April 2021 - Books of the Month
The BooksForTopics April Top Picks
We've picked five of our favourite new children's books this month.
The Incredible Record Smashers
Jenny Pearson & Erica Salcedo-Saiz
After the success of The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates last year, primary-teacher-turned-author Jenny Pearson is back with a new and hilarious tale of ordinary children on extra-ordinary adventures. Life isn't easy for Lucy. Her mum has depression and is difficult to care for, often being unwell for long periods that leave Lucy needing the help of a family friend. Lucy is great at fixing broken objects, but wishes more than anything that she knew how to fix her mum. It becomes clear that mum might need some time to stay at a place that can help her, and Lucy goes to stay with Aunty Sheila for a while.
Aunty Sheila loves car boot sales and is larger than life, always treating Lucy with kindness and a sense of fun, but life there is not the same as being with mum. With the help of friendly neighbour Sandesh, Lucy comes up with a way to make things right again. It's an ambitious plan that involves meeting an 80s pop icon who was once acquainted with Mum, appearing on a TV show and smashing a world record - but as far as Lucy is concerned, no aim is too high when it comes to making her mum happy again. What follows is a humorous romp as Lucy and Sandesh search for a world record to smash with a range of hilarious consequences.
The humour is perfect for Key Stage 2 and the story also explores the subject of parental mental health issues in an age-appropriate way. This is a smasher of a story; the author knows her audience extremely well and pitches both the comic and more serious elements at just the right level. The relationships that Lucy forms with Aunty Sheila and Sandesh are lovely, and demonstrate how - while nothing can replace the closeness that Lucy craves with her mum - the warmth and loyalty of others can make the world of difference during hard times. This strand of the plot may serve as a valuable encouragement to children affected by similar issues that reaching out for or accepting support from others is sometimes the very best course of action.
What Happened to You?
James Catchpole & Karen George
What Happened to You? is a pioneering picturebook addressing how a child might want to be spoken to about a visable disability. The author, James Catchpole, like the main character Joe, has one leg, and uses the story to help readers to understand what it might feel like to be seen as different. The spotlight is given to the main character Joe, who gently explains his viewpoint about always being asked to answer questions about his disability when he encounters other children, when what he really wants to do is just join in and play without interrogation. The story tackles a difficult topic in a manner that is both funny and moving, and this is wonderfully supported by the illustrations by Karen George.
The story is steeped in realism about how children can potentially react to disabilities. What is clever about the story is how the same scene is viewed in two different ways and how this makes Joe feel. Humour is used to balance the story well, and helps children not to feel accused or guilty if their natural inclinations towards curiosity may lead them to ask the same questions as Joe's playmates, but rather to develop empathy and warmly understand another's experience.
To aid the sensitive subject matter, the author has written a letter to adults at the end of the story as a guide of how to approach situations or questions similar to the one featured in the book. It also offers guidance and reassurance to disabled children. In the letter, James says, 'By writing from a disabled perspective, for a disabled reader, I’ve realised that I actually have something meaningful to say to non disabled readers and their parents too. All I have to do is to invite them to walk, for a minute, in Joe's shoe.' James speaks from his own experiences of growing up with a visible disability, and while some other children in a similar position may not feel the same way as Joe in the story, the story gives children the opportunity to see things from Joe's viewpoint and consider how they may develop a sensitive and empathetic approach to meeting new people.
This #ownvoices book is an ideal resource to use with EYFS and KS1 children to explore an experience of visible disability and learning how to interact with someone who may be seen as different.
The Chessmen Thief
Set in the Viking era, The Chessmen Thief is an intriguing tale of 12-year-old Kylan’s quest to return to his mother having been captured by Norsemen when he was just 7 years old. However, with everything the Almighty keeps throwing his way, will he be able to make it?
