October 2019 - Books of the Month

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The Booksfortopics October Top Picks

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

Shadows of Winterspell

Amy Wilson

A coming-of-age adventure story rooted in fairy tale and magic. As usual, Amy Wilson's world-building is second to none as she immerses the reader is a richly-imagined magical world that is at once convincing, delightful and darkly enticing.

Stella feels alone, living most of her life with her Nan in a cottage near the edge of a magical forest. The forest is filled with dangers and haunted by the dark shadows released by the King, who is in mourning after a family loss that occurred years before. Stella helps her Nan to guard the house boundary and stop the dark magic from expanding further. Armed with books, Stella has grown up learning charms, spells and the history of magic and has an imp called Peg for company, but feels a pull towards the unfamiliar worlds beyond the fence.

Tired of being isolated from the human world, Stella secretly signs up to go to school in a nearby town. While Nan disapproves of Stella keeping company with humans, Stella arrives at school and quickly realises that some of her new classmates are not quite what she expected. Before long, Stella finds herself caught up in a complex quest to save the forest from the King's shadows and to uncover the secrets of her own past.

Wilson's depiction of Stella as a young teen who struggles with isolation and identity will resonate with any readers who have known a longing to find their place in the world. Fairy tale imagery is peppered through the pages; grandmothers in forest cottages, shiny red apples, elves and fairies in underground homes, hidden-from-sight palaces and necklaces imbued with magic all seamlessly weave in and out of the book's modern, relatable themes.

Suitable for upper KS2 and lower KS3, this is a refined piece of storytelling that encourages young readers to be brave and follow their own path.

Also features on:

Autumn 2019 Ones to Watch

Our Planet

Matt Whyman, Richard Jones & Sir David Attenborough

This stunning children’s non-fiction hardback is the accompaniment to the Netflix series Our Planet. This is the kind of book that readers young and old will love to pore over, from the powerful photographs of melting ice caps to the facts and figures about palm oil plantations and endangered sea life. There is so much to learn and think about. 


The book has a foreword by Sir David Attenborough, who says ‘You will be among the next characters who can, if they wish, tell the most extraordinary story of all – how human beings in the twenty-first century came to their senses and started to protect Planet Earth’.


What follows is a visual ode to Planet Earth told through extraordinary photography from the series combined with appealing illustrations that draw in younger readers and help them to understand nature's amazing interplay of habitats and ecosystems. Small sections of text further explain the images, giving snapshots of animals’ lifestyles as well as presenting hard-hitting facts about the dangers they face. We learn how orangutans have incredible mapping skills to navigate their jungle homes but also how we lose 100 orangutans a week due to human actions like hunting and deforestation. We find out how beautiful lantern-fish light their own way along with 17-metre long oarfish in the high seas, but also how plastic peril and high-seas fishing put the incredible marine life there in danger. 


The tone of the book is one to inspire rather than to frighten readers into action. The book is not at all without hope for the future, and the nudge to make personal changes comes through simple tips like choosing products carefully and supporting sustainable fishing. Moreover, with photographs as stunning as these, it is hard for readers of all ages not to feel inspired to take steps to protect the natural world from our own destructive actions.


With something to offer to the whole primary age range and beyond, this is the kind of nonfiction book that inspires and informs in equal parts and is one to treasure in classrooms and homes.


Tom Huddleston

For readers that love exciting action-packed adventure stories and films, FloodWorld is perfect. It is full of tense cliffhangers, thrilling chase scenes and hairbreadth escapes as two children, Kara and Joe, fight to confound a ruthless pirate plot.

Imagine London in the future, when rising sea levels have submerged half of the city. Privileged citizens live in the central zone, protected by a huge wall. Meanwhile the less fortunate scrape a living in The Shanties, a squalid area of flooded tower blocks and rickety boardwalks. In this fractured world, the only thing that unites the inhabitants from inside and outside the wall is their fear of a different race: The Mariners.

Shanty children Kara and Joe find themselves embroiled in a world of danger. As they struggle first to escape and then to protect their neighbourhood, they are forced to confront their prejudices and discover that the world is more complicated than they thought.

