76. A.F. Harrold – The Song From Somewhere Else
I think I love this man’s writing. He has such a relaxed style that sits so well with his poetic turn of phrase – there is humour, sarcasm, imagery and a depth of language that would be brilliant to explore with children in KS2.
The story starts when Francesca (Frank) accidentally befriends Nick, a boy at school who is evidently quite unpopular. She visits his house and hears unusual music, the source of which leads her, and Nick, to explore the boundaries of their newly-formed friendship and of life itself.
Shadows are more sinister than they appear, and cats wiser than one thought. Magical reading.
77. Kieran Larwood – The Gift of Darkhollow
Podkin, Paz and Pook have survived – just – and are now holed up in Grimheart forest, avoiding the Gorm at all costs. Podkin, however, is feeling less than appreciated and goes for a wander in his new surroundings, where he stumbles upon a new Gift. This leads him to overhear a conversation about where another has been hidden, a Gift that can help them end the Gorm forever.
And so begins another epic tale of these wonderful rabbits. There are more of them, but this time, instead of running away from danger, they are choosing to walk right into it.
As with the first book, the relationships between Podkin and Paz, and Podkin and Crom, show real heart, while new characters such as Zarza and Vetch offer possible hints of what is to come in book 3.
Again, my favourite element of the book is the bard, who is on his own journey with an apprentice-to-be, Rue. He looks after Rue in a slightly curmudgeonly manner but ultimately shows the love he was once shown – a thoughtful ending wraps up his story (for now) very poignantly.
78. Neil Gaiman – The Graveyard Book
A celebration of life and all its curiosities.
A wonderful opening – the man Jack holding a knife, trying to kill his fourth victim, a baby – is quickly followed by the baby (now named Bod) growing up and learning magic in a graveyard. He can see the dead and he can see the living. He floats between the two worlds.
Time passes and Bod wants to know what happened to his family – my favourite exchange of many a book comes when Bod learns of the man Jack and a guardian, Silas, wonders whether the outside world is safe enough for Bod:
Bod: If I go out into the world, the question isn’t, “Who will keep me safe from him?”
Bod: No. It’s, “Who will keep him safe from me?”
A wonderful bit of dialogue dripping with intent.
Bod wants to live. We all should.
79. Pam Smy – Thornhill
So dark and so hard-hitting.
Two parallel stories that collide together.
The written part of the book is in diary form, dated 1982 and detailing the difficulties of Mary Baines. She lives in the Thornhill orphanage for girls and is suffering at the hands of ‘her’.
Meanwhile, in 2017, Ella Clarke has moved into a house that looks over Thornhill. Through brilliant illustrations, we see Ella see a figure in the window and goes closer to find out more…
Not one I’d use in class as I think it’s too upsetting.
80. Francesca Sanna – The Journey
A beautifully illustrated book that tells the story of a family’s sudden departure from their homeland to somewhere safer. The illustrations are so rich and wonderfully presented- my class spent a week exploring this book and we could have gone on for longer.
81. Mark Haddon – Boom!
Jimbo and Charlie overhear their teachers using a secret language and decide to find out what’s going on. Despite being by a man with glowing blue eyes, they journey across the country to uncover the truth.
Fast-paced silliness that would be great for Y4+.
82. Malorie Blackman – Pig-Heart Boy
A story about Cameron, a boy with a dodgy ticker who is offered a way out by the enigmatic Dr Bryce. He has a heart transplant using the heart of a pig, and the story is really about what happens to Cameron afterwards: how others perceive him, how he perceives himself, and what life comes to mean to him.
A strong emotional ending and lots of talking points around animal rights (and the price of life).
83. Ali Benjamin – The Thing About Jellyfish
I found this a really engaging book to read, and one that I genuinely didn’t want to put down.
Suzy has chosen not to speak since finding out her former best friend (Franny) drowned. Instead, all her energy is focussed on finding out what actually happened – her theory is a jellyfish sting.
The story uses flashbacks to explain, firstly, how Suzy and Franny became friends, moved through school together, then gradually drifted apart, and secondly showing Suzy’s current predicament – that being her parents have taken her to therapy sessions to get to the root of her non-talking.
