Ages 9-11 [Upper Key Stage 2] 2015

23 Things To Do Before you are 11 ½ - A practical step-by-step guide for things to make in your backyard, Mike Warren and John Haslam

Quarto Publishing Group ISBN 9781784930349 £7.99

Finally! A book that encourages children to enjoy the great outdoors that is not suffocating or infuriating! There have been many books published over the last few years, which have encouraged children to complete a numerous number of tasks before the age of 11 ½ , the age at which a child traditionally transitions between primary and secondary school. Agreeably, children spend an awful lot of time indoors and some encouragement to spend time outdoors should not go a miss. However, these books generally present a similar selection of age inappropriate, incredibly safe activities for children to complete, while they are wrapped up in cotton wool. However, this book is an exception! Although it is safety conscious, the fun activities suggested involve the use of a wide range of exciting tools including: saws, drills and soldering irons. Not only would children of 11 ½ thoroughly enjoy the process of building the masterpieces suggested in this book, but they would treasure the items built. The age appropriate activities in this book include the ‘Ultimate paper aeroplane launcher’, a ‘Go go kart’ and ‘Campfire firelighters’. The beautifully illustrated, easy to follow steps are child friendly and vibrant. Not only does this book have a ‘how to use this book page’, it contains a double spread detailing what each tool is and how to use it.

Ideal for educators, a bonding activity between siblings or a parent-child activity, this book will encourage children of 11 ½ to put down their consoles and venture outside.
Lauren M Freedman, key stage 2 teacher, Shirley Community Primary School, Cambridge.
Online review 2015

100 Things to Know About Science, Alex Frith, Minna Lacey, Jerome Martin and Jonathan Melmoth, Illustrated by: Federico Mariani and Jorge Martin

Usborne ISBN 9781409582182 £9.99

With its bold, bright and beautifully composted illustrations, 100 Things to Know About Science presents a vast range of interesting scientific facts. For example – Did you know that lightning is hotter than the sun or that an octopus has three hearts? From page to page a vast range of scientific disciplines are covered from Cosmology to Oceanography. Rather than focusing on the three sciences often taught in schools (Biology, Chemistry and Physics), this book covers a minefield of topics, which a child might never access though the national curriculum.

Opening up a wide range of potential career aspirations, this book certainly leads to more questioning. The majority of knowledge provided in this book would be well suited to a young scientist who already has a basic scientific understanding. This is because some of the factual background is not explained in depth and therefore requires prior knowledge. For example, one of the topics covered is the importance of bees and their role in pollination; however, the book does not clearly explain what pollination is. Despite this, many key scientific terms are clearly outlined in a detailed glossary at the back of the book. In addition to the glossary of terms, the authors have provided a glossary of scientific disciplines – a highlight of this book. Ideal for an inquisitive child, this colourful book provides many thought provoking facts, which would deepen prior knowledge. Upper KS2 educators could use this book in the classroom during personal learning time or to encourage their gifted and talented scientists. However, educators should be aware that some of the SRE topics covered in this book might not fit with their school’s curriculum.
Lauren M. Freedman, key stage 2 teacher, Shirley Community Primary School, Cambridge
Online review 2015

Apocalypse Bow Wow, James Proimos III, illustrated by James Proimos Junior

Bloomsbury ISBN 9781408854983 £6.99

I am seriously upset. I loved this book. LOVED it. The books I review go into my department library, but this was the first one I really wanted to keep for myself. It is simply written and simply illustrated; it has humour and pathos in roughly equal measure; it tells the story of pets abandoned in a city after an apocalypse. The dream sequence actually brought tears to my eyes. I was holding out for the inevitable ending and trusted it would be handled well. But then, it was ruined by its cop-out (a more generous reviewer would say cliff-hanger) ending on page 215. Literally ‘To Be Continued’ and ‘Look out for Apocalypse Miaow Miaow’. This is not what I expect when I’ve paid £6.99. Why must publishers insist on these open endings? So they can spin out a series, of course. But for whose benefit? Yes, there is the possibility that the two pet dogs will turn feral, eat vermin and range around rubble for some years to come. But take a lesson from ‘Survivors’, a BBC series that was cancelled after twelve episodes due to dwindling audience figures and ended frustratingly on a cliff-hanger. Sometimes less is more.

Apocalypse Bow Wow is almost perfect. It almost works. It is almost up there with When the Wind Blows. But someone was afraid to end the book. Fair enough, but don’t build up to what you can’t finish. It cheats children. That said, I would buy it, and the students could ‘write and draw’ the missing ending as part of a unit on narrative arc.
Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset
Online review 2015

Bat Hospital (Animal Rescue Series), Clare Hibbert

Franklin Watts ISBN 9781445133898 £12.99

This is a charming book that tells the story of sick, injured or orphaned flying foxes or fruit bats at the Tolga Bat Hospital in Australia. Rainforests have been cut down leaving bats short of food. They have had to look for food in new areas where some have been bitten by ticks. Flying foxes are not immune to the ticks’ poison and can suffer paralysis which ends in death if they are not treated in time. We see workers at the Hospital, many of whom are volunteers, helping to restore bats to full health. Baby bats are usually cared for under their mother’s wings. At Tolga the orphans are wrapped up in little blankets. As the babies become stronger they are put into the Flight Cage where they are encouraged to develop skills that will help them when, finally, they are reintroduced to the wild. The book is excellent. The photos are enchanting and there is a good balance between information and illustration. The content is heart-warming, and children think about the impact of deforestation, the vulnerability of creatures and the fact that trained specialists and volunteers can make the world a better place. It is highly recommend to anyone over the age of 9.
Brenda Marshall, Head of English, Port Regis, Motcombe Park, Shaftesbury
Online review 2015

