Ages 9-11 (Upper Key Stage 2) 2017

A is for Art, by Paul Thurlby

Hodder Children’s Books ISBN 9781444933673 £14.99

This is an unusual alphabet book created in association with the National Gallery. Paul Thurby introduces the reader to some famous artworks such as Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire and Constable’s The Haywain and some lesser known paintings like Jan Gossaert’s A Young Princess and Joachim Beuckelaer’s The Four Elements: Earth. The paragraphs beside the paintings are interesting and invite closer observation. An X-ray revealed that a man in a striped jacket is hiding underneath Goya’s Dona Isabel de Porcel. In Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs Andrews, a section of canvas on Mrs Andrews’ lap is unfinished. Some believe the space was left for a baby to be added at a later date. Paul Thurby says he loves visiting galleries so he can leave the hustle and bustle of the outside world and enter the world of the masterpieces. This book will encourage children to visit art galleries and discover their own favourite artworks. Highly recommended for KS2.
Brenda Marshall, SATIPS Council

Cheetah Rescue, Jess French

Orion Children’s Books ISBN 9781444014839 £6.99

This book tells the true story of cubs Hailu and Kakaway, who were taken away from their mother by illegal wildlife traders in Ethiopia, who tried to smuggle them out of Africa so they could become pets in captivity in the Middle East. The cubs were hidden in boxes of fruits and vegetables. Fortunately they were discovered, and moved to a military base. Their small, brick home was not like the savannah. Their diet was different and, because they were not able to run around, they became overweight and miserable. After 3 years they were moved to Ensessakotteh, an animal sanctuary set up by Born Free Ethiopia, where they have happy, comfortable lives today. Interspersed in the story are gorgeous colour photos and fact files that give information about cheetahs. Did you know that, although cheetahs are very fast, they cannot sprint at high speeds for very long, so they must get close to their target before beginning their chase. Most chases only last around 20 seconds and less than half of them result in a kill. The book educates UKS2 children about the animal world and encourages them to keep wildlife in the wild, and support Virginia McKenna’s Born Free charity. Age range: 9-11
Brenda Marshall, SATIPS Council

The Children of Willesden Lane, Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen

Franklin Watts ISBN 9781445161303 £7.99

This true story begins in Vienna in 1938. Lisa finds out about anti-Semitism when her piano tutor tells her he cannot teach her any more. Fast forward to 1939 and Lisa’s family manage to get one place on a Kindertransport; but they have three daughters. Who to choose? How do you choose between three children? Lisa is chosen and the story revolves around her life in London during World War Two, living mostly in a hostel for Jewish refugees in Willesden Lane. A second, younger, sister manages to get out of Vienna on the very last Kindertransport to leave on the day before war starts, but she is in Suffolk, and rarely sees her sister. This is an interesting true story about the Holocaust and its impact on one family. Lisa is lucky and manages to continue her piano lessons in England, but still worries about her family. At the end of the war the three sisters are reunited in London, before beginning a new life in America. Immensely readable, and dealing with difficult matters in a non-threatening way, my daughter read this at one sitting, finishing around 12.30am! Upper KS2 and KS3 pupils will find this book interesting and stimulating. You can’t really say ‘attractive’ but it is a Holocaust story that has a nearly happy ending.
Alf Wilkinson, The Historical Association

