Recommended children's booklists sorted by age or topic

Home > Blog > What We’ve Been Reading: Picture Book & Illustrated Non-Fiction Round-Up

What We’ve Been Reading: Picture Book & Illustrated Non-Fiction Round-Up

Every month our panel of reviewers reads a selection of children’s books and tells us what they think. Our Review Panel includes teachers, librarians, education consultants, headteachers, teaching assistants and education lecturers, and this week they have been telling us about the newly published picture books and illustrated non-fiction that have caught their attention over the last several months…


1. Anita and the Dragons

by Hannah Carmona & Anna Cunha

Reviewer: Esther Brown

Anita loves the small, beautiful village in the Dominican Republic where she lives. She spends her days exploring the island, imagining herself as a valiant, brave princessa as she watches the ‘dragons’ (aeroplanes) fly overhead.

One day she finds that she must say goodbye to her beloved Abuela and her treasured island and travel with her family to a new home far away. As she walks into the unknown and to new adventures, she needs all the courage she can muster to come face to face with, and ride inside the dragon herself.


The descriptive language and use of metaphor in this story is stunning, as are the beautiful illustrations in muted pastel shades. Young children will really engage with Anita, her imagination and her love of home in this gentle story of courage and moving on. This is a story of leaving the place you call home, facing your fears and embarking on new adventures. It is a great book for a class or PHSCE collection and for helping teach empathy. It would also be a lovely one to read with new pupils or those moving away. It is best suited to KS1 but also a great one to share with Year 6 before they leave to face ‘the dragon’ that is High School!


Publisher: Lantana

Publication date: March 2021


> Buy on Amazon

> Buy on Bookshop


See Anita and the Dragons on our Recommended Reads for Y1 Booklist


2. A Song of Gladness

By Michael Morpurgo & Emily Gravett

Reviewer: Hayley Warner

A Song of Gladness is a special book written by Michael Morpurgo, with beautiful illustrations from Emily Gravett. The song of gladness was also inspired by Morpurgo’s short story used in ‘The Book of Hopes’ – a collection from authors and illustrators created during lockdown last year.


The story is told through a blackbird’s song that is shared worldwide. From the deep sea where the fish, turtles and whales lie, to the rainforests full of gorillas and chimpanzees, all the animals around the world join in with the blackbird’s song to not only raise spirits, but to remind us all to look after our planet and care for one another when times are hard. Morpurgo really brings the characteristics of each animal to life through his choice of vocabulary – as the reader you really believe that they are moving and singing the song.


Children are bound to be enthused by Emily Gravett’s illustrations, which help to tell the story perfectly. There are so many wonderful animals found around the world that are included in the story and much time could be spent on each page studying the detail. I really liked the fact the Gravett chose to include musical notation that flows through every page – this was a pleasing touch to show that the blackbird’s song really was being sung around the world.


Furthermore, on the very last page, which is not part of the story, the book references Morpurgo’s memories of the March 2020 lockdown. He also shares that the blackbird in the story is a real blackbird that continues to visit his garden to this very day and sing a very real tune.


This book is a real delight that could be shared as a class story, a text to inspire writing or even in a whole school assembly.


Publisher: Two Hoots

Publication date: April 2021


> Buy on Amazon

> Buy on Bookshop


3. Queens

by Victoria Crossman

Reviewer: Claire Coates


The glorious portrait of Cleopatra on the golden, red and turquoise cover of Queens sets the reader up for an exhilarating tour through history which centres on female leaders who have achieved worldwide fame (and occasionally infamy!).


The book is set out within a broad timeline, starting with the queens of the ancient world and ending with Queen Elizabeth II. Within each period of history, a selection of queens are investigated through beautifully illustrated double page spreads. The short sections dedicated to a specific aspect of a queen’s life (from transport to fashion) enable the reader to draw out points of similarity and contrast across the diverse group. The section on royal shoes just perfectly shows the luxurious lives that many queens lived.


