Book Recommendations

At Read for Good we are passionate about encouraging children to read what they love. We believe that children who are given the chance to choose what to read, are more likely to enjoy reading in their own time and go on to develop life-long reading habits. This page aims to inspire and guide that core belief in the importance of book choice.

The books reviewed here have been selected to complement our work in schools and hospitals – including titles promoted on our Readathon resources, books which we buy for our hospital programmes and books donated to us by publishers to help us encourage children to read for fun. There should be something for everyone!

Key Stage One / Infants / Lower Primary

Picture fiction is great for children of all ages, because illustrations aid in the dynamics of reading for those who struggle to decode (try Nick Sharratt’s Shark in the Park); can add another layer of meaning (check out Jonny Duddle’s The Pirate Cruncher); and help readers to learn about narrative flow (see Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson graphic novels, Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man books, and Jamie Smart’s Bunny v Monkey comics), but here are some of our favourites for younger readers.

The Dot – Peter H. Reynolds

Published by Walker Books

Vashti says she can’t draw. One day her Art teacher, with gentle encouragement, gets her to draw a dot, and sign it.

This is a beautiful story. It’s a story to inspire children to focus on what they can achieve and it’s a story which will remind parents and teachers how a demonstration of belief can transform a child’s self-confidence. Visually the book is appealing. The text is short and the language deliberately simple. The increase in colour around the line-drawn images works with the development of the plot in a way that children will relate to.

This would be a lovely story for one child to read to another and there is plenty of scope for discussion afterwards.

News Hounds – Laura James and Charlie Alder

Published by Bloomsbury’s Children’s Books

Gizmo is feeling a little lost and bewildered as he moves with Grannie to the countryside. Fortunately he soon meets Jilly, an enormous Irish Wolfhound, and her four puppies. There follows a delightful tale for younger readers which follows Gizmo and his new friends as they resolve the problem of rehousing the puppies as well as creating the first edition of the “Daily Bark”. Dog-loving children will enjoy reading this story as well as the engaging colour illustrations by Charlie Alder which complement each page.

Mira’s Curly Hair – Maryam al Serkal and Rebeca Luciani

Published by Lantana Publishing

Mira wants straight smooth hair like her Mum. But despite all her best efforts she can’t get hers to straighten which makes her sad, until her Mum takes her for a walk. When a rain shower forces them to take shelter, Mira notices that the rain has curled Mum’s hair. From that moment on Mira is a very happy little girl. 

This is a delightful story for anyone who has wished for different hair. Illustrated with gorgeously rich and colourful illustrations of Arabic buildings, toys and birds, children with hair of all colours and styles will enjoy this tale that is ultimately about self-acceptance.

Maybe… – Chris Haughton

Published by Chris Haughton

Monkeys, tigers, and mangoes – this is a delicious book to read aloud with a class. Chris Haughton’s latest book Maybe… is a lyrical romp through the decisions young children can make when warned not to do something.

Three young monkeys are left alone and told not to go down to the mango tree as tigers are about. Using patterns and repetition that children will love to join in with, and visually interesting text that’s printed both horizontally and vertically, the monkeys venture down from their tree all the time debating the big question – “what if?”. 

This is a fun, fast-paced tale that is at heart about learning by doing. It would be excellent to use as an opening to a class discussion.

Meesha Makes Friends – Tom Percival

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Meesha finds it hard to fit in, and especially hard to make friends. One day she takes matters into her own hands and uses her craft materials to make a friend, and in doing so creates a “real” friend in Josh. Tom Percival’s newest story, short-listed for Oscar’s Book Prize 2021, is a part of the “Big Bright Feelings “ series. It is a warm and heartfelt look at how hard it is for some children to understand social situations and how to accept differences. The interaction between the language and the illustrations provides many discussion points to talk about with young children. It’s a lovely story that will provide comfort to a lot of children.

Rain Before Rainbows – Smriti Prasadam-Halls and David Litchfield

Published by Walker Books 

This is the most beautiful book, both verbally and visually striking. Written in rhyme and short-listed for Oscar’s Book Prize 2021 Rain before Rainbows, tells the story of how, when difficult times and worries arise, there is always a path out of the darkness into the light. The three or four words on each page have a wonderful lyricism to them which, combined with the richly-coloured and detailed illustrations, create a warm and poignant atmosphere. It is a book to cherish.

Would you like a Banana? – Yasmeen Ismail

Published by Walker Books
This is a book that every parent, guardian, teacher and child-minder will relate to as they try to encourage a child to try a new food – in this case a banana! Using a riotous mix of font sizes and styles, illustrations, photos and an array of bright colours, the story follows a young gorilla giving every possible reason why he won’t try a little taste. The particular delight of this book is that it’s so fun to read aloud. The refrain on each page of “I won’t eat a banana” will ensure children will enjoy joining in, repeating the phrases as well as turning the book this way and that to follow the words. It’s great fun!

The Littlest Yak – Lu Fraser and Kate Hindley

Published by Simon and Schuster Children’s Books UK

Winner of the 2021 Oscar’s Book Prize, The Littlest Yak tells the delightful story of Gertie who doesn’t want to be the littlest – she wants to be big like the others. When the other Yaks call upon her to do something only she can do, Gertie finally understands that she is fine just as she is.

There is a strong message here for young children told through humorous rhyming narrative with rhythms and patterns that children will enjoy copying. The charm of the book is supported further by the delightful illustrations which make Gertie so endearing and whose snowy colours remind us all of the fun of a real winter.

