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A gobble-it-up fiery and intense yet thoughtful debut novel about family, betrayal, and witchcraft. Opening the pathway to a fabulous historical fantasy series this calls out as a must-read for young adults. Set during the civil war in 17th century England, 15 year old Evey has to flee with her little sister Dill when her mother is murdered. As with all good young adult novels, it is perfectly easy to slide into and really enjoy as an adult too, particularly with the wonderful cover drawing you in. Touching history, it flies into fantasy, as author Finbar Hawkins examines the meaning of witch. Evey is a complex character and as she tells her own story she has the ability of self-reflection, even if she doesn’t always like what she sees. Witch is a read that fair on crackles with energy, it also encourages thoughts to both consider and soar and deservedly sits as one of our LoveReading debuts of the month.
Julia Golding is a gifted storyteller and her new book has everything you want in an adventure. Sahara Clive arrives in London an orphan, friendless except for the two tigers her family were escorting from India to their new home in the Tower’s famous menagerie. Her English father and Indian mother died on the journey and it is quickly assumed she would be an embarrassment to her English family. It’s the nineteenth century, Wellington is Prime Minister (and makes some cameo appearances) and Sahira is placed in an orphanage run with the casual cruelty familiar from other famous orphan stories. Sahira though is as fierce and proud as her tigers and not to be pushed around. Sustained by courage and poetry and with the help of some good people and more than a few animals, she overcomes prejudice, greed and ignorance to secure a new home. Elegantly told, this is a real box of delights, an adventure that is exciting, heartwarming, moving and inspiring. One to recommend to fans of A Little Princess or modern historical adventures by Jacqueline Wilson or Robin Stevens.
September 2020 Debut of the Month | Elsetime is a wonderfully atmospheric timeslip adventure story with two great characters – three, if you count Magpie, the wise young crow who befriends the two human protagonists. Needle is a mudlark, gathering lost treasures from the river shoreline in the 1860s. Through a mysterious magic, he finds himself fifty years in the future, on the same spot and the eve of a terrible flood that he knows will cause death and destruction (as the real River Thames flood did in 1928). His new friend, talented young apprentice jeweller, Glory, is one of those whose lives is at risk. Can they save the town and their neighbours, and can Needle find a way to return home to his family? The plot swirls and sparkles and will keep readers on tenterhooks; this accomplished historical fantasy adventure is full of treasures for readers.
Tom Palmer’s riveting After the War was sparked by the true story of Jewish Polish, Czech and German children who were sent to safety in the Lake District after surviving the horrors of Nazism. Addressing big questions - how does hope, humanity and friendship survive unimaginable horrors? How do we begin again? – in a highly-readable style (as is typical of Palmer and publisher Barrington Stoke), this is a thought-provoking, edifying read. Trevor Avery of the Lake District Holocaust Project sets the context in the book’s foreword: “A group of young people arrived in the Lake District in the summer of 1945 and stayed for a few months, the last of them leaving in early 1946. Although they only spent a short time in the area, it was a profoundly important experience for them, and they made a big impression on those who met them at the time.” A sense of this being a “profoundly important experience” is clear from the outset, as revealed when young Yossi first glimpses England, his imagined paradise: “This was the place where they had been told they would be safe. A place where there would be no German soldiers and no concentration camps.” But despite the peace, despite “the lush green hills under a bright blue sky” and the “huge clusters of trees, swallows flitting above them”, Yossi feels unsettled. The brick buildings remind him of concentration camps, and he’s haunted by terrible memories, disturbed by nightmares, and longs for news from his family - will his father ever be found and come for him? Details of everyday life are strikingly evoked, and springboard deeper insights into the children’s experiences – a bike ride reminds Yossi of when he had to surrender his bike to the Nazis, immediately after he and his dad witnessed a horrific attack. An opportunity to attend a Rosh Hashanah celebration triggers his recollection of the terrifying time the SS destroyed his synagogue. A storm over Lake Windermere reminds him of bomb explosions. This device works perfectly, and Yossi’s enduring trauma is palpable. Then, at his lowest, a memory of his father’s words pulls him from the depths of despair: “if we let ourselves go, the Germans will think that they were right: that we are not human.” An exceptional telling of exceptional true events.
