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Inspired by a fantastical world imagined by the authors’ twin daughters, this educational activity book is underpinned by a belief that “children, especially girls, learn STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skills best when these skills are approached within a storytelling context”. This brightly illustrated book certainly fulfils its aim of introducing STEM skills in an imaginative, interactive way, and its main character’s infectious enthusiasm for all things scientific will surely inspire more girls to get into STEM subjects. Lilli loves nothing more than finding things that “challenge her curious, scientific mind”. One night she transforms into her superheroine persona and embarks on a quest to help her friend fly from WooWoo Land. Young readers are invited to join Lillicorn’s quest, solving ten STEM puzzles in her vibrant world. With an appealing rhyming text, and charm tokens to collect along the way, the clear design conveniently signposts the STEM skills nurtured by each activity (including pattern recognition, abstraction, structured problem solving, sequencing, spatial perception and sorting) without detracting from the puzzle-solving or story. In some ways, the book’s structure is reminiscent of a computer game, with prompts and well-timed narrative pauses that invite readers to get stuck into the self-contained, bite-sized activities. What’s more, the tone is warmly encouraging, with the text informing readers that Lillicorn needs their help. Once the quest is complete, the solutions can be checked at www.lillicorn.com, where questers can also download a certificate and unlock additional activities.
Exploring the all-consuming throes of love, malicious secondary school social politics, sexual abuse, and how difficult coming out can be, William Hussey’s Hideous Beauty is a top-notch YA thriller with hard-hitting emotional resonance. Forced by social media exposure to come out earlier than planned, Dylan and his gregarious boyfriend Ellis reveal their relationship to the world in spectacular style at a school dance: “Okay, Dylan, this is it. No going back. The closet door is firmly barred behind you, chained and bolted. No re-entry, no refunds. It’s gay all the way from here on out.” Riding high after an unexpectedly jubilant response to their revelation, tragedy strikes when they leave the party - Ellis becomes angry and their car plunges into a lake. While Dylan is rescued, Ellis drowns, leaving Dylan wracked with grief and guilt: “I deserve the pain. I deserve the crazy. I deserve a messed-up hand. No one’s taking these things away from me.” Set on trying to “find out who pulled me out of that car and why they left Ellis to drown”, it’s not long before Dylan stomps into a viper’s nest, uncovering jaw-dropping truths that set him - and readers – reeling. With his family less than supportive, at least best friend Mike remains at Dylan’s side, even though he’s undergoing chemotherapy for leukaemia. Gripping, moving and unflinchingly honest, this is a fiercely affecting novel, told through the cleverly interwoven collision of two timelines.
It’s headmistress Mrs Bottomley-Blunt who declares 4B to be LITERALLY the Worst Class In The World, and she may have a point. After all, there was the school trip to the zoo when Harvey Barlow smuggled a penguin back on the bus, the time they tried to tunnel to Finland, and the Show and Tell incident with Manjit’s dog, Killer… Everyone has bad luck though, and after reading this very funny book, most people will agree with Stanley Bradshaw and decide they wouldn’t have 4B any other way. Stanley’s descriptions of their antics, recounted in two separate stories, are highly entertaining: Joanna Nadin captures the chaos and excitement of primary school perfectly, and young readers will recognise the setting and the characters, not least long-suffering teacher Mr Nidgett. Short sentences, lots of pictures and clever repetition of words and phrases plus the lively action make this a perfect first chapter book. One to recommend to fans of Patricia Butchart’s Wigglesbottom Primary series ready to move onto something more challenging.
There are adventures galore in the second episode of this new series starring little mermaid Marnie and her friends and family. This time the action is all to do with the annual entertainment extravaganza that is the Clamshell Show. Marnie really wants the part of Queen Maretta, but so does her friend Orla, and nasty new mergirl, show-off Gilly Seaflower too. When the curtain finally goes up, there’s as much drama behind the scenes as on stage, and the sudden surprise appearance of a human! Marnie and her friends are very appealing characters – naughty aunt Christabel is a hoot – and their underwater world very tempting. Pretty illustrations by Sheena Dempsey add to the all-round charm. Young readers should dive in straightaway. Fans of The Worst Witch will enjoy the lively stories in Mermaid School, and readers who like Marnie should get to know Lyla, star of Rebecca Patterson’s new Moon Girl series too.
