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The books in this section cover a range of PSHE topics including family issues, grief and books that can help children come to terms with the loss of a friend or family member. There are both fiction and non-fiction titles and cover age ranges from Toddler to Older Teen.
So beautiful, so powerfully moving, the ever-inventive Laura Dockrill has done it again with The Dream House - an incredibly honest, child-centred story about a boy’s struggle with terrible grief (and guilt) after losing his dad. Beautifully presented with Gwen Millward’s soft, evocative, powerful illustrations - including Rex’s sketchbook drawings that provide poignant insights to his pain - this has all the marks of a future classic. Rex doesn’t talk much now his dad’s gone, and he’s gone to stay with his godfather Sparky, his dad’s best friend since childhood - “Mum said it would be good for me here; Sparky would take care of me so I could get some peace and ‘feel better’. To give her space while she dealt with what needed to be dealt with. But it was also because she couldn’t deal with me.” Rex is worried because drawing “doesn’t make me feel good like it used to”. Nothing is the same, and he’s terrified of returning to the Dream House, a magical place created just for him. A magical place that’s filled with his dad. But little by little, with Sparky’s sensitive support (what a guy; his tenderness is sublime), and after talking to the boy next door, Rex is able to return to the Dream House, able to begin his long journey back to the world, to a life without Dad, but a world in which Dad is remembered and cherished, in the soothing knowledge that he doesn’t have to carry the heavy burden of grief alone.
At once a page-turning adventure set in the Californian wilderness, and an inspiring call to action for young environmentalists, Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Paradise on Fire teems with real-life issues (grief, racism, climate change and social inequalities) and emotional wisdom. Following the death of her parents in a fire, the novel’s endearing heroine, Addy, is being raised in the Bronx by her beloved Nigerian grandmother. From the outset, Addy’s grief is tangibly evoked - “Being an orphan is like being a crusted-over scab. Leave me alone. Don’t touch.” Similarly, though we never meet her directly, Addy’s grandmother feels ever-present, like a firm and loving hug that inspires confidence. “To know yourself, you need to journey, Adaugo. Remember what’s forgotten” - such advice echoes through the novel, spurring Addy to handle the most perilous of circumstances. This summer, Addy’s grandma has enrolled her on a wilderness program, which she joins with five other kids of colour for a few weeks of camping, climbing and hiking in the Californian wilderness. Usually insular, Addy flourishes at camp - her sharp mind, spatial awareness and keen cartographer’s eye come into their own here. Then, when fire strikes the forest, it falls to Addy to not only face her greatest fear, but to save her fellow campers from certain death. Gripping to the end, and underpinned by potent messages about climate change and the joys of connecting with nature, Paradise on Fire explores literal and metaphoric survival with heartfelt gusto and a mythological vibe courtesy of Addy’s name (which means “of the air. Far-seeing. Watchful”) and connection to eagles.
Underpinned by a young girl’s grief, loneliness and struggle to find peace, Sarah J. Dodd’s Keeper of Secrets is a moving, drama-driven story of nature, friendship and conservation. Eleven-year-old Emily lost her mum fairly recently and both she and her dad are struggling without her. Dad is often short-tempered and distracted, while Emily feels alone, unable to talk to anyone about how she feels. While her vet dad has a new job in a new village to keep him busy, Emily knows no one, and the place is alien to her too, not least when she discovers that lynxes roam the fields around their new home, Badger Cottage. It turns out that the villagers are deeply divided about the wild animals - conservationists believe it’s right they are rewilded in the woods, while local farmers see them as a threat. As Emily makes friends with the children who live on a neighbouring farm, she finds herself in the middle of this conflict when she forms a deep (and secret) connection with a lynx cub that’s lost its mother. Brimming with empathy, and likely to spark interesting debates around rewilding and conservation, this page-turner will chime with readers who are interested in nature and wildlife, and with those who’ve felt loss or loneliness. The novel’s overriding sense of hope is perhaps best encapsulated by this moving conversation between Emily and a new neighbour: “‘There are some things that can never be made right,’ Josie said, softly, ‘but I’ve found that when life takes something away, it also gives something new.’ ‘It’s not the same.’ Emily’s voice was croaky. ‘No. Not the same. Definitely different. But that doesn’t mean it can’t still be something good.’”
Find Strength, Stay Hopeful and Get to Grips With Grief | Julia Stokes has been supporting children and young people experiencing the grief of bereavement for many years and uses all that she’s has learned in this wise, accessible and practical book. She’s honest about how difficult it is to get to grips with grief but reassuringly clear too that her readers will be okay one day, encouraging them to look forward. Her book provides advice on how to develop ‘grief muscles’ to make coping easier, and she includes exercises that will provide real support, alongsid real-life examples that will make readers understand they’re not alone. Her style is gentle yet firm and focussed, the tone that of a caring friend who knows exactly what to say and do. A book that should prove invaluable to young people who have lost someone they loved.
August 2021 Book of the Month | Life in a small Tennessee town is not easy. Cash lost his mother to an opioid addiction and his Papaw is dying slowly from emphysema. Dodging drug dealers and watching out for his smart but troubled best friend, Delaney, is second nature to Cash. But when Delaney manages to secure both of them full scholarships to an elite school in Connecticut, Cash will have to grapple with his need to protect and love Delaney, and his fears about abandoning his old life.
