Ages 9-11 [Upper Key Stage 2] 2020

Reviews added September 2020

The Inkberg Enigma by Jonathan King Gecko Press ISBN: 9781776572663 £11.99

An exciting graphic novel. Miro and Zia live in a fishing town called Aurora. Miro loves books, and Zia is a keen photographer. When Miro is leaving his favourite bookshop, he is attacked by bullies. Zia rescues him, and the two become friends. Zia thinks there is something weird going on in the town, and she persuades Miro to stop reading about adventures and solve the real-life mystery of Aurora. The fishing works, the Mayor, Danforth Castle, Aurora’s Museum, an Antarctic expedition in the 1930’s, a ship’s log, tentacles and secrets of the deep are all ingredients in this fast moving mystery. At times dramatic, sinister, tense and magical, this is an enjoyable read for children.

Brenda Marshall

Landing with Wings written and illustrated by Trace Balla Allen and Unwin: ISBN 9781760296957    £11.99

This new book from the much loved creator of Rivertime and Rockhopping is yet another lovely adventure story about caring for the environmental future. It is based in Australia and is a story about Aboriginal cultural practices, but, more than this, it is for children everywhere, about arriving in a new environment, as a stranger, putting down roots and feeling free. It is relevant worldwide. It is a wonderful book about animals and plants including Aboriginal language and cultural practices in the Dja Dja Wurrung County. The story set in the land of the Dja Dja Wurrung people shows the young reader indigenous culture and more about spreading your wings and putting down roots in an ancient land. Wonderfully illustrated with sketches, it is a book includes the Bibons toads life cycle and the local seasons. The book follows Miri’s adventures, and is a story of hope for the future and belonging in a community. It is also encourages readers to observe and learn to appreciate nature. The very useful glossary gives the translation of Aboriginal names for the plants, and the birds and animals on the inside cover are an inspiring start to the book.

At the bottom of page 3 there is the following quote as a p.s. to the letter Miri is writing which says:

I’m actually a ‘teeneeeny’ bit excited and a ‘tiiiiny ‘bit curious, too. Just a bit. It's sort of like not knowing what’s on the next page and wanting to turn it to see what happens …

This gives a feel of the whole book is and readers will want to turn over to continue on the adventure.

The book should be available in all libraries and primary schools. It would also make an excellent resource for teaching about different environments and cultures.

Paul Baker

Simone Biles, Golden Girl of Gymnastics (Trailblazers series) by Sally J Morgan Illustrated by Luisa Uribe and Emma Trithart Little Tiger ISBN 9781788952514 £6.99

Probably the first time we became aware of the young American gymnast Simone Biles was her gold-medal winning performances at the 2016 Rio Olympics. But her story started well before then and is more complex than one might expect, as this chronicle of her life explains. Simone’s single mother had problems that meant she was unable to care for her family so Simone and her siblings were fostered and later she was adopted by her grandparents. It wasn’t until she was six and visiting a local gym that her innate talents were discovered – complex gymnastics moves seemed to come naturally to her. She missed out on some schooling in order to be trained to the highest level and was extremely dedicated to doing her very best, resulting in being the highest ever achieving female gymnast. The book tells also of difficult aspects of her life including a time of low self-belief when her performance levels fell and suffering, along with others, from sexual abuse from the US team coach. Hers is an inspiring story of determination and overcoming odds. Interspersed with Simone’s story are snippets of information about aspects of gymnastics and there is a glossary along with an index and some useful links. One small point – the quotes from various people are printed in white on grey which some could find difficult to read.

Pam Dowson


A trip to the Future: how today’s science will shape tomorrow’s world by Moira Butterfield Illustrated by FagoStudio Templar ISBN 9781787415751£14.99

This fascinating book looks at the way science has been changing our lives and what it is likely to achieve in the future.  From AI, nanotechnology, robots and bionic limbs there are many ways that our future could change and Moira Butterfield has chosen a wide range for us to ponder on.  The subtitle of the book reminds me of the BBC series called “Tomorrow’s World”, where we gazed in wonder at computers, mobile phones and assorted transport options; some concepts came to fruition whilst others were quickly overtaken by other technologies.  This new book gives us so many options, but whether they will actually benefit mankind is still to be seen.

The book is full of incredible ideas and concepts and the author has been able to work with some real experts who work and research across the various areas, giving the whole book a sense of reality and being grounded in the science as we know it; It is good to see the scientific advisors being named, with information about where they work. The book itself is well laid out with defined subject areas, where each topic is given a double page spread for the information.  There is a good index and contents pages, together with a glossary to explain the scientific terms.  The illustrations are bright and vary in layout depending on the topic being covered, while the text is straightforward but with speech bubbles giving the subtext for some of the pictures.  This book will work extremely well with KS2 pupils, but will also work with students in KS3 as an introduction to some of their studies.

Margaret Pemberton

Space Maps : Your Tour of the Universe by Lara Albanese What on Earth Books ISBN 9781912920556 £18.99

This is a most impressive galactic guide The size of this books demands attention – it is almost 28 x 38 cms and is appropriate to the subject matter. As a result the double page spreads are almost like posters. The reader is encouraged to start by looking up at the sky. We are shown how the night sky is understood by the Ancient Greeks the Chinese and South Africans. The book then explores Galaxies; The Milky Way; The Sun; The Solar System; Journeys Through The Solar System; The Earth; Light Pollution; The Moon and  Lunar Explorations. Next we travel to other planets, like Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus; Neptune; Pluto and Charon and Ceres. The author then considers What is beyond the Solar System, and looks at the sky behind Ursa Major, the sky behind Orion, The Large Magellanic Cloud, The Crab Nebula and Exoplanets. One of my favourite sections is what is it like for humans in space with sections on the earth’s atmosphere, astronomical observations, earth’s artificial satellites, the spacesuit, spacecraft and the International Space Station. The book holds the reader’s attention because of the excellent presentation. Sometimes there are circular and flat maps, drawings, cutaways diagrams, captions and identity cards. At the end of the book there is a comprehensive index, glossary and list of sources. A superb volume that creates awe and wonder, informs and inspires.

Brenda Marshall

Sequin and Stitch by Laura Dockrill Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie Barrington Stoke ISBN 9781781129319 £6.99

Sequin lives in a flat with her mother and her baby brother, Stitch. Her mother makes beautiful dresses but receives no real recognition for her work.  The flat, though small, is filled with beautiful materials, sequins, buttons, beads and love. Sequin loves her family and her home life. She is, however, bullied at school, as the other girls do not believe Sequin when she tells them what her mother does, and as she cannot leave the flat (agoraphobia?) Sequin’s mother is labelled as weird by the other pupils.

Sequin’s mother is asked to make the wedding dress for a princess. It is all a big secret, and the princess is due to come and try on the dress when disaster happens. A fire breaks out in the block of flats. It is as Sequin and her mother escape that the truth about Stitch is revealed.

The story has a very happy ending. Sequin’s mother becomes seamstress to the princess and Sequin stands up to the bullies.

