Item List

April
New Children's Books We Love

It's easy to feel lost in the flood of so many new children's books available. Each month, we pick five of our recently published favourites. 

Check out our Review Panel's top picks for you to read in April 2022.

More new releases
Click each book cover to view on Amazon.
You may also like our booklists
April 2022 Books We Love.png

Max Counts to a Million

Jeremy Williams

First things first, Max Counts to a Million is utterly brilliant. 

Writing for the 7-9 age bracket is a balancing act of plot, vocabulary, humour and depth; keeping the book accessible without sacrificing complexity. Jeremy Williams has produced a debut that will be devoured by children but also loved by parents and teachers too.


Max is a typical eight-year-old, happily pootling along through life when March 2020 arrives. Suddenly all the talk is of new words like ‘pandemic’, the supermarket feels weird with half-empty shelves and the adults are telling Max not to worry while behaving in worrying ways. There are many things here that children (and adults) will immediately identify with from the start of the pandemic: not seeing grandparents, cancelled birthday parties, teachers' anger at the fun new game ‘coronavirus tag’, school closures and finally lockdown.


To begin with, Max, a pretty bouncy and out-going character, is relatively unfazed. The sun is shining, his dad (an ear, nose and throat doctor) is home more, Max is allowed to ride his bike on the traffic-free roads, and, best of all, his mum (a nutritionist) relaxes some of her healthy eating rules. But then Dad moves into a hotel to help in the hospital, and Mum is busy working from her home office/bedroom corner. When everyone starts getting on each other’s nerves and when Max is sent to his room to ‘count to one hundred and calm down’, he just decides to keep going. What follows is a funny and light journey through Max’s counting odyssey, a way to manage the ups and downs. Max’s epic count also makes a handy metaphor: “Sometimes, just keeping on going makes you a hero”.


Short chapters and large spacing make Max Counts to a Million perfect for newly confident Y3-4 readers.  The books also wears it’s learning incredibly lightly – in the 6 short pages of Chapter 4, it manages to explain the etymology of the word pandemic and how viruses work through the metaphors of train travel and Minecraft, while also being funny and moving on the plot. Max counts to a Million would make a fantastic class reader for teachers wishing to gently explore the impacts of the pandemic. There is a QR code to access teacher discussion notes, with activities include ‘Recognising and naming emotions and feelings’ and ‘Managing emotions and dealing with change’.


Reviewer: Carol Carter

Recommended Age: 7+

Format: Chapter book

Publication Date: 3rd March 2022

Gretel the Wonder Mammoth

Kim Hillyard

Gretel, a woolly mammoth from prehistoric times, has been encased in ice for thousands of years until one peaceful Tuesday morning when the ice cracks and she pops out to greet the world again. At first, everything is marvellous – she learns about the modern world, shares amazing stories and is loved by the locals (some very friendly seabirds). But all these new changes are a little fast and overwhelming and, being the last mammoth left on Earth, Gretel starts to feel a bit lonely.  


Gretel the Wonder Mammoth shows us that, no matter your size, how many talents you have and even if you are surrounded by friendly faces, everyone can feel anxious, alone and sad. It demonstrates how important it is to speak up and share your feelings when life becomes overwhelming and stressful. This very relatable story is perfect for younger pupils and teaches its readers that sometimes the bravest thing you can do is ask for help.


The illustrations are fun and engaging, with simple language and cheeky sea birds adorning the pages. The colours link to the emotions of the text and one cannot help but instantly take to the gentle, gregarious Gretel.


I would highly recommend this book for younger readers – in PSHE lessons, assemblies or for children requiring support in overcoming their fears.


Reviewer: Gabby McConalogue

Recommended Age:  3+

Format: Picturebook

Publication date: 3rd March 2022

The Secret of the Treasure Keepers

A.M. Howell

A.M. Howell's growing fanbase will be pleased to hear of the newest in her set of historical fiction for middle-grade readers. True to form, The Secrets of the Treasure Keepers is a wonderfully immersive story that takes the reader back to what life might have been like for one family at a particular moment in history. The story felt extra special for me, as it is a rare example of fiction set in the Fens near where I live. I know that the author's commitment to highlighting this area of the country will be warmly welcomed by schools both in the local area and also for those readers yet to discover the hauntingly beautiful geography of the Fens.


