Shhh! A lift-the-flap book with a difference

21 Oct

We LOVE Keep Out! Bears About! by Sally Grindley and Peter Utton. It’s a brilliant concept which involves the children directly in the story – the narrator speaking are they sure they want to carry on? Are they brave enough to go through that dark wood, even if there might be bears? And all the children I have read it with relish the interaction.

Shhh! came first, first published in 1991, but we are very late to the party and have only recently discovered it.

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SHHH! You are about to enter a giant’s castle. Will you get through without waking the giant? Do you dare try?

Based on the familiar story of Jack and the Beanstalk, the narrator leads the reader through the castle, creeping past the characters from the story and peeping back to the previous page to check that they haven’t been disturbed.

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I love the illustrations, with tons of detail and magical things for children to spot. But the true joy of this book is the way it reinvents the way children respond to and interact with a book. It invites them in, right in to the story and the setting. It asks them to get involved and encourages them to play.

Repeated phrases, beautiful interaction and building of tension that leads to a squeal-worthy ending. What’s not to love?

Source- kindly sent for review by Hodder Children’s Books.

Sloth Slept On by Frann Preston-Gannon

20 Oct

A group of children find a sloth snoring away in their garden. Not knowing what it is, they pile it into their wagon and set off to find out. Two of the children use their imagination to play out where the sloth could have appeared from, while the smallest looks to books to find out what the creature is and where it belongs. Once they have identified the sloth they need to send it home…

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This is a beautiful book that celebrates things close to my heart – children’s imaginations, the power of books, and the natural joy of animals.

Frann Preston-Gannon’s textured illustrations are just delicious. I love the sloth’s smiling sleepy face, the cracked paintwork for the trees and fences, and there’s something very loveable about these faces with their upturned noses and their squishy cheeks.

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She’s done a fantastic job of capturing childhood curiosity and adventure, and really celebrating their imagination and play. The hints hidden throughout the book suggesting where the sloth has come from, and the double page spread of sloth facts give the book an extra level of interaction. And the ending…the ending is delicious!

Sloth Sleeps On is also beautifully inclusive and gives more than a nod to equality. The children are wearing non-gender-stereotyped clothing and their imaginative play isn’t gendered. They ask Dad what he thinks but he is too busy cleaning. The other adult pictured is hidden behind a newspaper and is gender-neutral.

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I’m happy to see some diversity in the illustrations too- how refreshing to see children of colour in the book. These purposefully ambiguous characters leave it open to the reader, allowing them to find themselves in the book. This could be a family with two dads. It could be a foster family or family with adopted children. It could be a lot of different things because Frann Preston-Gannon has thought about diversity and thought about how children see themselves and their families in their books. Hurrah for her!

Source- kindly sent for review by the publisher, Pavilion Children’s Books.

Diverse Voices with Seven Stories

13 Oct

Attention please… Something very exciting has just been announced in the world of children’s books.

This morning, Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books, announced it’s new Diverse Voices season – 50 of the Best Children’s Books celebrating cultural diversity in the UK.

This is a list of 50 books chosen by an independent panel of experts for all children, from birth to teens. Books published since 1950 to the present day were considered. The list looks fantastic and includes a beautiful mix of picture books, poetry, novels, and biographies. These are books that will help children explore the world around them, giving them the opportunity to see themselves and the selves they could become and helping them understand all those around them.

Kate Edwards, CEO Seven Stories, National Centre for Children’s Books said:
“Children’s books shape our earliest perceptions of the world and its cultures, building understanding, empathy and tolerance. Despite this there is still a lack of representation of children from different cultural backgrounds – especially as main characters. By drawing attention to some best loved and well crafted children’s books, our Diverse Voices season will curate an exciting and diverse list of books that will help to inform the choices of librarians, teachers, booksellers and readers when they pick books to recommend, stock, read and enjoy. Britain’s rich and diverse cultural heritage is something to be celebrated and championed.”
Kate Edwards, I would very much like to shake your hand.

It’s a beautiful list. But it’s more than just a list. Seven Stories will be using these books as the basis for a whole world of exploration, discussion, creativity and play. They say:
“The aim is to raise the profile of these books, for the books to be read and celebrated, for children to see themselves, step into another’s shoes and find their place and belonging among the characters and settings of many cultural and ethnic backgrounds.”
Yes yes YES!!!

