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January 2020 Debut of the Month | There’s love, friendship and challenging prejudice aplenty in this debut novel by a LGBTQ+ parenting expert. Introverted Izzy has just started Year 8 and is wildly excited when her favourite teacher announces auditions for a Christmas production of Guys and Dolls. Though shy, she’s come to love acting because on stage she “could be whoever I wanted.” And Izzy’s not the only member of her family who wants - and needs - to be who they really are, as she discovers when her dad tells the family he’s transgender and is about to begin transitioning. Though he gently explains, “It’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s nothing dirty, I’m not ill”, Izzy’s older sister reacts angrily, her little brother accepts it in the same way he understands Spider Man and Peter Parker’s different identities, while Izzy feels quiet worry about how their lives will change. The family’s journey is honestly and sensitively portrayed as they endure hurtful prejudice alongside many heart-melting moments, such as the gorgeous scene in which the three siblings think-up their new name for Dad. This is at once an important support tool for children in similar situations, and a barrier-breaking, empathy-inducing story for all.
November 2019 Debut of the Month | At once amusing and affectionate, this early Middle Grade novel combines real-world alienation with actual aliens! Harriet feels terribly out of sorts when she moves in with Gran while her dad works away, but before she’s even had chance to say goodbye to him, she learns that her hearing aid enables her to understand alien languages, such as that spoken by the Sock Muncha she finds beneath her new bed. What’s more, Harriet discovers that Gran is part of a secret intergalactic organisation that’s working to protect Planet Earth from an invasion of Sock Munchas. Harriet runs into conflict when she’s taken on as Gran’s apprentice: how can she possibly banish her new alien friend, given that he was bullied by other Sock Muncha’s and isn’t at all like them? Alongside the action-packed alien adventure, there’s much sensitivity around making friends and making everyone feel welcome. For example, Harriet’s unquestioning acceptance of new friend Robin’s non-binary identity, which she describes as “kind of awesome.” What a sweetly empowering debut this is from a hearing aid-wearing comedian, actor and Ambassador for Action on Hearing Loss and the British Tinnitus Association.
August 2019 Debut of the Month | Uplifting and dazzlingly unique, this coming-of-age treasure explores identity and sexuality with an emboldening message to remember that “you have the right to be you”. As a young Barbie-loving boy, mixed race Michael wonders if he’s “only half” of everything, to which his mother poignantly replies: “Don’t let anyone tell you/that you are half-black/and half-white. Half-Cypriot/ and half-Jamaican./ You are a full human being.” But he doesn’t feel like a whole human being. Dubbed a “queerdo and weirdo” by bullies and subjected to “batty bwoy” taunts through his teenage years, he leaves London for Brighton University with hope in his heart. But even here Michael feels “like Goldilocks; trying to find a group of people/the perfect fit for me”. He doesn’t feel black enough for the Caribbean Society, or Greek enough for Hellenic Society, or queer enough for the LBGT Society. Then Michael finally finds a fit at Drag Society where he becomes The Black Flamingo, “someone fabulous, wild and strong. With or without a costume on.” Michael’s journey is complex, moving and told with a raw vitality that makes the soul soar and the heart sing, with Anshika Khullar’s magnificent illustrations and the smart design adding further depth, prompting the reader to pause for thought as his story requires.
June 2019 Book of the Month | Cleverly and playfully-formed, this is a sophisticated, thought-provoking novel of love, heartbreak and second chances. Eugene and Tatiana are 27 and 24. They’re both unsettled by a fortuitous encounter on the Paris Metro ten years after they last met, and the significance of the moment is made potently clear when the omniscient narrator interjects, “Look how shaken they are to see each other again. Look at their eyes”. Throughout, the all-knowing narrator directs readers’ responses in this way, introducing episodes with foreshadowing commentaries that tell us what to watch out for. It’s the narrator who announces “it’s time to go back about ten years into the past, back where it all began.” And so we’re presented with the origin of their connection, when Tatiana was a self-conscious bookish fourteen-year-old, and Eugene was the enigmatic, pessimistic seventeen-year-old friend of her older sister’s boyfriend. The narrative slips between the frisson of their re-acquaintance and the tragedy that struck their teenage years. In some ways, reading this is like observing an intense play. In others, it’s like being granted access to Eugene and Tatiana’s innermost thoughts, anxieties and desires through their impassioned soliloquies. In every way, it’s a unique and emotionally honest portrait of the grip and ache of young love.
