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In English teacher Louise Reid’s first venture into the verse novel, she uses the form magnificently using layout and different font sizes and styles to show as well as tell Lily’s story. We meet her in the opening poem, Roadkill at her lowest ebb. Bullied at school and battered and abused outside it, betrayed by childhood ‘friends’ and mentally trapped in a self-critical prison. This is an unflinching portrait of a girl who does not fit in and who hates herself. But it is also a picture of a family in poverty and the link between poverty and obesity is well known, but not often acknowledged and ‘fat shaming” is a particularly insidious and dangerous form of bullying where the victims are often blamed. The author also gives a voice to Bernadette, the loving mother equally trapped in her own misery, overweight and virtually housebound and to Lily’s feelings for her which veer back and forth from love to shame and blame. The layers of characterisation and backstory are subtly and delicately revealed in this beautifully paced narrative. Equally touching is the depiction of her father, quiet, loyal and desperate to help. It is at his suggestion that Lily takes up his old hobby of boxing. With training and the gym comes fitness, but more importantly other support structures and tentative friendships and Lily’s bravery helps Bernadette take some positive steps too. Their journey is not easy but never anything other than utterly convincing and psychologically authentic. This important novel has home truths for both sexes to ponder and a cleverly neutral cover and the highly accessible verse format means that it can be promoted to even the most reluctant of readers. We explore the powerful themes in Louisa's follow-up verse novel Wrecked in a Q&A with the author.
June 2022 Book of the Month | When ordinary boy Marvin wears his super-suit he becomes MARV. A superhero with infinite powers. Marvin and his friend Joe are at the brand-new super-spectacular waterpark - Wave World! But despite the excitement, Marv's reluctant to get in the water. Although Marv can swim, sometimes he gets struck by a fear of the water that he calls 'The Panic'. Marv uses excuse after excuse to stay out of the pool. Then someone shouts 'Shark!' Shark!? It looks like a supervillain is up to mischief again. It's time for Marvin to become MARV. But, even as a hero, overcoming his fear of the water is going to be a challenge. Can Marv defeat supervillain Shadow and her army of robot sharks to save the day?
Part of the brilliantly silly series that includes You Can't Take an Elephant on the Bus, You Can't Let an Elephant Drive a Digger, You Can't Call an Elephant in an Emergency and You Can't Take an Elephant on Holiday, You Can't Let an Elephant Drive a Racing Car is a fabulous addition to Patrice Cleveland-Peck and David Tazzyman’s riotously engaging picture book partnership. “You Can't Let an Elephant Drive a Racing Car” – his vehicle will fall apart before he even makes it to the start! But this book isn’t only about the misguided elephant. Each spread features a fresh animal engaging in an activity that isn’t entirely appropriate. How about a walrus wonkily attempting to ride a bike? Or an excitable octopus playing table tennis? And what do you think would happen if a hippo tried to pole-vault? And so this delightful dance of absurdity continues, with a denouement that reminds readers that taking part and trying your best matters more than winning medals. With illustrations that’ll prompt laughter and discussion (“what are those silly monkeys doing? Look at the puma stuck on the diving board!”) and rhyming text that begs to be chanted aloud, this is one of those marvellous “again, again!” kind of books.
Written by the nation’s favourite get-up-and-go fitness guru in collaboration with celebrated children’s writer Vivian French, Joe Wicks’ The Burpee Bears presents a blast of high-energy hijinks for families to read together, do together, and eat together - the book also contains fun physical exercises and recipes to help readers keep up the good work after the last page has been turned. Paul Howard’s illustrations are a blast of energy too - colourful, characterful, and dynamic. Meet the Burpee Bear family - from the moment they open their eyes, they get busy stretching and whirling before heading off on an adventure. Cue a whole lot of lively lunging, crawling and jumping, with Mummy and Daddy Bear’s infectious enthusiasm spurring young Bella, Frankie and Baby Bear (and readers) to enjoy getting active in the great outdoors. With a fun refrain to read (or yell) along with (“Are we ready? Are we steady? Let’s get cuddling/going/jumping/building!”), this is the perfect book to read together ahead of setting off on your own adventures, with tasty, healthy recipes to make on your return.
