The Faraway Truth- Janae Marks

Written by Janae Marks, Cover by Rachael Dean
Published by Chicken House

Zoe has just celebrated her 12th birthday and arrives home to find a letter addressed to her from a nearby prison. This is a first and she is unsure how to react. The letter is from her biological father, a man convicted of murder, someone she has never heard from or met before.

Deciding to write back, Zoe begins to correspond with Marcus, getting to know him, asking questions and finding common ground. Keeping it a secret from her mum and step dad, she shares the letters with her grandma. Zoe, and best friend Trevor, decide to do some sleuthing about the case and learn a few hard truths about the justice system and how black men are sometimes regarded by the law.

Believing Marcus to be innocent, she allows herself to get too involved and it becomes troublesome for her and Trevor. If only she could get her mum to listen to her, to allow her to have a relationship with her Dad and to believe in his innocence. After a heartfelt conversation with her family , Zoe can only hope for change and a chance to meet her Dad.

I was completely hooked on Zoe’s story and impressed that she had the courage to look into her father’s case, contact those who wronged him and to stand up for what she believed in. Heart-felt moments brought tears to my eyes and the injustices forced me to think hard about prejudices in our world.

A true sense of family shines through this book alongside hope, friendship and courage. Incredibly well written, the pages almost flew out of my hand. I was reading so intently and quickly to learn more, to see the truth and to feel the love!

Barrington Stoke- Latest Titles

Publishing accessible and brilliant books that are wonderful stories as well as being dyslexia friendly. They are colourful, fun,engaging and written and Illustrated by some of the top authors and illustrators of the moment.

These three gems were all amazing and I will be sharing them widely!

Written by Laura Dockrill, Illustrations by Sara Ogilvie

Sequin’s mum is a talented seamstress and Sequin is so proud of her. She hopes her mum’s latest creation will be awed around the world and they can leave Primrose Mansions. The building isn’t fancy and neighbour, Moany, Bony Mr Tony, smokes and is unfriendly. Sequin’s mum rarely leaves the house and expensive fabrics are delivered for the next creation.

Sequin cares for her baby brother Stitch while mum works in the evenings. She allows him to sleep next to her. One night, a terrible fire rages in the building and they must escape. In all the rush, Stitch has been left behind.

An incredible surprise awaits the reader at the end of the book and it brought a tear to my eye. A delightfully original story, full of heart and love.

Written by Michael Rosen, Illustrations by Ashley King

This book features Michael Rosen’s classic charm and humour. Two short stories about tricks and cunning plans, richly illustrated and perfect for younger readers. In Clever Cakes, Masha needs to trick the giant grizzly bear from eating her. Pretending that her yummy cakes can talk, Masha ensures the bear doesn’t eat her and she can get home to grandma.

The Great Golden Belly-Button is a hilarious story of a bored King, and the hunt for the greatest lie. Plenty of people arrive preparing to lie to the king but he is unimpressed. Until one girl arrives and completely tricks him. A brilliant end to a funny story!

Written by Emma Carroll, Illustrations by Kaja Kajfez

Fran lives at Longbarrow House with her father, the Head Gardener. She unearths a bone on the same afternoon that Leo, the owners grandson,breaks his left. Wondering if it is a coincidence, Fran feels uneasy. Taking Leo out for daily walks, the pair discover a few more secrets about the grounds.

With war looming, Fran and Leo worry about the discoveries and their links to future events. Are these predictions for war, warnings or just coincidence? A mystery to be solved and a worrisome atmosphere, it is highly readable and enjoyable, a classic from talented Emma Carroll.

Voyage of the Sparrowhawk- Natasha Farrant

Written by Natasha Farrant
Publishing June 2020 by Faber Children’s

“Reading gives us a place to go when we need to stay where we are.” (Mason Cooley) Never has this statement been more relevant and necessary.

With the Sparrowhawk I went on an incredible journey through England and across to France. A journey with Ben and Lotti, 2 dogs and with an endless supply of friendship, help and adventure!

Both Ben and Lotti are orphans with a re-defined sense of family and a different understanding of what family could be. They are both reeling from personal losses since the war and both searching for someone lost during the conflicts.

An instant bond is formed with the unexpected arrival of Lotti and stolen dog Federico. Circumstances continue to force Lotti and Ben to spend more time together with their dogs. As questions and concerns are raised by officials in the village, the pair decide to run away, or should I say “sail away” on Ben’s narrowboat, The Sparrowhawk.

I loved the characters of Ben and Lotti- both independent, loyal and fiercely hopeful and brave! With a superb cast of characters supporting or thwarting the duo, this story will keep you reading long into the night.

Ben and Elsie, Lotti (after a drastic haircut) and Federico

At times it seemed the intrepid duo were doomed, a happy ending further and further away. This is the genius of Natasha Farrant’s writing. A lovely journey led by children, assisted by adults and with surprise arrivals throughout.

One of my top picks of 2020!