My 8 year old daughter spent hours leafing through the book; captivated by warrior queens Boudicca and Raki Lakshmibai, inspired by brave Queen Tamar and the fearless Queen Nanny.

There is so much to enjoy within the book and it would be a perfect companion to so many historical and geographical topics; the queens within the book are so varied in terms of their geographical locations and time in history.


The section titled ‘The British Empire’ is also a useful starting point for conversations around issues of equality, human rights and diversity. Ideal for lower and upper Key Stage Two, Queens would be a perfect book for any classroom bookshelf.


Publisher: Scholastic

Publication date: November 2020


> Buy on Amazon

> Buy on Bookshop


4. I am Every Good Thing

By: Derrick Barnes & Gordon C. James

Reviewer: Esther Brown

I Am Every Good Thing is a stunning song of celebration for black boys everywhere.


Validating, affirming and hopeful, it shares all the ways in which they are special – as a family member, friend and as an individual.

It shows their confidence, curiosity, ambition, kindness, resilience, creativity, energy and fun. It also touches on the fear they feel when racist words and actions are directed at them and how to face these with integrity and courage. It looks back with pride to their ancestors and the black activists who have, and still, fight injustice; and it looks to the future and possibility awaiting each child reading it – showing their potential to be leaders, scientists, creatives and to make a difference in whatever they choose to do.


I am Every Good Thing will provide an important springboard for meaningful conversations about racism, racist experiences, stereotypes and building white ally-ship in the classroom. This is a book I would recommend for all school libraries. A perfect windows and mirrors text and an ode to childhood and possibility that is perfect for every age.


The poetic text is beautiful to read and filled with stunning metaphors and mini mantras. The vibrant, expressive illustrations seem to come alive on the page, they bring the words to life and are both poignant and joyful in equal measure.


Publisher: Farshore

Publication date: February 2021


> Buy on Amazon

> Buy on Bookshop


5. Invented By Animals

By Christiane Dorian & Gosia Herba

Reviewer: @123_Mr_D


For as long as technology has been invented by humans, we have looked to the natural world for inspiration and guidance. This book selects an eclectic mix of wonderful examples of animals leading the way. Sometimes the double-page spreads are on a theme such as “Mighty Recyclers” or “The Art of Flying” but more often a single animal is the star – such as a slug, penguin or jellyfish.

From bats inspiring humans to invent radar detection to shark skin being mimicked for swimsuits and submarine coatings, this book is a real celebration of animals often being steps ahead of humans when it comes to technology. It is written in the first person, from the animals’ point of view as they patiently explain how helpful they have been to humans and how much more we still have to learn. For example, looking to the future, the earwig tells us how its wings are being investigated for their incredible properties, which could help design new space probes. This style of writing is an engaging twist on non-fiction texts about animals.


The bright, playful artwork does a great job of capturing the imagination and complementing the written words. There is a gentle humour in the way each creature is presented as a personal guide to their own intriguing bit of technology. They are frequently placed in a human-looking environment in order to showcase the applications of their “inventions”. For example, the porcupine is shown as a doctor. It explains how its quills are being studied to try and make improvements to the staples used to close wounds after surgery.

This book would be great for looking at animal adaptations and for the many science units linked to living things and habitats. It would also make a good book to dip into during Design and Technology in order to see how nature has overcome various problems — such as the woodpecker’s head absorbing impact. This is another great non-fiction book from Wide Eyed which is fascinating in its own right but is also full of potential for curriculum work.

Publisher: Wide Eyed Editions

Publication date: April 2021


> Buy on Amazon

> Buy on Bookshop


See Invented By Animals on our Recommended Reads for Y5 Booklist


6. The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons

By Natascha Biebow & Steven Salerno

Reviewer: Kathryn Gilbert


The Crayon Man tells the true story of an inventor who so loved natures’ vibrant colours that he found a way to bring the outside world to children.