Seven Stories will be hosting a celebratory weekend on Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 October with storytelling, music and activities inspired by Diverse Voices. And for the teachers and librarians out there, Seven Stories have also created learning resources for use in schools, which will be available from Thursday 16 October to encourage the use of books that reflect the diverse world we live in. See http://www.sevenstories.org.uk/learning for details.

The Guardian children’s booksite is celebrating diversity in children’s books all this week with features, discussions, author interviews and galleries. I can’t wait! Join in the fun here

Now for the list. Let’s celebrate, discuss, wave flags and break open the biscuits for these books. Which are your favourites? Which have spoken to you or the children you’ve shared them with? Which will you add to your ever-growing wish list? Have a look here.

I think Sarah Crossan’s Weight of Water is my favourite. But I have only read eleven of the fifty! This excites me! Look at all these lovely new books for me to discover. *orders them all*
What are your favourites??

Diverse Voices Book List and season is supported by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books and has
evolved out of the Diverse Voices Book Award, which was founded in memory of Frances Lincoln
(1945-­‐ 2001) to encourage and promote diversity in children’s literature.

What to read after the Rainbow Magic Fairies?

9 Oct

Last week a friend asked me for book suggestions for her daughter who loves the Rainbow Magic fairy books. She loves the fantasy aspect of the series, and the slim volumes that don’t intimidate her. But what could she read next? What should she move on to?

It struck me that it’s probably a common question. The Rainbow Magic books are quite a phenomenon, with children lapping up the books and enjoying following a series. But there are so many beautifully written and illustrated books out there – so many wonderful new characters to meet and authors and illustrators to discover. So a quick look through the bookshelves and a lot of twitter chat later, here are some ideas that may help.

I’ve split the books by type and in each section the books get progressively trickier to make it easier for you to judge which books will suit your children’s reading abilities.

Fantasy books

The Rescue Princesses by Paula Harrison (Nosy Crow)

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A fantastic series of books that shows children that princesses can be smart, independent and great role models. Think ninja-princesses working together and using magic jewels to rescue animals and help the environment. The book format is very similar to the Rainbow Fairy books with short chapters, lots of line-drawing illustrations to break up the text and confidence-boosting slim volumes. They will appeal to children who enjoy the fantasy of Rainbow Fairies while gently nudging children in a slightly more ‘girl-power’ direction. Plus bonus points for character diversity. Hurrah!

When they’ve worked through The Rescue Princesses they could try Faerie Tribes by the same author. (Nosy Crow)

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Paula Harrison’s Faerie Tribes series offers magic, mystery and excitement with a new quest at the heart of each book. The books are longer than The Rescue Princesses books and more advanced in language and structure.
You can find out more here.

Amazing Esme by Tamara Macfarlane and Michael Fowkes (Hodder)
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Meet Esme and her cast of weird and wonderful friends. Follow her wild and imaginative adventures as she leaves behind her circus home to spend the summer with her cousins. When hundreds of baby penguins hatch in Esme’s top floor bedroom, the children have to figure out how to get them outside. Esme and her cousin have the ingenious idea of building a helter skelter around the castle turret, but this is just the start – soon Maclinkey Castle is turned into a full-on Fairground Circus with a big wheel, Bumper Bears, and the show stopping Flying Tigers starring Esme herself!
Amazing Esme is the first book in a series that celebrates the freedom to have adventures. Think Pippi Longstocking with a pirouetting donkey. The Esme books are well-written, short, easy to read, fast-paced and full of fun and adventure. Loads of illustrations throughout and follow on activity ideas at the back.

The Secrets of Flamant Castle by Frances Watts and Gregory Rogers. (Allen & Unwin)
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The complete adventures of Sword Girl and friends includes six books about Tommy, a kitchen girl at Flamant Castle. She dreams of becoming a knight and when she is made the Keeper of the Blades, caring for all the swords in the castle, it seems like her dream might come true. Fun stories about standing up for yourself and following your dreams. Tommy is a great role model with a team of fun characters -like Lil the talking cat and the ghost of a young squire. Short chapters and large text, the book itself is large as it has all six volumes in one, but each individual story is only about 80 pages long.

Sally Gardner’s Magical Children (Orion) series is a collection of six books about children with magic powers.
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Well written stories about ordinary children with extraordinary powers, these books use magical adventures to look at real life problems that children might face – like absent parents, bullying, friendship problems and finding the bravery needed to follow your dreams. Large text, slim volumes with some illustration.

