NEW TITLES

This month's selection of books for children aged 7-11 years includes some great non-fiction as well as poetry, adventure and mystery stories, and books supporting wellbeing.

The Book of Comparisons: Sizing up the world around you
Clive Gifford

Ivy Kids

ISBN 9781782405580

This lovely book, with great illustrations by Paul Boston, is packed full of the sort of facts children love. The large pages are stuffed with extraordinary details, comparing everything from animals, to space to machines. Aimed at 7+, this seems like a book that could last for years, as it is so full of interesting little tit bits. Did you know that a cheetah and a Porsche, for example, can both accelerate from 0-70 mph in just 3 seconds? And here is the one that blew my mind; the moon is only slightly narrower than the width of Australia!!! I think it is the combination of all the facts and comparisons with the mass of detailed illustrations, that makes this book so fascinating. There is a page of tiny animal drawings comparing the weight of different animals. All done using pictures you can see that a rabbit weighs the same as 5 hedgehogs or that an elephant weighs the same as 5 rhinoceroses. The facts alone would be interesting but coupled with the pictures it kind of elevates the whole book into something to be pored over and studied intently. There are also some great surprises; on the title page is the drawing of a Goliath bird eating a spider drawn at it's actual size (it is huge!!) and then some pygmy possums on the next page drawn at their actual size (smaller than the spider). There is a useful contents and index and a page of further reading. If you are looking for non-fiction to be read for pleasure than this is the book to do it. Children love these sort of facts; wouldn't you like to know which creatures do the biggest poos? I suspect this book will become a much-enjoyed book in many classrooms. 96 pages / Ages 7+ / Reviewed by Jacqueline Harris.

The Book of Comparisons: Sizing up the world around you
Bugs!
Nick Forshaw

What on Earth Publishing Ltd

ISBN 9780995576605

This book is part of a series published in association with the Natural History. Already familiar with the tremendous Wallbooks from What On Earth Publishing, I was eager to dive into this new series to find out more about this new offering. The style is delightfully retro; the reader is swiftly introduced to Agent Eagle, aka librarian Eric Eagle of the Eagle-Eyed Explorer Club and he invites us to join him on his secret mission to file a report on the history of bugs. The comic strip introduction is sure to draw young nature fans into the excitement of this adventure. The following chapters introduce the reader to different aspects of insects, from their physical features and classification to their evolution through different prehistoric periods . We learn about explorers in history who were responsible for making important discoveries and we find out detailed information about a whole range of insects, all presented in the style of an explorer's log book. There is a helpful glossary at the back of the book and, best of all, a superbly detailed timeline of insect evolution from the Cambrian Period 520 million years ago right up to the present day. What On Earth produce these so well and this timeline is crying out to be displayed on a bedroom or classroom wall. As a library book, the folded timeline is likely to become rather battered I fear, but it will certainly be enjoyed by many bug fans here! 38 pages / Ages 7-11 / Reviewed by Emily Marcuccilli, school librarian

Bugs!
THINKER: My Puppy Poet and Me
Eloise Greenfield

Tiny Owl Publishing Ltd

ISBN 9781910328330

It's not often that I get to review poetry collections written by a dog. It feels like no time ago that I was chuckling over Moses' and Stevens' Waggiest Dogs anthology and now the delightful Thinker has arrived. This unusual collection (Pub: Tiny Owl) opens with 'Naming me' in which a new puppy is unable to contain himself when he hears 'Let's call him something cute. / My eyes popped open, and I said, 'Uh-uh! No way! No way! / I'm deep and I'm a poet. No! / A cute name's not okay.' / So it is that the name 'Thinker' comes about, chosen by Jace who is also a poet. As the publisher, Tiny Owl, says, Thinker isn't just an average puppy. He's a poet. So is his owner, Jace, and together they turn the world around them into verse. The poem is propelled by a gentle narrative as Thinker interacts with the family, visits the park (where he coins a haiku or two) and, eventually, gets to accompany Jace to school on Pets' Day. Despite reminding himself of the rule: 'watch, think, bark. / No poems. No talk. /', he just can't help himself, 'And the next thing I know, / I'm jumping up and running, / running to the front / of the room, and I start / reciting a funny poem./' To the delight of Jace, the children and the teacher this precipitates a wave of un-pet like behaviour as 'the cat starts singing opera, / and the frog is walking upside down / and the three goldfish / are dancing in the fish tank, /.' The award-winning poet, Eloise Greenfield, offers authentic voices for Thinker and Jace. Writing about the collection she says: 'The characters grew on me, and I fell in love with them, with their love for each other, and especially with Thinker, this puppy who loves words.' She makes apt use of a range of forms, rhyming and free, finishing with a joyous final rap: 'Going to the house now, / going to close the door, / Got to say goodbye now, / please don't ask for more./ Going in the house now, / my good friend and I, / got to say goodbye now, / Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, / GOODBYE!' Tiny Owl is the first publisher of Greenfield's work in this country. Formed in 2015, they say of this collection that it forms part of its wider programme to promote under-represented voices and cultures in literature, and to produce beautiful picture books for everyone. And a beautiful book it is too! Eshan Abdollabi's vibrant illustrations are a perfect accompaniment to the poems. Abdollabi's depiction of Thinker is charming (not cute!) and it is this representation as well as the stylised, collage like illustrations that are so distinctive and make this a very special book. The illustrations are boldly coloured in contrast to the pastel-pretty endpapers depicting Thinker running through blossom as a bird soars away in the sky. This is probably a book that teachers will want to introduce to children poem by poem before adding it to the class book collection. Once there, you can be sure that children will want to revisit it. 32 pages / Ages 7+ / Reviewed by Alison Kelly, consultant.

THINKER: My Puppy Poet and Me
Kat Wolfe Investigates
Lauren St John

Macmillan Children's Books

ISBN 9781509871223

This is the first book by Lauren St John that I have read and I will definitely be reading more! When Kat and her veterinary surgeon mum move to Dorset for a new job and fresh start, nothing could have prepared Kat for what she was about to become mixed up in. Kat starts a pet-sitting business to pass the time in her holidays and soon ends up involved in a multi-layered web of intrigue. With the help of one of her clients, Harper Wolfe, she embarks on a mission that will put many lives at risk. The story has great characters with surprising plot twists and all set on the beautiful Jurassic Coast. Magnificent. 352 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by Andrew Mullen, teacher.

Kat Wolfe Investigates
Just Jack
Kate Scott

Piccadilly Press

ISBN 9781848126244

Jack has had a difficult time since his dad left. His mum's job has taken them to different places and he's about to start again. Jack thinks he'll cope because he has learnt how to follow 'Sherlock Code' and blend in easily, without getting too attached to anyone, because Jack knows it won't be long before another move is coming. Until that is, he meets Tyler. Tyler is an inventor, clever, funny, unconventional, and friendly. But being friends with Tyler means Jack will find it hard to say goodbye, which is an uncomfortable place to be. As the story progresses, Jack and Tyler face challenges together and apart, but events are skilfully brought to a satisfying conclusion. Jack's personal journey hangs on a tightly woven plot and gives sympathetic insight into the reality of his painful experiences. Although there are some very funny moments, Scott gives the subject of the value of friendship and family the appropriate treatment it warrants, hopefully enabling readers to reflect on the depths of their own friendships as they enjoy the story. Tyler is a captivating and entertaining character, and the reader will warm to him as well as Jack, feeling empathy towards his predicaments. Other characters in the story are well penned and believable and the scenes at school are particularly well depicted with a refreshingly positive portrayal of a sympathetic and skilled teacher who provides encouragement to Jack and his friends. A fantastic read for 8-11's 208 pages / Ages 8-11 years / Reviewed by Lucy Russell, teacher

Just Jack
Firecrackers: An Explosion of Poems, Raps, Haikus, Little Plays, Fairy Tales (and more) To Spark Imagination
Zaro Weil

Troika Books

ISBN 9781909991781

Firecrackers (Troika Books) is a magical and generous new collection of poems, stories and plays. It's beautifully presented and designed with Jo Riddell's wonderful illustrations enhancing the rich array of texts that Zaro Weil has composed. The hefty hardback book opens with 'Long ages ago' (p.11), a sprightly and humorous take on how the animals first acquired their sounds: 'Long ages ago / in ancient earth time / creatures talked like us / but in wacky weird rhyme //'. So disruptive was their rhyming chatter that the world was driven to dismay: 'The sun roared 'PLEASE STOP' / the moon covered its ears / hid behind clouds / and burst into tears //. The sun (who features in several items in the book) comes up with a solution arguing that 'it's important to speak / in a voice that's your own // Now cats try to purr / pigeons coo-coo / dogs learn how to bark / and cows just say moo // It was no surprise to learn that the esteemed Jill Bennet had chosen 'Wake up' (p.17) as an opener for an anthology: 'Wake up / morning / has / galloped / bareback / all night to / get here//'. This is one of many tiny poems - little starry fragments of verse - that children will remember and treasure ('Sunflowers', p.150; Shivering crickets, p.160; Winter, p.181 to name a few). Recurring forms are a clever touch. The poetic duo 'When I was the sunrise' (p.86) and 'When I was the sunset' (p.87) are the first of several &'When I was' poems scattered through the book. Often taking an elongated form, these offer tiny, rich thoughts: 'When I was / a / mouse / darkness / circled / above / my / head / like / a / hawk //'. Children will enjoy emulating these in their own writing. There are some long, lively, rhyming plays based on traditional stories ('The Three Little Pigs' p.132) is one and some short plays that fall into the category of mini Q and A jokes: 'Me and the Earthworm, a very very short play' (p. 233): 'Me: Where are you going, earthworm? Earthworm: Around the world Me How long will that take Earthworm A long stretch'. Also drawing on traditional tales are two fairytales. With shades of Rumpelstiltskin, 'Four hundred sheep. A fairy tale' (p.32) tells of a shepherd who has chosen an appropriate name for each and every one of his 400 sheep. No spoilers here but this puts him in a very strong position when he comes to confront a demon who thinks he knows the answer to everything. Jo Riddell's art work is beautifully curated with its uncluttered juxtaposition of images and text. Look, for instance, at the two page spread given to 'Two cats' (p.114) playing in the snow 'arching / circling / rolling like it was / summer and / goldenrod had / flown in their noses //'. Cat paw prints work their way across the pages up to the two expressively tumbling cats in the top right. Most of the illustrations are black and white on white pages but there's the occasional reverse effect as in 'Owl's haiku' where the haiku is suspended in a white moon in the black night sky: 'Waiting / stillness rules / will the moon appear / tonight / will my shadow soar //'. This is one of several wild life haikus which conform to the syllable count but have been stretched out over more than the conventional three lines. You would think that there are already enough repetitive, list-like poems written for children but 'The Paper Bag' (p.54) is a fitting final note for this review. With the simple and powerful repetition of 'Fill up a paper bag with....' imaginative and thought-provoking ideas are assembled: ...spring sounds and / open it in December /'. 'Fill up a paper bag with / your favourite words and / shake it until a good story comes out / and finally... 'Fill up a paper bag with / velvet / just to have it //'. I want to fill up my paper bag with even more of her poems. 240 pages / Ages 8+ / Reviewed by Alison Kelly, consultant.

Firecrackers: An Explosion of Poems, Raps, Haikus, Little Plays, Fairy Tales (and more) To Spark Imagination
The House with Chicken Legs
Sophie Anderson

Usborne Publishing Ltd

ISBN 9781474940665

Marinka has always known what her destiny is. Like her beloved grandmother, Baba, she is to be Guardian of the Gate, the keeper of the doorway between this world and the next. The Yaga are a community of people who travel the world and provide a safe passage for the dead to the stars. Marinka adores her Yaga grandmother and admires her special gift in helping the dead on their journey, but she is sure this is not the life for her. Marinka and Baba live in a special house, complete with chicken legs that takes them around the world on their unlikely mission. This magical house cares for Baba and Marinka, shielding and nurturing them but Marinka feels suffocated and frustrated and dreams of escape. Sneaking out when Baba and the house are sleeping, Marinka enjoys freedom and normality but her whole world is wrenched apart when she makes a devastating discovery and realises she is bound to the house forever. This is such an unusual and delightfully macabre tale. I loved its Russian folklore roots and the fact that like all the best fairy tales there was a dark undercurrent to the story. Marinka is a sparky heroine, at turns wilful and unforgiving and at other times kind, compassionate and brave. Baba is a fearsome but loving character and I particularly liked Benjamin and his Dad who we are re-introduced to at the end and who become part of Marinka's extended family. A lovely, spirted tale with lots of adventure, dark humour and wonderful visual details bringing the ever-changing landscapes to life. 326 Pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by Clare Wilkins, school librarian.

The House with Chicken Legs
Fish Boy
Chloe Daykin

Faber & Faber

ISBN 9780571326761

Billy's life is full of the usual childhood troubles, but then there's his mum's illness as well. To deal with these, Billy's solution is to immerse himself in the sea, letting his mind drift to nature's tune. Then two encounters - one with a boy, the other with a talking fish - change his life and the adventure begins. There are numerous titles out there about children dealing with family situations, yet Fish Boy still manages to provide a fresh perspective. The narrative has a somewhat lyrical quality to it, which allows us to immerse ourselves in nature as Billy does. To add to the connection to the natural world, I did adore the way Attenborough quotations were seamlessly woven into the story without seeming out of place. In all honesty, I just wanted to take myself down to the sea and dive in - I wanted to be there with Billy. By using Billy as the narrator, we see his every emotion laid bare. There are moments of joy, misery and everything in between. Yet it is in moments of doubt that you begin to get under Billy's skin. Throughout the book, Billy faces challenge after challenge. We, as the readers, see how these are played out in his mind. We feel his indecision, willing him to be brave and to make the right decision. This makes his moments of elation even sweeter for us and more importantly for Billy himself. Because of the way the book is written, it can be accessed on so many levels. A note has also got to go to Richard Jones for his subtle yet striking illustrations which support the text. The text itself will be accessible for many children, while the depth of the story will add another layer of challenge for those ready for it. As such, I can easily see this book being used in Year 4 classrooms and above. 304 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by Matt Davies, teacher.

Fish Boy
The Silver Hand
Terry Deary

Bloomsbury Education

ISBN 9781472929488

Terry Deary's 300th book is a wonderful piece of writing. Set during the final stages of World War One, it tells the story of a French girl called Aimee who gets caught up in the war when the Germans take over her town. When she finds out that her mum is spying for the British, she begs to help out and soon finds herself involved in a plot to uncover a German spy posing as a British soldier. Deary's description really captures the feeling of the time and the horror and uncertainty that was faced by many during the years of World War One. The descriptions of the once peaceful French countryside, now war-torn and scarred by endless bombings, and the misery of the German soldiers fighting both the Allies and a seemingly unstoppable flu virus, allow you to immerse yourself in the story and be carried along effortlessly. The characters are beautifully written, with a villain who is truly worthy of the title. The children, Aimee and Marius, are instantly likeable and you really find yourself worrying about them and rooting for them as the story twists and turns in front of you. Overall, this is a wonderful book that I thoroughly enjoyed and will be recommending to my class (Year 5). A truly engaging story set against an important period in British and world history that would fit well with anyone studying the First World War. 288 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by Andrew Mullen, teacher.

The Silver Hand
Brightstorm: A Sky-Ship Adventure
Vashti Hardy

Scholastic

ISBN 9781407181707

Arthur and Maudie Brightstorm are twins born into a fantasy skyship. When they are told that their father has died during an expedition to reach South Polaris, they are naturally heartbroken and this makes them orphans. In addition they are told that their father broke the explorers' code by stealing from another explorer, and so he is discredited. As a result they lose all their possessions including the family home, and they themselves are sold and treated as servants in a way not dissimilar to stories of the Victorian age. The children therefore grasp the opportunity to join another expedition to South Polaris with Harriet Culpepper, a young female explorer; they embark on the adventure as Arthur is convinced that their father is alive and is determined to find him. Maud, who has an engineering prowess, whilst keen to continue with the mission from a more technical perspective, sees her primary aim to support her brother both emotionally and physically ( Arthur has only one arm and she has made a prosthetic iron replacement for him); his physical disability is shown not to impact on his ability to be involved . The adventure then takes the format of travelling in a sky ship, with a predominantly female crew, and provides the opportunity for the main characters to show their strengths, vulnerabilities and ability to care for others; this is particularly prevalent in Arthur who develops in self confidence and self esteem, shows a strong understanding of the emotions of others and he develops a form of 'sixth sense' in sensing danger. He also has the ability to communicate with 'thought wolves' which introduces a strong element of sensitivity. The impact of animals throughout the adventure is very interesting and links to human traits can be seen. The adventure includes the traditional villain in Eudora Vane, who will stop at nothing to win the challenge but there is an interesting twist on her underlying motives which again focuses on human relationships. Protecting the environment is an underlying theme; this ranges from Harriet's newly-designed sky ship which runs on water, to the impact of whale hunting and the overall effect of humans on the landscape. This is an exciting adventure story, which focuses on themes of loyalty, friendship and trust and includes elements of humour. Although set in a fantasy world, the language and themes used make it accessible and realistic to children. It could also be used to support aspects of the National Curriculum particularly Science and Geography and prompt some very interesting discussions. 352 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by Salliann Coleman, consultant.

Brightstorm: A Sky-Ship Adventure
The Sand Dog
Sarah Lean

HarperCollins

ISBN 9780008165819

Azi lives on an idyllic Greek island with his Uncle where he helps out in the family restaurant. The only thing missing from his life is his Grandfather who hurriedly and without explanation left two years ago. Azi interprets finding a lost dog on the beach and meeting Beth, a visitor to the island, as signs that his Grandfather is to come back home and Azi sets about the joint task of finding him and the owners of the dog. Within this story of friendship and a quest, Sarah Lean touches on a number of issues but her strength lies in her writing about children's experience of difficult and conflicting emotions. Azi, without the presence of Grandfather, does not believe he belongs in the community in which he grew up; Beth, a 'global nomad' because of her parents' work, feels she has no roots and no true friends. Azi and Beth misunderstand each other, get angry and frustrated but are united in their wish to find the owners of the Sand Dog, even though they know that will bring them a sense of loss. Confident young readers will enjoy getting to know Azi and Beth and will be able to conjure up a picture of blue sea, sandy beaches and the routines of life on a holiday island. As a class read to explore the issues that Sarah Lean raises (conservation, land development, refugees, alcoholism) there is much here to get to grips with and it would be an excellent base to start discussions on feelings of home, belonging, loss and separation. 272 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by June Hughes, school librarian.

The Sand Dog
Humanatomy: How the Body Works
Nicola Edwards

360 Degrees

ISBN 9781848576537

This book, about the human body and how it works, written by Nicola Edwards and illustrated by George Ermos and Jemima Maybank is one of the new-breed of large format educational books. Visually stunning, it's also packed with detailed information and includes a fold-out front flap with eight drawings, each of which represents one of the body's major organ systems. These provide a diagrammatic summary of the systems and an excellent referral point for readers when exploring more complex issues later in the book. The front flaps and their relevant chapters are also helpfully colour-coded. Although the issues covered in the book are complex and serious, the tone is reassuringly accessible and suitable for young readers. There are also plenty of fun facts and snippets of easily-digestible information that entertain as well as inform. There is a lot going on with this book (illustrations, information, diagrams) and I think it is a book best read in several sessions, to be dipped in and out of, to fully appreciate the wealth of material on offer. A must for budding doctors and nurses, but there is more than enough here to educate and entertain any curious adult or child. 37 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by Clare Wilkins, school librarian.

Humanatomy: How the Body Works
Ghost Boys
Jewell Parker Rhodes

Orion Children's Books

ISBN 9781510104396

Jerome is a 12-year-old boy. He does what he is told and gets on with life. Every day he goes to school where he is confronted by bullies. He has his troubles, yet he is never in trouble. That is until he is killed by a policeman. A white policeman. Jerome was black. Just typing those words brings emotions flooding back. This is not a difficult read in terms of readability, but it is still a thought-provoking and challenging read. A phrase from Martin Luther King's famous speech was imprinted on my mind as I read the story - the sweltering heat of injustice. Because at its heart, this is a book about injustice. There were points when I was seething with anger, not just at the book but at the fact Jerome's death could easily happen in the real world. Yet the masterstroke is that here we have a book that challenges the reader. We see how the police officer's family is also torn apart by Jerome's death. We see that there are no winners when events like this happen. We also see how ingrained prejudice can be. It made me sit up and consider how my life and opinions have been shaped. I'm not ashamed to say that I welled up with emotions (and am now that I'm typing). By the end of the book one message stand out: it is up to the living to change the world. So Jewell Parker Rhodes's challenge is clear; what are you, as a reader, doing to prevent injustice? It isn't good enough to sit back and pretend it isn't your problem. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is perfect to complement high profile campaigns like Black Lives Matter. It's safe to say that Ghost Boys is definitely a book I would share with mature children in my class and perhaps use as a whole class text. 224 pages / Ages 10+ / Reviewed by Matt Davies

Ghost Boys
The Mystery of the Colour Thief
Ewa Jozefkowicz

Zephyr

ISBN 9781786698940

The Mystery of the Colour Thief is the first book by a Polish author, Ewa Jozefkowicz and hopefully there will be others to follow because I really enjoyed this one. The main theme of this book is a young girl's grief and although a very moving story, it's hard to not want to read on to find out how the story's main character, Izzy, deals with her grief. The story itself starts with Izzy trying to work out what her reoccurring nightmares are about, what the dark shadowy figure means. Then the story is told through Izzy's eyes as she notices the subtle changes in her day to day life. How her best friend no longer wants to be with her and how people around school seem to be behaving strangely around her. It's not until much later in the book that we find out about the car accident that has left Izzy's mum in a coma in hospital and we begin to understand that Izzy feels that it's all her fault. This thought-provoking story is brilliantly written; inter-twining the thoughts and feelings of the main character, Izzy, with the dark stranger from her nightmares and the unsettling feeling that the colours seem to be disappearing from her life. Jozefkowicz also uses colour to describe things throughout the story in such a subtle way that it's not until Izzy notices the 'colours are missing' that the reader realises this While trying to deal with all that is happening around her, Izzy makes a new friend of a young boy who has recently moved onto the same street. Toby, once a keen athlete, is now confined to a wheelchair after a tragic accident of his own and it is Toby's positive view of life and the discovery of a sickly young cygnet on the local river that finally help Izzy see things from a different perspective. Although this rather sad tale deals with the emotional turmoil of a young girl grieving for her Mum who is unconscious in hospital, I am sure that many young boys and girls will be able to relate to some of what Izzy is feeling in school, when she no longer has the support of her 'best friend'. This is a story of family, friendship, hope and survival. A great UKS2 whole class read, ideal for discussing the use of inference and colour when describing feelings and emotions. 208 pages / Ages 10+ / Reviewed by Sam Phillips, teacher.

The Mystery of the Colour Thief
Dear Katie: Real advice on real life problems with expert tips
Katie Thistleton

Orion Children's Books

ISBN 9781510102132

It's OK not to be OK. That, I think, is the take home message from Dear Katie. This book offers sage advice in a friendly, chatty format; and that's the beauty of it. Solid soundbites are positioned above the 'Dear Katie' question which Katie then answers. The answers are full of warmth and reassurance and positioned in a very accessible way, they convey logic and rational thought in situations which are highly emotive. Some questions also receive a second answer from Dr Radha or psychotherapist Sally Angel, which is framed in a more formal, technical fashion while also addressing the concerns of the question. The questions and responses are as well suited to a younger audience of 9 as they are to an older reader of 14. The one niggle I did have though was that I couldn't find an explicit order to it, and there was no index, so if I were searching for, for example, friendship advice or had concerns about body image, there was no quick way to it. Which made it less immediately helpful for a single problem but works if you're dipping in and out for general reassurance that it's OK not to be OK. 288 pages / Ages 10+ / Reviewed by Catherine Purcell, school librarian.

Dear Katie: Real advice on real life problems with expert tips