Kylan – a thrall, a slave for a harsh and unforgiving craftsman – thinks all hope is lost and he will never get the opportunity to return to his home, the Southern Isles, to find his mother. His memory of her is beginning to fade, except her fiery red hair and an important message she gave him as she was whisked away… ‘The Isle of Lewis. It’s your home Kylan. Never forget it.’ When an opportunity presents itself, Kylan knows he has to summon all of his courage to ensure it doesn’t slip through his fingers. The Lewis Chessmen – which his master reluctantly let him help carve – are his only hope. However, great craftsmanship gains attention, including that of Sven Asleifsson, a cruel and barbaric Viking known throughout the realm.
Based on the real-life Lewis Chessmen (a group of distinctive 12th-century chess pieces discovered in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis), The Chessmen Thief is a great addition to existing Vikings themed booklists – it does not shy away from subject specific vocabulary, however is an easy read and therefore may be a suitable choice for lower year groups within Key Stage 2. Barbara Henderson has carefully crafted the plot around the chess motif and the story is not overwhelmed with action and gore, as can often be the case with books written about this era. The narrative includes enough action to keep the reader engaged, however provides enough space for readers to wonder how the story will progress.
The book would particularly complement history topics for those teaching in Scotland, providing opportunities to find out about the Viking era closer to home.
A Turtle's View of the Ocean Blue
Catherine Barr & Brendan Kearney
A Turtle’s View of the Ocean Blue takes the reader on a tour of our world’s oceans and seas, guided by a turtle. In fact, the turtle is quickly overshadowed (in a good way) by the facts and figures he presents. The wealth of information – about the physical geography of the five oceans and the creatures that live there – is fascinating. Some of it, such as details of the water cycle, will be familiar to adults and is directly relevant to the National Curriculum programmes of study in Science and Geography. But I was impressed to see how much more than that the book covered and found myself captivated on every page by the complexity and variety of the different underwater regions.
The depth and breadth of the information is matched by the glowing illustrations which look, appropriately, to have been painted in watercolours. Shades of blue predominate, as might be expected from the book title, but the details of plants, animals and geographical features show the technicolour range of life within the seas and oceans. The front cover actually shimmers with some of the details picked out in gold. As well as being packed with interesting content, this book is a beautiful object which will surely attract children to pick it up and browse through it.
The book would be a brilliant addition to school book corners and libraries. The reading level is challenging enough for Year 6, but it’s divided into smaller nuggets, making it suitable for much younger children too. Key Stage 1 children will appreciate the beauty of the illustrations and learn much from the pictures but it would be best placed in Key Stage 2. It would support curriculum teaching in Science (especially in Year 4) and in Geography and any work on conservation and the environment. Best of all, it’s fun to read the facts and look at the pictures. This makes it perfect for Reading for Pleasure time too. I recommend it to children who love non-fiction and books of amazing facts.
My Dad's a Grizzly Bear
Swapna Haddow & Dapo Adeola
My Dad Is A Grizzly Bear is a playful and heart-warming picture book from award-winning author Swapna Haddow and illustrator Dapo Adeola. Filled with giggles and with the theme of family bonds at the heart, this is a bear-illiant choice for storytime with children aged 3-7.
The story centres around a child considering the prospect that his dad might just be a grizzly bear. The evidence is compelling: Dad has fuzzy fur, bear-sized paws and loves hanging around outside. What's more, he naps anywhere and when he does wake up, he grumbles and grunts around looking for food (especially if there's honey around, when he always eats the lot...). But bear-sized Dads can give bear-sized hugs, and sometimes when it's scary in the night, that's exactly what is needed.
This is a sweet story about one imaginative boy's special bond with his father. It's full of humour, from the exaggerated facial expressions and bear-like attributes captured in Dapo Adeola's vibrant illustrations, to the humorous asides in the text about Dad's wild habits. The story perfectly captures the way in which young children observe familiar adults with curiosity, wonder and imagination, but also with pure adoration. This story will be a winner in the run-up to Father's Day, and it has also earned a place in our newly updated Best Books For Year 1 booklist.
We can't wait for the second book in the series, My Mum Is A Lioness, which will be published in February 2022.
Reviewers: Alison Leach, Christine Ivory, Kathryn Gilbert, Louisa Farrow.