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All the books we feature as Books of the Month on LoveReading4Schools are selected because we think they deserve to stand out from the crowd. We select a few each month across the key stages.
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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.
Clementine - though she is usually called Oiya (Oy, you) by her dreadful Aunt and Uncle – has dreams of a magic place she may have once known. Her only friend is the cat Gilbert (called Giblets by Aunt Vermillia and Uncle Rufus) as Clementine has a Cinderella-like existence working all day and then being locked away in the cellar at night. She glimpses the sky through looking up the chimney in her cellar, until one day she looks out of a window in the house and sees the magic place she has imagined… Then follows a great adventure through the Great Black City as Clementine miraculously escapes and tries to find her magic place. Clementine is a very determined little girl, many would have given up in her circumstances, but she knows she can fine her magic place. The book is a very tactile object, a lovely size for smaller hands as they get involved in this wonderful adventure. Black and white illustrations on virtually every page – Wormell is feted for his wood cuts and lino cuts – with a nod to the style of Gustav Doré, give this an authentic Dickensian feel. The generous illustrations paired with the fast-paced story make this a book children will enjoy reading for pleasure!
There’s magic and joy in this gorgeous picture book. Little Merrylegs is a riding school pony, clumping round the stables wishing his life was more interesting. He longs to be as tall and beautiful as the racehorses he watches from his paddock, and when his friend Feathers reminds him how happy the children are to ride him, Merrylegs doesn’t listen. Then a fair comes to town, and a magical encounter with the carousel horses changes Merryleg’s view of himself forever, his stumble clop turning into a clippetty trip. It’s a lovely, truly satisfying story of friendship and self-belief, perfectly told through Pam Smy’s illustrations and gentle text. ............................ An enchanting story of friendship and self-belief illustrating you can see the world with new eyes. Merrylegs is a bored riding school pony just plodding around the school, not noticing the delight of the children who ride him. It takes his friend Feathers to show him the Carousel in a local fair to inspire him to new heights. It takes a while, and the magic of the night for Merrylegs to realise he can be the pony that strides out, going from ‘stumble, clump, clippety clomp’ to ‘snippety trip, clippety trip, trip, trot, trip’! His dreams have inspired him and he’s now the pony enjoying all the children riding him. This is a beautiful simple storybook showing you can achieve your dreams – a truly inspirational message. The illustration style is clear and accurate with lovely details to spot, the ponies look like you really could ride them. Spot the deliberate changes from frontispiece to end papers – reinforcing the story message. Pam Smy uses so many different techniques in her books I do hope she continues to use what I assume are lithographic processes. The lovely rhythm of Merrylegs strides, repeated often in the text, will make this a read aloud favourite for classes and children everywhere. Tricia Adams
Each of the 15 subjects selected for this collection gets a lively, well-designed, double-paged spread with bite sized and accessible chunks of information about the life and career of each extraordinary individual. These range from the familiar – David Attenborough, Michelle Obama, Nelson Mandela, Mo Farrer etc- to those that were completely new to me and, I am sure, to most young readers! These include Britain’s first female spy- Krystyna Skabarek; Aeham Ahmad, the pianist of Yarmouk and Keiko Fukuda Sensei, who became the only woman to be awarded the 10th Dan in Judo at the age of 98! The illustrations by Annabel Tempest are very effective in capturing both time and place as well as the character and emotions of the individual. Written by a graduate of the Penguin Random House WriteNow scheme, which endeavours to ensure that books and authors better reflect the society we live in, this is a rich resource for KS1 libraries and classrooms. It will support the study of lives of significant individuals in the past and show good examples of resilience and positive role models. It is a book which will be dipped into and read with pleasure but lack of contents or index means that it is less useful as a research tool. But this is an author to watch: one whose evident passion for writing information texts which are set to ignite curiosity in young readers shines through.
A timely publication with Brexit looming, this accessible and lively journey through the UK combines a geographical tour of our islands with social and historical themes such as music, transport, food, clothes, sport and how, for example, UK time has defined global time zones since the definition of the Greenwich Meridian. Written and collected by children’s book critic Imogen Russell- Williams, it is not surprising to find a spread on Bookish Britain and a field guide to magical creatures, but equally entertaining are spreads on the famous British sweet tooth and the confectionery industry or conversely on Keeping Fit and Healthy: where we learn that The Isles of Scilly are the most sporty and active place in the UK! One cannot help but wonder if a subliminal Brexit message is intended about the geographical tour beginning in Northern Ireland, but it is certainly refreshing not to have London front and centre and for all the home nation capitals to get their own double page spread and equality of coverage. The selection of facts about each place or theme is inspired, diverse and non-jingoistic; defining the British Empire, for example as ‘also responsible for the rise of slavery and the loss of resources, identity and language for other countries.’ The varied page layout is a particular strength combining colourful images and clear textboxes and labels. There is an enjoyable quiz on “How Well do you know the UK?” at the end of the book, but I really cannot understand why there is not at the very least a Contents page to guide young researchers to an area of interest. Nevertheless, this is an attractive and fascinating book which will, I guarantee, with every page turn present the reader with something they did not know or had not heard of.
August 2019 Debut YA Book of the Month | This unique, incisive novel is an emotionally engrossing road-trip reinvention of Moby Dick with female characters, and a gripping mystery about what main protagonist Dinah is running from to find her place to call home. Seventeen-year-old Dinah has lived her whole life on a commune and now feels compelled to flee everything she’s ever known. After being home-schooled, a recent period in mainstream schooling has turned her world upside-down, as has turbulent upheavals at home, and then there’s the mystery of what happened between Dinah and new friend Queenie. She shaves off her hair, adopts a new name and flees, illegally driving a VW campervan (her version of Moby Dick’s Pequod ship) with a cantankerous one-legged neighbour for company. While driving, Dinah confronts her many demons, most of which stem from her confusing sense of identity. She’s mixed race, but feels neither black nor white, and she’s attracted to boys and girls. The road is bumpy, with many revelations and confrontations along the way. Eventually, though, Dinah realises that “the road that took you away has led you all the way back home”. This is a smartly-crafted novel with real resonance, a story that honestly and empathetically imparts an uplifting message to “Always be yourself first…find yourself and be yourself”.
This is a book which any adult who deals with children, and not just teachers and others who work in school settings, would find enlightening, thought provoking and revealing. As we learn from the little snippets from the school reports of Paul Dix at the end of each chapter, the author has direct experience of being one of the ‘bad boys’ and now has more than 25 years of working to transform the most challenging behaviour in schools, referral units and colleges to call upon. As a 14-year-old he vowed he would change the way adults deal with behaviour and I defy any reader not to rethink their own strategies as a result of reading this book. Responsible adults should be just that – always in control of themselves before they attempt to take control of others. But this book is nothing to do with blaming teachers. Paul Dix is angry but he is angry with the lack of proper training in behaviour management and angry with the unrelenting drive for ‘progress’, pleasing Ofsted and analysing data which is destroying any ethos of pastoral care. Here chapter by chapter he asks hard hitting questions about school policies and behaviours and shows how these impact on students and often in a very counter- productive way. He writes with humour and the occasional frank expletive, he shares personal anecdotes, observations and tried and tested strategies backed up by theory, case studies and international examples. Each chapter concludes with three helpful checklists: Testing, Watch Out For and Nuggets which sum up, encourage and act as a quick aide memoire going forward. Ultimately the author’s message is about consistency and kindness. “ Visible consistency with visible kindness allows exceptional behaviour to flourish” This is a genuine must read that can genuinely transform schools and as his many examples show where improved behaviour leads, improved attainment follows.