June 2020 - Books of the Month

The BooksForTopics June Top Picks

We've picked five of our favourite new children's books this month.

The Perect Shelter

Clare Helen Welsh & Åsa Gilland

The story begins perfectly. A loving family out for a day in the woods. Two close siblings decide to build a shelter from sticks they collect. Then the older sister is a bit tired. The wind blows and the den collapses. They rebuild their perfect shelter. As the weather becomes more inclement, the sister grows sicker and the shelter is not important any longer. As the days wear on, the older sister is in hospital, the younger child just wants their sister to be well again. On a visit to the hospital, as the sister grows stronger, will they find the perfect way to discover their smiles again?


This was a moving story dealing with the serious illness of a sibling. While the little girl felt a whole array of feelings that could be associated with this experience, the shelter became a symbol that needed repairing for everything to be OK while the weather tried to tear it down. The combination of the weather, the shelter and the little girl’s feelings merge brilliantly in this book, all reflecting the turbulent time that the characters were experiencing.


The bright, colourful pictures perfectly illustrated the happy times of den building and the love and hope felt between the characters, while the images of the darker weather showed the fear and sadness of the family situation. I thought it was great that the characters were not named; they could reflect any child going through this experience.

A beautiful story inviting interest and empathy towards those living through the serious illness of a loved one.


Reviewer: Jo Littlewood

Big City Atlas

Maggie Li

Close your eyes and you can probably imagine the cities of London, Paris and New York -but what about Buenos Aires or Singapore or Mumbai? With a globetrotting penguin as our guide, in The Big City Atlas we embark on a world tour to 28 different cities. With each city offering something completely new, whether it be showing the local cuisine, traditions or landmarks, readers are given a taste of what life might be like there. As a geography-enthusiast and fan of maps in general, this book appealed to me from the outset. The wealth of information included on each page paired with the bold and colourful designs make for such an enjoyable read. I was also drawn in as this book focuses solely on cities within countries rather than the countries as a whole. This seems to offer something different from what already exists with regards to children’s atlases and provides it in a way that children would hugely enjoy. Each double-spread page is unique in its design and does well to give each city a different feel without appearing at all repetitive. Sometimes atlases can be overwhelming for children, with too much happening on each page making it difficult to take everything in. Big City Atlas, however, has just the right amount of detail in each page, combined with beautifully illustrated drawings, to maintain the reader’s attention and entice them into discovering what the next page has in store.

I can see this book being used with a range of children, especially at KS2. It feels accessible in the sense that I can imagine year 3 really engaging with this book yet equally could also see it being thoroughly enjoyed in year 6. There is a deceptively high amount of information on each page as it does not feel overly stuffed with facts, I think that no matter how many times you read this book, there is always an opportunity to learn something new and will certainly be revisited time and time again.

Reviewer: Nathan Wilcox


Jennifer Bell

Have you ever imagined travelling through portals to new times and places?

In this novel, three unsuspecting teenagers, Arthur, Ren and Cecily, unexpectedly find themselves in a mysterious house. Suddenly one doorway disappears and another opens. In this fast-paced, exciting book, the three children slowly learn to trust and help each other, working as an unlikely team to solve different challenges in each of the realms in which they find themselves. The three children prove to be intriguing heroes. Each has their own flaws and insecurities but rise to the challenges, finding skills and strengths they didn’t know they had. It is good to have 2 more strong female role models to add to the growing list - but Arthur too proves that strength can be found in all children – even a scrawny boy in a second-hand school uniform.

I was hooked from the first chapter. The book reminds me of the fantasy adventure books I used to read as a child. But, the futuristic setting of the book has a strong injection of 25th century living with elements of computer games and some very weird and wonderful technological advances thrown in for good measure. The Wondercloaks, in particular, were an inspired invention. I’d love one of these fabric Wondercloaks which read your moods and project beautiful images both inside and outside!