I’m Sticking With You – Smriti Halls and Steve Hall

Published by Simon and Schuster Children’s UK

Bear and Squirrel do everything together (with Bear being slightly over-bearing!) until Squirrel decides he wants some time alone. Time that he then finds is so much nicer when spent with his friend. This wonderful book is about friendships, about letting go and that lovely feeling of safety and companionship that having a special friend brings.

The rhyming language is complemented by the humorous, uncluttered illustrations that tell their own story. This is an ideal book for the classroom shelf to use as young children begin to develop their early friendships.

 

Can Bears Ski – Raymond Antrobus and Polly Dunbar

Published by Walker Books

Little Bear wonders why his dad keeps asking him “Can Bears ski?” as he takes us through his morning routine and his day in school. But Little Bear is deaf and so, in an age-appropriate way for Key Stage 1 children, this delightful picture book takes us with him as he meets an audiologist, has an audiogram and has hearing aids fitted.

There are few stories that deaf children can identify with, or for hearing children to understand how challenging hearing loss can be, so this book is much-needed. It explains the processes and tests children with hearing loss have to go through with a light touch and with wonderfully big and bold illustrations.

By the end of the story Little Bear discovers that the real question is “Can you hear me?” to which he is delighted to answer “Yes!”. We highly recommend this lovely book – it should have a place on every classroom bookshelf.

Where Snow Angels go – Maggie O’Farrell

Published by Walker Books

This is a book to share with a child, taking time to marvel at the gorgeous illustrations covering every page. Late one night, Sylvie discovers a snow angel in her bedroom and is determined not only to meet him again, but to ensure everyone she knows finds their own snow angel too. Inspired by a story Maggie O’ Farrell invented to comfort her own children, and drawing on both her experiences of their childhood illnesses and her own period of illness as a child, this beautiful book melds the magic of a fairy tale with the atmosphere of a Christmas story, and demands to be read again each winter.

Don’t Call Me Grumpycorn! – Sarah McIntyre

Published by Scholastic

Don’t Call Me Grumpycorn is a tale set in an explosion of colour. Unicorn and his friends, Mermaid, Narwhal and Jellyfish embark on a journey into space to discover the most ‘fabulous’ planet which in Unicorn’s mind, will have even more ‘fabulous’ unicorns. Things don’t turn out quite as Unicorn wished, as he comes to realise that the best place to be is where his friends are. Sarah McIntyre’s wonderful illustrations are rich and detailed and there is much to look at and to talk about with younger children. It is a book about kindness and friendship which you will want to feast your eyes upon again and again.

Oi Puppies! – Kes Grey and Jim Field

Published by Hodder Children’s Books

The latest installment in the Oi Frog and Friends series, is a perfect choice for any primary school child who enjoys silly things! With a contagious rhythm and rhyme pattern, and punchy illustrations, even struggling readers will be able to use context clues to decode the text. A teacher we work with told us she shared a book from this series with a child who had recently come to the UK as a refugee. The child told her that she found the book so silly that while she was listening to it, she forgot to feel sad. The teacher also told us these books provide a great opportunity for rhyming word play – a key skill for learning to read, for all children, including English language learners.

Hospital Dog – Julia Donaldson

Published by Macmillan Children’s Books

Dot is no ordinary dog – NO SHE IS NOT! For Dot is a hospital dog who in this delightful new Julia Donaldson story, is followed as she visits a variety of children in hospital with her owner Rose. The familiar rhyming language coupled with lively, colourful illustrations, creates a reassuring tale for all children, but especially for those who may have to experience a hospital visit. This is a story full of empathy and gentle humour, well-timed for the present.

Key Stage Two / Junior / Upper primary

Books for this age group have to cater for a wide range of needs and interests and possess the potential to significantly influence a child’s reading habits – any book picked up at this point could be the one that hooks a child into reading for pleasure forever! It’s also a time when independent reading really begins, so helping a child to find a book they really want to read is key, as is offering a range of books representative enough to give them a chance of finding characters they can relate to. The children’s book market is growing all the time in this respect, offering more choice than ever. Here are some of our recent favourites.

Everyone Sang – William Sieghart and Emily Sutton

Published by Walker Books

This large, hardbacked book is a beautiful addition to any class library shelf. Divided into four chapters entitled Poems to Inspire You, Poems to Make You Smile, Poems to Move You and Poems to Calm and Connect You, William Sieghart offers an eclectic mix of old and new verse. 

Familiar to many adults are the traditional poems, often learnt by heart,  such as John Masefield’s Sea Fever or A Baby Sardine by Spike Milligan, as well as newer poems whose themes will resonate with many contemporary child readers: Give Yourself a Hug by Grace Nicholls or I’m So Angry by Charles Waters. 

The language of the poetry will always speak for itself but mention must be made of the most beautiful illustrations by Emily Sutton. Different on every page, the colours and rich detail are a perfect complement to a lovely book.

The Chime Seekers – Ross Montgomery

Published by Walker Books

Yanni isn’t happy. Together with his screaming baby sister who seems to take all his parents’ attention, he has had to move to the cold and unwelcoming Fallow Hall, a house with a sense of mystery and magic. Left alone with his cousin Amy, Yanni is caught in the magic of All Hallows’ Eve as a mysterious and evil faerie steals his baby sister and swaps her for a changeling. What follows is a fabulous action-packed adventure involving goblins, palaces, wide oceans, menacing statues and not to mention a talking signpost which guides Yanni as he and Amy embark on a quest to get his sister back.