The story centres around the apparent discovery of some buried Roman treasure in the field of a struggling farming family. Ruth and her mum - a budding archaeology expert - visit the farm to discover more. What drives the story is the unfolding secrets and backstories of the various different main characters - all interesting and well-nuanced - making for an enjoyable mystery full of intrigue and due compassion for the desperation that can drive deceit.


I particularly enjoyed the well-drawn historical setting of post-war Britain. We see a lot of middle-grade stories set during the war, but the period immediately after the war had finished is just as interesting and much less widely considered in children's books. How does a country get back on its feet after the devastation of the war? No stone is left unturned when it comes to incidental details that flesh out the time and place of the story's setting. The country is still reeling from the war's impact and the reader is given space to reflect on the difficulty this caused for different individuals - for example in terms of ongoing rationing, widespread poverty, the 'make do and mend' mentally, missing family members, the dawn of the NHS and the deeply-felt consequences of the war's destruction on property, people and family relationships. A major theme of the story is embracing change and looking at ways to improve the future even during difficult times - a theme that is just as relevant today as it was in 1948. For me, this is the crux of what makes A.M. Howell's writing so compelling; the stories feel so authentically and evocatively set in their time period while also being timeless in their themes.


Heartfelt and hopeful, this is a historical adventure not to be missed.


Reviewer: Alison Leach

Recommended Age: 9+

Format: Chapter book

Publication Date: 31st March 2022

The Extraordinary World of Birds

David Lindo & Claire McElfatrick

The Extraordinary World of Birds is a hardback, quality text with a weighty feel. Beautifully illustrated and packed with information, as we would expect from Dorling Kindersley, it makes an accessible introduction to the subject for beginner bird lovers whilst still containing enough detail and depth to   stimulate afficionados.


Beginning with ‘What is a Bird?’ and the evolutionary link with dinosaurs, we learn the basics of flight, the purpose of nests, the incubation of eggs and bird eating habits. Each page is well   laid out with good use of colour and fonts, and the text is both clearly factual and enticingly expressive, for example ‘a forked tail makes this bird elegant and buoyant in the air’. There are plenty of snippets that the reader will immediately want to share with a “Did you know…!”, such as that a stork’s nest can weigh as much as a horse and that a diving peregrine falcon is   the fastest animal in the world at 390 kph.


Following sections cover bird families, bird behaviour, bird habitats and 'birds and us', and at 80 pages there is plenty of satisfying detail here. Personally, I particularly enjoyed learning about the various bird families, such as passerines (perching birds) and flightless birds, and their intriguing behaviours, such as territorial defence and amazing migrations.


Of particular note in this book is the excellent use of photography. Far too many modern non-fiction texts aimed   at children are over-reliant on stylized artwork and design, when children   would benefit more from realistic images to gain real-world understanding. Here, while many of the backgrounds are   illustrations, almost all of the bird images are photographic images collaged over the top.


The Extraordinary World of Birds has been excellently executed as a primer to the wonderful avian world and will be pored over by children with an interest in the natural environment.


Reviewer: Carol Carter

Recommended Age: 7+

Format: Non-fiction

Publication Date: 10th March 2022

The Thief Who Sang Storms

Sophie Anderson & Joanna Lisowiec

As with Sophie Anderson's other stories, this fantasy is a modern, relatable twist on a traditional Russian folktale - this time based on a poem called Nightingale the Robber about a mysterious man with bird-like features and a powerful, dangerous whistle. In The Thief Who Sang Storms, the magic is centred on a thirteen-year-old girl who attempts to bring together two opposing sides of her island while also trying to save her persecuted father.


Readers of the author's previous books will enjoy spotting a familiar old friend. There's always a myriad of new details too to delight readers in Sophie Anderson's fantasy worlds. It's easy to melt away into this story's world of shipwrecks, floating islands, fortresses, swamp homes and magical bird-people. Underneath the fantasy sit a number of highly relatable themes - divided societies, grief, prejudice and the power of finding hope in dark times. It's a mesmerising story that has many layers to unpack.


We also see a protagonist who is frustrated at not yet having received the 'singing magic' that she feels will empower her to make a difference. For a middle-grade readership on the threshold of puberty, the feeling of waiting to be big enough to make an impact is likely to be a familiar one - but the author has a message of encouragement for her readers through Linnet's story. We may get frustrated when we lack agency to change the world around us, but often it's the power of the smallest decisions and actions that lead to the biggest impact when we follow our hearts, seek to bridge divisions and pursue what is right.


Reviewer: Alison Leach

Recommended Age: 9+

Format:  Chapter book

Publication Date: 31st March 2022