There is little preamble and no lengthy descriptions in the book. The action begins very quickly and would work well to engage reluctant readers. Any book which begins with the line ‘It was early morning and Arthur was already running late for school when the gnomes exploded’ is set to be full of surprises! And it doesn’t disappoint as each realm the three travellers visit throws new challenges at them in the search for the man who can get them home.

This is an exciting and action-packed read that shows us the value of teamwork and persistence.

Reviewer: Emma Rogers

Donut the Destroyer

Sarah Graley & Stef Purenins

Donut the Destroyer is a great new graphic novel for KS2, featuring zany characters, eye-popping artwork and a funny, light-hearted plot.


Donut the Destroyer comes from a long line of super villains, and her super strength is perfect for smashing.  But something, somehow, just doesn’t feel quite right.  When her best friend, Ivy, wants to unleash monsters into the library to cause unrivalled mayhem and destruction, Donut just can’t help herself from saving the librarian. And while Ivy is super-excited Donut will soon be joining her at Skullfire Academy, Donut is more tempted by the sound of Lionheart School for Heroes. So, what happens when a supervillain doesn’t want to follow in the family footsteps, and would rather be a hero instead?


Despite the embarrassment of having to study her own family during ‘Villain History Club’, things get off to a pretty good start – Donut makes some (admittedly nerdy) new friends, Artie and Martha, signs up to join the prefects and their golden capes and even perfect Simone is being nice to her.  Unfortunately, not everyone adapts to the new situation quite so easily; Ivy is feeling left behind and is bent on sabotage….

Can Donut find a way to use her super strength for good, while also finding the strength to be true to herself?


‘Donut the Destroyer’ is perfect for KS2 graphic novel fans, with the gentle schoolyard humour of ‘Mr Wolf’s Class’, mixed with the fraught friendships of a Raina Telgemeier book and the fantasy adventure of ‘Zita: Space Girl’. 

Reviewer: Carol Carter

Mini Monsters: Can I Play?

Caryl Hart & Tony Neal

At a pre-school for monsters, four friends - Scout, Sparkle, Arthur and Tiny - play together and navigate the dynamics of getting on and falling out. Arthur and Sparkle play at putting on a magic show, but when Scout really wants to join in, Sparkle says no. It’s her game and she gets to choose who plays and how the game goes. The result is a mixture of emotions - sadness, anger, expulsion and isolation - as well as a bit of shouting, sulking and snatching. After Sparkle finds herself all alone, she begins to realise that she may have to compromise and think more about the wishes of others in order to get her friends back together again.


This is the first book in a series that will undoubtedly appeal to young children. The bold, brightly coloured illustrations by Tony Neal draw readers into the pre-school setting, which is immediately familiar to the majority of small children. Our mini bookworms here at BooksForTopics HQ listened to the story with wide-eyed interest - engaged at first by the fun characters but quickly also finding a high level of interest in the relatable themes and enjoying the opportunity to sit back and watch the classroom squabbles gently unfold and follow through to a resolution.


The story invites the reader to observe the friendship issues without becoming preachy or moralistic. So many young children are keen observers of human behaviour, especially when it comes to their peers, and the gentle narrative gives space to consider how Sparkle’s behaviour pushes her friends away and leads to problems, while at the same time the story invites empathy with Sparkle’s desire to control her game as she is forced to realise that she will have to compromise on having her own way. Both of my children were able to relate to the positions of the four different monsters at different stages in the friendship dilemma and also enjoyed being in the seat of the observer, able to draw on personal experiences to comment on what was happening between the characters. Such relatability, coupled with the honest acknowledgment that friendships are tricky (even for monsters) but that solutions can be happily sought, is what will give this serires a broad appeal among the 3-6 age bracket.

A highly recommendable and super-fun new series that will surely become a favourite during EYFS and KS1 storytimes.