This is a novel shot through with love and light. The illustrations really add to the story, and the book has an attractive cover.  Recommended!

Heather Bignold

A Girl Called Justice The Smugglers’ Secret by Elly Griffiths Quercus Children’s Books ISBN: 9781786540577   £6.99

Experienced adult crime fiction writer Elly Griffiths has proved herself equally adept in this genre for children. This is the second book about the aptly named Justice, daughter of a barrister, now in her second term at Highbury House Boarding School. Despite her father’s parting admonition that she should not break too many school rules this term, Justice is soon on the alert. Why does the new matron appear to know nothing about first aid? Why is the basement out of bounds? How does new Miss Heron know the local countryside so well? Assigned to look after Mr Arthur as her community service project, she wonders if his house, Smugglers’ Lodge, is haunted. Term progresses well: her few friendships deepen; she develops a talent for cross-country running and enjoys several midnight feasts. Then Mr Arthur, who had already set her detecting, is found dead in mysterious circumstances. Justice’s famous sleuthing ability goes into action.

In the tradition of Malory Towers, Hogwarts and Enid Blyton adventures, this is a school tale with a resourceful heroine to savour and wonderful period details. Slightly the outsider, Justice nevertheless speaks her mind, stands up for what she believes and is clever and self-reliant. The plot is well constructed, the clues not too easy and there is a satisfyingly gathering momentum to the book which makes it a real page-turner. Y5 girls will easily pick this up to read, but equally a mixed class would enjoy this in shared reading and it is perfect for exploring the genre.

Sue Barrett


Adventures on Trains - The Highland Falcon Thief  by M.G.Leonard and Sam Sedgman Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli  Macmillan Children’s Books     ISBN 9781529013061   £6.99

Hal is not pleased when his parents arrange for him to accompany his uncle Nat on the final trip of the steam train The Highland Falcon while his baby sister is born. However, he quickly discovers not only that members of the royal family will be fellow travelers but that there is also a mysterious stowaway on board. Things get even more interesting when he finds out jewelry is going missing, there is a thief onboard and a mystery to solve.  Hal teams up with the stowaway, the engine driver’s daughter Lenny, to prevent the thief getting his hands on the Princess’s priceless Atlas diamond and solve the mystery.

This is a fast-paced adventure story with a retro feel and echoes of an Agatha Christie with its colourful cast of potential suspects. Young transport buffs will appreciate the celebration of steam trains and detailed information included. This would make a great read for children in upper KS2 who would enjoy speculating about who the thief might be, they could draw the possible suspects and scenarios just like Hal does in the story or develop map skills by plotting the route of the Highland Falcon from Crewe to Balmoral and back.

Sue McGonigle


Fungariium (Welcome to the Museum) by Ester Gaya in collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Illustrated by Katie Scott Big Picture Press  ISBN  9781787415355    £20

This is an absolutely stunning book. The large pages of this robust hardback offer mesmerising detailed artwork together with information presented in an accessible way. Ester Gaya is a senior research leader at Kew and an expert on fungi. Katie Scott’s sumptuous illustrations draw you in to the mysterious world of fungi. We are introduced to a wide variety of fungi and learn about their importance to us and our world. I was especially interested in the bracket fungi which have been used by humans since ancient times. One species was found with Ötzi the Iceman, a mummified prehistoric man found in Europe’s Ötztal Alps. It is thought that he might have been carrying it as tinder. Some fungi are eaten, others are poisonous. Some are used in wonder drugs like penicillin, immunosuppressants and statins. The book is over 80 pages and it is a wonderful introduction to fungi and their importance to the world’s ecosystem. Get a copy, and be entranced!

Brenda Marshall


The Curious Crime by Julia Golding  Lion Fiction ISBN 9780745977874     £6.99

This is a 19th century science fantasy, murder-mystery set in an enchanting museum, inspired by the Natural History Museum, with some aspects of Hogwarts, and Sherlock’s mind palace. It tells the story of Ree, a girl who works as a stonemason disguised as a boy. Accompanied by Phil, a rather stubborn dodo, Ree works high up on the scaffolding, creating masterpieces in the stone. One day, she is discovered. Her father is sentenced to hard labour for allowing her to work in a profession forbidden to women. She is given a more lenient punishment and is relegated to a maid’s work cleaning the halls at night. But the Museum is changing, the rules are getting harsher. Then the murders start. Ree befriends Henri, a scholar from North Africa. The two work together to discover the murderer and prove their innocence.

Golding depicts a male dominated scientific world where ideas are squashed, women are seen and not heard and ethnic minorities are regarded with caution. The book encourages readers to reflect on whether religious thoughts and beliefs are incompatible with science. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the museum halls where a menagerie of extinct animals roam freely. As well as being an exciting page-turner, there is much here that is relevant to today’s world. We see how attitudes and prejudices have influenced advances in science. An intelligent, thought-provoking book for readers aged 10+.

Brenda Marshall


The Great Big Brain Book by Mary Hoffman    Illustrated by Ros Asquith Frances Lincoln Children’s Books ISBN: 9780711241534    £12.99

This appealing book is part of a series I had not come across before. Mary Hoffman is more familiar to me as the author of the wonderful “Amazing Grace”, but how well she is suited to non-fiction! This is child-friendly information at its best, providing an introduction to how our brains work, how they are structured, many of the functions they control and even their impact upon our personalities. We are shown how they develop and are taught how to keep them healthy, but the book does not shy away from difficult areas such as epilepsy, strokes or Alzheimer’s - all done with a light touch. Each topic such as “the Senses” or “Thinking and Learning’ is dealt with on a double page spread of this A4 sized book and given a title in a way a child might have written it. Information is conveyed in short paragraphs of a good sized clear font and with the inclusive use of ‘we’ and ‘us’ to make it universal. Around that though, are Asquith’s wonderful cartoon-style illustrations, diagrams, speech bubbles, small scenes of dialogue and the recurring cat with his thoughts about his brain. They are colourful, happy, hugely detailed and both visually and textually amusing: the mother at the computer, also cooking, rocking the baby, polishing the floor whilst simultaneously on the phone and juggling her toddler is my personal hilarious favourite. There is so much to talk about in this book. Have several copies in every school library. Aged 7-11.

Sue Barrett


The Island That Didn’t Exist by Joe Wilson Oxford University Press.     ISBN 9780192775092    £6.99

This is a story that will stretch the imagination of the reader. There are probably, in reality, a number of places in the world that are undiscovered even now, and Joe Wilson uses this theme for his novel.  This story about a secret island that can only be located on a very ancient map. The island has been left to twelve year old Rixon Webste by his great uncle. Rixon sets out to find the island for himself. Luckily Rixon is a boy who is not surprised by anything that happens. The story involves wild children, scientific secrets and a battle to save the planet. In the end ‘Rixon knows that life has changed for ever.' This classic adventure story has been described as a contemporary Lord of the Flies' meets 'The Famous Five'. Joe Wilson is a sports correspondent for BBC News and has spent over 20 years in various forms of journalism. The book is a very good read and an exciting story for 9 to 12 year olds.