August 2021 Book of the Month | Edie is still grieving for her mother, killed a year earlier in a horrible accident, when she discovers a secret note her mother left for her. It states that the ‘accident’ was anything but, and that this is the first in a trail of clues she has left for her daughter, explaining what it was she was investigating, and why it got her killed. The tension heightens as Edie solves the clues, putting herself in more and more danger. The people who arranged her mother’s murder are utterly ruthless while Edie has very few she can turn to for help. Anthony Kessel handles plot and character well and this DIY detective story will appeal to fans of Holly Jackson and Sophie McKenzie. NB, there’s one particularly violent scene that some readers might find upsetting.
August 2021 Book of the Month | What a diamond of a thriller this is - a genuine page-turner that snakes with twists readers genuinely won’t see coming. Who to trust? Who to believe? Sophie McKenzie has struck gold with her latest page-turner. Fourteen-year-old Cat is having a hard time of it, to put it mildly. She’s lost her father, her little sister doesn’t speak, and her mum, a former TV astrology celebrity, is more interested in her work than anything Cat says or does. But after receiving a bolt-from-the-blue text alleging that her dad is alive, Cat throws herself into trying to tracking him down, with the help of a newfound friend, handsome Tyler, the first person she’s been able to open up to for an absolute age. A search for a dad becomes a search for a priceless diamond, which in turn becomes a search for the truth - and then a struggle to understand that truth. Driven by Cat’s endearingly determined, courageous personality, this read-in-one-sitting thriller has family and friendship bonds at its fast-beating heart. Find out more about Hide and Secrets as we chat with Sophie McKenzie, our Author of the Month.
When she was younger, Ellie used to love watching the hares leap and play on the common with her mum. But with every year that goes by since she lost her mum, it's getting harder for Ellie to remember her and those happy memories. Until one day on the way home from school, Ellie finds an injured hare on the path. The poor animal looks so scared, she has to do something to help. Nursing the hare back to health will be a big responsibility, but it might just be Ellie's chance to feel close to her mum again...
Prize-winning Patrick Ness displays brilliant new skills of sensitivity in this hauntingly touching story of how a boy deals with the looming threat of his mother’s death from cancer. Haunted by a monster in his dreams, denied much information by his family and treated as a weirdo by his class mates and a ‘special case’ by his teachers, Conor struggles to get to grips with the devastating emotions which threaten to overwhelm him. How he finds the courage and strength to face the end when it happens is both utterly shattering and deeply satisfying. Costa Award winner Patrick Ness spins a tale from the final idea of much-loved Carnegie Medal winner Siobhan Dowd, whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself.
May 2021 Debut of the Month | There are two central characters in Roderick O Grady’s book, and we see the story through their eyes, the same incidents from their different perspectives. One of these is Minnie, who has recently lost her mother and is struggling to reset her relationship with Dan, her mother’s partner. The other is Kaayii, a young Sasquatch, or Yeti or Bigfoot as they’re often known. Kaayii and his family have been forced into close proximity with Minnie and her neighbours due to forest fires and he too is trying to find a new way to live. Their stories combine and Minnie is able to learn new ways of being from her (enormous) friend and protector while Kaayii finds peace too. The setting for the story is the wild forests and mountains of North America and they’re beautifully described, an exhilarating breath of fresh air for UK readers, and the relationship between Minnie and Kaayii is full of the compassion, shared understanding and awareness of nature that characterises the best of these kind of stories (think The Butterfly Lion or The Scarlet Ibis). A story full of heart and wonder.
Matthew Cordell’s new picture book is outstanding, an exploration of grief, loss and recovery, that will touch readers of all ages. A few wordless spreads show all that Charlie the dog meant to Louise, and how sad she is that he’s died. Rowing out to an island in the lake next to their home, Louise encounters a bear, and recognises in it a familiar sadness. After a rocky start, the two become friends and days become better, for both. As time passes, the pain of grief fades and the island changes too, illustrations moving imperceptibly from sepia into colour. When winter arrives, the bear hibernates and Louise is furious again at the unfairness that means things we love must end, before realising that sometimes the end is a beginning. The story could end there with the arrival of a new puppy, but there are a couple of pages of postscript. Louise rows back out to the island with her puppy, but now there’s no sign of the bear – did he ever exist at all? The story is beautifully told with not a word or image out of place, an adventure full of bravery and truth that every child should read.
From the agonising loneliness of grief, to the wonders of new friendships and a newfound father-son bond, Cath Howe’s How to be Me will stir readers to joy as it steers through Lucas’s profound sadness. His pitch-perfect narration is sublimely child-centred, with fine details that raise smiles and tug the heart. Tender and thoughtful, what a warm beam of a book this is, with the transformative, restorative power of music (and cats) threaded throughout. “Vanessa’s going to be your new mum, Lukie. You could at least look a bit excited about it.” Lucas’s dad’s words strike him to the core - his mum died three years ago, and Vanessa is nothing like her, while his wealthy banker dad is hardly ever around. Dad is a bluster of confidence, busyness, and quick fixes, which is why he sends Lucas to drama club - Dad thinks this will fix Lucas’s reluctance to speak up in public, but Lucas is horrified: “Why hadn’t Dad asked me? Why did he never ask me?” But that’s the thing about Dad - he always thinks he knows best, though he doesn’t know Lucas at all. Thankfully, the horrors of drama class shrink when Lucas befriends Keely and her beautiful, bighearted family. Keely is a delight - straight-talking, observant, funny, caring. Life also looks up also when his drama teacher realises he’s an incredible pianist. With an enthralling finale that builds in beautiful waves, and an inclusive, readable style, I adored every word of this treasure.