Juniper Mae: Knight of Tykotech City by Sarah Soh

I may have shared my journey as a reader before so apologies if you’ve heard me drone on about this before. As a child books held little interest to me…I was labelled a reluctant reader, however I read constantly. I read comics! It was my entire reading diet, I made my own on wet weekends, and on our weekly school library visit was the recycling of the same three graphic novels. I really to wish there were more books like Juniper Mae for me to explore.

Juniper Mae lives in a place that is truly amazing; the technology has brought peace and comfort to everyone. It a city were the impossible is possible, there is always a price to pay even if it is hidden. Cutting themselves off from the outside world seemed a fair price until the city starts to experience unexpected power cuts.

The gifts Juniper has means she may just be the only person able to fix the problem and save the city. Even if that means going beyond the city walls and face the wild beasts…if the myths are true!

Sarah Soh is a cracking storyteller and this adventure is hopefully one of many for Juniper Mae. The style reminds me of manga, Japanese comic books, that is perfectly executed for younger children. The energy and cuteness is a great blend to draw in the reader to what is a fantastic story.

Now for the teacher bit. As always, I strongly think graphic novels are an underused tool when it comes to teaching writing. Think of a standard page with a story told in panels – each panel provides a snapshot of the plot and how the characters act for a writer to describe. How often as a teacher as a teacher do you have to describe the sequence of something to expand on a simple point in a story? Using a comic book page to aid this is an easy win. Teaching speech using comic book pages is also a no brainer as the visual representation of the bubble and speaker does a lot to model the abstract. Juniper Mae is also handy in the classroom due to the theme of the book – humankind and nature living in harmony – as it is important idea to expose children to at a young age. Add this to the fact that the manga style opens up a whole new culture of reading to the audience.

A book my friends and I would have loved to have in my primary classroom – a must buy!

Bathe the Cat by Alice B. McGinty & David Roberts

Now the beauty of being a picture book fan is devouring the fabulous artwork on display. What I like most is when you scan the shelves and out jumps an always favourite. David Roberts always does a great job and is a must-buy whenever I come across his work.

However, this was the first Alice B. McGinty I’d ever read and I’m pleased to say that thanks to my mate Dave, I’ll be seeking out more of her work.

I love it when children’s stories are a farce. The silly joy that comes from a simple gag that any reader can understand and giggle at is vastly underrated.

Every household has had the panic of the ‘a visitor is coming, let’s tidy up NOW!’ Take that ingredient, a list of jobs in magnet letters on the fridge and a mischievous pussycat dreading a bath and you get this bundle of fun. The constant upping of the nonsense is pitch perfect!

Now for the teacher bit. It is so important that all of society is represented in the classroom and books is a great way to do that. Throughout the review, I made a point of not highlighting how diversity is present as the story doesn’t need there to be two dads, or them to be black…or for the children to be adopted, or the family to be blended races. It simply needed a grandparent to visit and a cat to cause chaos. This to me is true representation in children’s books and it is essential that children have a reading diet like this.

Bathe the cat, clean the house, or just read this book without a doubt.

The Smallest Girl in the Class by Justin Roberts & Christian Robinson

Sally McBrass can pass by unnoticed. Hiding in plain sight is an underrated quality as Sally gets to watch and observe, observe and watch. In fact, she notices everything…every ill deed, every mean action.

As you can imagine, a busy school often has interactions that aren’t kind or considerate and Justin Roberts highlights each one in a clever rhyming prose. Of course, Sally calls out these issues by asking everyone to be nicer towards each other but not before the ways of a school are presented to the reader in quite an accurate way.

The artwork is perfect for this story. The child-like style makes you feel like Sally herself went away and created an account of her school days as a way of being seen. The way that a line or two conveys emotion is fantastic – a favourite of mine is the scene in which the school bully is led out of school by his dad.

Now for the teacher bit. This is an ideal book for PSHE lessons as it is a book about how to treat each other better. In primary schools, it can be super useful to hold up a picture book to allow the children to reflect on their own actions and how they interact with each other. If we aren’t striving to make our learners be the best humans they can then we are doing something wrong.