Cashing In? The Banking Industry, Sarah Levete

Franklin Watts ISBN 978445139142 £12.99

This is one of six titles in the Big-Time Business series designed to demystify the secrets and successes of some of the largest global businesses. This volume explores how banks work, how they use our money to benefit us, while at the same time developing their own business and profits. It describes the reasons for the recent global banking crisis and describes some of its effects. Interest and inflation, profit and loss, investment and fraud are explained and the roles of the World Bank and central banks are clarified. All this is done on attractive double page colour spreads with photographs, fact boxes, bullet pointed sections and short, concise pieces of text, but with references to some very large, unimaginable numbers! This is extremely topical and will inform curious young minds who hear such terms bandied about on a daily basis. It would be ideal to use with upper KS2 children alongside some class business enterprise project of their own.
Sue Barrett, former primary deputy head and senior lecturer in Primary Education, Canterbury Christ Church University
Online review 2015

Charlie Merrick’s Misfits: I’m a Nobody, Get Me Out of Here! written and illustrated by Dave Cousins

Oxford University Press ISBN 9780192738233 £6.99

I reviewed the last Charlie Merrick book and felt it was a book specifically aimed at football fans. I was initially concerned that this one would simply be more of the same, but was pleasantly surprised to find it is aimed at a much wider readership (without alienating the original one). Charlie and his footballing friends end up on a survival course when their football training course is full. They learn useful skills and get into a very competitive situation with one other team that leads them into danger. The story is fast-paced and written from Charlie’s point of view. He’s a reflective young man and the dilemmas he experiences seem very real and will provoke thought in the reader. The message is one of healthy competition, teamwork, friendship and common sense, but it is never preachy as the book is both written in a humorous way and supported by its cartoon design and illustrations. In addition to a well-constructed story there are genuinely useful pages of survival tips and safety instructions. If your children enjoyed Charlie Merrick’s Misfits: Fouls, Friends and My World Cup then I am sure they will enjoy this adventure too.
Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset
Online review 2015

Classics Unfolded: Pride and Prejudice(by Jane Austen), retold in pictures by Becca Stadtlander

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books ISBN: 9781847806468 £6.99

This is one of a series of classic books abridged for children in a concertina book of fourteen illustrations, each with a quotation from the original text. In addition, there is a list of characters, what purports to be a thirty second plot summary followed by five words to sum up the book's themes. The stylised but nonetheless pleasing watercolour illustrations show detailed Georgian interiors, delicate period costumes and distant views of Palladian mansions. Quotations have been well chosen to augment or complement the summarised plot point on each page. But, what to make of it all? I can see well-meaning relations buying this as a taster of a great author, but will it really encourage young readers to tackle the whole book at some later date? It is hard to put oneself back in the position of a reader new to Austen, but I am not sure, once I had been given the bare bones of the whole story, that I would have been bothered to read it.. That is quite a risk to take.
Sue Barrett, former primary deputy head and senior lecturer in Primary Education at CCCU
Online review 2015

Conor’s Caveman, Alan Nolan

 The O’Brien Press  ISBN 9781847177322  £6.99

 A fantastic tale that charts how interesting life can be for those who think that their lives are dull.  It is well known that children can sometimes feel that everyone has a better life than them and this tale shows that the most interesting things happen to the most usual of people.  Conor is bullied by a boy called Damian.  He is cruel as Conor appears lonely. Conor has got friends, one of whom is Charlotte.  Charlotte is not a typical girl but most people would want her on her side.  Throughout the book we warm to the two main characters and the adventures that they undertake as they meet Ogg, a prehistoric man.  Conor takes him on some interesting excursions and you see how the relationship develops between the two. A really lovely story.

Matthew Wilson, key stage 2 teacher, St Paul’s CIW Primary, Cardiff

Crazy Classrooms, Poems by Paul Cookson

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books ISBN 9781847805058 £6.99

The first day, school photos, how to survive at school, playtime, bullies, dinner ladies, staff rooms, changing rooms and school trips - all are covered in this rollicking roustabout of a collection. Strong rhythm and rhyme, so characteristic of this performance poet's work, lends itself to children reading these aloud, committing them to memory and enjoying a classroom 'poetry slam'. Twenty teachers at our school would be a gift to the radio show 'I'm sorry I haven't a clue' ( 'the supply teacher who teaches all the subjects - Miss Ellaneous'); What the head says when introducing the visiting poet had a touch of Joyce Grenfell about it and all student teachers should read When the teacher turns their back..! In amongst the hilarity and somewhat exaggerated view of school, there are some more thought - provoking poems: Nigel and  Teacher's very quiet today. When the laughter has died away and been forgotten, it is those poems which gave us pause for thought and made us even consider our own humanity which are the real successes.
Sue Barrett, former primary deputy head and senior lecturer in Primary Education, Canterbury Christ Church University
Online review 2015

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Antarctic Expedition, Anita Ganeri

Wayland ISBN 9780750292061 £13.99 hardback

Celebrity culture and sporting 'icons' surround the children of today, but where are the heroes? Where can we see resilience, great leadership and astonishing bravery? Largely, we look now to our incomparable service personnel for such inspiration, but this book tells the remarkable story of Edwardian exploration, endurance and sheer teeth-gritting determination. Ernest Shackleton and his crew of the Endurance attempted to cross Antarctica from west to east in 1914. By the time they returned to England in 1917, they had dealt with the loss of their ship in the pack ice and unbelievably challenging physical conditions which spurred Shackleton to decide to leave some of his men, taking a small party on a nigh impossible trek to find rescue.