The Shark Caller by Zillah Bethell

Written by Zillah Bethell, Cover Illustrations by Saara Söderlund
Published by Usborne

This is an incredible book, one that will grip your heart and not let go. The journey of two young girls becomes intertwined as they meet, share their stories and learn that “the living should put the living above the dead”.

Blue Wing has lost her parents in a tragic shark attack as they were trying to protect and save her. She has never forgiven Xok, the shark for this attack and vows to kill him someday. Maple is new to the island and is grieving for her mother, recently passed away. It seems unlikely these two will become friends as they both carry so much anger and hurt in their hearts.

Over time, they begin to open up, share stories and become closer. Siringen, Blue Wing’s guardian, urges her to take care of Maple and help her heal. Perhaps knowing this will have a positive effect on her own emotions. As an elder in the village, Siringen is wise and trustworthy.

Siringen is the village shark caller, previously there to catch and kill them for food, but now just as a tradition. Blue Wing is desperate for Siringen to pass along these traditions to her, however, with so much anger in her heart, he refuses. Not to mention that girls cannot be shark callers, only men can have this role in the village.

Maple’s father has brought her to the island believing he is studying the coral reefs, but he is harbouring a secret and it threatens to tear them apart. With the guidance and honesty of Blue Wing, the girls work together to hunt for a mystery, and to try to find a way to get through to Maple’s father.

With both girls and their guardians as the main characters, there is a parallel. They all at times become leaders, offer guidance and love, or need to be told the truth, no matter how hard it may be to hear. The grown ups learn as much from their daughters as they in turn teach.

With a hundred pages to go and a determination to see what was going to happen, I sat down. I was transported back to the island, the sea and the friendship. I could not have foreseen the outpouring of emotion that was to come. Sometimes you read a book and it is a blow to the solar plexus….I was breathless, surprised, emotional.

This book will stay with me for a long time and I urge you to read this….brilliantly descriptive, both in setting and characters. Ingeniously interwoven and striking the right balance between tradition and modernity in Papua New Guinea.

Even the letter to the readers written by Zillah Bethell, is beautiful and full of the messages that come across in the narrative. No spoilers but I wonder if others will feel the same expanse of emotions as I did throughout the book.

New Non Fiction Picture Books

I love the beautifully illustrated non fiction picture books which encourage thinking in new ways, offer brilliant discussion points and are colourful and informative.

By Bruno Gilbert
Published by What on Earth Books

Infographics are a brilliant way to show numbers and statistics in an easy to understand format. Every Second is a fascinating and fun look at what is happening around the world every second. From a wedding to 100 lightning bolts to 3,000,000 emails. There is a fun fact for everyone to remember in this book!

Ideal for further discussion, there is much to discover, especially for those environmentally aware people. It shows we still have much to accomplish. Beautifully illustrated, this is a wonderful book to own and browse!

Written by Patrick Skipworth, Illustrated by Nicholas Stevenson
Published by What on Earth Books

“A stunning non fiction picture book about the global diversity hidden in the English language”. Focusing on 12 words widely used in the English language, the author explains the origins of the word, the original language and the adaptation of how it is used today. The illustrator cleverly weaves the old meaning with the new in intricately designed page spreads.

There is much to look at! This is a celebration of the diversity of our own language and a wonderful way to introduce children to the interconnectedness of the world and its people.

Written by Claire Grace and Dr Jessamy Hibberd, Illustrated by Hannah Tolson, Published by Wide Eyed Editions

A magical mix of astronomy and mindfulness. Learning the names of, the shapes of and the myths behind the constellations leads expertly to easy, calming bedtime rituals and routines. Exercises intended to calm the mind, increase deep breathing and to stretch and relax the muscles.

Illustrated in calming tones of blue and soft muted colours, these suit the style and tone of the book. “Close your eyes, burrow beneath your blankets and let your dreams whisk you away on a magical starry adventure”. Summed up perfectly, we will be testing the calming mindfulness exercises while social distancing and dealing with new situations.

Written by Anna McNuff, Illustrated by Clair Rossiter
Published by Walker Books

This book may just be our saving grace. As schools close and social distancing enforced, nature is set to be our school and playground. Using this book, you can find easy to accomplish adventures as well as harder adventures like abseiling to freediving. Now the weather is becoming more spring like and the days are longer, it is time to jump in.

Our first plans are to star gaze, make a scavenger hunt and go bird spotting. With inspiring messages, wonderful illustrations and motivational tips from author Anna McNuff, this is a perfect book! Let’s get our children back to nature so they can “see the world without limits”.

The Unstoppable Letty Pegg by Iszi Lawrence

Reading this on International Women’s Day was very apt. Women fighting for the vote is a huge part of our history and a giant step towards women being treated with respect and equality.

Lettuce Pegg lives with her father, a policeman, and her mother who is a suffragette. Their worlds are about to collide and Letty will find herself in the middle.

The London protests are heating up and getting more violent so Letty’s dad books them a weekend away to protect them from danger. However, Letty and her mother both travel back for the march. Sadly, both Letty and her mother get injured during their escape. Letty watches as a small woman defends herself and protects Letty. This is Letty’s first introduction to to Jiu Jitsu, and she learns, amazed, how other suffragettes are using these skills to protect themselves.