With the pizzazz and humour that make his Dragonsitter books so popular, Josh Lacey tells the story of one girl’s efforts to save the planet. Like many ten-year olds Hope Jones is worried about the state of the environment, and about plastic pollution in particular. Her dad is always saying if you want something done, you have to do it yourself, so she sets about doing what she can. Her adventures are recounted via her lively blog and we get a ringside view of her peaceful protest outside the local supermarket, interactions with local businesses, and conversations with neighbours, friends and parents of friends. As her campaign reaches more and more people, Hope realises that we can all make a difference, if we’re determined enough. There are great illustrations throughout, and it all makes for a fast, entertaining and positive read. Hooray for Hope Jones!
Following on from Lily’s Just Fine, this Scottish seaside-set romance tackles issues of self-confidence and coming-of-age confusion with a lovely lightness of touch. Alongside a sweet rollercoaster romance, the author explores how difficult it can be to find your way in the world, how difficult it is to make life-changing decisions. Gemma is one of life’s self-doubters. Painfully unsure of herself, she’s the polar opposite of her super-confident, super-enthusiastic best friend Lily, whom we met in the first of this four-book series. A talented musician, Gemma’s been offered an audition at the prestigious Glasgow Conservatoire, but she’s not sure she can face it, or if this is what she really wants. Meanwhile, Lily’s ex-boyfriend is already at uni in Glasgow. Confident coaster Jamie seems to have the world at his feet, but beneath his happy-go-lucky exterior, Jamie’s struggling - failing his assignments and only on this course due to parental pressure. As it all gets too much, he and Gemma strike up an unlikely friendship - and more - when Jamie convinces her to form a band with him. The path of their romance is far from smooth, with Gemma doubting herself at every turn, and Jamie struggling to find a new life course, but the cute couple carry readers with them every step of the way. You can’t help but root for Gemma to be happy, to feel at ease, to find her way in the world. And Jamie too. Far from being the cocksure young man people take him to be, he’s also a lost soul, floundering to find his way. With a sweet sub-plot about mentoring and empathy alongside the romantic drama, this a fun summer read with emotional wisdom.
This compelling read tells a familiar story of the authority figure ( a popular teacher here) who behaves inappropriately and when his victim comes forward, she is not believed and her life takes a real turn for the worse, including in this case, work being marked down and university applications scuppered by the same teacher in revenge for her speaking out. What makes this book stand out is the complexity and authenticity of Marin’s internal dialogue and the fact that the dilemmas she faces and the choices she makes are all too believable. The book really gets to the heart of how difficult it is for girls and women to make sense of this kind of violation, and brilliantly explores the way they doubt themselves and the way that predators exploit these feelings. Marin’s experience opens her eyes to things that had previously passed unnoticed- the casual sexism of classmates and the institutional sexism of a school dress code and of an English curriculum which featured only male authors and even her own lack of awareness of what life is like for outsiders. While English teachers will celebrate Marin’s decision to express her protest in print via her student newspaper editorials, librarian’s will relish the feminist book club she also sets up ( and the excellent book recommendations that are given) This is an important book for both sexes to read and one which will hopefully start lots of conversations about equality, sexual harassment, and those unwritten social norms that govern our behaviour.
April 2020 Book of the Month | Lyla might live in a hi-tech future world in which the moon is colonised and robots a big part of daily life, but the things that really matter are the same they’ve always been: friends, family and learning how to treat them properly. It’s very exciting when Lyla is chosen to look after one of three top-of-the-range cyborg children joining her school and at first Clara 2.2 seems the perfect friend, telling Lyla just what she wants to hear. But real friends do more than pay you compliments, and Clara 2.2’s disregard for anyone other than Lyla soon leads to a fall out with Lyla’s best friend Bianca and then – much worse – puts Lyla’s little brother in danger. There’s lots of fun and humour in the story, but some real tension too and it cleverly delivers a message about what friendship really means, and the importance of kindness.
