June - Books of the Month

The Booksfortopics June 2018 Top Picks

Five of our top recommended new children's books this month.

The Boy Who Grew Dragons

Andy Shepherd

Imaginative and charming, The Boy Who Grew Dragons is a wonderfully whimsical story that kept me smiling the whole way through. This hugely entertaining adventure would make a super read-aloud for years 2, 3 or 4.


Tomas is busy in the garden with Grandad, planning which fruits to grow that might be turned into delicious jams or tasty tarts. When Tomas stumbles across a strange tree with curious-looking fruits, he never expects that what might emerge from the fruit could be a real live dragon! So when a baby dragon does appear from within the red spiky fruit, Tomas intrepidly takes it upon himself to nurture the adorable tiny dragon, which he names Flicker. Much to Tomas’s surprise and the reader’s amusement, Flicker quickly demonstrates that he really is quite a handful (because dragons turn out to be A LOT more trouble than cucumbers), with an insatiable appetite, exploding poo and an uncanny ability to singe people's eyebrows. What follows is a rip-roaring adventure as Tomas becomes acquainted with and quite attached to his new species of pet. Attempting to keep Flicker a secret is no easy challenge, especially when more fruits appear on the tree and Tomas needs to figure out what he will do with the new crop!


This is an adventure that is humorous at every turn, but also full of heart. The pleasure that the relationship with the baby dragon brings to Tomas is wonderfully portrayed and any reader who has ever nurtured a plant, pet or person will find Tomas’s sense of joy hugely relatable and comforting. Also heart-warming are the family dynamics between Tomas and his younger sister Lolli as well as with his grandparents, who inspire him to engage in gardening. Tomas is a great positive role model for showing how young people can apply curiosity and creativity to the process of growing and nurturing plants and see ‘magic’ in the endeavour.


Coupled with charming illustrations by Sara Ogilvie, I am convinced that this story is going to be hugely popular in primary classrooms and I am really looking forward to the rest of the series.


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Ocean Meets Sky

The Fan Brothers

This is the kind of picture book that makes you want to treasure it as soon as you pick it up. With stunning artwork from Eric and Terry Fan, everything from the cover to the endpapers to the beautiful design nestled underneath the jacket draws you in to this ethereal tale.


The story is on one level a simple one;  a young boy called Finn recalls his late grandfather’s stories about a magical place in the distance where the ocean meets the sky. Finn decides to build a boat in his grandfather's honour and sets sail on a voyage the pair had once planned together. 


Embarking on an ethereal voyage, Finn floats along under imaginatively-shaped clouds, passing different objects and creatures that remind him of his grandfather. First there is the great golden fish with a drooping moustache, then a menagerie of book-loving birds that inhabit the Library Islands (fans of the authors' previous work will be quick to notice that The Night Gardner is nestled there among the books) and eventually up into the sky and on to say goodbye to the illuminated face of the old man in the moon.

The whole book is arresting in its beauty and tenderness as it gracefully depicts the way in which one boy finds an imaginative space to explore his grief in an entirely unthreatening manner. I enjoyed how the objects in Grandfather's room at the beginning of the story cleverly become part of the dream sequence filling the rest of the pages. There is so much to discover in every spread as the illustrations are loaded with subtle details and this is the kind of book that readers young and old will love to return to time and time again.

The Day War Came

Nicola Davies & Rebecca Cobb

How can you explain the refugee crisis to young children in a way that neither trivialises nor terrifies? Nicola Davies and Rebecca Cobb have created a medium for doing exactly that in their poignant and timely new picture book The Day War Came.


The book originated as a poem written by Nicola Davies as a supportive response to a campaign to allow more child refugees into the UK in 2016. Coupled by illustrations of an empty chair by author-illustrators Jackie Morris and Petr Horáček, the poem was published in the Guardian and before long the empty chair had become a symbol of the campaign, with thousands of others joining in over social media and publishing their own empty chair pictures in solidarity.


Now Davies' poem has taken a new form as a children's picture book and is brought to life with striking illustrations by Rebecca Cobb. The story follows the journey of a young child who becomes a refugee after a horrific war destroys her life as it was. Many young readers will find the girl's former lifestyle hugely relatable; she sits (on a chair) at the breakfast table with her family before she sits (on a chair) at school to learn about volcanoes and to draw wildlife.


