced and twists and turns abound.

59. David Almond – The Colour of the Sun

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A warm and wondrous read.

Almond’s semi-autobiographical story sees Davie walking away from his hometown after the murder of Jimmy Killen. On his journey, he encounters various characters who help him see the simplicity and beauty of life.

As he walks, Davie starts to come to terms with his recent loss, and it is this thread that really pulls the story together.

As ever, David Almond’s writing is full of contrast – simplicity in its structure with a depth of meaning that few other writers can reach. There is a beauty here, an acceptance and acknowledgement of life being full of wonder if we let it be so.

60. Linda Sue Park – A Long Walk to Water

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A dual narrative, told from the perspectives of Nya (2009) and Salva (1983), both living in Southern Sudan.

Nya has to walk each day for water: a long, thankless and often fruitless task.

Salva is caught in the middle of a civil war and is separated from his family, making his way to a refugee camp in Ethiopia, then Kenya. We follow Salva’s story as he gets older, where he makes a life-changing decision.

It was fascinating to read from the point of view of those who need fresh water, and the story has a beautiful and fitting end.

The afterword from both Salva and Linda Sue Park hit hard too.

61. Joe Todd-Stanton – Arthur and the Golden Rope

arthur

A really enjoyable picture book/graphic novel-lite that follows Arthur, a a young boy widely regarded as an odd-bod due to his interest in the unusual.

He is quickly blamed for bringing misfortune to his town, and resolved to sort it out himself. He approaches the Norse gods to ask for their help, and is set a series of tasks.

Ultimately, it is Arthur’s eye for the unusual that saves him, and the townsfolk learn to appreciate him for who he is.

April #52books2018

April was one of the most enjoyable months of reading I’ve had for a while – Salt to the Sea and Goodnight, Boy were highlights, as was Morris Gleitzman’s Once series. So much to enjoy.

 

34. S.E. Durrant – Running on Empty

running

A heart-warming story about AJ, an eleven-year-old boy who lives with his parents, both of whom have learning difficulties. The three of them are struggling to adjust to life without recently-deceased Grandad, a man who helped, supported and guided them.

The family begin to spiral into debt, and AJ’s passion for running dwindles when he realises his trainers no longer fit and he can not afford new ones.

AJ’s narration is honest, showing his confusion and sadness now that Grandad is absent, and for me the story has a message of the redemptive nature of sport, particularly with regards to mental health.

35. Ruta Sepetys – Salt to the Sea

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This was stunning. Harrowing, difficult, even graphic at times – but stunning.

Four people cross paths in the midst of World War II. Emilia is a fifteen year old Polish girl, desperately trying to remain out of the grasp of the Nazis; Joana is a Lithuanian nurse repatriated by Hitler’s Germany; Florian is a mystery to begin with – is he a soldier on the run?; and then there is Alfred.

Alfred is pathetic. His imagined letters home portray him as an essential part of the Nazi’s operations when he is really a small man with a small mind. He comes across the other three characters as he helps them board the Wilhelm Gustloff.

Florian grows and grows throughout the story, his secret revealed early on. He falls for Joana, a nurse full of heart and wisdom, who in turn goes to Emilia’s aid as her circumstances come to light.

On top of this, there are other wonderful characters, such as the shoe poet, Klaus and Ingrid, and many others beside. The stories interweave perfectly and add subtle layers to each character.

I loved it. Due to some of the graphic nature of the content, particularly in Emilia’s story, it would not be suitable for primary but would be a great book to study at KS3 and beyond.

36. Kate Saunders – The Land of Neverendings

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A lovely story about what I initially thought would be a dark subject.

Emily and her family are grieving the loss of Emily’s sister, Holly. Emily is naturally finding things hard, and, when she thinks she sees and hears her toys talking to her, assumes she is dreaming or losing her marbles.

Fortunately, Emily’s neighbour (Ruth) sees something similar – she lost her son when he was young – and together the two of them start to explore how and why this could be happening. More and more toys begin to talk and it appears that the magic of imagination is leaking into the real world.

