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Out of Heart by Irfan Master

26 Apr

‘Adam is a teenage boy who lives with his mum and younger sister. His dad has left them although lives close by. His sister no longer speaks and his mum works two jobs. Adam feels the weight of the world upon his shoulders. Then his grandfather dies and in doing so he donates a very precious gift – his heart. William is the recipient of Adam’s grandfather’s heart. He has no family and feels rootless and alone. In fact, he feels no particular reason to live. And then he meets Adam’s family. William has received much, but it appears that he has much to offer Adam and his family too. A powerful tale of love and strength in adversity.’

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Out of Heart is about a contemporary British Asian extended family, with each member dealing with grief, anger and loss in their own way. The narration swaps from character to character, each with their own secrets and their own reasons for not communicating with the world. This means that, as a reader, you have to work harder to piece together what has happened and why the characters are struggling to speak. In many ways this works and gives the book a dreamlike quality, but at times I was left wanting more.

And I wanted to hear more. The book touches on domestic violence, depression, guilt, nationality, gangs, standing up to bullies and, above all, the healing power of creativity. Its celebration of art and writing – the pure power of creating something – is beautiful and kept me reading. I also enjoyed reading a BAME own voice writing about immigrant communities. I felt like a light was being shone on issues I care about from a different perspective. It has made me curious. It’s made me question what it would feel like to be those characters, to be in that community. It’s made me want to understand.

I just wish that light could have been a torch and not a candle.

You can get your copy here.

Source – review copy from publisher, Hot Key Books.

Under the Love Umbrella

10 Mar

I love to wave my diversity flag and champion books that are inclusive and celebrate diversity. Under the Love Umbrella by Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys (Scribe) does so beautifully, and I am thrilled to be a part of this blog tour and sing the book’s praises. This book deserves to be in every nursery and early years library.


A diverse range of families celebrate the comfort to be found from familial love. In gentle rhymes, parents tell their children that, no matter what situation they may find themselves in, they will always find comfort ‘under the love umbrella’.

I love the warmth and gentle humour throughout the book.


Reading it feels like a big cosy hug. The celebration of childhood and togetherness is just delicious.


Bright colours and neons play against black in this bright and playful book. The illustrations are beautiful and oh, the joy at seeing them smash so many gender stereotypes! Boys are scared of the dark and carry dolls, dads are primary caregivers – and read bedtime stories, two women are parenting together, children of different colours and genders play together. In fact, every type of family can be found between these pages. Every page has something to celebrate. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. 

Bravo to all involved.

You can get your copy here.

Source – review copy sent by Scribe Publishing

One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart 

12 Apr

  This book is stunning. 

The cover is gorgeous and perfectly depicts the essence of the story- all hail Kristine Brogno. But the writing! The writing is like nothing I’ve ever read before. Think Sarah Crossan meets Jeanette Winterson. It is the book that I am still holding even though I’ve finished it. Because I can’t quite let it go yet. I’m not ready to move on to another. And when I do, it will be the next book by Kephart. Because, right now, it feels like nothing else will match up to the writing-made-new of One Thing Stolen.

I want you all to read this book, yet at the same time I’m so jealous that you’ll get to experience it for the first time. 

Something is not right with Nadia Cara. While spending a year in Florence, Italy, she’s become a thief. She has secrets. And when she tries to speak, the words seem far away. Nadia finds herself trapped by her own obsessions and following the trail of an elusive Italian boy whom only she has seen. Can Nadia be rescued or will she simply lose herself altogether? Set against the backdrop of a glimmering city, One Thing Stolen is an exploration of obsession, art and a rare neurological disorder. It is a celebration of language, beauty, imagination and the salvation of love.

The depiction of mental illness is artfully and truthfully done. As a reader you are enveloped in Nadia’s thoughts and her memories and her creations. Kephart understands the dislocation and portrays it perfectly with clipped sentences and poetic structure and the imagery throughout. Yet it feels universal. It encompasses teenage angst and awkwardness and self-doubt. This is a book that I would gift to teens and young adults to show them that they are not alone. That love and loss and the search for identity is painful but beautiful and ultimately worth it.

There are so many love stories in here. Besides the obvious girl meets boy (which is in no way written in an obvious way), there is the most beautiful celebration of  friendship that left me remembering the power of first loves and the emotional intensity of having a best friend in the world. Then there is the love of place; of history and architecture and all the memories and stories that knit together to create a city. And the love and stability and comfort of family. And, beautifully, a real ode to the power of creativity. 

This one is special.

You can order a copy here

Source – review copy kindly sent by Chronicle Kids 

Little Rebels and Radical Acts of Kindness

11 May

I missed The London Radical Book Fair and the awarding of the Little Rebels Award on Saturday. We were away visiting family and I couldn’t make it. But I was there in spirit and via Twitter and it prompted a lot of thinking over the weekend. Allow me to share…

Letterbox Library’s Little Rebels Award celebrates radical children’s books; those that stand up for diversity, inclusion and above all, social justice. They are books that show children the world and how they can make it better. These books are the ones we should want our future leaders to be reading now. Books that let us imagine a future that stands against social injustice and discrimination. Hurrah for the Little Rebels shortlisted authors and winner, Gill Lewis! And for Letterbox Library who back the award. 