After the Magical Children series, children who are comfortable reading independently could try Sally Gardner’s Wings & Co. fairy detective agency books (Orion).
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Operation Bunny is the first in the series. When Emily Vole inherits an abandoned shop, she discovers a magical world she never knew existed. But a fairy-hating witch, a mischievous set of golden keys, and a train full of brightly coloured bunnies are just a few of the surprises that come with it. With the help of a talking cat called Fidget and a grumpy fairy detective called Buster, it’s up to Emily to get to the bottom of Operation Bunny.
Brilliantly written by Gardner, and exquisitely illustrated by David Roberts, these are longer books (180 pages in Operation Bunny) with smaller text. The wide line gaps and short chapters (about 6 pages each) which are broken up by a couple of illustrations per chapter, make these books excellent stepping stones towards longer novels. Sally Gardner’s books are beautifully gender-stereotype-free with positive characters and strong role models aplenty.

The Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy (Puffin)
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I loved these as a child, and last year the 7th book in the series, The Worst Witch and the Wishing star was published alongside lovely large format new editions of the first six. Start with The Worst Witch – Mildred Hubble is the worst witch at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches – she’s always getting her spells wrong. But she manages to get by until she turns Ethel, the teacher’s pet, into her deadly enemy…
Large format paperbacks, with large text and illustrations throughout, children who can read the Rainbow Magic books independently will be comfortable with these.

Madame Pamplemousse and Her Incredible Edibles by Rupert Kingfisher. (Bloomsbury)

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This is the first in a series of books about a girl called Madeleine who works for her horrid uncle. She discovers Madame Pamplemousse’s shop selling the strangest, rarest and most delicious edibles in the whole world. Madeleine joins forces with Madame Pamplemousse and Camembert the cat in a magical adventure to protect the incredible edibles from her uncle. These are slim and sparkly volumes with large text and line drawings throughout.

Baby Aliens Got My Teacher by Pamela Butchart (Nosy Crow)
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One day Izzy and her friends are surprised to find that their teacher, Miss Jones, is actually being nice to them. This is the woman who was caught secretly smiling when Maisie Miller fell off her chair. There can only be one conclusion: she’s been taken over by aliens, and now she wants to make them all aliens too! A very funny book with large type and fast paced writing that will have children racing through to the end. Lots of illustrations at the edges of pages throughout to break up the text.

Witchworld by Emma Fischel (Nosy Crow)

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More confident readers who are ready to read a longer novel may like Witchworld. A contemporary witch school story, Witchworld tells the story of Flo, a thoroughly modern witchgirl. She has a spellstick, travels about in her skyrider and wouldn’t know a cauldron if she fell into one. But when her grandmother turns up on an actual broomstick, warning that ghouls are about to attach Witchworld, Flo realises everything she’s been told about being a witch is just hocus pocus.
A very funny story, this is the first book in the Witchworld series. This is a full sized novel with smaller type and no illustrations to break up the text, although it does have character illustrations by Chris Riddell at the start – and a gorgeous bright green edging.

Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends by Shannon Hale (Little, Brown)

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Shannon Hale demonstrates that a popular series with spin offs and merchandise can be beautifully well written. She has smashed all my preconceptions and taught me never to judge a book by its merchandise. Her Ever After High series is fantastic and her use of language shines through. The first book, The Storybook of Legends, tells the tale of the students of Ever After High and their pledge to fulfil their destinies as the next generation of Snow Whites, Prince Charmings and Evil Queens. A fantastic concept and brilliant mix of school story and reimagined fairy tale, showing children that they have the right to choose their own destinies and follow their dreams. These are full sized paperbacks suited to confident readers. (Once you have the Shannon Hale bug, try her prize-winning Princess Academy series for a beautifully feminist twist on the traditional princess-in-training story. Her writing sings throughout.)

The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler (Orion) is the first in a series of books centred around mermaids, friendship and family.

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Emily Windsnap lives on a boat, but her mother has always been oddly anxious to keep her out of the water. It is only when Emily has her first school swimming lesson that she discovers why: as soon as she gets into the water, she grows a tail! Great writing and a very collectible series, these are longer books for confident readers.

Animal stories

Zoe’s Rescue Zoo by Amelia Cobb and Sophy Williams (Nosy Crow)

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The Zoe’s Rescue Zoo books follow Zoe’s adventures living at her uncle’s very special zoo. He travels the world rescuing animals and bringing them back to the zoo to be nurtured back to health. It’s Zoe’s job to help them settle in and she has a secret that helps her – she can talk to the animals! Each book in the series focuses on a new animal. The reading level is very similar to The Rainbow Fairies books – slim volumes, beautiful illustrations, large text and short chapters.

