August 2020 - Books of the Month

The BooksForTopics September Top Picks

We've picked five of our favourite new children's books this month.


Joseph Coelho & Freya Hartas

We love a fairy tale with a twist and so eagerly welcomed the arrival of this new illustrated middle-grade series from Joseph Coelho and Freya Hartas, with this first instalment placing a deviously dark twist on the Cinderella story.


In this version, Cinderella (so called because she wears a locket containing her deceased mother's ashes), lives with a 'fake' family made up of an evil step-mother and three beautiful and fake sisters. After losing both parents and her beloved horse Lumpkin, Cinderella feels very much alone in the world. The town receives a visit from a royal prince with unusually gothic tastes, who brings with him three days of parties and the promise of betrothal to a potential suitor from the town. When Cinderella suffers a slip on the stairs, life as she knows it comes to an end and she returns in a haze of gory glory as Zombierella before proceeding to win the prince's heart for herself.

Coelho's treatment of the story is as delightfully amusing as it is deliciously dark. After years of Disneyfication and a 'softening up' of this well-known tale for a generation who often find their stories served up with a little more happily-ever-after and a little less goriness, this version takes a direct step in the colder and creepier direction that you might expect from Roald Dahl's fairy tales or the original Grimm stories. There's plenty to shock - from the cold and detached reporting of Cinderella's sudden death to the spooky insertion of pulled-out brains, loosened guts and severed limbs into a star-crossed rags-to-riches love story. There's an enjoyable streak of dark humour and plenty of wit in both the author's free verse and Freya Hartas' stylishly expressive black and white illustrations.


The story is framed by the voice of a librarian (fans of Coelho might expect nothing less) and leaves with the promise of more from the 'Fairy Tales Gone Bad' series - which I'm really looking forward to seeing unfold.

The Key to Finding Jack

Ewa Jozefkowicz & Katy Riddell

Flick adores her older brother Jack. She loves his sense of fun, his passion for puzzles and riddles and the feeling that she gets from the special sibling bond they share.


There’s been an empty space in Flick’s heart ever since Jack headed off to Peru on a gap year trip, but at least Flick knows that Jack is immersed in exciting adventures. When the shock news arrives of an earthquake in Peru, nobody is able to contact Jack and Flick’s world falls apart. Through a blur of panic and confusion, Flick pieces together fragments of a puzzle to try to find Jack - centred around a special key that Jack left behind with the initials S.F. written on it. As the family anxiously waits for news of Jack, Flick sets the wheels in motion for her own investigation, desperately trying to track down the mysterious S.F.. Along the way, she discovers a host of other friends and family members who are meaningful in Jack’s world, each with their own tale to tell of how kind and special her brother is to them.


True to style, Ewa Jozefkowicz weaves a multi-layered narrative of self discovery that explores the riches of family bonds and the value of listening to the stories of other people. There’s a mystery to solve, a story-within-a-story and plenty of intrigue, and I particularly enjoyed how beautifully the sibling relationship was portrayed. This is a heartwarming third novel from Ewa Jozefkowicz that will resonate with middle-grade readers who enjoy delving into stories with a real-life feel or are looking for a bit of a mystery to get stuck into.

Space Maps

Lara Albanese & Tommaso Vidus Rosin

Space Maps is a super-sized visual treat. It will appeal to those already interested in the topic of space and will also attract KS2 readers new to the subject.  The reader is invited to take a space tour in the company of a diverse crew of space guides. Each double-page spread focuses on a different aspect and information is given in speedy, bite-sized fact boxes, making this an ideal book for dipping into. It is deeply informative and to the point, using technical language without any dumbing down - however, its short bursts of facts are not too specialised to be overwhelming for young readers.

Topics covered include what humans can see in the night sky, where and how we fit in the wider universe, what other planets are like,  how telescopes give us a deeper view and where the sky tends to be studied from. There is a good balance of scientific facts and interesting nuggets from history, astronomy and folk lore. The legends behind the science add charm and warmth. Large and detailed illustrations guide the reader through their space journey, with each new page devoted to a thoroughly detailed labelled map or diagram.


For those readers, like myself, who usually struggle to visualise the images behind the arrangements of the constellations, this book certainly helps; I was able to ‘see’ Orion in the real night sky having studied the beautiful constellation map. The depth of information sits well beyond the likely pre-knowledge of most child and adult readers (for example the different types of sky -Greek, Chinese, African and Equatorial - seem complex to a non-specialist), but this is where the ability to dip in and out of Space Maps is an asset that enables readers to opt for familiar or unfamiliar learning territory as they please.

An extravagantly large and vibrant compendium for budding astronomers and knowledge-hungry scientists in upper KS2, this impressive non-fiction book takes young readers to infinity and beyond as they marvel at the vastness of the universe. 

Tiger Tiger Burning Bright

Fiona Waters & Britta Teckentrup

We are head-over-heels in love with this beautiful anthology of animal poems containing a different animal poem for every day of the year. It’s a real stunner of a book - a gorgeously bound hardback compendium with full-page colour illustrations by Teckentrup.

