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Best Books This Month – March 2023

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best new books March 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 March 2023.

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Tom Lehrer & Chris Smith
 & Elīna Brasliņa

Tom Lehrer’s funny yet educational songs have engaged and enthused children (and adults) for over sixty years. His song, ‘The Elements’ can still be heard on TV shows today!

This book celebrates ‘That’s Mathematics’, another of Tom’s songs, which was handed over for public use in 2020. Author Chris Smith cleverly uses the songs to introduce mathematical puzzles and activities. The song is printed in full on the first page (with a QR code which gives even more content to use!) and then each double-page spread is inspired by a line from the song.

The first set of puzzles is all about counting sheep and has some lovely open-ended problems to enjoy. The book continues with pages on a variety of mathematical topics including division, shape and measure. There are many activities to try and all can be linked to the National Curriculum programme of study. Chris Smith has helpfully added key vocabulary on each page and an appendix which gives parents pointers to help them to unpick the maths within each page (there are also the answers if you really need them!).

The illustrations are delightful, with Elina Braslina’s joyful images of children exploring mathematics dotted throughout the book. It is a pleasure to pick out the little details on each page which are all there to complement the mathematical ideas. There are so many ways in which the book could be used within the KS1 classroom to extend learning following a maths input or to stimulate discussion and problem-solving, linked to topic work.

Barbara Henderson
Chapter book

Set in Victorian times, this is the story of the children who worked on the dangerous job of building the famous Forth Bridge.

This is a truly exciting adventure that brings a real historical scenario to life. The thought of being perched up on top of the bridge with no safety measures at all made my blood run cold! Add into that some villainous villains and a child hero and you have a recipe for breath-taking episodes and action-packed escapades, with a seamless blending of fact and fiction.

The book is quite a slim one and very easy to read. The shorter length makes it very attractive to children who want to read more complex material but have less stamina and are put off by lengthy books.

As Tom Palmer, quoted on the cover, says , “I loved it”. The cover image behind Palmer’s quote turned out to be a photograph and a montage (by Richie Chan and Tsekhmister)- it looks like a painting by an impressionist artist and is very beautiful. There are also small drawings dotted around the text by Sandra McGowan. Based on real people and real events, the additional photos at the end add to the reality of the time and place.

The topic of Victorian child labour is often covered in schools and this story has a new dimension to add to the more commonly covered workplace scenarios of mines and factories. The story will also appeal to budding engineers, with fascinating insights into the construction of one of the UK’s most iconic bridges.

Phil Earle
 & Jess Ross

Popular author Phil Earle offers a new picturebook with an authentic representation of a child experiencing parental separation and divorce.

Meet Florrie. Florrie has two of everything…. including two different homes. Her mum’s and her dad’s. When her parents separated, Florrie and her brothers were expected to divide their time between the two homes, and at the beginning of the book, this makes her feel a little uneasy.

This book shows how each parent works separately with her to make her feel comfortable about the situation, giving her coping mechanisms when she misses her other home. The lovely twist at the end is how Florrie is then able to help her father, when she realises that he misses her when she is not with him too.

This uplifting picture book will help children to embrace change, and could be a brilliant starting point for discussion about feelings about separation and divorce as well as about navigating negative thoughts and feelings towards changes outside of own’s own control. Beautifully illustrated by Jess Rose, the details in the pictures really bring the story alive, and provide great talking points when reading this story with your child, whether they have personally experienced separation or not.

Robin Birch
 & Jobe Anderson
Chapter book

Secret Beast Club will make a fantastic addition to a class library with an appeal to fans of Beast Quest, Rainbow Magic and The Boy Who Grew Dragons. It will definitely be a popular reading-for-pleasure choice and even better it’s the start of a series to collect.

Aisha and Jayden are polar opposites, but best friends. One thing they can always agree on is that it’s best to stay inside their inner city flat. That is until Aisha’s tablet is taken and they race after the culprit to the canal. The thief turns out to be a gargoyle and the canal boat is the headquarters of the Secret Beast Club – an ancient Society dedicated to protecting magical creatures!

After meeting the society’s leader, Leila, and the ghostly founder Pablo Fanque, the children are invited to join the society. The children have been recruited as they possess the skill of secret sight and are needed to help track a young unicorn, who escaped from a nearby Bewilder Bubble (an ancient, hidden space where magical creatures reside) on Hackney Marshes. They must get to it before SUUCS do, as the Seekers of Unusual and Unique Creatures Society hunt magical creatures.

As well as the unicorn rescue mission, this is a story about friendship and also highlights the beauty and value of the natural spaces that can be found in the city. The pair of friends learn much about themselves and the power that lies in their unique differences and they discover that there is magic everywhere, especially when you look outside. This is a great illustrated early chapter book that will engage children with the pacey, modern storyline and magical elements.

Shirley Marr
Chapter book

‘All Four Quarters of the Moon’ is a story of friendship, family and change, which is experienced by two sisters throughout their move from Singapore to a completely new culture. The story delves into the emotions faced by Peijing as she navigates her coming of age during the time of her family relocating to a new home in Australia. The author tells the story with beautiful honesty, and the reader has a real sense of Peijing’s internal worries, aswell as her admiration and love for those around her.

What is most paramount in the story is the importance of sisterhood and friendship. Although Peijing and her sister Biju have their differences, they continue to look after each other in times of uncertainty and celebrate each other’s success. In particular, the author includes small extracts at the end of each chapter where Peijing tells her younger sister traditional stories, which her Ma Ma once told her. Throughout these stories the sisters exchange heart-warming dialogue which emphasises their strong bond. This added a beautiful touch to the book, as the reader is reminded of the sister’s closeness, at difficult times (including the impending illness of their Ah Ma).

Marr creates some important relationships in the story, particularly the friendship Peijing builds with the school outcast, Joanna. Clues begin to unravel throughout the chapters that despite her carefree exterior, things may not be as rosy as they first seem. The two characters seem to bond over being ‘outsiders’ and their bond becomes a critical part of Peijing’s character development, which leads to a pivotal point in the story. Teacher’s could explore the significance of this friendship through PSHCE, as well as discussing bullying, child neglect and racism; the characters represent acceptance, despite appearances.

As well as the development of these relationships, the story also explores the vast differences between the two cultures. Readers will learn about moon cakes, coconut jam baos and fortune sticks, along with traditional fables being retold. As the story unfolds, the girls find their way through language barriers, a disapproving, traditional mother, and making new friendships, eventually learning to embrace the traditions of both cultures.

Any UKS2 child can relate their own feelings of being an outsider to those within this book. The story is told incredibly gently, yet honestly, about what it is like to move to a new culture. A superb read.

Support independent bookshops

Many thanks to our review panel members Esther Brown, Claire Sleath, Emma Hughes, Jacqueline Harris and Claire Coates for reviewing this month’s selection.

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