Round-Up: What We've Been Reading

Nov 15 2020

Each week our panel of reviewers read a selection of children's books and tell us what they loved.

From portals leading into fairy tale worlds to horror adventures, find out what our Review Panel have been recommending this week...




1. The Day I Fell Into a FairyTale

by Ben Miller & Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini

Reviewer: Angela Kent

In this, Ben Miller’s third book, we are taken into a magical land with an interesting and somewhat sinister take on the traditional fairytales.


When the (very unusual and mysterious) Grimm supermarket appears during the night, Lana’s life is turned upside down – not only does she find a portal to a fairytale world tucked in the pic-n-mix but she finds herself drawn into the turmoil and peril of the stories she has been reading. Lana starts her journey in Briar Rose’s castle after reading part of the story with her mother, then being led to the portal by the strange little man who works in the store. After dreaming about the story and being disbelieved by her parents about the portal, Lana is banned from reading anymore of the story. So, when Lana discovers there is no happily ever after in sight, she enlists the help of her brother in order to help the characters in person.


Just like Lana, I was intrigued as to where this tale would end. The inclusion of consent – through the prince only kissing the princess on the hand (due to her being asleep and unable to consent to being kissed) was a very modern and welcome addition. The story is well told and compelling, which I think will certainly appeal to a KS2 audience. Lana is a strong female protagonist, as she is brave, resilient and compassionate. I liked the rekindling of the playful relationship between Lana and her older brother Harrison (who had become too serious to play since starting secondary school).

This book was truly a pleasure to read and I will be recommending it in my school library.


Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication date: October 2020


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2. Rescue

By David Long & Kerry Hyndman

Reviewer: Nathan Wilcox

Rescue is the third instalment from David Long and Kerry Hyndman following on from their previous books Heroes and the award-winning Survivors. In Rescue, we explore some of the most incredible rescue missions that could sound more like fiction than the factual events they truly are.


When I read through this collection of stories, I found myself becoming more and more fascinated with the heroic individuals that risked their lives to rescue those in desperate need. Whilst some of the stories are very familiar as they happened relatively recently or have been made into Hollywood films, other stories are less well-known but are equally astonishing. As I read, I knew so many of these stories would be very well-received by my own class and would have them on the edge of their seats.

Once I had finished the book, I appreciated the importance of children having the opportunity to read about so many of the unsung heroes around the world that have defied the odds to perform incredible rescue operations. So many of the stories left me inspired and in awe of the people that had been at the centre of them.


Each story within the book is only a few pages long which makes this book so easy to read. This book would certainly appeal to fans of both fiction and non-fiction as the rescue missions are told in the form of short stories which immediately draw the reader in whilst at the same time encouraging a factual curiosity. From hair-raising plane crashes to tense last-minute mountain rescues, this book is full to the brim with dramatic and thrilling stories that will keep you gripped from start to finish.


Publisher: Faber

Publication date: October 2020


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3. Macbeth United

by Michael Rosen & Tony Ross

Reviewer: Jane Carter


The trials and tribulations of a football team are the rather unlikely setting for this retelling of the Shakespearian tale.


Rosen has cleverly transposed the elements and themes of Macbeth to a story that centres on an ambitious young football player. The book begins with a foul on the pitch by the player Macbeth and so the oft quoted line, ‘fair is foul, foul is fair’ from Shakespeare’s play comes to life as ‘fouls are fair’! Macbeth is not only a player who wants to succeed in the game and be scouted for a professional team but one who has a mother who encourages this ambitious streak, persuading Macbeth that he should use any means to realise his ambitions: Macbeth’s mother is the Lady Macbeth in this story. Rosen uses the names from the original play for the boys in the football team, with slight name twists, so we have Banksy (Banquo), Rossi (Ross), Dunk (Duncan) and many more. The witches also make an appearance in this retelling as three men appearing out of the mist on the common as Macbeth and Banksy walk to training. It is their prophecy that drives Macbeth to decide to oust the current captain and become the team captain himself and to get rid of any dissenters or boys who are not completely loyal to him along the way.


If you have children in your class who enjoy football and the ins and outs of football teams then this will be a book they enjoy without even knowing that it is a retelling of the classic play. As a teacher, you may decide to use this as a gateway text to the Shakespeare play or just to discuss and reflect on the themes of ambition, loyalty and guilt. Rosen’s engaging and easy style alongside Tony Ross’s illustrations make it an enjoyable read.


Publisher: Scholastic

Publication date: Sept 2020



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4. The Humans

By: Jonny Marx and Charlie Davis

Reviewer: Suzanne Booth

This truly stunning large format, hardback book takes us on a wonderous journey through the greatest achievements of our predecessors that have influenced our life and world today.


