Harriet Tubman (Little People, Big Dreams) – María Isabel Sánchez Vegara (Due to be published 5.6.18)

Harriet TubmanI love both the premise and the delivery of this series of books. The whole series of ‘Little People, Big Dreams’ books should be a staple of all primary/elementary schools. This is a really accessible introduction to historical figures.

Each book seems to be a good length and an excellent introduction to important figures from history pitched perfectly for young readers. There’s just enough information here to peak a young readers interest without overwhelming them. These books would serve as an excellent introductory piece for a topic or as a good framework for children to write their own non-fiction texts.

As for this specific book, I found it a decent introduction to Harriet Tubman and would use this if I wanted to introduce this subject area in class. I don’t think this is the standout title in the series but it adds some depth and ensures the inclusion of an area which is rarely looked at in UK schools.

Audrey the Amazing Inventor – Rachel Valentine (Due to be published 21.6.18)

Taken purely on face value this is a nice little story about a young child who wants to be an inventor.Audrey.png The illustrations are all nice enough but the narrative and pictures aren’t really enough to make this stand out on their own.

The reason I would recommend this book over many others however is that it serves an important role in promoting a lot of great values children can learn from at an early age.

In the first instance, this book features a girl (Audrey) aspiring to be an inventor and as such immediately stands out as a way to help normalise a view of gender equality is STEM areas of study. Secondly, when Audrey encounters difficulties, she never stops trying. So straight away we have a book focusing on perseverance and breaking down gender barriers.  Add to this the fact that Audrey appears to come from a single parent family and that she delivers the kind of humour that would appeal to children aged 4-7 years old and what we have here is a perfect little picture  book for an early years or KS1 classroom.

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.