Paul Baker

Publication date April 2020   Age range 9-12


The Romans Are Coming!  Invaders and Raiders by Paul Mason Illustrated by Martin Bustamante Franklin Watts ISBN 9781445156170 £8.99

Life in Britain was transformed by the coming of the Romans in 43 BCE. This book tells us what happened from the point of view of those who lived it. The author uses a range of sources from archaeology, written records and other events to help the reader understand what it must have been like to live in these turbulent times. The language is accessible, and the page layout and presentation are varied with maps, photographs, drawings and captions and sections of text in different fonts. The book covers The Roman Army, Legionaries, Auxiliary soldiers, The Romans spread out, Forts and fortifications, Road building, Life under the Romans, Roman towns, Roman entertainment, Crime and Punishment and the Fall of the Roman Empire. I particularly enjoyed the section which explained that Romans fought in groups in formation behind their wood and metal shields, while some of the British fought naked, painted with blue. But the British had fast-moving chariots. One of the first things the Romans did was maim Chief Caractacus’ chariot horses in a night raid. I enjoyed the photographs of actual objects, such as the diploma, a bronze plate left behind by the Romans that said the holder had left the army and is now a Roman citizen. The author presents two versions of the story of Vercingetorix which helps readers to appreciate that written sources are not necessarily correct. At the back of the book there is a Glossary, a Glossary of Roman insults, A Timeline of Ancient Rome, Roman sites to visit and suggestions for further reading. An excellent book, highly recommended for children aged 9+.

Brenda Marshall


Umbrella Mouse to the Rescue by Anna Farqher    Illustrated by Sam Usher  Macmillan Children’s Books ISBN: 978-1529003994       £6.99

Fans of the first book, The Umbrella Mouse, which won the 2019 Sainsbury's Book Prize for Fiction and was chosen as a Waterstone’s Book of the Month, will not be disappointed with the sequel. This story picks up where the last book stopped. It is set during the final months of the Second World War, and follows the events surrounding the Liberation of Paris in August 1944. Pip Hanway, the young mouse, is still working with the French Resistance group, Noah’s Ark. Noah’s Ark is the name of a secret gang of animals led by the formidable Hedgehog, Madame Fourcade, whose aim is to liberate France and help the Allies win the war. The plot is exciting with twists and turns. I particularly enjoyed the chapters about tanks, and fuel lines, the saving of The Eiffel Tower and sabotaging of the telephone lines inside the Nazis’ military headquarters. In addition to being a great adventure story, there are opportunities to consider memories, loyalty, fear, danger, courage, bonds of friendship and doing what is right. Sensitive illustrations from the wonderful Sam Usher enhance the text. In her research Fargher drew on the true stories of animals caught up in war. The Author’s Note at the end of the book explains some of the historical facts behind the story, and could inspire further study. Highly recommended as an unusual adventure for children aged 9+that gives an insight into wartime.


Whoa! I Spy a Werewolf by Justin Davies illustrated by Kim Geyer Orchard Books     ISBN 9781408355480                £6.99

Alice MacAlister is a ‘pre transformation’ werewolf who has been nominated for The Bravest Monster award despite only recently receiving her welcome pack from the Ministry of Monsters. When celebrity monster vlogger Kiki grabs hold of her hands at a press conference Alice experiences a strange draining sensation. Soon after this her werewolf power of super smellability mysteriously disappears. There follows a strange sequence of events with Alice going from hero to zero as a doppelganger wreaks havoc in the city. How can Alice prove that she is innocent, and the crimes are being committed by someone else? Her friends help her unmask the malevolent shapeshifter in the nick of time.

This book is second in the series about Alice the young werewolf. Davies has created an amusing parallel world complete with a monster munch café, jobs4monsters and the Nessie awards ceremony enhanced by Geyer’s illustrations throughout. The story is fast paced with a mystery to solve and an evil villain to vanquish. In fact, astute young readers are likely to crack the mystery quicker than Alice and her pals do. This could make a successful group read in an upper KS2 class. The story may spark an interest in finding out more about mythical monsters, perhaps creating a monster dictionary; an incredible number are included in the story from the more well-known e.g. Vampires to the lesser known e.g. Sasquatch.

Sue McGonigle


Why Can’t Penguins Fly? (and other questions about Animals) by Anna Claybourne Wayland  ISBN 9781526311627  £12.99

This is one in the series of books ' A Question of Science' and is an excellent addition. Fun illustration enhance each double spread are educational. The text is clear and very good specific illustrations are integrated well to make the book an inspirational learning volume for primary aged children. Older children may also find it useful for reference. The double page spreads have interesting titles such as ' What are animals?', Do Spiders have a heart?',' How can a Snake swallow a Deer?', ' Which Animals eat people?', 'Why don't Cats lay eggs?', 'Why don't caterpillars look like their parents?' ,Why can't animals talk to us?' , 'Which is the cleverest animal?', 'How do Chameleons change colour?' , What are camels humps made of ?' , 'How can a cockroach live without its head?' and 'Why can't penguins fly?'.

All the double pages are full of information for young scientists and at the back there are Quick-fire questions, an excellent Glossary and a page titled Further Reading which includes a list of websites and books. The Index at the end also will help the young scientists. This series of books is an excellent reference and should be in all School Libraries and primary/prep schools. This particular volume is both scientifically interesting and fun, tackling questions other science books do not ask. A marvellous educational and inspiring book that only can help make children interested in Science.

Other books in the series are 'Where does Lightning come from?'  Why doesn't the moon fall down?', Why don't your eyeballs fall out?', Why does a Mirror show things back to front ?' 'How can a plant eat a fly?' and 'Can you hear sounds in space?'

Paul Baker


The Impossible Boy by Ben Brooks Quercus Children’s Books ISBN 9781540997 £9.99

A delightful story that will entertain and engage readers. Two best friends, Oleg and Emma, are bored in class so invent a boy called Sebastian Cole who arrives along with a host of mysterious happenings. Brooks has created a fun story with some nicely observed characters and lively realistic conversations that sit comfortably during the increasingly surreal madcap moments in the book. Hints of darkness are supplied by difficult home lives, Oleg’s father is neglectful and Emma’s single parent is overworked and stressed – both these back stories nicely counterbalance the sweetness of the children’s friendships and adventures with their not-so imaginary friend. This is Ben Brooks first novel but hopefully not his last.

Hilary Payne


Invisible in a Bright Light by Sally Gardner Zephyr ISBN 9781786 695222 £10.99

In the foreword to Invisible in a Bright Light, author Sally Gardner admits it took her a long time to “work out how a theatre, a ghost ship and a crystal chandelier might be connected” but in this rich, evocative story, she has managed to do this with aplomb. Readers will delight in this losing themselves in the surreal world that Gardner has created. Set in a Royal Opera House, populated with heroes and villains, we meet Celeste, who is tasked with playing a game called the Reckoning. Some readers might struggle with the bizarre cast of characters but not for those that want to lose themselves in the ethereal world of the Opera and the journey that Celeste takes. A great book for confident readers who want to read a book unlike any other, as they will be rewarded by a truly unique story.

