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Chapter Book Round-Up: What We’ve Been Reading

Every month our panel of reviewers reads a selection of children’s books and tells us what they think. Our Review Panel includes teachers, librarians, education consultants, headteachers, teaching assistants and education lecturers, and this week they have been telling us about the newly published chapter books that have caught their attention over the last few months…

1. Featherlight

by Peter Bunzl & Evan Hollingdale

Reviewer: Kristen Hopwood

Featherlight is a new novella from Peter Bunzl, who is well known for the Cogheart series. Published by Barrington Stoke, the book is ‘super-readable’ and formatted to make it accessible to dyslexic and reluctant readers. It would also be a great first independent read for a lot of children in KS2 due to its short length.


The story focuses on Deryn, the daughter of a lighthouse keeper. They are the only people that live on Featherstone island and Deryn’s mum is about to have another baby. Her mum and dad must travel to the mainland and Deryn is left in sole charge of the lighthouse. She must keep the light burning throughout the night and stay on watch to ensure the safety of sailors. There are plenty of chores to keep Deryn busy throughout the day as well, never mind keeping up with her school work. During her second night in charge of the lighthouse, a small bird pays her a visit, but it doesn’t look very well. Deryn decides to look after it and see if she can make it better.

Deryn’s grandma eventually comes over from the mainland to help her look after the lighthouse until her mum and dad return, but one night, the light in the lighthouse goes out and the little bird has gone missing. Deryn and her grandma have to find a way to fix the light as well as find the bird, who might turn out to be more important than either of them realised.

I like that this story was inspired by Grace Darling and Ida Lewis but also has a link to myths and legends. The mixture of a real-life setting with an element of a myth was really interesting and would engage a variety of children. An ideal short chapter book for children aged 8 and up.

Publisher: Barrington Stoke

Publication date: April 2021

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2. Bigfoot mountain

By Roderick O’Grady

Reviewer: Jane Evans

Set in North America, this is the story of Minnie and her step-Dad Dan, who still live in the remote cabin where she was born at the foothills of the pine-forested mountain that her mother had loved so much. Still stinging from her Mother’s recent death, Minnie and Dan struggle to make sense of their lives together and Minnie longs to explore the way she and her Mom once did, canoeing along the shores of the sea or hiking up through the forest trails – but Dan always seems too busy working. One day Minnie sets off up the mountain with her friend Billy to search for the forest fire that has been raging for days on the other side of the mountain, only to find instead a set of huge footprints that could only belong to one thing… a sasquatch (an ape-like creature from North American folklore, also known as a bigfoot)!

A debut novel by O’Grady, who was previously credited with penning an award-winning play for the London fringe, the story sensitively explores the process of bereavement while also balancing the differing views of two different ‘peoples’ by telling the story from the dual perspectives of Minnie and a juvenile Sasquatch, Kaayii, with their ancient culture and beliefs so closely entwined with nature.

This is a story tinged with sadness but ultimately of joy, as Minnie and Kaayii discover a mutual bond of respect and understanding that brings their families closer and helps them move on from the tragedy they have both experienced.

Publisher: Firefly Press

Publication date: April 2021

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3. A Girl Called Joy

by Jenny Valentine & Claire Lefevre

Reviewer: Kate Spurrier


I love this book! I don’t think I have ever got so much out of a proof copy – I couldn’t put it down. Even with only the outline for the proposed illustrations visible, the story painted a wonderful picture of Joy and her family all by itself. The writing is upbeat and full of energy, making an accessible KS2 read.

Having travelled the world, adventuring and experiencing life in different ways, Joy’s family are brought back to earth with a bump and at first, the prospect of living ‘back home’ with Grandad certainly doesn’t fill Joy with joy.

Grandad turns out to be quite a character though and we learn more about him with every reinvention of his name: Thomas Efficiency Blake, Thomas Entertainer Blake… especially when he gets involved in a campaign to save an ancient oak tree in the school grounds.

It’s the perfect tale for exploring new beginnings, school transitions and friendships, as well as eco-themes. I’m so pleased that it’s the first in a series – I think it will be very popular.

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication date: April 2021

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4. A Street Dog Named Pup

By: Gill Lewis

Reviewer: David McBride

A Street Dog Named Pup is a gripping adventure story seen through the eyes of Pup, a dog who is cruelly abandoned by an adult in his family. The story follows Pup as he tries to find his “Boy” again. There are highs and lows, good spells and deeply, deeply unhappy spells in the dog’s life as he tries to be reunited with the boy he loves.

I’ve honestly not read a book like this before. The powerful imagery and raw emotion that you feel reading this is immense. The dogs that Pup meets as he tries to survive on the streets each come with their own stories, which have been beautifully thought out and with which we humans can identify. There is a story about, for example, a small dog who is so old she barely comes out of the handbag she was abandoned in – who also has a threadbare collar with one last jewel hanging on by a thread. Another of Pup’s companions is a French bulldog who is desperate for a snout as he can barely breathe through his flat nose. Another is a hound that has been scarred, physically and mentally, by the fox hunts he worked on before being abandoned.

