Recommended reading from November

The One-Stop Story shop by Tracey Corderoy, illustrated by Tony Neal

A lovely story about knights, friendship, stories and ferrets. It would be great way of introducing Early Years/ Key Stage 1 to the concept of genres within stories. The peril is mild and and all ends happily. As is also the case with…

Supertato: Carnival Catastro-pea! by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet

The Supertato series has been running for some time with the winning formula of exciting but easy-to-follow stories, colourful illustrations and the odd sly joke put in for the adults (or the more discerning child). This one combines a clever piece of villainy from Evil Pea with an even more clever plot to foil him and a genuine excuse to have a riot of colour on the final pages. An added bonus: copious use of the word ‘nitwit’ and a very funny dedication at the beginning for those who spot it.

Football School Season 3: Where Football Tackles the World by Alex Bellos and Ben Lyttleton, illustrated by Spike Gerrell.

A bit of an odd one this. It falls firmly into the Horrible Histories-type of book, being factual with cartoon illustrations, jokey asides and a variety of layouts, but its aim is a bit…well, aimless. In short, there’s not enough football for the football fan, but too much football for non-football fans. It is written well enough and I learnt a few interesting things (I didn’t know that Barcelona fans begin chanting 17 minutes and 14 seconds into matches to commemorate Catalonia’s subjugation within Spain in 1714). Also, it is a bit editorially contradictory in that it celebrates the environmentally friendly achievements of Forest Green Rovers but a couple of chapters later allows the constant re-designing of team strips to sell more merchandise and subsequent environmental harm to pass without comment. Overall, not without interest but the football theme really seems like a flimsy excuse to hang a series of unrelated facts and stories together.

Sneaky Beak by Tracey Corderoy, illustrated by Tony Neal

A second outing for this pairing, and a much more surreal story. This is a classic example of a book which will be read on one level at first but may well be re-visited in the future and have a whole different degree of understanding. Seemingly an entertaining ‘get that annoying animal out of here!’ story in the vein of ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ or ‘Rhinos Don’t Eat Pancakes’, it is also a subversive anti-consumerist tale. Sneaky Beak is a bird of indiscriminate breed who turns up on TV but also pops into real life to plant the seed of doubt into Bear’s head as to whether his bed is bouncy enough, or his bath bubbly enough (really well-chosen examples which reflect children’s everyday experiences). Bear is sucked in at first but eventually breaks free from the consumption cycle, and Sneaky Beak gets his or her just desserts. I will be looking out for more titles like this for a ‘Books with an anti-consumerist message’ post in the future (any suggestions welcome please!) Definitely a book to buy and read over and over.

Wanda’s Words Got Stuck by Lucy Rowland and Paula Bowles

This is a rhyming text about beginning at witch school, with a sympathetic portrayal of a child who is unable to speak out loud. It is made very clear that Wanda is both smart and sociable, and her inability to speak is not due to a lack of effort on her part. The arrival of new girl Flo gives her an alternative path into friendship. The story is cleverly balanced; it shows that being wordless is not necessarily a barrier to friendship, but also that there is hope of overcoming difficulties. The way Wanda gains her voice at the end is appropriate to the world of the story, but is realistic enough to give hope to children who live this situation in real life. There is a dedication to the Lewisham Speech and Language Therapy Team at the front, so I am guessing the inspiration for this might have been the therapists’ frustration at a lack of realistic portrayals of children with speech difficulties. The illustrations are charming (and feature witches of all shades) and I would recommend it for any child aged 3 – 6.

Grandpa Bert and the Ghost Snatchers by Malorie Blackman, illustrated by Melanie Demmer

How amazing is Malorie Blackman? I know this is hardly an original observation, what with her being a former Children’s Laureate and all that, but I love the fact that despite being one of the best-known names in her trade, she is still writing obscure little books with no fanfare, but of excellent quality. I love everything about this, particularly the size and shape – ideal for little hands, with plenty of white space on the page to ease the transition from picture books to the Holy Grail of independent reading – chapter books! This story wastes no time with extraneous detail or description; it tells the reader exactly how much they need to know about character, setting and plot, and no more. There are generous colour illustrations to help the reader along. Exciting, funny, easy to understand and with a very slightly bonkers Granny – what more could a young reader ask for?

Jungledrop by Abi Elphinstone

An exciting and well-thought-through story, the second in The Unmapped Chronicles series. This book has a great balance of adventure, character development (very much inter-twined with the plot) and fantastical world building. Some of the emotional implications are laid on with a trowel somewhat, but it is aimed at 8 – 11 year olds who would benefit from these developments being spelt out quite directly. It works as a standalone story but is clearly connected to the others in the series; however, unlike The Cut Throat Café from last month, the allusions are helpful rather than intrusive. I could see it being enjoyed as a read-alone, or making a great shared bedtime serialised story – possibly even one of those where the parent reads on sneakily by themselves, just to find out what happens next! (Or, to be fair, to find out how it happens – the outcome is never in much doubt).

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