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The Book of Hopes aims to comfort, inspire and encourage children during lockdown through delight, new ideas, ridiculous jokes and heroic tales. There are true accounts of cats and hares and plastic-devouring caterpillars; there are doodles and flowers; revolting poems and beautiful poems; and there are stories of space travel and new shoes and dragons.
September 2020 Book of the Month | Cally and Jimmy are twins but more different people it would be hard to meet. Cally is generally quiet and well-behaved, while Jimmy is anything but (his ADHD doesn’t help). It’s Cally who narrates the four separate stories contained in this very enjoyable new book, and she gives us a really good idea of what it’s like to live with the most-annoying-brother-in-the-whole-wide-world, describing the many times he gets them both into trouble, but she absolutely captures the fun they have together too. There’s a starring role for their wonderful grandma, or Yiayia as they know her (Mum is Greek) and just a lovely sense of this family. Recommended reading and hopefully there’ll be more adventures to come for the twins.
Opening the pages of this eerie anthology is akin to creeping through creaky doors to explore a haunted house. To wander corridors and halls, rooms and chambers that have been darkly decorated by a host of hallowed writers. Here readers will encounter the skulking terrors of Joseph Delaney’s timeless, gripping The Castle Ghosts. The clever, contemporary creepiness of Robin Jarvis’s The Beach Hut. Then there’s Philip Reeves’s long-lingering, translucently lyrical The Ghost Wood. There are eleven tales in all, each written by a truly top-class writer, among them Matt Haig, Derek Landy, Susan Cooper, Mal Peet, and Jamila Gavin. Some tingle with menace. Others are outright scary. Some are modern, others infused with the terrors of traditional Gothic tales. And all of them are exquisitely executed. Perfect for reading aloud as the nights draw in, the stories here also make excellent introductions to a fine set of writers.
It’s more than 150 years since the publication of Alice in Wonderland and it is delighting today’s readers as much as it ever has. Both a tribute to and a celebration of Lewis Carroll’s story, this collection includes new adventures by eleven favourite contemporary children’s authors, each of whom has been inspired by Alice. With such an extraordinary set of characters and scenes to take as starting points, the stories are wonderfully varied. Pamela Butchart chooses to write about the Queen of Hearts in a follow up story, while Swapna Haddow picks the Mock Turtle. There’s an environmental message in Lauren St John’s lively story ‘Plum Cakes at Dawn’, while Robin Stevens puts the real Alice into her Oxford set story. Together they make for a sparkling collection, one well worth tumbling back down the rabbit hole to enjoy.
Book Band: Brown Ideal for ages 7+ | Polly Ho-Yen’s story presents readers with big questions about life and what’s really important to us. Mae suffers from severe asthma and often needs to make frightening dashes to the hospital with her parents. It’s on one of these occasions that she notices a strange black hole opening – it leads to a parallel universe, one where she doesn’t have asthma. That’s not the only thing that’s different however, and Mae has a decision to make about whether being asthma free is worth the other things that would change. In the new Bloomsbury Readers series, this story is written specifically for children growing reading confidence and understanding, with short chapters and frequent illustrations. The telling is simple, effective and guaranteed to catch and hold children’s attention, while the issues the story raises are complex and important, certain to prompt discussion (and there’s a list of questions to put to children at the end to help with this).
Book Band: Lime Ideal for ages 6+ | Dylan dreams that he’s living in a jam jar, cut off from his family, in a silent world. In fact, he’s losing his hearing and that brings all sorts of issues. He doesn’t like how loud the world is with his hearing aids in, doesn’t like the way the others in his class treat him differently now; and he feels that without sound to anchor him he’s somehow floating away. It takes a hair-raising experience, and the quick-thinking and love of his dog Pluto to bring him back down to earth. In the new Bloomsbury Readers series, this story is written specifically for children just growing reading confidence and understanding, with short chapters and illustrations on every page. Nonetheless, the story is subtle and moving, with lots to prompt discussion and reflection. There are questions to share with children at the end to help them get the most from the story.
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. .
