July 2020 - Books of the Month

The BooksForTopics September Top Picks
 

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

Zombierella

Joseph Coelho & Freya Hartas

We love a fairy tale with a twist and so eagerly welcomed the arrival of this new illustrated middle-grade series from Joseph Coelho and Freya Hartas, with this first instalment placing a deviously dark twist on the Cinderella story.

 

In this version, Cinderella (so called because she wears a locket containing her deceased mother's ashes), lives with a 'fake' family made up of an evil step-mother and three beautiful and fake sisters. After losing both parents and her beloved horse Lumpkin, Cinderella feels very much alone in the world. The town receives a visit from a royal prince with unusually gothic tastes, who brings with him three days of parties and the promise of betrothal to a potential suitor from the town. When Cinderella suffers a slip on the stairs, life as she knows it comes to an end and she returns in a haze of gory glory as Zombierella before proceeding to win the prince's heart for herself.

Coelho's treatment of the story is as delightfully amusing as it is deliciously dark. After years of Disneyfication and a 'softening up' of this well-known tale for a generation who often find their stories served up with a little more happily-ever-after and a little less goriness, this version takes a direct step in the colder and creepier direction that you might expect from Roald Dahl's fairy tales or the original Grimm stories. There's plenty to shock - from the cold and detached reporting of Cinderella's sudden death to the spooky insertion of pulled-out brains, loosened guts and severed limbs into a star-crossed rags-to-riches love story. There's an enjoyable streak of dark humour and plenty of wit in both the author's free verse and Freya Hartas' stylishly expressive black and white illustrations.

 

The story is framed by the voice of a librarian (fans of Coelho might expect nothing less) and leaves with the promise of more from the 'Fairy Tales Gone Bad' series - which I'm really looking forward to seeing unfold.

The Key to Finding Jack

Ewa Jozefkowicz & Katy Riddell

Flick adores her older brother Jack. She loves his sense of fun, his passion for puzzles and riddles and the feeling that she gets from the special sibling bond they share.

 

There’s been an empty space in Flick’s heart ever since Jack headed off to Peru on a gap year trip, but at least Flick knows that Jack is immersed in exciting adventures. When the shock news arrives of an earthquake in Peru, nobody is able to contact Jack and Flick’s world falls apart. Through a blur of panic and confusion, Flick pieces together fragments of a puzzle to try to find Jack - centred around a special key that Jack left behind with the initials S.F. written on it. As the family anxiously waits for news of Jack, Flick sets the wheels in motion for her own investigation, desperately trying to track down the mysterious S.F.. Along the way, she discovers a host of other friends and family members who are meaningful in Jack’s world, each with their own tale to tell of how kind and special her brother is to them.

 

True to style, Ewa Jozefkowicz weaves a multi-layered narrative of self discovery that explores the riches of family bonds and the value of listening to the stories of other people. There’s a mystery to solve, a story-within-a-story and plenty of intrigue, and I particularly enjoyed how beautifully the sibling relationship was portrayed. This is a heartwarming third novel from Ewa Jozefkowicz that will resonate with middle-grade readers who enjoy delving into stories with a real-life feel or are looking for a bit of a mystery to get stuck into.

Space Maps

Lara Albanese & Tommaso Vidus Rosin

Space Maps is a super-sized visual treat. It will appeal to those already interested in the topic of space and will also attract KS2 readers new to the subject.  The reader is invited to take a space tour in the company of a diverse crew of space guides. Each double-page spread focuses on a different aspect and information is given in speedy, bite-sized fact boxes, making this an ideal book for dipping into. It is deeply informative and to the point, using technical language without any dumbing down - however, its short bursts of facts are not too specialised to be overwhelming for young readers.

Topics covered include what humans can see in the night sky, where and how we fit in the wider universe, what other planets are like,  how telescopes give us a deeper view and where the sky tends to be studied from. There is a good balance of scientific facts and interesting nuggets from history, astronomy and folk lore. The legends behind the science add charm and warmth. Large and detailed illustrations guide the reader through their space journey, with each new page devoted to a thoroughly detailed labelled map or diagram.

