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Best Books This Month – February 2023

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best new books February 2023

It’s easy to feel lost in the flood of so many new children’s books available. Each month, our review panel reads scores of new books and we highlight five of our recently published favourites.

Check out our Review Panel’s top books for you to read in February 2023.

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Zillah Bethell
Chapter book

The Song Walker is a soulful story that beautifully serenades the reader with themes of freedom, identity, music and heritage. Zillah Bethell’s writing always takes readers to new horizons.

The author’s previous book The Shark Caller was a real favourite here at BooksForTopics HQ and also among our community of teachers and librarians. The Song Walker is a new standalone adventure that shares a similar intensity of setting and an interweaving of gentle existentialist musings with relatable themes of making friendships and searching for identity in the face of cultural and familial expectations.

This time, the setting is the Australian Outback and the reader feels the blazing heat and dryness of the red, flat landscape that spans underneath a limitless sky. The main character, who is nameless at the start of the story, appears to have no idea how she got there or who she is. She carries a mysterious case and finds herself on a search for answers accompanied by her new friend, Tarni. Journeying deeper into the desert landscape, the girl has to dig deep into her inner self to find answers about who she is and who she wants to be. 

Tarni’s character adds real depth to the story. She is a First Country Australian girl from the traditional Alaywarre community. Tarni navigates the Outback using a traditional form of mapping – not with paper maps or satellite technology but with songlines, with which routes are passed from generation to generation by repeating the words of a song. The differences and similarities between the two girls become increasingly celebrated as the story progresses, showing how a bond between people from different cultural heritages and lifestyles can be mutually enriching. 

The story is philosophical and at times dream-like, with a melodic quality to the writing. The book is perfect for mature readers in upper kS2 who enjoy an immersive reading experience and a thought-provoking narrative with the potential to stir some very profound discussion questions.

Polly Owen
 & Gwen Milward

It is rare to find a book which gives a completely different and exciting perspective on a historical figure, particularly those aimed at younger readers, so ‘Darwin’s Super-Pooping Worm Spectacular’ is a particularly delightful read.

As the title suggests, the book tells the story of Darwin’s investigations into the humble earthworm. It is clear that the author, Polly Owen, has discovered her passion for this topic as it is written with such an enthusiastic tone; by the end of page one the reader is already convinced that earthworms are completely awesome!

The book recounts the range of experiments that Darwin is believed to have tried in order to uncover the mysteries of earthworm senses; from hearing, sight and taste. It is written in a very accessible style, with lots of humour. There is a worm on each double-page spread which gives a little more context and brings the reader back to the historical facts within the story. These small speech bubbles also direct the reader to some of the scientific vocabulary; useful to gather if using the book as a stimulus for writing projects or science discussions.

There are plenty of illustrations throughout the book to enjoy too. GwenMilward has captured the Victorian style perfectly and has drawn Darwin with a real sense of joy and wonder towards the worms; each page shows Darwin with real expression as he ponders these mysterious creatures.

If you are looking to add a book that is charming, insightful and has more than a few poo-based jokes, then this would be a perfect choice! Key Stage Two children will enjoy the book as much as their Key Stage One peers.

Abi Elphinstone
Chapter book

Martha doesn’t have time to play anymore.  Martha is ten, the age when you have to start acting like a grown-up. Not growing up comes with repercussions – like the Terrible Day – and Martha is not going to let that happen again. So, Martha now makes lists, not adventures, much to the confusion and disappointment of Scruff her younger brother, for whom adventure is like breathing, you can’t live without it. But Martha can’t ignore the mystery of the window that would not close. Scruff maintained that it allowed the fairy in that ruffled his hair into a tangled nest every night. Martha thought that was just a silly childish notion, although she had to admit it was beginning to worry her. For several nights now, leaves had appeared by the open window, but there were no trees on their street and more than that, their Father, who could identify every type of tree that grew at Kew Gardens, had to admit that he had never seen leaves like them…

Author of the Unmapped Chronicles and the Dreamsnatcher series, Elphinstone is no stranger to children’s fiction writing, but taking on the re-writing of a children’s classic of such magnitude as Peter Pan was a risky and controversial venture. Thankfully Elphinstone’s adventurous spirit in real life translates wonderfully into a thrilling adventure that is accessible and enjoyable for younger readers as it is thought-provoking for older ones. Maybe we should all think about doing a little growing down instead of up? I will certainly be keeping my bedroom open in the hope a little magic might spill its way in.

Katie Tsang & Kevin Tsang
 & Amy Nguyen
Chapter book

This is the second book in the Space Blasters series. Full of illustrations and reader-friendly short chapters, this series would be a great addition to a Lower Key Stage 2 classroom as part of a class library. Easy to read and set in space, it is bound to be a popular book with children.

The series follows gadget-loving Suzie Wen, who finds herself on a laugh-out-loud adventure exploring space having already been tasked with saving the universe in the previous book. In this instalment, Suzie and her friends find themselves crash-landing on a mysterious and jungle-like planet, and their challenge is to deal with an infestation of moon bugs.

It is great to see the inclusion of scientific enquiry approaches – something that isn’t found very often in books for this age level. The books could support discussions in the classroom about fair testing and how to complete a scientific enquiry.

Science fiction and imaginative space settings weave with real life space facts and engineering information, offering plenty to occupy the minds of STEM-loving readers who will love the added pages from Suzie’s inventors notebooks. This high-energy science themed adventure will go down a treat with fans of Harley Hitch or Space Detectives.

Ryan Hammond
Chapter book

Bram, a young werewolf boy, is just starting at Villains Academy, but the problem is that, unlike his classmates, Mona the witch, Sheila the ghost, Skele-tony, the Tooth Hairy, and Mr Toad, he’s just not all that sure that he’s, well….bad enough. Master Mardybum hates him, he will never be named Villain of the Week, and he’s the only one in Class Z who can’t manage to get detention. All of the other villains think he is too pathetic to even bother being enemies with.

But when Bram and the rest of team ‘Cereal Killers’ must fight their way through the Mystery Maze, they realise that friendship is more important than they had thought, and your own worst enemy can sometimes be yourself.

Despite the scatological humour (there is a lot of passing wind) and funny made-up insults such as bumbershins and shubblemegump, at heart Villains Academy is a riff on the classic boarding school tale, with grumpy teachers, conflicting personalities, and moral lessons to be learned.

The silly capers, short chapters and highly-illustrated text should make this a hit with its target audience of 7-9 year olds.

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Many thanks to our review panel members Claire Coates, Carol Carter and Jane Evans for reviewing this month’s selection.

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