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Best Books This Month – May 2023

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best new books may 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 May 2023.

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Trygve Skaug
 & Ella Okstad

‘If I were Prime Minister…’ is a feel-good story which looks at how our country is run through the eyes of a kind, thoughtful and playful child.

The story follows a young child’s imagination and their desires for the community and country that they live in. They go through numerous wishes including changing the sea to water that swallows plastic, making sure everyone has at least two friends, that every garden has a swimming pool and that woolly jumpers would not feel itchy. The real question is, ‘What would you do if you were Prime Minister or Team Captain?’

This feel-good picture book is a beautifully illustrated story which gets the reader thinking about what they would change if they were in charge. It covers major socio-political themes including the environment, education and immigration in a child-friendly way. The designs of the pages are playful and eye-catching with an easy-to-read font with the words strewn around pictures, making it fun to read and keeping big themes light-hearted to encourage creative and imaginative thinking.

My favourite line in the book is ‘Because playing is for everyone, even the people who have forgotten how.’ The story made me stop and think as an adult and see the world through a child’s eyes, which is a lovely thing. I would recommend this book for all ages, as it could be used in so many ways: reading for pleasure, a stimulus for a writing piece or even a prequel tale before a class debate.

Cath Howe
Chapter book

A captivating and thought-provoking dual narrative from the author of Ella on the Outside.

As Ren and her family drove home one evening they could see orange flames dancing in the sky and bursting like fireworks and flashing fire engines – this excitement soon turns to terror and misery when they realise it is their home on fire. Their lives change instantly when they have to rebuild their lives and home due to the devastating fire. Ren, her parents and little brother Petie have to move in with their strict Gran, who starts to take care of them more due to her parents being busy sorting out the house, business and money troubles.

Renn feels empty and lost with nothing left and soon finds a way to help herself feel better – by taking small items that are meaningful to her old life or other people. Whilst doing this, she feels better but simultaneously she feels wracked with guilt. Meanwhile, Caspar is chatty, inquisitive and really helpful. When things start to go missing in school, he is on a mission to find the culprit. What will happen when he finds out it is his new friend?

The story is told through two perspectives: Ren and Caspar. They are two completely different characters with very different lives, but in the end become true allies and a real help to each other. The narrative was easy to read and having the two perspectives in two different fonts made it easy to decipher which character was telling their version of events. As the story progresses, the pace quickens and I was desperate to read on to find out what was going to happen to Ren and Caspar. The ending was satisfying and wholesome.

The story focuses on complex moral choices and what to do when your friend is in trouble even though it could cause trouble for yourself. The story would make a great class read for Year 6 with links to PSHE, empathy work or class discussions.

Julia Golding
 & Emily Sutton

An apt royalty-themed book for this special coronation year!

Julia Golding’s history of royal animals is a fascinating and educational collection of true stories of animals associated with British royalty since 1066. Julia Golding is an award-winning author whose past work is often historical, and this book continues this theme.

At the beginning of the book, the Royal family timeline is a helpful reference and sets some context for the following stories. This book is full of wonderful facts and amazing true stories, most of which are quite a surprise – like learning that there were giraffes in Windsor Great Park and that royals were given elephants and thought they should be given wine to drink!

It is such a fascinating alternative history of our nation with insights into royal life that look beyond the obvious facts and biographies. Each story is set within one double page, which the talented Emily Sutton beautifully illustrates. Each page is rich in colour and patterns and is a joy to look over in detail. The very final picture was particularly heartwarming, a lovely image of our recently passed Queen riding one of her beloved horses through the woods. This tender image is particularly poignant after she passed away not long before this publication.

A thoroughly enjoyable book of short stories children will enjoy very much and that will help young readers to find relatable links to royal life through stories of the creatures they love.

Alice M. Ross
Chapter book

Elsbeth can travel between worlds through openings surrounded by colours. She believes she’s the only one who can do this and often takes things from different ‘Somewheres’ to sell as antiques in her mother’s shop.

One day, she’s spotted by a boy, Idris, who can do the same. He’s from a different Somewhere and is keen to make his grandmother proud. When Elsbeth’s mother goes missing, she’s sure it is because of the things she has stolen. Building a friendship with Idris, the two learn that together they can create and close openings. However, as they hunt for Elsbeth’s mother, they learn that their powers are causing dangerous earthquakes which impact on the Sphere’s they enter. As they explore the more hostile world’s surrounding their own, they learn of family secrets and the possibilities that the different worlds could bring.

This is an engaging fantasy story full of heart and adventure. The main characters are relatable and their growth throughout the story makes them highly likeable. The story gently addresses the loss of parents and how a young person might react to that loss. The end of the story leaves it quite open for a sequel, which I would definitely encourage children to read. It would also be a great opportunity to give older children a writing stimulus to encourage them to predict what would happen in a future adventure. This would be an excellent class novel for Year 4 or 5.

Dr Sheila Kanani

Have you ever wondered why frogs are green? Or if the sun is really yellow? Or maybe why the sea is blue? Well, this colourful science compendium suitable for KS2 may hold the answers!

Written by author and astronomer, Dr Sheila Kanani, this fascinating book starts by explaining what colour is and how we see it, before taking us on a journey of big colour questions. Each section is based on a colour of the rainbow (plus some added extras ‘beyond the rainbow’ such as black, white and fluorescent colours) and, after an introduction to that colour, asks five colour-based questions. Red, for example, explores why blood is red, why Mars is known as the red planet, why flamingos are pink, why some monkeys have red bottoms and why hippo’s sweat is red.

Each question is explained clearly, with lots of added information and ‘did you know’ sections to keep the reader engaged. This all leads to the big question of the book: Can you Get Rainbows in Space? As well as being a captivating read, it is the design, layout and illustrations that will get children picking up the book and delving in.

Unsurprisingly, in a book about colour, every spread is full of glorious images that celebrate each colour in turn. A feast for the eyes as well as the mind, I would highly recommend this engaging text for bookshelves in every school library.

Support independent bookshops

Many thanks to our review panel members Natasha Kendrick, Suzanne Booth, Gabrielle McConalogue & Jo Littlewood for reviewing this month’s selection.

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