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Christmas Bibliotherapy: Staff Picks for 2017

We believe books can make for the best presents and as we are often asked what books we would buy for our own family or friends, and particularly in a year with such a huge range of excellent new releases (many of which have already been the focus of our monthly Literature Reviews!) we found it difficult to choose our favourites. However, we've managed it to whittle it down and here are some of our top picks of 2017 that might just be appearing soon in a stocking near you...

Pippa recommends...

One Christmas Wish by Katherine Rundell, illustrated by Emily Sutton (Bloomsbury Childrens, October 5th 2017)

Theo - his parents at work on Christmas Eve - feels alone. The babysitter has nodded off and the tree that they were supposed to put up together stands miserably in a corner festooned with broken lights and broken baubles. His one wish? Some company. And it so happens that the ornaments who were housed in a dusted off rusty tin bring him the very thing that Theo had hoped for: friendship. There’s a Robin, who wishes to sing again; an angel, who needs her wing mended; a tin solider, who wishes to fall in love and a rocking horse who really just wants to run free! Together, they embark on a charming adventure. But will Theo awake to find his real wish – for his parents to spend time with him – has come true? A stunning book with beautiful illustrations that I will gift to my daughter on Christmas Eve as the perfect change to our usual recitation of ‘The Night Before Christmas’.

Here We Are – notes for living on planet earth by Oliver Jeffers (Harper Collins, 14th November 2017)

Dedicated to his son Harland, Jeffers writes: This book was written in the first two months of your life as I tried to make sense of it all for you. These are the things that I think you need to know. And the book is, essentially, a handbook for a child filled with some rather relevant reminders of how we should be. We are taken through delicious page after delicious page of people around the world, animals, words, day and night until we reach: it looks big, Earth. But there are lots of us on here so be kind. There is enough for everyone. And if that message doesn’t embody the spirit of Christmas then I don’t know what does! A beautiful gift from a father to his son, my godson will be receiving a copy of this from me this year.

Nicola recommends...

Kick by Mitch Johnson (Usborne Publishing Ltd, September 1st 2017)

Kick by Mitch Johnson tells the story of 12 year old Budi who lives, breathes and dreams about football.  His ambitions include travelling to see his beloved Real Madrid and joining the football academy in his home city of Jakarta.  He dreams big despite spending his days sewing football boots in a sweatshop, where the foreman subjects workers to brutal treatment.  Life gets even harder when he accidentally crosses the path of the local gang leader, and gets embroiled in the corruption and extortion that are at the heart of the city.  I love the themes of dreaming big; the universality of friendship, family and childhood; and doing the right thing against the odds.  This book allows the reader to walk in the shoes of Budi, but it also reminds us of what we all have in common wherever we happen to be born.  You don’t have to be a football fan (and I am not) to love this story and really root for Budi!

There Is No Dragon In This Story by Lou Carter and Deborah Allwright (Bloomsbury Children's Books, June 13th 2017)

This is a one of those lovely picture books that made me smile right from the beginning.  A dragon, who is fed up of living a stereotype, decides he wants to be a hero.  As he journeys through the book he meets lots of familiar characters from traditional tales that children will recognise, but when he offers to be their hero they are all stuck in their stories and don’t want change.  Then he meets a giant and everything changes….  I really love the illustrations in this book, each time I look I notice new details that link to other stories.  The themes of bravery, change and friendship are all there to offer a heart-warming read.  I’m really looking forward to sharing it with the younger members of our family over Christmas, I know they are going to love it too!

Alex recommends...

Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll (Faber & Faber, June 1st 2017)

An endearing historical fiction novel set in World War II which encompasses the themes of: courage, grief, friendship and tolerance.  A bombing in the City of London becomes the explosive catalyst that sees two sisters separated. Along with her younger brother, Olive is evacuated to Devon with no answer as to what has happened to her older sister, Sukie. Desperate to find out and reunite the family, Olive finds herself drawn into great danger and mystery.  I have taught the topic of World War II many times, but this book so perfectly encapsulates how it must have felt to be a child in a time of great uncertainty. It will also make an invaluable resource in the classroom to help illustrate wartime Britain in the 1940s and the stories of refugees at that time.  I would recommend this book to children of 10 years + as it can be used as a stimulus to discuss both social and contemporary issues including equality and peace.

Who let the Gods Out? By Maz Evans (Chicken House, February 2nd 2017)

Have you ever wanted a way to introduce Greek mythology to your children? Then this book is the way to do it!  This light hearted story follows Elliot, a young carer, who is trying to juggle paying the bills and attending school. However, his life changes when he meets Virgo, the Goddess of Innocence and they embark on a quest together to put away the evil Thanatos, King of the Daemons, that they have accidently released.  I enjoyed every moment of this book and found it to be well balanced with the humour and absurdity of the gods which contrasted with the reality of Elliot’s challenging life.  I feel that this would be the perfect book to read to younger children as I'm sure they'll enjoy the countless jokes and word-play. Personally, I can’t wait to read it to my class- I better get working on my character voices as there are certainly some interesting characters in this story.

Donny recommends...

Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Gionanni Rigano (Hodder Children’s Books, October 5th 2017)

“How can a human being be illegal?” Is the thought-provoking question that ends the epigraph to this unique and timely graphic novel. Told from the point of view of a fictional twelve-year-old boy migrant from Niger, the story follows Ebo and his brother Kwame as they travel from Africa to Italy in search of a better life. Their journey sees them endure many stark hardships and perils: homelessness, human trafficking, hard labour and near-starvation. However, this is not a story devoid of hope; in fact, it is largely hope that propels the protagonists. The story is peppered with moments of sheer beauty and compassion, made all the more vivid by the brilliantly detailed and emotive illustrations.  I read this book to my Year 5 class after reading Shaun Tan’s The Arrival which tackles many similar themes. A must read that will encourage any child to think and feel more deeply about the human stories behind the headlines.

