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What a luminously life-enhancing read this is. The story of ADHD afflicted underdog Felix, who “can’t concentrate or keep still”. His East German Granddad now (embarrassingly) drives the pink car that used to belong to his deceased Grandma, whose death has hit them all hard. Felix and Granddad’s grief is laid bare with heart-wrenching authenticity, but theirs is a complex relationship: “I love my granddad and I think he loves me, but sometimes it’s hard to tell.” After an altercation, Felix and Granddad forge an understanding, and look forward to a “neuangfang” (new start) that begins with a list of “Ten things I’d like to teach Felix”. Unfortunately, in Felix’s eyes Granddad’s list comprises the “ten more boring things in the world”, but Felix works through it until only the most dreaded activity remains - playing chess. He tries to wriggle out of it, but “crafty” Granddad has been surreptitiously teaching Felix chess skills and he’s soon hooked by the game, with unexpected positive side effects. A thrilling team tournament is followed waves of pulse-quickening twists that will thrust readers to the edge of their seats, heart in mouth. Throughout, the rollercoaster ride of primary school life - fallings out, friendship, fear of not fitting in - is explored in all its intense and comic complexity, and the representation of working class realisms is spot-on too. Felix’s mum and dad have both been “working stacks since Dad’s plumbing business went bust last year”. But, best of all, the magic of the relationship between children and their grandparents is dazzlingly conjured. I adored it.
Rob and Maegan both have a whole lot on their plates. Rob’s rich dad attempted suicide after he was caught embezzling their community and he’s now severely disabled, unable to speak or do anything for himself. Until eight months ago, “Everyone wanted to be me,” but now Rob’s an outcast, tainted by his father’s fraud, which is something Maegan also knows a thing or two about. Previously an academic overachiever, pressures led her to cheat in last year’s exams, which in turn led to hundreds of her peers’ marks being invalidated. Connected by a Calculus project and their dads (Maegan’s cop father was first on the scene when Rob’s dad shot himself), the two outcasts strike up an unlikely friendship, and more. Alongside their romance and the gripping twists, I loved the moving camaraderie between Rob and Owen, whose single mom was thrown into crippling financial hardship by Rob’s dad. For a book that packs-in plenty of big issues, it’s also an entertaining page-turner - the perfect YA package with the overriding messages that “one mistake doesn’t define you”, and “one choice doesn’t determine your whole future.”
Three young friends set out on a summer road trip, each one carrying secrets and sorrows. Squashed into a battered old car, fuelled by warm beer and pub pies, they bicker and tease, with the ease that only comes from deep familiarity. We know even as they set out that they will never make another trip like this, that it’s the closing moment to one part of their lives. Filled with the sense of hot, dusty days, the lull between end and beginning, this is a classic summertime novel. More than just a coming-of-age story, it perfectly captures a transformative moment in the lives of its three central characters, and turns it into something that rings true for us all.
Optimist and aspiring actress Willa is the privileged daughter of separated actor parents. Her plans to spend summer in London are scuppered when her parents decide to ship her off to rural Italy to stay with an aunt she’s never met, which is what brings her to LA airport and into contact with Alice... Glass-half-empty-Alice has lost her mum and her marine biologist dad is sending her to stay with his new girlfriend in London, the prospect of which fills her with horror. When the girls meet in the airport lounge, they’re envious of each other’s summers. Alice would love to visit Italy to fulfill a dream of her mum’s, while Willa is desperate to attend a London theatre course. While Willa and Alice live worlds apart, they look remarkably alike and so they switch identities to experience a summer holiday like no other. With slip-ups and suspicions aroused from the off, the fast-paced escapist action escalates into a flurry of comic capers and cute crushes, plus there are plenty of heart-melting moments too. Alice gets to visit the worry-purging waterfall her mum never saw, while Willa reassesses her ambitions, and both find new friendships.
June 2019 Book of the Month | Award-winning Carl Hiaasen has a rare gift for telling very entertaining stories which combine great adventures which have a strong ecological message with touching family stories which tell what really matters in relationships between parents and children. In Squirm, Billy Dickens, a lover of snakes in his home in Florida and a passionate watcher of bald eagles too, takes off to Montana to find his Dad who moved out when he was only small. In a completely new landscape with big mountains and dangerous animals such a grizzly bears, Billy finds his dad’s new family and eventually tracks down his dad who is permanently on some secret trek or another. When the two finally meet, Billy discovers that the mystery surrounding his dad is rooted not in something sinister but in their shared determination to protect animals in the wild. Full of danger, the battle to keep the animals safe is a fast-paced one making this a thrilling read as well as a heart-warming story.
June 2019 Book of the Month, A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month June 2019 | The opportunities the suffragette movement offered for bright girls like Daisy, the twelve year old star of this exciting and award-winning story, is brilliantly capture in a book that is full of bustle and energy and danger. Growing up in cramped conditions in the East End of London Daisy’s life is hard. When she’s not at school where she is always in trouble for being too smart, she helps her mum with her younger sister and baby twin brothers. But Daisy has always had dreams of a brighter future: she knows that when she grows up she wants to become a nurse like the great Florence Nightingale. But Daisy is watching her own mother have little chance of doing what she really wants so what chance will she have since she is just a girl? When Daisy meets the suffragettes everything changes. It is scary to think what she would have to give up but Daisy is prepared to do anything to enjoy the new kind of freedom they are offering. Barbara Mitchelhill is skilfully at bringing this important and fascinating moment to life.
