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January 2020 Debut of the Month | There’s love, friendship and challenging prejudice aplenty in this debut novel by a LGBTQ+ parenting expert. Introverted Izzy has just started Year 8 and is wildly excited when her favourite teacher announces auditions for a Christmas production of Guys and Dolls. Though shy, she’s come to love acting because on stage she “could be whoever I wanted.” And Izzy’s not the only member of her family who wants - and needs - to be who they really are, as she discovers when her dad tells the family he’s transgender and is about to begin transitioning. Though he gently explains, “It’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s nothing dirty, I’m not ill”, Izzy’s older sister reacts angrily, her little brother accepts it in the same way he understands Spider Man and Peter Parker’s different identities, while Izzy feels quiet worry about how their lives will change. The family’s journey is honestly and sensitively portrayed as they endure hurtful prejudice alongside many heart-melting moments, such as the gorgeous scene in which the three siblings think-up their new name for Dad. This is at once an important support tool for children in similar situations, and a barrier-breaking, empathy-inducing story for all.
The twelve poems in this book, one for each month, will inspire a year of nature watching and who knows, quite likely some poetry writing too. There’s drama and excitement in the opening poem which describes a legendary fight between warring starlings – ‘the Rorschach of the winter months’ - over Cork in the 1600s; other poems are quieter and February’s gives a beautiful close up view of frog spawn, opening up memories from Coelho’s own childhood. Many of the poems in fact reflect his own personal experiences and responses to nature, April showers, trips to the beach, walks through winter leaves, giving the poems a particular intensity and emotional impact. Kelly Louise Judd’s folk-are inspired illustrations make this as beautiful to look at as it is to read aloud. A superb collection and a lovely book to give.
This little volume is just the right size to fit into a pocket or backpack and it’s well worth young readers keeping it to hand at all times as it’s packed with advice on ways to be more green. Chapters include ‘Do You Live in a Green House?’, ‘Shopping for the Planet’ and ‘Stop Polluting the Planet’ and after describing the impact of the ways of life we all take for granted, they list things we can easily do to make a difference. These ‘over to you’ sections are practical, do-able and empowering. There’s a list of websites to visit at the end to find out more, as well as Planet Pledges to sign – one for the reader, one for the reader’s family. Accessible, informative and positive, this is a great book for anyone who cares about the future of our planet and highly recommended.
The second in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. His ‘Dark Materials’, is the story of Lyra, a young girl with an exceptional destiny. Brought up in Jordan College, Oxford Lyra uncovers a secret about her mysterious guardian which leads to some dangerous questioning. It also marks the beginning of Lyra’s search for her friend Roger, a search that takes her to the ice kingdoms of the North where armoured bears rule. Lyra’s courage and stubborn determination lead her on this mission of incredible danger in this brilliant and imaginative story. It’s completely original and totally spellbinding; a true classic that will stand the test of time much in the way Tolkien’s famous work has done.
This is the fourth title by the duo of past Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen and writer Annemarie Young in this ground-breaking series which sets out to offer students a balanced view of the big topics and challenges the modern world faces. Having previously tackled meaty topics like Humanism, What is Right and Wrong and a similarly must-have purchase on Refugees and Migrants, this latest title could not be more perfectly timed for elucidating the forthcoming election campaign. Once again, the topic is broken down layer by layer. It looks at the whole spectrum of political views at international examples and examines what politics means in different contexts and situations, with each stage offering additional things to think about and consider and inviting the reader to reflect on their own experiences and feelings. Featuring personal statements from the authors and from four people involved in politics in different ways- Nimko Ali, Michelle Dorrell, James Graham and Sir Stephen O’Brien the overall message conveyed by the book is the very opposite of didactic. The content reflects the view that politics is about the use of power in all situations: in personal relationships, in business and the media and by the state. There is a particularly good section on how language can be used (and misused) and another on why politics causes such division and disagreement. The ground rules in the latter section should be studied by all prospective MPs! With the excellent index and glossary and further information sources this invaluable resource clearly articulates why everyone should care about politics. Highly recommended.
What a majestic conjuration of Middle Grade magic this is – think Alice in Wonderland in a dazzling theatrical setting. The year is 1870 and Celeste is a lowly orphan who runs errands in a Royal Opera House. She wakes one day haunted by a dream in which an enigmatic emerald suited-man spoke ominously of her involvement in a game called the Reckoning. Celeste recalls a shipwreck from the dream too and then, back in what appears to be real life, the opera house’s huge galleon-shaped crystal chandelier splinters into a thousand pieces and everyone thinks Celeste is someone else. The opening in which she cascades into the story world is as exhilaratingly bewildering as Alice’s entry to Wonderland: “Down she falls. Oh, how the world has tumbled.” Why does everyone think she’s a gifted dancer called Maria? Why can’t everyone see her? And so an intricate, suspenseful tale of identity plays out as Celeste struggles to untangle the truth, with dreadfully high stakes. Gardner’s cast of larger-than-life characters is vibrantly drawn, and special mention must be made of vindictive diva Madame Sabina and her awful daughter, and Celeste’s ally Viggo. But the true star of this production is - of course – Celeste, whose resolve is adeptly expressed through the thoughts of the mysterious man in the emerald suit: “Seldom has he met a child with strength enough to move on to the final part of the game.” This is a dream of a book for confident readers who relish fiction that ignites their imaginations and delight in flexing their cerebral muscles.
