Astromouse – Steve Smallman (Due to be published 21.6.18)

AstromouseI chose to read this book purely on the basis that the cover image is exactly the sort of book I would have chosen way back when I was in the target age bracket for this book. It reminded me (as do many of the book’s illustrations) of the sort of films I loved as a kid like Fieval Goes West, Basil the Great Mouse Detective and The Rescuers. I think the early 1990’s childhood version of myself would have been happy with this book choice. It’s a nice little story with some adventure and exploration. Exactly what I would have wanted from a book.

Nowadays, as a teacher approaching this book, my main preoccupations are how it could be used with a class or a group of children. I am happy then to be able to say that this book would definitely be of use in class.

There’s a range of topics this book could help with from design and technology (design your own spaceship?) to science and maths (space, transport and there’s even a lovely image relating to reflection – brings to mind the fable of a greedy dog and a bone seeing its own reflection actually).

So, this book would ordinarily get 4 stars for being useful, interesting and a definite must have for KS1 classrooms. However, it sneaks in a bonus star for its final page. It ends with ideas for comprehension questions, ideas for inspiring writing and even a plan for an art lesson follow up. That’s a feature always appreciated in books for educators!

Tiny Fox and Great Boar – Berenika Kolomycka

This is a really charming little picture book. The illustrations are all cute and a little quirky.

The actual story being told here is a little basic but it does still have a nice underlying tale of unusual but enduring friendship. There’s a little lesson for younger children in there about getting along and appreciating one another which is all fine.

The reason this book gets a four star rating is for the artwork it could inspire in children. This could easily be used to generate paintings for use when teaching a whole range of topics. I would use this book as a jumping off point for teaching painting and colour mixing techniques for reception/year 1, seasons, friendships (SEAL type learning), animals and habitats or as a story board to inspire children’s own writing.

Any book for children that is so easily adaptable for teaching is a good book by my ratings. The fact that this one happens to feature some cute little critters is just a bonus.

The Coral Kingdom – Laura Knowles

CoralKingdomThis is a timely publication with the current level of interest there is in ocean conservation and hits the right marks in the discussion points at the end of the book which could be explored further with children. This makes this book an ideal jumping off point if you were looking to do a topic or study into recycling or the environment. This would be an excellent book choice for younger children if a school wanted to introduce a green/environmental focus to their setting.

In terms of the story and illustrations, ‘The Coral Kingdom’ would certainly appeal to younger children with bright and vibrant pictures throughout that would immediately bring to mind films like ‘Finding Nemo’ and help make this a comfortable and familiar setting for young readers. This would also be a good starting point or prompt for some independent writing with an easy to follow rhythm to the text which could allow schemes such as ‘Talk for Writing’ to be followed to help children produce their own writing.

I love finding books like this which could so easily be adapted as a writing prompt or a topic starting point. Definitely one to add to any Early Years classroom or young reader’s book collection.

Someone Else’s Shoes – Ellen Wittlinger (due to be published 09.2018)

29774971Interesting themes of loss, grief, mental wellbeing, and changing family circumstances make this a book I can comfortably recommend both for its usefulness as a potential class reading book, as well as being a book that could deepen understanding for any young reader coping with grief themselves. ‘Someone Else’s Shoes’ covers a whole range of areas that would be useful for young readers to explore through fiction rather than being ‘taught’ about them in a more traditional sense. This is always a plus for any YA book to have. A focus on grief and comedy is also a nice, and unexpected, juxtaposition for this kind of a book. And, while the narrative wasn’t as enthralling as it could have been, this is still a quick, interesting and useful read. Worth getting hold of if the themes appeal to you or a young reader you know.

Sometimes I Feel Sad – Tom Alexander (Due to be published 21.3.18)

51pv4TOduFL._AC_US218_I loved this book for the direct and simple way it tackled a potentially tricky subject matter. Every child needs to be aware that feeling is sad is normal, common and that when they feel that way they are not alone. This book allows children to see a character who might feel like them and one they can relate to especially in showing that their sadness can vary and is not always easily fixed.

What I loved about the simplicity of the illustrations here is that they allowed for emotion to be shown in expressions without the need for a complicated backdrop. The type of illustration here could be particularly useful for working with children in that it is a style they could easily replicate. The real positive to having illustrations like these is that you could have children replicate them to draw their own emotions, or how they want things to be. Because the text is simple it would be useful for children to edit or utilise for their own writing prompts from age 5 and higher up in school the images could be replicated digitally by children who could create their own comics or animations based on this.

