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Find our recommendations for books to encourage reluctant readers in Key Stage 2. These chapter books are highly illustrated page-turners to help develop good reading habits for less confident or reluctant readers.
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October 2020 Book of the Month | What a witty feast of sing-song verse and visuals this is. Chris Riddell’s vibrant characters whish and whoosh in rhythm with Neil Gaiman’s rambunctious rhymes to create a hearty banquet befitting a pirate crew. The swaggering story begins when a brother and sister are introduced to their babysitter, a certain scar-faced, grey-haired, peg-legged ship’s cook called Long John Mc Ron. Moments after their parents have left, Long John opens the door to an entire crew of hungry pirates, and so he does what any respectable ship’s cook would do – he cooks up “Pirate Stew! Pirate Stew! Eat it and you won’t be blue. You can be a pirate too!” With a rib-tickling twist that will send readers into fits of giggles, Pirate Stew is buccaneering blast of a book that demands to be read aloud, acted out and treasured like ill-gotten gains!
Interest Age 8+ Reading Age 8 | This gripping story of kidnap and escape burns with outrage at damage being done to the Amazon. Carlos’ mother is a member of the Special Forces Group of IBAMA, Brazil’s environment agency, which suddenly makes him a target for ruthless men illegally mining in the rainforest. Taken as a hostage to force his mother to turn a blind eye, he manages to escape and survive with the help of a boy his age, whose life has already been devastated by the men’s actions, even as the world burns around both of them. Powerful and absolutely gripping, this is both a terrific adventure story and a wake-up call for young readers about the urgent need to protect our world. Published by Barrington Stoke, it’s accessible to all readers including those reluctant, struggling or dyslexic.
September 2020 Book of the Month | Cally and Jimmy are twins but more different people it would be hard to meet. Cally is generally quiet and well-behaved, while Jimmy is anything but (his ADHD doesn’t help). It’s Cally who narrates the four separate stories contained in this very enjoyable new book, and she gives us a really good idea of what it’s like to live with the most-annoying-brother-in-the-whole-wide-world, describing the many times he gets them both into trouble, but she absolutely captures the fun they have together too. There’s a starring role for their wonderful grandma, or Yiayia as they know her (Mum is Greek) and just a lovely sense of this family. Recommended reading and hopefully there’ll be more adventures to come for the twins.
Leonard looks like a cat, sounds like a cat and – in lots of ways – behaves like a cat. But Leonard is an alien, an alien who has arrived in the wrong body for a trip to Earth – he was meant to be a Yellowstone Park ranger - and needs to get home. Fortunately, he’s adopted by just about the only human on our planet who can save him. Olive is a young girl, also far from home and lonely. The two form a special friendship and, with the help of two amiable if eccentric grown-ups, embark on an amazing journey of adventure and discovery. Leonard might not get to tick off all the human activities on his to do list – one of which is the ‘preparation and consumption of a cheese sandwich’ – but he and Olive learn the most important things there are to being human, to being alive. It’s a story filled with wonder, but truths too, is often funny, sometimes tense, always enjoyable and has important things to say about home and where we can find it. Readers who love Leonard – and lots will – should also read Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s alien adventure Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth.
“It was October 1917 when my life truly changed.” So begins this heartfelt true story of unsung heroines and family life during WWI. Though the war was horrific and “the future…looked bleak for most of us” narrator Hettie notes that for girls and women, “in many ways, it was the making of us. For us, it was a new beginning.” Indeed, it kicked-off the ground-breaking events recounted in this top of the league tale, which itself kicks-off a series. Hettie is a self-professed “gangly fifteen-year-old with frizzy hair and barely a sensible thought in my head”. Her slightly older brother (“lovely, gentle Freddie”) has already gone to war, and now it’s her turn to do her bit working in the Dick, Kerr & Co munitions factory. Hettie’s apprehension as she starts work is palpable, as are the details of factory life - the roar and hiss of the machines, the dangers, the banter. In its presentation of social history Kicking Off is brilliantly evocative, and it packs hearty punch as a personal story too. After a tough start at work, Hettie perks up when her colleagues talk of forming a ladies’ football team, though her dad’s gruff warning rings loud in her ears (“Don’t you keep playing that game, Hettie. It’s unladylike. It’s unfitting”). But her new friend Grace is a determined, inspiring ally and, soon enough, “the start of something wonderful happens” when a match against the men’s team is arranged. The story’s a game of two halves, though, with plenty of twists, turns and metaphoric goalmouth scrambles as the pioneering young women persist in establishing their right to play. Female friendship and tenacity. Family love and conflict. Wartime realities that stir social revolutions - what a pitch-perfect story this, and told in a clear, readable style that could hook reluctant readers.
