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Best Books This Month – February 2019

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February 2019 - Books of the Month

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 February 2019.

Sinéad O’Hart
Chapter book

Fans of Sinéad O’Hart’s acclaimed debut The Eye of the North will be thrilled to see a new adventure arriving on the shelves so swiftly. The new book, The Star-Spun Web shares the high spirit of adventure, a captivating cast of characters and a determined, scientifically-minded female lead, but is in itself a wholly original storyline – one that is enthralling, intelligent and magical, hitting all the right notes and more for the kind of book I find just brilliant to read.

The story is based around the premise of parallel worlds with infinite possibilities, and features a group of pioneering scientists in the first half of the Twentieth Century working on theories about communicating and travelling between different worlds. The main character, Tess de Sousa, is a plucky young orphan with a pet tarantula called Violet. Tess was left at Ackerbee’s Home for Lost and Foundlings as a baby, along with a mysterious device called a Starspinner that may provide the only clues about her family.

When a mysterious stranger appears years later and claims to be a distant relative coming to take her home with him, Tess begins to unravel a deeply thrilling mystery about her origins. Soon she finds herself caught up in an edge-of-your-seat adventure featuring parallel universes, a very familiar-looking boy called Thomas and a dastardly plan involving scientific societies and terrifying war machines.

Perfect for fans of Christopher Edge and Phillip Pullman, there is so much to love in this story and I’m sure it is going to be a big hit with readers in Upper KS2.

Sabena Radeva

A stunning new picture book bringing Darwin’s theories alive for young readers.

This is a book that you could read straight through like a story, or spend hours poring over like an encyclopaedia – or both! I can see Radeva’s interpretation of Darwin being hugely popular in class libraries, one of those rare books that all children can get something from and talk about.

The artwork is truly lovely, keeping the same style for both pictures and diagrams which makes it coherent overall. Some of the images are reminiscent of creation story illustrations and this opens up scope for dialogue about different pupils’ beliefs and understandings. Scattered throughout the book are illustrated quotes of Darwin’s original words – these provide a challenge for the more advanced reader, and could easily be used as a discussion topic in class or a focal point for a display.

Finally, the book includes not only a useful glossary but a section detailing how our modern knowledge of genetics expands and confirms Darwin’s work, along with a page on misconceptions. I must also mention the endpapers, so often overlooked – both front and back contain a wealth of insects for children to look out for and hone their skills as naturalists.

Claire Fayers
Chapter book

Storm Hound is a hugely entertaining and highly original fantasy adventure from Claire Fayers, author of Mirror Magic and The Accidental Pirates.

Everybody knows that dogs are man’s best friend. That is, everybody except for Storm Hound, the youngest hound in Odin’s sky hunt. Storm believes himself to be fierce, mighty and far above the ways of the domestic dogs living down on Earth. So when he accidentally falls from the skies during his first official hunt and lands on the A40 just outside Abergavenny, Storm is surprised to find that nobody on Earth seems to take seriously his important role of Storm of the Wild Hunt.

Worse still, people seem to treat Storm as if he is some kind of adorable domestic puppy. Twelve-year-old Jessica adopts Storm from a rescue centre and a tender relationship develops between the pair. Jessica, who is facing a life upheaval as she moves from London to a new home and school in Wales, relishes the comfort and companionship that Storm brings her and, as time goes by, Storm begins to feel loyal and protective towards Jessica too (although he is categorically NOT her pet – he is Storm of Odin from the Wild Hunt).

Some humans are aware of Storm’s legendary powers though, and suddenly a number of adults become unusually interested in Jessica and her new pet. What follows is a fast-paced and very witty adventure that leaves Storm with a life-changing decision to make.

Storm Hound is a genuinely funny narrative that is also poignant in parts and I know so many young readers who will thoroughly enjoy everything about this story.

Alex Milway
Chapter book

Here is a fantastically imaginative addition to the growing bank of illustrated chapter books available to newly independent readers, perfect for fans of Alex T Smith’s Claude books and Harriet Muncaster’s Isadora Moon series.

Anna Dupont arrives at the dilapidated Hotel Flamingo after inheriting it from her Great Aunt Mathilda, who left it to her in her will. Shocked at the state of the “sunniest hotel in town”, Anna is disappointed to see dirty floors, cracked windows, broken doors and layers of old cobwebs. Having been empty of guests for the last few years, the only employees left at the hotel are T Bear the doorman and Mr Lemmy, the lemur who runs the front desk.

A determined and optimistic protagonist, Anna decides to restore the hotel to its former glory and sets about the enormous task of cleaning, fixing, planning and hiring. Restoring the reputation of an old hotel is no easy challenge, and soon Anna and the team face a host of challenges, including rival hoteliers, strange dietary requirements from the animal guests and a visit from a hotel inspector. At every step, Anna keeps her focus on teamwork, inclusion and good old hard work and soon the hotel is celebrating the kind of success it deserves.

I enjoyed the delightful cast of characters, the positive values promoted by hotel owner Anna and Alex Milway’s appealing illustrations set in pinks and greys. I particularly loved the way that the hotel was ready to welcome creatures, like cockroaches, that other hotels in the area were unwilling to accept and there was a clear message that the hotel was a better place because of its warmth and diversity.

Imaginative, accessible and little bit wild, Hotel Flamingo is a fabulous early chapter book that will appeal to readers aged 5-8. 

Michelle Harrison
Chapter book

Spellbinding from start to finish, this is an enchanting tale of sisterhood, dark magic and a thrilling meeting of past and present worlds.

The story follows the three Widdershins sisters – Betty, Fliss and Charlie – who live with their overprotective grandmother on the isle of Crowstone. Their island is surrounded by unpredictable marshes and is set in the shadow of an inescapable prison tower. As if that’s not enough to make the girls feel caged in, they discover an ancient family curse meaning that any Widdershins girl who dares to leave Crowstone will die by the following sunset.

Middle sister Betty is a feisty protagonist who has always longed for adventure. Not the type to allow anything (be it grandmother’s strict rules or a seemingly unbreakable ancient curse) get in her way of exploring the wider world, Betty uses her steely determination and strength of mind to try to figure out a way to break the hold of the dark magic that grips her family history. Along the way, the sisters encounter magical objects, mysterious prisoners and perilous boat rides as they embark upon a spellbinding adventure that will change their lives forever.

I loved the strong female characters, the convincing magical realism and the thrilling sense of danger that kept me hooked until the end of the story. With some darker themes and hints of romance, this is most suitable for upper primary and lower secondary year groups. If you are looking for an original story that is bound to enchant and thrill its readers, this is the one for you.

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