Defenders – Pitch Invasion, Tom Palmer, illustrated by David Shephard

Barrington Stoke ISBN 9781781127315 £6.99

Friends Seth and Nadiya, the defenders of the title, work together to help people of the past. Seth has inherited from his father the dubious ability to see ghosts or shades of long-dead people, many of whom are in trouble of some sort. With Nadiya’s interest in history, the pair team up to defend the often oppressed people from whatever it is that is threatening them. This leads Seth in particular into some gruesome and tricky situations. In this, the final book in the Defenders trilogy, he is in Cornwall where he sees past inhabitants of an Iron Age hill fort, complete with several bloodied severed heads at its entrance. Echoing current events, he sees war-torn travellers seeking refuge outside the fort, but who are being denied access. He also makes friends with a pair of refugee brothers in the current time. This then links with the football theme that also runs through the books as the boys end up playing for a local team. A subsidiary story runs alongside, where Seth’s mum is waiting to hear results of tests to see if her cancer has been treated successfully, so Seth is a boy with a lot on his mind. The short chapters, fast pace and broad spacing characteristic of Barrington Stoke titles are designed to help less experienced readers. Unfortunately, there were several proof-reading errors in my copy, which will, hopefully, be corrected in any future print runs. Age range: 9-12.
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor

Discover the Aztec Empire, Isabel and Imogen Greenberg

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books ISBN 9781847809506 £8.99

A companion book to Discover the Ancient Egyptians, and Discover the Roman Empirethis book explores the Aztec Empire and its demise, brought about largely by Cortes and the Spanish invaders. Presented in exactly the same way as the other books, this volume looks at Aztec history, gods, heroes, life, empire and towns, and the use of sacrifices in order to find favour with the gods. It discusses the origins of the Aztecs, and the Triple Alliance of Texcoco, Tlacopan and Tenochtitlan that was the source of Aztec power and wealth. Tenochtitlan, now buried beneath Mexico City, was once one of the largest cities in the world with a population of around 200,000. The text is accessible and attractive, the images add to the feel of the period, and the book serves as a good introduction and basis for further study of the topic. The pull out map at the back is helpful, but it would have been useful to include Cozumel, where the Spanish first landed, as it is referred to in the text. But the timeline - which is not to scale - is again misleading and prevents pupils from getting a real sense of the time period. I feel the text is very 'safe' - there are few, if any, signs of the controversies and debates historians have about the Aztec Empire. This is a useful starting point to explore the world of the Aztecs for upper primary pupils, so some suggestions for further research and study might have been helpful.

Alf Wilkinson, The Historical Association

The Dollmaker of Krakow, R. M. Romero

Walker Books ISBN 9781406375633 £6.99

There is a lot going on in this debut novel by R M Romero. The story parallels the rat invasion of the Land of the Dolls with the German invasion of Poland, with dire consequences for both. The dollmaker of the title, along with Karolina the talking living doll, is the hero, who uses his magic to save some Jewish children from the Krakow ghetto but ends up in Auschwitz-Birkenau for his troubles. It is an interesting story, mixing magic with narrative and based around the facts of the Nazi occupation of Poland. I think Upper KS2 ‘best readers’ would just about cope with it, both content and language, but feel it is mostly relevant to KS3. The interrelationship between the dollmaker and the SS Officer adds an interesting dynamic to the story. Of course, it all ends in tears, as you would expect. Overall, a rather depressing story, but with a hopeful ending, suggesting that you can survive pain, brutality and hardship, with a few knocks along the way. An interesting take on the story of the Holocaust....
Alf Wilkinson, The Historical Association

Emily Sparkes and the Backstage Blunder, Ruth Fitzgerald

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers  ISBN 9780349001883  £6.99

This is the fourth in a series of books by this clever and witty author. The clear charm of the previous three books is continued. This tale really will be captivating to young readers in a world that is at the same time familiar to them whilst holding the element of fantasy. The plot centres on a performance gala where schools will be dazzling the audience with their acting skills. Things are not all that they seem to be and not all goes to plan for the girls. The biggest success of this story is how it manages to be packed with real hilarity and carry a good plot line at the same time. A real gem for upper junior children.