Readers will have fun dipping in and out of the pages and reading animal poems both familiar and new - much like its predecessor I am the Seed, the true joy of books like this is flicking through to find the entries for today and tomorrow, finding your birthday, finding your family and friends’ birthdays and other special dates in our calendar as well as pausing on random pages that catch your attention. Beautifully presented in cloth binding with a marker ribbon inside, this is the kind of collection that is perfect for a teacher’s desk or family coffee table to open when there’s a spare few minutes in the day - and certainly one for the Christmas lists too!

The collection provides a spyglass into the animal kingdom, with a treasure trove of poems that capture the habits, movements and biological curiosities of a range of creatures from around the globe. Poets include Roger McGough, William Blake, Dick King-Smith, Ted Hughes, Grace Nichols, Lewis Carroll, Christina Rossetti, Emily Dickinson, and many of the verses are short enough to quickly learn by heart.

This is a book to treasure and one that sings of the joy of poetry as much as the wonders of the natural world.


The Monsters of Rookhaven

Pádraig Kenny & Edward Bettison

Mirabelle is part of ‘the family’ living in the House of Rookhaven - but they are no ordinary family. Led by Uncle Enoch, the members of the family are not what they first appear: Mirabelle doesn’t age; Odd can come and go through portals as he pleases; Dotty and Daisy are twins who can walk through walls. The house is separated from the outside world by the Glamour and only Dr. Ellenby and Mr Fletcher (humans from the local village) can pass through by using a special key. That is, until siblings Jem and Tom accidentally find their way through a hole in the Glamour.

Mirabelle finds them among some bone-eating plants and takes them up to the house, much to the resistance of the rest of the family. However, Tom is very ill, and the family have no choice but to let him recover at the house. The hole in the Glamour has also let through something much more threatening to the family than humans...


I found this to be an incredibly compelling read. The writing is wonderfully descriptive, and the illustrations perfectly capture the creepiness of the story. The characters are complex, and I loved that there were always new things to discover about them as the story progressed. The Monsters of Rookhaven shows that people are not necessarily what they first appear to be, and that people’s actions often have good intentions behind them, even if the outcome is not what they had hoped. It's a gripping story that explores the theme of difference and evokes empathy through the eyes of a delightfully imaginative cast of characters.


With magic, monsters, friendship and hope, this is a wonderful middle-grade read and one I will certainly be recommending to my Year 6 class. Most definitely one of the best books I have read this year.