Hilary Payne


Elsetime by Eve McDonnell Everything with Words ISBN: 9781911427179 £8.99

This is all about two twelve year olds, Gloria and Needle, who live 50 years apart, yet meet up and share lots of adventures.

Gloria, an orphan, lives with her 16 year old sister and they both need to work to pay the rent. Gloria aspires to be a jewellery designer despite her wooden hand. She ends up working for a nasty shop owner who exploits her mercilessly.

Needle is a Victorian mudlark, who uses the treasures he finds to make items for his mother to sell. Unusually, he can tell the story of the things he finds through just holding them in his hand.

The two are linked together by Magpie, a very intelligent crow.

One day Needle finds part of a plaque, listing those who died in a flood in January 1928. This brings the two heroes together in an unlikely friendship as they attempt to warn people of the potential flood. Of course, no-one listens to their warnings. But of course, everything turns out right in the end......

The story proceeds at a cracking pace, weaving events from 1864 and 1928 together seamlessly. It will appeal to strong readers, probably KS 3 rather than KS 2, but Year 6 should find it a really good read.

Alf Wilkinson


Tiger Heart by Penny Chrimes Illustrated by Levente Szabo Orion​ ISBN​978151007564​ £7.99

Fly has never known a life other than the orphanage and being a chimney sweep’s assistant, but one day she decides to escape by climbing down a chimney. Unfortunately what she discovers seems even worse than her previous life, because she ends up in a room with a rather large tiger. From then on thing become even stranger as she discovers that she can understand what the tiger is saying; not only that, but the tiger seems to know her and says that she is a princess. What happens when they escape and how they solve the mystery of Fly’s parentage make for a thrilling and magical story. The author has created a strong and resourceful heroine who has had to fight for her survival since a very young age. But there are also a wide range of animal characters and we are soon caught up in the attempts to save them from incarceration and ill treatment. We also have a group of servants who are being threatened by their master, a truly nasty villain who is trying to capture Fly. This is a story that mixes the worst of Victorian London with elements of the Far East and has the reader devouring the story as the plot moves along at a tremendous pace. This is one for KS2 children as the author does not pull any punches in her descriptions of the events that take place as the story unfolds. It is definitely one to look out for.

Margaret Pemberton


Time Travel Diaries: Adventures in Athens by Caroline Lawrence Piccadilly Press ISBN 9781848128477 £6.99

Alex and Dinu are off on their time travels again – to Athen in 415BC in search of Socrates. This time they reluctantly take Dinu’s little sister, Crina, with them. All in aid of making sure the details in a new computer game are accurate. Needless to say, all kinds of crazy adventures happen to them during their 24 hour stay in Athens, and the parallels between life in Ancient Greece and life in the new computer game keep emerging. Between adventures there are lots of detail about ordinary life in Athens in 415BC, and of several famous people – Plato, Socrates and General Alcibiades. There is even a detailed discussion of Socratic method and ideas. The action races along but needless to say our heroes arrive home, [eventually], safe and well - a great way to learn about life in Ancient Greece, and a great story. Year Six should be able to read this easily, although younger readers may be a little baffled – the characters are all in secondary schools – perhaps it is better suited to that particular audience. Can’t fault the history, and a great adventure.

Alf Wilkinson


The Mask of Aribella, by Anna Hoghton Chicken House Books ISBN 9781912626106 £6.99

This is a fantasy story set in a real place – Venice. You won’t learn very much about Venice, other than gondolas and canals; but you will read a cracking good story that gallops along, almost leaving you breathless.
Aribella is just turned thirteen, daughter of a penniless lace-maker, and discovers she has magical powers – when angered sparks and flames shoot from her fingers. As danger haunts Venice under the deadly red moon, Aribella is drawn into the world of the Cannovacci – those with special powers whose job it is to save Venice from danger of all kinds. Evil spectres rise up from the lagoons; deadly flooding threatens to overwhelm the city. Aribella and her new friends set out to save the day. Can they learn to control their new powers in time to defeat the evil threatening to destroy Venice and the world?
This is a story of friendship, and of being yourself rather than what other people want you to be. It is immensely readable and is suitable for good Upper KS 2 readers. I couldn’t put it down!

Alf Wilkinson

Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly Piccadilly Press​ ISBN 9781848129153 £6.99

Based on Filipino folklore, this is a powerful and challenging book for experienced readers. The author has previously won the Newbery Medal and certainly the quality of her writing shines through in this gripping tale. It is set on the fictional island of Sanalgita where life is treacherous, the future is uncertain and there seems no prospect of escape. Men have tried in the past but none return. When Lalani’s mother falls ill after contracting the dreaded menders’ disease caused by pricking her finger with a needle while mending the fishermen’s nets, the twelve year-old sets out on a quest across the sea to another island in search of a cure but, inevitably, she encounters numerous setbacks. She is a determined and seemingly fearless character dealing with a difficult and dangerous situation – it would have been so easy to make the central character a boy, but the story is all the more powerful for it being a girl.
We are introduced to creatures and a culture unknown to us and some readers may find the many names something of a barrier, but the story propels us forward as we will the brave heroine to succeed in her most difficult task. Age range 9-12.

Pam Dowson


Cloudburst by Wilbur Smith (with Chris Wakling) Piccadilly Press ISBN 9781848128538 £6.99

Cloudburst is the first in a planned series of books by Wilbur Smith using the same family of characters as in some of his adult books. The young star of the story, Jack Courtney, is taken to the Democratic Republic of Congo by his parents, as they are attending an environmental conference. Right from the very start, there are strange happenings and as a reader you get a great sense of unease about many of the characters – you really don’t know who to trust! Jack has a mixed relationship with his parents and a tough incident in the past keeps rearing its head. However, he has two strong friends to rely on: the brainbox Amelia and the calm and reflective Xander. After exploring the jungle, Jack finds his parents are missing, and the three friends face a torrent of disbelieving adults before deciding to take matters into their own hands in order to save them. The tension never really lets up throughout the rest of the story and there are some wonderful twists and turns. This book would be great for Year 6 or Key Stage 3. With the wonderful description of the DRC, this story could be used to compare life in Africa with another place, such as where your school is situated. I think a character study of Caleb would be fascinating, as he changes a lot throughout the whole story due to the experiences he goes through. Lots of PSHE could be taken from the story as a whole, as there are strong themes of a changing family, friendship and ultimately betrayal. Warning – there is loss of life (a father) mentioned in the story quite vividly, which could be upsetting for some readers.

