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Best Books This Month – April 2021

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Best Books This Month - April 2021

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 April 2021…

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Jenny Pearson & Erica Salcedo-Saiz
Chapter book

After the success of The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates last year, primary-teacher-turned-author Jenny Pearson is back with a new and hilarious tale of ordinary children on extra-ordinary adventures. Life isn’t easy for Lucy. Her mum has depression and is difficult to care for, often being unwell for long periods that leave Lucy needing the help of a family friend. Lucy is great at fixing broken objects, but wishes more than anything that she knew how to fix her mum. It becomes clear that mum might need some time to stay at a place that can help her, and Lucy goes to stay with Aunty Sheila for a while.

Aunty Sheila loves car boot sales and is larger than life, always treating Lucy with kindness and a sense of fun, but life there is not the same as being with mum. With the help of friendly neighbour Sandesh, Lucy comes up with a way to make things right again. It’s an ambitious plan that involves meeting an 80s pop icon who was once acquainted with Mum, appearing on a TV show and smashing a world record – but as far as Lucy is concerned, no aim is too high when it comes to making her mum happy again. What follows is a humorous romp as Lucy and Sandesh search for a world record to smash with a range of hilarious consequences.

The humour is perfect for Key Stage 2 and the story also explores the subject of parental mental health issues in an age-appropriate way. This is a smasher of a story; the author knows her audience extremely well and pitches both the comic and more serious elements at just the right level. The relationships that Lucy forms with Aunty Sheila and Sandesh are lovely, and demonstrate how – while nothing can replace the closeness that Lucy craves with her mum – the warmth and loyalty of others can make the world of difference during hard times. This strand of the plot may serve as a valuable encouragement to children affected by similar issues that reaching out for or accepting support from others is sometimes the very best course of action.

James Catchpole
 & Karen George

What Happened to You? is a pioneering picturebook addressing how a child might want to be spoken to about a visable disability. The author, James Catchpole, like the main character Joe, has one leg, and uses the story to help readers to understand what it might feel like to be seen as different. The spotlight is given to the main character Joe, who gently explains his viewpoint about always being asked to answer questions about his disability when he encounters other children, when what he really wants to do is just join in and play without interrogation. The story tackles a difficult topic in a manner that is both funny and moving, and this is wonderfully supported by the illustrations by Karen George.
The story is steeped in realism about how children can potentially react to disabilities. What is clever about the story is how the same scene is viewed in two different ways and how this makes Joe feel. Humour is used to balance the story well, and helps children not to feel accused or guilty if their natural inclinations towards curiosity may lead them to ask the same questions as Joe’s playmates, but rather to develop empathy and warmly understand another’s experience…

Barbara Henderson
 & Sandra McGowan
Chapter book

The Chessmen Thief is a Scottish historical adventure set in the time of the Vikings. Based on the story of the real-life Lewis Chessmen (a group of distinctive 12th-century chess pieces discovered in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis) Barbara’s Henderson’s new book for middle-grade readers is a gripping adventure set against the backdrop of Norse mythology. Read our full review here.

Catherine Barr & Brendan Kearney

A Turtle’s View of the Ocean Blue takes the reader on a tour of our world’s oceans and seas, guided by a turtle. In fact, the turtle is quickly overshadowed (in a good way) by the facts and figures he presents. The wealth of information – about the physical geography of the five oceans and the creatures that live there – is fascinating. Some of it, such as details of the water cycle, will be familiar to adults and is directly relevant to the National Curriculum programmes of study in Science and Geography. But I was impressed to see how much more than that the book covered and found myself captivated on every page by the complexity and variety of the different underwater regions.

The depth and breadth of the information is matched by the glowing illustrations which look, appropriately, to have been painted in watercolours. Shades of blue predominate, as might be expected from the book title, but the details of plants, animals and geographical features show the technicolour range of life within the seas and oceans. The front cover actually shimmers with some of the details picked out in gold. As well as being packed with interesting content, this book is a beautiful object which will surely attract children to pick it up and browse through it.

The book would be a brilliant addition to school book corners and libraries. The reading level is challenging enough for Year 6, but it’s divided into smaller nuggets, making it suitable for much younger children too. Key Stage 1 children will appreciate the beauty of the illustrations and learn much from the pictures but it would be best placed in Key Stage 2. It would support curriculum teaching in Science (especially in Year 4) and in Geography and any work on conservation and the environment. Best of all, it’s fun to read the facts and look at the pictures. This makes it perfect for Reading for Pleasure time too. I recommend it to children who love non-fiction and books of amazing facts.

Swapna Haddow
 & Dapo Adeola

This is a sweet story about one imaginative boy’s special bond with his father, whom he images as a loveable grizzly bear. It’s full of humour, from the exaggerated facial expressions and bear-like attributes captured in Dapo Adeola’s vibrant illustrations, to the humorous asides in the text about Dad’s wild habits.

This is a playful and heartwarming picture book that perfectly captures the way in which young children observe familiar adults with curiosity, wonder and imagination – but also with pure adoration. Filled with giggles and with the theme of family bonds at its heart, this is a bear-illiant choice for storytime.

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Reviewers: Alison Leach, Christine Ivory, Kathryn Gilbert, Louisa Farrow.

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