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Best Books This Month – July 2022

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Best Books This Month - July 2022

It’s easy to feel lost in the flood of so many new children’s books available. Each month, we pick five of our recently published favourites.

Check out our Review Panel’s top picks for you to read in July 2022.

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James Dixon & Tamsin Rosewell
Chapter book

The Billow Maiden is a hauntingly beautiful story, set in the wild countryside of a North English coastal village. The main character, Aisla, has briefly moved there to live with her Aunt and Uncle Nod while her mum is sick. When she arrives, she quickly makes friends with the daughter of an infamous family, Camilla. Ailsa also makes a discovery in one of the caves which leads to the pair learning more about the island, its history and themselves.

The book shares the complex backgrounds of the main characters wonderfully well. Ailsa’s struggles with her mum’s ongoing mental health needs contrast with Camilla’s own family challenges. These two girls appear to have lives which are polar opposites but find sanctuary together; with Ailsa’s Aunt and Uncle providing both with much needed stability and comfort. The author also uses Norse legends to add further layers of mystery and intrigue throughout.

There is so much that could be used within the book to inspire learning in the primary classroom; the descriptions of the wild English coastland and caves would be perfect when looking at Geographical features. Camilla’s passion for Norse Gods compliment topics on myths and legends and, of course, there is the ongoing PSHE topic which weaves the characters together. It’s rare that a book tackles parental mental health so honestly; with each character sharing their confusion and compassion in different ways.

It is a thoroughly wonderful book and highly recommended for children in Upper Key Stage Two, due to the mature themes discussed.

Reviewer: Claire C

Michael Rosen & Polly Dunbar

Michael Rosen is a master of the word. He is a master of rhythm and rhyme and a master of the engagement of young children. This book is full of poems specifically aimed at the youngest children. It recognises that enabling children to hear and feel words in an enjoyable and engaging way, is not just a foundational skill for learning to read and write, but a fundamental entitlement for all children to be able to be introduced to the joy of playing with words.

The poems and rhymes follow the loose structure of a child’s day from the rhyme “Up” at the start to “Goodnight” at the end. In between comes rhymes that can accompany all sort of activities such as “On the swings” and feelings, like the rhyme “Happy”. The rhymes are simple and easily recalled but the joy for the child will also be in the illustrations by Polly Dunbar. Pictures of children illustrate each rhyme – my particular favourite is the illustration of the child ‘putting on’ her pyjamas to accompany the rhyme, “Jimmy Jams”.

This is a great book for a parent to share with a very young child and for teachers in the early years to read to their class. Children will quickly know their favourites and in no time will be reading along with the adult.

Cat Gray & David Dean
Chapter book

Spellstoppers is a wonderful tale of magic and adventure. Cat Gray’s imagination is endless, and she includes moments of pure joy on every page. From selkies, ghosts, magic teapots and enchanted music boxes, the story creates magic in a seemingly normal world.

Max, the main character, has spent his life having problems with electricity. For some reason, Max is unable to touch anything electric and when his mum’s new electric car breaks down as Max gets inside, it’s a step too far. Consequently, his mother sends him to go and live with his grandpa (a spellstopper) and his world is transformed to one of magic (which has a tendency to misbehave).

My favourite part is when Max attempts to spellstop a vicious stuffed weasel but is left with bitter disappointment. Living with his quirky uncle, Max discovers a strange history to his family and learns he is not as normal as he once thought. Later in the story, Max, along with his friend Kit, finds himself needing to rescue the village of Yowling from Leandra, an unpredictable evil villain who lives in the castle. The reader is left rooting for the main character throughout and is always asking whether he has the ability to become a spellstopper or not.

Although the story is told with elements of humour, Gray interweaves themes of good vs evil in a captivating voice. There are twists and turns, with exciting scenes of action. I would recommend this to anyone who is a fan of Harry Potter, as it incorporates the same exiting themes of magic, told with a fresh new voice. This is a great book to engage reluctant readers, as there is something wonderous on each page and the language is not too ambitious.

Reviewer: Claire Sleath

Vanessa Hull & Charlotte Molas

A ‘First Field Guide’ to the bamboo-loving bear from China.

Panda’s don’t hibernate; 43% of their time is spent napping; they poo up to 40 times a day; they are classed as carnivores but, over time, have evolved to eat mostly bamboo; the males compete to do the tallest handstand; they are now restricted to five mountain ranges in China; and they are generally good neighbours. There’s plenty in these 32 pages to learn and amuse.

I can see this book being very popular across the entire primary school. KS2 children will glean facts and figures on habitat, diet, habits, development, conservation and classification, when researching for writing assignments or exploring curriculum topics (e.g. animal biology, habitats, different ecosystems). It could also be used by teachers as an example of how a non-fiction text is presented, with its inclusion of headings, Contents, Glossary and Index. KS1 children will enjoy the funnier snippets of information, and learn from the bold illustrations, as much as from reading the text.

In summary, this well produced book, with its striking cover andadorable end papers, is a good addition to any primary school library and many a classroom book corner. The small, hardback format may even lend it an advantage over less durable, more unwieldy volumes.

What’s not to love?

Reviewer: Jane Rew

Jonathan Tulloch
Chapter book

With echoes of Whistle Down the Wind and Goodnight Mr. Tom, Cuckoo Summer is a captivating story set during the war in a remote village in the Lakes.

This is a story about trust and conscience. The children know what they could do and also know what they should do. Despite the risks that they are both taking, Tommy and Sally believe in the power of doing the right thing and it is this quality that shines through.

The book gives a snapshot of one place in time during World War 2. The story conveys a strong sense of the rural village and the various characters are all vividly depicted. The story is powerfully rooted in its location; the fields, farmhouses, tarns and waterfalls are crystal clear thanks to Jonathan Tulloch’s beautifully evocative writing. This is a book to share with a class and one that is likely to be remembered for a long time.

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