Stirring, honest and deeply compassionate, Jane Mitchell’s Run for Your Life tells the powerful story of an endearing, relatable refugee as it reveals the realities of Irish Direct Provision centres. Run for profit, the centres were, as the author explains, “designed as a short-term emergency measure to provide for the basic needs of people who are awaiting decisions on their applications for international protection. Instead, it has lasted more than 21 years”. This novel is a pertinent, personal, beautifully-crafted account of a girl’s experiences of this system. Azari and her mother have fled to Ireland to escape the unimaginable brutality of her father and uncle. On arrival, they’re terrified when they’re brought to the authorities’ attention: “My only constant is my mother, and I am hers. We cling to each other like two people drowning.” Azari’s mother is struggling more visibly — she can’t read and won’t speak to men, so Azari translates, talks to officials, fills out complex forms, and handles crucial interviews as they’re shunted through the system, sharing rooms with strangers, uncertain of their futures. The finely-woven narrative slips between the present and Azari’s earlier life, to a time of hope: “When I was seven years old…the famous runner Jinani Azad won gold for my country in the summer Olympic Games…I wanted to be the next Jinani Azad. I wanted my village to celebrate my achievements as a famous woman”. But, like her older sister whose tragic story compelled Azari and her mother to leave, Azari’s father forced her to abandon school (and running) to work in a factory when her periods begin. In Ireland, the welcoming book club she’s invited to join and the friend she makes through running contrast with the racism of some locals, among them Azari’s school peers. But, after hostilities reach a terrifying crescendo, beams of hope and humanity glint through the darkness. Run for Your Life comes hugely recommended for young readers interested in world affairs and social issues, both for reading at leisure and in the classroom.
Interest Age 8+ Reading Age 8 | Navigating family tragedy and finding the freedom to follow your dreams, Eve Ainsworth’s All to Play For is a perfectly-pitched, top of the league triumph for readers who enjoy the thrilling possibilities of dreaming big through stories rooted in real-life. Lewis’ “happy place” is the narrow strip of grass at the back of his estate. Here he can “pretend to be somebody else”, like his football hero scoring a winner for England at Wembley. Lewis needs this escape because real life is tough. His family don’t have much money and, “even if she could afford it, Mum would never let him play football. Not after what happened to his dad”. Tragically, Lewis’ father died when his weak heart failed during a match, and his mum blames the beautiful game for taking her beautiful husband. After being spotted by Ash, a scout for his dad’s former team, Lewis is faced with a dilemma - training with the club would mean disobeying Mum, so he tries to convince her to let him join. Tackling grief and social inequalities with sensitivity, All to Play For is a rewarding read, with all the heart-in-your-mouth tension of a penalty shoot-out. Readers will be on the edge of their seats willing Lewis to succeed, willing his mum to support his dream. Published by Barrington Stoke, this is especially ideal for reluctant readers, with satisfying short chapters and dyslexia-friendly paper.
March 2022 Book of the Month | Rooted in the remarkable real-life story of the pioneering female football team that blazed a trail for women’s football (and beyond), this third book in Eve Ainsworth’s inspiring Dick, Kerr Girls series is an absolute screamer of a novel. A top-of-the-league triumph with clear appeal for female football fans and players, plus plenty to grip and move all kinds of readers, for it’s also a universal story of determination, family life and strife, friendship, confusing new emotions, and hope. Twelve-year-old Martha, little sister to Hettie and Freddie who’ll be known to readers from the previous novels, has just started training alongside the world-famous, world-class Dick, Kerr football team, which provokes envy and snide sexist remarks from some of the local lads she’s always enjoyed football kickabouts with. But inspired by the team’s star player, Lily, Martha is determined to succeed. Alongside this, though, Martha’s hard-working dad falls seriously ill. Then, as the women’s game draws record-breaking crowds, pioneers playing evening matches under searchlights, and raises huge sums of money for former servicemen, detractors raise their voices. Some believe “men’s football is still the only proper sport”, that “no girl should be out playing rough sport”, and Martha’s teacher believes “God never intended for women to be running up and down football pitches”. The wider historic context is fascinating, too, and many areas of the characters’ lives illuminate this period of British history, from the prejudice against women’s football, and Hettie working in the Dick, Kerr & Co munitions factory, to Freddie forging a new career after being injured in WWI, and people having to pay for medical care in this pre-NHS era. These strands of social history will provoke thought and discussion as Martha’s struggles and determination resonate, grip and inspire. She’s loving and perceptive, bold and confident, but prone to patches of self-doubt — a fully-rounded, relatable character readers will root for.