This book combines suspense-building text with photos from the time and poignant diary entries from Shackleton and his men. Behind them are superimposed photos of the ship or unforgiving scenery on the icy blue pages which serve to draw the reader in. This Herculean tale is made accessible to young readers by having it divided into clear sections on each double spread and the variation of font on those pages in turn breaks up the text into readable chunks . Looking at film footage, relating distances to what they know, comparing modern and older fabrics could all help upper KS2 pupils understand the scale of such an achievement and thus introduce them to a hero of astonishing stature.
Sue Barrett, former primary deputy head and senior lecturer in Primary Education, Canterbury Christ Church University
Online review 2015

The D’Evil Diaries by ‘Tatum Flynn’, illustrated by Dave Shephard

Orchard Books ISBN 9781408335765 £5.99

This is rather a clever book that shows evidence of considerable research, much of which, dare I say it, might be wasted on its 8+ readership. Jinx is the son of Lucifer and Persephone, in fact he’s Lucifer’s 666th child. But, despite his good (bad!) intentions he’s not a terribly effective hellion; as his name suggests he tends to fall accidentally into situations and mess them up. Jinx meets a girl, Tommy, who has been mistakenly sent to Hell and, after a series of (mis)adventures, they fight an evil attack on evil and save Hell. Still with me? There is a lot to commend in this book. There is plenty of humour, slapstick for the children and verbal for adults. I particularly like: ‘Oh thank Hell’; ‘I took a deep breath and thought, What would Lucifer do?’ and ‘Well, someone’s due a toasting down in administration.’ Ultimately this book is about appreciating what you have. Sadly it’s also about wanting appreciation and recognition from your father (yes, even if he’s the Devil).

I think curious, imaginative readers will enjoy this book, but in a climate where some parents complain about studying the witches in Macbeth it may not sit happily with all families.
Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset
Online review 2015

Diamonds and Daggers: The Marsh Road Mysteries, Elen Caldecott

Bloomsbury ISBN 9781408847527…£5.99

I love detective fiction for children. The idea of being in a club with your friends, picking up clues, following dangerous villains, and then, at last, solving the crime before the police has timeless appeal. It’s so exciting if done well and Elen Caldecot has done a masterful job with this well balanced book. Piotr, Minnie and Andrew together with twins Flora and Sylvie have to find out who really stole the actress’s diamonds at the theatre. Piotr’s dad is the prime suspect and his whole family will be flying back to Poland if they can’t prove his innocence. They have to save their friend so this is a plot children to which children can relate. Elen Caldecot loves language and it shows. Her vivid descriptions of place, sharp characterisations, perfect similes and tightly controlled sentences, sprinkled with the playful fairy dust of very funny Chandleresque one liners for child readers make this a joy to read. Enid Blyton will be smiling because this is Famous Five for modern children in a multicultural Britain. The theme of children’s experience of immigration told through the story of Piotr and his parents is well judged, sensitively written and timely. It lends the book depth and its emotional pull it makes it a thought provoking, challenging and technically well crafted book that would work well in a KS2 guided reading group. To borrow from Raymond Chandler (The Long Goodbye), this is a great book with ‘a voice like the stuff they use to line summer clouds with’.
Jonathan Rooke, Senior Lecturer, University of Winchester
Online review 2015

A Dog Called Flow, Pippa Goodhart

Troika Books ISBN 9781909991163 £5.99

A Dog Called Flow was the first book published by now renowned children's author Pippa Goodhart, over 20 years ago. This newly released edition is a testament to the penmanship of a story that is still as relevant and readable today as it was two decades ago. The focus of the story is on one young boy's dream to have a dog of his own, despite his parents desire for him to wait. It follows his adventures as he buys a puppy in secret and develops a lifelong friendship with his pet, named Flow, as well as making another new friend along the way. Threaded through the story are also the struggles Oliver faces with undiagnosed dyslexia. This provides solace to other children reading who might recognise the symptoms Oliver shows. We discover that it is dyslexia that has been making Oliver feel so lost at school, but the themes of isolation, loneliness and bullying are ones that many children can identify with, whatever the cause. They may also find comfort in the ultimate outcome of the story. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and think it would be a fantastic shared story for a KS2 class, especially if the teacher wants to address the ideas of friendship and courage which are both raised in this lovely tale. The story has also been recognised for its inclusively and is one of Booktrust's recommended 'good reads' for 2015.
Laura Davies, Project Development Coordinator for Fair Foundations, Chwarae Teg
Online review 2015

Dreams of Freedom in Words and Pictures, Amnesty International

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books ISBN 9781847804532 £12.99

A follow up to We Are All Born Free, this book is a collection of quotations about freedom from an international group of human rights champions, from the household names of Nelson Mandela and Anne Frank, to lesser known ex-slaves, political prisoners, cartoonists and poets. Personally, for this reader, the inclusion of a British broadcaster in this august company sat somewhat strangely. The meaning of many of the contributions is immediately obvious, others require time to explore and consider, but all are inspiring and many are very moving and humbling. The poetic quality of several would lead to interesting writing opportunities for upper KS 2, who might try their hand at expressing deeply felt principles.

The added depths to this book are the illustrations from internationally renowned illustrators from a variety of backgrounds. They are all striking, very different in style, with humour, pathos and often exuberant joy expressed in imaginatively creative ways. The brief biographical details of author and illustrator, together with a miniature of their page, which can be found at the back of the book, enables a rereading with even greater understanding. This is not a book to be handed to a child and left. It is one to share and ponder, to tease out what we take for granted and where our values should lie. Only then will young readers start to talk about what is important to them.
Sue Barrett, former primary deputy head and senior lecturer in Primary Education, Canterbury Christ Church University
Online review 2015

Exciting Escapes, Jane Bingham, edited and designed by Paul Manning

Franklin Watts ISBN 9781445134338 £12.99

This really is an exciting book. The green and black high-gloss cover and the series title ‘To the Limit’ immediately suggests challenge. This 30 page hardback book contains fascinating information about twelve escape attempts, from prison breaks (Papillon, the Great Escape) to the Berlin Wall, to a more recent shark attack in 2002. Each is explained across a colour double page spread with illustrations and photographs inserted within the text. There is just the right amount of age-appropriate factual information to keep the young reader interested. This book also features a glossary, a short list of ‘suitable’ websites and a rather silly quiz. My only reservation is that escaping murderers are given the same treatment as rock climbers – a point for discussion perhaps? I can see this book becoming a favourite talking point amongst students from Years 5 to 8 and there are seven more titles in the series. I have several young readers in my class who much prefer non-fiction to fiction when engaging in personal reading and I know just how much this book will appeal to them.
Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset
Online review 2015