The first part of the text describes the various inventions of Edwin Binney. He invented an inexpensive slate pencil that wrote smoothly in grey, a chalk that was not dusty or crumbled in white and he also invented a wax crayon in black. Edwin’s wife, an ex-schoolteacher, knew that children needed better crayons and encouraged Edwin to invent them. The story describes the variety of different experiments that Edwin and his team undertook before creating the right mix of ingredients for Crayola crayons.


After the biographical tale of Binney’s life, there are other aspects of the book to explore. There is a double-page spread explaining how Crayola crayons are made today. This is a good example of an explanation text for LKS2 children. There is a brief formal biography of Binney’s life and a bibliography to link to the information shared in the book.

The book is a well-rounded information text using a range of genres to explore the topic. Although there are some Americanisms in the writing, it is an easily accessible book with some lovely illustrations.


Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publication date: March 2021


> Buy on Amazon

> Buy on Bookshop


See author Natascha Biebow’s guest booklist featuring her top 5 children’s books about art and creativity


7. Sadie and the Sea Dogs

By Maureen Duffy & Anita Joice

Reviewer: Jane Carter


If you like sea adventures; stories where a child falls asleep and wakes in another time and place and stories told in rhyme, then this is the book for you!


The story begins with a girl, Sadie who, following her visit to the Greenwich Maritime Museum, becomes obsessed by sailing and sea adventures from the past. When her mother tells her she is going to go and stay with her aunt, she decides to visit the museum one more time before she has to leave London. She falls asleep underneath an exhibit only to find that when she wakes up, she is confronted by a number of old ship ‘figureheads’ who have come to life and they tell her that she must now sail away with them to find treasure to bring back to London.


The story is full of technical vocabulary, such as ‘yardarm’ and ‘ebb tide’ – all identified in a larger font which directs the reader to check the helpful glossary at the back. Each of the figureheads is a famous person from either the ancient mythical world or a real-life hero from the past, such as Boadicea and Ajax. In the classroom, these would be great opportunities to learn more about each of these characters. The ship takes our heroine to the Caribbean Island of Tortuga to recover treasure. The journey also takes Sadie past sea creatures and mermaids and these characters help to recover the buried treasure which is at the bottom of the ocean. Sadie is rescued by dolphins when she falls into the sea and is chased by pirates who also want the treasure, but all things turn out well and she is returned home safely.


The story is illustrated with colourful pictures, some of which are made to look like a child’s drawing and others beautifully illustrate the unfolding story. This helps the reader to continue to ponder whether the events are just a child’s dream or something more. The very last pages keep us guessing; when Sadie finally returns home she hears that an unknown donor has given the Greenwich Maritime Museum a huge donation – ‘a hoard of gold and jewels’ not unlike the treasure Sadie and the figureheads found on their trip!


Publisher: Hikari Press

Publication date: March 2021


> Buy on Amazon

> Buy on Bookshop


8. The King with Dirty Feet

By Sally Pomme Clayton & Rhiannon Sanderson

Reviewer: Chris Whitney


This new picture book, The King with Dirty Feet, is inspired by an Indian and Bangladeshi folktale called The King and the Cobbler. It is a story of the invention of shoes, designed for an Indian king who has a problem keeping his feet clean. It is a retelling; perfect to read aloud to young children and is accompanied by vibrant illustrations full of traditional colour and detail which transport us to another culture and the explanation of how the first shoes came to be.


The King has a problem – he smells! He hasn’t had a bath in a whole year and when the smell becomes too much for even himself, he decides to have a bath! But unfortunately, no matter how clean the rest of him is, his feet remain dirty. The King sets his servant Gabu the task of ridding the land of dirt and dust in three days. So Gabu begins to clean up the kingdom but that in itself causes problems. Firstly, the people sweep away all the dirt, but the air becomes filled with dust. Secondly, the dust gets washed away but the land is flooded with water. Finally, everyone works together to produce an enormous tapestry to cover the whole kingdom. However, one little old man points out, “There will be no grass or flowers. The animals will be hungry. There will be no fruit or vegetables to eat.” Thankfully, he has an answer. He takes a pair of scissors from his pocket and proceeds to make the first ever pair of shoes. The King can now walk anywhere and the grass will continue to grow.