I really enjoyed how approaching the subject of human history in a chronological way means that alongside all the obvious civilisations that you may come across in separate primary school topics, there are many other and lesser known groups of people included all connected by the threads of history. It was a delight to read more information about those civilisations that are familiar, but I really enjoyed learning about civilisations whose history is much less familiar to me too. This carefully crafted balance certainly added to making this book more enjoyable to read.


Alongside this, every page is a pleasure to delve into, with visually appealing layouts, and expertly illustrated pages that explore a fascinating mix of ancient civilisations, extraordinary people and inventors. It was really useful to have a ‘Where in the World' picture to illustrate where the civilisations would have lived too.

This book would be a wonderful addition to a school library, to share in class, and to use to support teaching as part of a History lesson. I can also see it being used abstractly for English topics as a great non-fiction title as well. I found it inspiring and fascinating, collecting a plethora of facts and information that I am sure will equally inspire anyone that reads it. Highly recommended, not just to those interested in Ancient History and evolution, but I think it will alsoappeal to readers of all ages who want to take some time to learn something new.



Publisher: Little Tiger Press

Publication date: Sept 2020


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5. FISH

By Brendan Kearney

Reviewer: Nathan Wilcox


Fish is a beautifully illustrated debut picture book from Brendan Kearney that examines the problem of pollution within our seas. In it, Finn and his dog Skip set off on a fishing expedition to catch some fish for their dinner but despite their best efforts, they struggle to get a bite. Instead they discover that the sea is full of pollution rather than the fish they desire. On their way back home, they encounter a group of people cleaning up the beach; they explain to Finn and Skip the importance of reducing waste and how to recycle the vast amounts of plastic that is thrown away. What Finn and Skip quickly realise is, when everyone plays their part in cleaning up the environment, the seas can begin to thrive again.

With environmental issues being at the forefront of many people’s minds, this book provides an incredibly accessible and meaningful insight for children to connect with the subject. However, for me, this book’s engaging message goes hand in hand with the extremely high-quality illustrations which are so full of details; you could easily spend ages looking at them. Brendan Kearney’s style feels original and I know the illustrations would certainly be a hit with younger readers.


Fish has a lot of potential especially with regards to younger readers who may not have had much exposure to environmental issues regarding pollution and plastic waste. It would provide an ideal starting point for discussion and could encourage some fantastic conversations around the part we play in helping to make our world a cleaner place to live in.

Publisher: DK

Publication date: Sept 2020


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6. Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest

By Susan Brownrigg & Jenny Czerwonka

Reviewer: Claire Coates


Gracie Fairshaw and her family have barely moved into The Majestic, a Blackpool boarding house when Ma mysteriously vanishes. She teams up with her younger brother George, and befriends siblings Violet and Tom, and maid Phyllis. They must work out why one of the guests - a conman conjurer - has made Ma disappear!


Gracie Fairshaw is a delight to read and so well researched by the author, Susan Brownrigg, that you can vividly imagine the sights and smells of 1930s Blackpool on every page.


The main character, Gracie, is everything you’d expect in a hero; utterly courageous, headstrong and incredibly perceptive. Her disability is explained to the reader as ‘the thing that most folk first notice’ but it certainly doesn’t impact upon her investigational skills. For more on this aspect of the book, check out author Susan's guest booklist featuring children's book characters with limb difference.


The book is reminiscent of Famous Five adventures, in the period setting, the pace and sense of mystery and excitement throughout. If you are embarking on a topic about seaside holidays in the past then it would be a fantastic way to start the topic.


Publisher: UCLan

Publication date: July 2020


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7. Timelines from Black History: Leaders, Legends, Legacies

By Mireille Harper & Lauren Quinn

Reviewer: Esther Brown


Writer of the foreword, Mireille Harper, loved listening to the empowering stories of inspirational Black People that her mother told her growing up. But where are these people in most mainstream or school history books? Erased, ignored, forgotten, omitted?

This important book seeks to begin to redress the imbalance in written history, where very often, significant contributions by black men and women have been overlooked and marginalised.


Through vibrantly designed and graphically stunning double page timeline spreads, we learn about inspiring, powerful, talented and world changing figures such as Mansa Musa, Taytu Betul, Mary Seacole and Nelson Mandella. We meet inspirational black men and women from the fields of music, dance, engineering, mathematics, politics and sport, as well as Ancient African rulers and present day activists.

The journey of the US Civil Rights Movement is portrayed over several pages through the book - from those who spent their lives working to abolish slavery, through to Martin Luther King Junior and today’s activists who continue the fight for Black Lives Matter. We also learn how gifted writers such as Maya Angelou and Stormzy have used their creative voices to highlight injustice and inspire change.