Great Civilisations: Ancient Sumer, Tracey Kelly

Franklins Watts ISBN 9781445134017 £12.99

Another in the successful series about past ancient peoples, this exploration of the Sumerians who occupied current Iraq from 4500-4000 BCE is utterly absorbing. The photographs of the range of artefacts from the time is testament to the creativity and technical innovation of this early people. Farming, music, writing, mathematics, ziggurat building, games and weaponry are just some of the topics explored in attractive double page spreads of accessible text and colour photographs. The addition of a timeline of relevant developments around the world helps to contextualise the remarkable early achievements of these people. For some children, a more visual representation might have helped, given that time and historical periods are such difficult concepts. This series is a must for school libraries and might well spark an enduring life interest in some young readers. The addition of a list of websites after the useful glossary, which include video and audio files will also help to bring the period alive. Given the current destruction of such early cities by IS, debates about the rights and wrongs of artefacts being held in museums around the world might be given new relevance.
Sue Barrett, former primary deputy head and senior lecturer in Primary Education, Canterbury Christ Church University
Online review 2015

Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella, Cerrie Burnell, illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson

Scholastic ISBN 9781407157399 £8.99

This is a lovely hard back book for older primary children. It is very creatively written, with some wonderful eccentric characters that are a real celebration of individuality and diversity. The heroine of the piece is a young girl called Harper who lives in the City of Clouds. Music plays a large part in the story – with musical raindrops, a cacophony of instrumental sounds and a cat orchestra featuring at various times. It would therefore be great to read extracts in music lessons and to ask children to identify all the different instruments used, and to encourage those less confident musicians that it can be the taking part that counts! I loved the unusual landscape of the story; it was great fun to read and the prose is fantastically lyrical in a way that helps the story to leap off the pages. The writing has an almost dream-like quality can help children to see that writing can really be as imaginative as they like. With some very original descriptive language used and vivid and characterful illustrations, it would be a brilliant addition to a KS2 library. The range of characters is also to be celebrated. The female lead is strong and courageous and one of her most trusted allies is Nate, a young partially sighted boy. The fact that he has a very important role to play, but that it is woven into the fabric of the story rather than the focus of the book, makes it all the more inclusive.
Laura Davies, Project Development Coordinator for Fair Foundations, Chwarae Teg
Online review 2015

Hippobottymus, Steve Smallman, illustrated by Ada Grey

Little Tiger Press ISBN 9781848690516 £6.99

It all starts with an innocuous bubbling creek and a mouse's squeak. Very soon all the animals are lining up to contribute a sound or a rhythm to this new, appealing jungle song. Bird, warthog, centipede, monkey, crocodile all play their part, but why should hippo suddenly appear and want to claim the thanks? How exactly has he contributed and what did his meal of beans earlier in the week have to do with it exactly...?

This rollicking rhyming text builds cumulatively to the wonderful and unexpected delightful climax of the farting hippo. Reception/ Y1 children will be splitting their sides over this and quoting lines to shock at every opportunity! The vibrant, quirky illustrations and the varied font size and arrangement on the page all contribute to the enjoyment of reading this text. It lends itself to percussion renditions and having fun making up more possible animal contributions. While some of the text does not read rhythmically as easily as in something like Tanka Tanka Skunk, it is nevertheless hugely enjoyable to share aloud and should be on every Early Years classroom shelf.
Sue Barrett, former primary deputy head and senior lecturer in Primary Education, Canterbury Christ Church University
Online review 2015

Hook's Daughter, Heidi Schulz

Chicken House (www.doublecluck.com) ISBN:9781910002216 £6.99
This is a true 'ripping yarn' and a hugely impressive debut novel. Heidi Schulz has created a wonderful tomboy heroine in Jocelyn, Captain Hook's daughter. Now orphaned, her grandparents decide that finishing school is the only option for this rambunctious offspring, but the deportment, dancing and overdose of pink to be found at Miss Eliza Crumb's Finishing School for Young Ladies was never going to suit this feisty young heroine. Thus, the arrival of a letter from her late father via an enchanted bird from Neverland, urging her to wreak revenge on the crocodile responsible for his demise, brings Jocelyn the adventure she craves. Even she, however, was not prepared for captaining a motley pirate crew, dealing with an irritating Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, negotiating with arrogant mermaids, saving fairies and outwitting cannibals, let alone facing her own inner fears and demons.

This story is warm, funny and often poignant and is populated by a wealth of winning secondary characters, some of which, like Bosun Smee, are already familiar. Jocelyn is resourceful and stubborn, but intensely loyal and the themes of love, friendship and the need to believe in oneself pervade the book. The master stroke, however, has to be the narrator, whose witty, arch comments pepper the book and whose apparent intense dislike for the intended audience will only add to their delight. This is the perfect book for shared reading with upper KS2 classes and is the perfect vehicle for studying authorial voice and the use of a narrator. I await the sequel with anticipation.
Sue Barrett, former primary deputy head and senior lecturer in Primary Education, Canterbury Christ Church University
Online review 2015

High-Tech Science: How Does a Touch Screen Work? Leon Gray

Wayland books ISBN 9780750290791 £12.99

Touch screens are transforming our lives, allowing us to control equipment and communicate with each other. This book explains how touch screens began, and how they have developed into the practical gadgets we use today. The explanations are very clear, and the photographs and captions are excellent. Recent developments such as tactile touch screens, haptics, (where textures are felt on screens), and bendy screens are explored. The glossary and the recommended websites are very useful. The book has proved exceptionally popular in our school library because it is up-to-the minute and the subject matter is of immediate relevance to children. It is highly recommended by our Year 6 pupils.
Brenda Marshall, Head of English, Port Regis, Motcombe Park, Shaftesbury
Online review 2015

I Love This Tree, Anna Claybourne, illustrated by Andy Elkerton

Franklin Watts ISBN 9781445130750 £13.99

As someone who shares her life with a giant ancient ash tree in the garden, I could identify completely with Anna Claybourne who was inspired to write this book by her love for the spreading sweet chestnut tree close to her house. Contact with such ancient, living things, is truly awe inspiring and lends perspective to fast-paced modern living. This book explores what trees are, how they grow, their root systems as well as what lives in them and on them and how their wood is used. That somewhat dry list gives no indication of the sheer exuberance of each colourful double page spread with its mix of photographs, drawings, diagrams and fascinating text. Who knew that trees can communicate with each other chemically in order to warn of impending insect attacks?

