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Best Books This Month – September 2020

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September 2020 - Books of the Month

The BooksForTopics Top Picks for September 2020

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

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Joseph Coelho
 & Freya Hartas
Chapter bookPoetry

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 stepmother 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.

Ewa Jozefkowicz
Chapter book

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

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 attract those who are new to the subject. The reader is invited to take a tour of all things space in the company of a diverse crew of space guides. During our space tour, a wealth of facts are covered -each double page focuses on a different aspect and so information is given in speedy, bite-sized fact boxes making this an ideal book for dipping into.

There is a good balance of facts and exciting nuggets from history, science and folklore. The legends behind the science add charm and warmth. Large and detailed illustrations guide the reader through their journey, each page devoted to a thorough, labelled map or diagram. For readers who struggle to visualise the images behind the arrangements of the constellations, this book certainly helps! I was able to ‘see’ Orion in the night sky having studied the beautiful constellation map.

This full-sized feast for the eyes would happily sit amongst a collection of Space books and interesting non-fiction books for readers who love to dive into the detail of a topic.

Fiona Waters
 & Britta Teckentrup

We were over the moon to receive this beautiful hardback poetry anthology. Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright contains an 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 Britta Teckentrup.

Readers can have fun dipping in and out of the pages and reading animal poems both familiar and new to us – flicking through to the entries for today, tomorrow, our birthdays, family and friends’ birthday and other special dates in the calendar, as well as pausing on random pages that catch our attention due ot the illustrations or the titles of the poems.

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

Pádraig Kenny
 & Edward Bettison
Chapter book

A beautifully atmospheric tale about a family of monsters who take in a human brother and sister. An examination of what really makes a monster. The characters have stayed with me since reading and I want to know what they are doing now.

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…

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. Páidraig has created a truly extraordinary story filled with a rich darkness and not in the way you would expect. Thematically it feels relevant to the world we live in today in how easily vulnerable members of society can become the target for others’ fears and frustrations with their lives. Hauntingly beautiful, I just can’t stop thinking about it.

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