November 2020 - Books of the Month
The BooksForTopics November Top Picks
We've picked five of our favourite new children's books this month.
The Midnight Guardians
In The Midnight Guardians, Ross Montgomery has woven a tale that intertwines magical fables with historical fiction. The book is set during the Blitz in World War II and follows an evacuated boy, Col, as he races back to London to save his sister from a bombing raid that may take her life. Col is supported by his guardians – his childhood imaginary friends.
Mr Noakes, a badger in a waistcoat, Pendlebury, a tiger who can change her size, and a grumpy and argumentative knight who you must call King of Rogues (he gets very upset if you don’t!) guide and support Col on his way through the English countryside to save Rose. But this is not his only quest. His guardians explain that there are darker forces at work. The Midnight King is determined to defeat the Green Man and bring eternal darkness to the world. The gang race to save Col’s only family, but must face creatures from the Spirit World who are doing The Midnight King’s bidding and are set on stopping them. Thankfully, there are some creatures fighting for The Green Man to provide additional support as well.
The story is fast paced with drama taking place in every chapter, keeping it engaging throughout. The characters are rounded and very likeable, with the reader becoming invested in Col and his race back home. The historical element – enhanced by snippets of factual newspaper articles and leaflets from the time – is well written and stands side by side with the fantasy element rather than being a theme of the book. All around this is a fantastic read that children and adults alike will enjoy.
Blue Planet II
Leisa Stewart-Sharpe & Emily Dove
“This is Planet Earth: A beautiful blue marble suspended in a sea of stars. Unlike billions of other planets in the Milky Way, 71 percent of Earth is covered by ocean.” In collaboration with BBC Earth and based on the Blue Planet II TV series, this illustrated non-fiction book is designed to help children to dive into the beautiful wilderness beneath the waves and to emphasise the unique importance of ocean life to our planet.
The book is structured as a journey through different ocean settings - starting with The Deep, where we meet the weirdest and most wonderful creatures that look like something from a sci-fi movie but are - the book assures - as real as you or me. From there we move through shimmering coral reefs, to learn about the secret coral cities in shallow, tropical waters that are filled with a delicate ecosystem like no other. The next section covers ‘green seas’ - so-called due to the underwater forests and seagrass meadows that populate them. Interestingly, these areas form some of the most crowded underwater worlds and together they help to feed marine life across our blue planet. Here the book cleverly draws out the interdependent nature of the vastly varied but thoroughly interconnected parts of our blue planet. The author calls these green areas the ‘superheroes’ of the sea, and emphasises that, just like our forests on land, these precious ecosystems need our protection. After this we visit the world of coastlines, where human and ocean worlds collide and the theme of environmental protection is further drawn out. The final stop of the ocean tour is the big blue outback - an oceanic desert that is seemingly empty but is the home to majestic giants like sperm whales and great white sharks.
The book ends with a call to action - a plea for ocean heroes to safeguard our seas by heeding the advice of scientists and taking everyday actions that can help to protect our Blue Planet.
With a foreword from David Attenborough and beautiful illustrations by Emily Dove, this informative book offers a fascinating insight into the wonder and fragility of the oceans.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, losing her mother and brother in an air raid, Nona has built a new life for herself, with adoptive uncle Antoni. A Polish airman during the war, he is also a skilled craftsman, creating beautiful stained-glass windows. Nona works as his apprentice, but doesn’t handle the glass itself, although she does have one precious piece, taken from her bombed out home, which she always keeps close.
Renowned for his work, the pair travel around the country, replacing windows in war-torn buildings, so Nona is not alarmed when they receive a commission to work on a church on Dartmoor. However, this is no ordinary church, but a place of powerful magic and Antoni is bewitched. His strange behaviour is confusing and worrying for Nona, until she discovers the truth and the part she must play in protecting those she loves and fighting the darkness which threatens everything.