Readers of all ages will adore this book. The descriptions have a filmic air to them (I loved the “seabed of bones”) and there are often moments of humour which create a light tone. At the same time however, the depiction of Yanni and his confused feelings of love and jealousy towards his sister and cousin provide an emotional counterpoint to the action which is a delight of pure escapism. All together this is a brilliant autumn read.

The Great Dream Robbery – Greg James and Chris Smith

Published by Puffin

The best-selling creators of Kid Normal, Greg Smith and Chris Smith, are back with a fantastic and funny new story The Great Dream Robbery that children will love. Maya’s dad, eccentric scientist Professor Dexter, is trapped in his own dream by the cunning, unpleasant Lilith Delamere. Befriended by inventors Toby and Bea and aided by mattresses, a unicorn and banana – eating llamas, the three “Dream Bandits” embark on a daring rescue full of danger and magical, dream-like mayhem!

This is a fabulous story with a broad appeal (not least to Geography teachers who could use the “wave-cut platform” rap in class to great effect!). The plot is fast-paced, has comic-style fonts which will encourage reading aloud, as well as a clever narrative style which enables the authors to befriend and talk directly to their reader. In addition, there are many laugh-out-loud moments which combined with the subtle undertones of how to face your fears, will leave children wanting to read more. It’s a triumph!

Kids Fight Climate Change – Martin Dorey

Published by Walker Books

Kids Fight Climate Change by Martin Dorey is a densely-packed colourful handbook filled with practical activities (“missions”) for children to participate in. Its premise is simple – the planet needs our help, and by taking on one of 16 different missions, from counting your carbon footprint to keeping a patch of your garden for wildlife, each reader can become a “superhero”.  

The information in the book is detailed, which will suit confident readers. For the rest, the appeal is in the shorter statements that are complemented by Tim Wesson’s humorous illustrations.

This is an excellent book for a class whose pupils are taking on some climate-friendly challenges. The points awarded to each task bring a competitive edge and there is additional information about other campaigns listed at the end of the book for those who want to do more.

The Week at World’s End – Emma Carroll

Reviewed by Sophie, age 14

The Week at World’s End is an interesting book set during the Cold War about a runaway, a friendshp and a day when the world held its breath. It is a good book and there were a lot of really brilliant plot twists. It was a quick, easy read with lots of turns so you kept wanting to know what was going to happen next.

I find Emma Caroll’s writings very fascinating and hard to put down. I love all of her characters and find it fun being able to see inside their minds because they are all so well thought out and they almost seem like real people for the time being.

I’ve read all of Emma Carroll’s books except Secrets of a Sun King  and When We Were Warriors. 

Published by Faber and Faber

Shadowghast – Thomas Taylor

Published by Walker Books

Shadowghast, the third book by Thomas Taylor involving Herbert Lemon and Violet Parma is set in the aptly named Eerie-on Sea. 

On the eve of Ghastly Night, Herbie, living and working as the “Lost and Founder” in the Grand Nautilus Hotel, is introduced to a great magician who claims he belongs to her. As people start to disappear and old stories of the infamous Shadowghast begin to play out, Herbert and his friend Violet become embroiled in a race to save the townsfolk of Eerie-on-Sea.

This is a highly entertaining story suitable for upper KS2 readers. The fast-paced plot which involves plenty of magic, wit and intrigue also lightly touches on the themes of loyalty and  empathy as Herbert and Violet come to realise how much they depend upon each other.

Fans of Taylor’s first two books, Malamander and Gargantis, will really enjoy this third book in the series with a fourth due out soon.

 

Click here to see more of Read for Good’s book reviews.

Indiana Bones – Harry Heape

Published by Faber and Faber

This is a funny, mad-cap adventure that involves flying tuk-tuks, lost treasure, the great Pyramids, a 12-year old girl and a talking dog – welcome to the world of Indiana Bones! Aisha Ghatak, daughter of a renowned archaeologist, is on the trail of treasure hidden by the Lonely Avenger. It’s a trail that takes her across the sea to Egypt, with smelly Ringo in hot pursuit. 

This fast-paced story has plenty to commend it: readers will laugh aloud whilst hurrying to read on and find out what happens next. Mention should also be made of the accessible font and spacing which will attract younger readers starting their first longer book (278 pages) and complemented by the engaging illustrations from Rebecca Bagley.

Interview With a Shark – Andy Seed

Published by Welbeck Children’s Books

This is the perfect book for fact-loving young readers and a must for the classroom. Following on from his earlier “Interview with a Tiger” and set out as a series of interviews with different underwater creatures, author Andy Seed introduces us to his “tranimalator”. It is this which allows him to talk to ten sea-creatures, including a Bull shark, an Ocean Sunfish as well as a fearsome Conger Eel. 

The tone is humorous, the language accessible, the facts are important and the intention is clear: to inform and to create an awareness of how children can help in the fight against  pollution in our seas. Mention should also be made of the wonderful colour illustrations by Nick East that in themselves will stimulate discussion, and which readers will enjoy returning to again and again.

Maria’s Island – Victoria Hislop

Published by Walker Books

At a time when travel is restricted, this is a tale that takes us to Crete, to beautiful beaches, warm sunshine and loving communities who live and work together. Victoria Hislop’s first children’s book (for readers aged 8+) is a reimagined story based on her best-selling adult novel “The Island”. Yet despite the warmth of the Cretan sun there is darkness here as the threat of leprosy and the mysterious island of Spinalonga slowly reveals itself. 

