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October 2019 Book of the Month | New Yorker Leah is a tenacious, snarky queen of quips. She’s also an exceptional chess player but decides to give up the game after losing a match that, had she won, would have seen her move up the rankings to grandmaster status. Feeling the pressure of her mom and coach, feeling that she’s let down her beloved dad, she decides to get a tattoo, “proving to myself and the world that there is life after chess and that I’m not just a pawn for other people to push around.” Leah’s certainly not a girl given to being pushed around but, with the skills of a master weaver, the author sensitively shows how grief’s deep wounds underpin her anger and tendency to drive people away. When her tattoo plan is foiled by one of her blog readers, Kit, who makes big bucks from illegal chess hustling, Leah winds up making a thousand dollars in a couple of hours. It’s through the police busting one of the illegal games that she finds out about chessboxing, “the ultimate contest of brains and brawn”. The thrill Leah feels for this hybrid sport’s speed and tension is palpable, and she’s a natural at it too, with her boxing coach praising her exceptional resilience: “You never know what’s inside a fighter until they’re flat out on the canvas”, a perceptive comment that encapsulates Leah’s story journey. She’s grappling with grief, but making emotional breakthroughs and learning new skills, to the point that she’s ready to fight Death (a formidable champion chessboxer) in Vegas. With a truly pulse-quickening climax, this exceptional novel rages with raw emotion. It’s a bona fide page-turner seared with life-affirming insights into grief, friendship and finding new paths.
As the season of school sports day approaches this is a perfectly timed new outing for the irrepressible and hilarious cake loving heroine of the Waterstones Prize shortlisted I really want the cake! Cakes play an important part in this tale too, but first this little girl tries and tries to win. She really wants to win! It all starts with a race and she is in the lead but trips. A calamity repeated across every school in the land and so this is very good preparation for little would-be athletes. Time and again her ambition is thwarted. Her friend wins everything. The sense of injustice felt is so perfectly captured in the bold expressive illustrations that reveal the little girl’s impulsive character and her constantly changing emotions. But one day her friend does not win and very surprisingly for our heroine the friend does not mind at all and congratulates the winner. Our heroine is encouraged to forget about winning and just to do what she loves which is baking cakes of course! Then the loyal friend finds a Bake Off competition which our heroine approaches with proper humility having recognised how much she enjoyed the process. She surprises herself by winning and the celebrations are genuine. Resilience triumphs in this completely relatable story which will prompt useful discussion as well as laugh out loud moments.
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2020 | | Pitch perfect characterisation in a powerful story that shows how talent and support can turn a life around. This first book in the four part Run series is a world class middle grade story with all the witty tenderness of Louis Sachar and a whole lot of heart, humour and edge-of-your-seat action. Castle Cranshaw (better known as Ghost) discovered his talent for running the night he and his mom fled his violent dad. “Running isn’t anything I ever had to practice. It’s just something I knew how to do”, he explains. Hassled at school for his Mom-made haircuts, and constantly trying to avoid “altercations” that wind up making his school file bulge, Ghost’s life takes an upward turn when he spontaneously races a budding elite sprinter at a training session and wins. The coach, a former Olympic gold medalist, immediately invites him to join the team and they form a heart-melting bond fuelled by friendly sparring. Coach is exactly the mentor Ghost and his diverse bunch of talented teammates need. Ghost’s voice is endearingly authentic, honest and funny - pitch-perfect for his age and the novel’s readership. His “No! Don’t do it!” decisions and ensuing scrapes are evoked with intensity and humour (just wait for the “silver bullet” incident). Truly I cannot wait to spend more time in the company of Coach, Ghost and his teammates, each of whom will feature in future books in the series.
Book Band: White Ideal for ages 6+ | This new series from Bloomsbury Education is geared at turning children into independent readers. Not only will the books give youngsters a boost into solo reading, they’ll also make it easier and more enjoyable for the adults helping children as they come with useful tips and notes. The books are short and divided into chapters thereby breaking the story into manageable chunks. The adventures are lively and fast-moving though told via short sentences and carefully chosen vocabulary: some words are highlighted in the Tips for Grown Ups section on the inside cover, so that children can learn them and their meanings. Full colour illustrations amplify the action and make the books really attractive to look at too. Written by favourite authors, these are well worth collecting and are just the thing for children ready for reading.
A submarine ingeniously disguised as a floating island, and a state of the art training programme designed to turn five ordinary kids into sporting superstars – Atlantis United is a highly original and intriguing action adventure story. Joe, Kim, Craig, Ajit and Jess enjoy their different sports, but are conscious that they’re certainly not the best in their teams – so why the interest in them by the stranger in the black hat watching their games? Turns out he is a scout but for a really unusual operation – a maverick billionaire business man has created an amazing but top secret programme for junior athletes based on the latest scientific and sports thinking. The sporting detail is fascinating, while tension rises when the kids notice a strange drone spying on them – could they be in danger?