Lucy’s Secret Reindeer by Anne Booth and Sophy Williams (Oxford)

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A magical winter’s tale about a very special friendship, perfect for Christmas. Lucy has a big secret . . . Santa’s left her a little reindeer in the garden shed! But Starlight is poorly, and Santa won’t be able to deliver any presents if he’s not well in time. Can Lucy make Starlight better and save Christmas?
This is a beautiful book with a gentle tone that children will love to read independently. A slim volume with large text and illustrations throughout.

Seal Island by Julia Green (Oxford)

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For more advanced readers, try Julia Green’s animal books. Seal Island follows the adventures of Grace as she spends her holidays with Granny at her house by the sea. Grace makes friends with local boy Col who knows the secrets of the island. When Grace discovers a small seal pup separated from its mother after a storm, she’s not sure if she can help it, but she has to try.
A great step between small novels and full sized ones, this book is a slim volume but with smaller print and very few illustrations. Julia Green has written more animal stories for children to collect and would make a wonderful step towards the Gill Lewis animal books.

Broadening their horizons

Life after Rainbow Magic doesn’t have to be all about magic, glitter and cuddly animals. Books can be a child’s window to a whole new world, or a mirror to see themselves from a different perspective. How about something a bit different…

The Girls FC series by Helena Pielichaty (Walker) is a highly collectible and beautifully inclusive series about a girls’ under 11s football team.

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The first book in the series, Do Goalkeepers Wear Tiaras? introduces Megan and how wearing a tiara and fairy wings to football practice led to her starting her own, brilliant girls’ football team.

Great characters to follow

The Daisy books by Kes Gray (Random House) are genius!

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They are riotously funny and Daisy is a fantastic character; smart, articulate, full of imagination, creativity…and mischief! The books really celebrate childhood and show children being children. Children may have already come across her in picture books such as Super Daisy And Eat Your Peas. Once children are reading independently the Daisy and the Trouble With… series are perfect books to engage children and boost their reading confidence. These books are a similar reading level as the Rainbow Fairy books, with larger text and short chapters, lots of illustrations and fast paced story lines. The language used is simple but the books themselves are thicker volumes, which will help build confidence and take away the fear of picking up a big book. The Daisy and the Trouble With… books work as stand-alones and can be read in any order.

Susie Day’s Pea books (Random House) are full of fantastic characters, wonderfully written, fast-paced, and beautifully inclusive works of joy.

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Pea’s Book of Best Friends is the first in the series. Pea has just moved to London with her mum, her (sometimes annoying) sisters, and Wuffly the dog. She sets out to find a new Best Friend…but it proves to be harder than it sounds. If you want your children to read about characters who are beautifully real and flawed and intriguing, then this is the set for you. I can’t rave about them enough! These books are a step up from the Rainbow Magic books and are best suited to confidently independent readers.

Laura Dockrill’s Darcy Burdock books (Random House) are the perfect follow on from Susie Day’s Pea books.

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They share the same energy, humour and pace and they are very similar in size and format. Ten-year-old Darcy Burdock is one of life’s noticers. Curious, smart-as-a-whip, funny and fiercely loyal, she sees the extraordinary in the everyday and the wonder in the world around her. Darcy is a great character to grow up with.

New authors to fall in love with

If you are looking for fantastic writing (and who isn’t) Hilary McKay is the author to head for. Flawless and inspiring writing, brilliant characters, great role models and stories that will engage and excite. You could start with her Lulu stories (Scholastic).

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Short chapters, slim volumes and illustrations throughout make these lovely books for newly independent readers.
For older/more advanced readers try Binny for Short or The Casson Family stories, starting with Saffy’s Angel.

Jacqueline Wilson is a hugely prolific author whose books offer a huge variety of characters and story lines. Her skill is in portraying real families and children dealing with real-to-life situations. The Jacqueline Wilson Treasury (Random House) is a full colour illustrated book that includes some of her stories suitable for younger readers and is the perfect introduction to her work.

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For more confident readers, you could try the Tracy Beaker or Hetty Feather series, or her most recent book, Opal Plumstead

Graphic novels/illustrated chapter books

Oliver and the Seawigs and Cakes in Space by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre (Oxford) are stunning books. Highly illustrated throughout by Sarah McIntyre (Summer Reading Challenge 2014 illustrator) these books are laugh out loud funny masterpieces.