Book Band: Grey Ideal for ages 8+ | Maxx the alien is sent to earth to study humans and specifically to learn about their feelings. His education comes on in leaps and bounds when he makes a human friend, Jibreel. The two have fun together, but there are real worries and sadnesses in Jibreel’s life too – he’s a refugee and is separated from his mother, and to a group of boys in his class, he’s the ‘alien’. Fortunately, Maxx is there to apply his other-worldly logic to the problem. Zanib Mian has a real gift for comedy and dialogue too and this is extremely funny, while at the same time it makes some very serious points. In the new Bloomsbury Readers series, the story is perfect for children growing reading confidence and understanding, with short chapters and frequent illustrations. A separate ‘Reading Zone’ section at the end lists discussion points and also encourages readers to think about the book’s narrative structure.
Smart, incisive, brimming with the breath of human experience and written with engaging age-appropriate verve, this clever concept (“a tale told in ten blocks”) is perfectly executed. For the chorus of kids whose lives play out on these impeccably-written pages, the walk home from school represents a rare time of freedom; a period of limbo between being under the watchful eyes of teachers and parents. Unsupervised, the kids reveal their true selves, most of them dealing with hidden heartache and anxieties alongside goofing around, self-reflecting and navigating their way through Middle School. As always with Jason Reynolds, the characterisation is ingeniously vivid, with deep insights expressed through, for example, the different ways kids open their lockers. Many of the stories are intensely poignant, such as that of the Low Cuts crew whose bad behaviour is fuelled by a desperate love for their sick parents. The moment it turns out that Bit the hustler is a “son who was scared. A son who loved his mum” is shatteringly powerful. There’s much humour too, such as the laugh-out-loud scene in which smelly Gregory is slathered in VaporRub by friends seeking to beautify him before he visits a girl he’s keen on. Bittersweet, hard-hitting and powerfully perceptive, these pitch-perfect reader-centric stories shine a light on oft-overlooked lives and ring with empathy and authenticity.
Award-winner Katherine Rundell has already taken readers on thrilling journeys over rooftops, across the Russian steppes and of course deep into the forest. She understands absolutely children's longing for wild adventure and no-one is better suited to write new stories for Kipling's Jungle Book characters. This very handsome book, which features beautiful colour illustrations by Kristjana S Williams, tells five different stories, and with each perfectly-imagined episode adds to what we love about Kipling's unforgettable characters, including Bagheera, Baloo, Shere Khan and Kaa. It opens too with a story about one of the most interesting characters, Mowgli's fierce wolf-mother Raksha, who has long deserved more time in the spotlight. These are stories of bravery and cunning, full of excitement and danger, but most of all they are stories of loyalty and community, and by the time they reach the end, readers will be daydreaming themselves into the jungle family. Mowgli links all the stories, and has his own of course, and is exactly the same impetuous, selfish, boasting but warm-hearted, generous boy drawn so vividly by Kipling. In fact the book does exactly what sequels should but seldom manage - it tells us new stories that grow out of the originals, and enhance and enrich them.
Interest Age 8+ Reading age 8 | Chris Priestley is a superb teller of ghost stories and knows just how to bring the uncanny into the ordinary, or turn the homely suddenly horrifying. A tour for talented young writers round a haunted house is the backdrop for this collection of linked stories. Each of the seven ghosts we meet is a child, each of their stories is different and each is guaranteed to send shivers up the spine or have you nervously checking over your shoulder in the dark. Written for dyslexia-specialists Barrington Stoke, this will enthrall even the most reluctant or struggling reader and concludes with a fantastically chilling twist. It’s the season for ghost stories, and this is required reading for fans of the genre.
July 2019 Book of the Month | It’s more than 150 years since the publication of Alice in Wonderland and it is delighting today’s readers as much as it ever has. Both a tribute to and a celebration of Lewis Carroll’s story, this collection includes new adventures by eleven favourite contemporary children’s authors, each of whom has been inspired by Alice. With such an extraordinary set of characters and scenes to take as starting points, the stories are wonderfully varied. Pamela Butchart chooses to write about the Queen of Hearts in a follow up story, while Swapna Haddow picks the Mock Turtle. There’s an environmental message in Lauren St John’s lively story ‘Plum Cakes at Dawn’, while Robin Stevens puts the real Alice into her Oxford set story. Together they make for a sparkling collection, one well worth tumbling back down the rabbit hole to enjoy.