March - Books of the Month

The Booksfortopics March 2018 Top Picks

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

The Last Wolf

Mini Grey

Fans of Mini Grey (author of 'Traction Man') will be happy to hear of the publication of her latest picture book, The Last Wolf. This is a twist on the traditional Little Red Riding Hood story, with a clear message about environmental conservation. When Little Red gets her hunting gear together and sets about to catch a wolf, her Mum is unphased because “there hasn’t been a wolf around here for at least a hundred years.” Passing through a number of delightful wolf-shaped figures, which give the pictures of the forest a playful nod to Anthony Browne, Little Red finally comes across the last wolf in the entire land. Little Red is invited in for tea at the Last Wolf’s house, which also happens to be the home of the Last Lynx and the Last Bear, and once inside Red soon comes to empathise with her new friends as she learns how the destruction of their natural habitat is the cause for the endangering of a number of wonderful forest species. After she is chaperoned home, Little Red sets about to make a plan to help restore some of the damage and learns how to plant new trees to repopulate the forest for the future. 

Mini Grey’s illustrations are wonderfully appealing and are awash with pleasing little details that make the readers – young and old - smile and widen their eyes to scan for more delights, knowing that each page is a visual feast. The storytelling vocabulary is perfectly selected to maximise its imaginative impact when read aloud (for example the forest is full of “whooling noises and grabby twigs”). We really enjoyed this book and it is sure to be a winner in primary classrooms.


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Vashti Hardy

Brightstorm is a cracking adventure story with flying ships, intrepid explorers, identity quests, sapient animals and the most wonderful cast of characters. Twins Maudie and Arthur are distraught when they hear that their father, explorer Ernest Brightstorm, has died on his expedition to reach South Polaris. The twins quickly begin to realise that something about their father’s apparent misfortune sounds unlikely and they seek a way to go to South Polaris to find the truth. The twins embark on a skyship adventure during which they encounter increasingly perilous landscapes, friendly kings of foreign worlds, intelligent animals (including the wonderful thought-wolves who communicate with the twins not through words or actions but through thoughts and feelings) and a villainous antagonist on a competing ship who will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

Stories about explorers and expeditions are always popular in primary classrooms and this one, with its fresh take on the adventure quest and its convincing world-building, is sure to fire up imaginations and become a firm favourite with budding adventurers across KS2.


Read the full review of Brightstorm on the Reading For Pleasure Blog


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How Does a Lighthouse Work?

Roman Belyaev

This is a superb non-fiction text that incorporates history, geography and STEM by exploring the topic of lighthouses through a series of interesting questions. The text has both simplicity and depth which means that you could use it across the whole primary age range and I can imagine it pairing really well with related popular children’s fiction, such as Ronda and David Armitage’s 'The Lighthouse Keeper' books in KS1 or Emma Carroll’s 'Letters from the Lighthouse' in KS2. It is also a great example of a non-fiction text that could be read for pleasure over and over just because it is fascinating in itself.

Each double-page spread addresses a different question about lighthouses, such as ‘What Is it Like on the Top Deck?’, ‘How Does the Light Shine So Far?’ and ‘What Happens When It’s Foggy?’ and the text is cleverly structured so that each question builds on knowledge from the previous pages.  

Accompanying the text are striking illustrations in primary-coloured tones, designed to emphasise the yellow light across the blue of the water and the reds of the lighthouse structures. The diagrams show a range of lighthouse types from all different angles and tend to highlight the way in which lighthouses are carefully constructed and engineered according to their geography and purpose. This is a text that covers the topic in such a way that every page is interesting and appealing and at no point through the book does the topic lose appeal. On the final pages, the reader is challenged to walk through the steps of designing their own lighthouse. A highly recommended addition to your primary library.


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A Witch Alone

James Nicol

Following on from the much-loved ‘The Apprentice Witch’, James Nicol returns with the second story in the series. The magical world of ‘A Witch Alone’ is an immersive one that balances all different kinds of magic, from the dark and dangerous kind lurking in the woods to the warm and wonderful kind where compassion resides and a tea and cake can solve everything.

The story sees the return of Arianwyn, a newly-qualified witch who needs to find courage and self-belief as she seeks to work her magic to help those around her. Somewhat thrown in at the deep-end, Arianwyn returns to the town of Lull as the resident witch and is immediately kept busy by the demands of the townspeople, whether it’s removing bogglins from farmers’ fields or dealing with infestations of tamble-rats and nesting snotlings. However, there are much bigger fish to fry, as the High Elder has set Arianwyn a secret magical mission that will require courage, perseverance and skill. And alongside it all there’s the small matter of Arianwyn’s old rival Gimma making an appearance and acting very strangely indeed.

James Nicol’s style of storytelling is cosy and compelling. There is always enough danger and mystery to give the magical world depth and drive the plot, but never so much that it becomes threatening to the young reader. I recommend ‘A Witch Alone’ to readers across Key Stage 2 who will enjoy magical worlds that mix with the very human themes of courage, friendship and self-belief.


Read the full review of A Witch Alone on the Reading For Pleasure Blog.


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Almost Anything

Sophy Henn

This is a truly charming picture book with an empowering message about the power of self-belief. At the beginning of the story, George the rabbit sits on a tree stump watching his woodland friends being busy doing all sorts of clever and fun activities like painting, roller-skating, knitting or dancing. Believing that he would not be able to do anything like that, George leaves himself with no option but to sit and watch. That is, until a wise old bear observes George’s no-can-do attitude and decides to help him to cultivate some self-belief.

I love the message of the story, encouraging young readers to have the confidence to try new things using the ‘magic’ of a positive attitude from within themselves. I also love the illustrations; the forest animals are adorable (who could fail to enjoy a hedgehog in leg warmers and a beaver exuberantly roller-skating through the woods?) but in an utterly stylized way, with the muted colours giving the images an almost understated feel that allows the reader’s eye to focus in on the contrasting emotions portrayed by George before and after he feels liberated to have a go at the various activities.

This is an endearing picture book that I recommend for storytime in EYFS and KS1.


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