If anyone was in any doubt about man's dependence on trees, this book will dispel it. Informative and inspiring, this is a book to dip into or read from cover to cover. Highly informative, it also inspires careful looking and a return to such old pleasures as sweet chestnut roasting. Not all schools have access to a forest school, but all could make use of such a beautiful book and time for a short nature walk perhaps? The quotation near the end from Kahlil Gibran 'trees are poems that the Earth writes upon the sky' is beautiful and an inspiration for some KS2 writing too.
Sue Barrett, former primary deputy head and senior lecturer in Primary Education, Canterbury Christ Church University
Online review 2015

I Never Liked Wednesdays, Roger McGough, illustrated by Michael Broad

Barrington Stoke ISBN 9781781124628 £5.99

Roger McGough is the latest addition to the ranks of Barrington Stoke’s star authors, writing books designed for inexperienced or reluctant older readers. With short chapters and action-packed events, McGough’s word-play and humour don’t play down to his audience. For example, the boys were told off at school for ‘…something silly – perhaps we chewed gum in class, forgot how to read or set fire to the music teacher. And …the big ships calling to each other as they slipped out of the Mersey into the oceans beyond. The tugs leading the way like proud little guide dogs.’ Our hero and his friend Midge, live in McGough’s Liverpool where the bad things that happen all seem to be on Wednesdays. So when they decide to run away to sea, they discover, after an uncomfortable night, that they’ve boarded the Mersey ferry and not the transatlantic liner they supposed. And their rations of rum and lemonade weren’t such a good idea after all. It’s Wednesday again when they end up being trapped under the bed when Midge’s older sister has a party while their Gran is away – and boys are invited! They are almost squashed when one guest – ‘a cross between a schoolgirl and a forklift truck’ - plonks herself on the bed above them, and ‘the mattress buckled with pain’. Readers will be left wanting to know more about the boys’ adventures, and perhaps imagining some of their own. Recommended for key stage 2.
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2015

I wish I had a Pirate Hat, Roger Stevens

 Frances Lincoln  ISBN 9781847806185 £6.99

 It’s Not Fair:

The rain seems to know

when it’s playtime

the sun shines from nine until ten

then a cloud appears

and at playtime it rains

after playtime

the sun’s out again.

 This is a collection of poems by Roger Stevens that will not only resonate for young pupils, but staff too.  Many of the poems ask questions that will prompt discussion, and others are just good rollicking fun.  This is a slim volume that will fit neatly into a drawer and an odd five minutes – to be enjoyed for the pleasure of words.

Elizabeth Broad, Head of Primary ITT, University of Roehampton

Joe All Alone, Joanna Nadin

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers ISBN 9780349124551 £5.99

Joe, thirteen, is left alone in a flat in Peckham while his mum and her partner, the thuggish Dean, go to Spain. He is threatened with dire consequences should he tell anyone or answer the phone and is given £20 for food and electricity for the week. What starts as an adventure and a relief from the tyrannies of Dean, gradually turns into a nightmare, as the money, food and power run out. Bullied and beaten up at school, he is also being pursued by a man after Dean, or rather, what he has hidden at the flat. The only bright spot in his life is the newly developing friendship with the wonderfully alternative Asha, who visits her grandfather Otis in the same block of flats. The inevitable crisis happens and its resolution fits entirely with the realities of Joe's world.

This powerful book deals with truly harsh adult realities of poverty, racism, child neglect and people 'under the radar' in society. The language is therefore authentic and there is some sexual content. Teachers need to read it in order to know if it is appropriate for any of their primary . Having given that disclaimer, Nadin has created in Joe a character with a strong individual voice. He would appear to have some autistic spectrum characteristics and is warm, funny, quick thinking and sometimes struggling with his burgeoning adolescence and growing sense of identity. The diurnal format of the book builds the narrative convincingly, if at times, excruciatingly so. The result is a haunting reflection of the times.
Sue Barrett, former primary deputy head and senior lecturer in Primary Education, Canterbury Christ Church University
Online review 2015

Journey into the earth
Rapid River Rescue,           John Townsend, illustrated by Tatio Viana, Dante Ginevra, Chris Chalik, David Shephard

QED Publishing ISBN 9781784930097 & 9781784930103 Both £7.99

Part of the ‘Geography Quest’ series, these books invite readers to assume a role, using their knowledge to solve a series of clues. If successful, the intrepid adventurer will either travel to the centre of the earth to determine whether a supervolcano is about to erupt, or prevent a river from being polluted. The books are similar to other interactive series based on maths, science and history. For each clue, readers must choose from multiple choice options, each answer leading to a different page in the book, so that it is not read in normal linear fashion, instead we are flipped backwards and forwards depending upon our answers. If we choose wrongly, we can go back to the question armed with new information which will guide us to the correct solution. Of the two titles here, Rapid River Rescue perhaps requires less complex knowledge and reading ability than Journey into the earth. The books are likely to appeal to children who enjoy puzzles, adventure-based stories, challenge and computer games. As they can be read in short bursts, solving just a few clues at a time, they are also useful as absorbing time-filling tasks.
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2015