Reviewer: Alison Leach

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More new releases for June
Click each book cover to view on Amazon.
While We Can't Hug
The Robot's New Bottom
The Books Has Alpacas and Bears
Amazing Islands
A Kind of Spark
Little Turtle and the Sea
Like the Ocean We Rise
I'm Sorry
The Boy Who Dreamed Of Dragons
Bad Mermaids
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Saving Winslow Sharon Creech Written by Carnegie medal winner Sharon Creech, this is an endearing and heart-warming story, reminiscent of Charlotte’s Web. The story is set in America and opens, much like Charlotte’s Web, with the father of the household bringing home to Louie, his son, a small bundle. This bundle is not the runt of the pig litter, as in Charlotte’s Web, but a very poorly new-born baby donkey. Louie names the donkey Winslow and is determined to keep him alive. Woven through the story are stories of friendship and love: of Louie and Winslow; Louie and his brother, Gus who is a soldier away in the army; Louie and his older friend Mack; Mack and Claudine, the girl he is smitten by; Louie and Nora, Claudine’s younger sister, who lives life with a glass half empty view of the world. Nora lost her baby brother when he was a new-born and then her pet dog and these events make it hard for her to let herself attach to anyone or anything including Winslow, despite her overwhelming curiosity about the tiny donkey. As the story progresses, Winslow manages to work his donkey magic and Nora builds a real bond with Winslow.  Sharon Creech, who uses the donkey’s different noises and braying to convey his mood, along with the way his nuzzles and uses his long ears to show his care for Louie and Nora, skilfully constructs Winslow’s character. Clearly, a donkey isn’t loved by everyone, particularly when he makes as much noise as Winslow does. In this great story though, even Mrs Tooley, a very grumpy neighbour who really thinks that a donkey should not be living in the neighbourhood, is won around when Winslow’s braying alerts the family to a fire. This story is crafted perfectly, with moments of reflection on the big life questions: of loss; fear; death; friendship; courage and the power of hope. It is a wonderful story that could provide a class with a wealth of deep discussion alongside some laughs and warmth. ​ Reviewer: Jane Carter Buy Online Literally: Amazing Words and Where They Come From Patrick Skipworth & Nicholas Stevenson Literally: Amazing Words and Where They Come From is the latest eye-catching non-fiction offering from the team at What on Earth Books - this time covering the interesting topic of word origins. Picking out a host of familiar words, the book delves into each word's origins and meanings through double-page spreads that combine bite-sized chunks of knowledge with artwork that sets each word into an illustrated scene to give added visual context. The selection of words are chosen to demonstrate how the topic of linguistics can entertain as well as inform - it was fun, for example, to find out that the word ukulele means, ‘jumping flea’, so named because of the movement of the player’s fingers that appear to bounce like the jumping of fleas. Similarly interesting was how the word companion comes from the Latin for ‘with bread’ - meaning a good friend who you could share your lunch with. There are some surprises too - like where the word mummy used for preserved bodies really comes from, or the reason why scholars from hundreds of years ago would write ‘empty’ as the answer to some of their mathematical equations. The book serves as an interesting introduction to linguistics that is best suited for dipping in and out of or flicking between the pages. The high ratio of illustrations to text gives a strong visual element, telling the stories behind the words as well as subtly drawing out the connections and layers of history behind each word origin. Each word chosen has a real sense of journey to it, building up across the anthology to emphasise the rich diversity of the English language and its heritage, which spans a multitude of ages and cultures across the globe. Buy Online Wilde Eloise Williams Eloise Williams, the Children’s Laureate Wales, has followed up the brilliant ‘Gaslight’ and ‘Seaglass’ with another intriguing and mysterious tale. Wilde thinks she is weird. In fact, she knows she is weird. It takes a great deal of effort for her to blend in at her new school in Witch Point, especially when her arrival seems to coincide with the start of some very strange things happening. Birds behave strangely around Wilde and she keeps waking up in strange places not knowing how she got there. Things become more and more strange as the Year Six class get further into rehearsals for their end of year play about the local legend: a witch called Winter. Her classmates start receiving threatening notes containing curses that are signed by ‘The