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The Thirteenth Home of Noah Bradley by Amber Lee Dodd

Written by Amber Lee Dodd
Published by Scholastic, April 2020

An incredible surprise awaits the reader of this brilliance! I was expecting a story about a family unable to settle in one place, and the trials that befall them. What I was given, was so much more. The reason for their lack of settlement is superb and really engages the reader.

We meet the Bradley family as they arrive at their new home in the middle of the night, clearly running from something- but we know little of the family yet. There is a story, a curse, that follows the Bradley family wherever they go. Leftover from their ancestors who became a bit greedy with magical items gifted to protect them, the curse follows all Bradley families as they try to find a home.

The story of the curse is passed from generation to generation and Noah, brother Billy and their parents can recite it word for word. It states that “Until, United again with their true strength, they could bring the curse to a close”. This statement will become a journey and an adventure for Noah, Billy and friend Neena.

This current home, 18 Verity Close, and school for Noah are the best, he has fit in, made friends and is set to win a history prize for great work. This home has to be their final one- he is willing to break the curse in order to save his family. With plenty of warnings, the family ignore the signs that let them know when it is time to move on, black cats, strange weather, and most importantly, the black birds from the North.

With Dad away working in Singapore and strange, dangerous events happening in and around Verity Close, Noah must find a way to protect his family and bring the curse to an end. After a strange weather event, Noah’s Mum ends up in hospital and a strange man is asking questions and hunting for something in the wreckage of the house. Now is the time for Noah to figure things out. Luckily, new best friend Neena and brother Billy are there to help.

They must find all magical items from the legend of the curse and bring them together- but how to find them and what will happen to the Bradley family? Reading some old letters and finding Mum’s hidden item, clues are there for the trio to use.

I loved this book and could empathise with Noah for wanting to fit in, be accepted and put down roots. Moving twelve times in as many years is heartbreaking and hard for the family. As you delve into the mystery and adventure, characters who at first glance, were judged one way, prove themselves to be the opposite! There are twists and turns throughout the story and it was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

I highly recommend this story- it would make an excellent class book!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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”.

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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!

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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!

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Troofriend by Kirsty Applebaum

I was completely enthralled by this story of Sarah and Ivy. Pacy, tense and fascinating.

Written by Kirsty Applebaum
Publishing April 2020 by Nosy Crow

Initially, Sarah doesn’t like Ivy although Ivy tries to be the “perfect friend”. Ivy is trained to be kind, not harm or bully and to have fun! Ivy is one of 144 Troofriend Mark IV androids that parents are buying for their children. I found this to be a fascinating look at what might happen if technology advances too quickly.

I was glued to the story of Ivy and the development of human actions and emotions within her. Her consistent error reports sent to Jenson & Jenson seem to be indicative of the changes the television reporters are announcing. Sarah’s parents are becoming increasingly alarmed at reports of androids harming children and becoming more human.

As the reader, the tension is palpable as we can see what Ivy is thinking and doing, understand the worry of Sarah’s parents yet want Sarah to make friends and be happy. All three elements are brought together seamlessly and in a book that will challenge your thoughts.

At times, I wondered whether this would take a very dark turn and felt worried for Sarah. Learning more about Ivy, I started to feel sorry for her and worry about her future with the family.

This is an epic book and one I could not stop reading although my heart was in my throat, fear was curling around me and I felt at times too worried to turn the page. However, I had to know what happens next and I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

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Picture Book Perfect

A fantastic selection of picture books, in all shades of blue this afternoon. In a completely unplanned post, I love that their covers are all blue!

Written and Illustrated by Antje Damm, Published by Gecko Pres

The Wolf and The Fly is another book from talented Antje Damm. Wolf is very hungry and starts gobbling up toys from the shelf. Guessing which one is missing is a fun puzzle for the reader as the pages are turned. The Wolf takes mini breaks between eating the toys until the end, where there is a fun surprise waiting for the reader. A brilliant board book and one to encourage the youngest readers to chat and guess about which toy has been eaten. Funny and interactive, a little gem for youngsters.

Written and Illustrated by Annemarie van Haeringen, Published by Gecko Press

My Mama is published in time to celebrate Mother’s Day, and the relationship between mother and child. While the reader enjoys the text and illustrations, we can see separate stories emerging. One from the child who tells all about his mum and the fun they have together. The other side of the story is illustrated, and we watch how the mum plays with, teaches and cares for her little elephant. A beautiful celebration of love and mothers. Gorgeous illustrations, lovingly drawn.

Written by Hannah Whitty, illustrations by Paula Bowles, Published by Simon & Schuster

Superkitty is back and ready to solve more mysteries! This time, the town’s food is missing and there isn’t enough left for the superheroes picnic. Suspecting the mice to behind the robberies, the team set off to investigate. A Mousezilla appears in the city and the team leap into action. In a surprising twist of events, the mice lead the team to the actual culprit. Someone is pretending to be the mayor and it is none other than…. sorry, no spoilers! A funny and colourful book to share! Superkitty is the one to call when trouble arrives!

The clever ladybird is back, solving crime and helping others. This time, at the seaside with sea creatures and a mermaid. Listening to Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len hatch a devious plan to steal the mermaid’s hair to sell to celebrities, the ladybird listens intently and then hatches his own plan with the help of the creatures in the sea. When night falls, the duo swim to the rock and cut the mermaid’s long flowing hair. They are in for a surprise when they open the sack in the morning though. Delightfully illustrated and fun rhymes make this an instant classic, perfect for fans of Donaldson and Monks previous collaborations.

Quite a range of picture books today, from celebrating mothers to saving friends, being superheroes and super hungry. Something for most tastes!