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Best Books This Month – January 2020

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January 2020 - 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 January 2020…

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M. G. Leonard & Sam Sedgman
 & Elisa Paganelli
Chapter book

A full-steam-ahead adventure that had me hooked from the get-go. The Highland Falcon Thief is a middle-grade mystery story set on a steam train. With a high spirit of adventuring and a good-and-proper mystery that unfolds with clues and red herrings along the course, this is a brilliantly fun story that is sure to be on track to find itself set among the very best in the children’s mystery genre.

Harrison Beck (Hal) ends up aboard the last-ever journey of a famous royal steam train ‘The Highland Falcon’, unwillingly accompanying his travel-writer uncle while his parents are occupied in hospital having a new baby. Hal doesn’t think much of steam trains – and he is even less impressed when he finds there are no other child passengers on board and no electricity to charge his devices. Before long, Hal finds himself caught up with entertainment of a more old-fashioned kind. A mystery begins to unravel among the passengers – with valuable items disappearing including the princess’s diamond necklace – and Hal begins to record what he notices in his sketchbook. What’s more, Hal befriends a secret stowaway girl called Lenny and the pair set to work to solve the mystery before The Highland Falcon reaches the end of its last-ever journey.

It’s a full-throttle mystery with likeable characters and a well-paced plot that is especially full of treasures for anyone who loves trains. Even those who are not particularly into trains – like myself – will enjoy the feeling of being immersed in the world of locomotions, and the joy of being on board one came across with such a passion that I think I may have gained a new-found appreciation!

Highly recommended.

Katie Daynes
 & Marie-Eve Tremblay

This hardback non-fiction with interactive flaps covers a hot topic among young people, taking a balanced approach that encourages readers to ask and answer important questions about the pros and cons of plastic use. It’s a well-presented and informative book that would be perfect for a KS1 or lower KS2 class who are learning about materials or the environment. On each page, there are questions and beneath each flap is a clear answer, which has some useful subject-specific vocabulary and a good balance between why plastic is useful and why it is harmful to the environment.

Nizrana Farook
Chapter book

An exciting new middle-grade adventure from Nizrana Farook filled with atmosphere, suspense and adventure with elements of Robin Hood and Arabian Nights.

Set in the dazzling landscapes of Sri Lanka, The Girl Who Stole an Elephant is the story of a girl called Chaya and her friends Neel and Nour. Quick-fingered Chaya is a young version of Robin Hood; she steals from the rich to help the poor in her village. However, when she steals the Queen’s jewels, things begin to go horribly wrong. Not only does she put herself in grave danger, but her actions also bring harm to her best friend Neel and the people of her village.

Loyally, Neel takes the blame for Chaya’s actions and is sentenced to death. Chaya knows that she must act quickly if she is going to save him and a gripping and adventurous escape begins. Along the way, they meet Nour, a young girl from a wealthy background who opts to join their cause.

Before long, everyone they know seems to have come under threat as a result of their actions. The King will stop at nothing to capture them, especially as they have stolen his prize elephant as well. Will these young protagonists be able to save the ones that they love and escape death? Or will it mean the end for all of them?

This is a KS2 must-read with an evocatively drawn setting, perfect for anyone who loves adventure stories.

Leila Rasheed
Chapter book

Empire’s End: A Roman Story is part of the VOICES series that celebrates the lives of BAME protagonists during key eras of British history. This book tells the tale of a young North African girl who sets out on a danger-filled journey to Britain during Roman times. This is a gripping adventure that offers a new perspective into the myriad of Roman narratives shared in schools and is full of details that immerse readers in knowledge of life in Roman times. The story helps to develops an understanding of the Roman world as one that was full of many different cultures, religions and ethnicities.

Alastair Chisholm
Chapter book

This is a really new book, set on a stranded colonisation ship millions of miles out in space, far from help or rescue. There are aliens and space pirates and explosions in the engine room, all the stuff I love in blockbuster sci-fi. And Alastair Chisholm’s writing is so crisp and clear, you can really picture the story as it unfolds. I hope it’s a massive success so we get more books like this one – old-school, imaginative, exciting space opera.

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