June 2019 Book of the Month | Border Guards and suspicion keep the inhabitants trapped on a nameless island surrounded by a supposedly poisoned sea and scraping an existence from the land. Bonnie lives with her Granda, who is growing increasingly frail. Bonnie has no patience for what passes as education, although such rule breaking is punishable. When she discovers, first a boat, and then the injured boy who arrived in it, she hides both, which is even more dangerous because any contact with outsiders is unheard of. Her mother left by sea when Bonnie was a baby. Could this be Bonnie’s route to freedom? But she has both the boy and her beloved Granda to worry about and the mystery of her mother to solve and the Guards on her trail. This is a thrilling read, a truly heart-stopping adventure which has no need to labour the details of the dystopian society in which it is set. The setting is so vividly realised and the nuances of the relationships are so movingly portrayed that the reader is absolutely in the moment with Bonnie. A beautifully written book with a powerful but ultimately hopeful message.
June 2019 Book of the Month | This beautifully observed story will resonate with children and adults alike and will repay reading over and over. Mia and Ben are best friends – the joy of their relationship perfectly depicted in Richard Jones’s illustrations which are full of the details of children’s lives but with a richness of colour and texture and composition that heightens the emotions. Everything changes when the sort of domestic tragedy familiar to lots of children happens – Ben’s family move away. At first the two are lonely and sad, but the story shows that their friendship still connects them and always will. Powerful feelings are expressed delicately and poignantly through words and pictures and this is an outstanding picture book.
We’re used to the Little Princess behaving badly, but this new story shows a different side to her, and is surprisingly tender. She’s proud of her dad, the king, but still wishes he could do things the other dads in the palace can, and, for example, teach her to ride and cook, and swim. Her maid takes it upon herself to instruct her little mistress in these things, but things don’t go well. Feeling fed up and a failure, there’s only one person the Little Princess wants, only one person who can make her smile again … The illustrations have the boundless energy that is the hallmark of Tony Ross, but are also full of warmth and affection.
June 2019 Debut of the Month | Shortlisted for the Klaus Flugge Prize 2019 | In this wonderfully warm role reversal story a little girl assigns herself the role of parent and spends a day ‘looking after’ her daddy. She makes sure he’s up early, that he gets lots of exercise and keeps a watchful eye on him in the supermarket. The pictures tell a quite different story to the text though and it’s clear who’s really in charge. What’s also clear is just how much fun the two have together and how much love there Is between them. The illustrations are realistic and full of tenderness. This is Eve Coy’s first picture book and she is very talented. The Klaus Flugge Judges said: the images tell their own stories; really good interplay between text and illustration; I smiled all the way through.
Following their adventures in The Battle of the Blighty Bling, the McScurvy children are back where they belong on their pirate ship Sixpoint Sally. But not for long: as they prepare to enter the famous Hornswaggle Boat Race their nemesis, Captain Guillemot, aka the vainest pirate on the south coast, steals their ship from right under their noses, and with their parents on board to boot. They can’t let him get away with that, and with the help of their friends Arabella and George, go all out to get the boat and their parents back – and win the race in the process. It’s another fast-paced comic adventure and any right-minded child will love the McScurvy’s can-do attitude, not to mention their wilful disregard of rules and good behaviour.
May 2019 Book of the Month | Another insightful and compassionate free verse novel from the queen of this increasingly admired form, this time exploring the transformative relationship between an abused runaway teenager and an elderly lady with dementia. Allison has grown up “stepping on eggshells” to circumvent her father’s violence. While she often wonders whether his behaviour was “all my fault”, one of his outbursts compels her to run away. With nowhere to go, she finds sanctuary in the house of an elderly woman called Marla. Marla has dementia and thinks Allison is Toffee, her best friend from childhood. After spending some time in Marla’s company, Allison decides to “stop correcting her… I like the idea of being sweet and hard, a girl with a name for people to chew on.” Moreover, in meeting Marla, Allison has found an unlikely kindred spirit: “I am not who I say I am. Marla isn’t who she thinks she is… Here, in this house, I am so much happier than I have ever been”. Returning the favour, Allison enriches Marla’s life – she listens, she indulges Marla’s desire to dance - while Marla’s carer and son show no real regard for her happiness, as if she’s beyond life, which makes Allison’s attentiveness all the more heart warming. Both vulnerable, they find strength through each other. With incredibly moving insight, Marla says of Allison’s dad, “none of it was about you. It was about him. It’s always about him. Surely you know that.” The writing is compellingly fluid, flowing freely between Allison’s precarious present and the tragic, abusive circumstances that sent her careering down this path. While fleeting, the impact of their time together is monumental, and I felt privileged to have spent time in their company.