This is a story within a story that introduces young readers to something they might not be aware of – the history of leprosy and its cure – as well as leading them to discover more about a part of the world they may only know of as a holiday destination. Mention must also be made of the gorgeous colourful illustrations by Gill Smith which really bring the island to life.

The Boy Who Sang With Dragons – Andy Shepherd and Sarah Ogilvie

Published by Piccadilly Press

This is the fifth and, sadly, the last it seems of this wonderful series which features Tomas, his super-hero gang of friends, his loving family and a whole crowd of home-grown dragons! 

The story begins with Kat and Kai leaving to live overseas which leaves Tomas and their friends bereft until other things take over – such as the discovery of who Aura really is and how to protect the dragon seeds from the scientists. 

Enhanced with intricate illustrations by Sarah Oglivie, the return of Flicker, Zing and the mayhem they all cause, children aged 7-plus will once again adore the fast-pace of the story as well as the rich descriptions of the dragons, the gloop and the garden!

Uma and the Answer to Absolutely Everything – Sam Copeland

Published by Puffin

Uma Gnudersonn has plenty of questions to ask but can’t find too many answers until the day when, with best friend Alan Alan, she finds Athena – a genius artificial intelligence. Together they take on the challenge of defeating dastardly and dangerous Stella Daw and her company Minerva whilst seeking ways to make Uma’s dad speak again.

This is a fast-paced, laugh out loud, crazy story with Copeland’s customary footnotes. There are enticing illustrations throughout by Sarah Horne, and what is subtly written underneath, is a tender story of a little girl grieving the loss of her family and searching for answers.

Does she find them? Maybe!

The Ghost Garden – Emma Carroll

Published by Barrington Stoke

Reluctant or dyslexic readers will be delighted by a new story set in the weeks before the outbreak of WW1 by award-winning, historic fiction author Emma Carroll (Letters from the Lighthouse, Secrets of a Sun King) and published by Barrington Stoke.

When a series of coincidences occur between discoveries made in the garden of Longbarrow House and events that happen to people around her, Fran begins to feel that they must be connected. Forced to look after wheelchair-bound Leo, her sense of  anxiety and fear for the future grows as he shares his theories of  impending war and separation.

This is a strangely unsettling story with an atmosphere of mystery and magic reminiscent of The Secret Garden. The juxtaposition of a developing friendship between Leo and Fran and the pathos of impending war serves to engage and maintain the reader’s interest with its final lines being very pertinent in our own difficult times.

Zombierella – Joseph Coelho

Published by Walker Books

At the back of a library rests the old, neglected books. Dust-covered, foul-smelling and broken, our narrator uncovers the fairy-tales which have gone bad. Welcome to the first of three stories by poet and author, Joseph Coelho, Zombierella – his reimagining of Cinderella.

This retelling of such a well-known fairy tale is not for the faint-hearted! Coelho writes about death, mutilation, dismemberment and many other grisly bits, all brought to life by the fabulous and intricate illustrations of Freya Hartas. Yet this is also a story that is  funny, modern and contains all the elements so many young readers will adore.

Written in verse, this makes for an ideal tale for children to read aloud, and to read together. At times the language is rightfully challenging for the age-group it is aimed at (8 years plus) and there are  moments of poetic beauty, for example “…danced like the room was empty…” and “…danced like starlight carried their steps…” to inspire budding writers.

 We can’t wait for the second book in this series.

The Night Bus Hero – Onjali Q Raúf

Published by Orion Children’s Books

This third novel from Onjali Q Raúf, best-selling author of the award-winning The Boy at the Back of the Class, is as surprising and compelling as her previous hit and we guess, likely to be just as popular with pupils and teachers. Having upset most of his family and classmates, 10-year-old bully and narrator of the story, Hector, fixes his hatred on a local homeless man, who he assumes is responsible for a series of thefts from London landmarks. When Hector discovers he is mistaken, he sets out to track down the true thief, finding help and learning life lessons along the way from the homeless community he previously held in such disdain, as well as from his arch-enemy, the class swot Mei-Li. Deftly tackling bullying, homelessness and the redemptive power of kindness all in one swoop, this story also delivers enough intrigue to interest older readers, whilst the clear language makes it accessible to all. With great pace and humour too, this is an ideal class reader and the extra resources at the end will help to prompt further discussion. We loved it!

The Beast and the Bethany – Jack Meggitt-Phillips

Published by Farshore

This page-turner reminiscent of the gruesomeness of Roald Dahl with a touch of Lemony Snicket thrown in, is sure to become a much-loved classic. We meet 11-year-old Ebenezer Tweezer who lives alone in a 15-storey house with a three-eyed beast lurking in the attic. In exchange for a potion that will bring him eternal youth, Ebenezer has to keep the beast fed, a deal which works well until the beast wants to eat a child! Enter bad-tempered orphan Bethany who then accompanies Ebenezer as he begins to discover that kindness, friendship and having fun are not only the keys to living well, but also the secret to beating the beast. We can’t wait for the sequel, scheduled for next year!

