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Women In Science

8 Mar

It is International Women’s Day 2017 and this gem has just been delivered.

It is PERFECT. I will let it speak for itself:

‘A gloriously illustrated celebration of trailblazing women. Women in Science highlights the contributions of fifty notable women to the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, from both the ancient and modern worlds. The book also contains fascinating infographics and an illustrated scientific glossary.’

‘The extraordinary women profiled include well-known figures like the physicist and chemist Marie Curie, as well as lesser-known pioneers such as Katherine Johnson, the African-American mathematician who calculated the trajectory of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Women in Science celebrates the achievements of the intrepid women who have paved the way for the next generation of female engineers, biologists, mathematicians, doctors, astronauts, physicists and beyond …’

These women changed the world. They followed their dreams and they used their brains and they made incredible things happen. This book is the perfect inspiration for the next generation of game-changers. And in this age of climate change, our world depends on the children reading this book. They will be the ones to save us all.

You can get your copy here.

Source – purchased copy.

There May be a Castle – Piers Torday

6 Dec

This is a beautiful book for snuggling up with on a wintery day. A wonderful celebration of the power of imagination and storytelling, There May be a Castle by Piers Torday is warm and funny and has the feel of an old friend and a future classic.

‘Eleven-year-old Mouse is travelling to see his grandparents on Christmas Eve with his mother and two sisters. But it’s snowing, and visibility is bad, and the car goes off the road, and crashes. Mouse is thrown from the car. When he wakes, he’s not in his world any more. He meets a sheep named Bar, who can only say Baaa, and a sarcastic horse named Nonky, who is a surprising mix of his beloved toy horse and his older sister.

So begins a quest to find a castle in a world of wonder – a world of monsters, minstrels, dangerous knights and mysterious wizards; a world of terrifying danger but also more excitement than Mouse has ever known. But why are they looking for a castle? As the cold grows, we realise it might just have something to do with the family he’s left behind; and that Mouse’s quest is more important than ever.’

I particularly enjoyed the mix of humour and nods to the crazy political world we live in where education has become all about endless testing and form-filling. I also want to raise a glass to the design – it’s just beautiful. Bravo to Rob Biddulph and Nicola Theobald.

One word of warning; there is a small section near the beginning of the book that mentions the non-existence of a certain festive someone. Possibly not the best book to give to a newly-doubting child. But, saying that, probably a helpful book for those newly-knowing.

This is a book I will pull out again and again at this time of year and I fully expect it to become a firm favourite in many homes.

Source – kindly sent for review by the publisher, Quercus Children’s Books

In the Dark, in the Woods by Eliza Wass – YA

26 Apr


 ‘Father wants sixteen-year-old Castley and her five siblings to hide from the world. Living in a falling-down house deep in the woods, he wants to bury their secrets where noone will ever find them. Father says they are destined to be together forever. In heaven. Father says the sooner they get there, the better. But Castley wants to be normal. She wants to kiss boys and wear jean shorts. CASTLEY WANTS TO LIVE.’

When Louise O’Neill says a book is ‘one of the best books I’ve read this year’ then you read it. Fact. And oh, this book! If I was highlighting perfect sentences then every page would be yellow. Eliza Wass’s writing reminds me of Flannery O’Connor’s in that it has such depth. Every sentence is layered with meaning and revelations. 

Wass has beautifully depicted the confusion and angst of a teenager trying to find the strength to be herself and find her place in the world. This book sings to the insecure teenager in all of us. 

A debut author to watch. I can’t wait for her next book. 

I loved it. Can you tell? 

You can get your copy here.

Source – kindly sent for review by Quercus Children’s Books

The Story of Britain – history doesn’t have to be horrible

13 Apr

The Story of Britain by Mick Manning and Brita Granström has transformed the way we talk and learn about history in our family. Mollie is fascinated by history but is too young for the blood and guts versions that seem so prevalent at the moment. The Story of Britain is hugely accessible, full of information, and FUN. 


Beginning fifty thousand years ago with an explanation of how the British Isles were created and continuing chronologically through to the present day, The Story of Britain covers the key periods and historical figures that children will come across at school with tons of detail and brilliantly engaging illustrations.