We travel around the world – from African Empires, to the Caribbean, the USA and the UK - learning about the lives and values of these significant individuals. Each fascinating double page timeline is completely different in design, and through facts, quotes and images, marks key aspects of each person’s life story, shows their success and resilience in the face of adversity and demonstrates their enduring legacy.


The book is completely absorbing. Both myself and the children in my Year 5/6 class have been engrossed by the wealth of information it contains. There is so much to learn from reading it.


Publisher: DK

Publication date: October 2020


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8. Thank You

By Joseph Coelho & Sam Usher

Reviewer: Jane Rew


‘Inspirational’ is an over-used word, but this book is worthy of it because, in our hearts, we already know the transformative power of gratitude and that, like young Tatenda, we are perfectly capable of practising it. We don’t even have to imagine the positive effect it will have on our communities: the author and artist have superbly envisaged it for us. All we have to do is to notice the little blessings, the kindnesses, the service, the beauty in each day, and celebrate them. By doing so we will spread our own rainbow into an otherwise weary and downcast world, as Tatenda does in his.


This is a book which will bear many repetitions, not least because we are all apt to forget the power of those two small words, spoken out loud and intentionally: ‘Thank You’.


I notice with some pleasure that it’s the teachers, postal workers, shelf stackers, refuse collectors, nurses, doctors, bus drivers and builders who get a specific mention and are depicted (along with a judge) in Sam Usher’s lively illustrations, reflecting the diversity in society at large. This means that children too will have the pleasure of recognising people in their own lives who are key to our corporate wellbeing. They too can follow the example set by Tatenda and by these community heroes.


“Who could you say ‘thank you’ to today?” might be a question for all of us, including teachers when reading this book out loud to their class. I can see it stimulating discussion across the year groups and being particularly useful in Key Stage 1.


As for me, I shall make a point of thanking the children and young people who brighten so many of my days, just by being themselves.


Publisher: Frances Lincoln

Publication date: Sept 2020


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9. Molly Thompson and the Crypt of the Blue Moon

By Nick Tomlinson & Kim Geyer

Reviewer: Amy Cross-Menzies


Following on from ‘The Ghouls of Howlfair’, Molly Thompson and friends are back again to solve another spooky mystery and prevent the Dark Days returning to the old town of Howlfair.


Twelve year old Molly is a keen historian who knows all the myths, legends, and ghost stories of Howlfair. However, the general public are not as enamoured as Molly is with the ghoulish town, and consequently the guest house run by Molly’s mum (and also her home) is in danger of running out of funds. When ‘Country Wonders’ magazine decides to visit Howlfair to write an article, Molly sees her chance to save the guest house and put Howlfair on the map. Yet all is not as it seems, and Molly and her friends are drawn into a spine-tingling ghost adventure as they set out to solve a ghostly mystery and get the ‘Country Wonders’ reporters to write a positive review of the town.

There is plenty of humour and adventure in this book. As a ‘horror adventure’ it does have some scary bits, but nothing more gruesome than a ‘Horrible Histories’ book, and this is easily balanced out by how very funny it is. Almost every chapter seems to end on a note of suspense, making it hard to put down. This is a good book to demonstrate that girls are brave and resourceful, it also shows the importance of reading and research, and deals with different family set ups such as Molly being cared for by her Mum after her Dad has passed away, and her friend Carl’s life as an orphan.


Publisher: Walker

Publication date: October 2020


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10. Endangered Animals and How You Can Help

By Sam Hutchinson & Sarah Dennis

Reviewer: @123_Mr_D


The 'Search and Find' series by Sam Hutchinson and Sarah Dennis is turning into a lovely set and I hope to see more of them. This latest edition has a focus on endangered animals across several different habitats (rainforests, savannahs, oceans and so on). This book would slot neatly into a lot of Key Stage 2 science but would happily stand alone as a piece quality non-fiction as well. Like the others in the series, it is very visually appealing and easy to access, partly because of the layout.


The introduction sets out the importance of conservation, the problems faced and the possibility of hope for the future. The book follows the International Union for Conservation of Nature's "categories of risk" to create a spectrum of various animals at different threat levels for each habitat. There is a double-page spread for each habitat with details of the different animals at risk, the dangers and their causes. After this, there is another page focusing more on changes that we can all make to help prevent further loss or, ideally, reverse the trend. This is the "and how you can help" part, referenced in the title.

There is a lot to get excited - and angry - about in this book and animals are an ever-popular theme in primary schools. Schools are building in more and more work on conservation into their curricula (not just via science units) and this book could certainly be used in several ways to support this. Hopefully, books such as this one will help children learn more about how to help conserve our habitats and grow up in a world where they are less in peril.


Publisher: b small Publishing

Publication date: August 2020


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Thank you to the publishers of these titles for sending us copies of these texts to review and to our review panelists for reading and feeding back.


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