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The stories and novels in this section cover a range of themes from family issues to mystery adventures. You can find stories about the relationships between grandparents and grandchildren, to sibling rivalry and blended families, suitable for the smallest children up to young adults.
The Silent Stars Go By is a riveting read-in-one-sitting experience driven by compelling characters who leap off the page, not least the young woman at its heart, an unmarried secretarial student who’s forced to give up her baby during WWI. The novel is also underpinned by a superb sense of social history, with evocative details of post-war village life nestling within the bigger story, and - as might be expected of the author of Things a Bright Girl Can Do - it’s threaded with feminist themes. It’s 1919, Christmas is on the horizon and two years have passed since nineteen-year-old Margot was forced to give up her baby for her parents to raise as their own. She was only fifteen when she and Harry fell madly in love ahead of him being called up. The magic of their time together is evoked in all its tingling passion, contrasting with Margot’s present-day torments. It hurts when little James calls her mother “Mummy”, and she doesn’t know how she can continue to keep James a secret from Harry, who’s returned to the village after recuperating on the Isle of Wight. The flashbacks to Margot’s time on the maternity ward are particularly poignant and, of course, the reason she has to endure this unbearable situation is due to the fact that she lives in a world in which “the girl is the one whose honour is defiled or whatever rot they spout” whereas “the boy is just being a boy”. Coupled with that wider context, Margot’s vicar father is a man who “forgave drunks and tramps and fallen women and the men who tried to steal the lead from the church roof. But he couldn’t forgive her.” Realising that “things couldn’t go on like this,” Margot decides to confront her fears amidst the rare glamour of a ball on New Year’s Eve.
Eric and Terry Fan are renowned author illustrators with such gems as The Night Gardener and the Kate Greenaway shortlisted Ocean Meets Sky. For this collaboration they have been joined by brother Devin for the first time. Stunningly beautiful images are what we have come to expect, and this is no exception. The enticing, mysterious cover spotlights a little creature in a bell jar. Beneath the jacket the cover looks like a blackboard covered with code, double helixes and creature sketches. The endpapers are design files to start and shelves of completed products at the end. We know then that this is about creating things. We meet our little creature again and we are shown the contrast between the naturalistic wold and an ordinary shop – Perfect Pets- on an ordinary street, but far below there is an underground world and a laboratory where they make the perfect pets and where they put the Failed Projects like Barnabus. Alerted of impending recycling doom, by his friend Patrick the cockroach, who has been entrancing him with stories of the natural world above, Barnabus and fellow Failed Projects work together on a daring and thrilling escape and find refuge hiding in plain sight in a nearby park. Being a team and supporting each other is crucial to their success. A multi-layered story that will appeal to a wide range of ages and prompt much discussion and debate about ethics and freedom. In a world where young people are constantly bombarded with social media that promotes artificial standards of perfection, this empowering fable has an important message to share.
Lily, our heroine, got sick a while ago, and now she just wants things to go back to how they were. This is complicated by the fact that Lily’s parents are just about to have another baby, so Lily is sent to her grandmothers to live whilst the baby arrives. Lily will not stay – and runs back home to find her parents have been replaced. Lily has one night to defeat the replacements and find her parents again – and make everything ‘right’. In this she is helped by some fascinating animal companions – Mouse, Mole, Crow and Snake have a wonderful humour, as well as providing the magic needed in every child’s story. Written with reference to our folk tale past – where talking animals often represent elements of human character, this is a delightful story you want to devour again and again. The story is supported and enhanced with Gravett’s dark illustrations; the writing is so visual the illustrations would be hugely missed. Gravett has used shadow and greyscale to create the wonderful characters, and an atmosphere that just oozes off the page as we read. This is the work of two masters of their arts – both can create wonderful reading experiences but joining them together makes for an unforgettable book that will find its way into many small hands now and long into the future.
Raw, lingering and stirringly lyrical, October, October had me hooked from opening to end. Conjured in language that crackles and smoulders like an autumn bonfire, this is a book of bones and bark, of frost and flame, captivating in the manner of Skellig or Stig of the Dump as it undulates towards a wondrous homecoming of the heart. “We live in the woods and we are wild… Just us. A pocket of people in a pocket of the world that’s small as a marble. We are tiny and we are everything and we are wild.” October has everything she wants living in the woods in the house her father built. Her mother left when October was four and she’s adamant that, “I don’t want her. She’s not wild like we are.” This year October’s euphoria at the onset of autumn is sullied when she discovers a dead owl and a motherless baby owl: “my heart won’t stop bruising my ribs.” So, she rescues the baby, names it Stig and declares it her first ever friend. Calamity strikes when the woman “who calls herself my mother” arrives as a birthday surprise - her beloved dad breaks his spine after falling from a tree and October must stay with this woman – her mother – in London while he recuperates. In the chaotic city, October is a bird with clipped wings. Torn from her wild world, she implodes, becomes a “firework of fury”, until she strikes up a bond with a boy named Yusef and discovers mudlarking, which makes her once more “a wild animal skulking and prowling for food”, “a pirate hunting for treasure.” An unforgettable story, an unforgettable heroine – it’s no exaggeration to hail this a future classic.