Training with a group of ladies at the dojo, Letty acts as a messenger for them as they reach out to Letty’s mother. Feeling as though her family is being torn apart, Letty must come to terms with her parents separation, and issues at school with her teacher. Training in Jiu Jitsu has given Letty some new priorities and courage. She is making new friends and using her new skills to protect herself and her family.

I adored Letty Pegg and thoroughly enjoyed a story set in the time of suffragettes and their plight. A fascinating story of bravery, friendship and the importance of family. This is a brilliant book! Highly recommended!

The Positivity of Jungledrop by Abi Elphinstone

Jungledrop is one of the most highly anticipated releases of 2020 and proof copies are like gold dust! I admit to feeling over the moon with the arrival of this glorious green book!

Written by Abi Elphinstone, Publishing May 2020 by Simon & Schuster

As I was reading this, I was struck by the over reaching messages of positivity throughout the whole story. So what follows is not so much a review but a look at some of my favourite phrases and how they fit into the story. I promise to avoid spoilers for those waiting to read Jungledrop!

I created my list of page numbers where a positive message appeared, thinking if I could find 10 great ones, it would be the perfect amount for my idea. However, while reading my list grew and I ended up with well over 20 favourites. These quotes caught me and made me think and feel deeply about the twins, the plight of Jungledrop and the relationship to our world. Let’s dive in!

“Children are remarkably bendy creatures, especially when they are thrust head first into an adventure. Just when you think you’ve got the measure of them, they twist and turn and end up surprising you altogether.” Meet Fox and Fibber Petty-Squabble (brilliant names!), twins and enemies, their parents set to rule the business world. Fox and Fibber become the unlikely duo travelling to Jungledrop. Our expectations on them are low at the beginning…will they surprise us?

“The Unmapped Kingdoms have chosen you and, when magic sets its sights on someone, it’s remarkably hard to wriggle free”. Welcome back Casper Tock, as we watch him warn Fox and Fibber about Morg. I love that Casper is brought back into the fray! Fox and Fibber believe he is just a strange old man but we know that magic chooses the heroes in the Unmapped Chronicles.

“This is the problem with letting children into your workplace: they start teaching you to hope all over again”. On their quest and adventure, help is found in unlikely places. An old apothecary, Doogie Herbalsneeze, is at his lowest, being unable to save his wife several years before. Isolating himself away, he only finds hope with the arrival of the twins. He offers them some ideas and potions to take on their journey.

“…quests are more easily won and foes more likely beaten when you have someone by your side”. Fox and Fibber are the ultimate competitors, not trusting each other or sharing their emotions with each other. As they journey, their barriers begin to come down, and the Lofty Husks know that this journey is more than just about Morg. Ever knowing creatures, The Lofty Husks , take the form of panthers in Jungledrop.

“A heart full of faith and kindness is a rare and powerful thing”. It is indeed a powerful thing, and as a reader, we know that those with the truest hearts will have the most success in the battle against Morg. Fox and Fibber both need to change what they hold in their hearts, towards each other and towards their world in general. This might be my favourite to share widely with children in all my schools- have faith and be kind. Something we all need more of at this time of uncertainty.

“The biggest mistake grown-ups make, whether they’re people or magical beasts, is thinking that tears must be hidden”. It wouldn’t be an adventure into Morg’s dangerous world without losses to grieve. “Crying over the loss of a friend shows the strength…”. For those who lose in the book, I admit to crying alongside them.

“You underestimate what you and your brother are made of, girl” and “nothing is more powerful than a child in possession of a plan”. We are nearing some big action scenes in this incredible adventure. No spoilers so I will just leave this one here for your own speculation!

As the adventure becomes more dangerous, Fox and Fibber, nearing the lair of Morg, have changed completely, sometimes in surprising ways. “if you are strong enough to pull down a wall around your heart, you can fight with the strength of a warrior”. A bold statement as the twins near the end of their journey through Jungledrop!

“…there are ordinary people, doing extraordinary things, purely because they’re kind.” Amazing messages with a huge focus on kindness is perfect for the children and adults who will delve into Jungledrop, Everdark and Rumblestar and never want to leave!

Lastly, but certainly not leastly, as I have dozens of other wonderful quotes to share with readers, is this…one that comes across in all of Abi’s books. “…the most astonishing creatures of all are, in fact, children. Because what they lack in size, they make up for in spirit”. The heroes and heroines of The Unmapped Chronicles are the unlikely ones with brilliant names, children who are fearful, untrusting or unsure of their own abilities. Learning about themselves on their journey leads to courage, confidence and love towards the end of their time in Everdark, Rumblestar or Jungledrop.

I have complete adoration for this series. Imaginative, full of wisdom and wit and messages to inspire children onwards in our world.

Abi- this is another triumph and I can’t wait for more from The Unmapped Chronicles!