Mountain Peak Peril, John Townsend, illustrated by Dave Shephard

QED Publishing ISBN 9781784930295 £7.99

I like the idea of this book and it is encouraging to see this format, which I know is popular with young readers, used for non-fiction rather than the traditional science-fiction of its originators. I did, however, find the design extremely confusing. I know a certain amount about mountains so the questions were not too tricky. I thought most of the information provided was interesting and useful (the author is a former Geography teacher) and the illustrations quite attractive, even if the story relied on some rather tired stereotypes. I started by answering some questions correctly and went to the designated pages and that was where I got into difficulties. There are several answers and instructions on each page and the layout does not easily direct the reader to the appropriate box. I tried again, deliberately answering a question incorrectly, and encountered the same problem. It may be that my 50 + years of reading in a linear fashion does not make me a natural consumer of this format, but I note that the publisher recommends paired parent-child reading and discussion. I just found it all rather frustrating. £7.99 is not too much to gamble if you are studying mountains with your key stage 2 or 3 class as this approach may appeal to some of your students more than a standard textbook.
Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset
Online review 2015

Mysteries of Ravenstorm Island - the Ship of Ghosts, Gillian Philip

Orchard Books ISBN 9781408330203 £4.99

I was lucky enough to read the first of this exciting new series of novels about the Mysteries of Ravenstorm Island. The first book was an intriguing story that I thoroughly enjoyed. This book was equally good. Again we follow the two central characters of Arthur and Molly who are thrown into another island mystery. The children are led to investigate the appearance of a pirate ship that seems to have a long history with the island, especially its gargoyles. Throughout the story there is a great balance between dialogue and description allowing the reader to understand the characters yet also keep in mind the whole picture! The story ends with a tempting twist that I am hoping will lead on to another novel in this fine series. What a wonderful story for capturing the imaginations of a generation!
Matthew Wilson, key stage 2 teacher, St Paul’s CIW Primary, Cardiff
Online review 2015

Mysteries of the World: Creepy Creatures, Richard Hammond

Random House ISBN 9781849417136 £5.99

This is the fourth book in the series from this popular TV presenter. Hammond, in the guise of mystery investigator, explores the myths and stories surrounding the Loch Ness Monster, the Yeti, vampires and werewolves. Each chapter follows the same formula: the mission, burning questions, mission details, the location, the evidence, my mission (for the author), its outcome, what do you think and you decide. This last is helped by pages at the back for the reader to fill in according to the decision they have come to.

Throughout, there are maps, diagrams, illustrations and even a few grainy photographs. Hammond's jokey style enables him to cover some ghoulish and bloodthirsty details and there will be plenty of KS2 children eager to read this. While many of the background facts are fascinating and convincing, it seems a pity that the supposed missions are so lame and deteriorate somewhat throughout the book.  More convincing photographs might have helped here. The book would, however, lend itself to a study of 'authorial voice', as it is possible to discern Hammond's boyish enthusiasm throughout.
Sue Barrett, former primary deputy head and senior lecturer in Primary Education, Canterbury Christ Church University
Online review 2015

Queen Guinevere and other stories from the court of King Arthur, Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Christina Balit

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books ISBN 9781847807168 £14.99

King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table are part of our cultural heritage in Britain. While many young readers will know of them from Disney or a recent BBC series, I wonder how many would be able to name any of the women behind the stories apart from the queen herself? Now there is no excuse, because Mary Hoffman (known best for her Amazing Grace stories) has given voice to the queens, enchantress, temptresses and other damsels who are just as influential in the Arthurian legends as their male counterparts. Here we learn of Igrayne, Arthur's mother, Nimue who took Merlin's powers, Lyonet, the savage damsel, the half-sisters of Arthur: Morgan, Morgause and Elaine who all add a different perspective and, of course, Guinevere herself. The author has sourced these from Sir Thomas Malory's fifteenth century romance, Le Morte D'Arthur, but she has found another, the Loathly Lady Ragnell, from other Middle English poetry.

These women are determined, resourceful, conniving and clever, despite their confined lives. Some can call on their beauty, their second sight, or their magic. Others rely on purity and the chivalric code. All are brought to life by the dramatic and vividly colourful illustrations by Christina Balit, who has generated almost stained glass jewel effects throughout the book. Hoffman, meanwhile, writes each tale in the first person and in an effortless timeless prose style which deals with the details of incest and barbaric violence with the lightest of touches. The complexity of names and castles and ancestors is deftly managed by the addition of a family tree at the start and a list of characters at the end. Two of the characters have second tales in the book and thus an overarching narrative of the Arthurian period is also achieved. This would make a wonderful adjunct to Kevin Crossley Holland's retelling of the legends. It would give rise to drama activities such as hot-seating, conscience corridors and the like to support some powerful writing opportunities in UKS2. It is also a book simply to treasure and dip into as an adult!
Sue Barrett, former primary deputy head and senior lecturer in Primary Education at CCCU
Online review 2015

The Rugby World Cup 2015, Sean Callery

Wayland ISBN 9780750293877 £12.99

There will be a clamour for information regarding the Rugby World Cup in 2015 as an iconic tournament begins in September. This book provides very interesting information for the older pupil in the Junior age range. It is full of anecdotes, facts, statistics and brief World Cup summaries of the 20 teams taking part. There is a short section on the history of the game which, perhaps, could have been longer and the cross-curricular aspect of where the teams come from using a world map has been omitted sadly. However, it is a colourful book, well-presented and contains some excellent and poignant photographs, none more so than President Mandela shaking hands with Francois Pinar, the South African Captain.
Paul Jackson, Director of Education, SATIPS
Online review 2015

