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Best Books This Month – February 2021

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Best Books This Month - February 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 February 2021

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Zillah Bethell
 & Saara Soederlund
Chapter book

It’s no secret that we are big fans of Zillah Bethell’s books here at BooksForTopics HQ. The Shark Caller is a stunner of a story – rich with the sights and sounds of its Papua New Guinean setting while also reflecting sagely on universal themes of life and death, family, friendship and time. Full of depth, this story is most suitable for mature readers in KS2 who can handle plot twists and deeper, philosophical themes to discuss. It’s beautifully written, wise, enticing – haunting at times – but also full of thrills and surprises….

David Long
 & Studio Muti
Non-fiction

Amazing Treasures is a new non-fiction gem by author and historian, David Long whose previous titles include the award-winning Survivors.

Presented in hard-back with evocative illustrations throughout, Amazing Treasures promises us 100+ mind-boggling objects and places considered to be ‘treasures’, both ancient and modern. The book opens with an explanation of what is considered a treasure – the perfect opening for a young reader wanting to understand why we become so fascinated by the world’s treasures, why people aspire to own them and why, perhaps, they need to be protected and preserved.

Amazing Treasures features a world of treasure hoards, sunken treasures and natural wonders, all written in a highly accessible way for young readers. A map – and who doesn’t love those? – in the centre of the book shows children where in the world each treasure is or was located. David Long gives just enough information for children to find out about each treasure but leaves them with the desire to find out more. For teachers, this book could be used as a platform to further learning and investigation or used to dip into to broaden children’s knowledge and curiosity of the world around them. This is a book to be pored over – as I did when it first arrived. I can also imagine it being returned to again and again. I loved that the book was presented in a matt finish and that photos were replaced by beautiful illustrations by Muti as it gives it a timeless appeal.

This book is perfect for KS2 readers and would be a great addition to any classroom or home. The subjects covered in Amazing Treasures will spark a journey of discovery for any inquisitive child and would have a deserved space in the non-fiction area of the classroom. As you can tell, I loved this book and am already planning to use it in the classroom with my own class. It’s simply a treasure of a book in its own right.

Hannah Gold
 & Levi Pinfold
Chapter book

A beautifully heartfelt and moving story with strong environmental themes. This story highlights the topic of global warming but also draws a picture of the wonderful connection that can develop between children and animals.

When April heads to a remote Arctic island with her father, who is there for scientific research, she’s not sure exactly what to expect. The trip to ‘Bear Island’ has the potential to be a very lonely trip – with endless summer Arctic nights, an isolated wilderness and, according to her father, no actual polar bears left on the island for April to spot despite its name.

Surprisingly, April encounters a real polar bear on the island when nobody else is around. Isolated from his family, the bear is starving and alone, with nobody to help him. Over time, a friendship develops and April becomes more determined than ever to save the bear. April knows that she will have to tread carefully to nourish the bear in secret and to navigate the issue of making the adults listen at the right moment. Before long, April realises she is witnessing first-hand the impact of a much bigger global problem. With courage in the face of powerlessness, April embarks upon a quest to get the bear to safety in an adventure that she will never forget.

There’s something magical about this story – from the wonderfully evoked Arctic setting to the glorious friendship that develops between April and the bear. There often seems to be a direct connection and a deep instinct to care that exists between children and the natural world. This connection is highlighted in the story through how April can make a difference in the plight of the bear despite her feeling of powerlessness. Many young readers who do care about climate change will relate to April’s frustration at the inaction of many people, to her sadness at the plight of our precious planet and to her desire to make a difference, even through the smallest of actions.

This is a powerful and important story that will stir the heart through its gently unfolding message that places hope in the hands of the young to make a difference in the planet’s future.

Caroline Crowe
 & Cally Johnson-Isaacs
Picturebook

A joyful picturebook tapping into the power of finding positivity in the world around us.

When a little girl wants to know whether rainbows are painted, Grandad explains that instead they are made with hope and kindness to others. The story visits each of the rainbow’s colours, listing associated things that bring hope, joy or kindness. Red is tulips or jam on toast, orange is kicking autumn leaves or dressing up as tigers, yellow is feeling sand on your toes or tasting zingy lemons, and so on. Many of the activities mentioned are those shared between friends or family members, and others focus on giving or being a blessing to others. Others still are just personal pleasures (like dying your hair a punk-rock shade of purple!).

I loved the emphasis on finding joy in everyday things, and it’s hard to read the story without thinking of your own rainbow of joyful activities that bring colour to life. This story could be an excellent springboard into conversations and activities with children about being mindful of small pleasures, about finding positivity and about drawing on how love, friendship and community can bring joy.

Cheerful in concept and also in its bright illustrations and bouncy rhyme, this is a happy read that is perfectly pitched for readers aged 3-7.

Francesca Simon & Steve May
Chapter book

Meet Hack and Whack – the worst behaved Vikings in the village! They revel in creating chaos and causing carnage wherever they go with hilarious consequences – and what is more, their parents are proud of them!

This series of 3 short stories set in the frozen fjords of a Viking kingdom, the two terrible twins (along with their wolf cub Bitey-Bitey and their friends Twisty Pants and Dirty Ulf,) plunder and pillage the polite and perfect Elsa Gold Hair’s birthday party, track a troll and attempt a daring and dangerous raid of a nearby island.

As well as plenty of laughs and make believe, this book includes some more accurate historical details too; describing longhouses with smoke holes and thatched roofs, iron cauldrons and the need for foraging for rood and smoking fish to name a few. It would be a great addition to a class library during a Viking topic to use alongside non-fiction texts.

Francesca Simon is best known for the Horrid Henry series but also harbours an interest in Norse mythology after having read Old and Middle English at Oxford. These stories bring the author’s expertise in all things Vikings into the full spirit of Horrid Henry’s comic revelry. The variations in font and the comic illustrations by Steve May really add to the humour and engagement of the story for young readers. It is a fantastic early chapter book – a really accessible read for those starting out tackling longer texts. It will also engage and amuse older but more reluctant readers and would also be great fun to read aloud.

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