16-year-old Holly feels like an outsider, except when she’s swimming at her local pool: “Under the surface, deep in the blue-lit water, nobody can see me. There’s nobody to judge the clothes I wear, or the way my hair frizzles”. It’s at the pool she meets Ed, who’s “not like the boys at school who are either geeky or cocky and smart-arsed and think they’re all that. He’s different”. While romantic feelings, evoked in all their dizzying wonder, swell poolside, at home the seas are stormier. Struggling with depression, Holly’s mum has “become so inward-looking that she hasn’t a clue what I do with my time”. But as Holly’s home-life begins to brighten, Ed reveals that he’s grappling with a serious domestic situation of his own. Warm-hearted, highly readable and romantic, with the bleaker elements of both teenagers’ lives handled with a sensitive lightness of touch, readers will undoubtedly root for Holly and Ed to find their happy ever after.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month May 2018 | Award-winning illustrator Michael Foreman’s own love of football suffuses this story which perfectly captures the thrill all footballers have of scoring the winning goal. As the new boy in a small local team a young boy dreams that one day he will be out on the pitch and will the strike the winning goal at the World Goal. Full of action and detail, Michael Foreman’s illustrations capture how his youthful dreams and reality merge to create a classic football story. Julia Eccleshare's Picks of the Month for May 2018 Square by Mac Barnett A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge A Perfect Day by Lane Smith Gaspard the Fox by Zeb Soanes & James Mayhew Wonder Goal! by Michael Foreman The Sand Dog by Sarah Lean The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell Plantopedia by Adrienne Barman
In a nutshell: llama football stars called up for England at the World Cup | Llamas United took the footballing (and book) world by storm in their first adventure, and will win more readers still with their second. Real llamas, they are brilliant footballers, thanks to having eaten the ashes of one of the world’s best players, and their manager young Tim Gravy is determined to take them to the World Cup. And let’s face it, the England national team could do with a shake up! There are some hurdles to overcome, ensuring the llamas and human players bond for example, working out just what is upsetting Tim’s friend and team trainer Cairo, not to mention portions of poisoned lasagne, but it all comes to a climax – doesn’t it always? – with England versus Germany in the final. Wonderfully silly, completely engaging and with top class footballing action, this is one for football fans everywhere. ~ Andrea Reece
Miss Charlotte - the new coach of a children's football team - has some odd methods to prepare them for the big match. She decides to teach them to lose! And to have fun. Incredibly, it seems to work, as the kid who was always useless on the pitch suddenly scores a screamer in practice. But will their hopes of victory be dashed when the ambitious star player decides to join the other team?
Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2019 | A dynamic slam-dunk of a book in which a boy lost in grief begins to find his feet on the basketball court. Slickly blending stirring verse-form storytelling with ingenious jump-off-the-page comic strip illustrations, this is a poignant, powerful page-turner that will find fans among a broad range of reading levels in the 12+ age group. It's 1988 and Charlie Bell (Chuck to his Granddaddy) feels utterly isolated by grief after losing his dad. And, since he can’t seem to stay out of trouble either, his despairing mom leaves him with Grandma and Granddaddy for the whole hot summer. There Chuck discovers an affinity with basketball through his cousin Roxie, but when a friend from back home says he can help Chuck get hold of a pair of genuine Jordan sneakers at a discount, the ensuing chain of events could land him in serious trouble. Though this is a prequel to the author’s Newbury Medal winning The Crossover, it can be read and relished as a standalone novel (for those who have read The Crossover, Chuck is Josh and Jordan’s dad). This is a joyous parade of poetry that packs incredible emotional depth. The language soars and sings, and the vibrant interspersed comic strips by Dawud Anyabile enhance the immersive experience with panache.
In a nutshell: football-set story, accessible to all readers Jackson Law is a talented footballer, newly signed to the United youth squad. Real life carries on though, and a budding romance with the girl he’s always fancied brings him up against her thuggish ex. Jackson’s got a lot to lose now which lays him open to the lad’s threats and blackmail, but he discovers that his team mates are there to support him on and off the pitch. There’s just the right mix of footballing action and domestic drama and the story unfolds at a pace that will keep all readers turning the pages. An enjoyable and exciting contemporary story. ~ Andrea Reece
In a nutshell: great football story, accessible to all readers The story told in Kick Off will be familiar to lots of kids from their daydreams. Jackson is a talented footballer and one day after a game in the park, he’s approached by a scout. This leads to a trial at United and the chance to play with their Under 16s. The Cinderella format is irresistible, but there are challenges for Jackson along the way: he has to learn to control his temper for one thing, and to be a team player. Designed to appeal to reluctant or dyslexic readers, the action is non-stop, short sentences ensuring it’s totally accessible, but the story is still thoroughly satisfying and will leave readers wanting to hear more about Jackson. ~ Andrea Reece