Then war arrives in the most sudden and unwelcome of ways, blasting through the pages, upturning the chairs and bringing with it a new colour palette of darkness and despair. The young child flees everything she has ever known and travels over land and sea, searching for a new place untouched by the war. When she eventually reaches her new country, her hopes of regaining some familiar strands of her former life are dashed when she arrives at school to find that the people seem unwelcoming and there is not a chair for her. Here there is a different manifestation of war, she discovers, and it is one that resides in people's hearts. It is a heartbreaking moment, but fortunately one that finds its way back into a glimmer of hope when one classmate brings forward a chair and the other children follow suit, "pushing back the war with every step.”


This is an important picture book with values of compassion, empathy and kindness at its heart and a highly recommended addition to primary school libraries. 

Boy Underwater

Adam Baron

Boy Underwater is brilliantly funny, unexpected and deeply moving. The plot is likely to bring both tears of laughter and of sadness, and also had me gasping out loud in places too. The book has been awarded the sought-after title of Waterstone’s Children’s Book of the Month for June 2018 and I'm recommending it for Y6+.


Cymbeline and his classmates are ready for their turn to start swimming lessons and most of the pupils are really excited to dive in. But Cymbeline has never been swimming before and the more he thinks about it the more he realises that his mum has actively avoided going to the swimming pool or the seaside. Not wanting to lose face in front of his classmates, Cymbeline googles front crawl, borrows Dad’s old swimming shorts and has a practice in the bath. A sound plan, thinks Cymbeline, until he is unexpectedly pushed into the water at the pool and his whole world begins to unravel.


Little does Cymbeline expect that Mum’s reaction to what happens at the pool might lead to her being isolated in a special hospital, nor does he anticipate the family secrets that begin to rise to the surface. With the help of old and new friends, Cymbeline races against time to uncover the truth about his family and to get Mum back home.


Cymbeline's narrative voice carries a mixture of cheeky humour, sincerity and a level of naivety that makes him hugely likeable and has the reader rooting for him from the start. Although Cymbeline is just nine, the book is most suitable for readers a few years older as it is tremendously sad in parts (as always I suggest reading it first to assess suitability based on your knowledge of the pupils in your classroom) and the narrative touches on some difficult topics including mental health, domestic abuse and family separations.


Adam Baron has masterfully created the perfect blend of humour and pathos, and (without wanting to give away any spoilers) the twists and turns in the plot are simply brilliant and I never predicted the ending. This is a stunning and entertaining narrative that leaves an impact long after you close its pages.


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Across the Divide

Anne Booth

Across the Divide is a contemplative story about war and pacifism, about making a stand and about seeing different viewpoints. The story explores what happens when people with dissimilar experiences and viewpoints find a way to listen to each other’s voices and seeks ways to progress based on respectfully accepting difference and finding where commonality lies.


The main character, Olivia, finds herself in the centre of bitter arguments and feels caught between sides. Her mum is a peace activist and her grandfather is a vicar who used to serve in the army. When the opening of an army cadet unit is proposed at Olivia's school, everyone seems to have strong opinions and tension quickly mounts. Olivia feels like she is able to see different sides of the argument and can sympathise with those making a stand for either cause. Before she knows it, things have spiralled out of control and Olivia’s Mum is arrested for leading a pacifist protest against the army base.


With her grandparents away on holiday and her mum in custody, Olivia has no choice but to go and stay with her estranged father on the island of Lindisfarne. There is an almost ethereal quality to the beautiful landscape on Lindisfarne and its timeless remoteness gives Olivia plenty of space to think about the different viewpoints dividing her community. Olivia meets William, an old-fashioned and mysterious-seeming boy who lives on the island. William can relate to the way Olivia is wrestling with different ideas about war and pacifism and in talking together the pair help each other to find their own voices and look for a way forward.


In Across the Divide Anne Booth has masterfully crafted a narrative that is deeply contemplative and one that allows different viewpoints to be heard without directing what the reader should conclude. Through Olivia’s story and her interactions with friends and family, the narrative gently depicts how young people can be powerful in their capabilities to stand up for their beliefs and to be instrumental in bringing about positive change in society.


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You can buy these books online by clicking on the links provided, or from your local book shop or library.

More new releases for June
Click each book cover to view on Amazon.
The Last Chance Hotel
Aliens Invaded My Talent Show
Holes: Discover a Hidden World
My Arch-Enemy Is a Brain In a Jar
Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of SHARKS
Welcome to Our World: A Celebration of Children Everywhere
How to Be a Lion
Mirror Magic
Marie Curie: Little Guides to Great Lives
MARIELLA Queen of the Skies
If All the World Were...
Supertato Veggies in the Valley of Doom
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