Jamie Marshall

Trailblazers: Albert Einstein by Paul Virr Stripes Publishing ISBN: 9781788951586 £6.99

This is a new title in the excellent Traiblazers series. Albert Einstein is, indeed, “the greatest mind in physics”. The book opens with interesting background detail and information about Galileo, Isaac Newton, relativity and The Moment of Truth. Then we follow Albert’s life from his childhood through to his great discoveries. I particularly enjoyed the section about his boyhood which described key moments like building tall houses of cards, and some of his favourite things, such as a working model of a steam engine and a pocket compass. The text is accessible to children, and is broken up with black and white illustrations and background information that helps us understand Einstein. I found some of his quotations thought-provoking such as “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems for longer”; “I rarely think in words at all. A thought comes – I may try to express it in words afterwards.” and “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”. There is a helpful timeline, suggestions for further reading including websites, and a glossary and index. This is an important book because it is a biography of a genius perfectly pitched for to children aged 9-11.

Brenda Marshall


This Book Will (Help) Cool The Climate by Isabel Thomas. Illustrated by Alex Paterson Wren and Rook ISBN 9781526362414 £6.99

As we hear more and more news of environmental damage and the peril our planet is in and faces in the future, this engaging book is a very timely. Isabel Thomas is a science writer and children's author who has been shortlisted for the Royal Society Young People's Book Prize, the ASE Science Book of Year and the Blue Peter Book Awards. Alex Paterson was a soldier and jungle leader before becoming an illustrator. A very readable and friendly layout helps make an interesting and informative book about our changing world. The tone is funny at times and sometimes serious. At a frightening time for many, with disasters such as the Australian fires, children are given easy ways to help fight climate change. Complete with myth busting boxes and counter arguments to put climate- deniers in their place, this book allows children aged 9 – 11 to act in a small way by taking control now and helping cool the climate and saving the planet. It should be on bookshelves in libraries, schools and in homes.

Paul Baker


Lori and Max by Catherine O’Flynn Firefly Press ISBN 9781912102029 £6.99

Author Catherine O’Flynn, winner of the Costa First Novel Award for “What was Lost”, has bought us her first children’s book with “Lori and Max”. An entertaining, witty novel which introduces us to school girls Lori – a budding detective, and Max – a troubled newcomer with a complicated but loving family. Added to this mix is a gambling addiction, missing money and a psychopathic hamster called Cuddles and you find yourself with a riot of a read that will appeal to both boys and girls. Some clever plot twists and pacing means the reader will be gripped by the story which at its heart, focusses on friendship and the importance of doing the right thing. The novel hints at some complicated adult issues but with a light touch that shouldn’t trouble a sensitive reader. Age range 7 – 11.

Hilary Payne


The Dictionary of Difficult Words by Jane Solomon Illustrated by Louise Lockhart Frances Lincoln​ISBN 9781786038104​£17.99

There is a great emphasis on learning words as part of the curriculum, and particularly in extending vocabulary, so that there is not a constant use of terms such as ‘lovely’. The publication of the book “The Lost Words” by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris highlighted the way that we are actually losing word from our dictionaries, even though we are also gaining some very unusual new words. This new work looks at a wide range of unusual words; some of them are long and rarely used, whilst others are found more frequently in common usage. The book gives us a brief explanation of different parts of speech and how we can use endings to guess at the meaning. I also like the section about how to read the book; basically we read it in any way that we want to, which is really great for young readers in particular. Each letter of the alphabet is given four pages; the first page shows the letter of the alphabet followed by two pages of definitions and finally a whole page devoted to one really interesting word. This is a large book, being 265mm x 320mm in size and the illustrations fill the pages with bright and vivid images. It is particularly good for just dipping in to, but it also encourages young people from 7+ to look at the strange world of our written language and see how things are changing.

Margaret Pemberton


Tiger Heart by Penny Chrimes Illustrated by Levente Szabo Orion ISBN 978151007564 £7.99

Fly has never known a life other than the orphanage and being a chimney sweep’s assistant, but one day she decides to escape by climbing down a chimney. Unfortunately what she discovers seems even worse than her previous life, because she ends up in a room with a rather large tiger. From then on thing become even stranger as she discovers that she can understand what the tiger is saying; not only that, but the tiger seems to know her and says that she is a princess. What happens when they escape and how they solve the mystery of Fly’s parentage make for a thrilling and magical story.

The author has created a strong and resourceful heroine who has had to fight for her survival since a very young age. But there are also a wide range of animal characters and we are soon caught up in the attempts to save them from incarceration and ill treatment. We also have a group of servants who are being threatened by their master, a truly nasty villain who is trying to capture Fly. This is a story that mixes the worst of Victorian London with elements of the Far East and has the reader devouring the story as the plot moves along at a tremendous pace. This is one for KS2 children as the author does not pull any punches in her descriptions of the events that take place as the story unfolds. It is definitely one to look out for.

Margaret Pemberton


Great Women Who Saved The Planet by Kate Pankhurst Bloomsbury Children’s Books ISBN: 9781408899298 £6.99

This is the fourth in a fantastic series of books about inspirational women, often pioneers in their field, who have worked tirelessly to protect some precious aspect of the natural environment. Each double-page spread contains biographical and career highlights along with colourful cartoon illustrations, characters with speech bubbles, notes and clever paths or arrows to direct the reader around the packed page with its range of fonts and print sizes. We learn about Isatou Geesay and her women’s initiative in The Gambia, meteorologist Edith Farkas who discovered the thinning ozone layer, Ingeborg Belling’s study of bees which led to an understanding of circadian rhythms which affect us all and the marine biologist Eugenie Clark whose last dive in 2014 was at the age of 94!

Personally, I knew only three of the women discussed and yet an understanding of the dangers of deforestation, a ban on CFCs, a growth in solar energy and a deeper understanding and respect for sharks, chimpanzees and elephants are just some of the important outcomes from their work. This is an attractive, accessible and enjoyable book to dip into or read all the way through. Pankhurst’s distant relative has undoubtedly influenced this writer and now these books should be read throughout KS2, (aged 7-11), to redress the balance of understanding about influential women in our world as well as perhaps inspire the next remarkable young woman.

Sue Barret

The International Yeti Collective by Paul Mason Illustrated by Katy Riddell Stripes Books ISBN: 9781788950848 £6.99

A journey of discovery for both yeti and human; this trial of trust for both is so consistent with certain current global ecological themes. I, (he who is jealous of Ella), would love to ride around the Himalayas charged with taking photographs of wildlife whilst perhaps seeking a yeti, and this is what the main character, Ella, does. Her passion for all wildlife and her wish to protect them from other humans, especially her uncle, travel throughout the story. The journey begins with Ella and a chance meeting with a yeti called Tick, who wishes to find out why his mother broke yeti laws and contacted humans many years previously. Family loyalty, on both sides, a fear of the unknown, on both sides, slowly converge at the story's climax. This text would link nicely to the topic of mountains and rivers, which is studied in Key Stage 2. The book itself is perfect for children aged 8-11. Children could write persuasive letters to their parents to let them go on the trip with Uncle Jack. There could be a focus on cameras, like the television crew, and children could make pinhole cameras. It would be intriguing to see what children think the yeti's writing would look like, and this would link in with the study of Roman numerals and other ancient style of writing: children could even make their own slabs. In Year 6, children look at classification, and there are numerous insects and fungi mentioned in the book. The yeti themselves are always fascinating to children and a study of these would enhance the story - children could research yeti and then write a newspaper article about them.

