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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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Recent research has highlighted the lack of diverse representation in central characters in books and films and more particularly that when they exist, they are there to highlight an ‘issue’ or social problem. So, this book is doubly important – not only do we have an Asian central character but the main issue at the heart of the book is the power of social media and the challenge to behave in an ethically responsible way- to do the right thing. The issue would have been the same with a white narrator. Added to that we have a joyous cast of characters reflecting the genuinely multiracial context in which real young people live. We have white, mixed race, Asian and Afro Caribbean best friends each humorously riffing on the foibles of their families’ culture and expectations. These are very real characters, high achievers who are not afraid to have fun. The author runs her own teenage reading group and her ear for dialogue is impeccable. Of course, there is a darker, thought provoking side too. Jeevan knows his female English teacher has it in for him and suspects this derives from an innate racism and when the opportunity to record an in flagrante liaison presents itself, this proves irresistible but is almost immediately regretted. Nothing is simplistically handled; all the moral nuances are thoroughly explored through Jeevan’s interactions with his friends and family. Even the implied sexism of exposing a female while protecting a more favoured male teacher becomes a very real issue. Research has demonstrated that low expectations of pupils of colour can be a real barrier to their achievement and it can be all too easy for schools to fall into this sort of systemic racism. But this is a school that, like Jeevan, can come good in the end. A book to confound and challenge expectations as well as to genuinely entertain.
Well-known children’s TV presenter Konnie Huq has created this delightful novel, illustrated throughout with small sketches and some very humourous footnotes! Cookie is a bright, bold character, who doesn’t understand the word no, who leaps in with both feet – and so gets herself into trouble just a little too often. When her best friend announces her family plan to move away Cookie is bereft – not helped by the arrival of a very annoying boy – who moves in next door to Cookie. Cookie wants to represent her school on the Brainbusters TV quiz programme, but to do so she must win the Y5 science project – will she do it? The storytelling is funny and energetic – just like Cookie. There are some real laugh out loud moments, paired with explanations and methods on the science experiments described in the book – and hints on how to do them safely at home. A real pleasure to have a book encouraging scientific exploration in such a fun way – and such a strong young female character.
Just like the award short-listed title Once Upon a Raindrop, this is a wonderful topic introduction, but this time revealing the origins and essentials of music in all its forms. A colourful visual treat from the notation themed endpapers to the irresistible, exuberant and inclusive depictions of the drumming, dance and song that have been a vital part of human life since ancient times. We journey through songs originating around the campfire and passed down through the generations, the development of instruments and musical notation right up to the genres which we enjoy today. Engaging and informative and ending with an acrostic poem, based upon the word Rhythm, of useful information about musical history, this book begs to be read aloud. The page design using bold text and red for emphasis ensures that nobody could fail to catch the beat. It is a real celebration of rhythm designed to inspire young musicians everywhere to get involved. Music has always been a part of James Carter’s school performances so he is absolutely the perfect match for this topic and this poem would be great piece to use for choral speaking performances in assemblies and the like.
This assured and beautifully written debut perfectly captures that awkward phase of growing up when you feel left behind and uncertain who you are. Safiya is obsessed with gaming and Studio Ghibli, feels guilty for choosing to live with her father after her parent’s amicable divorce and feels her ambitious high achieving mother would prefer the more sophisticated and worldly girls at her school. Their relationship is very strained, both are such strong and complex characters, and a particularly bad argument sadly precedes her mother’s hospitalisation. Understandably guilt and anxiety fill her waking moments, and, in her dreams, she finds herself witnessing the turbulent relationship between her mother and grandmother in Kuwait and begins to understand the influences on her mother’s character. The line between these game-like dreams, that are so well evoked, and her daily reality is skilfully blended as Safiya tries to find out more and believes she can find the key to saving her mother. As their back story is gradually revealed, Safiya comes to terms with who she is and can finally understand and accept the truth of her mother’s love. A deeply moving and satisfying coming of age novel that is highly recommended.
This series describes itself as the ‘true life stories of the most amazing people ever!’ and already has several volumes available, including Emmeline Pankhurst and Ada Lovelace. This life story of Malala is both very instructive on the political turmoil that led to her shooting, and in portraying Malala as a very engaging, brave and dedicated young person. It is written in an easily readable text using side panels to explain situations and traditions without interrupting the flow of the biography. It also contains a timeline taking us from 1947 – Pakistan’s independence – right through to 2018. A very useful glossary explains unfamiliar words and a well detailed index all add enormously to the value of this biography. I particularly liked the explanation panel on the mechanics of writing this book (verso title page) – so that readers can know which are Malala’s actual words (in italic) and which are the authors interpretations – vital to students in this world of fake news. The line illustrations add a graphic novel feel to parts of the story – all making this a fascinating, well-written biography that will find a well-deserved place in many classrooms and libraries.