What a very special picture book this is, strikingly illustrated by the super-talented Maisie Paradise Shearring and with a story that is utterly child-centred while still giving parents lots to think about. It opens in a playground, a familiar scene, where a mother tells her child to go and play with the little boy in the sandpit. Children neither want nor need to be told how to play, or who to play with, as her son makes clear in no uncertain terms. After all, the boy in the sandpit may be a monster in disguise. A fabulous imaginary adventure follows, which takes us underground into a monster's lair, where hordes of other children are held prisoner. It's a brilliant depiction of the power of a child's imagination, and an ingenious and very funny story. As far as the concept and illustration go, this is the best monster story since Not Now Bernard.
Winner of the Klaus Flugge Prize 2019 | Shortlisted for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2019 | Already shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal, Julian is a Mermaid is an outstanding picture book, surely destined to become a classic. Julian is out with Nana when he notices three women dressed as mermaids. In his heart of hearts – we see it described over three fabulous wordless spreads – Julian knows he is a mermaid too and while Nana takes a bath he sets out to transform himself into one. Nana’s response is life-affirming and the two head out to join the mermaid party. The illustrations dazzle and as a celebration of individuality, the imagination, freedom and love, it can’t be beaten. The Klaus Flugge judges said: it reminded me of Sendak, it’s hard to believe it’s a debut; the illustrations say things that words would struggle to express; delivers an important message without feeling didactic.
April 2018 Book of the Month | In a Nutshell: Falling Angels | Rising Hope | Falling in Love Compelling magic realist debut in which a fallen angel named Teacake helps heal a teen girl’s grief. Across the world angel-like Beings are falling from the sky. Their winged bodies seep golden blood on impact with the earth, and then they die. In the aftermath of the first sightings, the world exploded in an apocalyptic frenzy, yielding religious cults and angel-exploiting money-makers. Alongside this, Jaya is also dealing with a personal apocalypse – the sudden death of her mother. While Jaya struggles with her guilt-ridden grief, and with losing contact with Leah, the best friend who might also have been her girlfriend, she’s also irritated by her dad’s fanatical angel-chasing. But, as things turn out, it’s Jaya who’s there when an angel falls, and, for the first time, this angel survives. Angels don’t exist in Jaya’s mum’s Hindi religion so she pushes aside any thoughts that this is somehow a sign. But amidst the frenzy of the Edinburgh festival and the aggressive fanaticism of the Standing Fallen cult, Jaya does everything she can to protect this shimmering rose-gold Being from harm. The angels are never explained, or fully understood, but that isn’t necessary, for this isn’t about hard scientific facts, this is about matters of the soul. It’s a charming debut, radiant with humanity and heart. ~ Joanne Owen
March 2018 Debut of the Month | In a Nutshell: It takes courage for the show to go on Highs, lows, love and laughter - this big-hearted circus-set debut has it all. Siblings Finch and Birdie Franconi are high-flying trapeze artists in their family circus school. They’re fearless in flight, and also in fashion. Their no-nonsense attitude and endlessly inventive ensembles of bright blazers, tutus, paisley print, polka print and outlandish accessories certainly make them stand-out at school, and also attracts the attention of brainy new boy Hector. Reluctant at first, Finch agrees to teach seemingly hapless Hector circus skills, but when Birdie has an accident on the trapeze, his world begins to unravel. Finch feels fear for the first time, and it falls to Hector to show him that the show must go on. Alongside the tension and turmoil around Birdie’s condition, and the radiant razzle-dazzle of the circus, there’s a magnificent (if rocky-roaded) romance, and many words of wisdom come courtesy of Birdie’s blog posts: “You can’t control everything. That’s where courage comes in; sometimes you have to just go for it”. Complex questions are put under the spotlight as the main characters try to navigate their way in the world, wondering who they are, who they should be, how they fit in, and these big issues are all explored with clarity, humour and a whole of lot of heart beneath Franconi’s exhilarating Big Top. ~ Joanne Owen
Simon Spier is sixteen and trying to work out who he is - and what he's looking for. But when one of his emails to the very distracting Blue falls into the wrong hands, things get all kinds of complicated. Because, for Simon, falling for Blue is a big deal... It's a holy freaking huge awesome deal. Originally published as Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.