Jamie Marshall


Women in Art 50 Fearless Creatives Who Inspired the World written and illustrated by Rachel Ignotofsky Wren and Rook ISBN: 9780399580437 £12.99

Rachel Ignotofsky is a New York Times bestselling author, illustrator, and designer. She has produced a fantastic book that profiles 50 pioneering female artists. The women are from a wide range of times and cultures and work in different mediums. Some are well-known, like Georgia O’Keeffe, Beatrix Potter and Barbara Hepworth. Others are less well known, like Harriet Powers, Lee Miller, Christine de Pizan and Guan Daosheng. The reader is given a balance of factual information and story, and the text points out obstacles the women had to overcome. I enjoyed the thought-provoking quotations from each artist. In addition to the profiles there is an introduction, a timeline and sections on Elements and Principles of Art and Design, Statistics in Art, Art Tools and More Women in Art.

The illustrations are glorious. Text and images are perfectly matched. Highly recommended for children aged 9+, this is a beautiful, book that celebrates women artists and how their achievements have enriched our world. It also inspires the next generation. To quote Faith Ringgold, painter, fibre artist, educator and activist “You can’t sit around waiting for someone else to say who you are, you need to write it and paint it and print it and do it! That’s where the art comes from. It’s a visual image of who you are. That’s the power of being an artist!” Publication date March 2020 Age range 9-11.

Brenda Marshall


Amundsen's Way The Race to the South Pole by Joanna Grochowicz Illustrated by Sarah Lippett Allen and Unwin ISBN 9781911631408  £7.99

This story, from the author of the highly acclaimed 'Into the White', is another masterpiece of narrative non fiction. Using Roald Amundsen's South Polar conquest, Joanna has written a gripping account of how a man will stop at nothing to reach his goal of reaching the South Pole. Joanna fuses the real and the imagined to allow the reader to understand both some history and geography of Antarctica. It is a story of life-threatening challenges, deception, disappointments and triumph written for 10 to 13 year old children. It brings history and exploration alive and allows the reader to consider and come to conclusions on whether the intelligent Roald Amundsen was just a single minded ruthless but deceptive man, who would not let anything get in his way, or a brilliant, dedicated and daring explorer. This book would be ideal for pupils, as a class reader or individually, to extend their literacy while studying at KS2 the history of explorers, or at KS3 the geography of Antarctica.

Paul Baker


A Year of Nature Poems by Joseph Coelho. Illustrated by Kelly Louise Judd Wide Eyed Editions ISBN: 978071124 9943    £6.99

Each month is represented here by a poem on an illustrated double-page spread prefaced with a short introduction about some aspect of nature. With this structure and the collection’s title, the reader might expect twelve straightforward poems about key aspects of the natural world in each month. Instead we are treated to starling murmurations, the emergence of mayflies, jellyfish bloomings and the perils of fly agaric toadstools, whilst the impact of climate change is touched upon gently in the decline in frogspawn. More than that, many of them have a poignant melancholic tone drawn from the poet’s personal experience of loss, teenage sorrow, familial embarrassment or the camaraderie of friends scrumping together. All are written in Coelho’s lyrical and highly metaphorical style which has both heart-stoppingly beautiful images too numerous to mention, along with lines which ache with the rigours of old age and the fragility of life. They are wonderfully offset by Judd’s gorgeous decorative designs and illustrations inspired by the poems and nature. They are so full of charm and colour one can, perhaps, forgive the appearance of water lilies in February! There is much here to challenge Y6 in the language, but it could provide the perfect springboard for their own creative writing about what is important to them in the natural world as well as exploring how writing can be cathartic after some experiences.


Sue Barrett


Trailblazers Beyoncé 'Queen of the Spotlight' by Ebony Joy Wilkins Illustrated by Rachel Sanson    Stripes Publishing ISBN:9781788952163  £6.99

What a wonderful and inspiring read this book is - it really does persuade children, of Upper KS 2, to try and succeed in life, and that is this book’s direct message. This particular biography is about the famous singer and personality, Beyoncé; however, there is a whole series of books about people who have really stood out in their field of work (Neil Armstrong, Jane Goodall, Harriet Tubman and Albert Einstein). I wasn't initially that keen on reading this, but, with determination, it is an easy read with short sections within each chapter, and various interesting asides throughout the book giving more information on particular topics mentioned, for example, Barack Obama, Cadillac Records and Bonnie and Clyde. The only negative thing I would say is that, and I can see why the author would do it, the book is incredibly positive about her success being down to her talent and hard work, whereas an unbiased view might have included the huge amounts of luck that she has had along the way to make it to where she is.

The book takes you through Beyoncé life from the age of five to superstardom, explaining all the hard work she goes through, the setbacks and let downs that she had to survive. As a traditional biography it shows children the key features of this style of writing (glossary, sub headings, quotes, pictures, 3rd person etc) and, therefore, would be very useful if children were about to start a writing unit of work on biographies. With all the awards Beyoncé has won, children could design and make their own Grammy awards. Without doubt, her whole career has been a family affair: her mum designed and made her costumes, so children could do the same; her dad was her manager, so children could work out a maths challenge to do with budgeting for a world tour; and her sister was her dancer, so during PE children could make up dance routines. In geography lessons children could follow her tour around the world focuses on capital cities of countries she visits and other key objectives depending on their year group. Also, it would be a great book to read for Black History month as Beyoncé is a strong voice for the Black Lives Matter movement.


Jamie Marshall


Cyborg Cat and the Night Spider by Ade Adepitan  Illustrated by Carl Pearce Piccadilly Press     ISBN 9781787414037   £5.99

This is the second book in a series by author and Paralympian Ade Adepitan. Depicting the fictional life of young teenager Ade and his friends, this is a story that offers something for everyone. A fantastically fun read, it will appeal to a wide range of young people who recognise the daily highs and lows of school life. Ade loves football and his skills on the pitch have earned him the nickname ‘Cyborg Cat’ amongst his friends, despite the heavy metal calliper on his leg. As Ade and his closest friends, the ‘Parsons Road Gang’ try to solve the mystery of the new graffiti around Parsons Road, Ade also faces new challenges in school and at home as his legs get weaker, and his confidence in the superpowers he feels as ‘Cyborg Cat’ are tested like never before.  This book addresses many themes that will be keenly felt by young people – feeling different amongst peers and alone even amongst friends. It is an uplifting and inclusive book as it seeks to make all young people recognise and celebrate their strengths, and value the loyalty and support of good friends. Age range 8 -11.