We have used this book so much over the last few weeks, and it has worked – Mollie has referred back to it constantly. During a week in Wales she was fascinated to stand on the edge of a hillside and look down at the valley and see where the ice would have been. She found a piece of flint and declared it an original axe head. A piece of broken plant pot was a real Roman relic. This book has lit a fire of interest and there’s enough information here to fuel it for years to come. 

The joy of this book is its accessibility – the book has a wonderfully chatty tone and simple explanations of tricky terms or ideas. It truly is the story of Britain and it’s story-like chronological structure and language makes it hugely appealing to children, without relying on blood and guts to try and catch their interest. It makes history relevant; showing children their place in the story of Britain and making them a part of the story. The structure of the book is well thought out, allowing for reading through in bite-sized chunks or searching for a favourite topic.  We particularly love the use of speech bubbles to give real life perspectives on events, and the brilliant timeline that runs across each page. 



I cannot recommend this book enough. If you are looking for a book to inspire young minds, to kindle a passion for history and an understanding of society, or just something to pop on a shelf to help with homework, you can stop the search now. This will do the lot. Job done. 

Source- kindly sent for review by Franklin Watts/Hachette Children’s Books. 

NNFN – Mad About Mega Beasts

27 Nov

The line between fiction and non-fiction is thin and often blurry. Many non-fiction books use a narrative or other elements of fiction writing to get their information across. Mad About Mega Beasts by Giles ‘Giraffes Can’t Dance’ Andreae and David Wojtowycz uses verse to create a kind of non linear narrative.

Children will meet mega beasts such as the giant manta ray, the wooly mammoth and the Siberian tiger. Tucked between an introductory verse and a rhyming conclusion, each double page spread introduces a new mega beast with a bold and bright illustration and a funny verse. Each verse includes some high level information about the mega beasts in a brilliantly child friendly way.

There’s also a mini beast or two to spot on every page.

A smidge larger than A4, this is a big, bold and beautiful book for children. Full of colour and fun and completely free of any gender stereotyping. Just look at the colours used in the manta ray picture! Delicious!

A lovely way of introducing very young children to finding-out books, Mad About Mega Beasts is the newest in a fantastic series. And my new favourite!

Source: kindly sent for review by the publisher, Orchard books.

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)

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)

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)

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)

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.

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).

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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.

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)

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)

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)

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.

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!

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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…

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)

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)

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.

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.



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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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!

It’s working!!!!!


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

Mine! A sharing story

22 Jul

Sharing is a tricky concept that all children have to learn to deal with at some point. It can be a very emotional lesson to learn and often children need a little help.

Mine! by Jerome Keane and Susana De Dios is a bright, bold and stylish book that gently explores sharing through humour and fun.


Fox was bored. Horse was bored. But then something happened. An egg falls down between them. Can Fox and Horse learn to share their new entertainment?

This book is a visual delight. It has perfectly balanced design with great use of colour. The illustrations beautifully capture the characters’ emotions. Mine contains the best bored horse I have ever seen…

as well as a fantastic portrayal of the rigid awkwardness of Uncomfortably Pretending Indifference.

You can feel the tension. All that character and emotion portrayed through the positioning of eyes, hands and bottoms. Great stuff – and something that could inspire some fab creativity if pointed out to children.

Brilliantly simple repeated text builds tension and involves children in the story. Allowing the children to see the duck appearing in the background to reclaim the egg really empowers them.

They know what is going on before the characters do, and will be yelling at the book as the duck creeps closer and closer. This is a joyful way to involve children and encourage them to interact with the book – whilst also placing them in a position of wisdom. They can call out and tell Horse and Fox what they should be doing, leaving them confident in their own knowledge of how to share.

Deceptively simple, yet very clever stuff. Bravo!

And don’t worry, my caring sharing friends… Horse and Fox may have lost their egg but something far more exciting soon appears for them to play with. And surely they’ve learnt their sharing lesson now. Haven’t they?

If you liked this you could also try It’s Not Yours, It’s Mine by Susanna Moores. Another great book about learning to share.

Source: Kindly sent for review by Orchard Books.

East Sussex Children’s Book Awards 2014

18 Jun

Oh, books! They are incredible things, aren’t they?! They have a special magic and the power to bring people together, unite them and excite them. I feel very privileged to be able to share books and spread their magic.