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Oliver grew up in a family of explorers – but his biggest adventure is about to begin! With his new friends – a grumpy old albatross, a short-sighted mermaid and a friendly island called Cliff – Oliver goes off in search of his missing parents. But before he can put his rescue plan into action, there’s an army of pesky sea monkeys to contend with…

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Astra and her family are travelling through space when their spaceship is attacked! Killer cupcakes, batty battenbergs, and marauding muffins – cakey fiends are on the loose! It’s up to Astra and her robot friend, Pilbeam, to stop them before they destroy her ship… After all, people should eat cakes, not the other way round…

Graphic novels offer fantastic storytelling in a highly illustrated format that can be easier for children to digest than their chapter book counterparts.
Gum Girl by Andi Watson (Walker)

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Short stories in a comic book format with a super-heroine who has just moved to a new town. With mild peril and fairy tale twists, humour and modern issues, this is a great place to start.

Hildafolk by Luke Pearson (Nobrow)

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Hilda is sitting in her tent at night listening to the rumble of the storm passing overhead when she hears a bell. As she hurtles towards the vanishing tinkling sound, Hilda unwittingly embarks on an adventure into strange worlds ruled by magical forces. The start of a brilliantly contemporary graphic novel series.

Your suggestions?

What would you add? Please let me know what books you and your children have enjoyed. Join in in the comments below.

A huge thank you to my twitter crew who helped me out with some fantastic suggestions.

Source: review copies of Esme and the Pirate Circus, Opal Plumstead, and The Secrets of Flamant Castle kindly sent by the publishers. All other copies my own or researched online.

Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan

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This book is a gift. A book that I want to share with all the children (and adults) I know so that they can experience the journey of reading it.

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The best books change you as you read them. They offer you a view of another way of life or a different perspective when looking at your own. You come out the other side refreshed, with new-found understanding of yourself, the world and the people in it. That’s what great literature can do, and why it is so important. That’s what Sarah Crossan does so beautifully.

I loved her debut Weight of Water. It made me think and look at the world through fresh eyes. It gave me a window into another way of life. And it sparked something in the year six children I shared it with too. So much so that I found myself having to buy another copy…and another…and another. I can see the same happening with Apple and Rain.

Apple has lived with her Nana since her mother walked out when she was tiny. All her life Apple has longed for her to return and answer her burning question – why did you go? But when her mother does return it is a bittersweet reunion. When Apple meets someone else who is feeling lost, Apple sees things as they really are and learns that you need to feel whole from the inside out, not just on the surface.

This is writing at its very best. Oh to be able to write as beautifully and intelligently as Sarah Crossan! Her characterisation of Apple is so spot on, so perfectly constructed, that you go on an emotional journey alongside her. Her emotions, thoughts, hopes and fears are explored and shown with such skill that you feel them with her at the same time as wanting to protect her from the inevitable crash. As a reader you become her friend and her helpless guardian. And thus you learn and grow alongside her. Her moments of clarity become yours, her realisations and growth fuel your own.

Throughout Apple and Rain Sarah Crossan demonstrates poetry’s power to heal and give strength. The joy of Apple and Rain is Crossan’s ability to write really great literature which explores and demonstrates the power of really great literature. It’s a perfectly constructed double whammy.

You need this book in your life. And so does everyone you know.

Source – bought from hive.co.uk You can get your copy (copies!!) here.

Binny for Short – Hilary McKay

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Attention please…! You must all read this book:

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I am newly converted to Hilary McKay’s outstanding writing. She has such a gift for observation, understanding, warmth and wit in her writing. This is a book that feels like coming home.

‘Binny’s life has been difficult since her father died and her dreadful old Aunt Violet disposed of her beloved dog, Max. Her world changed then, to a city flat with not enough space for her Mum, her big sister Clem and her small brother James. Definitely no room for a pet.

Then one day Aunt Violet dies, leaving a small cottage in Cornwall to Binny and her family. Binny finds herself in a new world once more, full of sunshine and freedom and Gareth, the enemy-next-door and the ideal companion for dangerous dares. But Max is still lost in the past, and it seems impossible that she’ll ever find him again…’

Binny is a character that readers can aspire to be like. All of McKay’s characters are so beautifully realised that they jump from the page and follow you around. They get into your head and pull you in to their story, their lives. And then, without your realising it, your lives have become intertwined and you look up from the book, unsure as to what is real and what is written.

