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This dramatic and touching play brings Manchester during the Second World War and its people to life, and provides a variety of opportunities for school classes to explore both historical and literacy topics in an involving and creative setting. Also includes helpful tips on staging and costume.
July 2020 Book of the Month | Set in the author’s native Wales during the dark days of the fifth century, Ellen Caldecott’s The Short Knife is an energetic, edge-of-your-seat page-turner with present-day resonance as 21st-century Britain - island of migrants - faces the challenge of forging an identity independent of continental Europe. With the Romans compelled to leave Britain after 400 years, the island is on the brink of collapse. Amidst this uncertainty and the chaos of Saxon invasion, thirteen-year-old Mai is cared for by her dad and sister (she lost her mam when she was three), and wrestling with her “anger at the people free to flee into the hills. Anger at all the world and everyone in it. I want to open my mouth and let the fire out, burn it all into blackness.” When Saxon warriors turn up at their farm, the family is forced to flee to the dangerous hills themselves. Mai must cross the threshold from childhood to adulthood if she’s to survive in a hostile world in which speaking in her mother tongue might turn out to be fatal. The cinematic scene-setting, first person narrative, and succinct, magnetically lyrical style make for a thrilling experience that will hook the most reluctant of readers. Recommended for fans of Caroline Lawrence and Damian Dibben’s The History Keepers series, this offers enlightening insights into British history with fresh flair, and through the eyes of a compelling main character.
July 2020 Debut of the Month | Melding the mystery of a parallel prehistoric world with real-life worries that seem too terrible to face, this emotionally-sensitive debut will enthral thoughtful, adventure-loving 8+ year-olds - think Stig of the Dump meets Wolf Brother meets A Monster Calls for younger readers. Right before the birth of his baby brother, Charlie discovers a deer tooth in Mandel Forest. He’s so thrilled, “a little shiver tingles like a breath across my shoulder blades”, and he strangely feels “the weight of someone watching me.” When his brother Dara is born with a heart problem, Charlie is gripped by anxiety. His poorly sibling reminds him of a featherless baby bird. His cry is “a horrible, thin squawk, birdlike too,” and Charlie is too scared to hold him, too scared to stick around in the hospital when the doctor arrives with the results of Dara’s tests. So, Charlie flees to the woods where he comes to the aid of a deerskin-clad boy. A lad named Hartboy who’s seeking his baby sister, just as Charlie fears he might lose his baby brother. It’s not long before Charlie realises that – somehow – he’s been transported back to the Stone Age. As he steps-up to help Hartboy, encountering wild beasts and a mysterious shadow man in woods that are at once familiar and strange to him, Charlie learns valuable life lessons that equip him for his return to the real world: “You can’t just avoid stuff forever, can you? No matter how sad it is.” Suffused in the wonders of nature and a timeless sense of myth, the adventure-spiked plot is perfectly punctuated by emotional breathers that allow Charlie to find courage, and a way home - back to his family, back to his beloved baby brother.
June 2020 Book of the Month | Caroline Lawrence, author of the bestselling Roman Mysteries series, combines her second-to-none knowledge of the classical world with her ability to tell a great story to create terrific new historical adventures. Alex and Dinu have already experienced time travel – they explored Roman Britain in the first in this new series – now they are being whisked back into Ancient Greece, and this time Dinu’s clever little sister Crina is coming with them. Minutes after the three have arrived in the Temple of Athena in Athens, Alex and Dinu are captured by Scythian archers – the ancient Athenian equivalent of the police. The action keeps up at the same pace, short chapters and pacey dialogue keeping the pages turning! Ancient Greece has never seemed so appealing, and it’s great that Lawrence makes learning about it such thrilling entertainment. One to recommend to fans of Rick Riordan, while readers longing for more classical adventure should check out Philip Womack’s new story The Arrow of Apollo too.
June 2020 Book of the Month | Teeming with drama and compelling code-cracking action, this WWII thriller is driven by the lives of three young people determined to make their mark on the war effort, and by the life-affirming relationship between fifteen-year-old Louisa and the elderly woman she’s employed to look after. Aspiring pilot Louisa is alone in the world. Her white English mother was killed in a London bomb blast, and her black Jamaican dad died on a ship that was torpedoed only three days after her mother died. Through her grief brave Louisa “burns to fight back” and takes a job looking after Jane, an elderly German woman who’s been imprisoned in an alien detainment camp. While travelling to stay with Jane’s niece in her Scottish pub, they form a beautiful bond, finding common ground in their love of music and the fact that they’re both outsiders in Britain - Jane because she’s German, and Louisa because she’s mixed race and subjected to racism. In Scotland they meet fellow outsider, Ellen, a driver for the local RAF airfield who tries to hide her traveller heritage. Ellen’s active role makes Louisa more determined to do something herself, so she takes her chance when a German defector lands at the airfield and leaves a codebreaking Enigma machine. It’s not long before Louisa, Ellen and young flight lieutenant Jamie step-up their war efforts, as their story builds to an impeccably conducted, pulse-quickening crescendo. Alongside being a gripping thriller, this is a truly moving, inspirational novel. Louisa’s passion for music and learning, her wit and ambition, are exhilaratingly infectious. I’d love to know what she does next.
The gods are abandoning the earth, tempted by other worlds where they can live in peace. Only a few keep an interest in mortals. In their place, darker, more ancient forces are wakening... Silvius is given a task by a dying centaur. The dark god Python is rising and massing an army of immense power. The only thing that can save the world is the Arrow of Apollo - but it has been split into two. Silvius and his friend Elissa must travel to the land of their sworn enemies, the Achaeans. Meanwhile, Tisamenos is facing his own dangers in Achaea. A plot is afoot against him and his father, and it falls to him to stop it. When Silvius, Elissa and Tisamenos meet, they enter a final, terrifying race to bring together the pieces of the Arrow and use it to lay Python low once more.