The story is written with repetition and uses onomatopoeic words such as ‘Zut’ together with action verbs, bold font and capitalisation. These devices make this retelling a great book for oral story telling. It deserves to be read aloud! Children will love to follow the monkey character who appears throughout the book, helping Gabu with his tasks.


This book would be an excellent introduction to traditional tales in Key Stage 1.


Publisher: Otter Barry Books

Publication date: January 2021


> Buy on Amazon

> Buy on Bookshop


9. Just Like Me

By Louise Gooding, Angel Chang, Caterina delli Carri, Cathy Hookey and Melissa Iwai

Reviewer: Marion Park

Just Like Me is a selection of short stories about real people who have succeeded in various ways – sometimes in making a difference, sometimes just in exceeding other’s expectations and always by living a life with determination and resilience. The book contains stories of 40 neurologically and physically diverse people with inspirational stories.


Golding has produced a book that makes you stop and think “I never knew that!” about a person or a condition, as well as being inspired by the stories to keep striving towards personal goals – creating the perfect mix of being informative while also succeeding in being entertaining and inspiring. The selection includes a good sprinkling of well-known faces and stories mixed with many that you possibly won’t have heard of before. Each story gives an overview of the individual’s life, focusing on their challenges and their successes then gives a brief explanation of their condition.

This book makes for a marvellous source of information and a starting point for discussions about inclusion, prejudice and resilience as well as being a good framework for biographical written work. Most of all, the book reinforces the message that we are all different, but that is what makes us so special and that we can achieve incredible things when we persevere.


Publisher: Templar

Publication date: March 2021


> Buy on Amazon

> Buy on Bookshop


See Just Like Me on our list of Diverse & Inclusive Books for Upper KS2.


10. Shu Lin’s Grandpa

By Matt Goodfellow & Yu Rong

Reviewer: @123_Mr_D


Shu Lin does not speak much English and some of her food seems unusual to her classmates. Some of her class are more welcoming than others. They try to involve her – but find the cultural and linguistic differences get in the way at first.


The story is told by a classmate who tries to empathise with Sh Lin and give support to settle in. Another classmate is less kind and thoughtful, and this would give a teacher the opportunity to address these viewpoints and have discussions with a class about inclusion. Wisely, Shu Lin’s teacher in the book invites her grandpa into school to show his stunning artwork. The international language of art allows him (and Shu Lin) to communicate without the need for words and even the unkind classmate learns a lot more about Shu Lin. This provides a beautiful testimony to the transformative power of art in developing cultural understanding and building shared empathy.


Shu Lin’s Grandpa is perfect for use with a new starter to your class, particularly if they speak English as an additional language. It would also be a great story to support work on empathy and inclusion, whether or not there is a new starter at school. The artwork in the book is fitted carefully around the text and brings it to life – the star piece being a beautiful double-gatefold picture by grandpa. The illustration provides a good opportunity to look at this style of oriental art and have a go in school, as well as a chance to discuss celebrating difference, sharing heritage and welcoming others.


Publisher: Otter Barry Books

Publication date: April 2021


> Buy on Amazon

> Buy on Bookshop


See Shu Lin’s Grandpa on our list of Diverse & Inclusive Books for EYFS.



Thank you to the publishers of these titles for sending us copies of these books and to our Review Panelists for reading and reviewing.


Where next?

> Visit our Reading for Pleasure Hub

> Browse our Topic Booklists

> See our Books of the Month.

> View our NEWLY UPDATED Year Group booklists

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your Review

Stone Girl Bone Girl


Year group(s) the book is most suitable for:

Year group(s) the book is most suitable for:

Does the book contain anything that teachers would wish to know about before recommending in class (strong language, sensitive topics etc.)?

Does the book contain anything that teachers would wish to know about before recommending in class (strong language, sensitive topics etc.)?

Would you recommend the book for use in primary schools?


Curriculum links (if relevant)

Curriculum links (if relevant)

Any other comments

Any other comments