Marcus is so good at football that there's a very real chance he'll be signed by Manchester United. But when he discovers he may be losing his hearing, his whole world falls to pieces and he finds himself having to put them back together on his own. But is this feeling of isolation real or just a consequence of his own behavior? While dealing with parents, friends and first girlfriends, Marcus gradually understands that accepting the help of others is ultimately an acceptance of self. A novel about friendship and family, The Silent Striker explores the issue of disability, identity and deafness, and the different ways in which we can choose to handle it.
Interest Age 8+ Reading Age 8 | This third novel in Paul Stewart’s cup-final-compelling Football Mad series sees the Dale Juniors face multiple pressures in the form of an excessively critical coach and an impending must-win game. Coach Carlton has taken an immediate dislike to goalkeeper Danny. “Sloppy and slow”, he snipes. “Maybe there isn’t room in the team for you anymore.” His confidence crushed, Danny’s game disintegrates, but when Mr Carlton’s aggression escalates, it falls to a new coach to turn around the tattered team as they face a thrilling penalty shoot-out. Alongside being an action-driven football story, Hat-Trick also tackles issues of bullying, confidence and the importance of team spirit. What’s more, published by Barrington Stoke, it’s also ultra-inclusive - the book was written, edited and printed with the needs of reluctant and dyslexic readers sitting centre stage.
“Nut loved his sister and Leaf loved her brother, but everyone knew they were NOT like each other!” So the scene is set for Lu Fraser’s glorious rhyming ode to being yourself, a cheering, amusing tale that’s brilliantly brought to live by Mark McKinley’s simply stunning illustrations - they’re a veritable rainbow of energy and characterful detail. While adventurous Leaf loves to shoot her bow and swim icy lakes, Nut has no outdoor pursuits skills whatsoever. Rather, he prefers to bake, and harbours a secret passion for “slicing and dicing and mixing and whisking and really pink icing!” All of which means, come Viking Sports Day, Nut’s contribution is something of a disaster, until he hurls his cake in the Great Throwing Race and Chief Olaf recognises his culinary talents. Great fun, and there’s no arguing with its wise, warm-hearted message - “happiness comes when you just be yourself.”
The eye opening and fascinating true story of Lily Parr, Alice Woods and their teammates in the Dick Kerr Ladies Football team are the inspiration behind this engrossing story of football obsessed Polly Nabb, who would much rather kick a ball than stay at home and help her mother, which is the role society expects her to fulfil. As men, including her beloved brother, were sent to fight in the war, women and girls took their place in munitions factories. When Polly sees these women playing football in their breaks, she lies about her age to get a job there too and eventually she is recruited to the famous Sparks team, who were playing public matches to sell-out crowds, but also on the receiving end of public vilification and scorn. Indeed, despite drawing crowds of 50,000, women's football was to be outlawed by the Football Association in 1921, who deemed it 'unsuitable for females'. This little-known fact will astonish modern fans of the Lionesses England team, as will the authentic detail of the dangers of the munition factories and the wider struggle for female independence and respect. This is a very well-rounded picture of life on the Home Front during the First World War, full of fascinating detail and incident, populated by vivid and memorable characters and infused with a real passion for the game of football. A very entertaining and enjoyable read that adds useful depth to any historical study of the period and a salutary lesson for any sexist sports fans!
A cheerful fly gives a tiger – and young readers – lessons in yoga in this entertaining story. Mula the tiger is dozing, dreaming of being able to hop, tumble and stand on her head, when she’s woken by a buzzing fly. Fly is determined to show Mula just what she’s capable of, once she’s learned to focus on her breathing and stretching. With Fly as yoga instructor, Mula is soon moving like she does in her dreams and keen to learn even more! It makes for fun and inspiring reading, children will be able to copy Mula as she does the Downward Dog and Crescent Lunge. The illustrations are bold and eye-catching too, Mula and her jungle vivid and bursting with life.