McKay is a truly gifted storyteller and she invites you inside the world of Binny and her family through a brilliantly delivered dual narrative. One layer tells the story of Binny and her new enemy, Gareth, as they attempt to pull out a huge barbed fishing net tangled amongst rocks.
The second layer provides the background, the family history and the build up to their mission.

McKay’s writing is pared down to perfection with sentences that surprise with their exactness:
‘For Binny it had happened the way some people become friends. Totally. Inevitable from the beginning, like the shape of a shell.
Only it wasn’t friends; it was enemies.
Binny had known at once that she was looking at her enemy, and the boy had known it too. The understanding was like a swift brightness between them.’

The best children’s writers can place themselves inside the mind of a child. They can remember and imagine what it feels like to be a child, the everyday thoughts, worries, dreams and actions. McKay has the fantastic ability to master this across a wide age range. James, six, is portrayed beautifully. His dreams and inspirations, his ideas and imagination feel plucked straight from the mind of a creative six year old boy. Binny is adventurous and headstrong and big sister Clem is full of determination and self belief, and McKay excels at Gareth’s anger and hurt, his fear and bravado.

McKay really *knows* children. She writes about the things that affect children and play on their minds. And that makes her books so perfect for child readers. They can see themselves in these books. They can read about characters believably going through the same experiences as them. And they can see these characters come out the other side, they can watch them develop and learn and grow alongside them. By including positive images of older children, teenagers and adults, McKay is filling her books with role models and inspiration. I can’t wait for Binny in Secret to be published so I can catch up with them all again

You can get your copy of Binny for Short here.

Try the Casson family stories too. The first book, Saffy’s Angel is stunning.

Source – kindly sent for review by Hodder Children’s Books.

Opal Plumstead by Jacqueline Wilson

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I’m going to let you in on a secret… This is the first Jacqueline Wilson book I have ever read. Gasp! My year 6 book group were horrified when they found out, and spent a year howling at me and plying me with recommendations. Somehow I still remained a JW virgin until this book came along. But what a way to start! Tying in beautifully with the centenary of the Great War, this is Jacqueline Wilson’s 100th book. And it had me hooked from the very first page!

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Opal Plumstead is the Matilda for this generation. A book I wish had been available to me when I was growing up. I longed for a book like this where I could see characters who thought like me, and learn about a world I could be a part of. Books are such magical tools in this way – they show us who we are and who we could become. They inspire, comfort, open the mind and create hopes and dreams. Opal Plumstead offers the reader all of this, and more.

Opal Plumstead is a scholarship girl. She is always top of the class but wants more from life than the prescribed future of marriage or a career in teaching. She is intelligent, self aware and proud of her individuality and dreams of university. When her family’s circumstances change she is forced to leave her school and her dreams behind to work in a sweet factory. Opal has to take on new responsibilities and find her way in a world of older, more street-wise girls. But through this new working life Opal meets Mrs Roberts, the factory’s owner, and is whisked into the women’s rights movement, meeting Mrs Pankhurst and her fellow Suffragettes. Perhaps Opal will have a bright future ahead of her after all?

On one level Opal Plumstead does what the Enid Blyton books did for me as a child – introducing children to a whole new era of language and culture and history. But Opal Plumstead does so much more than describe a character in a historical setting. It introduces the reader to inequalities of the past in a highly accessible way, enabling them to compare their own lives and make connections with social and political situations in the world they live in now. Opal Plumstead‘s themes introduce the reader to feminism, the realities of poverty, injustice, corporate greed, the economic class system and social politics, as well as more domestic ideas such as the reversal of the parent/child relationship, the need for positive role models, unhappy adult relationships and a new generation’s hope to do things differently.

Opal Plumstead, along with her sister, Cassie, are fantastic characters for children to relate to and emulate. Readers will be able to find shared characteristics; see themselves and confirm who they are and who they could become. Opal feels misunderstood by her teachers and her family and longs to find a soulmate who she can share her dreams and ideas with. Opal and Cassie have strong self awareness and know who they respect (and who they don’t). Despite set backs and circumstances that are thrown at them, they stay true to their beliefs and follow their dreams with passion and integrity. As Cassie says, “I’m the heroine in my own life and I’ve got to live it the way I want”. Isn’t that what we hope for in any role model?

Opal Plumstead is a thoroughly enjoyable read with a storyline that had me in turns hiding behind my hands waiting for the inevitable disaster and sitting up into the small hours racing through to the end. But more than that, it’s an important book that will show a new generation of children that they can look at the world they live in and make it better.

I am officially converted. *orders 99 books*.

