There is some strong fiction this month for older KS2 readers but we have also enjoyed two new books about Shakespeare, and some younger books for KS2 readers.

Alexander McCall Smith, illus Kate Hindley

ISBN 9781408865859

Roll up! Roll up! The circus is coming to town! And for an ordinary young boy called Freddie Mole, it's a life-changing experience. With his mum away working and his dad's business of mending washing machines not doing so well, Freddie grabs the opportunity to work as a general dogsboddy at the circus. What he doesn't realise, though, is that this doesn't mean just handing out popcorn and sweeping up the tent. No, his role includes flying on the trapeze and, even more frightening, stepping in to the lion tamer's role! Can he do it? This new tale from bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith is a gentle, traditional tale of an ordinary boy overcoming the odds to succeed. It is full of hope and lots of children will be able to identify with Freddie's desire to help out his family, and have an adventure along the way. Topping it off are the lovely illustrations by Kate Hindley which brilliantly portray some of the funny - and scary - situations Freddie confronts, with lots of warmth and humour. 144 pages / Ages 7+ / Reviewed by Ellen Ward.

Tony Bradman, illus Tom Morgan-Jones

ISBN 9781781125038

Young Toby is down on his luck. His parents have died and he has been trying to survive on the streets of Tudor London. A resourceful youth, he seeks out Moll Cut-Purse in a bid to become a member of her gang of nippers, dippers and cut-purses. It's a dangerous life, but better than being alone! Carried away by watching a play at the Globe, Toby gets caught in possession of someone else's purse and finds himself face to face with the great Shakespeare himself - a Shakespeare who is struggling for inspiration. So begins a new phase in Toby's life. Combining Barrington Stoke's trademark dyslexia-friendly font and tinted paper with a fun story line and great illustrations, this is a good read for everyone! The book is full of engaging, likeable characters from Moll Cut-Purse, Queen of London's thieves and pick pockets to the gloomy, self-doubting Shakespeare. Tony Bradman manages to convey a feeling for Tudor London, the world of the Globe and Shakespeare's life. He also manages to introduce the reader to the language, plots and history behind some of Shakespeare's plays as part of the plot! The epilogue makes sure the reader knows what happened to Shakespeare, the Globe and introduces the reader to the idea of the First Folio, put together in 1616 after Shakespeare's death by two fellow actors, John Heminge and Henry Condell and published in 1623. All the details are included alongside Toby's story and we are left wondering whether he and his wife, Sarah, will name their first child, Will. In 'Act II: Funne Activities for Boyes & Girls', there are plenty of engaging activities to continue and develop interest in the life and work of Shakespeare, including making puppets and downloading a model of the Globe from the Barrington Stoke website. A great introduction to Shakespeare! 192 pages / Ages 7+ / Reviewed by Sue Wilsher, teacher.

Mick Manning, Brita Granstrom

ISBN 9781847807595

The life of William Shakespeare, from birth to grave, is a brilliantly told in words and pictures. Simon Callow's quote on the cover says it all; this is 'a perfect introduction to the real Shakespeare'. Packed with information about Elizabethan life as well as the man himself, Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom manage to inform and entertain the reader in equal measure. Quotes from Shakespeare's writing introduce each section and the use of the present tense in the main body of the text to tell Will's story is very effective. Other sections of text using the past tense add details or further explore some of the hazier details, making it very clear when information about Shakespeare's life is sparse or confusing. The section on the 'Lost Years' is very well handled, covering lots of the theories, but leaving it to the reader to decide. The book also summarises some of Shakespeare's plays, keeping true to their story whilst making them accessible and (easier!) to follow. It also briefly touches on the sonnets with part of Sonnet 18 being read by Shakespeare himself!& A must for school libraries (primary and secondary), this is an invaluable resource for teachers as well as being an excellent read! 48 pages Ages 7+ / Reviewed by Sue Wilsher, teacher.

Maria Ana Peixe Dias, illus Ines Teixeira do Rosari

ISBN 9781847807694

'For thousands and thousands of years, it was just us and nature' but over the last one hundred years, our relationship with the natural world has changed. Outside: a Guide to Discovering Nature was written with this in mind and created to inspire curiosity in the natural world. So let's get outside and start exploring! This delightful book begins with a discussion about us and nature, how this has changed over time and the increasing need for us to reconnect with the outdoors. 'Outside' also looks at the practical issues readers will want to think about as they head outdoors to explore nature - where to go and what to take with them as well as the signs and clues that animals leave behind them. A beautiful compendium of fascinating facts about insects, amphibians, reptiles, mammals & birds; Flowers, trees, flora and fauna also feature as well as information about rocks, oceans & beaches; the stars, moon & sun; the clouds, wind & rain. 'Outside' is packed full of knowledge about the natural world - do worms have a heart? Why don't slugs have shells? And, If chickens are birds, why don't they fly? 'Outside' also shares helpful advice to help you to engage with the natural world - have you ever wondered how to put up a bird house, how to make a crown of flowers or make an envelope for seeds? Each section of the book is creatively separated by a monochromatic illustration by artist Bernardo P. Carvalho. His simple yet stylish illustrations throughout the book enhance the message of the text to engage more with the natural world.& The glossary at the end of the book provides the reader with an opportunity to explore the vocabulary of the book in greater detail. The naturalists timeline is a interesting look at the important dates for the study and preservation of the world we live in. An inspiring work of art as much as a guide to the outdoors with a stylish colour pallet of black, white, blue & orange. This is a truly stunning book to own. Whilst originally written in Portuguese and winner of several prestigious Portuguese awards, the translation into English has enabled this book to reach a world wide audience. Perfect for families, classrooms and forest school libraries. A must read for those who love the outdoors and those inspired by it. 368 pages / Ages 7-11 years / Reviewed by Emily Beale, school librarian.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark (Knights of the Borrowed Dark Book 1)
Dave Rudden