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

The Ethan I Was Before, Ali Standish

Orchard ISBN 978-1408342923 £6.99

Ethan is dealing with grief and guilt when we first meet him. His life is full of hurt and pain and the cause of this is revealed piece by piece throughout the book. Though the book is about him coming to terms with what he did and the consequences of the ‘incident’, the book has several mysterious characters and plot twists that make it interesting to the last page. I think its setting and characters will appeal to children who like to read about different experiences that they may never have to deal with themselves and the air of mystery will keep them reading. Ethan is a relatable, emphatic character who will appeal to girls and boys. Age range: 8-12.
Helen Haynes, Library Services Officer at City College, Norwich

The Ghost, Sarah Rubin

Chicken House  ISBN 9781910002872  £6.99

The Ghost Light is Rubin’s second book featuring her twelve year old super sleuth, Alice Jones. Alice is the modern day antidote to generations of boy heroes in children’s literature (I acknowledge the exceptions but have no space to go into them here) – female, smart, analytical and funny with a borderline obsession with maths. After what I felt was a slow start this book enthralled me and I spent a two hour coach journey completely absorbed in Rubin’s plot and was almost embarrassingly pleased with myself when I (mostly) guessed ‘whodunnit’! The book explores the themes of children not living with both parents, of social justice and of course gender equality. It also has a tantalising undercurrent of the possibility of a ghost story throughout which though scorned by the ever-practical Alice the reader cannot help but be drawn into; I found myself more than ready to suspend my disbelief at many points in the narrative. I think that this book would hold significant appeal for Upper KS2 children obsessively reading their way through Jacqueline Wilson. Alice resembles many of Wilson’s protagonists in her tough, sassy approach to life yet she is openly and enthusiastically claiming a love of numbers. Hugely recommended – I’m off to the library to find the other Alice Jones mystery.

Laura Manison Shore, Senior Lecturer in Early Years & Primary Education, UWE, Bristol

The Girl with the Lost Smile, Miranda Hart, illustrated by Kate Hindley

Hodder Children's Books ISBN 9781444941364 £12.99

I found this book rather a struggle to engage with initially. The somewhat simplistic, and at times clumsy, language jarred as I read and I found the consistent emboldening of selected words and phrases throughout the text rather distracting. It tells the tale of Chloe, who on her eleventh birthday, miserable with her parents’ seemingly dismissive attitude towards her, lost her smile. The subsequent quest to find it takes us on a journey into Chloe’s own ‘Imaginary Land’ where she finds her wildest joys alongside a raft of quests and challenges. The more I read the more it absorbed me, and the ultimate message of the story, that if one has hope, courage and love you can always find a smile, is salutary. There is of course the obligatory happy-ending, and there are no sophisticated surprises but that is fine. I ended up really enjoying the story, and although I maintain that I have read better fiction from far lesser known authors, The Girl with the Lost Smile really found its way into my head. Of all the children’s books that I have read recently this is the one I find myself thinking about and I keep finding myself smiling at dour strangers – just like Chloe! Age range: 9-11.
Louise M. Smith, teacher, The Glasgow Academy

I Killed Father Christmas, Anthony Mc Gowan, illustrated by Chris Riddell

Barrington Stoke Little Gems ISBN 9781781127100 £6.99

A poignant beginning told through the eyes of Jo-Jo, but probably a scene that many children experience in the run up to Christmas day. Jo-Jo hears his Mum and Dad having a massive argument. He tries to block out the row burying his head in his pillow but he knows that deep down their row is his fault for being too greedy at Christmas time. His Dad has told him that his list to Santa is too long and that he has asked for too many expensive things which means other children won’t be able to receive Christmas gifts from Santa. When he hears his Mum shout ‘You’ve killed Christmas’ Jo-Jo fears the worst and believes he is responsible for killing Father Christmas. So it’s a bit doom and gloom to this point but from here in the story begins to take a heart-warming twist. Jo-Jo, seeing the error of his ways and not wanting other children to miss out on presents, decides he will take over the role of Santa. Realising his own limitations and lack of elves, reindeer and a command over time he decides to pack up some his old toys and deliver them to the children in his street, even to his arch enemy and the grumpy old man who lives in the street. Well of course he hasn’t really killed Father Christmas so when he falls from his bedroom window he is rescued by Santa on his sleigh and finds out that the real Christmas present that Santa delivers is love. When he falls from the sleigh he wakes up surrounded by his family… dream or true adventure? Well you decide! Recommended for children from 6 to10 years who may need reminding about the spirit of Christmas in an accessible and humorous way.
Jane Macleod, Primary Teacher, Fairfield Primary, Penarth

