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Christmas Bibliotherapy: Staff Picks for 2018

We genuinely think there is little better present than to receive the gift of a book at Christmas.  It can allow you to choose something so personal and thoughtful for a treasured friend to reflect your friendship or relationship, or can allow you to choose the perfect publication to mirror the experiences or planned adventures of an acquantance, colleague or family member.  Whether you're a message-writer or not, books serve as tokens of friendship.  Books bought for children are no exception and in our Christmas Bibliotherapy this year, we have chosen a wide variety of brilliant books for younger and older readers - a variety of poetry, picture books, non-fiction, novels and novellas.  We hope you enjoy giving them as much as we have reviewing them and that this helps you to find the perfect gift (or three) for a loved one.



Hannah recommends...

The Rhythm of Rain by Grahame Baker Smith (Templar, 4th October 2018)

Non-fiction books can take a number of forms, and this book is a wonderful example of how this can be done.  It begins with a boy, Isaac, playing in his favourite rock pool as the sky turns grey and rain begins to fall. Isaac joyfully empties his jar of water into the pool. This small act begins the water’s epic journey across rivers, oceans, landscapes - to the other side of the world and back again.

The book’s stunning illustrations (somehow managing to give both an air of reality and dreamlike beauty simultaneously) running alongside the water’s journey is a constant reminder of the beauty and wonder of our world.  We are encouraged to remember that we are deeply connected with one another and with the natural world. I would recommend this book for anyone who is learning about, or who has an interest in, the water cycle and wishes to explore it through the lens of wonder and beauty.


Between Tick and Tock by Louise Greig and Ashling Lindsay (Egmont, 31st May 2018)

This heart-warming and magical picture book tells the story of Liesel, a girl who lives high above a bustling city in a clock tower and who watches everything. When she sees unhappiness, loneliness and anger, Liddell springs into action: she momentarily freezes time. Whilst everything stands still, Liesel carries out small acts of kindness that breath joy, hope, colour and happiness back into the heart of the city.

This book reminds us of the far-reaching power of kindness. The intentionally bright and simplistic nature of the illustrations complements the lyrical storytelling beautifully. I would recommend this book to those looking for a Christmas present for a child in Lower Key Stage 2. It would serve as a brilliant conversation starter for exploring mindfulness, slowing down and helping others - after all, who says a city never stops?


Nicola recommends...


The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q Raúf (Orion, 12th Jul 2018)

This book is both funny and heart-breaking, in equal measure.  It follows the story of a group of friends, who are intrigued and puzzled by a new boy who arrives in their classroom one day, with a tatty rucksack and a look of sadness.  As they get to know more about Ahmet, (through trying very hard to befriend him with gifts of fruit and slightly fluffy sherbet lemons), they discover that he has endured the most terrible journey from Syria, as his family fled the “war and lots of bullies throwing bombs and hurting people.”  The beauty of this moving and heart-warming story of friendship and compassion is the simplicity with which it is told by the narrator who is the main character.  As the children devise increasingly complicated plans (which involve cabbies, the Cold Stream Guards, the Home Office and the Queen, to name but a few) to reunite their new friend with his family, we watch their slow realisation about the extent of the horror of Ahmet’s experience, that we as adults recognise as the refugee crisis that so many families are caught up in.  But because the story is told through the eyes of a child, it is both gently told and accessible.  It is also, at times, very funny.  I was particularly amused by the way that the main character interprets the strange world of school, and teacher, behaviour.

This book is an absolute must for anyone who wants to help their children to understand this current crisis with compassion and empathy; but at the same read a book that is full of hope, kindness, friendship and humour. 

I would recommend this book for children aged 8 and up.


How to be a Lion by Ed Vere (Puffin, 28th Jun 2018)

How could anyone not adore a lion whose favourite pastimes are daydreaming, feeling the sun warm his back and the grass under his paws, playing with words and making poems?  Leonard manages to be true to himself and his friend (Marianne, the poetic duck), when he is told that he must be fierce and should chomp her, by his fellow lions.  Instead of giving in to pressure, Leonard and Marianne go to their thinking hill and work out exactly how to tell the lions what they think. 

This simply, but beautifully, illustrated picture book would be perfect for key stage one children, because who doesn’t need to know that:

“Let nobody say

just one way is true.

There are so many ways

that you can be you.

If there must be a must,

Then this we must try…

Why don’t you, be you….

And I, will be I.”

Thank you for the wise words, Leonard and Marianne!


Donny recommends...

Poems to Live Your Life By chosen and illustrated by Chris Riddell (Macmillan, 20th September 2018)

"And don't worry about the bits you can't understand. Sit back and allow the words to wash around you, like music."

I have always loved this extract from Matilda. Mrs Phelps advice on how to approach texts is both wise and patient. Matilda was making this comment in relation to Hemmingway, but it is very apt advice when approaching poetry.

