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Each month our team of book lovers choose a selection of books they have loved and think deserve an extra shout out. Everyone fights to get theirs on the list. Here are this month’s faves.
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From the author of Seeing Stars which detailed all 88 known constellations for older children, this stylish and sturdy book introduces just six of the most familiar and recognisable constellations to the very young. Young children like nothing better than books which invite them to guess what is under the flap and here each constellation is introduced by the line-connected star cluster sparkling against the deep blue background of the night sky. As you read aloud the verbal clues, children are asked to guess the creature and the answer is revealed, with more lines filling in the details of the animal, under the flap, alongside more information about the constellation and its major stars. Flaps can be quite flimsy and often considered unsuitable for classroom use but, in this case, it is a solid full-page fold-out that will withstand multiple uses. Children will definitely be inspired to do their own star gazing and to investigate further. Personally, this has helped enormously to understand how constellations got their names and to see the animal properly revealed. I still wonder, however, at the imagination of the Ancients that first connected those dots!
March 2020 Book of the Month | Iris takes refuge with her grandma, Mimi, to escape the chaos at home, caused by her two-year old twin siblings and her dad’s DIY repairs. There’s a different kind of disorder in Mimi’s house which is chock full of items collected over the years, chiefly boxes of photos she’s taken and developed. Among the photographs of other people’s weddings are family portraits and its one of these that sets Iris on a hunt to unravel an old mystery, even as Mimi’s memories are fading. The story is beautifully told, as much about Iris and her search for order and happiness as it is about Mimi and her struggle with dementia. A poignant, thoughtful examination of family relationships, memory and loss, that ends on a note of hope and renewal.
Rachel Rooney, well known award-winning poet, and Zehra Hicks have created a positive way of looking at the everyday problems of children and how to deal with them. The problems are all given a brightly coloured physical form to help children see them for what they are - and look at ways to deal with them. The gently rhyming text suggests ways to deal with the problem, and that sharing a problem is a way to help dispose of it. A lovely way to tackle a sometimes difficult subject in a way that will appeal to many children. Keep it in your classroom for those awkward moments when you can see a child is struggling.
March 2020 Debut of the Month | This debut novel was inspired by the author’s work creating Run the World, an organisation that empowers women and girls from marginalised backgrounds through sport and storytelling and the authenticity of this, at times harrowing story, is palpably evident. As is the skill of the accomplished writing which makes great use of typography and layout to really make every word count. This speeds the reader through the narrative, but it also cuts deep to reveal the emotions experienced by our narrator. Amber Rai is only ‘truly alive’ when running and shows great potential. But her alcoholic, abusive, misogynistic father refuses to allow her on the track. She has seen her older sister Ruby denied university and married off against her will and her downtrodden, abused mother is literally powerless to help, trapped as much by illiteracy and lack of English as the violence of her equally illiterate, unemployed husband. Amber has friends and teachers who believe in her, but she cannot explain what really goes on at home. She is a complex and believable character with very real flaws that she painfully recognises: ‘inflicting pain on others/halves your own hurt’. But the story is cleverly structured on The Anatomy of a Revolution and inspired by her reading about revolutions for history, Amber, Ruby and her mother gradually empower each other to take small steps to freedom. This is an important, rewarding, highly empathetic read which, despite the dark subject matter, offers hope but no simplistic solutions.
This Middle Grade debut from award-winning YA author Nic Stone (I adored her Dear Martin novel) features one-of-kind characters and true-to-life struggles underpinned by a special relationship between a boy and his grandma, and the segregation history of the American South. It’s also powerful on themes of racism, making amends, and complex family dynamics. In big trouble at school and fearing his dad has lost faith in him, eleven-year-old Scoob has had a rough time of it of late, so the prospect of going on a road-trip with his gloriously willful grandma seems pretty good. Travelling with the Green Book guide that lists ‘safe’ places for African Americans to travel, G’ma takes them to places she and her deceased husband visited on a trip decades ago, though they didn’t make it the whole way. Among these sites are the bombed church where civil rights activists used to gather, including Dr Martin Luther King, and the former home of Medgar Wiley Evers, a black soldier who fought in WWII and came home to fight for civil rights. As their journey progresses, Scoob is increasingly freaked out by G’ma’s actions and state of mind. “Looks like we’re both trying to make a run for it,” she remarks, leading Scoop to anxiously wonder what she’s running from, and what she’s trying to make amends for. During their moving page-turner of a trip, the story reveals how unjust life was for African Americans during segregation, and how hard it was for Scoob’s African American G-pop and white G’ma to be a young married couple. Gripping, moving and informative, this is a wonderfully warm read, and Scoob’s perspective is spot-on for the age-group.
A fascinating guidebook to bears large and less large, this quirky book is packed with information but full of humour too. It introduces readers to the eight different species of bears living in the world, and there’s a section on each one, with a very useful illustrated panel showing ‘how they size up’. This is followed by pages on things all or most bears do, from eating and swimming (all) to hibernating (not all). There’s a mix of text and Katie Viggers’ characterful illustrations and alongside the facts, she has lots of fun – sloth bears for example, whose long, shaggy coats mean they often look untidy, are depicted at the bear hair salon. It’s comic but memorable too. Even if you didn’t love bears at the beginning of the book, you will by the end and either way you’ll have learned a great deal.