The Incredible Billy Wild by Joanna Nadin

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers ISBN 9781510201255 £6.99

A sweetly, funny story about a boy and his dog told with great warmth, humour and empathy. It’s a typical tale of the underdog overcoming adversity, in this case the main character, Billy and his real live dog, Dog. This story will appeal to children who love animals as well as those who love a story with a happy ending. It does deal with some tough topics such as death and grief but overall is positive and upbeat. Age range: 9-11.
Helen Haynes, Library Services Officer at City College, Norwich

My Name is Victoria, Lucy Worsley

Bloomsbury  ISBN 9781408882016  £6.99

This is Lucy Worsley's second novel for children, and is based around the life of Queen Victoria as a child, growing up in Kensington Palace, before she is certain she will inherit the throne following the deaths of George IV and William. All the action is based on real people, such as Sir John Conroy and Victoria's mother. The story centres around the relationship between Conroy's daughter Victoria and the real Princess Victoria. Brought in as a playmate for the future queen, Victoria, or Miss V as she is commonly known, is used by her father to control Princess Victoria and make sure Conroy, and Victoria's mother the duchess remain in control of the young princess. As the story unfolds the plot thickens and nothing is quite as straightforward as it seems... Lucy Worsley obviously draws extensively on her 'day job' as Curator of Royal Palaces to fill in the details about Kensington Palace and Victoria's childhood. The story is riveting, with a most surprising ending, but the language may be a little advanced for KS2, unless they are very strong readers. This is an interesting and unusual take on a well-known story!

Alf Wilkinson, The Historical Association

Running  on the Roof of the World, Jess Butterworth

Orion Children’s Books  ISBN 9781510102088  £6.99

The intriguing title and unusual packaging of this novel invites the writer into an exciting adventure that tells the story of Tash and her friend Sam’s escape from religious and political persecution in Tibet.  The novel’s format of deceptively simple text and short chapters makes it an ideal class reader for years 5 or 6, but children would enjoy it at an individual level also.  Written in the present tense and first person gives the story a sense of immediacy and allows the tension to build in a believable way. The characters are well drawn, believable and sympathetic; the reader cares about what happens to them. There is excitement in the danger of Tash and Sam having to accomplish a daring task and their difficulties in achieving this are described in ways that are identifiable and real- the cold, hunger, fear, loss of a loved one for example. The novel deals with important issues such as oppression, faith, loss, bravery, friendship and would make an excellent text for use in R.E., PSE as well as History and any creative activities. I would imagine that the history of Tibet is little known and this is an ideal opportunity for some research or project work. Jess Butterworth has not glossed over difficult issues, such as the political objector setting himself on fire or parents being arrested, and these would make excellent discussion topics. I would love to have used this text when I was teaching Year 5 pupils.

Helen Cook

The School of Music, Meurig Brown and Rachel Brown, illustrated by Daniel Frost

Wide Eyed Editions  ISBN 9781847808608  £14.99

Music in some form or other pervades our lives, yet for many who neither sing nor play an instrument, it remains a subject they feel they know little about. How fortunate, therefore, that 7-12 year olds can now access this excitingly ambitious introduction to the subject in a creative and imaginative picture book. Written by musical experts, this book 'enrols' the reader in the School of Music. We are introduced to six professors including Sergio Trunk, the Maestro, Rory Mojo the percussionist, Rufus Vibrato the head of strings and Diva Venus the opera singer. We then embark on three terms of study: 'Listen Up!', 'Your Musical Toolbox' and 'Make it Yourself!' This 'study' involves single or double page spreads exploring types of music, how music and movies or theatre go together, notation, staves, harmony and how we can make music at home, to mention just a few. Along with explanations, there are appropriate activity boxes to reinforce the subject and quirky illustrations of the musical professors at every stage. This is an ideal book to share with a KS2 class, in sections, during music lessons, as there is the opportunity to use the QR code readers to access musical samples online. Children can hear special recordings for the book from Nicola Benedetto, Evelyn Glennie, Bryan Terfel alongside instruments as diverse as the Armenian duduk or the Chinese guzheng. Or, send this home with music-loving able readers to share and delight in with their families. Explanations are clear (but probably require mediation for younger readers) and terms are demystified, while the recordings bring the whole book alive. Brilliant.