Witch’. Magical and mysterious, this is a story about acceptance. It is about learning to accept yourself in order to be able to truly let in those around you and ‘fit in’. It is also about the conflict between the desire to be like everyone else and the need to be yourself. Wilde is desperate to work out what is happening to and around her. She wants to feel more connected to her mother and senses that the key to the mysterious happenings lies with her past. As the curse letters continue and accusations fly, Wilde has to find out who she really is, where she belongs and who she can trust with the truth. There are echoes of Skellig in this story in terms of warm friendships, dealing with loss and a touch of magic. Fans of Eloise Williams’ work will not be disappointed with Wilde. ​ Reviewer: Caroline Buy Online Mrs Noah's Garden Jackie Morris & James Mayhew Mrs Noah’s Garden is a magical tale that begins when the ark has come to rest on the top of a barren mountain, surrounded by water. The Bible story of Noah and the flood is a jumping off point for this book and this imagined tale weaves an enchanting story of the creation of a garden, encompassing along the way the essences of human existence and its relationships. Jackie Morris unveils through her lyrical and beautiful use of language, the creation of a garden by Mrs Noah, a strong, determined and graceful character. The book introduces children to the names of trees and flowers, to the process of planting, caring and growing as the book develops. There are passing references to old nursery rhymes that may need to be pointed out to children to enable them to explore the richness of this text further. On the surface, this is a book about the creation of a garden, but woven through are themes of diversity and inclusion, hope and migration, the value and richness of creation, new beginnings and an environmental message about the interdependence of living things.  This is why this book could be shared with children in Year 1 and in Year 6 – exploring the story, the language and the themes in different ways. The most immediate impact of this book is from its illustrations. James Mayhew creates the garden in the story, using vibrant collage and print making techniques. The illustrations are unique works of art and deserve to be studied and explored in their own right. The use of colour moves the reader from the grey and barren beginnings to a garden bursting with life and vitality in the final pages. Noah and Mrs Noah are shown as a couple from two heritages working together to create both a home for themselves and their children but also for an abundance of wildlife, real and mythical.   This is a book that deserves time spent on it; time to dwell on the illustrations and time to dwell on the language. Mrs Noah Pockets, written and illustrated by the same pair would be a good book to read alongside, considering the development of the character of Mrs Noah. ​ Reviewer: Jane Carter Buy Online Roxy & Jones: The Great Fairytale Cover-up Angela Woolfe & Paola Escobar Described as a hilarious fairy-tale mash-up, this book tells the story Roxy Humperdinck (who is half-sister to Hansel and Gretel) and her average life in Rexopolis in the Kingdom of Illustria - that is until she meets Jones. They are brought together by an unusual book discovered in the vaults under the Ministry of Soup, and soon they begin an epic adventure to save their home, and potentially the whole world, from dark magic. This is a humorous tale that captured my interest straight away. The story had just enough twists and turns to keep me guessing and I really liked the nods to traditional fairy-tale characters that popped up along the way. The characters of Roxy and Jones make for great leads in this book. Roxy, who has a photographic memory and can recall facts with ease, lives an almost uneventful life. She is completely in the dark about the history of magic that her Kingdom once had and does not like to upset her half-sister. In contrast, Jones (first name Cinderella) knows many things, is quick-witted and a huge fan of sugary treats. She is fed up with being treated like a slave by her stepmother, so she runs away in her quest to discover ancient artefacts and certainly seems not to be afraid of anything. She also has a fairy godmother, Frankie, who is nothing like the usual type of godmother you read about in fairytales. I think that Frankie is guaranteed to be a favourite character with many readers. This was an enjoyable read that would fit perfectly in a classroom or school library. It offers the perfect escape into another world – as great stories do - and will certainly appeal to any child who loves fairytales, humour and adventure. ​ Reviewer: Hayley Warner Buy Online Download Books of the Month Poster Buy these books online See previous Books of the Month More new releases for May

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