There are very human qualities to the dogs and the story is so well written that you end up caring what happens to each and every one of them. Will Pup reach his destination and be happy? Will he end up being caught by The Snatchers and go to Dogsdoom, perhaps even end up going through the Door of No Return?

Whatever happens, you will be sure to be caught up in the emotional rollercoaster of his journey.

Publisher: David Fickling Books

Publication date: April 2021


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5. Max Against Extinction

By Tim Allman & Nick Shepherd

Reviewer: Amy Cross-Menzies

Max is determined to save the environment with his new ‘plan for the planet’. With friends Nish and Tessa, Max identifies a local field in danger of being developed for office blocks, and sets out to protect it. We follow Max and friends on this journey, seeing how they research, plan, and take action to protect a wildlife haven in their neighbourhood with passion and determination. As Max learns more about protecting the environment, he also thinks about how he can be more eco-friendly at home and inspires his parents to change the type of holiday they take in order to cut down on carbon emissions.

This story reinforces how smaller, local actions can make all the difference in protecting the environment. This can be especially empowering to children who can feel overwhelmed by the size of the environment problem, and feeling able to make a difference can be very important. There are times when Max has to go against the norm, persevere on his own, and use his enthusiasm and knowledge to influence others, and we see how this ultimately pays off.

There is plenty within this book to spark conversations about the environment and what effect our everyday activities have on it. Additional pages at the back of the book provide practical steps and website links to help young eco-heroes learn more and evaluate what they can do to promote environmental issues, and would be useful discussion points.

Humorously written with delightful, cartoon-style illustrations liberally sprinkled throughout, this is an inspiring read for children from around the age of seven upwards.


Publisher: OUP

Publication date: November 2020

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6. City of Rust

By Gemma Fowler

Reviewer: Gabby McConalogue


City of Rust is an original, science-fiction adventure story, perfect for both Star Wars fans and those who are concerned with the effect of rubbish on our environment.

Set in a dystopian future, where humans have finally ruined the world under masses of rubbish, the people of the land and sky are separated into three distinct groups:

  • The wealthy residents of the pristine Glass City, who used to fire their rubbish into the Earth’s atmosphere, creating the ‘Soup’ – a thick barrier of rubbish, orbiting the Earth and preventing anyone from leaving it.

  • The Junkers, who salvage materials from the Soup in their sphereships.

  • The traders of Boxville (a container city) who live on the outskirts of Glass City, selling their previously-used items on stalls in a massive market.

In the midst of this are Railey, a young inventor, engineer and drone-racer and Atti, her bio-robotic gecko and best friend with extraordinary piloting abilities. When their dreams of winning the world-famous Boxville drone races are crushed, Railey and Atti are forced to flee their familiar home town and hide in the sky among the Junkers, unsure of why they are being chased and whom to trust. The fight for their lives turns into a fight for the planet, as they discover a huge trash bomb is heading towards the Earth. They need to use both their skills in this ultimate race to save the Earth.

This story is a great adventure with an important question to answer: what will happen to the Earth if we don’t sort out our rubbish problem? In that way, it reminds me of WALL-E, and it’s easy to notice allusion to other sci-fi stories, from Mortal Engines to the Hunger Games. The fast-paced action twists and turns and the reader is soon swept up with this new world.

City of Rust is an exciting story with themes of family, friendship and the dangers of overproduction and consumption. I would highly recommend it to readers in Upper KS2.

Publisher: Chicken House

Publication date: March 2021

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7. Mort the Meek and the Ravens’ Revenge

By Rachel Delahaye and George Ermos

Reviewer: Kate Spurrier


This is the first Rachel Delahaye book I’ve read and I’m keen to discover more! Mort the Meek is a brilliant, fun tale of bravery, friendship and standing up for what you believe in. Kind, peace-loving Mort lives in the violent land of Brutalia. When he finds himself appointed as Royal Executioner by the ruthless Queen, he sets out to refute her senseless rules and proves himself a worthy hero.

The short chapters, stylistic choices and endearing illustrations by George Ermos create a very accessible story for Y3 and above. It’s also a joy to voice and read aloud to a class. The chatty narrative involves the reader in the action and word-play, making this an interactive story to keep readers on their toes!


Mort reminds me of Lorraine Gregory’s wonderfully crafted Mold and the Poison Plot, while the cheeky ‘gruesome’ humour is akin to Horrible Histories and lightens the more serious themes for a younger audience. I loved the Ravens’ chapter introductions and the cast of inventive characters who burst with energy on every page. I can’t wait to read Mort’s next adventure.


Publisher: Stripes

Publication date: March 2021

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8. Freddie vs School

By Neill Cameron

Reviewer: Caroline Wood


Mega Robot Bros is a long-running comic strip in The Phoenix, written and illustrated by Neill Cameron. There are three spin-off graphic novels, which are wildly popular in our library, so I was delighted to see mega-powerful Freddy appear in a more traditional novel form too!

