August 2020 - Books of the Month

The BooksForTopics October Top Picks
 

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

The Night Bus Hero

Onjali Q. Rauf

A wonderfully heartfelt story filled with nuance, empathy and hope from award-winning author Onjali Rauf. This story highlights the topic of homelessness and explores the spectrum of attitudes that people hold towards homeless people, as well as exposing a number of common prejudices.

 

Hector is a troubled young boy - labelled as a bully and a menace, he is stuck in an endless cycle of rule breaking and serving detentions under teachers who tell him how troublesome he is. Hector’s parents have little time to pay him attention after school -  in fact the only attention that really feeds him is the incitement of his two friends, who cheer him on as he makes school life miserable for others.

 

Looking for a new way to impress his friends, Hector sets his sights on a homeless man who is often found sitting on a bench in the nearby park. Spotting an easy win, Hector hijacks the man’s trolley of possessions and aims to hide it in the trees. Something goes awry, and when the trolley ends up at the bottom of a lake the repercussions of his actions hit Hector in surprising ways that threaten to bring him into greater trouble than ever. Annoyed, Hector waits until opportunity arises and ramps up his plan to get revenge on the homeless man.

 

In the mean time, an intriguing spate of robberies in central London have brought the homeless community into public scrutiny. As a number of threads weave together, Hector finds himself wrapped up in a crime-busting mystery as well as unwittingly embarking upon a journey of personal change that enables him to better see the world through the eyes of others. Each character he meets helps him to see the value in real human connection beyond labels. There’s Thomas, the homeless man with a heartbreaking background story; the Catwoman, who demonstrated to Hector the value of community connection and collaboration; and Mei-Li, Hector’s classmate who shows him what it means to treat others with a grace and respect that breaks barriers and brings about the treasure of moving beyond surface appearances. Before he knows it, Hector finds himself the hero of his own story for the first time ever - both for the exciting and dangerous part he plays in busting a high profile criminal pursuit but also for his own personal journey of compassion and learning to reach out to others.

 

Onjali Rauf’s beautifully relatable storytelling is perfect for highlighting social issues in a way that fully engages young readers. The community of homeless people is portrayed vividly and intriguingly - from the sounds and smells of the soup kitchen to the night bus route to the system of painted symbols, their world is painted with dignity and compassion. As with her previous novels, Onjali Rauf addresses important ‘real-world’ topics with open-heartedness and the sense of triumph in knowing that big changes can start with small people.

The Britannica All New Children’s Encyclopedia

Various writers, ed. Christopher Lloyd & J.E. Luebering

Many us of will remember the joy of browsing through encyclopedias as a child - whether a physical volume like my own well-thumbed children's illustrated DK encyclopedia or, for a certain generation, the fun of clicking through a curiosity-led trail of articles on the Encarta CD-ROM. We might wonder whether such books are obsolete in the age of Google and Wikipedia, but The Britannica All New Children’s Encyclopedia has arrived in style to bust that myth.

 

The Britannica All New Children’s Encyclopedia is an illustrated, 416-page compendium brought about as a partnership between Christopher Lloyd at What on Earth Books and Encyclopædia Britannica. This encyclopedia steps away from the traditional A-Z organisation of topics and instead is structured into eight chapters; Universe, Earth, Matter, Life, Humans, Ancient & Medieval Times, Modern Times, and Today & Tomorrow. The subtitle of the book is 'What We Know & What We Don't', which sits the reader in the position of a co-quester for knowledge as the eight big topics are explored, acknowledging (in fact, enjoying) the space left for questioning, wondering and gazing into the unknown. In his introduction, Christopher Lloyd says, 'The more I realized what I didn't know, the more excited I became about discovering new things....one thing I have learned in all my research is that each answer leads to a series of new questions.' In doing so, Lloyd sets the tone for the rest of the volume, exploring a host of topics through information that is 'known' and introducing related questions and mysteries as 'known unknowns'.

 

The first chapter - The Universe - covers all things space related. Diagrams, photographs, fact boxes and paragraphs of text invite readers to dip in and out of a whizz around the universe, pausing to marvel at black holes, become intrigued by the Kuiper Belt, run their finger down a list of space probes or ponder at the known unknown about dark energy and whether there will be an 'Earth 2.0'. The section finishes with a quiz and an 'ask the experts' feature, which gives a trusted seal to the information as well as introducing a range of associated jobs. Further chapters follow the same structure, although many readers will no doubt open the heavy, hardback volume on a random page and begin their own curiosity trail that way, enjoying the variety of format and presentation as they roam.

This is a highly recommendable gift for children and an essential for KS2 classrooms or primary school libraries. While it may initially appeal as a fact-finder or a reference book, it will quickly charm its readers into enjoying the quest for knowledge as a pleasure pursuit and will become a popular choice for browsing, flicking through, dipping into and pondering deeply at knowns and known unknowns alike.

Delightfully Different Fairy Tales

Lynn Roberts-Maloney & David Roberts

This is a wonderful collection of three classic fairy tales (Cinderella, Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty), lovingly retold by Lynn Roberts-Maloney and fantastically reimagined by David Roberts' illustrations.

 

Cinderella is set in a 1920s/30s world, full of art deco style and carefully-researched tributes to the era throughout the illustrations. Her horse and carriage gets updated to a sort of Rolls Royce Phantom and the dishes that she labours over have a very Clarice Cliff feel, for example. Setting the tale in this period is a masterstroke, as the period was full of decadence for the likes of a prince. There are slight changes to the plot but it is still pretty true to the well-known versions, overall.

