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Best Books This Month – September 2023

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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 September 2023.

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Alex Falase-Koya
 & Paula Bowles
Chapter book

This book is the 5th offering of the Marv series, a new tale where an ordinary boy once finds that his super-hero skills are in very much in need and this time, it is to save his school from trifid-style plants and the supervillain Violet Vine.

The story starts with Marvin as the ordinary school boy, working hard but not achieving the win he thought deserved in the school-garden design competition. But as soon as work starts on the garden, the school and its pupils are under threat from invading vines, and Marvin has no choice but to transform into Marv the superhero. He has to act quickly and win this time if he is to save his best friend, his teacher, the whole school from being strangled or eaten by gigantic venus-flytraps. Along with his sidekick robot Pixel, they become involved in a fast-paced, action-packed range of scenarios where finding a weakness is the only way of defeating an almost invincible enemy.

The book is packed full of illustrations that accompany the action and the story contains themes of friendship, forgiveness as well as endless determination. It also has humour; the headteacher is simply not impressed with the behaviour of these plants!

Susanna Bailey
Chapter book

Smugglers Fox is a delicate, emotional coming of age story, which will touch the hearts of any reader, young or old.

The story is told from the point of view of Jonah, older brother to Rio, who faces many challenges, as both boys tragically get separated in foster care. Now alone with a new carer, Rio builds a bond with a red fox, where he seeks companionship and understanding. Eventually, this relationship leads to great adventure in the coves of Whitby. As the tale unwinds, it appears that the fox and Rio have a lot more in common than it seems, and they both need to show bravery in the face of physical and emotional challenges.

The author has an empathetic writing style, which incorporates a child-like perspective of the world, while integrating stunning metaphors and links with nature. Themes such as mental health, abandonment and deep emotional turmoil are told from the young boy’s point of view with great sensitivity; any child who has experienced some of the challenges within this book will be able to identify with the characters personal journeys. Despite the high emotion within Smugglers Fox, the story leads to great optimism and teaches the reader how love and connection are the key to acceptance. It also includes an exciting quest to follow a secret treasure map. I would highly recommend this story to children in Upper Key Stage 2, moving onto Secondary School.

Hannah Gold
 & Levi Pinfold
Chapter book

This is the beautiful sequel to the widely acclaimed ‘The Last Bear’ by Hannah Gold.

Brave and impetuous, April Wood is drawn back to the Arctic in search of Bear, who she is sure is calling her to return. The magical bond between girl and bear taps into every child’s dream, but Gold also explores themes of grief and loss, and what it means to love enough to let go. Friendship, courage, family bonds and the importance of not judging people on first impressions are also themes powerfully explored in the book.

The narrative is clear about the negative impact of climate change on wildlife in the Arctic – in particular, there is a resonating scene in which April finds a polar bear who has died of starvation. The greatest impact of the book however is that it leaves you with a sense of the incredible natural beauty of the Arctic – as Abi Elphinstone says, it is ‘utterly transporting’ – and the importance of doing all we can to preserve it. April is a fierce advocate for the wildlife of the Arctic. Her voice speaks out strongly in anger over the impacts of climate change, yet the book ends with hope as she realises the power of leading with her heart and her passion on display to inspire others.

Beautiful and moving, Hannah Gold has again produced a treasure of a story not to be missed.

Lauren St John
Chapter book

Ruby Thorn, Roo to all who know her well, thought her world had collapsed when her Mum died two years ago. Roo’s Dad hadn’t taken it well, losing his job and sleeping through the day on the sofa, Roo tried her best to run the house and evade the scrutiny of school and her social worker, always trying to catch her out as her school attendance was patchy at best.

Then one night, with a hammering of the police at the door of their flat, her world, or what remained of it, collapsed entirely. Orphaned and thrust upon her Aunt Joni, a stranger by all accounts, Roo has never felt more alone or unlucky, but even then bad things kept on happening. Suddenly homeless, the unlikely pair make a midnight flit in Joni’s battered camper, only to escape just in time as the camper explodes in a ball of flames, leaving them stranded in the middle of the countryside as the worse snowstorm in recent history sets in. What has the future left in store for them, if there even is one…?

Lauren St John has an impressive back catalogue of children’s fiction and her knowledge of the horses is unquestionable. St John has an impressive ability to weave a mystery adventure, dropping in clues and plot twists along the way, while building a love for Roo and Joni. Her passion for horses is clear, her description of what it feels like to lose yourself in riding is captivating. A real page turner and one that I am already enjoying reading for a second time (this time with my daughter) recognising just how many little clues are cleverly interwoven along the way. Sure to prove a popular class read.

Isabelle Marinov
 & Olga Shtonda

This simple picture book tackles one of the most complicated questions: What’s the point of art?

A little boy called Henri (Matisse? Rousseau, perhaps?) has been taken on a school trip to a modern art gallery and he’s not happy about it. He’d much rather be on a beach or swimming. He is also baffled by the supposed ‘art’, questioning the odd colours, faces and soup cans! He eventually finds a piece he likes before entering a room with just a chair and a strange-looking contraption. But is it art?

I won’t spoil the answer, but do feel that Henri speaks for both children and adults alike when encountering modern art: “I just don’t get it,” is a phrase I’ve heard many a time – and who amongst us hasn’t looked at a light feature or a rubbish bin at an art gallery and wondered if this was actually an inspiring piece trying to depict the tragedy of war?

This is a delightful story, with lovely illustrations. Eagle-eyed art lovers will recognise works by Magritte, Picasso, Dali, Mondrian, Warhol and Klein, as well as hints towards chairs in art and Ceci n’est pas une pipe. The story would make a brilliant start to an assembly, a ‘Big Thinking’ question or an art lesson, where it could ‘unleash an explosion of creativity.

Support independent bookshops

Many thanks to our review panel members Claire Sleath, Anna Sterling, Jane Evans, Fliss Riste and Gabrielle McConalogue for reviewing this month’s selection.

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