May 2021 - Books of the Month
The BooksForTopics May Top Picks
We've picked five of our favourite new children's books this month.
Jaz Santos Vs The World
Jaz Santos vs the World is the first in a new series about a girl who gathers an unlikely group of friends together to make their own girls' football team. This is an inclusive and empowering tale with a real-life feel that will appeal to fans of Cath Howe and Jacqueline Wilson.
Circumstances in Jaz’s life are starting to feel out of control. She has been in trouble at school, kicked out of dance club and is dealing with the growing cracks in her parents’ relationship, culminating in a house fire and her mum eventually moving out. There’s more on her mind too - Jaz loves football and often plays with the boys at lunchtimes, but is excluded from the school team because girls are not allowed to play.
When Jaz finds a leaflet advertising a girls’ football tournament, she seizes the opportunity to take back some control. Thinking carefully about how to sell the idea to her classmates, Jaz pours heart and soul into rallying a team of girls to prepare for the tournament. From fundraising to training, Jaz leaves no stone unturned - with her passionate hopes of proving that girls can be taken seriously in football matched only by her desire to get mum back. Deep down, Jaz wonders whether winning the tournament might magically solve all of the other problems in her life too, but some wise words along the way help Jaz to understand that life’s circumstances do not have to define her, and her own personal successes and failures don’t have to be tied up with the things in life that are simply beyond her control.
With a summer of football fever on its way and girls’ football growing more popular than ever, this is an empowering book with a dynamic and entertaining main character who shows what can happen when somebody leads the way in a new sporting initiative. The discrimination against Jaz as a girl wanting to be taken seriously in football (from both adults and children) feels frustrating and unfair, but Jaz is passionate and triumphant to show what can be achieved with a little determination. Some of the other girls have no interest in the sport before Jaz recruits them to the team, but the story shows how beneficial the opportunity to join in is for them each in different ways. The author Priscilla Mante says of the book, “Girls’ football and women’s football don’t get the attention they should do and it was really important for me, through Jaz, to challenge the status quo.”
This timely and heart-warming story about teamwork, self-belief and following your passions in the face of life’s ups and downs is likely to score big with readers aged 8-11.
Kate Hale & Andy Smith
Welcome to FACTopia!, a wonderland of crazily connected facts. Choose your own path through this hilarious world of 400 facts, all of which are verified by Encyclopaedia Britannica. Every fact in the book is connected to the next in an ingenious trail of information - making it a kind of 'choose your own adventure' of the fact world.
From the attention-grabbing orange cover to the final recordbreaking endings, this book is a winner. It has an index, it has sources, it has picture credits, it has information about the author, illustrator and designer, it has a contents listing. But more, much more than these useful additions, it has facts, 400+ of them, presented so that readers can choose their own way through the book on the basis of what intrigues them most. Most double page spreads have a single theme and lead off in one or two directions, but sporadically there is a double page entitled ‘Fact Frenzy’ with facts on numerous topics linked, one after the other, by a shared word.
I like how facts about breakfast can lead from pavement fried eggs to Moroccan and Dutch specialities and then (on another page) to black holes in space. Other unlikely and interesting connections mean that the reader is continually surprised and never tires of the subject matter, as they might in a more conventional non-fiction text. The illustrations are suitably zany and are combined effectively (thanks to some clever design work) with photos, of which the cutest has to be the sleeping koala on p.155. My favourite facts feature a sheep named Shrek, a dog named Honey Bun and some very wacky buildings.
This is a book which children of all ages will enjoy and keep coming back to.
Laura Ellen Anderson
A magical new series from best-selling author and illustrator, Laura Ellen Anderson, who is known for her popular Amelia Fang books.
Weatherlings all have a different type of weather magic - like rain, sun or snow. All except Ray Grey, who has no weather magic at all. She lives on Cloud Nine with her family and cloud-cat, Nim, and wants to be an Earth Explorer just like the famous La Blaze DeLight so she can discover all sorts of human treasures. Ray has already started a collection, thanks to her Dad’s visits to Earth when he is working as a Weather Warrior battling storms.