Toys past and present bring comfort to Emily, Ruth and others. The story shows us the power of imagination, love and memory. This resonated with me: grief can affect us all but talking about those we’ve lost is important, and the characters here were strong. Ruth was a kindly, encouraging neighbour, Mum and Dad were trusting and loving, and even Emily’s wantaway friend Maze shows the importance of a lasting friendship.

A strong story of escapism, dealing with grief and friendship.

37. Christopher Edge – The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day

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Maisie is an academically gifted girl celebrating her tenth birthday – a party is being planned and she is looking forward to starting work on cold fusion.

The chapters alternate between what we perceive to be Maisie’s real world and some sort of alternative universe, a place where dark matter is swallowing everything around Maisie.

The chapters continue to go back and forth between Maisie’s reality and ‘other’ world, and then you’re hit with the truth – the final few chapters are brilliant. Sit down for them.

Maisie is a terrific character, intelligent, curious and proud of it. The book’s themes are obviously based in science fiction, somehow being both educational and intense at the same time, but it has a huge heart too. Wonderful stuff.

38. Lissa Evans – Wed Wabbit

wedwabbit

Originally read in January, but I forgot to blog it.

When Fidge’s younger sister, Minnie, is hospitalised after an accident, she is packed off to her cousin’s house with little more than a bag of Minnie’s belongings.

After a storm hits, Fidge and Graham wake to find themselves inside the world of the Wimbley Woos, characters from one of Minnie’s favourite books. Wimbley Land is ruled by Minnie’s favourite toy, Red Rabbit – pronounced Wed Wabbit due to Minnie’s inability to pronounce her R’s.

What follows is an adventure of silliness, daring and confronting fears as Fidge and Graham have to plot Wed Wabbit’s downfall.

Lots of silly jokes, some fairly annoying rhymes and an adventurous land of make-believe.

39. Nikki Sheeran – Goodnight, Boy

goodnight

I feel as though I’m being spoilt at the moment – this was another stunner.

The narrative comes from JC as we see his conversations, both real and imagined, with his dog, Boy. JC and Boy are big living in a kennel, trapped by ‘him’, who we find out much more about as JC tells Boy his story.

We learn about JC’s misfortune and maltreatment in his early life, separated from his family as part of a people-trafficking gang; we find out about his illness and recovery as earthquakes hit his home country; and we learn about his journey that brought him to his current predicament.

Such an original and engaging style here, and I loved JC’s wide-eyed innocence and faith in both Boy and Melanie.

Read it.

40. Neil Gaiman – Odd and the Frost Giants

oddfrost

A short, simple and entertaining story about Odd, a Viking boy, who leaves home and chances upon three talking animals. He ventures to help them return to their normal state.

Drawing on Norse mythology and with some humorous exchanges, this would be great for Y3+.

41. Maz Evans – Beyond the Odyssey

odyssey

Another rip-roaring adventure as Elliot sets off to find the potion of Panacea, a cure for all illnesses and what he sees as the only help he can get for his mum.

Back in the real world, Patricia’s claws are sinking further into the Hooper home, Boil finally sees the back of Elliot, and Dave, the father recently released from prison, is not quite singing from the same hymn sheet as his family.

I really enjoyed Circe’s spiel on school life (yes, there are too many forms), and if Virgo’s speech to the council isn’t a comment on today’s government letting the majority down, then I don’t know what is…or I might be reading too much into things.

I have to admit, WLTGO was a slow burner for me, but now, especially after a beautifully written final chapter, I can’t wait for the fourth instalment.

42. Lauren Wolk – Beyond the Bright Sea

brightsea

A beautifully constructed coming-of-age tale about Crow, a girl whose past catches up with her.

Crow was born on Penikese, an island for lepers, and while she has been accepted and loved by a wonderful father figure in Osh, and maternally by Miss Maggie, islanders still recoil when they see her.