Drawing on folklore and the wild landscape of Dartmoor, this is an imaginative and beguiling fantasy weaving in Nona’s courage, determination and the power of love. Having enjoyed the author’s previous book, Nevertell, I was keen to read this and it didn’t disappoint. The story is ideal for lovers of fantasy and magic.
A Super Sticky Mistake
Alison Donald & Rea Zhai
A Super Sticky Mistake brilliantly retells the story of Harry Coover. He was a scientist who worked in the USA during World War Two. He was tasked with developing a plastic that needed to be strong, solid and transparent. His team created a new substance that did not meet the brief; instead creating a super sticky substance called ‘Cyanoacrylate’. Rather than giving up, Harry continued to work on his scientific research and returned to try his new sticky compound when he needed a new material that would be strong enough to stick aircraft windshields.
The material was found to be particularly strong and useful in so many ways; from mending broken bones to repairing spacecraft.
At the age of 92, Harry was presented with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation for his work; one of the highest scientific accolades in the field.
The story is a brilliant way to introduce themes of perseverance, determination and creativity. It is full of humour and the illustrations show some of the frustrations of the rest of his team alongside Harry’s optimism; which could lead to some fantastic discussions.
It is perfect for use in Key Stage One and Lower Key Stage Two or as a text to read with the whole school in assembly.
Brand New Boy
David Almond & Marta Altés
A simple but punch-packing new tale from storytelling master David Almond.
When a brand new boy called George starts at school, Daniel and his best friend Maxie are looking forward to getting a chance to enjoy the company of a new classmate. Daniel agrees to keep an eye on the new boy, although he has to admit there are few unusual things about George. Whether it’s the way that Miss Crystal watches his every step and makes ongoing observations in her notebook or the way that George can answer complicated maths questions without having to think about them, yet doesn’t seem to have an understanding of some of the very basic chatter between Daniel and his friends, something seems amiss.
Daniel’s chance to get to know George better arrives when the adults in school ask Daniel to invite George round for tea. But it comes with a caveat: Miss Crystal must come too, and George must only eat a few drops of olive oil and a small piece of dry bread. Welcoming George with warmth and hospitality, it’s as clear to Daniel’s Mum as it is to Daniel that there’s something unusual about this new boy. Every experience seems new to him, whether it’s meeting Kushko the cat or hanging out to chat in Daniel’s bedroom. A series of questions without answers begins to unravel - like why George is ushered unwillingly into a black van at the end of the play date, or why the teachers seems to have a weird response to George in class, or why there’s a sudden announcement that George will leaving the school. And what exactly is inside that tall box that is wheeled into assembly the following week…?
This is an innovative story that weaves themes of compassion, hope and community as well as what it means to be alive. Martha Altés' illustrations bring out the characters brilliantly and provide extra hints and clues along the way. The dignity and compassion with which Daniel and his friends treat George is beautiful. I also loved the characterisation of Daniel’s mum, who is full of love, acceptance and a happy dose of Geordie warmth. Her dedication to protecting Daniel’s childhood innocence clearly has an impact that Daniel passes forward in the way he cares for George, recognising the importance of playing out in the wild, enjoying songs and stories together as well as providing a safe space for George to make decisions for himself. The way people have been treated in the family home often naturally affects how they treat strangers, and Daniel is a prime example of this. The dangerous impact of technology on children is touched upon, but so is its potential to enhance human experience when treated sagely, with respect for human experience kept at its heart. Equally, the school system is shown to be able to make children feel like robots or cogs in a machine, but can also be wonderful, life-affirming and experience-bringing, as embodied in the music teacher Mrs Imani, whose positive impact also rubs off on the way the children treat George when they play together.
True to style, David Almond weaves a thought-provoking tale with hints of darkness, plenty of hope and pause for reflection on what it means to be alive.
Reviewers: Nia Talbot (The Midnight Guardians) Claire Coates (A Super Sticky Mistake), Jayne Gould (Glassheart) & Alison Leach (Blue Planet II & Brand New Boy)