From the creator of I Swapped My Brother On The Internet comes this fizzily energetic feast of fun that sees aspiring inventor Keith get more than he bargained for after entering a Junior Mega Brain Quiz and winding up competing against his genius sister. Keith is one of life’s dreamers, and something of an underdog readers will really root for. He has his sights set on going to an Inventors’ Fair in Paris, but his mum and dad just don’t have the cash. Never one to let a problem stand in his way, Keith observes how his super-smart sister Minerva (appropriately named after the Roman goddess of wisdom) has won money for some of her many achievements. And so, while “there was no Roman god Keith”, our ever-hopeful hero hits on the idea of inventing a machine to steal Min’s brain so he can win a Junior Mega Brain Quiz and use the prize money to pay for Paris. From attempting to drink coffee while wearing a child-genius outfit (black leggings, black polo neck and giant sunglasses), to becoming an instant TV hit with a hashtag and band of devoted followers, Keith’s story is a hilarious, heart-warming delight from start to finish, and a great read for readers who loved David Solomons’s My Brother is a Superhero series.
Shortlisted for the Costa Children's Book Award 2020 | Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2021 | May 2020 Debut of the Month | There aren’t many books that can have you laughing out loud one minute, and tearing up the next, but The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates is one. When Freddie sets off on a secret journey that will take him half-way across the country, his two best friends come too; they have their own reasons for wanting to escape home for a bit. Together the three get into and out of some extraordinary scrapes, inadvertently becoming heroes in the process, and Freddie experiences an actual miracle. Freddie, Ben and Charlie are great characters and their incredible journey – which variously involves sheep, a tandem, superhero outfits and stolen treasure - both hilarious and gripping. The ending proves that the world is a wonderful place, particularly for those who go looking for adventure. Don’t miss. One to recommend to fans of Frank Cottrell Boyce’s The Astounding Broccoli Boy, or David Solomons’ My Brother is a Superhero series.
P.G. Bell’s debut The Train to Impossible Places established him as a writer of hugely exciting, inventive and satisfying adventure, and its sequel, The Great Brain Robbery, is just as good, if not even better. Once again 11-year-old Suzy is aboard the Impossible Postal Express tearing through the fantastical realms that make up the Union of Impossible Places, and this time it’s a do or die mission to save Trollville from a thoroughly nasty villain. Suzy is much more at home now with fuzzics, the strange mix of science and magic that lies at the heart of troll technology, though there are still some fabulous surprises in store for her and readers. Adventure doesn’t come more exciting or entertaining, and this is one train young readers really mustn’t miss.
Detective siblings Nik and Norva are back with a blast in this second novel set around The Tri high-rise block. If the highly-acclaimed High-Rise Mystery was a devastatingly good debut (it was), this is a full-on firecracker of a follow-up. A classic kids detective series slickly rebooted for the twentieth-first-century – think Harriet the Spy with a smartphone and added spark. Rising global music star Trojkat is back in her old ‘hood to make a music video when she dies in The Tri while shooting a scene. Most people – including the police - assume Trojkat’s death is a tragic accident, but sleuth-minded Nik and Norva suspect otherwise. With the help of their mate George, the determined duo set about piecing together a hotchpotch of clues to solve a case that has personal resonance. There are plenty of poignant moments along the way, such as when Nik expresses how it feels to lose a person you love: “It made you feel empty. Fragile. Like you could shatter into a million pieces if someone gently blew in your direction”. Overall, this is a super-charged detective story that fizzes with a whole lot of quick-witted, ping-ponging exchanges between Nik and Norva, with a sensational revelatory showdown to round things off.