If anyone can teach young people how to best understand themselves and their world it’s Gemma Cairney. There are lots of good self-help and advice books but Open Your Heart stands out because of Cairney’s honesty and because of her brilliant, direct voice. Reading it is like being in the same room as her and leaves you feeling more positive, more confident, readier to accept yourself for who you are. It’s divided into two sections: your heart, and your body and soul, and covers topics from family and friends to body image, sex and sexual health. Information is provided by experts, often in the form of interviews by Gemma, all interspersed with her own knowledge and experiences, as well as what she’s learned as Radio 1 agony aunt. A properly invaluable book. ~ Andrea Reece
This collection features poems by three of our best-known and best-loved children’s poets, Liz Brownlee, Matt Goodfellow and Roger Stevens. Between them, using a range of poetic styles and voices, they cover lots of topics – friendship and togetherness, difference, tolerance, bullying. Some of the poems make their point through humour while others, particularly those about the refugee experience, are necessarily bleaker; some even contain direct advice about where to go or who to turn to in specific situations. All do what poetry does best, that is they will make readers think, engage and look at things, even situations or feelings that may be really familiar, with new eyes. An excellent collection that will be read and read again. ~ Andrea Reece
Shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2018 | One of Our Books of the Year 2017 | In a Nutshell: Soaring soundtrack to resilience and love Real-life grit, gripping mystery, magnificent love story - this second novel from the highly-acclaimed author of Orange Boy is a mighty fine feast of contemporary YA. Sixth-former Indigo hasn’t had the easiest start in life, to say the least. She was only four when her dad murdered her mother, and she now lives with foster mum Keeley. But, while Indigo has a harrowing family history, nothing can suppress her wit and style. She has zebra-striped hair, loves Blondie, and Bailey is besotted with her. With his striking gingery-brown afro and musical talents, he’s no wallflower either, though their backgrounds couldn't be more different (Bailey has a teacher mum and social worker dad and lives in a “posh house” in Hackney). As they strike up a friendship - and more - Indigo is handed another rough deal when her sister announces that she’s going to cut all ties with Indigo, and then there’s the homeless man from her past, who asks Bailey to help him “make things right” for her. Before he knows it, Bailey’s up to his neck in the most difficult of decisions. From the first-rate dialogue that allows the characters’ hearts and souls to shine with authenticity, to the deftly-woven mystery, this is a life-affirming wonder. Londoners will love the in-the-know references to the likes of bus routes, and the music references are top-notch. Real-life grit, gripping mystery, magnificent love story - this second novel from the highly-acclaimed author of Orange Boy is a mighty fine feast of contemporary YA. Sixth-former Indigo hasn’t had the easiest start in life, to say the least. She was only four when her dad murdered her mother, and she now lives with foster mum Keeley. But, while Indigo has a harrowing family history, nothing can suppress her wit and style. She has zebra-striped hair, loves Blondie, and Bailey is besotted with her. With his striking gingery-brown afro and musical talents, he’s no wallflower either, though their backgrounds couldn't be more different (Bailey has a teacher mum and social worker dad and lives in a “posh house” in Hackney). As they strike up a friendship - and more - Indigo is handed another rough deal when her sister announces that she’s going to cut all ties with Indigo, and then there’s the homeless man from her past, who asks Bailey to help him “make things right” for her. Before he knows it, Bailey’s up to his neck in the most difficult of decisions. From the first-rate dialogue that allows the characters’ hearts and souls to shine with authenticity, to the deftly-woven mystery, this is a life-affirming wonder. Londoners will love the in-the-know references to the likes of bus routes, and the music references are top-notch. Joanne Owen