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Best Books This Month – September 2021

Best Books This Month - September 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 September 2021.

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Rob Biddulph
Chapter book

National treasure Rob Biddulph, whose record-breaking illustration events during lockdown gained an army of fans young and old, publishes his first illustrated chapter book this month. Peanut Jones is a wonderfully imaginative story with likeable characters and plenty of action and adventure.

Pernilla Jones (Peanut to her friends) isn’t having the best time. Her dad suddenly disappeared over a year ago, her mum is moving on and dating someone Peanut can’t stand and she has been made to move schools, leaving her beloved Melody High behind in favour of St Hubert’s School for the Seriously Scientific and Terminally Mathematic. Peanut is paired with Rockwell Riley as part of a study buddy scheme to help new students settle and she couldn’t be more disinterested.

One day, when she finds a magic pencil which has the power to make drawings a reality, Peanut sets out to find out what really happened to her dad. She takes Rockwell and her little sister, Little Bit, along for the ride in this alternate dimension where there is always danger and surprise around the corner. The story follows her journey into a hidden world where she must think quickly and use her drawing powers to save herself, her friends and the people she meets from those who wish to destroy all creativity – all the while, searching for the truth about her dad.

Throughout the book, there are superb, detailed drawings which are in black, white and orange, giving the book a unique style. This is the first in a trilogy about friendship and creativity. The short chapters make it easy to read and I look forward to the next instalment.

A triumphant entry into the chapter book world from Rob Biddulph.

Wendy Shurety
 & Paddy Donnelly

The Treeple lived up high in the trees. They liked to build houses of sticks, climb with lemurs and make papaya pies.

But most of all, the Treeple loved to make things.

The Seaple lived deep down in the ocean. They liked to build houses out of shells, swim with the fishes and bake seaweed pie.

But most of all, the Seaple loved to watch nature.

The Treeples aren’t bad but they are thoughtless. They continue to make things without thinking about whether or not they need them and when they run out of space on the land, they decide a good place to put it would be in the ocean. This is when the problems start for the Seaple.

This is a lovely book to use as an introduction to caring for the environment and why we need to make sure that we don’t drop plastic and litter. The Seaple go on to reuse and recycle items that the Treeple had discarded. This would be a great conversation starter and would encourage children to think about everyday items that could be reused and how we can recycle products and what could be made from them.

The illustrations by Paddy Donnelly are beautiful and really add to the mood of the story. The worlds of the Treeple and Seaple come alive and the characters are very engaging. A section at the back of the book gives ideas on how everyone can help to be an ocean hero and keep the seas and beaches clean. A donation of 3% of the cover price goes to the Marine Conservation Society.

Sangma Francis
 & Romolo D’Hipolito

If you know Flying Eye publishing house’s output, you will know before you even see this book that ‘Amazon River’ is a beautiful object, that the art will be as thoughtful as the writing, the quality of paper as important as the factual information.

Reading this to a class as the launch of a topic on the Amazon/Rainforests will undoubtedly whet the children’s appetite to learn about this astonishing and awe-inspiring place. The introduction is amply matched by the end piece, ‘A River of the World’, which sums the book up perfectly, as well as acting as an excellent discussion starter on the interconnectedness of our planet.

In between these two marvels, the main body of the book is divided into 4 main themes: water, wildlife, people and life on the river. These pages tread the tightrope between concision and depth expertly. Despite a background as a geographer, I learnt many new facts such as the difference between clearwater, blackwater and whitewater. The summaries of a wide range of exciting and unusual animals are also superb, as are more summaries of the Legends of Pirarucu and Naia, star of the water.

‘Amazon River’ is a stunning way to engage children with an important and breathtaking part of the world. It could easily be used as the centrepiece of a topic, and would inspire much engagement with the natural world and our place within it.

Martin Brown
Chapter book

Nell lives with her clan in the cave. Her best friend is a small cave bear, who will grow very large as he gets older. One day Nell overhears some of the adults talking about giving Cave Bear away as a gift for another clan. Nell is horrified and decides to run off with Cave Bear. They follow the stream from their village in search of somewhere they can be safe. On the way they meet mammoths and other less friendly clans and a fierce wildcat kitten. All the time Nell is searching for a way that she can remain with Cave Bear.

This is a very charming story, filled with gentle humour and a very mildly scary level of adventure. The pictures are drawn in much the same way in a blue wash and create a sense of the story and the jokes in the text. There are also allusions to other well-known stories like Bear Hunt and Winnie the Pooh.

The final pages have instructions for how to look after a cave bear and this was possibly my favourite bit of all. Martin Brown is the illustrator for the Horrid Histories series and some of that humour has definitely rubbed off on this book.

This is a heart-warming story about friendship and is going to be the first in a series about Nell and Cave Bear. I think it will prove a popular choice among children who are just starting to read independently as it is not too long or difficult.

Sara Pennypacker
 & Jon Klassen
Chapter book

Fans of Sara Pennypacker’s Pax will be thrilled to see the arrival of the long-awaited sequel this month.

A year ago, Peter met his former pet fox, Pax, for what he assumed was the last time. Since then Pax has been happy as part of a new family in the wild. Thirteen year old Peter, on the other hand, has now lost not just his mother and his beloved pet but also his father, killed in the war. That just leaves his grandfather, who makes him feel inadequate. He’s determined to bury his feelings of guilt, hurt and loss by striking out alone and shunning close relationships.

He sets off to join the Water Warriors, cleaning up water that has been contaminated by the war near to his old home. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to him, Pax is travelling in the same direction – towards Peter but also towards the contaminated water. Slowly, surely, inevitably, their paths collide.

Told alternately from the points of view of Peter and Pax (although always in the third person), this story will break your heart and warm it at the same time. It’s a superb and sensitive portrait of how emotions can become tangled and how grief can become toxic. It draws you into the vivid tale of companionship between boy and fox and compels you to ponder the complex relationships between loss and guilt, loyalty and love.

Despite being a sequel to Pax, it stands alone very well, although I would recommend reading the books as a pair. Doing so heightens the pathos of watching Peter follow the emotionally self-destructive path set by his father and, ultimately, finding healing and redemption through love.

The emotional content of the book makes it ideal for broaching difficult subjects like bereavement and mental wellbeing. The setting and context link it to environmental issues, most of all the importance of water. The story as a whole is a joyous read – perfect reading for pleasure material. I read it with tears running down my face and since I’ve finished it, I’ve felt somewhat bereft myself.

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