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Interest Age 8+ Reading Age 8 | Two true stories inspire this warm, positive, uplifting story: the real-life adventure of Pickles, the dog who found the World Cup, and the amazing achievements of Fara Williams, the women’s football superstar who was winning on the pitch even while she was homeless. Like Fara, Elsie is football mad, as is her dog Pickles, who narrates for us. In the story, the world cup trophy is stolen, which means Elsie will miss her chance to play in a half-time match at Wembley. That opportunity has been sustaining her through difficult times as she and her dad (and Pickles), also like Fara Williams, have lost their home and are living in a noisy, dingy hostel. Fortunately, Pickles is as good a detective as his famous namesake… Publisher Barrington Stoke specialise in books for dyslexic or reluctant readers, and there’s lots of page-turning action packed into a short extent. The book is big on emotions too though, making clear just how devastating it is to lose your home, while showing how love, family and hope can get you through just about anything. It also reminds us that football – playing, watching, being a fan – is life-enhancing. A winner! Particularly suitable for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers aged 13+
March 2021 Book of the Month | Co-written by Brendan Kiely and the always-exceptional Jason Reynolds, All American Boys is an immensely powerful, timely novel about police brutality against young Black men. Shining a stark light on white privilege and the racism implicit in not speaking out, it’s a punch-packing wake-up call for us all to stand up and plant ourselves on the right side of history. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong colour. It all goes wrong for Black sixteen-year-old Rashad when a cop jumps to the unfounded conclusion that he’s shoplifted a bag of chips. Rashad’s arrest is brutal and the cop, Paul, leaves him with internal bleeding and broken bones. There were witnesses though, among them Quinn, a rising basketball star from Rashad’s school who also happens to know Paul. In fact, Paul has been like a father to Quinn since his dad died on service in Afghanistan, which puts him in a tricky situation - speaking out against Paul would sever his friendship and support ties. But Quinn’s decision to keep quiet unravels when footage of the incident is picked up by the media, with everyone in town taking a side. As a powerful “Rashad is absent” school campaign gains momentum along with plans for a big protest march, Quinn realises that not speaking up is a form of racism, that as an “All-American” white boy he can walk away from anything. “Well, I was sick of it,” he decides. “I was sick of being a dick”. Aware that his dad had inspired Paul to become a cop to “make a difference in the world”, Quinn resolves to be like his dad too, but not in the sense of being loyal to his country and family, which is how people always frame his father’s heroism. Quinn means in the sense of standing up for what he believes in; being “someone who believed a better world was possible - someone who stood up for it.” Packed with plenty of moments that will make you melt and tear up (such as Rashad’s relationship with the hospital shop volunteer, and the bonds between him and his buddies and big brother), this is a smart, incisive, rousing read for our times.
Neal Shusterman’s incisive, inventive Game Changer raises the bar for speculative YA fiction as it confronts privilege, racism, sexism, homophobia and the devastating consequences of not speaking out head-on. It’s also an absolute page-turner, alive with relatable characters and authentic young adult voices. “There are choices we make, choices that are made for us, and things we ignore long enough until all choices have fallen away. I’ve been plenty guilty of ignoring stuff I don’t want to deal with.” This quote from protagonist Ash sums up the dominant sentiment underpinning this powerful novel. He’s a High Schooler with a diverse friendship group, which, at one time, he believed “checked my box of social responsibility. Like there was nothing more for me to do than have some brown at the table.” In Ash’s case that’s his Black best friend and team-mate Leo. A talented American footballer, Ash loves “the way it felt to smash through an offensive line”. Then, after one such smash, he finds himself knocked into a changed reality. At first, the shift in Ash’s universe is barely perceptible, but with each game, with each smash, he’s knocked into increasingly changed parallel worlds that provide jaw-dropping perspectives on our own. At one point he’s shifted into a shocking segregated reality in which all his teammates are white. Shusterman also shines a glaring light on coercively controlling relationships, homophobia and how “we vilify the difference in others” and “glorify the differences in ourselves.” Tension builds brilliantly as Ash works to return to his world with renewed insights, with the parallel world set-up serving as a smart allegory for us all to do better - to make choices that will make the world a fairer place. Through Ash readers are called to question their own actions - and inaction - such as when he admits that “Sometimes I would rationalize the intolerance of friends and look the other way. You know how a friend says a joke that maybe shouldn’t have been said? Rather than calling them out on it, you let it go. Pretend it doesn’t matter.” This gripping ground-breaker exposes the inexcusable upshots of looking the other way.
