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Best Books This Month – October 2023

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best childrens books october 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 October 2023.

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Sophie Anderson
 & Melissa Castrillon
Chapter book

A beautiful, wintery story sprinkled with folklore and magic, from much-loved author Sophie Anderson.

Since ‘the incident’ at Claw’s Edge, Tasha has found it hard to trust or let anyone in. She has vowed to stay near home where it is safe and despite a longing to make new friends and much encouragement from her family, her anxiety prevents her from reaching out. That is until she meets Alyana. Created in the first snowfall by Tasha and her Grandpa and modelled on the Snow Girl from his bedtime stories, a wish brings her to life and Alyana and Tasha adventure together through the winter nights, forming a close bond. Not wanting to lose her magical friend, Tasha longs to hold onto the winter, but when the endless snowfall and the freezing temperatures make Grandpa ill, Tasha must find a way for the Spring to come. But to do that, she will need the help of some friends. Can her bond with Alyana help her to be brave?

There is so much love and warmth in this story, despite the wintery setting. The descriptions are so evocative, the elements of folklore and fairytale are beautifully woven into the storytelling as they always are with Sophie Anderson’s writing and the relationships between the characters are so kind and gentle too. The way all the characters support Tasha through her anxiety is sensitively written. They let her take the lead, accept her choices and give her their time, patience and acceptance.

This would make a brilliant class read aloud for the winter months or would make a fantastic text to use as part of a KS2 traditional tales unit, being steeped in Slavic folklore, magic and mythology. Extracts could also be used as writing models, particularly for descriptions of winter landscapes that awaken all the senses.

The front cover says it all, and it’s just as beautiful within!

Adam Baron
Chapter book

Oscar wakes up to find his parents have been replaced by a lion. It’s not any old lion either; this one will indulge him with reading his favourite story over and over and letting him eat as many biscuits as he likes. Even stranger, it seems to be able to transform into different animals when it needs to. Best of all, it has a taste for fun.

With the lion as his guide, Oscar has adventure after adventure and the weekend of his life – all within a few miles of his house. Then, just as Benji has learned to trust and appreciate the lion, the weekend comes to an end and their exuberant partnership is over. This time it’s Oscar who is transformed. Now that he understands the world around him that little bit better, rather than grieving what is lost, he celebrates and cherishes what remains.

This is a moving book about seizing the day and looking for the wonder in the familiar weather in nature, museums or, most especially, people. It has the warmth of feeling of the best picture books. Adam Baron is a confident storyteller whose every word is measured and who can subtly manipulate his reader’s emotions without even seeming to try. Big themes are alluded to with such gentle hints that it’s up to the reader to decide how far to investigate them.

The episodic structure of the story would make this little gem a good read aloud for lower Key Stage 2 to help build emotional intelligence and resilience, especially in the face of loss and uncertainty.

Susie Brooks
 & Cally Johnson-Isaacs

I Try is an engaging book focusing on developing resilience and perseverance in younger children. Each page introduces a character trying something new or wanting to get better at something – for example being braver, more curious or dealing with strong emotions. As well as introducing a range of characters, each page gives examples linked to animals which will appeal to younger readers. Susie Brooks cleverly provides questions on each page to discuss with the readers and link to their own personal experiences before finishing the book with a motivational and advice-packed page that will be accessible for all children to understand. The illustrations by Cally Johnson-Isaacs complement the story perfectly and add an extra layer to discussions that can be had with the children. Each page has a real scenario and children will be able to relate to what is happening at the same time as appreciating the animal illustrations and extra detail. This is the perfect book to use with EYFS and KS1 children to help develop resilience using a range of different examples and strategies to support them.

Huw Lewis Jones
 & Ben Sanders

Written by a real-life polar explorer, this is not the book you were expecting and is full of dead-pan humour.

Clive simply doesn’t like the cold and is determined to do something about it. Penguins are usually cuddly and cute, and Clive really isn’t that sort of penguin. The story is told with Clive’s ‘voice’ showing his displeasure at his situation. The text is simple but effective and Clive comes across clearly using few words. The illustrations are in a similar vein, using limited colour and a serious-looking penguin, for a very unserious book.

The pictures show the story’s humour perfectly; ultimately concluding that that you may get what you want, but it isn’t always what you need. Clive’s voice is strong and children will love with dry humour in the the story just as much as adults do.

Matt Goodfellow
 & Joe Todd-Stanton

This is an extraordinary verse novel about the final year of primary school, told through poetry. The verse captures the character of Year 6 pupil Nate as he navigates issues of school, family illness, emotions, change and friendships. Year 6 is a difficult year for many children and whilst they are unlikely to have it quite as difficult as Nate, the book still captures some of that flavour, including the run-up to SATs, friendship issues and anxiety during a time when a sense of big changes is in the air.

Through his powerful verses, ex-primary school teacher Matt Goodfellow pays testament to the impact of a great teacher in supporting pupils through this time as well as the power of words and writing to help manage big emotions. Joe Todd Stanton’s drawings add to the text, with the simple drawings softening the harshness of the story’s real-world themes. The cover is striking, and I was instantly reminded of Skellig by David Almond, which is referenced throughout the book.

Whilst I read this in one go (I simply couldn’t put it down) it is not an ‘easy’ read in many ways and it is a very emotional story. I also think that it will take a mature child to ‘read between the lines’ and understand the text at a deeper level, even in Year 6. Believe the hype and the praise, this book is every bit as good as everyone is saying.

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Many thanks to our review panel members Esther Brown, Louisa Farrow, Kathryn Gilbert and Jacqueline Harris for reviewing this month’s selection.

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