Published on 9/10/14 pre-order your copy here.

Source: kindly sent for review by Random House

I want to see myself in my books – eczema/allergies/skin conditions

19 Sep

A dear friend asked me if I knew of any books that would help her 2 year old son understand his eczema and allergies, something to show him that he is not alone or ‘different’. He has severe allergies and as a family they are still learning what his triggers are and how best to deal with it all. It would really help him and his siblings if they could see him represented in books and understand that other children have the same problems.

So with a little help from my friends I pulled together this collection of beauties:

Hop a Little, Jump a Little by Child’s Play Books, illustrated by Annie Kubler.

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I love this for its casual inclusion. It isn’t ‘about’ allergies or eczema, or children that are ‘different’. It is about very young children being children. But the pictures have such diversity and allow children to see themselves in their books. Children with allergies/skin conditions/birthmarks will recognise themselves in the picture above. The illustration shows bandages peeping out beneath clothing and red patches on skin, but it’s subtle. It allows children to recognise themselves in the illustration but it’s not what that child *is*. Brilliant!

Recycling! by Child’s Play, illustrated by Jess Stockham is part of the Helping Hands series.

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A brilliant series of inclusive books that blur the line between fiction and non fiction, the Helping Hands books use conversational text to explore tasks that children can help adults with as a natural extension of pretend play. They work beautifully as jumping boards for discussion and play and are perfectly pitched for inquisitive young children.

Recycling! shows twins helping with lots of different recycling tasks. The illustrations of the children are wonderfully gender neutral, allowing children to place themselves in the story. For my friend’s son there is an illustration of a child with eczema or a birthmark.

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Doctor is another Child’s Play book illustrated by Jess Stockham. This one is from the First Time series of books which, like the Helping Hands series, uses conversational text to explore experiences children will come across for the first time. In Doctor there is a double page spread showing a child with eczema.

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Casual inclusion is so important for children – that moment of recognition when they see themselves in their book and feel that sense of inclusion and of being valued. But books that are more overt and ‘about’ an issue can be helpful too, and are often sought after by adults trying to help a child’s understanding of an issue they are dealing with.

Emmy’s Eczema by Jack Hughes (Hachette) aims to fill this gap.

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Emmy has eczema, which makes her skin really itchy. She knows she shouldn’t scratch, but sometimes she just can’t help it. One day, she scratches so much she makes her skin really sore. Can her friends help her?

I think this book will help my friend’s son feel less alone and will also help his older sister. The dinosaurs have to work together to support Emmy and remind her not to scratch. They journey together to help her find the flowers to make a cream that relieves the itching. The sense of teamwork and support in this story is one that I’m sure will resonate with my friend and her family. I can imagine them all cuddling up to read it together and discussing how it relates to their own lives.

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For older children, The Peanut-Free Cafe by Gloria Koster and Maryann Cocca-Leffler is a fantastic book that celebrates difference and shows children adapting their daily routines to support a new classmate with a peanut allergy.

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Simon loves peanut butter. But Grant, the new kid at school, is allergic to it – he can’t even sit near anyone eating it. Grant sits all by himself at lunchtime until Simon comes up with a great idea: turn part of the cafeteria into “The Peanut-Free Cafe” and make it a fun place! Soon the other kids are leaving their peanut-butter sandwiches at home so they can eat in the cafe with Grant. But it’s not so easy for Simon. Can he give up his very favourite food?

Telling this story from the point of view of a classmate makes it a book that encourages awareness and support for children with peanut (and all) allergies. It also shows Simon – a very fussy eater – being brave and trying new foods so he can join the Peanut-Free Cafe and support his new friend. A great book for friends and families of children with allergies, this is a book that will work equally well in the classroom.

Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School by David Mackintosh (HarperCollins) is another picture book that celebrates difference.

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Marshall Armstrong is new to the school. He looks different, he acts differently and he eats different food. But it doesn’t take long for Marshall to prove that you don’t have to follow the crowd to be the most popular kid in the playground. When he invites the children from his class to his house for a party, they learn that Marshall Armstrong is fun and friendly and they have a great time trying new things.

A quirky and humorous book that celebrates the differences that make us unique, Marshall Armstrong will bring a smile to anyone who feels a bit different.

Thank you to everyone who made suggestions and pointed me in the right direction. If anyone has any more recommendations, please do add them in the comments below – we’d love to hear your ideas!

UPDATE
It’s working!!!!!