Scarlet Ibis, Gill Lewis

Oxford University Press ISBN 9780192793560 £6.99

Scarlet returns from school to see flames and smoke spewing out of her flat and she knows her fragile life is about to spiral out of control. Her days of deception, secretly trying to care for her mentally ill mother, nurture her disturbed little brother and hold the family together, have come to an end. Plucky Scarlet’s scheme is uncovered by Social Services and her family is finally separated. She is now a girl on fire, desperate to find her brother. Her intense emotions are dampened down by the wonderful foster family who sensitively care for her while her social worker tries to sort things out. This is a book that educates and develops readers’ emotions. Scarlet’s feelings of love for her family burn through every page as she learns more about who she is and what she can be. Lewis populates the story with beautiful characters who unconditionally accept Scarlet and make sacrifices to help her to heal. A Scarlet Ibis bird, close up, really does look like a ball of soft, delicate flames. It stays in your memory. The title of this book is well chosen. This portrayal of ordinary people’s redemptive love also leaves a deep impression. A super, well written book for upper key stage 2 children to read and discuss together.
Jonathan Rooke, Senior Lecturer, University of Winchester
Online review 2015

Shadow Cat, Gillian Cross

Oxford University Press ISBN 9780192736734 £6.99

Since his parents separated, Nolan has lived with his mum, but she surprises him when, coming home from school one day he is whisked into a new campervan and they zoom off on an ‘adventure’. She has dyed her hair green and has developed a devil-may-care approach to everything – including her driving. A confused Nolan soon discovers that she is on the trail of a favourite pop band from her youth who are reforming and performing live. Highlight of the show is the appearance of a live serval – a mesmerising wild cat. After going to the concert, mum (who now insists on being called ‘Ro’), sets off to lead singer Midir’s Scottish castle home, parking up in an isolated lay-by on the edge of the surrounding land. What Nolan doesn’t know is that Ro has somehow captured the serval and locked it in the campervan’s shower. When he opens the door, it attacks him, causing deep wounds in his arm, before escaping into the nearby woodland. A second thread of the story is seen from the band’s perspective. Midir and his wife Sally adopted a baby girl some years ago – as it turns out, a publicity stunt organised by the band’s evil manager. Feather is paraded as an accessory. The all-powerful Vix was also behind the acquisition of the serval, which is eventually recaptured and kept under lock and key in an old ice house in the castle grounds. Whilst at the castle, Feather inadvertently allows the serval to escape into the surrounding woodland. And so Nolan and Feather meet, in their joined attempt to free the serval. Both experience tense and upsetting times as the story ensues, particularly Nolan whose mum veers dangerously between periods of deep depression and glorious highs. We later discover that she suffers from bipolar disorder. This is a fast-moving story, full of tension by a successful children’s author. Age-range 10+
Pam Dowson, education writer
Online review 2015

Sister Sister, Jess Bright

OUP ISBN 9780192738134 £6.99

Sister Sister is an emotional tale that provokes thought and dialogue about some of the most difficult issues that a child could have to face. We meet the central character of the story, Willow, as she receives a mysterious letter. It reminded me of the way in which we met Harry Potter, a child also with difficult home circumstances. As a result of the letter, Willow is forced to meet with her father who had been absent prior to this point in her life. She finds out that her sister is incredibly ill and needs help. Willow may just be the answer. The book weaves detail from a range of accounts including blog posts written by Willow. It is in these posts that we get to understand the private thoughts of Willow at such a difficult time. The story is an emotional roller coaster but a fantastic read. This book is certainly for upper Year 6 as some of the concepts are quite challenging. For me though it was a fantastic read and one that provokes thought in people of all ages.
Matthew Wilson, key stage 2 teacher, St Paul’s CIW Primary, Cardiff
Online review 2015

Stars Shall Be Bright, Catherine MacPhail

Barrington Stoke ISBN 9781781124697 £5.99

Regular readers will be aware of how much I applaud this publisher's approach to providing good quality fiction which is 'dyslexia friendly'. This story is inspired by the now largely forgotten tragedy of the Quintinshill rail disaster of 1915. Two hundred soldiers (with the added poignancy of being en route to fight at Gallipoli) were killed, but amongst the wreckage were the bodies of three children who were never named or even claimed. This is Catherine Macphail's version of what might have happened...

James, William and Belle find themselves all alone once their mother dies. With their father away fighting in the Great War, their immediate care is provided by the sour-faced neighbour Mrs Carter, but separation and children's homes seem their likely future. Determined to become the 'man' of the family and keep his siblings out of any orphanage, James concocts a plan to find their father at the barracks mentioned in the only letter they have from him. They stow away on a stationary train overnight, only to find it overrun with soldiers in the morning and on the move. 'There's something magical about this train,' James thought as their discovery is dealt with kindly by the soldiers. That same sense pervades the very moving ending to the book and their release from the horrors will bring a tear to many a reader's eye.

Haunting and poignant, with wonderful grey-scale illustrations by Ollie Cuthbertson, this story of how one family was affected by the First World War will be a great addition to the work being done currently in schools and its brevity is a triumph of skilful storytelling.
Sue Barrett, former primary deputy head and senior lecturer in Primary Education, Canterbury Christ Church University
Online review 2015

Tutankhamun's Tomb, Jen Green and Julie Renee Anderson

QED Publishing ISBN 9781784933821 £14.99

This is a very cleverly constructed book. On each page it follows Howard Carter as he looks for, discovers and excavates the tomb of Tutankhamun, which sets the whole story nicely into context. Each page is also a themed double page spread, such as The Valley of the Nile; Burial of a King; and Egyptian Women. Each spread uses items from the tomb, beautifully illustrated, to explore that theme and thus gradually build up a more complete picture of life in Ancient Egypt, all carefully built up on evidence, mostly from Tutankhamun's tomb. The main attraction, and, at the same time, I fear drawback in the classroom, are the beautiful pop-ups of Carter peeping into the tomb for the first time, for example, of the shrine; even a model boat from the tomb, that really bring the topic to life but which might quickly appear 'tired' due to prolonged classroom use.