The Midnight Guardians – Ross Montgomery

Published by Walker Books

The Midnight Guardians is a wonderful departure for Carnegie Award-nominee Ross Montgomery, skilfully combining the kind of fantastical adventures those familiar with him will expect, with the magic of folklore and the historical gravitas of 1940s war-torn London. Col, an evacuee to Derbyshire, experiences every child’s wildest fantasy, discovering that his three imaginary friends have come to life. These eponymous ‘Guardians’: a six-foot tiger, a waistcoated badger and a miniature knight, accompany Col on his quest to the London Blitz to save his sister from both the Nazi bombs, and the dark forces of the MidWinter King. Punctuating this terrifying but often humorous set of adventures, are stark reminders of the reality of war; excerpts from the Daily Mail in 1940 and the story of Ruth, a Jewish girl who has arrived on the Kindertransport. Montgomery’s clever interleaving of make-believe, history, humour and tenderness will have a broad appeal.

The Boy at the Back of the Class – Onjali Q Raúf

Published by Orion Children’s Books

Told from the point of view of a curious nine year old who is intrigued by the silent new boy at the back of the class, this story tackles the tricky topic of child refugees to the UK. As the unnamed narrator and her close friends try to discover more about Ahmet, the reader is introduced to the difficult concepts of family separation, drownings and UK government rules and regulations. The success of the book is that whilst it doesn’t shy away from these subjects, they are explained with a light, sensitive and at times humorous touch, which makes for compelling and heart-warming reading. It’s a good choice to read aloud to the class and will produce interesting discussion.

Wonderscape – Jennifer Bell

Published by Walker Books

Wonderscape is an ideal story to hook in children who enjoy playing computer games. Set largely in a virtual-reality adventure, the story follows three 21st-century classmates who find themselves trapped in the year 2473. Arthur, Cecily and Ren need to complete a series of challenges in order to return home, meeting various ‘heroes’ from history such as Isaac Newton and Wangari Maathai along the way. With language that may at times stretch the reader, this action-packed adventure also explores themes of friendship and resilience. We loved it and so did our kids!

Cat Kid Comic Club – Dav Pilkey

Published by Scholastic

Haikus, monster cheese sandwiches and lessons in how to fail, help award-winning author of the hilarious Dog Man series Dav Pilkey to establish his latest innovative graphic novel series. Through humorous interconnected stories, Pilkey cleverly employs a variety of different literary styles (poetry, drama as well as prose) to tell his tales of dinosaur lawyers, unhappy squid and reactionary nurses, as well as more serious narratives about nature! The beauty of this book lies in the variety of different media Pilkey uses for each tale; illustrations include photographs, pen drawings and pencil sketches. It’s a hugely enjoyable read, with vocabulary to challenge and ideas which will inspire children to write and create their own comics.

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet – Zanib Mian with illustrations by Nasaya Mafardik

Published by Hodder Children’s Books

We know that publishers of children’s fiction strive to reach today’s children with titles that reflect both the ethnic and cultural diversity of today’s society, as well as the issues which affect them. Zanib Mian’s artful debut middle-grade novel Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet deftly winds together threads of casual racism, playground bullying and a child’s attempts to demystify adult behaviour. It’s a page-turner that manages to be both entertaining and completely relatable; Omar is a boy whose fears of moving to a new area are realised when the school’s bully turns on him and a neighbour reacts with hostility to the new Muslim family. Omar’s inner narrative about his family’s bid to beat prejudice with warmth, imagination and empathy, is brought to life by Nasaya Mafardik’s buoyant Tom Gates-style illustrations. We were delighted to get this feedback from a 12-year-old girl in hospital, after she discovered this book on the Read for Good bookcase. ‘I loved Planet Omar because the main character is a Muslim like me. He got bullied for his religion but even though he was bothered he didn’t fight back. I liked it so much that I finished it in one day.’ This book has inclusivity, diversity and empathy a-plenty, plus it’s compulsive reading. What more could we ask for?

Middle Grade / Upper primary / Secondary

Mystery of the Night Watchers – A. M. Howell

Published by Usborne Publishing

It’s 1910, Halley’s Comet is in the sky, and Nancy is taken unexpectedly to stay in Suffolk with a grandfather she didn’t know she had. Enchanted by his apothecary shop, and most of all with the forbidden cupola at the top of the house, Nancy soon realises that there is a family mystery which she is determined to resolve.

I loved this book! It has a wonderful atmosphere of intrigue, with a strong sense of time and place. The vivid descriptions of a small town watching and preparing for a party for the comet, transport you back in time as the mystery Nancy gets caught up in both grips and surprises the reader. This is a perfect introduction to the historical genre for young readers.

The Swallows’ Flight – Hilary McKay

Published by Macmillan Children’s Books

This is a wonderful book! Written as a companion novel rather than a sequel to The Skylarks’ War, it’s a moving story set in both England and Germany about life just before and during World War 2. As the story builds, Mckay interweaves key events from the war, including Kristallnacht and the evacuation from the beaches, in a way that will help readers both empathise and reflect as they feel the impact upon the different characters. 

It’s not until the end that the parallel stories merge, by which time we feel we know the characters so well that we are desperate for them to meet.

Something I Said – Ben Bailey Smith

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This is a triumph! A funny book which at its heart shouts out how important words are (with some lexical explanations along the way).

13 year old Carmichael, the bane of his parents’ and teachers’ lives is entered into a school talent-contest as a stand-up comic, but teenage angst and anger get in the way and Carmichael finds himself in a situation where he has to decide if what he thinks he wants is actually the case.

We really enjoyed this fast-paced story. The dialogue is witty, the main character is highly- believable and I loved the idea of “laughing whilst you are learning”, as the reader is introduced to the meanings of certain words that occur naturally in the story. This is perfect for middle-grade readers and a great book for a class discussion.