 

For those readers, like myself, who usually struggle to visualise the images behind the arrangements of the constellations, this book certainly helps; I was able to ‘see’ Orion in the real night sky having studied the beautiful constellation map. The depth of information sits well beyond the likely pre-knowledge of most child and adult readers (for example the different types of sky -Greek, Chinese, African and Equatorial - seem complex to a non-specialist), but this is where the ability to dip in and out of Space Maps is an asset that enables readers to opt for familiar or unfamiliar learning territory as they please.

An extravagantly large and vibrant compendium for budding astronomers and knowledge-hungry scientists in upper KS2, this impressive non-fiction book takes young readers to infinity and beyond as they marvel at the vastness of the universe. 

Tiger Tiger Burning Bright

Fiona Waters & Britta Teckentrup

We are head-over-heels in love with this beautiful anthology of animal poems containing a different animal poem for every day of the year. It’s a real stunner of a book - a gorgeously bound hardback compendium with full-page colour illustrations by Teckentrup.

Readers will have fun dipping in and out of the pages and reading animal poems both familiar and new - much like its predecessor I am the Seed, the true joy of books like this is flicking through to find the entries for today and tomorrow, finding your birthday, finding your family and friends’ birthdays and other special dates in our calendar as well as pausing on random pages that catch your attention. Beautifully presented in cloth binding with a marker ribbon inside, this is the kind of collection that is perfect for a teacher’s desk or family coffee table to open when there’s a spare few minutes in the day - and certainly one for the Christmas lists too!

The collection provides a spyglass into the animal kingdom, with a treasure trove of poems that capture the habits, movements and biological curiosities of a range of creatures from around the globe. Poets include Roger McGough, William Blake, Dick King-Smith, Ted Hughes, Grace Nichols, Lewis Carroll, Christina Rossetti, Emily Dickinson, and many of the verses are short enough to quickly learn by heart.

This is a book to treasure and one that sings of the joy of poetry as much as the wonders of the natural world.

    

The Monsters of Rookhaven

Pádraig Kenny & Edward Bettison

Mirabelle is part of ‘the family’ living in the House of Rookhaven - but they are no ordinary family. Led by Uncle Enoch, the members of the family are not what they first appear: Mirabelle doesn’t age; Odd can come and go through portals as he pleases; Dotty and Daisy are twins who can walk through walls. The house is separated from the outside world by the Glamour and only Dr. Ellenby and Mr Fletcher (humans from the local village) can pass through by using a special key. That is, until siblings Jem and Tom accidentally find their way through a hole in the Glamour.

Mirabelle finds them among some bone-eating plants and takes them up to the house, much to the resistance of the rest of the family. However, Tom is very ill, and the family have no choice but to let him recover at the house. The hole in the Glamour has also let through something much more threatening to the family than humans...

 

I found this to be an incredibly compelling read. The writing is wonderfully descriptive, and the illustrations perfectly capture the creepiness of the story. The characters are complex, and I loved that there were always new things to discover about them as the story progressed. The Monsters of Rookhaven shows that people are not necessarily what they first appear to be, and that people’s actions often have good intentions behind them, even if the outcome is not what they had hoped. It's a gripping story that explores the theme of difference and evokes empathy through the eyes of a delightfully imaginative cast of characters.

 

With magic, monsters, friendship and hope, this is a wonderful middle-grade read and one I will certainly be recommending to my Year 6 class. Most definitely one of the best books I have read this year.