Poems to Live Your Life By - a collection of poetry chosen and illustrated by the multi award-winning Chris Riddell – is full of wonderous variety; full of the old and new (Shakespeare to Kate Tempest), but all grappling with the issues of being alive. Its scope is as broad as the title suggests and poems are compiled into themes; themes that often dominate our lives: youth, family, love etc.

Reading this collection is like plunging into a river for a swim. Poems such as Safe Sounds and ‘There is Pleasure in the Pathless Wood’ flow and pool into inviting moments of tranquillity. Poems like, Dulce et Decorum Est and Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night are turbulent and take us down raging rapids. The Language of Cat, Digging and Thirteen, like glistening, playful tributaries, imbue seemingly trivial moments and thoughts with new profundity and joy. Others like Cargoes and Suzanne whisper of exotic tides and adventures.

This collection is a great meeting of verse; familiar and unfamiliar works are all brought to life by Riddell’s incredible illustrations. The first poem that really hooked me as a child was Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll and it is such a treat to see Riddell’s drawings of the fantastical creatures that lurk and roam through the lines and metre of this vivid piece of work. Also, a treat to see the indominable pairing of Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell again in Witch Work and Orphee.

I would recommend this book to Year Six children and older. It is a book meant to be dipped in to time and time again. Some poems will chime with children immediately and others, whilst initially, seemingly inaccessible, may become suddenly apparent as maturity courses them along the everchanging river. Mrs Phelps advice to Matilda should be kept close to heart.


For Everyone by Jason Reynolds (Knights Of, 4th October 2018)

This is the latest poetic offering from award-winning American poet and novelist Jason Reynolds. Whist Reynolds mostly writes for young adults, this book, as the title makes clear, is written For Everyone and takes the form of a poetic letter addressed to and reaching out earnestly to ‘dreamers.’

It was originally performed at the Kennedy Centre for the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and therefore dreams and having a dream is the central theme that the poem grapples with.

Your dream is the mole
behind your ear, 
that chip in your
front tooth, 
your freckles.
It's the thing that makes
you special

but not the thing that makes 
you great.
The courage in trying,
the passion in living,
and the acknowledgement 
and appreciation of
the beauty happening around
you does that.

There are many things this poem is not however. As the author states, it is not a poem about ‘making it’ or giving advice on how to ‘make it’ but rather a poem about the journey itself and the striving. It delves headfirst into the question: what does making it actually mean? ‘I don’t know nothing about that’ is the refrain of the poet. ‘I got no answers’ he decries about ultimately achieving this allusive dream.  

What I do know is how it feels.

What the author makes clear he knows is the restlessness that the dreamer feels. As one of these dreamers, what the author has done is not given up; worked hard; made mistakes; felt dispirited; been courageous and sought advice that has often left him feeling further insecurity and disillusionment.

For many preteens and teens, it is a stage in their life steeped in ambiguous adult advice and platitudes such as, “These are the best years of your life” and for so many this is far from the truth. What this poem does, in electrifying free verse, is say it is okay to feel confused and it is okay if life isn’t working out how one thought it would or should be – the important thing is to have the dream, whatever it is, and to reach for it.

Pippa recommends...

War is Over written by David Almond and Illustrated by David Litchfield (Hodder Children's Books, 1st November 2018)

This commemorative story, marking the hundred year anniversary of the end of the first world war, is written with such softness and an extraordinary amount of beauty given the subject matter. John and his school-friends do their schoolwork, say their prayers, play war games and wait for their fathers to return: they - like their fathers in the trenches and their mams in the munitions factory - are at war, or so the townsfolk say. But John doesn't want to be at war: he's just a child - how can he be at war? Then one day he learns of Dorothy Simpson's uncle Gordon - a 'conchie'. He has been to Germany and he has met its people. John is given a picture of a young boy - Jan - just a boy like him but a child of the enemy. At night, Jan comes to John in his dreams and this connection - of sorts - proves to be a great salve to John and, actually his mother: After that, she listened when he told her… 'It's just your voice I want to hear,' she said. 'I can hear the love in it. It's like listening to a song or  a prayer. It calms me so.'  A story that could be anyone's story from any war, in any place, from any time. And the imagery - as you'd expect from multi-award -winning author Almond - is stunning. This Christmas, I will give this book, which is about love and acceptance, to a friend's child who is in year 6.