It is rumoured that there once used to be another type of Weatherlings who had Rainbow magic, until they were all wiped out by the worst storm in history - although most people don’t believe they were real. Along with her two best friends, Snowden Everfreeze and Droplett Dewbells, Ray attends a festival for the Eclipse, which turns out to be the beginning of an unexpected adventure for them.
Rainbow Grey is funny, smart and I am in awe of the creativity behind it. I adored the clever weather-related character and place names. The characters are not human, but still remain highly relatable; the main characters had friendship issues to deal with, like any children their age, and it’s important for children to be able to recognise things that they might be going through in their own lives in a book. Likewise, the nod to dyslexia when Ray describes letters as being jumbled on the page and later on, when reading from coloured paper was referred to, would resonate with a lot of children.
Whilst being a mid-length chapter book, the illustrations make this book more accessible for slightly younger readers or those that are used to a shorter-length chapter book. I was completely drawn in by Ray’s magical world and can’t wait to read more of her adventures!
Louie Stowell & George Ermos
Myra and Rohan are life-long friends through a shared experience at birth. Every year they share a birthday party. Every year Myra causes havoc at that party. Last year, for example, she broke the magician’s hand and superglued Rohan’s cousin’s hair. This year she sets the shed alight. But while everyone is distracted, Rohan’s little sister Shilpa is kidnapped by the Fairy Queen and taken to Otherland – a world where nothing is quite as it seems.
With the help of another fairy, Myra and Rohan follow Shilpa to Otherland and accept a challenge from the Fairy Queen. If they can win three challenges in a deadly game set by the Fairy Queen, then Shilpa can return with them to their world. If they lose, all three of them stay in Otherland forever.
Louie Stowell's newest story is a fabulous journey through the world of fairies, gods and vampires. The interaction between Rohan and Myra is hilarious and the characters visibly change throughout the story – both of them realising things about themselves and each other along the way. The challenges that the characters face and twists in the story keep the reader entertained all the way through. Each piece of action is superbly described and the tale was so fast-paced that I was desperate to read what happened next. For a teacher teaching story writing this is brilliant. The dialogue is superb, the pace fast and the descriptions wonderful.
Otherland is a fantastic escapist story, encompassing action, mischievous characters who are not quite what or who you think and an adventure that sees the children learn important things about themselves and each other. Just remember – in Otherland nothing is quite as it seems!
This book takes its title from the name of the medal presented in 2013 to honour those who served on the Arctic Convoys during World War II and in recognition of the particularly harsh conditions they endured. Tom Palmer has taken facts gathered from the Imperial War Museum, among other sources, to compose a gripping fictional story about three teenage Royal Navy recruits from Plymouth: Frank, Stephen and Joseph. Their resilience, fortitude and courage shine as brightly as the Arctic (North) Star against the surrounding darkness. Their very survival, both physical and mental, is threatened by constant attacks from German U-boats, submarines, planes and, most terrifying of all, the German battleship known as the Scharnhorst - not to mention freezing conditions, fierce storms, shattered dreams and rocky relationships. How will they pull through? Indeed, will they?
The life-and-death struggle is played out until the very last page, but it was no game for those who lived the adventure back in the 1940s - that much is clear. It is also very clear how much the author respects those who served and how determined he is to portray accurately their service to the nation. He has done so with huge success.
This book, with its concluding Author’s Note together with the accompanying online teaching notes available from Tom Palmer's website, provides an exciting and informative classroom resource for the teaching of WWII as a curriculum topic, besides being a book many children will choose for the sheer enjoyment of reading. A thoroughly recommended read, just like Tom Palmer’s other well-researched and highly readable novels.
Reviewers: Alison Leach, Jane Rew, David McBride, Kristen Hopwood