Suzy comes across as precocious, socially awkward and likeable – she’s not interested in the ‘girly’ things her peers are, and is rather much more taken by the life that surrounds her. She is intelligent (which comes to be a disadvantage, of sorts), referencing Kate DiCamillo, TED talks and John Cage, and of course her obsession with jellyfish reflects how differently she thinks when compared to other children of her age.
There are themes of bullying, revenge, regret and grief, but the accessible way in which it is written offers so much scope for discussion with children from Y5 and up.
84. Sonya Hartnett – The Children of the King
A language-rich tale of WWII, though written from a different viewpoint to most books on this theme that are aimed at a similar age.
Here, we follow Cecily Lockwood, a 12 year old girl who knows her family are wealthy and is minded just so, as she, her brother, Jeremy, and mother debunk to their uncle’s mansion in the sticks in order to avoid the bombings in London. Along the way, they take in an evacuee, May, who seems entirely and amusingly nonplussed by the wealth in front of her, but shows gratitude to, and tolerance of, her new family (particularly Cecily, who comes across as fairly annoying).
The two get along and discover the ruins of Snow Castle, which leads on to Uncle Peregrine’s dramatic storytelling sessions that provide a large backbone of the story. Without wanting to give too much away, his story mirrors May’s journey somewhat, and also supports Jeremy’s exploits towards the end of the book.
The language here is just fantastic – I haven’t read any of Sonya Hartnett’s books before and am glad that I have now. She writes poetically, and the only author I can think of that she reminds of is Frances Hardinge.
In the interests of honesty I should admit that The Amber Spyglass was finished on October 2nd…but it’s easier to review as a trilogy.
I don’t mind admitting that I struggled with this a little. Perhaps it was the vastness of the worlds that Pullman has created, or my sometime aversion to the fantasy genre, but whatever it was, it slowed me down.
It would be much easier to read a thorough review from someone who understands everything that happened, and what it all means, which would be here.
My personal likes from book one were Iorek Byrnison, the armoured bear who grows to love Lyra, likewise Lee Scoresby. In Northern Lights, Lyra appears strong and determined and self-assured; I felt this diminished when she meets Will in The Subtle Knife. It is clear she admires him but the strength of her own fire is dimmed a little. However, they make a great team, ducking and diving between worlds as they do.
The Amber Spyglass is my favourite of the three – there are lots of emotional decisions made here. A world – or multiple worlds – of magic, of armoured bears and witches, of knives and dragonfly spies, of possibility, finishes with the most human of endings as various characters are forced to make impossible choices. Relationships end and relationships begin – this is life.
88. Amy Wilson – A Girl Called Owl
Owl is a girl who has never known her father, but this is all about to change once she finds an unusual power within herself.
Full of magic, myth and midwinter scenery, this book has a unique atmosphere and sparkles with description all the way through. Owl does her best to find her father – in fact, trying too hard at points, putting friendships in danger – and starts to harness what she has.
For me, there’s not a true ending, no definite full stop, but that’s no bad thing. Lots of focus on fantasy and friendship which will entertain Y5+.
89. Sonya Hartnett – The Silver Donkey
A fairly straightforward war narrative, whereby Coco and Therese find a soldier camped in a nearby forest. He has deserted his post and what he has witnessed has turned him temporarily blind. The girls resolve to help him, and in return, the soldier shares a series of stories, each of which revolves around a donkey. Through his stories, the children learn what it means to show compassion, love and loyalty, which in turn they show to their fallen soldier.
The soldier’s stories are the highlight of this for me – the nativity is told beautifully, while the others I’m unfamiliar with or indeed whether they are Hartnett’s own words. Either way, they offer morals and discussion points (they are short too – perfect for an assembly).
90. Morris Gleitzman – Two Weeks With the Queen
If ever there were an example of why a book shouldn’t be judged by its cover, then this is it.
I was expecting a light-hearted, high jinks tale of a boy’s journey to the UK, and there are elements of that, but ultimately the issues here are deep.
Colin lives in Australia and learns that his brother has become ill; Colin, with loveable childish naivety, thinks the Queen of England can help. On this journey he meets Ted, a man whose partner is seriously ill, and Colin realises he importance of family and friendship.
Issues raised are terminal illness, same sex relationships, victimisation and family. Even the family Colin stays with in the UK (auntie and uncle) raise issues by virtue of the way they treat their son, Alastair.
Definitely one to use in class but should be thought about carefully before doing so.