Rapunzel is given a 1970s remake. In a decade of long hair and rock and roll, her tower is a tower block with a broken lift and her Prince is a lead singer in a band. Music is a recurring theme and that 70s youth culture pervades. As in all three stories, the female lead is refreshingly empowered and takes her fate in her own hands.

For me, Sleeping Beauty is the pick of the bunch. Here, the illustrations are closer to the style of the recent Iggy Peck, Ava Twist and Rosie Revere books, for which David Roberts is most familiar. The twist is a bigger one this time with no prince at all and a leap into the future. There's still a happy ending and a truly satisfying one at that. As with the other two tales, it invites comparisons and re-readings of more traditional versions and would be a worthy addition to a unit of work on fairy tales in class.

A Story About Afiya

James Berry & Anna Cunha

Afiya has fine black skin, big brown eyes and a white cotton dress. She wears this dress every day and washes it at night so that it's ready for the morning. A Story About Afiya depicts the almost magical experiences that a beloved item of clothing brings to its young owner. In this beautiful picture book, the title character’s white dress becomes a canvas for the experiences that she has each day. Glorious sunflowers, delicate butterflies and fierce tigers all become imprinted onto her dress.

 

The words by celebrated Jamaican poet James Berry OBE are a celebration of childhood and memory. Afiya's dress collects the natural wonders that she sees and passes each day- flowers, fish, stones. It encourages children to think about what amazing features of the natural world they would collect if they had clothing like Afiya. This could be used to inspire nature walks, sketchbook work and descriptive poetry so that the children can capture their favourite aspects of nature as Afiya’s dress does.

Anna Cunha’s artwork reflects the focus on colour and pattern within Berry’s poetic writing. The soft pastel background creates a magical almost wistful atmosphere, perfect to showcase the passing of days as shown by the images on Afiya’s dress. There is much to inspire focused art lessons in this book. Anna Cunha uses pattern beautifully, capturing pigeons in flying formation, stretches of fish-filled sea, falling Autumn leaves and piles of towering boulders. Pupils could explore using repeated shapes and colours through printmaking.

 

A Story About Afiya is a beautiful book about the wonder and magic of noticing and celebrating what we find around us. The gentle use of magic realism helps readers to identify what is magical and special about their own natural surroundings.

The Castle of Tangled Magic

Sophie Anderson & Saara Sodurlund

This much-anticipated third novel by Sophie Anderson is a triumph, standing up to its predecessors The House with Chicken Legs and The Girl Who Speaks Bear in the richness of its story weaving and scope of imagination.

Castle Mila is Olia’s family home - a majestic castle passed down in her family history from generation to generation. The castle is as mysterious as it is impressive - with secret rooms, impenetrable domes and hidden passageways that long to be explored - and is the perfect abode for a curious and adventurous protagonist like Olia, who wishes to leave no stone unturned when it comes to seeking out magic and who can’t wait to share it all with her baby sister Rosa once she is old enough. The castle has stood for 500 years, so when a storm threatens, Olia is sure that the castle should be able to withstand it even if it may mean cancelling the special feast planned in the great hall. But wise old Babusya - who is always well-tuned in to the world of magic and spirits - isn’t so sure, feeling that there is something different about the nature of this impending storm.

After the storm passes, part of the top of the castle has partially collapsed down into the great hall, revealing a hidden staircase that leads to one of the castle's domes. The Aurora Dome has always fascinated Olia, believing it be a place of hidden magic. Allured by its potential and confused by Babusya’s mysterious instructions about unlocking the castle’s magic, Olia is soon swept away on an adventure through a magical door in the dome that leads to a whole new land of forbidden magic.

What ensues is a thrilling quest introducing a host of magical characters, as Olia finds true courage within herself and a new conviction in her own agency to pursue what she believes is important. The cast of characters is delightful, and pleasingly there is even an appearance from a particular house that is fondly familiar to fans of Sophie’s previous books. An interesting and topical theme emerges gently through the story, as Olia explores the concept of how to deal with the shameful actions of ancestors from generations before - actions that have caused long-lasting consequences for the individual liberties of a whole group of characters. Should we cut off things of the past and remove all memories of them, wonders Olia, or embrace our history while looking for ways to put things right?

 

Sophie Anderson masterfully introduces Russian folklore to new readership while exploring themes with true relevance to the modern middle-grade readers - identity, social justice, conviction of belief, what it means to find a home and the role individuals play in make the world a better place for others.

 

With beautiful illustrations by Saara Sodurlund bringing its magic to life, this is an enchanting and exciting tale is not to be missed.

Please reload

More new releases for August
Click each book cover to view on Amazon.
Moonchild
Return to Roar
King of the Swamp
Pizazz
Health Heroes
DOSH
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
Show More
You may also like our booklists
EYFS & KS1
KS2
Year Group Booklists
Environmental Sustainability
Show More

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.

Join our newsletter to find out about our brand new booklists, reviews and updates on new children's books.

Click here to sign up.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram Social Icon
  • Pinterest

Copyright ©BooksForTopics  2015-2021. 

Affiliate disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, BooksForTopics earns from qualifying purchases.  Click here to learn more.