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Best Books This Month – December 2022

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Books of The Month December 2022

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 December 2022.

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Ken Wilson-Max

Inspired by his father’s passion for trees, Ken Wilson-Max’s picturebook is a delightful introduction to conservation and care for the natural environment.

Eve is lively and thoughtful, living at the edge of a big, old forest. She loves everything about it, the trees most of all, especially the Baobab, the African “tree of life”. On her birthday, Eve and her parents visit Grandma, deep in the forest, where she gets a magical surprise. Unwrapping the bark from around a parcel that Grandma has carried to a special place, she finds a Baobab seedling to plant and take care of. Following family tradition, it will grow next to the trees that her father, grandma and great-grandma nurtured, connecting her forever with the forest she loves.

The bold, rich colours used to illustrate the book joyfully conjure the heat, the vibrant flowers and the many shades of green to be found in the forest.

This is perfect to share with Early Years and Key Stage 1 classes to help young children understand that everyone can play their part in preserving the natural world. Facts about trees are included are at the end, providing a good starting point for finding out more.

Joseph Coelho
 & Richard Johnson

Our Tower tells the story of three children living in a tower block. Viewing their environment as “concrete and grey”, they decide to seek out the glimpse of green they can see high up from their window.

Finding the tree they have longed to see reveals a secret world of magic. Tumbling deep inside, they find “a world deeper than anything Our Tower has ever seen.” But the most significant discovery is the tree-grown man living within, who opens their eyes to the true magic. With his words, the children see that magic is everywhere, including in their tower. A tower full of love and community.

This is a beautiful story inspired by author Joseph Coelho’s own experience of growing up in a tower block. The new Children’s Laureate brilliantly illustrates the diversity and the incredible sense of community that living in a tower block provides, showing how they are more magical than the boring, hard and grey high-rise flats that dominate urban skylines. The tale brings a message about urbanisation, where there’s a perceived distinction between countryside and urban spaces, yet this reminds us that nature is all around us, wherever we live, and everyone should have access to it.

Every page is a feast for the eyes with stunning and sumptuous illustrations by Richard Johnson. The colours perfectly reflect the mood of the poetic narrative, changing from dull greys to magical purples to vibrant, magical technicolour.

As always, the talent of Joseph Coelho’s writing expertly combines writing in verse and poetry with inspiring rich vocabulary.

Carl Honore
 & Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell

It’s the Journey, not the Destination is a non-fiction book that encourages the reader to travel the world but at a slower pace, to take the time to explore through walking, cycling or traveling by boat or train. This ethos of the book resonated with me as a key message important for children and adults alike – life can be so busy sometimes, it is important to create new experiences, taking the time to enjoy these at your own speed.

Split into four sections, this book focuses on 40 slow adventures to take, each through the four different ways to travel. Within each section is a map of the world, with a split pin identifying the location, then a further route map reference for each individual place. This is a clever and interesting addition that children could spend plenty of time exploring and discussing.

Within each of the four sections, various locations around the world are included. Some may be well known to children (for example, the river Nile and Los Angeles) but other places they may not have heard of at all. This in itself is appealing as this book could be used to develop speaking and listening skills (which location should be visited first and why?) as well as further develop geographical understanding.

The illustrations from Kevin and Kristen Howdeshell help to support the information given in the text. The pages are presented in a variety of ways that the reader will be able to interpret and understand, with text sections ranging from small paragraphs to just a couple of sentences. The information about each place covers historical facts, key places to visit and what is life is like for the locals living there.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable book that would appeal to UKS2 children and those curious about the big wide world.

Jenny Pearson
 & Katie Kear
Chapter book

Oscar and Molly are spending their first Christmas with their paternal grandparents, Lord and Lady Cuthbert-Anderson. It is a family tradition to put on a Nativity production in the village church, but due to past dramas and disasters, Oscar’s parents have opted out until now. Grandfather is ill, and this may be the last opportunity to participate with him, making special memories. An angel crash landing in the garden is the first sign that this Christmas is going to be very different!

Angel Gabriel has made a mistake and accidentally blasted Mary, Joseph, Donald the donkey, Wise Man Balthazar and a shepherd called Steve, 2,000 years into the future. If they cannot be returned to the correct time and place, then Christmas will be cancelled! Besides the obvious, Christmas is important to Oscar as it is the anniversary of when his parents first met – no Christmas, no Oscar and Molly!

Once Gabriel has described the situation to Oscar, they are in a hilarious race against time to ensure that the Nativity happens in Bethlehem. With the others scattered around the countryside, and Mary and Joseph attempting to continue their journey, it will take resourcefulness to find them, not to mention keeping their identity secret.

Besides being very funny, this is a poignant and tender story about a family discovering the true meaning of Christmas. Jenny Pearson is an expert at creating likeable, personable characters with whom the reader can really engage, whatever unusual situations they find themselves in! The chapter headings of Christmas carol and song titles with additional humorous, ironic comments by Oscar, add to the fun.

This would be a great class read-aloud in the run-up to Christmas.

David Long
 & Stefano Tambellini

Nearly everyone has heard of Mount Everest. Towering over the Himalayas, it is probably the most famous mountain in the world. Equally, Edmund Hillary and the Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, became household names when they became the first climbers to reach the top and descend safely again in May 1953. But what of all the climbers who tried and failed? What are the challenges and obstacles facing a team trying to reach the 8,849 metre-high summit of the ‘Peak of Heaven’?

This fascinating book by the award-winning David Long looks at the history of the race to reach the top. It is packed full of fascinating information about the challenges climbers face on the mountain, about the differences between modern climbing equipment and that used in the past, as well as the personal stories behind some of the attempts (he goes into detail about the failed attempt by Mallory and Irving in 1924, as well as the successful Hillary/Norgay expedition).

The illustrations by Stefano Tambellini not only help to set the scene but also provide extra information. The picture comparing Mount Everest to other well-known mountains, for example, is simple yet effective. The book ends on a thought-provoking note – apparently, Everest is now littered with rubbish. At such a high altitude doing a litter pick is dangerous, yet there are teams of intrepid people trying to safeguard Everest’s natural beauty. Even at these high altitudes, humans are still managing to leave their mark, and not always in a good way.

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Thank you to Review Panel members Jayne Gould, Suzanne Booth, Hayley Gayton and Caroline Waldron for this month’s reviews.

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