The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne – Jonathan Stroud

Published by Walker Books

Meet Scarlett McCain, a feisty and sharp-shooting outlaw in a futuristic Britain where surviving towns seem reassuringly familiar while the rest of the land is bleak and menacing. Meet Albert Browne, sweet-natured and awkward who has a dark, and so-far uncontrolled, talent. These are the protagonists in Jonathan Stroud’s new book which fans of his previously critically-acclaimed books Lockwood & Co and Bartimaeus will love. 

Each pursued by their enemies, the two flee across the south of England trying to escape capture and probable death. It’s an original narrative with plenty of ironic humour. The bowler-hatted assassins are memorable whilst the “Tainted” are just menacing enough to make us feel uncomfortable! 

A perfect read for Key Stage 3 pupils, readers of both mystery and fantasy will enjoy the detailed descriptions of the wild lands  through which the outlaws travel and will appreciate the emerging friendship between Scarlett and Albert.

Twitch – M. G. Leonard

Published by Walker Books

It’s the start of the summer holidays and Twitch, a rather singular little boy who sleeps in a bird-box bed, is looking forward to spending time in his secret hide, deep in his local nature reserve. However, as the police invade the area searching for an escaped convict, Twitch becomes embroiled in an adventure which also sees him learn about trust and friendship.

M.G.Leonard continues her highly successful run of middle-grade novels with this first in a new mystery adventure series. As with her previous books (Beetle Boy and the Adventure on Trains series), this is a clever, enjoyable take on a simple storyline that children will love. 

The originality of having a keen “birder” as the protagonist makes us willing members of the bird-world where we can learn to differentiate between the songs of the dawn chorus as well as how to train a pigeon!

The ending is a delightful, chaotic melee of old-fashioned comedy made all the more poignant as Twitch finally discovers how sweet the world is with human as well as feathered friends.

Cookie and the Most Annoying Girl in the World! – Konnie Huq

Published by Piccadilly Press

Konnie Huq’s much-loved character Cookie returns in a brilliantly funny book that we enjoyed as much as her first (Cookie and the Most Annoying Boy in the World!). With a growing awareness of the problems impacting the environment, Cookie is befriended by Suzy Ashby when they both obtain tickets for Aliana Tiny’s concert. The problem is that Cookie finds everything about Suzy extremely annoying!! 

With her simple but humorous cartoons and a fast-paced storyline, Huq tackles the issues of both plastic pollution and the challenges of retaining friendships, while at the same time as developing new ones. Both issues are handled in an accessible and engaging way for junior readers. 

As in her first book, we really enjoyed the full appendix at the end which is jam-packed with ideas for environmental projects that children can try themselves.

The House at the Edge of Magic – Amy Sparkes

Published by Walker Books

Fans of stories such as The Worst Witch and The Chrestomanci series will greatly enjoy this new book by talented storyteller, Amy Sparkes.

Nine is an orphan pickpocket who lives in a Fagin-type cellar with nothing except a little silver box to call her own. One day she steals an ornament which begins a mad-cap, magic- filled adventure involving an unusual house with a pinny-wearing troll, a tea-loving wizard and a kilt-wearing spoon! 

As she begins to make new friends, Nine is challenged to break the curse the house is  under, which will ultimately give her the freedom she so longs for. This is a lively story for middle-grade readers. It is filled with wonderfully riotous descriptions of magic that goes wrong and relationships that develop and deepen. The language is rich yet accessible and its ending is deeply satisfying.

This Wonderful Thing – Adam Baron

Published by HarperCollins

Adam Baron, author of best selling Carnegie-nominated “Boy Underwater” brings  Cymbeline Igloo and familiar friends back to life in a third fantastic adventure. Middle grade readers will enjoy the playful narrative form as alternate chapters tell the stories of Cymbeline and a new character, Jessica, and their parallel plotlines become intriguingly entangled in a mystery involving a lost and found teddy bear, inexplicable burglaries and an enigmatic historic medal. Both children must also navigate complex family problems which Baron treats lightly, and at times humorously, but always with great sensitivity and gravitas.

Short and snappy chapters that end on a cliff-hanger, and whole pages dedicated to one tiny phrase or a repeated scream in different fonts, make this a fast paced, page-turner which keeps you guessing right to the end, when all is cleverly resolved in a heart-warming happy ending. We loved it and hope Cymbeline returns again and again!

The Voyage of the Sparrowhawk – Natasha Farrant

Published by Faber and Faber

Two runaway children, two slightly chaotic dogs and a canal boat named ‘Sparrowhawk’ are the cast of this engaging tale that takes place in the aftermath of WW1. Ben and Lottie set sail for France to find Ben’s brother, reported missing from a hospital somewhere in Northern France. They are helped along the way by various adults, all of whom are suffering from some sort of war-caused loss. Lyrical descriptions of idyllic British countryside illustrating the boat’s journey along the waterways to the Thames and beyond, are counterbalanced by the devastation the children witness when they arrive in the ruined villages of rural France. This is a warm, humorous book despite the themes of sadness and grief. By the end, the children have come to terms with the prospect of new beginnings and the reader is left wanting to remain with them. A deserving winner of the 2020 Costa Children’s Book Award!