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More new releases for July
Click each book cover to view on Amazon.
Umbrella Mouse to the Rescue
Rabbit Bright
44 Tiny Secrets
The Blue Beyond
Spaghetti Hunters
I have to Start at School Today
Llama Out Loud
I Am Not a Label
When Stars are Scattered
Planet Omar
How Many Spots has a Cheetah Got
The Lost Soul Atlas
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The BooksForTopics June Top Picks We've picked five of our favourite new children's books this month. Hello! A Counting Book of Kindnesses Hollis Kurman & Barroux Hello! A Counting Book of Kindnesses is a counting book with a difference. It’s a counting primer with a running story and the narrative is set in the context of forced migration. Through numbers 1 to 10, we follow a family who are forced to flee a war-torn country. They board a boat and travel to safety in another country where the children go to school and make new friends. It’s a hopeful and positive story which promotes kindness. The book’s themes are very topical and will help to build empathy. I really liked the illustrations which combine broad paint brushstrokes and fine line drawings. The smiling, almost cartoon-like children are really lovely. Numerals are visually reinforced in the text and images, and there are good opportunities for counting. The final page displays numerals alongside their written words. The book has obvious maths links but would also be very valuable in PSHE and circle time discussions. There are opportunities to discuss ways to be kind and to imagine what life would be like as a refugee. ​ A unique counting book that's full of empathy and hope for children everywhere. ​ Reviewer: Rachel Caddick Buy Online Wild Way Home Sophie Kirtley A wildly heartfelt timeslip adventure that takes readers back to the Stone Age to explore themes of family, courage, loss and what it means to be human. Charlie Merriam knows every inch of the forest that sits at the edge of town. Growing up playing in the woods with best friends Lamont and Beaky, the forest provides the children with innocent adventures, freedom to play and inspiration for their young imaginations. Meanwhile, Charlie’s family is on the verge of big changes at home. Mum heads to hospital to deliver Charlie’s long-awaited baby brother. It’s a moment that Charlie has been longing for - for years now, Charlie has imagined the scene of becoming an older sibling for the first time, almost like a perfect family photograph. Charlie arrives at the hospital to be hit with the devastating news that the new baby, Dara, has a poorly heart and urgently needs a life-saving operation. With nothing feeling quite as expected, Charlie is unable to cope with so many big emotions and flees to the forest. Something strange happens and, without quite understanding why, Charlie seems to have been transported back to prehistoric times. Aspects of Charlie's beloved forest look familiar still, but other parts look altogether wilder and uncultivated. When a Stone Age child appears face down in the stream, Charlie soon rescues and then befriends the prehistoric boy, who is called Harby. Meanwhile, a coming-of-age journey of self-discovery into Charlie’s own wildest parts begins, exploring the internal mix of raw, primitive feelings stirred up by Dara’s birth. The two children connect over unexpected family difficulties, powerful emotions that they have been running away from and their innate desire to ‘make safe’ their nearest and dearest. It’s a gripping read with a narrative that is raw, honest and brave; the story is heavy in pathos at times and explores some emotionally difficult (but sadly not uncommon) circumstances that will pull on readers' heartstrings - although it concludes with a good measure of hope too. The landscape of the forest is beautifully evoked - both the liberating effect that playing outside in nature has on the modern children as well as the ancient fauna and flora of prehistoric Britain (complete with lynx, eagles and wolf packs) that provides comfort and jeopardy in equal measure. Nature - just like the natural cycles of life and death - connects us all as humans and this is felt intensely as the forest takes centre stage in Charlie’s journey of accepting the serious health problems of a family member. With nods to Skellig and Stig of the Dump, this is an exciting and unique narrative that will be lapped up by mature readers who are ready for a roller coaster of adrenaline, a solid measure of empathy and a cause to reflect on the very essence of what it is to be human. ​ Reviewer: Alison Leach Buy Online Paris Cat Dianne Hofmeyr & Piet Grobler Paris Cat is a fun and exuberant picture book that provides a glimpse of the arts and music scene in Paris in the 1930s. Cat doesn’t want to spend all of her life fighting over fish heads from the local poissonnerie with the rest of her large extended family.  She wants to get out and see more of the world, so she leaves the narrow, smelly alleyway in which she’s been living and goes to explore the rest of Paris.  