Detective siblings Nik and Norva are back with a blast in this second novel set around The Tri high-rise block. If the highly-acclaimed High-Rise Mystery was a devastatingly good debut (it was), this is a full-on firecracker of a follow-up. A classic kids detective series slickly rebooted for the twentieth-first-century – think Harriet the Spy with a smartphone and added spark. Rising global music star Trojkat is back in her old ‘hood to make a music video when she dies in The Tri while shooting a scene. Most people – including the police - assume Trojkat’s death is a tragic accident, but sleuth-minded Nik and Norva suspect otherwise. With the help of their mate George, the determined duo set about piecing together a hotchpotch of clues to solve a case that has personal resonance. There are plenty of poignant moments along the way, such as when Nik expresses how it feels to lose a person you love: “It made you feel empty. Fragile. Like you could shatter into a million pieces if someone gently blew in your direction”. Overall, this is a super-charged detective story that fizzes with a whole lot of quick-witted, ping-ponging exchanges between Nik and Norva, with a sensational revelatory showdown to round things off.
Narrated by Ivy, the Troofriend 560 Mark IV robot, purchased to be her friend by Sarah’s busy parents instead of the puppy she wished for, means that we have a unique perspective on the story from the very start. Seeing the world through robotic eyes gives rise to lots of humour, but the incredibly subtle changes in Ivy’s language and actions also builds the tension throughout as we can see Ivy beginning to think for herself and as humans, we can recognise her increasingly human reactions and feelings, which are of course forbidden! It is fascinating to see the progress of the public outcry about the dangers of these new robots in the light of the spread of the current pandemic panic. We observe too the changes in Sarah as her empathy and compassion develop. Sarah’s parental neglect and the friendship and self-esteem issues she faces at school will resonate with many children and really engage them with the moral and ethical issues the book raises with such a skilful light touch. The typesetting and use of different fonts for Ivy’s speech and her internal dialogue make this a very accessible and fast paced read and incidentally make it a sure fire hit for a class readaloud if you like doing voices! Just like the authors highly praised debut The Middler, this is a superbly rewarding and highly recommended novel.
April 2020 Book of the Month | Twelve-year-old Ross is dealt a devastating blow when he’s told he has an extremely rare form of eye cancer and is likely to lose sight in both eyes. Based on author Rob Harrell’s personal experience of eye cancer, and spiced with his cool comic-strips of Ross’s Battbutt and Batpig characters, Wink has all the freshness and pitch-perfect narrative voice of a Louis Sachar story, with its own unique warmth and wit.As Ross struggles with the strangeness of undergoing immediate radiation treatment, he also faces a terrible time at school. Cruelly called the “Cancer Cowboy” on account of having to wear a hat, he’s also the subject of malicious memes. While Ross’s personal plight is at the huge heart of this novel, it’s equally as powerful in its portrayal of the wider impact of devastating diagnoses, most poignantly when Ross’s friend Isaac distances himself from their Oreo-sealed friendship pact. But as Isaac retreats, he makes life-changing new friends as a result of his treatment. First there’s fellow patient Jerry, a wise-cracking old guy who rebuffs Ross’s desire to be normal. According to Jerry, “Different moves the needle. Different is where the good stuff happens. There’s strength in difference.” Then there’s Frank, the adorable radiation tech guy who teaches Ross to play guitar, which has tear-jerkingly transformational effects.What an authentic, emotional, amusing and all-round awesome read this is.
March 2020 Book of the Month | The novel of The Crossover is a Newberry Medal Winner, and a Coretta Scott King Award Winner in the US and was Shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in the UK. This graphic novel version is the whole story complete with large and small two-coloured illustrations gracing every page. This is a deceptively simple read – a novel in verse about siblings getting through middle school, their lives, their crushes, their family interactions, and basketball. The boys are twins Josh and Jordan Bell, sons of a famous basketball player, and aiming to make a mark in the world of basketball. There are rivalries between the boys, they revel in their differences, but family holds them together whatever the world throws at them. The words and pictures work so well together, you will be on the edge of your seat, rooting for the team as they play and crying with the twins when thigs go awry. To tell such a complex story with so few words, with such emotional depth – Alexander is a master of devastating and uplifting storytelling. Anyabwile’s illustrations enhance a superb story – adding expressions and movement to an already great novel.