A Children's Anthem | After the triumph of her performance at the inauguration, this first picture book from poet Amanda Gorman has been hotly anticipated and it certainly does not disappoint! The combination of the lyrical writing with the luminous illustrations from the acclaimed Loren Long, is a marriage made in heaven. From the first page, where we meet the young girl with her guitar, centre stage on a white page and she announces “I can hear change humming/ In its loudest, proudest song./ I don’t fear change coming,/ And so I sing along,” we are swept along by her gentle, quiet confidence. The second spread is a glorious technicolour image of an inspiring community mural of Martin Luther King and we see her meet a light skinned boy carrying a tuba. She offers him a rubbish bag and together they begin to clear litter from the park. As page follows page they continue to reach out to others, “though it might take some courage” and to model little acts of kindness: feeding the destitute, delivering groceries to an elderly person, constructing a ramp for a disabled child and all the time building the song, gathering instruments and changing their community for the better; building towards a glorious symbolic mural of their own. We end as we began with our narrator on a white page, this time looking directly at us with an invitation to carry the song onwards and leaving the reader with a belief in collective action for positive change. Powerful words and images that repay multiple visits and leave an indelible impression. A must have addition to school collections and children's bookcases.
A gorgeously warm and relatable story from the brilliant Jill Murphy, featuring the much-loved Bear Family from classic picture book Peace at Last. Mr and Mrs Bear wake up late. It's raining outside, and Baby Bear is late for nursery. Then Mrs Bear sits on her glasses at work and Mr Bear spills his coffee! Oh dear - it seems this is just going to be one of those days! But the loveable Bear family muddle through cheerfully, and there's even a surprise for Baby Bear when Mr Bear gets home from work. With all the hallmarks of an instant firm favourite, Just One of Those Days is a big-hearted story about a family day, which parents and children everywhere will relate to. Full of satisfying repetition and rhythm and delightful illustrations, Just One of Those Days is a must-have for all Jill Murphy fans, old and new.
From the inventive author-illustrator of the award-winning There’s a Bear on My Chair comes this smart sequel, and boy has Ross Collins delivered again. It’s a rollicking, rhyming, visually-pleasing treat in which it turns out that Bear isn’t terribly keen on getting a taste of his own medicine (to begin with, at least). The cause of Bear’s irritation is the presence of Mouse in his house (yes, the very same Mouse on whose chair Bear presumptuously sat in the first book). In Bear’s outraged words, “That rodent can’t live here, oh no! I’ll tell him that he has to go.” Of course, Mouse refuses to leave and proceeds to cause chaos in Bear’s house, before a mob of partying mice turn up. But then - the twist! – when Bear realises “Hey! These mice are nice!” With wonderful interplay between text, illustration and design, this is excellent for reading aloud - the kind of book that will have toddlers urging for it to be read again, and again (and again) while completing the rhymes before adults have chance to read them.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month September 2021 | September 2021 Book of the Month | Billy is desperate to make things change at home. Her father disappeared before he was born: he and mum had been ok when they had been alone together but now his mother’s new partner has spoilt everything. Billy is frightened for himself and he is frighted for his mum. To make a point he runs away for a few days hiding in a semi-ruined pill-box in a local graveyard. Cleverly telling the story in two narratives, from Billy’s perspective and his mum’s and interweaving other characters and their experience from whom they can learn, Pam Smy explores a range of complex emotions thrown up by a difficult situation.
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.
Perfectly child-centred, Storm in a Jar tells the moving, honest story of loveable Arlo’s distress in the wake of his much-loved Nana passing away. After visiting her every Sunday, Nana’s no longer there, the jar of sweets she used to top up for him will never be refilled. So, Arlo keeps the jar with him, as a reminder of Nana. In time, his sadness turns to clouds of anger - the “jar felt heaver and filled with a moody sea” as he lashes out, needing to unleash his grief. Talking helps and, with the support of his teacher and family, Arlo navigates his way through the storm, and a beautiful new tradition begins. The storm in a jar metaphor is wonderfully evoked in words and pictures that speak deeply to young children struggling with the most difficult of emotions. As such, it’s a valuable practical tool for adults seeking to help children understand and manage loss and grief, and truly a support for children experiencing them.