A Kind of Spark – Elle McNicoll

Published by Knights Of

We think everyone should read Elle McNicoll’s important debut. Blackwell’s Children’s Book of the Year and a Carnegie medal nominee, A Kind of Spark offers a unique insight into neurodiversity from a child’s point of view, by an emerging author who is neurodivergent herself. The story follows an autistic girl named Addie, who is 11 and living with her parents and her older twin sisters. Addie loves sharks and she loves words, but sometimes finds the world a difficult place to live in. Horrified by what she is casually taught at school about the historical persecution of so-called witches – whom she discovers were actually innocent women perceived as different in some way – Addie embarks on a campaign to establish a memorial to the witches in her Scottish town, which then becomes a personal quest to make her voice heard, drawing interesting parallels between the history of the outcast witches and the perception of autism in contemporary society. The publication of this book is the culmination of the author’s own quest to illuminate the everyday experiences of children with autism, which happily matched the aims of pioneering publishers ‘Knights Of’ resulting in this wonderful addition to the growing wealth of representative fiction for children.

The Highland Falcon Thief – M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman

Published by Macmillan Children’s Books

Who wouldn’t love a tale which involves a jewel thief, a royal steam train, a cast of characters that could have come from an Agatha Christie novel, plus two likeable children, Hal and Lenny as detectives? When told he is to accompany his uncle, Nathaniel Bradshaw (there are many clues to the authors’ own love and knowledge of trains) Hal is unimpressed by the company of the adults surrounding him, but then he meets Lenny Singh, the train driver’s daughter, who has stowed away on the train. Life becomes more exciting for Hal when soon after the train pulls away, the thief strikes and there follows an exhilarating adventure. We loved Elisa Paganelli’s sketches throughout, which contribute to the story as Hal and Lenny solve the case. This is the first in a series, the second of which, Kidnap on the California Comet, we can’t wait to read!

Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel – Eoin Colfer

Published by Puffin

Artemis Fowl has been given a new look to tie-in with the film and thanks to the number of formats it is available in, this story is now really accessible. For fantasy and adventure-loving children with dyslexia who might find the books tricky, there’s the incentive to read this book before seeing the film. Starting with the audiobook to ensure the story structure and vocabulary are familiar, and then moving on to the graphic novel, can help to link new vocabulary to the written words (while still having the support of the images to aid the narrative) and those who want an extra challenge can finish off with the novel itself!

The Wolf Wilder – Katherine Rundell

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Part fairytale, and part adventure, this lovely story is set in Russia and tells of Feodora’s journey through the winter landscape to rescue her imprisoned mother. Accompanying her are three wolves – not quite pets – and a collection of other children. As she faces danger, Feo begins to understand the importance of teamwork and friendship. Loss and sadness feature too, but Rundell doesn’t shy away from tackling them head-on in this beautiful, compelling read.

Dare To Be You – Matthew Syed

Published by Wren and Rook

This is best-selling author of adult self-help books, Bounce and Black Box Thinking, Mathew Syed’s second book for children. Dare To Be You follows You Are Awesome with an engaging visual style including fonts of varying sizes, cartoons and lots of orange splashed across the pages. Syed sets out to persuade our anxious, perfectionist children that it’s fine to be yourself, to make mistakes, take risks and to be the person you want to be. He first introduces us to ‘Kid Doubt’ and then in subsequent chapters explores themes of not fitting in, becoming your own action hero, kindness and resilience. Syed skilfully draws on personal anecdotes from his days as a champion table-tennis player, quotes from well-known figures and scientific research to evidence and illustrate his points. It’s a book which can be read from beginning to end, or just dipped into and would make an excellent addition to a classroom bookshelf or to a Thrive curriculum.

Young Adult Fiction

There is an astonishingly rich array of well-written fiction and non-fiction for Young Adults out there. This is a time when reading choices can become more sophisticated as teenagers and young adults start appreciating what they like, and what they don’t! From thrillers to self-help books, young adults have a huge choice available to not only suit their mood, but to help them explore the hot topics in the world today, from the widest range of perspectives.

Burn – Patrick Ness

Published by Walker Books

Twice Carnegie-award winning Patrick Ness’s new book Burn is a spectacular novel encompassing dragons, the FBI, parallel worlds ,fanaticism and teenagers caught on very different sides of the story.

Set in America in the 1950’s with a backdrop of the tensions of the cold war, the story opens with Sarah Dewhurst and her father waiting to meet Kazimir ,a blue dragon, who her father has employed to help on the farm. Meanwhile, FBI agents are moving from Canada across the border to find fanatical cult members, of which Sarah seems to be at its centre.

This novel has film-like qualities: the skies are big, the plot twists and turns and the action is both hard-hitting and quite astonishing. There is an emotional balance, however, as the teenagers begin relationships and experience grief as well as first love; the pain, confusion and bewilderment Sarah comes to experience will strike a chord with readers who themselves have lived through painful times .By the end the reader is left with the feeling that they have experienced something quite vast and somewhat indescribable. It is superb (as is the audio book) and will be an excellent addition to a secondary reader’s bookshelf.

Dark Lady – Akala

Published by Hodder Children’s Books

Henry – orphan, pickpocket and possessing a magical talent for translating languages – is the central protagonist in award-winning Akala’s debut novel for teens. Set in Shakespearean London (and featuring the bard himself), Akala sets out to explore the themes of race and class through an adventurous tale which takes us into the world of theft, kidnap, escape and first love. 