September 2020 Book of the Month | I challenge any reader, young or old, not to want to devour this book in one delicious sitting. Once started upon the story of Lotti and Ben, two orphans living in the aftermath of World War 1 and who could not be more different in temperament or background, it is impossible to put down. Initially and understandably wary, they gradually become each other’s best friend and staunch allies in their respective quests for family and a safe haven for an increasing number of dogs. Their odyssey takes them, in the faithful old narrowboat which has been Ben’s home, across the stormy channel to France, with a vengeful, deceitful uncle and a steadfast policeman hot on their heels. But there is nothing far fetched in their survival, they do need and even eventually welcome the support of friendly adults on both sides of the channel and they learn to work together and to counteract each other’s failings. They never lose hope in even the darkest moments and neither does the reader, despite some heart-stopping tension. These are characters who will dwell long in your memory and indeed leave you wanting to know more, including about some of the fascinating minor characters. The authentic period detail and dialogue captures the spirit of an age where children may seem, to a modern audience, to have a thrilling level of agency and independence, but only because they are largely ignored or neglected rather than protected by society. A standalone, middle grade adventure that is as well written as this, is pure gold dust with which to captivate young readers and a perfect class read. But be warned, they may not want to go home!
Ada Lovelace: Rebel. Genius. Visionary | At once a passionate portrait of a scientifically seminal young woman, and a fascinating account of the lives of well-to-women in the early 19th-century, I Ada lays bare the many faces of Ada Lovelace. Ada the inquisitive. Ada the adventuress. Ada the visionary genius who defied convention to become the world’s first computer programmer, the seeds of which are sown in this portrayal of her early life. Driven by drama and a spirit of affection, this is as lively as it is informative. Fathered by flamboyant, notorious Lord Byron, it’s perhaps no wonder how easily Ada slips “into the unbordered realms of the imagination” as a child living on her grandparents’ country estate. Ada thinks of him often, and wonders why her mother speaks little of him. But then, Ada’s relationship with her strict, distant mother is often strained. Ada’s flighty tendencies jar with Lady Byron’s more rigid intellectual outlook. But they’re both inspired by their Grand Tour of Europe - Lady Byron seizes an opportunity to research ideas for her progressive school, while Ada’s mind is opened to a world of possibilities. Back in England, Ada’s desires are constrained by societal conventions, though female thinkers and mathematicians are among her circle, and then she meets a revolutionary inventor whose work chimes with her own innovative scientific ideas…
This emotive, richly-detailed novel illuminates a dark period of history with grace and lyricism through a perfectly-paced plot. England, 1659 – an era of terror and persecution for women who might be accused of witchcraft. One such woman is Mary’s grandmother, the wise woman who raised her, someone the community once turned to in times of birth, sickness and death. But those times have passed. When her grandmother is hanged for witchcraft after a ludicrous trial, Mary fears for her own life, but she’s swiftly and quietly brought to safety by a woman she doesn’t know, with a passage to America arranged for her. In the New World Mary will adopt a new identity and make a new life among Puritans. Mary’s life in Salem is described in evocative detail - the heat that “does not fade with the setting sun”, the fireflies, the “dour” people whose “faces show a history of work and hardship.” But the Puritans find Salem too soft for them, and so they press further into the wilderness, to the Beulah (‘Bride of God’) settlement. Life is strict, and worsens for Mary when old superstitions re-emerge after she uses her healing wisdom. It’s while searching for herbs in the woods that she befriends Jaybird, a Native American boy, and meets his shaman grandfather. The novel tells of their history and spiritual beliefs with an engaging deftness of touch, but since the Puritans regard Native Americans as “the Devil’s instruments”, as people who live “in sin, and in degradation”, Mary’s association with Jaybird adds to their suspicion of her. Presented as pages from Mary’s journal found centuries later, this is an engaging joy from start to cliff-hanger finish. As Witch Child ends, so Sorceress begins...