ISBN 9780141356600

An orphanage perched on a wild and windy hillside is the only home that Denizen Hardwick can remember. Life is bleak and difficult, but the gloom is alleviated by Simon, their friendship forged through 'furtive book trades at night, an inquisitive nature in common and a shared dislike of sports'. Out of the blue, around the time of his thirteenth birthday, Denizen's previously unheard of Aunt sends for him, despatching a car and driver to bring him to the city. The journey, however, is complicated by an encounter with something in the dark and Denizen receives his first introduction into the lives and battles of the Knights of the Borrowed Dark - a band of brave and fearless fighters against the forces of evil known as the Tenebrous. Though marked out from birth as potential knights, each one does have a choice; to take up the challenge and pay the price, or to walk away from the battle. This is the choice Denizen is faced with as he learns about his family and the enemy that confronts the human race. So, a story about good and evil, heroes and monsters, magic and duty? Yes, all of those things, but also the story of a young boy taken out of the (admittedly not very pleasant) environment that he has known all his life and dropped into a world that he cannot understand, his only defence being his sense of humour and his curiosity. Readers of Derek Landy and Rick Riordan will instantly feel a bond with the world that Dave Rudden has created and enjoy that mix of horror, magic and humour that can produce a foe like The Clockwork Three. 368 pages / Ages 10+ / Reviewed by June Hughes, school librarian.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark (Knights of the Borrowed Dark Book 1)
Sara Pennypacker


ISBN 9780008124090

This is a story of how a boy and his abandoned fox reunite against all the odds. Despite his father, a 300 mile trek, a broken leg and a war zone, Peter proceeds with unwavering determination to find his fox, Pax. He is reluctantly helped by Vola, who has been damaged by her experiences as a soldier in a previous conflict and has difficulty trusting anyone including herself. The bond of friendship between Peter and Pax is remarkable and it is this that makes Pax equally determined to find his boy. Pax doesn't know how to hunt or protect himself and has never been left on his own in the wild before. He braves starvation, a minefield and an attacking pack of coyotes to reach his boy. He is reluctantly helped by a female fox, Bristle, whose whole family was destroyed by humans except for her young pack brother Runt. She can't understand why Pax would want to find Peter as all humans are untrustworthy. I loved the parallel stories and how each of the two main characters, the boy and the fox, developed and grew throughout the book and the way they learned much about themselves and their place in the world. Vola and Bristle made great supporting characters; the portrayal of the complicated nature of them both in such a simple way was superb. Runt was delightful. A great story just to enjoy, but has plenty to keep a class or group going with discussion too. Good readers from age 10 would enjoy it, and would also have something for teenage readers too. Unusually for serious book for this age group, we are also treated to some great illustrations. 276 pages / Ages 10+ / Reviewed by Melanie Chadwick, school librarian.

Tom Moorhouse

Oxford University Press

ISBN 9780192743992

I have to say that I never thought I would write that I was excited to read a story about rats! But having read Tom Moorhouse's two previous novels, The River Singers and The Rising, I knew I would not be disappointed. Both of these were about rodents, and this story tells of the world of rats, of three clans, and of two brothers; Ash who is an albino rat, and Gabble who tries to protect his foolish sibling. Ash goes further than the other rats on his name raid as he knows of a place to find an egg, and Gabble who has always protected his brother follows him. The egg is of course in the chicken house and the scene where the chickens attack the two is quite ferocious. But Ash has eaten something he should not as it was not marked for rats to eat, and when they return he is very ill and only partially recovers. On this raid Gabble and Ash have met another clan in Notratlan, who this time let them go. Further beyond them are the Damplanders and it is to them that Ash makes his way. Gabble follows has a frightening encounter with a cat, and tracks Ash to the Damplanders burrows where the Raithir rules with fear. The clan think Ash is the Taker, who gives names as they die fighting, but the other clans get their names before that to enable them to pass through the Taker's Land of Bones. In a magnificent denouement to the story, Ash is rescued and finds his voice, rescues the Damplanders from their fear, but is killed by the cat, and Gabble finds he is not welcomed back by his own clan but forms his own with Feather who has stood by him. This is an amazing story, telling of a complete world with its own rules for living, for bringing up the young rats, for passing to adulthood. Violence is not what they want and the picture of the clan ruled by fear is mirrored in many societies in our world. The other two stories had lovely black and white drawings decorating the pages and these are missing from this story which is a pity, but the cover is very good. Tom Moorhouse is an ecologist at Oxford University, and his love for his animal characters shines through this story. Surely the Carnegie Medal judges should be looking at this title for 2017? Young people 10+ will be engrossed in this story. 256 pages / Ages 10+ / Reviewed by Janet Fisher, librarian.