Winner of the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2016 | Award-winning Neil Gaiman shows all his story telling skills in this gripping fusion of familiar fairy tales told in a dark-hearted version with some original characters. Especially a bold-hearted queen. Not far from where the queen lives, a princess is under the spell of an enchantress who has put a whole country to sleep. Despite it being the eve of her wedding day, the bold queen decides to take action. Slipping into her mail shirt she arms herself with her sword and sets off out of the palace accompanied by the three dwarves who will lead her through the tunnels…The dark magic, great courage and spell-binding imagination that power this story is perfectly realised in Chris Riddell’s awesome illustrations.
November 2019 Debut of the Month | Lina, born into a Soviet prison camp, has to find her way in the world when she escapes with some very disreputable characters. She is chased by her best friend, shadow wolves and a terrifying sorceress taking revenge on humankind. Without her friend Bogdan and her slow discovery of the magic she has she would perish – and she very nearly does on several occasions – in this gripping, bewitching story. The story combines all the best elements of a straightforward adventure with friends and a magically invested tale, echoing some of the folk tales of the area. The reader can taste the fear engendered by Svetlana the sorceress, and marvel at the bravery of the two young heroes in their battles against her and also the sheer determination needed to survive the awful winter climate. This novel will have a wide appeal, with characters that are carefully drawn – and appealing to both boys and girls. The mix of horror, magic and adventure make it very readable – a great read for a winters evening.
This exhilarating sequel to Monsters in the Mirror follows 11-year-old Darwen’s second fantastical quest. In possession of a magical mirror that acts as a powerful portal to the breath-taking realm of Silbrica, Darwen previously defeated a host of monsters that came through the mirror. He must now journey to spectacular Costa Rica to battle a terrifying tentacled beast. The stakes are high, the action is perfectly paced, and the friendship between Darwen and his companions is authentic and engaging. Alongside these essential ingredients of Middle Grade adventure, the evocation of nature and landscape is wonderful – the “rainbow-coloured waterfall, which strobed first turquoise, then emerald green, then a yellow bright as liquid gold”; trees sprouting “slim, silvery leaves that rustled like foil in the breeze”. Moreover, not only is this a gripping adventure, but it’s visually pleasing too - invitingly-designed and further enlivened by Manuel Šumberac’s atmospheric illustrations.
Edith Pattou’s epic story is partly inspired by the old Norwegian fairy tale ‘East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon’, though readers will also recognise elements of the more familiar ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Though the story is told from the different perspectives of its main characters, at its heart is a young girl, Rose, the child born facing North and therefore full of dreams of travel and adventure, and who is saved from death by a great white bear. When later Rose betrays of the bear, it is her quest to make good the harm she has caused that drives the plot. Filled with magical scenes and unforgettable characters, this is a rich and rewarding read, filled too with fascinating research into map-making, Viking ships and Inuit life, all of which play an essential part in Rose’s journey to find the land of the Troll Queen and her true love. As spell-binding and mysterious as the best folk-tales always are.
Our World Explained in 12 Simple Maps | Maps are endlessly fascinating to children but this book will really open up the world to them. In Prisoners of Geography Tim Marshall reveals how geography has affected civilisations and how countries’ histories – and the lives of their people – have been shaped by the position of mountain ranges, valleys, rivers and coastlines. Take Russia for example: even as it grew bigger and more powerful over the centuries, it’s always been exposed to attack from the west because of the North European Plain, and still is. In another chapter he explains why it’s so important to China that it controls Tibet, and the islands in the South China Seas. By showing the ways geography, history and politics converge he makes complicated stuff – the situation in the Middle East for example – accessible and fascinating. It’s a book to get readers of any age thinking and seeing things differently.
Sequel to the award-winning The Thirteen Treasures, this shows just about how disagreeable fairies can get! Red returns determined to find her brother and get him back. To do so she must find a way to enter the fairy realm. Having done so, she agrees to a challenge set by the fairy court. Red’s challenge is to find the thirteen charms from the bracelet, but will she be able to do it? Back in the real world, and helped by her friends Tanya and Fabian, Red sets out on her desperate and dangerous quest. Not only are the charms now twisted but the fairies are definitely not to be trusted...