Islandborn written by Junot Diaz and illustrated by Leo Espinosa (Rock the Boat, 4th October 2018)

Written by Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz and illustrated by Leo Espinosa, in this beautiful and moving book we follow Lola on a journey of discovery about her past. Every kid in Lola’s school was from somewhere else. Hers was the school of faraway places.
And the children in her class have been set a homework project to draw a picture of the country they’re originally from - their first country. But the trouble is that Lola was only a baby when she left the island and can’t remember what it was like. Piece by piece, and with the help of her family, Lola weaves together the threads that bind us to each other and to a place through her imaginings on the pages of her sketch-book. And the advice from her family members is a poignant reminder to us all about what it is to belong:
Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you… One of the loveliest things is the author's use of little asides that appear about some of the other characters- these really add to how relatable this book is.
This is such a joyous celebration of our world and its people, making it a perfect Christmas gift and I will be gifting this book to my own little girl  - who wears her hair in a similar style to Lola and who looks to be around the same age (7) - this Christmas so she too can keep in her heart a place that she knows not, yet that knows her.


Lynn Recommends...

The House on Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson (Scholastic, 25th Sept 2018)

This is a stunning debut from Sophie Anderson that has had huge praise heaped upon it this year and rightly so, as it’s a wonderfully original piece of work which reimagines the Baba Yaga stories that explore the meaning of life and death. Despite the trickiness of the theme, the story feels as if it has to be told; it’s timeless yet has a contemporary twist and we believe this will be a classic as it’s sure to be loved by children in years to come.

Our central character is a fiercely independent and headstrong girl, Marinka, who is desperate to live her own life and be free from the confines of her Yaga house and her Baba Yaga. It troubles her deeply that her destiny is to be the guardian of the dead, and as she finds herself uncomfortable with this future role, she starts to seek an alternative life. Feeling trapped in house that is on the move, Marinka rebels and then has to face the consequences before facing her own fears…

Marinka is a girl who knows what she wants and so I’ve bought this book for my ten-year old daughter, who like Marinka, knows her own mind – especially when it comes to Christmas! However it could also be a wonderful gift for the child who is seeking comfort when they know there is change around them, or for the child who needs to know that being brave isn’t always about making the right decisions the first time.


Skward: Female Pilots of World War Two by Sally Deng (Flying Eye, 1st June 2018) (Usborne, 8 Feb 2018)

This inspiring and beautiful piece of historical fiction tells the story of three young female pilots during World War 2. The art work is a vital part of this larger-sized book, giving accessibility to the story and helping readers to develop mental images of bygone times. The story itself gives readers a small taste of what female pilots would have had to do to prepare for WW2 as we follow the lives of the women from America, Russia and Great Britain, making history in the skies by fighting the war on their enemies – and equality. The stories of the women, although fictional, convey how hard their lives were and this is stunningly juxtaposed with how brave and determined they were.

This book has been bought for my fearless goddaughter, Gracie, who, like Hazel, Marlene and Lilya, would dig her heels in and be ready to fight (and win!) for a fair and right cause. We would also buy this book for anyone looking to study WW2 from a different perspective, as it serves as a fascinating introduction into many of the untold stories from this period in time.


Anthony recommends...

The Legend of Sally Jones by Jakob Wegelius (Pushkin Children’s, 1st November 2018)

We are such huge fans of pretty much everything Pushkin publish as they are always beautifully illustrated and often quite bizarre and fantastical stories that definitely leave you asking more questions than they give answers to!  This wonderful adventure actually serves as a prequel to one of Jakob Wegelius’ other longer novels, The Murderer’s Ape, which also contains the wonderful primate we meet in this story. This story, however begins with the birth of this legendary gorilla almost a hundred years ago – a birth that was prophesized to be a life filled with misfortune due to the tropical storm in which she was born.  And it is here our adventure begins.  Starting with the illegal poaching of the young gorilla by Ali Kazdim.  Pretending her to be a baby named Sally Jones, she is smuggled into Turkey as a gift for his fiancée.  Hating the gift, Sally is sold to the mysterious philanthropist (or so we think) Frau Schultz and so the adventures and travels of Ms Jones continue!  Moving from country to country, continent to continent and meeting friends, allies and enemies along the way, until the story culminates in an unexpected and highly satisfying twist!

We would highly recommend this book to anyone with a sense of escapist adventurism and it would make a perfect read for anyone in lower key stage two with great links to circuses, conservationism and travel!


Little Fox in the Snow written by Jonathan London and illustrated by Daniel Miyares (Candlewick Press, 14th November 2018)

Beautiful and lyrical, this second-person narrative by Jonathan London recounts a day-in-the-life journey of a fox.  From waking to finally sleeping this adventure is set in a snowy landscape that is captured immaculately in watercolour by Daniel Miyares.  The use of present tense makes the narrative come alive and gives a sense of immediacy and urgency to the adventures of the little foxling: searching for food; chasing a mouse; lapping up ‘tiny tongue-curls of icy water’ before finally being pounced upon by a vicious wolverine!  The stunning use of colour against the perfectly placed poetic language makes this book an absolute feast for the eyes and a delight to read – particularly out loud.  We would definitely recommend this to younger children, particularly fans of wildlife and snow-filled settings and this will definitely be popping up in the stockings of several young readers we know!

Posted in: Literature Review

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