February 2020 Book of the Month | Charlie Tanner’s dog Jasper thinks he’s descended from Viking dogs and is determined to find out more. This sparks a series of very funny letters from Charlie to the curator at the local Viking museum, in which Charlie poses questions from Jasper. In fact, questions and answers tell us lots about Viking life and the unusual and ingenious presentation makes it all extremely readable and accessible. A great way to learn about the Vikings. Jasper has explored space for readers too, and it looks he has more adventures to come, which is good news.
If you love Tom Gates, the Wimpy Kid, or Nikki Maxwell of Dork Diaries fame, then you need to get to know Max Crumbly. Like these hapless anti-heroes, Max has a habit of getting into trouble – this episode opens with Max and his crush Erin Madison trapped in a dumpster full of smelly rubbish – mainly in an effort to escape school bullies or teachers. He recounts his adventures in a breathless, as-it-happens mix of text and image, which is vivid, action-packed and guaranteed to keep the pages turning and readers laughing. It all works too because author Rachel Renée Russell understands her protagonist and her readers so well, ensuring that Max is always a credible and sympathetic character.
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2020 | No matter how exciting, zany and surprising the action, you can always be sure that Frank Cottrell-Boyce will build his stories on real human emotions, and that’s as true of this brilliantly funny, original and touching novel as of any of its predecessors. Alfie ‘swerves’ both school and the Limb Lab, where he should be going to learn how to control his state-of-the-art new hand, by hanging out at the airport. But everything changes when, through various happy accidents, he finds an enormous robot called Eric in Lost Property. Eric holds the Allen key to the book’s mysteries, both a generations-old legend, and the secrets that Archie is keeping from the reader and himself. Beautifully told and full of characters readers will love, this book will have you laughing out loud one minute, in tears the next. Robot Eric, unfailingly polite, kind and helpful and trying to explain himself through misremembered jokes is an iron man for our time. Unmissable. Once readers have finished this, point them in the direction of Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s other books including The Astounding Broccoli Boy and books by Ross Welford. Peter Brown’s story The Wild Robot is another great automaton adventure.
February 2020 Debut of the Month | The Bigwoof Conspiracy is a monstrously amusing mash-up of Scooby Doo and The Twilight Zone - think Louis Sachar’s Fuzzy Mud with added farcical fun.Quirky UFO-obsessed Lucy is an inspirational, one-of-a-kind heroine who unapologetically follows her own path and won’t stop until the truth is exposed. And Lucy’s search for the truth behind the hairy beast she spies in the woods lies at the heart of this madcap adventure. On this same night Lucy meets Milo, a smartly-dressed boy from the city whose dad is the new owner of the Sticky Sweet factory her own dad works at.When a teacher disappears and she and Milo step-up their quest to secure photographic evidence of hairy Bigwoof, Lucy winds up in big trouble, while pondering even bigger questions. Why did Milo’s dad delete his photo of the hairy beast? Why are folk disappearing from Sticky Pines? And what’s the deal with the factory’s creepy clown henchmen? There’s definitely something fishy going on and Lucy won’t rest until she’s found the source of the stink! I loved Lucy’s tenacious commitment to truth (“I require that the world not run on lies”), her ingenious curse vocabulary (including “Crudberries!” and “Oh, for the love of Björk!”), and the book’s “do the right thing” theme. Bursting with comic capers, this comes especially recommended for reluctant readers who’ve lost their reading mojo.