The format is similar in style to Wimpy Kid and Tom Gates, but I would say there is a touch more text, so it’s a nice step forward for children who love the illustrated format and are ready for a slightly more complex story.

You’ve got a Freddy in your class, I’m sure – a boisterous child who hasn’t quite got control of their limbs and personal responsibility yet. A child who always wants to do the right thing, but gets it horribly wrong on a regular basis – and perhaps they’ve got an older sibling who always seems to get it right. Now equip that child with deadly lasers, a jet pack, no sense of danger and some excellent sidekicks and you’d be right in thinking absolute mayhem ensues!


Poor old Freddy is banned from using his superpowers at school after one too many incidents, but as you can imagine, there’s always a good reason – or perhaps a desperate, world-saving reason – to use them! Throw in a dodgy bully and some tricky friendship situations, and you know it’s all going to go wrong despite his best efforts to follow the rules. What makes Freddy vs School stand out – and makes it a great companion to Charlie Changes Into A Chicken – is that Freddy learns and grows beautifully. He has to work hard to re-establish his friendships after disaster strikes, and to understand other people’s point of view. It’s so deftly done that it doesn’t feel preachy at all. I think Freddy is going to be really popular in Year 4 particularly but would suit readers from Y3-Y5 looking for a hilarious, feel-good read.


Publisher: David Fickling Books

Publication date: January 2021

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9. A Case of Grave Danger

By Sophie Cleverly & Hannah Peck

Reviewer: Marion Park


A Victorian murder mystery that has plenty of twists and turns and is difficult to put down.

All Violet Veil has ever wanted is to be taken seriously and to become an apprentice in her family’s business, Veil and Sons’

Undertakers. Unfortunately, she is denied this opportunity simply because she is a girl. When there is a spate of killings, business appears to be good for Mr Veil. That is, until one rainy night when one of the dead bodies comes back to life! In the undertaker’s back room, Violet meets Oliver, a young boy who lives on the streets, and together they embark on an investigation to solve Oliver’s own ‘murder’. They are accompanied by Violet’s loyal greyhound, Bones, who has an affinity for the graveyard that lies next to the Veil’s house and business. In spite of her parents’ disapproval, plucky Violet vows to solve this mystery and Oliver is allowed to stay. When Violet’s father is later accused of these murders, Violet, Oliver and Bones must uncover the truth once and for all in a bid to save Mr Veil’s life.

This book has a strong female lead with a loveable sidekick. Violet’s headstrong nature and sense that justice must be done make her a character that you can’t help but root for. The story takes its readers along on the journey of the investigation and is nail-biting in places.

A must-read for lovers of detective stories, ghostly tales and historical fiction. There is a sense of dark adventure and foreboding throughout and this makes the spooky nature of the story very appealing. I look forward to reading the next instalment.

Publisher: Harper Collins

Publication date: January 2021

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10. How to Be a Hero

By Cat Weldon & Kate Kear

Reviewer: Jane Carter


If you are studying the Vikings, the Viking gods and the myths and legends that surround them, then this is certainly the adventure story that will entertain and inform.

Whetstone, a small, orphaned, would-be thief, is the unlikely hero of this story along with Lotta, an equally unlikely hero, as a failing Valkyrie (female warrior). The story involves Whetstone stealing a magic cup from a Viking Chief, Awfulrick, and then finding himself mixed up in a rather complex plan that spans the nine worlds of Viking mythology. Lotta too becomes entangled in the plan when she accidentally scoops up Whetstone from the land where the humans live and takes him back to Asgard, the home of the Gods and the place where fallen heroes are taken.

Unfortunately, Whetstone is neither ‘fallen’ nor a hero! The adventure that ensues involves a dragon, a stolen harp, the talking cup which holds the secrets of the future, lots of double-crossing and plenty of slapstick humour, all illustrated vibrantly through the book. While the story ends with Whetstone showing himself to be a hero against all the odds – and putting his hand into the mouth of the dragon to rescue the cup, it leaves the possibility open for the quest to continue. Whetstone finds out that he is not an orphan and that by finding the string of the harp he will also find his parents. This is all left dangling, tempting the reader to wait for the next instalment.

There is a handy guide to the nine worlds and to the different gods at the start of chapter two, cleverly woven in as part of Lotta’s revision before her first test as a Valkyrie – travelling to Midgard. The story weaves in the fictional names of the book characters with the real names found in Viking mythology and you need to have your wits about you to know which is which! This story will please those who like a good quest, an adventure story with plenty of nasty characters to love to hate and unlikely heroes to cheer on. It will particularly engage those readers who enjoy anything to do with the Vikings!

Publisher: Macmillan

Publication date: Jan 2021

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Thank you to the publishers of these titles for sending us copies of these books and to our review panel members for reading and reviewing.

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