May 2020 Book of the Month | Scary and warm- hearted, this is an action-packed adventure with a great cast of characters and some rocket fuel of magic and mystery. Orphaned when his mother dies, Leander is saved from starvation by the mysterious Madame Pinchbeck. Pinchbeck, a medium who claims she can talk to the dead, offers Leander the chance to speak to his mother if he joins her and sells her his locket. Hungry, cold and afraid, Leander agrees. Frighteningly soon Pinchbeck has terrifying power over Leander who swiftly discovers that he is not the first child that Pinchbeck has ‘stolen’: Charlotte and Felix have both been prisoners for years. Pinchbeck uses them in her dishonest performances as a medium and controls them with magic that enables her to make them vanish into their cabinets when they displease her. Will Charlotte, Felix and Leander ever be able to escape from evil Pinchbeck? With an atmospheric Victorian setting, the twists and turns of this drama unravel at an excitingly fast pace.
April 2020 Book of the Month | A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month April 2020 | Best-loved TV presenter Lucy Worsley’s version of the background to the author Jane Austen’s life is a delightfully vivid story that effortlessly whirls readers into a very different, long-ago world. There are balls and proposals, carriages and nurseries, rich and poor and even a scene in a debtors prison all of which frame the lives of the young girls who are Jane Austen’s nieces. What an extraordinary existence it is! The wise aunt Jane Austen is a great guide through all of this especially, as Lucy Worsley makes clear, it is one in which the young girls think their only ambition is to find a husband! Hugely good fun to read The Austen Girls is also packed-full of unforgettable historical details.
25% Loss, 25% Memory, 25% Haiku, 25% Peace | This novel moves from poetry to prose, and back again, as it explores a girl’s relationship with her Grandfather. Mizuki can see something is deeply troubling to her Grandfather Ichiro, but she can’t find its source, except it is somehow connected with an old book and Ichiro’s need to create origami paper cranes from it. Mizuki’s worries are expressed in verse before we jump back into prose - to the at times brutal description of the day the bomb fell on Hiroshima and Ichiro’s role in that day and beyond. The descriptions of the effects of the bomb are based on effective research and from survivor’s tales and told in such a way that the reader is entirely there in the moment and the long days after as Hiro rebuilds a life for himself. As we return to Japan in 2018 the novel reverts to poetry to the very modern tale of how Mizuki uses the internet to try to get to the bottom of the problem facing her elderly grandfather. The illustrations in the book help create the many impressions and emotions aroused by the story – they are based on Japanese brush and ink techniques and add a further layer to this already impressive book. This is a harrowing tale but the ultimate redemption in the story leaves one with a sense of hope. Highly recommended.
Sheffield provides the setting for this family adventure, and the city’s steelworkers its inspiration. Spending time with their grandma, Sean and his little sister are immediately taken with the statue of three steelmen outside the Meadowhall Centre, especially when their cousin tells them about a mystery surrounding it and involving their mum and uncle. Sure enough, there is something magical about the statue and another too: one of two young female steelworkers. As the children find out more, they travel back in time for an exciting adventure. The story began with Meet Me by the Steelmen, shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, and this is another engaging story which cleverly and vividly brings the past to life. Older readers should look out for Berlie Doherty’s Carnegie winner Granny was a Buffer Girl, which also takes the steel industry for inspiration.
Interest Age 5-8 | When Norman the Norman from Normandy’s dad, Great Big Norman, is killed in a fight (with ten Bretons from Brittany), Norman swears to visit every one of this dad’s three graves (long story) to pay his respects. He sets off with this dad’s HUGE sword on his not-very-wild boar Truffle and, without meaning to, indeed often without even noticing, avenges his father’s death. If that sounds quite bloodthirsty, it sort of is, but more than that, in the hands of this gifted comedy partnership, it’s just very, very funny. Part of Barrington Stoke’s excellent Little Gems series, this packs more laughs and entertainment into its short extent than books three times the length. High quality cream paper and a special easy to read font ensure a smooth read for all.
The third in a sequence of stand-alone historical novels, set at key points in the history of the divided island that is currently front and centre in Brexit negotiations, this could not be more topical and very possibly prescient in describing the situation in 1921 and the partition of Northern Ireland and the hard border which quite literally fractures communities. The author talks in the end pages of the book about growing up in this border area with the army and customs check points and how much the community enjoys today’s freedom of movement and is terrified of losing that. But this beautifully written novel is not an ‘issue’ novel, it is full of brilliantly realised characters and a pitch perfect evocation of the period. The story of the bold 14-year-old heroine, Polly and her struggles to find her way forward in life cleverly mirrors the struggles of the newly emerging country. She ran away to Belfast to escape of life of drudgery looking after the men in her family after her mother’s death from influenza. She finds refuge in Helen’s Hope, a feminist hostel where young women live and work together, a haven of tolerance and diversity in an area wracked with division and hatred. The non-partisan mission of this hostel sums up the greatest strength of this fascinating and moving novel in that it absolutely does not demonise either side, while being completely up front about the terrible things that are happening. There are bad, mean and cruel characters but this is not because of the ideologies they follow, but because some people are like that, and we even get insights into why that might be. The second book in this sequence, Star by Star, went on to become the best selling book ever from this small imprint and won Children’s Books Ireland’s Honour Award for Fiction 2018. I can see similar accolades for this ‘sister’ novel and can highly recommend all three (the first being Name Upon Name) as invaluable purchases to support the history curriculum, but absolutely as engaging reads for pleasure too.