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2021 | Smart, incisive, brimming with the breath of human experience and written with engaging age-appropriate verve, this clever concept (“a tale told in ten blocks”) is perfectly executed. For the chorus of kids whose lives play out on these impeccably-written pages, the walk home from school represents a rare time of freedom; a period of limbo between being under the watchful eyes of teachers and parents. Unsupervised, the kids reveal their true selves, most of them dealing with hidden heartache and anxieties alongside goofing around, self-reflecting and navigating their way through Middle School. As always with Jason Reynolds, the characterisation is ingeniously vivid, with deep insights expressed through, for example, the different ways kids open their lockers. Many of the stories are intensely poignant, such as that of the Low Cuts crew whose bad behaviour is fuelled by a desperate love for their sick parents. The moment it turns out that Bit the hustler is a “son who was scared. A son who loved his mum” is shatteringly powerful. There’s much humour too, such as the laugh-out-loud scene in which smelly Gregory is slathered in VaporRub by friends seeking to beautify him before he visits a girl he’s keen on. Bittersweet, hard-hitting and powerfully perceptive, these pitch-perfect reader-centric stories shine a light on oft-overlooked lives and ring with empathy and authenticity.
Roger Paxton is an ordinary kind of boy and a very reluctant hero – which is unfortunate as he’s tasked with saving the world from a massive goblin invasion. At least he’s got a good team on his side, including the marvellous and utterly fearless dwarf captain Mossbelly Macfearsome. This is a wonderfully raucous bit of fantasy adventure full of thrilling scenes, some irresistible characters, and very entertaining details (I love the fact that the goblins smell of burnt toast and fart into bottles to make their drinks fizzy). The story is set at Hallowe’en and this would make a terrific October read, but it would be fun to share at any time of the year. You could go on from this to Terry Pratchett, it’s that much fun.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month June 2019 | Harry Stevenson may look like an ordinary guinea pig and he may behave like an ordinary guinea pig in that he spends his time eating and sleeping. But Harry Stevenson is not your average creature in a cage. Although he has no special powers he seems to get caught up in some amazing adventures. This volume contains two wild and wacky adventures in which Harry does all kinds of unexpected and crazy things. They are fun to read and perfect for readers who are just starting out.
June 2019 Book of the Month | Kids who like their adventures wild, funny and full of the unexpected will love Adam Stower’s King Coo stories. Starring ordinary schoolboy Ben and his best friend, the totally extraordinary Coo, a bearded girl who lives a secret life with her wombat Herbert in some woods near Ben’s home, they are a brilliant mix of action, invention and jokes of all kinds – verbal, visual, slapstick. This escapade sees the two friends thwart a band of thieves who are intent on stealing priceless golden artefacts from the local museum. For all the zaniness, the plot makes perfect sense and Stower’s excellent illustrations move it along at pace. One to recommend to fans of Tom Gates or Timmy Failure.
Chosen by Cressida Cowell, Guest Editor May 2020 | Young readers will have great fun on planet Omar! Our hero's tales of everyday life with his family and at school will keep everyone amused. Omar is worried because the family have just moved house - will he make friends at school? He does of course, but Daniel the school bully seems to have it in for him. A school trip to the Science Museum sees the two of them lost in London, but Omar knows just what to do and in the process realises that maybe he'd got Daniel wrong. The real pleasure of this book is Omar - his imagination, the pleasure he finds in ordinary things, his infectious zest for life make this irresistible reading. The book also offers insight into the life of an ordinary Muslim family, something we don't often get, and indeed, Zanib Mian has said that she wrote the book to counter negative stereotypes of Muslims. It's another reason to recommend this book, and I'm already looking forward to a new story and a return to Planet Omar. Our Guest Editor, Cressida Cowell said, "this is a very funny, illustrated series which has characters with heart who you really care about. I’d say if you’re a fan of Wimpy Kid and Tom Gates, you’d like this series…"
The higher Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton’s treehouse grows, the better. There are few books that reach such levels of absurd comedy and adventure, and the authors’ ability to weave the craziest adventures into satisfying plots is phenomenal. As the treehouse reaches 104 storeys, new additions include a stupid-hat level, and a money-making machine that also makes honey. They still have their books to write for Mr Big though, and as always are up against the delivery deadline. But Andy’s got toothache and can’t laugh because of the pain. Could a Joke Writer 2000™ pencil be the answer to their problems? 104 Storeys and 300+ pages of brilliant, ingenious cartoon adventure.