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More new releases for August
Click each book cover to view on Amazon.
Return to Roar
King of the Swamp
Health Heroes
Slow Down Monkey
Sequin and Stitch
I Stole My Genius Sister's Brain
Sam Wu is NOT afraid of Space
A Mummy Ate My Homework
Villains in Venice
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If you are already a Tom Palmer fan, you will know to expect from After the War - a touching, concisely told yet never dumbed-down, story of childhood during wartime. If you are new to his books, then prepare to be astounded.  Tom Palmer has a rare talent for making the truth of the past accessible to children without watering down the horrific facts or emotional impact, a skill already demonstrated in his previous books, Armistice Runner, D-Day Dog and Over the Line, but in its best evidence yet here. After the War opens with a foreword explaining the factual basis to this story of the ‘Windermere boys’, 300 refugee children who were temporarily relocated to Cumbria at the end of WWII after being rescued from concentration camps. This is hugely helpful in settling the reader into what to expect of the story ahead and flagging up the timely theme of treatment of refugees. The story begins in the summer of 1945, as a plane descends into the Yorkshire hills, carrying Jewish child survivors of the Holocaust.  Yossi, 15, is traumatized, anxious, untrusting, always alert to danger. Through flashbacks, we gradually learn Yossi’s story, from the day war suddenly arrived in his sleepy Polish village in the form of a German bomber, through being interned in a Jewish ghetto and being forced to work in a clothing factory to his eventual destination, the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Theresienstadt.  Balancing between the flashbacks to the horrors of the past and the hope of the future is the present, where the boys gradually settle into Yorkshire life, a place where they learn food is not scarce, uniformed men can have kind eyes, and boys can ride bicycles again. With Tom’s trademark very short and super-readable chapters, the direct text lets the story shine through straight and true, without ever being overly simplistic in either intent or vocabulary.  After the War would make a fantastic class reader for Year 5/6, although I doubt any teacher could make it through without a wobble in their voice at least once a chapter.  I spent the majority of the book with a lump in my throat, either at the things that children had been through or at the small touches of kindness shown to them by the local community, which gradually help them to open up to the world again. The WWII genre is a crowded market, but After the War elbows its way to the front as a stunning reflection on the impact of war, perfectly pitched for a UKS2 audience. Buy Online Arlo the Lion Who Couldn't Sleep Catherine Rayner Many of us can relate to the frustration of a sleepness night - especially after this past week of too hot, too stormy or too rainy bedtimes! Arlo the lion is no exception; he is struggling to sleep and feeling helpless at being all out of ideas for what to try next. Arlo meets Owl, who offers a different perspective. He learns that Owl can sleep through the day - even through the sights and sounds of all the other animals being awake. Fortunately for Arlo, Owl has some sleep-inducing tricks of her own that might just help Arlo too. Owl teaches Arlo a bedtime song, which focuses on thoughts of happy places, a relaxation of the body, a slowing down of breathing patterns and meditation about sinking into the soft ground. The song works a treat, but in his excitement over his new found success, Arlo accidentally wakes other animals up! Happily though, they can use the song too to settle back to sleep. Parents may like to encourage small children to give Owl's song a try - or at least one or two elements of the toolbox of strategies it incorporates. The story meets young listeners in the frustrating experience of sleeplessness and moves them gently onwards by empowering little ones with mindfulness techniques tools to try for themselves. This is a beautifully illustrated tale with a soft, dusk-like palette that blends Arlo's gentle yellows and browns into the tranquil landscapes of wide, evening skies - almost as if the pictures themselves are willing Arlo to let go and settle into sleep. In fact, the whole story, with it's gentle pacing and dreamy repetition, is a perfectly pitched winding-down story for busy children at bedtime. Buy Online Cities of the world Becky Davies & Josie Portillo Becky Davies and Josie Portillo have produced a vibrant and engaging picture book guide to some of the world's most famous capital cities. The layered pages have paper cutouts that follow the various skylines of the famous cities so, for example, you can see London's Shard poking up in the background of Tokyo, waiting to be visited by the reader place by place. The illustrations are bold and busy, with lots to see and learn - reflecting the hustle and bustle of each capital city and the way it is brought to life by colourful people enjoying tourism or daily life there. The top of every page offers information including the population, climate, national tree or animal and the flag of the relevant country. There is also a short overview, before the rest of the information is fitted into fact boxes that are scattered across the page. The information is a suitable mix of interesting facts about the human and physical features and also about the people who live there and their lifestyle habits. There are twelve cities covered in total and six of them are European. This book would be a fantastic starting point for further research on a specific city or for comparing various cities. At the back, there is a world map with many other famous capitals marked. ​ A lovely information book for would-be travellers and budding city explorers, particularly those in the 4-7 age bracket. Just make sure that eager young readers look after the layered, peep-through pages! Buy Online The Siege of Caerlaverock Barbara Henderson In a draughty castle in Scotland in the year 1300 , a young laundress called Ada creeps into the tower to clandestinely deliver bread to the captured English noble Colban Graham. Unfortunately, Ada thinks she’s been spotted helping the prisoner by cruel Castle Commander, Brian de Berclay, and he will want her head to roll. Soon, however, this becomes subsumed into a larger problem – Scotland is at war with England, Lord Maxwell is away with most of the fighting men, Caerlaverock is the first castle over the border and King Edward is on his way to lay siege with an army of 3,000… ​ At only 159 pages, and mainly set over the course of one day, this is a story that zips along like one of the arrows fired over the castle ramparts. Written in the first-person, we see from the inside how Ada copes as she tries to balance the many competing demands on her time and thoughts – can she help the prisoner, keep her new friend Page Godfrey safe, find out what de Berclay is up to and finish all her chores, all while an army storms the castle walls? With all that plot going on, it is a wonder that Barbara Henderson finds space to bring the harshness of the Middle Ages so vividly to life, with all the damp and cold and stink that entails, as well as several well-realised characters – I particularly enjoyed Brian de Berclay’s sneering Sheriff of Nottingham vibe. Fans of historical adventure fiction will love this book. There is much to learn about the time period (aided by the comprehensive glossary and timeline provided at the end) but the learning is done lightly, wrapped up in a page-turning mixture of action, intrigue, betrayal and friendship. An excellent introduction breathing life to a period many children may know little about. Buy Online Belonging Street Mandy Coe f you are looking for an anthology of uplifting, thought provoking poetry that has a real impact in the Key Stage 2 classroom, then ‘Belonging Street’ is the perfect collection for you. ​ The life affirming ‘You are Here,’ on the first page is a wonderful introduction and sets the positive and optimistic tone for the poems to come with the final line; ‘You are Here! You are Here!’ The book is jam packed with original verse; all of them perfectly written for reading aloud - well suited for both pure enjoyment and also as a base for children’s own poetry within their English lesson. Each poem explores different aspects of a child’s life; from rainy days in ‘Puddle Ocean’ to wandering around a house at night in ‘Tiptoe’. ‘Helping Hands’ touches on the complexity and diversity within each and every family; it really is beautiful to read and savour, while ‘Save You’ would be a really powerful poem to use as part of topic work around conservation.  There's a tone of warmth and wonder in the collection's everyday observations that encourages the reader to find so many things to enjoy in the mundane moments that they share with those around them. ​ Themes of inclusion, positivity and seeing the world through the eyes of others weave through the collection as well as a sense of humour and playfulness that sees puzzles and riddles mixed in with the poems. Belonging Street would be a great investment for every Key Stage Two classroom reading area.

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