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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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10-year-old Joy’s family have always travelled the world – Mum working as a nurse, Dad as a chef with Claude and Joy – sisters but totally different characters – until now. They have returned to the UK and are all crammed into Grandad’s house where normality reigns supreme! Both girls have to go to school – for the first time ever – and find it difficult to settle and find life as engaging as it used to be. Joy has always looked for silver-linings but at the moment she finds it incredibly hard to find any, until she meets Benny who becomes a firm friend. She and Benny met beneath an ancient tree in the school grounds – but then the local authority plans to tear the tree down. Can Joy find her silver-lining in such an awful plan? She and Benny start a fight for what they believe in – the future of the ancient tree. Written with all Valentine’s usual skill and empathy we are drawn into the world of Joy and her difficult transition to life without the globe-trotting. The characters are clearly drawn, with an authentic family dynamic. The perfect length for readers enjoying a longer read as their next step. This promises to be the first in a series, and I am sure Joy and her family, with their resilience and courage will have many fans.
Exhibiting the same intense sense of place as in her highly acclaimed debut, The Smell of Other People’s Houses, and set once again in Alaska and the American West during the 1990’s, this collection demonstrates absolutely remarkable storytelling and authenticity. Every word in each short story counts in bringing another character so vividly to life that we become completely immersed in their lives. These troubled teens encounter love, loss, coming of age, grief, abuse, and friendships with the minutiae of daily life often revealing or foreshadowing a deeper and darker truth. All the narratives share the backdrop of an increasingly devasting forest fire and the history of a little girl’s disappearance. Each story relates to these major events in different ways and the links between the individual stories and these shattering events gradually become apparent. What is also revealed is the universal dichotomy of small communities, where everybody knows everybody and yet does not actually know them at all. The struggle to get your voice heard and for people to accept your truth is at the heart of these beautifully crafted stories. This is a book which should be garlanded with awards and will definitely linger long in the reader’s mind.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month April 2021 | Award-winning writers for adults, Zadie Smith and Nick Laird have now created a perfectly crafted picture book that is simple in its telling and strong in its message. When Maud arrives as a surprise for Kit’s birthday she is treated with great suspicion by the pets who are already in residence. Since she is not like them - a cat, a bird or a pug dog - they are swift to deem her to be a weirdo. Briefly, Maud tries to fit in before taking herself on a life-changing adventure in which she soon discovers that being yourself is far, far more important than fitting in. Magenta Fox’s gentle illustrations are the perfect foil to this punchy celebration of individuality.
From the agonising loneliness of grief, to the wonders of new friendships and a newfound father-son bond, Cath Howe’s How to be Me will stir readers to joy as it steers through Lucas’s profound sadness. His pitch-perfect narration is sublimely child-centred, with fine details that raise smiles and tug the heart. Tender and thoughtful, what a warm beam of a book this is, with the transformative, restorative power of music (and cats) threaded throughout. “Vanessa’s going to be your new mum, Lukie. You could at least look a bit excited about it.” Lucas’s dad’s words strike him to the core - his mum died three years ago, and Vanessa is nothing like her, while his wealthy banker dad is hardly ever around. Dad is a bluster of confidence, busyness, and quick fixes, which is why he sends Lucas to drama club - Dad thinks this will fix Lucas’s reluctance to speak up in public, but Lucas is horrified: “Why hadn’t Dad asked me? Why did he never ask me?” But that’s the thing about Dad - he always thinks he knows best, though he doesn’t know Lucas at all. Thankfully, the horrors of drama class shrink when Lucas befriends Keely and her beautiful, bighearted family. Keely is a delight - straight-talking, observant, funny, caring. Life also looks up also when his drama teacher realises he’s an incredible pianist. With an enthralling finale that builds in beautiful waves, and an inclusive, readable style, I adored every word of this treasure.
Imagine what it would feel like to always be asked the same question, to only be seen for your disability? Well Joe is very cross about that- he just wants to play pirates and so he ignores the other children and eventually they become curious and eventually they all join in the imaginative game and great fun is had by all. In a letter to parents and careers at the end of the book the author tells us about losing his own leg and so we have no doubt that this reflects an authentic lived experience. He also gives wonderfully straightforward advice about the conversations parents can have with their own children about disability. This is the very opposite of a “worthy” issues-based book. It is a funny and very enjoyable read that will nevertheless perform an urgently needed task and generate very useful discussion at home and school. An absolute essential purchase for all schools and early years. settings. Find more books with Positive Images of Disability.
Who knew you could do so much with – and learn so much from – an ordinary glass jar? Created by scientist and educator Dr Sai Pathmanathan, this book contains 50 accessible, low-cost, hands-on science activities that will educate and inspire young minds about everything from magnets to matter, and light to evolution. And the most amazing thing is, pretty much all you need to set them up, is a jar. Dr Pathmanathan believes that science can be most awe-inspiring when we work things out for ourselves, and that’s definitely borne out here, where children are inspired to think about science, and use what they observe themselves to come to conclusions. The instructions for each experiment are easy to follow and accompanied by clear explanations of the science behind it, as well as suggestions for additional activities. Designed for use at home or at school, this will definitely appeal to enquiring minds and open up a world of wonder. One word of warning though – there are some groan-inducing puns as chapter titles!
April 2021 Book of the Month | This bestseller that dominated the adult charts for some considerable number of weeks has now been adapted for younger readers losing something like 100 pages in the process. This is the life story of Michelle Obama, from her poor but happy childhood on the Southside of Chicago to her current position as an ex-First Lady of the United States. It is written in a text that flows well – and gives the reader a searingly honest view of what life was like, the struggles and triumphs of a thoughtful, driven young black woman to get to top class US universities and gain excellent qualifications from them and to find her place in the world. Her meeting with Barack and their early life before politics impinged. Then, through the stages of their political life as a family – told in such a way that it is relatively easy to understand the complex political set-up in the US (something I always find rather confusing!) The highlight for me was seeing just how much Michelle was passionate about helping young people get what they needed – a better life, better nutrition, minority recognition and a sense of self-worth – which started whilst she was in college and continues right through her story. Her love of family and dislike for partisan politics – even whilst she had to exist within the political system – give one hope for the future and those young people she helped. A very readable and accessible biography for anyone with an interest in recent US history. Highly recommended.