It was a joy to take my year 6 book group to the East Sussex Children’s Book Award final ceremony last week. To see their excitement and watch them revel in the build up to the announcement of the winner. To hear them chatting passionately about their chosen authors and to watch them bouncing at the thought of actually meeting them in actual real life. They were so passionate about their chosen authors that, on the minibus on the journey there, they gave themselves temporary biro tattoos on their hands to proclaim their faith. “Matt Haig to win” “Christopher William Hill rocks”. (I was holding on to my twitter-based insider knowledge that Matt Haig was at his home dealing with estate agents and house viewings, and therefore not the soon-to-be-revealed winner.)

The East Sussex Children’s Book Award is an annual award run by the East Sussex Libraries and Museums Service. It is an incredibly child-centred award with children in years 5 and 6 involved through the entire process. The five shortlisted books are selected by a group of local schools and the participating years 5 and 6 children spend six months reading, reviewing and working creatively with the shortlisted books. The winner is voted for entirely by the children and is revealed in a special award ceremony for the children.

This year the shortlisted books were:


Since the start of the year we have been busily reading and discussing the shortlisted books, and the children have been writing reviews, designing book jackets and doing their own creative writing based on the books.

Matt Haig’s To Be a Cat caught everyone’s imagination and was unanimously enjoyed, Ali Sparkes’ Out of this World had a core group of fans, but it was Christopher William Hill’s Osbert the Avenger that ignited the most passion within the group. One of my girls is a voracious reader and dreams of becoming a writer. She inhaled Osbert and then bought the next book in the series and raved about it to the group. It was swiftly shared round and a Christopher William Hill gang was formed. Often seen huddled round copies of the books and whispering together, they knew every inch of every murder and death and plot twist. They have analysed his writing style and written their own reviews. They have been begging me to get my hands on an advance copy of the third book, but alas, they will have to wait til next school year.

The intensity of their love for Christopher William Hill’s books and the way they have been inspired by his writing both surprised me and filled me with joy. Unlikely friendships grew from their shared love of the books. A so-called ‘slow reader’ burst from his shell and became animated when discussing the books. They asked for recommendations and sought out other books that they might enjoy and recommended them to each other. This is what books can do! This is what reading can achieve! And it is beautiful to watch!

So back to the ceremony. I’m sure you can understand now that I was sitting on crossed fingers for Christopher William Hill to win. The CWH crew were sitting next to me, faces alight with hope and anticipation. And when his name was called as the winner we all burst out with YESes and cheers. I looked round to see my crew and I wished I could have photographed their faces. Filled with joy and pride and amazement. And then in came Christopher William Hill. The room erupted! My kids could barely stay in their seats.

Christopher William Hill was joined on stage by one of the shortlisted authors, Ali Sparkes. We had seen her at an event during the build up to the final and she is a fantastic speaker. If you get the opportunity to see either of them at an author event, grab it! They are both fun, witty, honest, incredibly funny and fantastic with the kids. Their passion for what they do is palpable and they really did light up the stage. They were very generous with the children, happily signing books and answering questions and having their photos taken.

My kids came out of the event energised, passionate and full of chatter. About what would be the best way to die, what food sounded the most deadly, where Ali Sparkes got her incredible sparkly boots and whether there was a story behind them. They raved about the authors and their stories. They chatted about what they want to be when they grow up and what kind of books would be the most fun to write. They were buzzing. And that’s what books can do. Yes, Christopher William Hill and Ali Sparkes were energising but these kids have been chatting about books like this since we started. They have been set alight by books!

The best thing about this whole experience has been sharing it, and loooots of books, with the kids. It has been a real privilege to see them grow up over this school year and to share all the booky chat with them. I feel very honoured to have been able to ignite their book passion and help them find and explore so many new books. I have loved being a small part in the process and I really hope I get to run the book group again next year.

A HUGE thank you, from me and from my booky crew, to East Sussex Libraries and Museums Service, to all the shortlisted authors and especially to Ali Sparkes and Christopher William Hill. I think I have some budding new writers growing here, thanks to you.