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2020 | Rachel Rooney brings a class to life with poems for all the different characters. There is a rich vein of understanding of children here: never sentimental, always intriguing. Children will delight in the ways in which the styles and patterns of the poems enhance the exploration of each child. The wonderful illustrations draw readers into this magical anthology.
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2020 | August 2018 Book of the Month | A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month August 2018 | | A thought-provoking and touching story of the bond between children and nature, from renowned storyteller and award-winning author Gill Lewis. Award-winning Gill Lewis is renowned for her skilful capturing of the healing power of human/ animal friendships and the importance of nature to all – and especially to children who grow up without much chance to explore it. Searching for a secret place where they can practise their skateboarding, Izzy and Asha discover the perfect spot – the site of an abandoned gas works. But they are not the first to find it. The gas works site is also home to a wounded wolf. Knowing that they must keep its existence a secret the girls take care of the wolf and, in doing so, become involved in keeping the patch of wasteland safe from developers. It is a heartwarming story with a deep theme written in a highly readable way. Particularly suitable for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers aged 8+
March 2018 Book of the Month | Any young reader who enjoys funny, surprising, brilliantly inventive stories should check into The Nothing to See Here Hotel IMMEDIATELY. They’ll be welcomed by Frankie Banister, son of the owners and great-great-great-grandson of troll legend Regurgita Glump, who still lives on the hotel’s top floor. Frankie does a great job introducing the hotel and its bizarre assortment of magical guests and staff, including chef Nancy, the giant Orkney Brittle-Back spider, and Ooof the ogre doorman. The story takes off with the arrival of goblin prince Grogbah and his enormous entourage. He’s a very difficult guest, and is Granny right when she decides he’s up to something sneakerish? The plot zips along like the best-oiled luggage trolley and Butler and Lenton make readers feel completely at home in the extraordinary world they’ve created. A 5* reading experience and the first in a new series to boot. Children of 7 to 9 are being really well-served by authors at the moment, and those who enjoy this book will also love the Amelia Fang series and Kaye Umansky’s Witch for a Week. Books in The Nothing To See Here Hotel Series: 1. The Nothing To See Here Hotel 2. You Ain't Seen Nothing Yeti 3. Sea-ing in Believing 4. Fiend of the Seven Sewers
In a nutshell: inventive | readable | hilarious | This collection of 14 rip-roaringly funny stories is a great way to introduce children to Terry Pratchett – indeed, each story is just the right length for bedtime reading – but will have appeal to his existing fans too or, as he wrote in the introduction, to anyone with an imagination. The stories were written when he was a young man working as a junior reporter on a local paper, but the hallmarks of the style that make him one of the most-enjoyed authors of our times are already clear, notably sublimely fantastic and funny set ups, that familiar author voice commenting via footnotes, and some canny, underplayed moral commentary. Highlights include an unusual afternoon in Blackbury, and repeat visits to the town of Llandanffwnfafegettupagogo! Illustrations by Mark Beech capture the silliness and fun. ~ Andrea Reece
Hail Julius Zebra! Star of a brilliant new series by former Beano cartoonist Gary Northfield, Julius Zebra is far more likely to turn kids onto the Romans than any number of visits to museums or even Hadrian’s Wall. Julius is zebra turned gladiator, and in this second episode firmly established as the people’s champion. Hadrian has promised him his freedom but decides instead to send Julius to Britannia, what better way to impress the revolting inhabitants than with a fighting zebra! Of course, things don’t go to plan. The story line is nutty, and very funny, while the facts about life in Rome and Britain totally accurate. Northfield’s drawings are wonderful too – you’ll believe a zebra can wield a sword! ~ Andrea Reece