This captivating sequel sees contemporary Native American Agnes discover deep connections to her ancestress Mary, whose story enchanted readers in Witch Child. Deftly interweaving narratives of the past and present, and laced with atmosphere, authenticity and insights into Native American culture, this is an exhilarating, emotion-driven feast for fans of historical fiction. Agnes is proud of her Native American heritage, though her fellow anthropology students don’t call her by her tribal name, Karonhisake - Searching Sky. After reading the historic diaries of Mary Newbury and being struck by a vision type experience, Agnes feels compelled to contact the researcher who found Mary’s diaries. She has a hunch that Mary might be the young woman she’s heard stories about on her home reservation. As things turn out, her formidable Aunt M, a medicine woman, is already miles ahead of her in knowing this. Bristling with intrigue and ethical commentary on the acquisition and appropriation of Native American objects (“What right they got to any of that stuff? Bunch of grave robbers!”), this tells the remarkable tales of two remarkable young women connected across time.
Shot-through with a vital message about the importance of giving voice and rightful representation to women who’ve been silenced by centuries of patriarchy, this smart novel melds an intriguing art history mystery with Parisian amour. While Khayyam is clear about what she wants to do with her life - become a respected art historian - her identity is more complex. She’s “French American. Indian American. Muslim American. Biracial. Interfaith.” As such, “Others look at me and try to shove me into their own narrative to define who and what I am. But I’m not a blank page that everyone else gets to write on. I have my own voice.” This statement weaves through the whole novel, which sees Khayyam in Paris for the summer, still reeling from a relationship gone awry back home in Chicago, and from her Young Scholar Prize essay being dismissed as “the work of a dilettante, not a future art historian”. When she happens to run into a cute Parisian boy, who happens to be a descendent of bi-racial French writer Alexandre Dumas, Khayyam and said cute boy (also called Alexandre) embark on an intellectual voyage that leads them to Leila, a nineteenth-century Muslim woman connected to Dumas and Byron. Leila’s forgotten life and silenced voice is revealed through her letters, with Khayyam frequently asserting her desire to right the wrong of “the entire world dehumanizing and erasing this woman who had a life, who mattered.” Through Khayyam the novel also addresses issues around representation and cultural appropriation as she wrestles with determining who has the right to tell Leila’s story, including herself. As Khayyam’s findings hot up, so too does her love life. First there’s the spark between her and Alexandre, then there’s the simmering presence of her Chicagoan ex. With Paris vibrantly evoked as her stage - its history, architecture, secret gardens and food - Leila’s personal life and intellectual prowess combine to create a life-changing summer. This comes hugely commended - and recommended - for its portrayal of an intelligent young woman who refuses to bow to expectations, and who’s determined to give voice to the voiceless. Like Khayyam, it’s smart, thoughtful and inspirational. For more books with a strong, feminist theme, visit our Girl Power feature.
The Umbrella Mouse was one of the stand-out debuts of 2019 and scooped the Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Award. Now Pip, the Umbrella Mouse, hero of the secret animal resistance is back in a new wartime adventure. Her aim is still to reach Italy and the umbrella museum in Gignese where her family are from. But the war is not over, and she is still a fierce defender of liberty, willing to do anything she can for her friends and allies in the fight against Hitler. Courage and that love for her friends sees her through but her adventures have moments of tension and danger aplenty, certainly enough to keep readers absorbed, while the idea of these extraordinary things happening to the smallest of creatures will enthral and inspire them. Sam Usher’s evocative black and white line drawings add to the atmosphere and deep sense of camaraderie.
Book Band: Dark Red Ideal for ages 10+ | Catherine Johnson writes terrific historical novels, and this story of the adventures of Thomas-Alexandre Dumas is more thrilling by far than most fiction. Thomas-Alexandre was the father of writer Alexandre Dumas and believed to have provided the inspiration for his classic, The Three Musketeers. We follow him through his childhood, a mixed-race child growing up in Haiti, sold into slavery as a teenager by his aristocrat father to pay off gambling debts; bought back and trained in swordsmanship, before joining the Dragoons. Johnson brings him vividly to life, a man driven by a passion for equality and liberty, and ready to fight for it. In the excellent new Bloomsbury Readers series, this story is written specifically to help children grow reading confidence and understanding. A separate ‘Reading Zone’ section at the end suggests activities to do while and after reading, and includes a quiz to test your knowledge. .