And for Christopher – my student’s passionate and prize-winning review of Osbert:
The story is about a boy called Osbert Brinkoff , who is a young genius. Osbert and a girl called Isabella both pass an exam to enter a school called The Insitute. Yet they did not know that the teachers at the Insitute were cruel and horrible. Soon after the two children get accepted, Osbert speaks out of line to the head master of the Insitute. Trouble lies ahead for the Brinkoff family when Osbert gets expelled and vowed revenge on the teachers of the Insitute.

My favourite character , undeniably , is Osbert; because, in my eyes he is quite admirable for creating those ingenious plans to get rid of the teachers of the Insitute and not get caught.

I loved the entire story, I loved the plot line and how every thing was set out; It honestly is the best book that I have ever read.

I think that both boys and girls would enjoy it, mainly boys though. It may appeal to a small selection of girls, I am one of those girls. The age group reading this book should be 9-12 year olds.

Teaching your child to read – book bands, reading schemes and early readers.

9 Jun

The world of reading schemes, book bands, early readers and early chapter books can be a bit of a minefield and seems to have its own language. It can be particularly tricky if your child hasn’t started school yet and you are working it all out on your own. I thought it might be useful to break down some of the mystery surrounding reading schemes and the lingo used, and give some examples of what I’ve found helpful.

This has all been prompted by a friend asking for some book recommendations for her son who has just turned 4. He is starting school in September and is already reading fluently. She is looking for books that will challenge his reading ability without being too advanced in subject matter. This is a tricky business and an area that I’ve been looking into lately as Mollie is turning into a fluent, confident reader. She is coming to the end of her first year of school and is reading voraciously. She sometimes gets bored with the reading scheme books from school so I’ve been collecting together alternatives at home to hold her interest and extend her a bit.

By no means an exhaustive list, this is a picture of resources and ideas that I have found to be accurate and helpful and books that I’ve found work well for Mollie. PLEASE share your ideas and recommendations, my friend and I would love an excuse for more book buying!!

What are Reading Schemes?
Reading scheme books are a collection of books graded by difficulty and labelled by coloured groups. Ranging from wordless picture books to full chapter books, they gradually increase in difficulty, length and technical elements. The wordless picture books often throw parents/carers (and the kids) when first seen. They are all about exploring the pictures together- talking about what’s happening and telling the story together. It may seem a bit strange at first, but children can get so much comprehension learning from having the freedom to talk about the illustrations.

Most publishers have their own reading scheme books, often split into different collections. Sadly publishers often create their own classification system, so it can become a bit confusing to find books at the right level. But if you dig a bit further, most publishers do display the coloured book band, either on the book itself or on their website.

This chart, from online reading programme bug club, gives an idea of which year group/s each colour book band matches with. This chart is just a guide- children all learn at different rates and don’t always progress evenly as they often take time to consolidate before moving on.

This helpful website links the coloured book bands with national curriculum levels and with the Letters and Sounds scheme used in the current curriculum to teach children to read.

It also describes the characteristics of books within each coloured book band. This is a great resource!

Reading scheme books
The Usborne Reading Programme is fantastic. I used it to teach Molls to read and she is quickly progressing through the levels and still loving them. There are great stories and a lovely mix of fiction and non-fiction, all with age-appropriate subject matter.

The Usborne Reading Programme website is also really helpful, with all the books split into reading levels and a chart to help you compare the Usborne levels with the book bands and national curriculum levels used in schools.

This Ladybird I Am Reading set is brilliant.

I bought it for Molls because she’d read past the reading level of the books in her reception class library and I wanted to stretch her. They start at band 4 (blue) and go up to book band 10 (white). The subjects are perfect for Mollie’s age – Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs, Moshi Monsters, fairy tales, Peppa Pig and Charlie and Lola. The books extend her with new words to learn and longer text to read as she progresses through. They are like mini picture books – fully illustrated and brilliant fun. Plus if you buy it from the bookpeople it is ridiculously good value. I can’t recommend them enough.

The It’s Fun To Read website is a really useful resource for finding books appropriate to your child’s reading level. Created by the Hachette publishing group, the site is split into 8 ability levels, ranging from very beginners to independent chapter book readers. The 8 levels link to examples of their reading scheme books from Orchard, Franklin Watts and Hodder. The website is packed with information, as well as a pack to download which describes the 8 levels in more detail and offers hints and tips for parents. Each book description gives you the colour book band to help you assess the correct level. We particularly love their Orchard Colour Crunchies, especially Titchy Witch!