On her journey, she meets the legendary figures of Edith Piaf and Josephine Baker and discovers a world of glitz, glamour and music and dance. But will her new found fame bring happiness or is there another option for Cat? This is a warm, delightful story about seeking out new experiences and following your interests and passions. Dianne Hofmeyr’s writing features a sense of musicality and rhythm- 'the scrimp scrimp of scissors and the whirr whirr of sewing machines'- that suits the theme of music and performance in the storyline.  Similarly, Piet Grobler’s lively illustrations brilliantly evoke the movement and energy of this historical period. The endpapers feature a map of Cat’s journey around Paris, pointing out the important settings in the story plus major landmarks in the city (and the many poissonneries).  This means that it’s a great text for teachers focusing on general map reading skills or a more focused unit on Paris or France.  The map is written in French which also allows teachers to link to language work in MFL- perhaps designing maps for their own fictional city and labelling in French. During Cat’s journey she visits Madame Delphine’s atelier where a range of glamorous outfits are being made.  This would be a wonderful opportunity to explore fashion design and manufacture during this period and potentially to produce some simple sewing projects. Paris Cat is a warm, enjoyable story with plenty of exuberance to enjoy and lots of possibility for cross-curricular links in the classroom. ​ Reviewer: Jenny Holder Buy Online Agent Asha Sophie Deen & Anjan Sarkar Agent Asha is a clever and engaging story that weaves computing knowledge - such as how the internet works and if/then logic - into the story. Asha is from an Indian family in Brent and her family are delighted when she visits the library – supposedly to study. Little do they know that she is actually getting involved in a secret spy mission! She triumphs in this secret mission with wit, intelligence and a little dash of disobedience. Asha is a great role model; it is especially welcome to have both BAME and female representation in computing and STEM based roles. The point is not laboured, but nor does it need to be, sometimes for children it is enough just to see themselves reflected in stories. The family tree of Asha’s family at the back covering India, Africa and the UK is useful background as well and adds an extra dimension of interest to readers appreciating Asha's cultural identity. I really enjoyed this story and would have no hesitation recommending it to my Year Four class (both boys and girls). It would work best as an independent read rather than a class read-aloud, simply because a number of features such as diagrams and computer code details are best appreciated close up. I think it would be most suitable for Year Threes to Year Fives. The story is exciting and well set up for sequels – one to watch in the future! ​ Reviewer: Hilary Nicholl Buy Online Sky Pirates: Echo Quickthorn and the Great Beyond Alex English & Mark Chambers Sky Pirates is the first middle-grade title from Alex English - and what a story it is to launch her into the children’s book limelight! The first in the Sky Pirates series, this story introduces us to Echo Quickthorn, who lives in the kingdom of Lockfort. Echo is an orphan, but lives inside the castle after being taken in by the King. Echo yearns for adventure and to find out about her real family. There is one major problem: the people of Lockfort know that nothing exists outside of the Kingdom’s wall apart from barren wasteland, an idea that the King supports entirely, and no-one would ever question the thinking of the King. ​ One evening, a mysterious airship carrying Professor Daggerwing lands within the castle grounds, just outside Echo’s window. The Professor talks of his home and adventures from distant lands, which begins Echo’s journey into the unknown wasteland, all in pursuit of the truth about the world outside of Lockfort and her family. However, Echo's journey may not be as straight forward as she expects, with rumours of formidable Sky Pirates and their tyrant leader nearby… This was such an enjoyable, well-paced book and I found the story idea to be really refreshing. Echo, as the main character, is likeable and relatable: her confidence and self-belief grow as the story progresses, even when she faces tricky challenges or tough decisions to make. There are plenty of memorable secondary characters too, but one that really stands out is Gilbert, who is Echo’s best friend. Gilbert is a lizard who he acts as Echo's moral compass and I really liked how Alex English brought him to life through his expressions and quirky actions. Gilbert is bound to be as huge-a-hit as Echo and a favourite character for many readers. This book is highly recommendable for upper Key Stage Two and I cannot wait to read the next instalment of Echo’s adventures! ​ Reviewer: Hayley Warner

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