  

(Picture by Letterbox Library)

I will be honest, I really wanted Anne Booth‘s Girl With a White Dog to win. It is an exceptional book that deals with immigration, inclusion, and what can happen when people demonise difference. It is a book that awoke a real sense of social responsibility in the children I read it with. It is also a wonderful story, beautifully written. I wanted it to win because it warns about excluding people that are ‘other’, and it teaches children to look at the world with empathy and understanding and not to be led by propaganda. After Friday morning’s election results I felt like we needed this book more than ever. 

How do we deal with the fallout from last week’s election? So much disappointment and anger and incredulity. I think it’s easy to feel guilty for not doing enough before the elections, to blame others, and to feel helpless and despondent. But that won’t help those already being squashed and it won’t prevent further injustice. I think reading the shortlisted books would be a great place to start. Share them with your children, your friends’ children, donate them to your local school. Because these books could change the world. And let’s face it… We need a bit of that right now. 

When I heard the results on Friday morning I headed straight for Twitter and was so boosted by the positivity on my timeline. There was (is!) a real desire to work together to fight further cuts and act as a safety net for those who are being affected; to make things better. It has reminded me that real change happens not when political parties win elections, but when people take a stand against injustice, and are willing to fight for an inclusive future, together. My Twitter feed is full of booky peeps, journalists, artists, and theatre peeps. It is generally a very inclusive and forward thinking bunch. But the children’s authors especially were winning Twitter on Friday.

By 9am Friday morning, Michelle Robinson was calling for a mass donation to food banks to offset some of the Tory ugliness. Lots of us did. Later that day, thanks to Polly Faber, #foodbankfriday was born – a weekly food bank donation to support people who are being squashed by cuts. 

There was talk of our kindness being seen as support for Cameron’s Big Society. That he will take the credit for our actions. Well, let him. Just because he is a self-serving arrogant bigot doesn’t mean we have to follow his lead. Let’s be inclusive and empathetic and support those who are affected by the Government and their actions. Let’s help pick up the pieces. But let’s not do it quietly. 

  
Elli is absolutely right with her comment above. We mustn’t mop up the mess quietly. We must rage and raise awareness, we must support those who have the power and legal knowledge to fight the cuts and we must take action to stand up for what we believe in. Together. 

So let’s all be Little Rebels. Let’s make Radical Acts of Kindness. Let’s donate to food banks, volunteer, support, sustain. But let’s back up each act of kindness with action. Join a protest group, join an organisation that fights for justice, support them, donate to them so they can make change happen. And share it all on social media so that others can make their own Radical Acts of Kindness too. #LittleRebelRAK

Here’s my starter:

David Cameron wants to replace our Human Rights Act with his own leaner and meaner version- the British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. Let’s not stand for that. Share your support here:

https://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/campaigning/save-our-human-rights-act

And here:

http://www.amnesty.org.uk/issues/Human-Rights-Act

The shortlisted books are available here:

Girl With a White Dog by Anne Booth (Catnip Books)

Grandma by Jessica Shepherd (Child’s Play)

Made by Raffi by Craig Pomranz, illustrated  by Margaret Chamberlain (Janetta Otter-Barry Books/Frances Lincoln)

Nadine Dreams of Home by Bernard Ashley (Barrington Stoke)

Pearl Power by Mel Elliott (I Love Mel)

Scarlet Ibis by Gill Lewis (Oxford University Press)

Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton (Walker Books)

Trouble on Cable Street by Joan Lingard (Catnip Books)

Once by Morris Gleitzman

20 Feb

Yesterday I took my daughter to the library and had a dig through the Junior fiction shelves and stumbled upon Once. It is a book I’ve heard so much about but never picked up before. I know I am years late to the party on this one, but that’s the joy of libraries – you come across gems like this entirely by accident. And that’s one of the many reasons that libraries are vital in every community…but that’s another rant for another time.

Last night I devoured Once and then immediately downloaded the next book in the series onto my phone. And I devoured that too. This morning I am a bit blurry eyed and downloading the third book. I am totally under Gleitzman’s spell.

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“Once I escaped from an orphanage to find Mum and Dad. Once I saved a girl called Zelda from a burning house. Once I made a Nazi with toothache laugh. My name is Felix. This is my story.”

These are powerful books. Harrowing, yes. But also moving and affirming.

The way Gleitzman uses childhood innocence and imagination against the backdrop of nazi brutality is what makes Once shine for me. In SF Said’s brilliant piece in the Guardian this week, he said “re-reading is a given for children’s authors. It’s one reason why we try to write books that have many layers and work on different levels, rewarding re-reading by growing richer each time.” And that is where the child’s perspective excels in these books. The layering and contradiction of the reader’s awareness and the characters’ innocence is hard to bear but it’s also what makes this book so successful and what is making me itch to start on book three, Now.

Source- my lovely local library.

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.

Binny for Short – Hilary McKay

26 Sep

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

24 Sep

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