Sue Barrett, retired teacher and lecturer

The Secret Diary of John Drawbridge – Medieval Knight in Training, Philip Ardagh

Nosy Crow Published in conjunction with the National Trust  ISBN 9780857639011  £6.99

John Drawbridge is a very young page in a large Medieval Castle, and is learning to become a knight. As often happened at the time, young boys were sent to rich and influential patrons to be trained for their future role in society. John keeps a diary of his training, except the diary is kept in his head, as he, like most people in Medieval times, was illiterate. Philip Ardagh’s quirky style of writing is amplified by Jamie Littler’s illustrations, filling the book with good-natured humour. We discover domestic details – cooking, eating and sleeping in a castle, as well as details about John’s knightly training. They also go hunting with hawks, and visit a monastery to see manuscripts being copied. But of course the highlight of the book is when the castle is attacked. The story may be fiction but the detail is meticulous. There is a lot of history presented in a very attractive, readable way in this tale. I read it from cover to cover, unable to put it down. Children will be captivated by the style as much as the story. Text level is very appropriate for Upper KS 2 pupils, and boys especially will like this book. What an enjoyable way to learn about life in a medieval castle, even if Widemoat Castle does not and never did exist. Brilliant!

Alf Wilkinson, The Historical Association

See you in the Cosmos, Jack Cheng

Penguin Random House ISBN 9780141357058 £6.99

I found this book rather a trial to engage with initially. Its clipped prose and unconventional presentation of dialogue was, I felt, rather clunky and uninviting. However, for purposes of this review I ‘stuck with it’ and found myself ultimately drawn into the plight of Alex, his Golden Ipod and stray dog, Carl Sagan. While Alex wrestles with the big questions of the cosmos and how he can show other life forms what life on earth is really like, the story of Alex’s moving home life involving a long-departed father, alcoholic mother and barely there brother unfolds. Alex’s space mission takes centre-ground in his life, however, and the skilful way Chang presents this means that the reader almost forgets that this is a child with an enormously challenging set of circumstances to cope with. Alex’s belief in and devotion to his mum is incredibly moving and as the story unfolds the reader is carefully shown how a rather motley assortment of space-obsessed individuals are drawn in by Alex’s guileless charm. When one of these acquaintances thoughtlessly loses Carl Sagan the search mission that ensues is enormously convincing and I am sure I am not the only reader to breathe a massive sigh of relief when Carl eventually reappears! While this book is not the easiest to initially absorb the KS2 reader, it is certainly worth the commitment.
Laura Manison Shore, Senior Lecturer in Early Years & Primary Education, UWE, Bristol

The Song from Somewhere Else, A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Levi Pinfold

Bloomsbury ISBN 9781408 884751 £7.99

The excerpt from a Guardian review on the front cover of this book states it is ‘Extraordinary… as moving, strange and profound as Skellig’. And, I couldn’t have put it better myself! This is a truly haunting and original story; it is exquisitely written. Both the dialogue in the text and the narrative remain with the reader long after completion of the book. The Song from Somewhere Else wrestles with the themes of loneliness, bullying, absent parents and new friendships. Protagonists Frank and Nick become initially reluctant playmates in the face of an unpleasant, well-observed gang of bullies. Without wishing to spoil the plot, the phantasmagorical inhabitant of the cellar becomes more than an imaginary ‘friend’ and its wider discovery risks causing a cyber meltdown. While the very premise of the book is the stuff of fantasy, Harrold’s prose and storytelling forces the reader to suspend disbelief in exactly the way that Skellig did years before this. Throughout, the narrative is supported by Pinfold’s compulsive and detailed black and white drawings which seem to travel from page to page like shadows. I absolutely recommend this book for upper KS2 readers hungry for amazing fiction.
Laura Manison Shore, Senior Lecturer in Early Years & Primary Education, UWE, Bristol