Laura Davies


What is Mental Health? Where Does It Come From? And other Big Questions by Dr Lucy Maddox Wayland ISBN 9781526311139 £13.99

An excellent title in the “And Other Big Questions” series. Mental health is an important area and this book explains what mental health is. Dr Lucy Maddox is a consultant clinical psychologist and writer and her experience with young people makes her the ideal author for this book. The approach is friendly, accessible and non-stigmatising. There are contributions from a wide range of people such as J K Rowling, Stormzy, US gold medallist basketballer; Chineye Njoku, academics, artists, a poet and other experts and researchers. Their varied experiences broaden our understanding of mental health issues Ways in which we can help our mental health are explored. Suggestions for support are offered for ourselves or for people we know are struggling.  Highly recommended for children and young people aged 10+ as an exploration of a vital area.

Brenda Marshall


Paralympic Power by Paul Mason Wayland ISBN 9781526308078 £13.99

An attractive, well-timed book that celebrates the Paralympics. Pages are well designed with a good balance of information and illustrations. The achievements of Paralympians past and present are spotlighted, and interviews give fascinating insights into different role models, such as Brian McKeever who does not keep count of how many medals he has won because he is more interested in the process and “how I can get a few more per cent out of my performance” and Ellie Simmonds who never gets asked for autographs but is often asked for selfies. Mason describes how Paralympics started, and explains how the wide range of different events are categorised.  This is an important book that celebrates courage, resilience, diversity, inclusion and achievement. It deserves a place in every primary school library.

Brenda Marshall


Strange But True 10 of the World’s Greatest Mysteries Explained by Kathryn Hulick Illustrated by Gordy Wright Frances Lincoln ISBN: 9781786037855 £14.99

I am a fan of this stimulating book.  The introduction encourages us to think about the mysteries presented, to check the sources and question the evidence.  Using scientific reasoning and critical thinking, readers are encouraged to reach their own conclusions. Information is presented in a methodical way on a range of subjects which inspire the imagination including aliens; psychics; false memories; mysterious disappearances; haunted mansions; lost worlds; ancient aliens; zombis; powers of the mind; ancient curses; Bigfoot and monsters of the deep. The book is well written and the artwork is haunting and suggestive. This is a real page turner. Excellent for aged 10 and beyond.

Brenda Marshall


The Rocking Book of Rocks by Amy Bell and Florence Bullough Illustrated by Anna Alanka    Wide Eyed Editions. ISBN 9781786038722 £12.99

The scientific study of rocks is an essential part of geology, and this book, designed for 6 to 12 year olds, is a superb and exciting introduction to the importance and characteristics of rocks, minerals and gems and where and how they are formed. With stunning illustrations by Anna Alanka, the reader is taken to the centre of the Earth and to the far reaches of Space. The authors, both expert geologists from Geological Society of London, provide information on everything to do with rocks with detailed double page spreads on the 'Structure of the Earth', 'Geological Timelines',' The Rock Cycle' leading in to pages on the different types of rocks, their influence on landscapes, fossils, gemstones, geodes and useful metals, an easy reference glossary and the fascinating ' Did you know?' facts. Although written for KS2 pupils, it will, no doubt, be a useful guide for older pupils and adults, increasing knowledge and understanding about rocks and minerals all around us and the part they play in our daily lives, from the use of rocks and minerals in computers and smart phones to other important uses such as in medicines. A truly magnificent book that will inspire the reader to think about, and carry out further research about geology and even possibly sow the seeds for a career as a geologist.

Paul Baker


Jane Goodall A Life With Chimps by Anita Ganeri Illustrated by Luisa Uribe, George Ermos and Keiron Ward Trailblazers : Stripes Publishing ISBN: 9781788951579     £6.99

I loved this book. Jane Goodall is a trailblazer and this biography tells her story and gives interesting insights into her life Jane’s success is all the more remarkable as she was unqualified and Jane’s desire to get in amongst the chimps challenged the approach of the male-dominated scientific research at that time. It was interesting to read that she felt being a woman helped her to be accepted in Africa. Anita Ganeri is an experienced writer of information books and she has chosen material will appeal to children, such as explaining the importance of the chimpanzee toy Jane was given as a child, and describing her tenacity in having a quarter of a cabbage and a chocolate biscuit for supper when she was short of money. The range of text types included adds variety and the cost of the book makes it an accessible. With recommendations for further research, a glossary and an index, this is highly recommended as an inspirational read about a girl who follows her dreams, and as an introduction to primatology and conservation for children aged 8 – 10.

Brenda Marshall


Mark Anchovy by William Goldsmith Piccadilly Press   ISBN 978184128613 £6.99

This is the very cheesy story of Mark Anchovy, pizza delivery boy turned detective; nobly assisted by Princess Skewer. [Yes, you’ve guessed it – she works in a kebab shop!] They are part of the Golden Spatula League – an international group of child food detectives, and are hot on the trail of Big Al Fresco, international art thief, who is suspected of stealing the famous painting ‘A Girl with a Squirrel,’ by Leonardo da Quincy. On a school trip to Rome, Mark and his fellow detectives must find out where Big Al has hidden the painting and try to recover it. Needless to say, Mark is hindered throughout by his old history teacher, Mr Hogstein, [many of us will have met teachers just like him!], who is determined to keep Mark on a very tight leash throughout their stay in Rome. But it all turns out well in the end!

If you like cheesy jokes, and not taking things too seriously, you will enjoy this book. It gently takes the mickey out of detective stories, [and school trips!], as well as exhibiting a great line in puns. Good readers at Upper KS2 should easily manage the text, and the black and white illustrations add to the general corniness of the tale.  Amusing.


Alf Wilkinson


When We Became Humans by Michael Bright, illustrated by Hannah Bailey, Quarto Publishing ISBN:9781786038869    £12.99

What a great idea - to put evolution into context and follow the journey from primate fossils to Homo Sapiens. No stone unturned, so to speak, and brilliantly brought to life by vivid illustrations all closely based on fossilised remains. Every branch of evolution, from Purgatorius, a small rat-like animal that lived around 66 million years ago, to modern humans and, who knows, robotic life in the future is featured. I'm quite sure that teachers will find this book fascinating.

Unfortunately, for me such an approach has its limitations too. There are small bits of information about everything - walking on two legs; the first use of fire; - but too often I found myself wanting to know more about  the key changes on the road to Homo Sapiens. By covering every branch of evolution in some ways there is too much information, and in others not enough. A shame really, because this is thoroughly researched, well presented, with the story of evolution clearly followed. However, I would have preferred more detail on the most important steps along the road.

Alf Wilkinson


What Is Politics? Why Should We Care? And Other Big Questions by Michael Rosen and Annemarie Young     Wayland          ISBN 9781526311139     £13.99

Tackling hugely important elements that affect all of us, this timely book explains politics in the broadest sense, explaining how it affects our everyday lives, whether we think we are political or not.  It presents various and diverse information before inviting our responses on such topics as what politics means to us, how individuals become involved in politics, political power, the NHS, the media and how individuals and groups can affect the thinking and actions of others.  We are introduced to the basics of how the UK political system works and shown some examples of other countries, allowing us to consider the differences. The book deliberately raises numerous questions in an attempt to inform, allow for personal opinions to be developed and to show the importance of understanding politics and not just to know who to vote for in an election. There are also vignettes of several people who are involved in politics in different ways, where they explain their experiences and thoughts about how politics works. There is an index, a short but useful glossary and links for further information. This would be a useful book for starting discussions and raising awareness in young people of how politics influences their lives, thus informing their future decisions and personal involvement.