Early Readers
The term ‘early reader’ means different things to different people. Essentially they are books for the newly independent reader.

Early readers seem to be ‘a thing’ at the moment, and some publishers have recently started taking stories from established authors and re-packaging them as ‘early readers’. Some are picture books re-formatted to look like an early chapter book and some are extended picture books or abridged chapter books made shorter and technically simpler. I’m sceptical about early readers that are a re-packaged version of picture books. Just read the picture book! They get me a bit edgy and make me want to defend continuing picture books past the age of fluency. But that’s a whole different rant and there are some wonderful early readers out there that sit within reading schemes.

Mollie started with the Daisy early readers by Kes Grey. They have two picture book stories repackaged into a smaller chapter-style book. She knew the character from the picture book Super Daisy and had read Eat Your Peas in its original picture book format. She now loves the Daisy and the Trouble with… full chapter books and, loathe though I am to admit it, I can see how the early reader format and character progression may have helped her with that transition.

My absolute favourite early reader collection is the Walker Stories set.

Each book has three short stories by established and popular authors and illustrators. They vary slightly in length and difficulty, but all do a beautiful job of introducing children to longer text and smaller sized books with (sometimes) less illustrations than picture books. The Walker Stories books have black and white illustrations throughout and the stories are well written and engaging. They make a great transition from picture books to chapter books- for example, Handa’s Surprising Day contains an extended version of Handa’s Surprise called The Fruity Surprise. Mollie lapped this up, having the confidence of knowing the original story.

There are also early chapter books that sit outside of reading schemes, like Shirley Hughes and Clara Vulliamy’s wonderful Dixie O’Day books, Tracey Corderoy and Joe Berger’s Hubble Bubble books, or Pip Jones and Ella Okstad’s Squishy McFluff series. Often a series of books so children can really get to know the characters, these are highly illustrated chapter books, perfect for children who are reading independently and looking for something to stretch them a bit more.

So what else works well for supporting children learning to read?
I’ve found non-fiction books a life saver because there are always new words to learn without getting too grown up in the subject matter. Usborne non-fiction books are brilliant! Molls loves the See Inside… books – and the Usborne Beginners non fiction books are awesome.

I highly recommend the Wonderwise series by Franklin Watts. A brilliant mix of story and fact, a variety of typeset and layouts, including comic-style sections, and a brilliant range of subjects that will appeal to children from four. A brilliant series that we come back to regularly.

Molls is also loving reading children’s poetry because it gives her some different reading skills and makes her think about words and structure in a different way. She is currently lapping up Spike Milligan and Edward Lear because she loves the nonsense words. Dr Seuss is perfect – tongue twisters, nonsense words, alliteration, rhyme and rhythm… loads to challenge those little tongues and minds!

Don’t give up on the picture books!
I strongly believe that picture books are for all ages. When Mollie first learned to read she went back to her board books. She loved the thrill of being able to read a whole book, cover to cover, all by herself. As her reading improved she was able to read picture books to herself and now reads a few a night independently. But they still challenge her! Picture books vary immensely in their language and concept, and in length and technical difficulty. The learning children get from the play between text and illustrations is immense. Picture books can provide rhyme, rhythm, new language, large amounts of text, format and typeset challenges, and entirely new concepts to take on board. They can often give children so much more than their reading scheme books. In fact, a lot of the colour banded books Mollie brings home from school are picture books judged to be orange book band -a reading age of year 1 or 2. So don’t push your children to read chapter books and leave picture books (or board books) behind. Let them come back to old favourites over and over and let them read things that may appear too simple. They need time to consolidate their learning and to learn more than just the words.

Keep reading to them
A child’s comprehension level will often be further ahead than their reading level, so carry on reading to your child even when they can read independently with ease. We still read picture books to Mollie every night, and now we often read a few chapters of a longer book. Apart from all the learning they will take on, it’s a lush thing to do together. And you’ll be modelling the enjoyment and the importance of reading, setting them up to be readers for life.
What more could you ask?

What books, schemes, websites or ideas have helped you teach children to read or progress to harder texts? Please do share!