However, she believes that she was saved from Penikese, and that she has family – and when Osh presents her with a faded letter full of clues and hints about her parents, Crow begins a relentless treasure hunt.

The only problem is, she’s not the only one.

The relationships between Crow, Osh and Miss Maggie are wonderful, showing love and compassion and care for one another for what they’ve done and for who they are, and this is a message that resonates throughout the book. There are moments of tension, high-octane action, but each scene is filled with a love and an honesty on Crow’s part that is a pleasure to read.

43. Morris Gleitzman – Then

then

Felix continues his escape from and evasion of the Nazis, aided by his newly adopted sister Zelda.

The two are taken in by Genia, a pig farmer whose husband is away fighting for the Nazis, and change their names in order to fit in. However, the threat of the Nazis is close by: the Hitler Youth are ever-present and Felix upsets one of them by stealing a book from his shop.

Felix is not as naive as he was in Once, and is much more aware of the atrocities that are happening. His own personal torment about what to do for the best continues to the very end of the book – an ending which is a punch in the guts.

No detail is spared here, from hanging to mass graves, all seen through the innocent eyes of a ten year old.

44. Morris Gleitzman – Now

now

Flash forward seventy years, and Felix is a retired surgeon living in Australia. He is caring for his granddaughter, Zelda, while her parents are away.

Zelda loves her grandad and is inspired by him so much that she wants to be a surgeon too. However, she is bullied by a group of girls who think she is making up stories about Felix’s survival and his career.

When a bush-fire rages out of control, Felix has to confront his demons and rely on them to save himself and Zelda.

I liked the departure from World War II, as this story instead explores the lasting after-effects, as well as thinking about what is truly valuable in life.

45. Morris Gleitzman – After

after

The fourth in the series sees us go back to Felix as a child, hidden and protected by Gabriek.

Felix joins the partisans as they try to overthrow the Nazis, and on the way develops his skills in medical care that we learned of in Now.

Twists and turns abound and a heart-wrenching final few chapters.

46. Morris Gleitzman – Soon

soon

The fifth in the series follows Felix and Gabriek after the war, a stark reminder that once war ends, hardship does not.

Gabriek has descended into near-alcoholism, while Felix’s days consist of getting his hands on what he can and avoiding the wrath of the local gangs.

He doesn’t do this for long.

Soon, he finds himself with more responsibility than he bargained for, befriending Anya, a tough street-wise girl who is under the care of Dr Lipzyk, a man whose past comes to light late in the book.

As with the other books in this series, lots of heartbreak, desolation and hardship, but, for the first time, a bit of hope.

47. Morris Gleitzman – Maybe

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Here we follow Felix as he is offered the chance of a new start in Australia – without Gabriek and Anya.

During his flight, he finds he has a surprise passenger, but his arrival in Oz is fraught with difficulty, and Felix finds himself placed in Australia’s answer to Camp Green Lake.

Friendship and determination are the recurring themes here – Felix is not sure what freedom really is and his survival instincts from the war are always at the forefront of his thinking.

The first book in the series with a happy ending, and with the promise of one more to come.

48. Natasha Farrant – The Children of Castle Rock

castlerock

An enjoyable caper set on the Scottish coast, a love letter from Natasha Farrant to her former stomping ground.

Alice has been packed off to boarding school to start a new life, where she quickly makes friends with Fergus, a mischief-maker, and Jesse, a do-gooder. Events conspire to cause the three of them to team up for the Great Orienteering Challenge, which is the same time as Alice receives a mysterious letter from her absent father.

Against Jesse’s better judgment, Alice and Fergus decide to meet Alice’s Dad as per the letter’s instructions – but why are they being chased?

Lots of humour, wry observations on why parents are sometimes rubbish, and perfectly-placed asterisked swearing. I really enjoyed Farrant’s nods and winks to the camera as she guides the reader through the story, and the action made me long for the times when children could just play outside and explore. There’s so much to be learned.