The Grotlyn by Benji Davies (Harper Collins, September 7th 2017)

Benji Davies, winner of Oscar’s First Book Prize 2014 and Sainsbury’s Children’s Book of the Year 2015, already has produced a wealth of beautifully told and illustrated stories from Grandad’s Island to The Storm Whale. The Grotlyn is no exception. Told in rhyming couplets, with a beautiful sing-song iambic meter, the story builds a growing sense of mystery and suspense amongst the shadows and smog of what could potentially be Victorian London. The poetry and illustrations create a perfect blend of mystery, darkness and humour reminiscent of Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes. Children will be eagerly searching for clues as the mystery builds towards a wonderful twist. A perfect bedtime story to read a child on a cold and dark December evening!

Anthony recommends...

Thornhill by Pam Smy (David Fickling Books, August 24th 2017)

This is an impressive and thrilling illustrated novel that has garnered much interest and discussion this year.  We were irresistibly drawn to by its stunning illustrations that put us in mind of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, however, this is a much darker tale of mystery and the supernaturalElla is a lonely child who has just moved to a new house and notices strange goings on at a seemingly abandoned and derelict building opposite.  Things take an even stranger turn as she notices a girl in the grounds.  Switching from diary entries from the 1980s that detail the girl’s tale, back to Ella’s story from the present day, this book ingeniously overlaps two different narratives that end up having more in common than we might have at first thought.  This is a stunningly dark book that covers many complex themes and issues that we think is perfect for a young adult with an interest in books about the supernatural or macabre.

Anatomy: A Cutaway Look Inside the Human Body by Hélène Druvert and Jean-Claude Druvert (Thames and Hudson, October 12th 2017)

We were immediately drawn to this book by it’s stunning visual imagery and then compelled to read on by the information within!  Anatomy is an impressive and beautiful collection of cut-away illustrations that detail the inner workings of the human body, carefully peeling away intricately laser-cut layers to reveal more illustrations and information about various parts of the anatomy, giving detailed yet succinct information about each of its inner-components.  We would pair this book with Illumanatomy by Kate Davies and Carnovsky (Wide Eyed Editions, October 5th 2017) for the ultimate human biology geek-fest and think it is perfect for anyone (young or old) with an interest in how our bodies really work.

Lynn recommends...

The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club by Alex Bell (Faber & Faber, November 2nd 2017)

I’m often on the hunt for a book with a strong female character (given that our house is full of them!) and the protagonist here, Stella Starflake Pearl (all explorers have middle names) is a wonderful character who is fearless and not afraid to be an individual.  She is desperate to be an explorer, or more specifically, a navigator. However she is aware that she is very different to other children, certainly in looks, but thankfully she has the guidance of her wonderful adoptive father, Felix, a polar explorer, who shares similar traits with the father in Rooftoppers.

After managing to accompany her father in an expedition to the Icelands, Stella realises quickly that being an explorer is tough but thankfully she makes friends, Shay, Ethan and Beanie. The real adventure starts when they are separated from the adults of the expedition party as an ice bridge collapses. Danger and adventure is paved out for them at this point as they try to make their journey back…

This book is part fantasy and part fairytale (unicorns, miniature penguins, yetis and fairies all feature) and I found myself drifting between worlds reminiscent of Northern Lights, Narnia and The Snow Queen – all very Christmassy with an old-fashioned feel that made this feel like an instant classic. The illustrations by Tomislav Tomic add to this feeling and though there are not many, they come along at exactly the right moment and guide your imagination towards and within to this world of delights and surprises.

This book will be given to all the 9 year olds I know – especially if they have been studying arctic explorers, as they will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in a magical icy world with the richest language to describe it used by Alex Bell.

The Wonderling by Mira Bartok (Walker Books, September 28th 2017)

I couldn’t wait to write about this book as it a stunning book with a magical tale and world to accompany it. It actually feels ageless but children will love this being read to them from Y3 all the way to secondary. ‘The Wonderling’ is a half-fox, half-human creature who lives at Miss Carbunkle’s Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures but one day he’s forced to do something extraordinary, that’s out of character and it is this that begins his adventure.

There is Dickensian vibe with a touch of steampunk to this book. Number Thirteen, or Arthur as he is later known, is an endearing character that children will adore – he reminded me a little of a Varmint creature. Separated into three parts, each section has a brief description, e.g, ‘On the Mysterious Origins of the Wonderling and his Arduous life at Miss Carbunkle’s Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures’. There is also a beautiful map at the front of the book , The World of the Wonderling’ which adds to the old-fashioned feel. The illustrations really add to this magic too and in fact I was attracted to this book initially by the copper lettering and the wording on the back of the book, ‘Have you been unexpectedly burdened or recently orphaned by a unclaimed creature? Worry not! We have just the solution for YOU!’ This put me immediately in mind of Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing and I think the combination of both books would make a wonderful pairing on the theme of belonging.

The adventure begin when Trinket – a birdlike orphan – arrives at the home and she tells Arthur about the amazing things in the world that he has no experience of. Arthur realises there must be more to life and decides to go on a journey to find his family in Lumentown.

Though dark at times - and some may say bleak – I think this is the perfect tale to read at Christmas together as a family. It has Christmas referencing too if you like a seasonal read (we do!), but it is a book I can imagine huddling around, whilst poring over the detail in the illustrations. It’s going to look great on my coffee table anyway as it is a looker of a book! I might well bequeath it to a couple of other families I know that intend to have a cosy Christmas break; I can imagine this being read instead of putting on a film as it has that epic quality to it.

Posted in: Literature Review

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