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Source – all copies bought from these lovely people:
Child’s Play
Letterbox Library
Hive stores

Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor

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I am happy to be kicking off the blog tour for a book set to inspire the scientists and engineers of the future.
Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor by Jon Scieszka and Brian Biggs is a force of nature. A whirlwind of a book that whips through story and science alike. It is a wonderful combination of fact and fiction with an engaging and adventurous storyline that carries the reader through – without realising they are learning much more than they would in science class.

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Frank Einstein loves figuring out how the world works by creating household contraptions that are part science, part imagination, and totally unusual. In Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor, after an uneventful experiment in his lab, a lightning storm and flash of electricity bring Frank’s inventions – the robots Klink and Klank – to life! Not exactly the ideal lab partners, the wisecracking Klink and the overly expressive Klank nonetheless help Frank attempt to perfect his Antimatter Motor . . . until Frank’s arch nemesis, T. Edison, steals Klink and Klank for his evil doomsday plan!

I love the way Scieszka and Biggs have included so much ‘actual real life science’ in a non-intrusive way. It is perfectly blended with energy and humour, the perfect combination for inspiring children and encouraging them to question the way things work and how they, too, can experiment with science. The illustrations and labelled diagrams, the zany adventures, the explanations of scientific terms and random science jokes at the end of the book- all add together to create a highly entertaining manual for the scientists and engineers of the future.

Frank Einstein is a book that will catch children’s attention. Frank is a character bursting with ideas and passion. He wants to ‘master all science’. He says; ‘The word comes from the Latin for knowledge. We want all science. All knowledge.’ He proceeds to excitedly pace around the room, classifying science and creating a six point plan of research that covers matter, energy, humans, life, the earth and the universe.
Now *that* is passion! That is ambition and a thirst for knowledge! Imagine what he could achieve if he had a lab team that matched his passion and knowledge….

The lab dream team
Frank Einstein – chosen for his wide-ranging scientific knowledge, his ambition and thirst for learning.
Aristotle – He was, essentially, the first scientist and, as Frank Einstein’s inspiration, deserves his place at the lab bench.
Hermione Granger – her bravery and determination, intelligence and exemplary research skills make her the perfect choice.
E. Lilian Todd – the designer of the first airplane at a time when female engineers were unheard of, Todd would give the group the level-headed focus and inspiration to succeed against the odds.
Mortimer Keene – quite a character, but one that matches Frank’s energy and ambition with an added dose of cunning and mild peril.
Rosie Revere – all good teams should be supporting the next generation. Rosie’s ambition and engineering dreams make her the perfect addition.

Who would you include in your lab dream team?!

Jon Scieszka will be in the UK on a national tour in October – with events at Bath and Cheltenham Literature Festival, plus a panel discussion with Louise Rennison and Jim Smith at Waterstones Piccadilly, an event at Seven Stories and a range of school and library events.

Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor is out now and you can buy your copy here.

You can follow the blog tour and see what Frank has inspired over at Wondrous Reads tomorrow.

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Rosie Revere, Engineer

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Hurrah!!!! A book that shows a female engineer! In fact, Rosie Revere, Engineer (Abrams) provides two stonkingly good role models for children and celebrates the history of women engineers and aviation pioneers. Shortlisted for the Little Rebels award 2014, it is a book that has the potential to empower children and change their future.

Shy Rosie Revere dreams of becoming an engineer. She collects treasures for her engineer’s stash and alone in her room she creates gadgets and machines from all her broken bits and pieces. Worried about being laughed at and failing, Rosie keeps her inventions to herself. Until great-great-aunt Rose comes to stay.

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Great-great-aunt Rose built planes during the war and inspires Rosie to invent something bigger and more daring than ever before.

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By handing down her notebook of role models throughout history, and sharing that all-important life lesson of persistence, Great-great-aunt Rose teaches Rosie (and the reader) to always follow dreams and never give up.

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Andrea Beaty’s inspirational story full of diverse characters, positive role models and stereotype-squashing, is matched perfectly with David Roberts’ absolutely gorgeous illustrations. This book deserves to become a feminist modern classic.

Imagine a young girl who is fascinated by science and loves to design and invent and create. Imagine this book in her hands. Empowering, much?? In a world where gender stereotyping is still sadly rife, young children need all the positive role models and gender-stereotype-free messages that they can get. Bravo to all behind Rosie Revere, Engineer!

As an added bonus, the hardback copy reveals this under the dust jacket. Beautiful!

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Source – bought from Letterbox Library to inspire and empower my own little engineer. You can get your copy here

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