In a nutshell: fun, illustrated stories, that neatly sidestep the elephant of truth | Readers of all ages are going to love Sam Lyttle, star of Joe Berger’s new series. Well-intentioned, Sam can’t help but get into scrapes and generally finds it just, well, simpler to tell a lie to keep everyone happy than admit the truth. It’s a strategy that often makes things worse, but results in some highly entertaining adventures. Berger tells his stories in a mix of text and cartoon illustrations, both of which are direct, immediately engaging and really very funny indeed; Sam’s illustrated description of skirting the elephant of truth on his skateboard is particularly wonderful. There are five different but interlinked stories in the book, making it a particularly accessible read. James Patterson’s series Middle School series also successfully mix cartoons into entertaining, zany but realistic stories of adolescent life. Barry Hutchison’s Beaky Malone books have fun with ideas of the importance of truth and lies. ~ Andrea Reece
Shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2017 | September 2016 Debut of the Month | From its opening scene aboard an airship harpooned in mid-air, Cogheart is filled with fabulous visual images and a tangible sense of adventure. It follows the story of Lily, whose inventor father is missing, presumed dead after the airship crash. What secrets was he keeping and why are others so determined to find them out? Lily is a great character but readers’ hearts are likely to be won by her companion Malkin, a clockwork fox, one of many automatons created by her father. The story proceeds at speed reaching its climax – where else – but on the face of Big Ben, the world’s most famous clock! The Branford Boase Award Judges' Comments - ‘what he does with the ideas is really good and the world-building is excellent’; ‘children reading this will feel inspired’; ‘imaginative and fun, would make a great film’. Books in The Cogheart Adventures Series: 1. Cogheart 2. Moonlocket 3. Skycircus 4. Shadowsea And do take a look at our Cogheart Adventures LoveReading4Kids Loves Channel This is definitely one for fans of Philip Reeve’s steampunk classic Mortal Engines, and they would also enjoy The Diamond Thief by Sharon Gosling. ~ Andrea Reece
July 2016 Book of the Month | In a nutshell : aliens invade Bromley The follow-up to David Solomon’s prize-winning sci-fi comedy My Brother is a Superhero delivers just as much in the way of tension, adventure and laughs. Still resentful of his now superhero big brother, Luke inadvertently gets his own back by revealing that sulky teen Cara is the kryptonite to Zack’s Superman. Unfortunately, this plays into the hands of aliens intent on invading Earth and forcing its inhabitants to watch reality TV for the rest of time. The action is as fast and funny as ever, and the in-jokes possibly even better. Young readers will love this and parents, it would make the perfect bedtime read – some of those jokes are too good just for the young! For more witty alien adventures, firmly rooted in family life, see Frank Cottrell Boyce’s The Astounding Broccoli Boy and Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth. ~ Andrea Reece The Editor at Nosy Crow says: “My Brother is a Superhero set the bar high, but this sequel does not fall short – it’s just as crammed with laughs, adventure, wit and emotional depth. And Serge. Magnifique!”
The second in Chris Hoy’s cycling-with-a-touch-of-magic series sees Fergus and his friends Daisy, Callum and Minnie form their own cycling team, Hercules’ Hopefuls. They may not have brand new bikes, or fancy jerseys like their arch rivals Wallace’s Winners, but they’ve got lots of heart, and sometimes that what counts. It’s a classic children’s sports story, with a fun cast of characters, made even more lively by Fergus’s visits to a magical world, Nevermore. Not only does Fergus learn a lot about teamwork on his magical adventures, there’s also a clue as to the whereabouts of his dad, not seen since Fergus was a baby. A successful mix of pedal-action, friendship and fantasy adventure, this is a very satisfying story for newly confident readers. Clare Elsom’s lively illustrations add to the fun. There are more books in the series to come, and readers might also like Frank Lampard’s football-with-magic series Frankie’s Magic Football. ~ Andrea Reece Emma Matthewson, Editor, Hot Key Books, said: “Sir Chris has already provided a lasting legacy of inspiration to young people with his tremendous list of achievements. What drew me to Flyign Fergus was a genuine warmth and heart to the books and Sir Chris’s clear dedication to the next generation. We can’t wait to see young cyclists across the country enjoy reading about their new hero!”