Pam Dowson


World War Two. The Story Behind the War that Divided the WorldNick Hunter Bloomsbury ISBN 9781526605580     £8.99

This is an excellent introduction to World War Two. The outbreak of war in 1939 is carefully put into context, and major events throughout the world from 1939-1945 are covered in an interesting and readable way. The text is pitched at just the right level for upper KS2, and each page is really well illustrated. Some of the images and examples used are familiar but many are, as the book claims, from the National Archives and not usually used in books for Primary pupils. If you are looking for a factual introduction to World War Two for the school library, then this is it.

Alf Wilkinson


A Postcard to Ollis by Ingunn Thon Illustrated by Nora Brech Translated by Siân Mackie   Wacky Bee ISBN 9781999903343   £6.99

An enjoyable book from Norway with an engaging central character who loves inventing. Ollis was named after five women who played important roles in Norwegian history. Her life is in turmoil. Mum’s new boyfriend, Einar, has moved in, and she has a new baby brother. Gro, her best friend, is a source of comfort to her. One day, in the forest the girls find a strange yellow mailbox and meet Borgny. When Ollis finds a postcard from her father she starts on a quest to find him. En route she lies to her friend and feels rejected by Einar and her mother.

The story moves at a quick pace and is exciting and funny. Thonn shows sensitivity in her handling of the rollercoaster of Ollis’ emotions, misunderstandings and expectations. Eventually all is resolved and lessons are learnt as Ollis learns the true meaning of family, and the value of friendship. Shortlisted for the Italian literary prize ‘Premio Strega 2018’, the equivalent of the UK's Carnegie medal, the book is highly recommended for children aged 9 -11. Publication date November 2019   Age range 9 - 11

Brenda Marshall


Black Beauty by Anna Sewell  Illustrated by Christian Birmingham Palazzo ISBN: 9781786750808 £16.99

Palazzo has published a superb edition of Black Beauty. The introduction provides significant details about Anna Sewell’s life. As a result of a childhood injury, she could not walk, but was able to drive a horse-drawn carriage. She became interested in the way horses were treated in Victorian England. Indeed the book was not written specifically for children. One of her aims was to raise awareness of horses’ needs and to encourage kindness and consideration. Black Beauty is written from the horse’s perspective rather than from that of a human. This approach went on to influence other writers such as Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse.  Christian Birmingham’s sumptuous illustrations are true to the spirit of this classic and capture the life story, feelings and experiences of Black Beauty as well as giving insights into characters and relationships. The colour illustrations are stunning. I particularly like the depiction of the fire where the reader can almost feel the sparks flying; the vibrant, atmospheric picture of the horse fair, and the elegance and sophistication of the Pultney Street, illustration. Throughout the book there are also vignettes in black and white that are sensitive and moving. This is a special volume that would make a superb present, or addition to a school library. Publication date October 2019  Age range KS2

Brenda Marshall


Prehistoric Creatures of the Order The Beauty of Order in the Prehistoric World by Jules Howard Illustrated by Kelsey Oseid Templar Books ISBN 9781787413443 £16.99

A detailed.introduction to prehistoric creatures of the same taxonomic order.  We are shown families of animals that share important evolutionary traits. Did you know that the Prionosuchus plummeri was one of the largest and most ferocious of the temnospondyli? This aquatic predator would easily dwarf a saltwater crocodile. Or that Hatzegopteryx thambema is likely to have had the longest skull of any land animal that has ever lived? It was an apex predator which may even have hunted and killed small dinosaurs. Or that Carcharocles Megalodon was almost 20m long and is the biggest shark ever discovered? With teeth the size of a human hand and jaws capable of slicing through whale bone, there may never be a predator like this in our ocean again. The text is enhanced by beautiful illustrations of the creatures. A treasure trove for anyone with a serious interest in the prehistoric world.

Brenda Marshall


Spylark by Danny Rurlander Chicken House ISBN 978191490708 £6.99

Tom is a boy who lives in the Lake District. He has struggled with mobility since an accident. With Spylark, his drone, he can rise high and explore his homeland. Suddenly he discovers a terrorist plot, but he lacks proof and fears no one will believe him. At times, Tom even doubts himself. His friends, Maggie and Joel, try to help, but time is short. Can they foil the assassination plot? The story if full of action, mystery and adventure with twists and turns, and several changes of perspective. Characters are well drawn and there is interesting information about drones and technology. The book is set in the Lake District, and the author’s website,, gives details of the actual places included. A thrilling, modern, debut novel which is highly recommended for fans of Enid Blyton, Anthony Horowitz and Arthur Ransome. Publication date August 2019    Age range 9 – 11

Brenda Marshall


Jane Austen’s Emma Awesomely Austen by Katy Birchall Illustrated by Églantine Ceulemans Hodder ISBN 9781444950656 £9.99

Katy Birchall is a Jane Austen fan and her retelling of this story makes it accessible and appealing to children aged 8+.  Emma Woodhouse is an intelligent rich woman who does not want to be married. She lives at Hartfield House in Highbury village and likes matchmaking. Mr Knightley is critical of her meddling. We follow the ups and downs of her story as she tries to find the right partner for her friend, Harriet Smith. Eventually Emma reaches the end of her matchmaking days.  The list of main characters at the front of the book is useful for reference during the story. An attractive feature is the background information about Jane Austen and the Regency era. This is a beautifully presented hardback with well-spaced text. Witty illustrations help bring the characters to life. As Katy Birchall says of Jane Austen in her note “ .. long may her bonnet reign.”

(Editions are also available in the Awesomely Austen series for: Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey.)

Brenda Marshall


Red Cherry Red by Jackie Kay Illustrated by Rob Ryan    Bloomsbury ISBN 9781526614841 £8.99

This is a wonderful collection of poetry from the award winning Scottish poet Jackie Kay. The poems are reflective of people’s hopes and dreams as well as their everyday life.  They range from the very poignant such as “Mrs Dungeon Brae” about an old lady living, and eventually dying alone, to the delightful “Shetland” which describes the author’s developing love for the Shetlands and the sense of calm and coming home that they feel about the island.

Most of the poems are told in the first person and are often in dialect, which creates a problem for those not attuned to the musical sound of the words; however there is a glossary of terms which is extremely helpful.  The book is physically small at 18 cm square, but it instantly attracts attention with the red metallic illustrations on a white background.  The internal illustrations are simple black images set against a stark white background and aligned to balance the poetry itself.  This is a beautiful book for dipping into; it can lift the spirits, but also leave you melancholy, depending on the poems you decide to read.  It will make a super addition to any poetry collection for KS2

Margaret Pemberton

Share this page: