Posted on: 19/07/2022
With the summer holidays already begun for some of our members and just around the corner for others, we’ve been busy planning our reading: books we’ll devour in one sitting; books we’ll guzzle and gorge upon on long journeys; and books we might nibble away at by the beach, at a campsite or simply from the comfort of our own homes. As ever, we’ve been spoilt for choice when it comes to new offerings in the world of children’s literature and we are delighted to present to you this smorgasbord of new books where there’s bound to be something to suit every palate.
Lizzy and the Cloud by The Fan Brothers (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 3 May 2022)
When a new release comes from the hands of critically acclaimed sibling team, The Fan Brothers, you know it’s going to be one for the bookshelf. As we have come to expect from their creations, they continue their quest to blend the everyday with the extraordinary. Just like Ocean Meets Sky, The Barnabus Project and the more recent It Fell from the Sky, the breathtakingly stunning Lizzy and The Cloud does not disappoint.
Set in a city where penny-farthings roam, promotional Zeppelins soar and oranges cost a penny, Lizzy and the Cloud re-imagines the ‘pet who gets too big’ concept with a meteorological twist. In it, we follow the story of a young girl who goes against the crowd to seek out an old-fashioned cloud on a string from an umbrella-hatted cloud-seller in the park. Dismissing the more adventurous options of exotic cloud creatures, Lizzy selects a plain, ordinary cloud, naming him Milo. Along with her new companion are a set of instructions for how to care for him, which Lizzy follows diligently, watching Milo flourish and grow under her care. The story follows Milo and Lizzy through moods and seasons as the little cloud grows bigger and bigger. But as time goes on, Lizzy comes to realise that the last of the instructions – never to confine your cloud to a small space – becomes the most crucial of all, demonstrating the importance of knowing when to let something you love ‘float free’.
In classic Fan Brothers’ style, the signature colour palette of greys and neutrals blends beautifully with carefully selected pops of pastel colours, and the intricate and striking illustrations will keep you returning time and time again to explore hidden details and aspects you missed the previous time around. This timeless and beautiful picture book is quite literally what dreams are made of, blending whimsical imaginings with a heartfelt message about change and letting go. I think it would be a glorious bedtime read for four-to-eight-year-olds in a cosy chair on summer evenings.
The Last Firefox written by Lee Newbery and illustrated by Laura Catalán, (Puffin books, 3rd March 2022)
The Last Firefox is the beautifully told, often hilarious and magical story of Charlie, who’s got quite a lot to overcome in his life. As well as being in Year 6, he is the victim of choice for Will and Zack – the school bullies – and to boot, his dads have decided they want to adopt another child. Charlie wants desperately to be brave to stand up to his tormentors and to be able to look after his new sibling. One day, whilst playing at an abandoned castle, he is presented with a Firefox (the last of its kind) named Cadno and asked to keep it safe from an evil King and a shape-shifting beast. Charlie will at once need to find his own inner strength (fire) and keep the outer fox’s outer fire from being discovered – which proves tricky given his dad’s profession and love of fancy fire-alarms! What follows is a set of adventures as Charlie discovers he’s a lot stronger than he perhaps thought.
Where Newbery really excels is in the way he weaves together the fantasy and realism in the story. I loved the depiction of a family anticipating the arrival of a new child intertwined with the magical often creating hilarious juxtapositions.
“Ten minutes ago, I was on my way up to the castle to hide my pebble. Now I'm on my way down from the castle, and I did hide my pebble, but I have also acquired a highly flammable fox cub.
Ugh. Why do all these things happen to me? First the goose, now this.”
What is also standout here is the depiction of same-gender parents and adoption. I think it is essential that books such as this can be found in classrooms to not only make sure those with different family structures feel represented but also to introduce varied family make-ups to other children. We think this book will be perfect for children from Year 4 upwards and would make a perfect text as a teaching of reading text or class novel in our ‘Taking courage’ or ‘Belonging & equality’ themes.
Eyes that Speak to the Stars by Joanna Ho and illustrated by Dung Ho (HarperColl, 3rd March 2022)
Last year, I bought the book Eyes that Kiss in the Corner for my niece as a present for her 6th birthday. Our family have Chinese heritage and, after her first reading, this book quickly became one of her absolute favourites. Although written from an Asian American perspective, she immediately identified with the text from an Asian Glaswegian point of view.
It was so important for her to have a book that explored having – and being proud of – Chinese heritage whilst growing up in a western country and going to a school (as in her case) which is predominantly white.
This beautifully illustrated and poetic book was such a breath of fresh air for many reasons: being set in a modern, relatable context; dealing head on with issues of body image as well as celebrating Chinese heritage and language. Most evenings she would ask to read this story with her little sister, her mum and her Ahma. And, when asked to bring her favourite book to show her class, she chose this one: she felt it represented her in a significant way.
When we saw that the amazing Joanna and Dung Ho were to release another book this year entitled Eyes that Speak to the Stars, we were, as a family this time, immediately on the waiting list – and the book didn’t fail to disappoint. Eyes that Speak to the Stars explores the same themes as last year’s text but this time from a young boy’s perspective. He is deeply upset by a drawing that one of his classmates had drawn of him and shares this with his Baba and Agong. The rest of the text goes on to affirm his confidence about his heritage, his family and his body image in a lyrical and celebratory tone.
I would strongly recommend either or both these texts to any children with Asian/Chinese heritage but also to any children that want to explore Chinese heritage. The charming, lyrical text and illustrations in these books make for joyous summer reading also. These texts would be ideal for any schools that want to further grow representation in their book choices.
The Good Turn by Sharna Jackson (Puffin, 12th May 2022)
11-year-old Josephine Williams decides to start her own club after finding out about Josephine Holloway on the internet (the woman who began the first Scout group for African-American girls). Josie manages to persuade her friends, Wesley and Margot, to join her club too and the scramble for earning their badges around their neighbourhood begins.
Their curiosity and thirst for achievement leads them to the abandoned warehouse nearby and there they find something (or most accurately a someone, or two) who they will go to great lengths to help and protect. What follows is a story of bravery, adventure and a fight against injustice. The Windrush scandal plays a significant role in this book and addresses what happened, and its legacy, with real heart.
I would recommend this book to children in Upper Key Stage 2, as well as to parents of children this age who would love to read a book alongside their children. Children and adults alike will inevitably want to join The Copseys’ crew, or even create their own! I would also recommend this book to teachers to complement learning about Windrush and a wider British context.
A great read!
Anglerfish: The Seadevil of the Deep by Elaine M. Alexander and illustrated by Fiona Fogg (Candlewick, 5th May 2022)
Anglerfish is a non-fiction book disguised in narrative form which shines a light on one of the most mysterious creates of the deep. The tale begins four thousand metres below the surface of the ocean, where not a single ray of sunlight can penetrate, as we follow Anglerfish into her deepest, darkest of homes below the water. Back on the surface we learn how she began life as small ‘fry’, feasting on plankton and evading predators. As she grows, she becomes longer, rounder and equipped with the adaptations to survive life in the deep. On her way down she passes her cousin the monkfish and creates her own light to guide her way and lure her next meal. Filled with scientific vocabulary – plankton, spawn, bioluminescence for example – the story never shies away from providing children with the facts necessary to convey the story of this most hidden of life cycles. The last two double-page spreads are unapologetically non-fiction and provide further facts to enhance and explain the story just told. The striking illustrations and use of colour throughout provide the perfect accompaniment to the scientific narrative. Children will love the images of the anglerfish swimming, hunting and eating in the ‘midnight zone’ – I found the beady eyes of a recently-gobbled crab peeking out from behind gruesome jaws particularly unforgettable! We thought this book was a captivating insight into the survival, adaptation and mysteries of this ‘Seadevil of the Deep’ and will appeal to scientifically minded children fascinated by the hidden wonders of the world.
The Lizzie and Belle Mysteries by J.T Williams (Farshore, 9th June 2022)
This is the perfect summer book to get lost into! Drama, scandal and intrigue are all players in this 18th century mystery story based on an attempted murder. This thrilling debut kept me completely hooked as we jumped straight into the action in London’s Theatre Royal in Drury Lane where a suspicious event on the opening night of Othello makes twelve-year old Lizzie Sancho into a detective when her father is threatened with his life. Teaming up with newfound friend, the well-to-do Dido Belle of Kenwood House, they set themselves the daunting and dangerous challenge of uncovering the truth – but unearth more trouble when the truth doesn’t want to be tracked down…
Inspired by actual Black British historical figures and the lives they led in this time period, this is the perfect example of a historical novel to introduce to children, where they will be gleaning facts and empathising with the characters whilst also immersing themselves in this world. And what a world! For anyone interested in researching into London’s past, this is a must! It is a brilliantly written narrative, and is teeming with literary language. However this does not stop it being brilliantly accessible and authorial tricks such as short chapters, inserted newspaper clips and letters, and illustrations make it extremely readable and also help with visualisation as a reader as well as breaking up the density of a novel so it wouldn’t feel too overwhelming for some children. I was not surprised at all to learn that the author had previously been a primary school teacher as it feels perfectly pitched for upper Key Stage Two and we cannot wait to do something with this book for the Literary Curriculum at some point. Watch this space!
PAWS by Kate Foster (Walker Books, 4th August 2022)
5 days until ‘PAWS’ and Alex has the best plan: if he and Kevin, his beloved cockerpoo, (and who doesn’t love a dog with a human name?) can just win a trophy at the PAWS dog show then maybe Jared will be his friend…
Alex is autistic and this makes navigating change and negotiating challenge really difficult for him. With secondary school transfer looming ahead, Alex knows he needs to make a friend. But so fraught with difficulty is friend-making for Alex, he knows it’s down to him to prove himself. He suspects that if he can conquer a tricky level on his computer game then he might be able to find some common ground with Jared that way. He also feels that if he can be on the winning relay team, running faster than ever before, then his team-mates – which include Jared – might accept him. But the final, and possibly best, opportunity to impress others and win friends is at this weekend’s PAWS show: a dog show where Alex is certain that he and Kevin will win a trophy. In fact, he refers to ‘my trophy’ several times… With set-backs and unexpected developments that Alex struggles to cope with as they aren’t in the plan, what he doesn't realise is the friendship he already has in classmate Angel and newcomer Derek – a neighbour. When Derek and his dog Vinnie win the ‘Happiest Dog’ category and Alex and Kevin do not, Alex’s mind is plunged into chaos and a meltdown ensues: this isn’t what he’d planned.
Paws is a story with heart and the message is simple: the very thing you’re looking for is so often the one thing you can’t see. I am privileged to be in touch with Kate, the novel’s author, who says that as an autistic person herself, she has drawn upon experiences from over the years to create Alex’s character. The result is an authentic portrayal of neurodiversity. What’s especially effective is the use of repetition; the description of Alex’s processing of feelings and thoughts and how hard he has to work to ‘translate’ what to him is tricky to understand. I think this is a perfect read for anyone in key stage 2 but especially for someone about to move to secondary school either because they will personally relate or because it will give insight into the lived experiences of others and how they might feel upon making the transition to secondary school. And it goes without saying that the comfort and love a pet dog can bring can be one of the greatest friendships of all.
Posted in: Literature Review