This is a book that really does help children understand life in Ancient Egypt. A great deal of thought has gone into the illustrations, cut-outs and flaps. Each helps to build up the big picture of Ancient Egypt, and everything is based on archaeological evidence and carefully explained in appropriate language. A really useful topic or library book for individual or group work.
Alf Wilkinson, The Historical Association
Online review 2015

William Shakespeare – scenes from the life of the world’s greatest writer, Mick Manning and Brita Granström

Frances Lincoln ISBN 9781847803450 £12.99

As an introduction to the man, his world and his writing, this is just about as perfect as it can get. Mick and Brita’s distinctive style takes us on a chronological journey from the bard’s birth through his childhood and his writing life. Each double-page spread uses the present tense to involve us directly in Shakespeare’s life - quite a task, as little is known about him for sure - whilst also giving us contextual information, in the past tense, so we know what is going on in the wider world. A huge amount of information is included, not least in the illustrations, but it is easily assimilated because of the clever presentation. Well-known quotes from Shakespeare’s writing are used judiciously to link ideas but we are also given excellent summaries of many of his plays. This is a fascinating, well-researched book which will repay many visits and should be warmly welcomed in any library. Highly recommended. You can find out more about Mick and Brita’s huge body of highly acclaimed work www.mickandbrita.com.
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2015

The Wonder Garden, Jenny Broom, illustrated by Kristjana S Williams

Wide-Eyed Editions ISBN 9781847806475 £20

The first thing you notice about this book is the beautiful front cover. It is exquisite with a gold embellished gate inviting you into amazing habitats full of amazing animals which also fill up the cover too. Opening the book certainly does not disappoint either. The Wonder Garden explores the different habitats from around the world, some which are more well-known than others – The Amazon Rain Forest, The Great Barrier Reef and the Himalayan Mountains – while also including The Black Forest in Germany and The Chihauhaun Desert situated between America and Mexico. What sets this apart from other non-fiction books that look at animals and their habitats is the wonderful, colourful illustrations and the choice and variety of animals. Each chapter has just enough information about each habitat and animal for you to find out new facts but be hungry to research for more. This book is inviting and a perfect stimulus to start any habitat topic for children aged 7-11.
Jo Bowers, Cardiff University
Online review 2015

World of Norm: May Contain Buts, Jonathan Meres, illustrated by Donough O’Malley

Orchard ISBN 9781408334065 £6.99

Here is the eighth volume in the very successful Norm series. As you might gather from the title there are plenty of toilet jokes and the usual ‘humour of misunderstanding’. There’s also a hint of pre-teen angst (Norm is sick of the family’s new-found poverty, best-friend Mikey thinks his parents might be splitting up and Norm considers his conflicting feelings for annoying next door neighbour, Chelsea) but essentially this is another light-hearted family romp. The characters are appealing and recognisable: over-worked mum, fractious and frustrated dad, consistently reliable and jokey grandfather, persistently annoying younger brothers. Mikey’s mother seems more appealing and motherly than Norm’s own and Chelsea threatens, just for a brief, terrifying moment, to move from foe to girl-friend, but these are essentially reassuring character types we have known in children’s books since Just William.

The book consists mostly of dialogue and Norm’s meandering thoughts. I feel that the lack of plot and the almost continuous and layered sarcasm could make the story tricky to follow for weaker readers. The black and white illustrations add to the humour, and for Norm fans this book will be a very welcome addition to your class library.
Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset
Online review 2015

You Do the Maths: Solve a Crime, Hilary Koll and Steve Mills, illustrated by: Vladimir Aleksic

QED Publishing ISBN 9781781716953 £5.99

The coming year is the first year our nation’s Year 6’s will be following the new 2014 National Curriculum. The new maths curriculum is split into three parts: arithmetic, reasoning and problem solving. You Do The Maths: Solve a Crime is a brilliant way to approach the problem solving element of the curriculum in a fun and interactive way.

By touching upon mathematical areas such as fractions, ratio and data handling, this book would work well for a child working at a level 4 or 5 (a level one would expect a child to be working at in year 6). The comic-book like illustrations and theme of the book would appeal to both boys and girls in a year 5 or 6 environment, however, some of the language used is rather technical. The phrasing of some questions is a little ambiguous; therefore it may be necessary for an adult to be present during the completion of some tasks. But don’t let that put you off! If you are a parent who is looking to help and inspire your child, You Do the Maths, Solve a Crime won’t leave you completely alone to solve each problem. Each task is explained, even though they are occasionally worded ambiguously, and if you are still unsure about the meanings of some mathematical terms, there is a useful glossary at the back of the book in addition to the answers!

An ideal resource to use in the classroom or an extra out of school activity, You Do the Maths: Solve a Crime, makes links across the curriculum, encourages children to problem solve and introduces children to the fascinating world of forensics.
Lauren M. Freedman, key stage 2 teacher, Shirley Community Primary School, Cambridge.
Online review 2015

Young Houdini The Magician’s Fire, Simon Nicholson

Oxford University Press ISBN 9780192734747 £6.99

It is a truly thrilling opening to the novel. An 11 year old boy, chained to the railway tracks picks the unforgiving lock with a bent nail clenched between his teeth as a locomotive thunders towards him. Lady onlookers swoon with excitement. Of course, it is a reckless young Houdini, reincarnated as a self- confident orphan immigrant from Hungary learning his trade on the mean streets of 1880’s New York. It is a great concept. Houdini really was an amazing daredevil, and Simon Nicholson performs quite a conjuring trick himself to recreate him as a fictitious headstrong but loveable character eeking out a living as a shoeshine boy and a street performer. His sidekicks are a streetwise girl who excels as a con artist and a troubled wealthy book worm. Their relationship provides some psychological depth in the fast paced drama. It is exciting to read about him walking tightropes, slithering out of chains and escaping from a water filled iron cage as he is pursued by the merciless criminals who have kidnapped his elderly magician mentor. These are the highlights of a well crafted whodunnit mystery set in a variety act theatre with acrobats, strongmen and, of course, magicians. The first in a series, it promises to unlock more thrills coming down the tracks in the future, especially for the upper KS2 boys in our classes.
Jonathan Rooke, Senior Lecturer, University of Winchester
Online review 2015

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