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Best Books This Month – May 2020

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May 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 May 2020…

Sharon Creech
Chapter book

Written by Carnegie medal winner Sharon Creech, this is an endearing and heart-warming story, reminiscent of Charlotte’s Web.

The story is set in America and opens, much like Charlotte’s Web, with the father of the household bringing home to Louie, his son, a small bundle. This bundle is not the runt of the pig litter, as in Charlotte’s Web, but a very poorly new-born baby donkey. Louie names the donkey Winslow and is determined to keep him alive. Woven through the story are stories of friendship and love: of Louie and Winslow; Louie and his brother, Gus who is a soldier away in the army; Louie and his older friend Mack; Mack and Claudine, the girl he is smitten by; Louie and Nora, Claudine’s younger sister, who lives life with a glass half empty view of the world. Nora lost her baby brother when he was a new-born and then her pet dog and these events make it hard for her to let herself attach to anyone or anything including Winslow, despite her overwhelming curiosity about the tiny donkey.

As the story progresses, Winslow manages to work his donkey magic and Nora builds a real bond with Winslow. Sharon Creech, who uses the donkey’s different noises and braying to convey his mood, along with the way he nuzzles and uses his long ears to show his care for Louie and Nora, skilfully constructs Winslow’s character. Clearly, a donkey isn’t loved by everyone, particularly when he makes as much noise as Winslow does. In this great story though, even Mrs Tooley, a very grumpy neighbour who really thinks that a donkey should not be living in the neighbourhood, is won around when Winslow’s braying alerts the family to a fire.

This story is crafted perfectly, with moments of reflection on the big life questions: of loss; fear; death; friendship; courage and the power of hope. It is a wonderful story that could provide a class with a wealth of deep discussion alongside some laughs and warmth.

Reviewer: Jane Carter

Patrick Skipworth
 & Nicholas Stevenson
Non-fiction

A stunning non-fiction picture book about the origins of the English Language. You’ll be surprised at the global and cultural diversity hidden in the words we use every day.

Did you know that English words come from all over the world? And often their meanings have changed over time? Find out about the journeys of a selection of words from the English Language in this visual resource. Each word is paired with a two-page spread illustration, which takes inspiration from the origins of the word itself. Find out more over on our blog.

Eloise Williams
Chapter book

Eloise Williams, the Children’s Laureate Wales, has followed up the brilliant ‘Gaslight’ and ‘Seaglass’ with another intriguing and mysterious tale.

Wilde thinks she is weird. In fact, she knows she is weird. It takes a great deal of effort for her to blend in at her new school in Witch Point, especially when her arrival seems to coincide with the start of some very strange things happening. Birds behave strangely around Wilde and she keeps waking up in strange places not knowing how she got there. Things become more and more strange as the Year Six class get further into rehearsals for their end of year play about the local legend: a witch called Winter. Her classmates start receiving threatening notes containing curses that are signed by ‘The Witch’.

Magical and mysterious, this is a story about acceptance. It is about learning to accept yourself in order to be able to truly let in those around you and ‘fit in’. It is also about the conflict between the desire to be like everyone else and the need to be yourself. Wilde is desperate to work out what is happening to and around her. She wants to feel more connected to her mother and senses that the key to the mysterious happenings lies with her past. As the curse letters continue and accusations fly, Wilde has to find out who she really is, where she belongs and who she can trust with the truth. There are echoes of Skellig in this story in terms of warm friendships, dealing with loss and a touch of magic.

Fans of Eloise Williams’ work will not be disappointed with Wilde.

Reviewer: Caroline

Jackie Morris & James Mayhew
Picturebook

Mrs Noah’s Garden is a magical tale that begins when the ark has come to rest on the top of a barren mountain, surrounded by water. The Bible story of Noah and the flood is a jumping off point for this book and this imagined tale weaves an enchanting story of the creation of a garden, encompassing along the way the essences of human existence and its relationships.

Jackie Morris unveils through her lyrical and beautiful use of language, the creation of a garden by Mrs Noah, a strong, determined and graceful character. The book introduces children to the names of trees and flowers, to the process of planting, caring and growing as the book develops. There are passing references to old nursery rhymes that may need to be pointed out to children to enable them to explore the richness of this text further. On the surface, this is a book about the creation of a garden, but woven through are themes of diversity and inclusion, hope and migration, the value and richness of creation, new beginnings and an environmental message about the interdependence of living things. This is why this book could be shared with children in Year 1 and in Year 6 – exploring the story, the language and the themes in different ways.

The most immediate impact of this book is from its illustrations. James Mayhew creates the garden in the story, using vibrant collage and print making techniques. The illustrations are unique works of art and deserve to be studied and explored in their own right. The use of colour moves the reader from the grey and barren beginnings to a garden bursting with life and vitality in the final pages. Noah and Mrs Noah are shown as a couple from two heritages working together to create both a home for themselves and their children but also for an abundance of wildlife, real and mythical. This is a book that deserves time spent on it; time to dwell on the illustrations and time to dwell on the language. Mrs Noah’s Pockets, written and illustrated by the same pair would be a good book to read alongside, considering the development of the character of Mrs Noah.

Reviewer: Jane Carter

Angela Woolfe & Paola Escobar
Chapter book

Described as a hilarious fairy-tale mash-up, this book tells the story Roxy Humperdinck (who is half-sister to Hansel and Gretel) and her average life in Rexopolis in the Kingdom of Illustria – that is until she meets Jones. They are brought together by an unusual book discovered in the vaults under the Ministry of Soup, and soon they begin an epic adventure to save their home, and potentially the whole world, from dark magic.

This is a humorous tale that captured my interest straight away. The story had just enough twists and turns to keep me guessing and I really liked the nods to traditional fairy-tale characters that popped up along the way.

The characters of Roxy and Jones make for great leads in this book. Roxy, who has a photographic memory and can recall facts with ease, lives an almost uneventful life. She is completely in the dark about the history of magic that her Kingdom once had and does not like to upset her half-sister. In contrast, Jones (first name Cinderella) knows many things, is quick-witted and a huge fan of sugary treats. She is fed up with being treated like a slave by her stepmother, so she runs away in her quest to discover ancient artefacts and certainly seems not to be afraid of anything. She also has a fairy godmother, Frankie, who is nothing like the usual type of godmother you read about in fairytales. I think that Frankie is guaranteed to be a favourite character with many readers.

This was an enjoyable read that would fit perfectly in a classroom or school library. It offers the perfect escape into another world – as great stories do – and will certainly appeal to any child who loves fairytales, humour and adventure.

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