Spymaster 3 and 4: Deadly Storm and Fatal Voyage, Jan Burchett and Sara Vogler

Orion Children’s Books  ISBN 9781444010749  £7.99

Not one but two terrific stories in the Spymaster series - in Deadly Storm the action takes place whilst Henry VIII is travelling and is cut off by a flooded river and a destroyed bridge.  Taking cover in an isolated castle, with only a few retainers, the King is in deadly danger.  Jack Briars, the young scribe, and Cat Thimblebee, a seamstress, working secretly for Thomas Cromwell, Henry's chief minister and spymaster, are all that stands between life and death.  Can they save Henry from a grisly end, and solve the murder mysteries?  Who is killing the inhabitants of the castle, and why?  And what have the monks in the nearby monastery got to do with it?  The second adventure is set during the preparations for the launch of Henry VIII's new ship - Lady Anne. The Spanish have hatched a plot to kill the king during the launch and replace Henry with Mary.  Again, only Jack and Cat can solve the mystery and save the life of the King.  King Henry must have been the number one target for assassins and plots, given the nature of these stories!  Surely he was very lucky to rule as long as he did.  These stories are both plausible, and set in the context of the politics and law and order of the time.  Rip-roaring tales they are too, keeping you guessing, and reading, right up to the end.  You won't learn much accurate history about Tudor times, other than that King Henry was always in mortal danger, but you will enjoy a great read and, as ever, it all turns out right in the end.  Jack and Cat come up trumps, as usual, and save the King's life whilst carrying out their humble occupations as part of his entourage.  Great for Upper KS2 good readers.

Alf Wilkinson, The Historical Association

Ultimate Slime, Alyssa Jagan

Quarry (Quarto books) ISBN 9781631594250 £10.99

This is the first book that I have seen which is dedicated to the world of ‘Slime’ and I had not realized that it is such a world-wide phenomenon. The author is a young, (currently 16 years), social media star with a series of videos on Instagram and in this book she shares many of her recipes for creating a range of slimes. The book is conventionally laid out with a comprehensive contents page and index. Each of the projects is given a two page spread; with bright and clear illustrations, a list of materials and instructions on how to make the slime. The author is Canadian and a UK audience might have to search for alternative products to use, although some generic chemicals should be available. The substance appears to be gelatinous goo that can be used for stress balls, making food replicas or decorative objects. There is an educational element in this and you could use this for science (Materials or the Senses) or Art. However I was left wondering why people make it and what real purpose does it have? There is also an environmental issue around the various additives that go into the base mixture. A book for fans of slime at the top of KS2, even though the book suggests it is suitable for 6 years and upwards.
Margaret Pemberton, School Library Adviser

What is Gender? How Does It Define Us? And other big questions, Juno Dawson

Wayland ISBN 978526300003 £13.99

This book is part of the important ‘And other big questions’ series that offers balanced considerations on big issues and hot topics. Readers are encouraged to think for themselves about the concept of gender and the impact it can have on their life. This book discusses topics including sex, intersex, gender and gender stereotypes, transgender, gender and feminism, cross-dressing, and gender round the world. A range of people share their gender stories ,and there are quotes from celebrities that readers will identify with, such as Lady Gaga, Eddie Izzard, Miley Cyrus, Jack Monroe, Emma Watson and Annie Lennox. There is a list of helpful websites and telephone numbers for further research and a glossary of terms and an index page. The book presents ideas clearly and explains them simply. Informative and thought-provoking, it is highly recommended for young people, and adults. Age range: 10+
Brenda Marshall, SATIPS Council

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