Henry is taken prisoner when his talents are discovered and from there, we are invited to observe his metamorphosis as he moves from living in squalor to living a life of riches. Henry’s greatest sadness is not having known his mother – the dark lady – but a prequel is promised which will explain the chapter headings where we are invited to read, in poetic form, the tale of Henry’s beginnings.

With Elizabethan language scattered throughout and a glossary provided at the back, this story will appeal to both fans of Akala’s writing and to readers of historical fiction. 

Clap When You Land – Elizabeth Acevedo

Published by Hot Key Books

Inspired by a plane crash which happened shortly after the 9/11 tragedy, Elizabeth Acevedo’s new Young Adult verse novel (short-listed for the 2021 Carnegie award) Clap When You Land” tells a powerful tale of loss, grief and familial relationships. Two teenage girls, Camino and Yahaira, learn that their father has been killed in a plane crash en route from New York to the Dominican Republic. What they don’t initially know is the existence of each other, as Camino lives on the island, whilst Yahaira is brought up in the city. Using a variety of poetic structures which capture and explore the grief of each girl, Acevedo writes a narrative brimming with emotion as well as establishing a separate sense of identity, place and belonging for each character. The pain felt at times as we read this is raw and unsettling but ultimately deeply satisfying.

The Fountains of Silence – Ruta Sepetys

Published by Penguin

Short-listed for the 2021 Carnegie Award, this stirring young adult novel combines romance with a penetrating examination of Spain under Franco’s rule. Set in 1957, Ana, a hotel maid, is assigned to look after young American photographer Daniel who comes to Spain for the first time with his parents. Trying to get the perfect photo to win a top award, Daniel delves into Spanish life and sees at first hand how different life is to his own. 

Throughout this novel ,previous Carnegie Award-winning author Ruta Sepetys, deftly weaves facts about life in Spain at that time, as documented by American diplomatic staff, with a searing tale of love, betrayal and resilience. The contrasting descriptions of wealth and poverty, and in particular the stories of Spain’s missing children, drive home how apart Spain was from the rest of Europe at this time.

This is a superb historical novel, highly recommended to A-Level Spanish students for its political content, and to everyone else for the sheer power of its writing.

Bone Music – David Almond

Published by Hodder Children’s Books

From the pen of the multi-award winning author, David Almond,(Skellig, My Name is Mina) comes Bone Music, a wonderfully atmospheric tale set in rural Northumberland.

Ideal for readers aged 12-plus, Bone Music tells the story of 15-year-old Sylvia Carr whose mother takes her for a much-needed break from their home in the middle of the city of Newcastle, back to where she grew up in wild Northumberland. Sylvia’s father, meanwhile, is away, trying to reach Syria to photograph the horrors of war. Alone, and with no phone signal, Sylvia encounters Gabriel, a teenage boy through whom she explores rural life, both past and present. 

This short, original novel is about connections. It explores the contrasts between town and country, loss and belonging, and the natural order versus the demands of modern life. It is a book whose sparse, lyrical prose evokes a deep reaction that will stay with you long after you put the book down. It’s a book to savour alone which in turn lends itself well to a class discussion.

Whiteout – Gabriel Dylan

Published by Stripes Publishing

Warning! This is not a book to read if you are planning to embark upon a school ski trip! It is, however, the perfect book to entice teens – especially those who love scary films – to pick up a book and get stuck in. The plot is simple: a diverse group of students on a school ski trip to Austria, are left stranded in their hotel following a freak storm; unable to escape, the students and their teachers soon become prey to some truly spine-tingling monsters. 

Dylan begins by calmly setting the scene – but the reader gets the feeling that something sinister is just about to happen. The plot takes a quick turn when the students realize that their teachers have disappeared overnight, replaced by some monstrous beings who are intent on hunting them.

This debut novel by English and Media Studies teacher, Gabriel Dylan, is an example of horror fiction at its best. It is not a tale for the faint-hearted, but as an introduction to this genre it comes highly recommended.

Toffee – Sarah Crossan

Published by Bloomsbury

This Young Adult novel written by Irish Children’s Laureate Sarah Crossan is outstanding.

It’s a poignant story of the relationship between runaway Allison and an elderly woman, Marla, who lives alone and with dementia. Marla mistakes Allison for someone from her past called Toffee and allows her to stay. Over time, Allison begins to examine her previous family relationships as she builds a new identity with Marla. As in her other award-winning books, this story is written in verse which  allows the reader to build up and paint their own picture of the damage each woman has suffered, as well as the friendship that develops between them. The effect is profound.

Toffee is a story which is highly recommended to anyone struggling with the questions around the true meaning of friendship and family.

Concrete Rose – Angie Thomas

Published by Walker Books

American Angie Thomas’ third novel Concrete Rose packs yet another powerful punch; this prequel to her multi-award-winning debut The Hate u Give returns to the impoverished inner-city ghetto of Garden Heights – modelled on Mississippi’s Georgetown – this time to tell the story of 17-year-old Maverick Carter, a member of the King Lord gang, “slinging” drugs to help pay the bills at home while his dad is in prison. Taking care of his family and his girlfriend and cared for by a close-knit community, Maverick feels so far on top of the transition from boy to man, until the shock discovery that he is a father. Complicated worlds collide as Maverick juggles the complexities of child-raising, drug dealing, gang loyalty and the brutal murder of a loved one, all whilst finishing high school. As ever, Angie Thomas’ beautifully nuanced style is simultaneously raw and delicate, conjuring the brutal reality of coming of age in a world where black lives really do matter. This is YA Fiction that is as vital as it is compelling.