Three picture books and nine novels – all varied and all enjoyable. The highlights this month have been Under the Canopy and The Wild Robot.
12. Natalie O’Hara – Hortense & the Shadow
A beautifully illustrated story of how a girl tires of her shadow before realising how important it truly is.
The book has dark moments as Hortense shows her frustrations and finds herself in danger, but also shows the strength of accepting ourselves for who we are. Lovely.
13. Iris Volant – Under the Canopy
A beautifully presented hardback book that tells stories about lots of different trees – the legend of the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest, to the olive trees of Greece and the blossom in Japan – as well as giving factual information about seasonality, average height and where in the world they grow.
A fascinating read for all ages, with brilliant and vibrant illustrations throughout.
14. Moira Young – The Road to Ever After
A moving and thoughtful story about Davy, a young boy with an artistic flair, and Miss Flint, an elderly recluse who is desperate to get to her former home in order to die in peace.
The two embark on an unusual and, at times, humourous road trip, stealing cars, releasing turkeys and dodging the law, all the while developing an unspoken trust and understanding.
Unusual things start to happen to Miss Flint, and her reasons for returning to her former home, and for her reclusive lifestyle, are laid bare.
Some difficult subject matter at times, but certainly makes you ponder life’s brevity.
15. Ross Welford – The 1000 Year Old Boy
The 1000 year old boy is Alve, or Alfie, and, after losing his mother, he lays bare the difficulties of staying eleven years old forever: friends grow up and leave him behind; he realises he’ll never marry and have children; he lives a lie.
But if he can get his hands on the last life-pearl, he could live and age normally.
In step Aidan and Roxy, who believe Alfie’s story and set about helping him to achieve ‘normality’.
Despite the author’s note claiming otherwise, I liked the ‘historical’ side of the story, and the way Alfie and Aidan both had their sides told. Roxy was a fantastic character too, determined and assured and fearless. An interesting theme to the tale (who would want to live forever?) and would suit children in y5/6+.
16. Amy Wilson – A Far Away Magic
It took me a while to get into this one, but, once I did, it was well worth it.
Told from two perspectives, Bavar and Angel are outsiders who connect. Bavar is a seven-foot-tall giant of a boy, seen by some and not by others, and he lives with the weight of magic on his shoulders. Portraits talk to him, ancestors give advice on his home, and he is the next in line to defend the rift, a break into another world which has been opened and allows the raksasa through. The only trouble is, Bavar doesn’t want to fight, he doesn’t want to become a monster and he doesn’t want the responsibility.
Angel has been orphaned, her parents killed in a burglary gone wrong. But when she sees Bavar – and especially when she realises others can’t see him – she begins to delve more deeply into her past.
Bavar comes across as a troubled soul, lacking any real guidance or purpose, and Angel provides this perfectly. She is feisty, determined and, as Bavar’s auntie puts it, sassy too.
An enjoyable adventure that portrays friendship, magic and loss, with hints of Neil Gaiman’s storytelling within.
17. Peter Brown – The Wild Robot
A brilliant short story that would be perfect for years 3-4, The Wild Robot is full of warmth, love and acceptance.
When an intelligent robot, Roz, finds herself stranded on an island, she adapts and learns from the animals around her, overcoming their mistrust and earning their respect through her good deeds. Friendships and relationships grow and prove to be vitally important come the book’s end.
18. Lucy Rowland – Little Red Reading Hood
A humourous twist on Red Riding Hood, as the Big Bad Wolf gobbles up a librarian as Red goes to return a book.
Wolf is shown the power of books, and taught to stop being so predictable.
Lovely verse and superbly illustrated.
19. Chloe Daykin – Fish Boy
An unusual yet highly engaging tale of one boy’s struggle to deal with his mother’s illness. There were some moments that were odd, as Billy’s narration was often fairly scattergun (perhaps to reflect his emotional state). I did wonder whether his swimming with the mackerels was an analogy for suicidal thoughts, after struggling with school bullies, his mother’s condition and the family’s apparent financial difficulties, but maybe that’s a little too dark.
Either way, Billy finds solace and friendship in Patrick, an seemingly oddball character straight out of the David Almond playbook.
Definitely a story of interest and intrigue, and one that could promote lots of discussion among confident readers.
20. Joe Todd-Stanton – The Secret of Black Rock
Erin Pike wants to find out more about the secret of the Black Rock, the legend of which is of death and destruction.
She realises that there is more to Black Rock than meets the eye, and warns adults of this. In the end, it is up to her to save the rock.
A story that shows we should value all of our natural world, and that children can make a change.
21. Pádraig Kenny – Tin
A fast-paced story centring around Christopher, a boy who lives with mechanicals – sentient robots, essentially.
When Christopher finds out something shocking about his past, he and his friends set off to discover the truth, leading to whirlwind encounters with deranged inventors and power-hungry control freaks.
The language here is rich and absorbing, every line used to develop each character fully and further storylines to such an extent that they could have their own stories. Round Rob was a particular favourite of mine, but Cormier grew on me too as his own backstory was revealed.
22. Geraldine McCaughrean – The Middle Of Nowhere
Comity lives in the Australian outback, and is grieving the sudden loss of her mother, killed by a snake bite. Her father is consumed by grief and Comity turns to Fred, an aboriginal boy, for solace and comfort.
Their world is turned upside down upon the arrival of Quartz Hogg, a man sent to help Comity’s father work on the telegraph exchange but is ultimately power-mad and possibly murderous.
Comity’s survival hinges on her own unswaying beliefs, her friendship with Fred, widely regarded as an outsider, and a good dose of good fortune.
Lots to ponder here, from dealing with death to racism and the casting-out of sections of society. It didn’t grab me from the start but as Fred and Comity grew in stature, so did the story.
23. John Boyne – Stay Where You Are and Then Leave
This story follows Alfie Summerfield – a five year old when we first meet him – as he deals with the trauma of his father going off to fight in the Great War.
Alfie’s family struggle financially, and he takes it upon himself to earn money shining shoes at King’s Cross station. It is here that he learns his father is not in France fighting, but back in England, in hospital, and so begins Alfie’s secret mission to rescue his dad.
This took me a while to get into as the pace was fairly slow to begin with, but once Alfie’s intentions were clear the story developed nicely. The book shines a light on the mental illnesses caused by the war (often described in great detail) and also talks of conscientious objectors and conscription, all of which would offer interesting points of discussion in the classroom