This book should be in every classroom and be part of every teacher’s go to lessons/schemes of work when covering mental health issues, depression, or any kind of sadness in a child’s life.

The Reservoir Tapes – Jon McGregor

Reservoir TapesI absolutely loved Reservoir 13 and this is a wonderful little companion read. I felt genuine sadness at having to leave the fascinating little village community behind when I finished Reservoir 13 and as such I was delighted to find I could delve further into the heart of it in this short but engrossing little book.

The incredible control and style that Jon McGregor showed in creating Reservoir 13 remains in full force here making for a book unlike the vast majority of other material out there. McGregor is a unique talent and this book is just another gem to add to his collection. Brilliant.

Painter to the King – Amy Sackville (Due to be published 5.4.18)

unnamedThis is a challenging but rewarding look at the life of Spanish painter Diego Velazquez. Much of the prose here feels like Amy Sackville is painting with words. While the artist she discusses is known for realistic creations this book is very much the opposite of that. Here we have beautiful images created through words that somehow weave together a story framed by a narrator looking back on the life of an artist through his own works. If that sounds a little unusual, it’s because this book is just that. Unusual, odd, challenging, rewarding, poignant, modern yet classical.

This book resists obvious classification. I am not sure exactly who I could recommend this to. However, I would have doubted my own enjoyment of this book given that I had never heard of the artist, had never seen his works and I have little interest in the historical period covered. And yet, I still really enjoyed it. So, if you’re in the market for something a little different, I guess I would advise giving this a go.

The Prince and the Frog – Olly Pike (Due to be published 19.4.18)

36489594First and foremost, this is a nice, accessible and well illustrated fairy tale. The nice bonus here, is that this can obviously be used as a jumping off point for lessons on same-sex relationships or when covering LGBTQ issues in general. The text and story itself is accessible for children aged 4+ and this seems an easy starting point for children of this age. It would be nice to see more children’s books which offer characters avoiding traditional stereotypes like this one.

The Secret Life of Cows – Rosamund Young

34210873This is a really tricky book for me to review. It’s a book by a farmer, and I am vegan. I expected this could be a struggle. It sort of is and it isn’t. It’s a book of conflicting ideas and juxtapositions of thought.

The author makes a lot of points I would agree with. This is especially true of the introduction section in which Young states that ‘Bovine needs are in many respects the same as human ones: freedom from stress, adequate shelter, pure food and water, liberty to exercise, to wander about, to go for a walk or just to stand and stare’. I totally agree and that seems reasonable to me. Where I struggle, and this is a recurring difficulty in the book, is in the fact that the author, from years of experience, can make those observations, then draw the conclusion that it is somehow OK to kill them.

We are told that ‘We should presume that every animal has a limitless ability to experience a whole range of emotions’ and subsequently told many short stories showing the range of emotions, caring and intelligence displayed by the animals within them. The book allows you to build an affinity for the animals in each story and believe them to be sentient beings capable of many of the same things any human would be, yet we have to read all this in the knowledge that each character is set to be murdered and that we should feel OK about that.

And here’s the thing, I am not sure that even the writer here believes that it is all that OK to kill the animals in her care. An awful lot of this book is little anecdotes about specific, named, animals. You get a sense that the person writing it really does form an attachment with their animals.It is odd then, to note that so little mention is made of the bit where they have to go away. We get a lot about births, their early life, some of them being parents and the bonds they make, but no mention of sadness or loss. Yet we know that has to be happening.

I give this book credit for the fact that it is readable and has interesting aspects to it. I cannot state that I disliked the book and I am glad that I read it. I struggle to give this a very high score however, because it is lacking in a sense of finality or conclusion. Are we supposed to just read each story and shrug at all the characters being killed after the book is done? I found that a little tricky. I am surprised that isn’t the same conclusion drawn by the author.

Old Misery – James Sage (Due to be published 1.5.18)

36205093This is quite an odd little book. The illustrations are basic but entertaining and should be interesting enough for young readers. The language used and style of writing is what make this book one I would use in education. The actual writing is all very non-standard and this makes it a good jumping off point for children to write their own non-standard works and to play with the language a little. It would be a nice challenge to set children the task of turning some of the phrases in to a more standard formal style. Where this book falls down slightly, is that the narrative is not very strong and this makes it less ideal to use as inspiration for anything like a story map/talk for writing kind of text.

I would use this in class, but I do not think it I would say it is a book everyone would love.