“It was October 1917 when my life truly changed.” So begins this heartfelt true story of unsung heroines and family life during WWI. Though the war was horrific and “the future…looked bleak for most of us” narrator Hettie notes that for girls and women, “in many ways, it was the making of us. For us, it was a new beginning.” Indeed, it kicked-off the ground-breaking events recounted in this top of the league tale, which itself kicks-off a series. Hettie is a self-professed “gangly fifteen-year-old with frizzy hair and barely a sensible thought in my head”. Her slightly older brother (“lovely, gentle Freddie”) has already gone to war, and now it’s her turn to do her bit working in the Dick, Kerr & Co munitions factory. Hettie’s apprehension as she starts work is palpable, as are the details of factory life - the roar and hiss of the machines, the dangers, the banter. In its presentation of social history Kicking Off is brilliantly evocative, and it packs hearty punch as a personal story too. After a tough start at work, Hettie perks up when her colleagues talk of forming a ladies’ football team, though her dad’s gruff warning rings loud in her ears (“Don’t you keep playing that game, Hettie. It’s unladylike. It’s unfitting”). But her new friend Grace is a determined, inspiring ally and, soon enough, “the start of something wonderful happens” when a match against the men’s team is arranged. The story’s a game of two halves, though, with plenty of twists, turns and metaphoric goalmouth scrambles as the pioneering young women persist in establishing their right to play. Female friendship and tenacity. Family love and conflict. Wartime realities that stir social revolutions - what a pitch-perfect story this, and told in a clear, readable style that could hook reluctant readers.
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.
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2021 | Selected for The Book Box by LoveReading4Kids | 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.
A cheeky, free-wheeling young monkey is the star of Michael Foreman’s new picturebook, which bursts with energy and fun. Milo is determined mot to miss the cycle race as it comes through his town and has no idea of the devastation he leaves behind him as he races to the finishing line – most of it caused by the banana skin he casually chucks over his shoulder as he starts his pell-mell progress. Children will love the scenes of chaos, and the wonderful way in which Milo’s repeated ‘I didn’t do it!’ becomes a triumphant ‘I did it!’ via a surprise ending. Beautiful to look at, simple to read, and it neatly delivers a very satisfying story too. Hear, hear for Milo!
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.
Reading Planet - Level 8: Fiction (Supernova) | To the outside world, the Smedleys look like any other family: Mum, Dad, son, daughter, hamster ... and a grandpa dozing in the corner. Looks can be deceiving, however, because the Smedleys have a secret ... a very BIG secret. They are actually a daredevil team of crime-solving football ninjas! Throgmorton United are heading to the Inter-School World Championship in Brazil, and the Smedleys are determined to stay focused. Nothing must stand in their way of training for the final showdown of the season ... apart from a school technology project, an evil computer-hacking genius and a disappearing grandpa. Have the football ninjas finally met their match - in more ways than one?
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2021 | 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.
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2021 | It's not the taking part, it's the winning that counts for Patina! Patty, as she's known to her friends and family, has lost a lot in her life - her dad died when she was young, her mum has lost her legs and now she has to live with her uncle and his wife. On top of that Patty has to go to the poshest school that ever existed. Now her running team has become a relay team and independent I can do everything by myself Patty has to work with her team mates to win.
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.