FloodWorld is pacily written with lots of easy-to-read dialogue which is interleaved with more challenging and descriptive language, making it a good book for moving children on to more demanding reads. Kara provides a strong female role model: clever, courageous and tough, but warm and honest too.

The book could work well either as a recommended read-for-pleasure or a whole class read. Behind the gripping action sequences lie thought-provoking themes of environmental responsibility, truth, prejudice and power. If you are teaching pupils about the environment, you could use this book to introduce the implications of rising sea levels or the importance of marine conservation. For PSHE, it raises questions about how we view people from unfamiliar societies and whether violence is ever justified. In geography, it could provide a quirky take on the topography of London.

The narrative of FloodWorld also has a very cinematic feel, which is not surprising for a writer who used to be a film critic. I really enjoyed this gripping read and I am looking forward to recommending it at school.

Reviewed by: Louisa Farrow

Also features on:

Reading For Pleasure Blog 

It's a No-Money Day

Kate Milner

Kate Milner's new picture book is a must-have for primary schools. Rare in its portrayal of life on the poverty line and the experience of visiting food banks from a child's perspective, It's a No-Money Day is a truly special book that poignantly explores its subject with due compassion and gentleness.


A young girl visits the local food bank with her mother. An emptied penny-jar at home indicates that today is a no-money day and despite the mother's hard work and measured frugality, the duo must make a trip to the food bank in order to stock their bare kitchen cupboards. Mum is ashamed but politely makes the best of the situation. The girl, on the other hand, sees no stigma in the experience and enjoys meeting the kind food bank workers and eating their biscuits. Could she have her favourite cereal this time?, she asks, only to be scolded by her humiliated mother. This child is a wonderful example of finding joy in life as it is; the food bank visit is a normal experience for her and she will easily see the good in it. Under the loving wing of her mother she finds other simple pleasures too, like borrowing library books, trying on clothes in the charity shops and having fun dreaming out loud of what life might offer her one day.


Kate Milner's illustrations capture the moods and emotions of the two characters so perfectly. Mum is wearier than she wishes the girl to know but the reader can see it in the lines of her face and the curves of her posture, which also show her deep love and warmth towards her daughter. The girl is simply looking to find interest and joy as she goes on her way - as children do - and many young readers will find the child character's perspective and acceptance of the way things are easily relatable. The child's voice is one of innocence and hope, but it's easy for the reader to wonder what might happen to the family without the provision of food bank donations.


It's a beautiful and poignantly-told story that deserves a place in every classroom, providing a much-needed insight for many children into life on the breadline, while offering others a rare reflection of a familiar situation and a reassuring message that they are not alone. This is a book that is suitable to use across the whole primary age range and one that will be sure to encourage empathy and discussion around a very important topic.

Also features on:

Reading For Pleasure Blog (with author Q&A)

The Ghouls of Howlfair

Nick Tomlinson

This debut children's story from Nick Tomlinson certainly lived up to its claim of being “a brilliantly funny and spooky mystery adventure.” I was sucked into the story, hypnotised by the clever use of language and hooked by the well-planned plot which unfolded full of spectral splendour and ghostly gloriousness.

Tomlinson’s description entranced me from the very first page and I have shared numerous examples of clever personification and carefully crafted detail with my class (who are all now queuing up to borrow my review copy). Their gasps at the beauty of language and the illusion of reality created are testament to the skill of the author, and are plaudits that are truly well deserved.

The story follows the adventures of Molly; we find out about her unusual home-life, her eccentric hobby, her difficulties dealing with the loss of her father and her special friendship with Gabriel (their relationship being crucial to the resolution of the tale). The story really is the epitome of a page-turner, with twists and turns aplenty. I ate up all three hundred and thirty-three pages of this book in delicious chunks. The tasty development of the relationships between Molly, her friends and also her adversaries developed through the chapters enticingly, punctuated with piquant flashbacks, hints and red herrings, which kept me hungrily devouring the book until the exquisite resolution.

What I possibly liked most about this debut was the fact that the end – whilst seriously satisfying – feels open. I am hopeful of an equally juicy sequel. I’d be first in the queue to gobble up further ghoulish adventures in Howlfair, and Molly is a character I hope will live on.

Reviewed by: Julie Wells

Also features on:

Reading For Pleasure Blog 

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