Good things come in ALL sizes!

Hilda’s Book of Beasts and Spirits by Emily Hibbs & Jason Chan P.L and Sapo Lendario

I have made no secret of my sheer delight for Hilda and her many adventures in both graphic novel form or traditional novel, so as a true Hilda geek, I devoured this guide to her wonderful world. If you’ve never came across this blue haired adventurer, then you don’t know what you are missing!

Luke Pearson has created a fantastic lead character and plonked her straight in the middle of Trolberg, which is unlike anywhere! Due to vast array of the traditional folklore beasts and some you just couldn’t imagine their origins, it is the perfect source material to turn into a non-fiction guide. Who doesn’t want to know all about trolls or what exactly is are tide mice?

The creative team behind this book have worked wonders to produce some engaging texts and fantastic water-coloured artwork in the true spirit of Luke Pearson’s work.

Page layouts follow a similar structure with whole pages for the creature being explored with text and blue ‘notes’ revealing the thoughts of our avid adventurer, Hilda. I love how the pages have quirky, different text types littered throughout such as the ‘Naughty Children Checklist’ needed for deciding if you go in a stew, or instructions to play ‘Elf Poker’.

Now for the teacher bit. This book highlights the magic of using imaginative source material with children. Luke Pearson has created such a rich world of memorable creatures, each with a unique culture and history so writers can be inspired to create their own non-fiction texts. Whenever I taught non-chronological reports I always sought out subjects that weren’t embedded with ‘real’ facts. The not knowing can become a barrier to the children, the fear of it being wrong, yet with deerfoxes, wood folk or salt lions, the writer has free reign to be creative, witty and ‘factual’.

Hilda rocks – it is that simple!

Ducks Overboard by Markus Motum

I was overjoyed to spot this book at a local store. Remembering watching Newsround way back in 1992 (although I thought it hadn’t happened that long ago) in disbelief at the weird and wonderful tale of a band of escapees. Markus Motum has created yet another amazing picture book inspired by real life events.

Told in first person from the viewpoint of one of the thousands of plastic ducks who were being shipped from China to the USA, yet never completed the trip, this story is one that entertains and educates in equal measure. When a storm hits, an unusual adventure begins…one that is still being ‘enjoyed’ today!

As anyone would expect, the illustrations are a joy. Minimal yet so well crafted, your eyes observe the basic shapes and then are drawn in by the small details that Markus Motum uses.

Now for the teacher bit. The whole book is basically crying out to be turned into a geography unit of work in KS2. There would be no doubt about pupil engagement and the study around the oceans of the world would be absolutely ace! At the end of the book is a handy non-fiction text that educates the reader about ocean currents and plastic pollution. It is ideal for teachers who need a reading comprehension linked to their geography curriculum.

A bonkers true life tale – absolutely quackers!

The Girl Who Rowed the Ocean by Alastair Humphreys

As a reader, I’m always of the lookout for bold, strong female characters and in The Girl Who Rowed the Ocean, I found one in Lucy. This story charts her fantastic adventure.

One day, Lucy decides to do something extraordinary, something most wouldn’t dream of doing, something that will inspire those around her forever. Her personal mission to row the ocean is superbly told with the perils, such as storms and collisions with much, much larger seacrafts, contrasting with the long days of aching arms, boredom and sore bottoms.

Alastair Humphreys is an expert on tales of explorers and feats of endurance to travel the globe. His personal experiences ensure that each chapter is filled with fascinating details about life at sea in such challenging circumstances. Children will adore collecting as many tips as possible in the hope of one day following in Lucy’s footsteps.

Now for the teacher bit. The assignments that Lucy’s class complete over the course of her journey are presented and this makes this book quite unique in terms of providing a brilliant range of text types to explore. It really is a gem for teachers who like to plan their writing opportunities from an inspiring book. Of course, there are countless aspects of geography that could be taught to a captivating audience thanks to the fantastic level of research done by Alastair Humphreys.

A book made for teachers to teach from – a must try!

I Remember by Jeanne Willis & Raquel Catalina

Some books can make you glad, and some can make you sad…yet few can make you sad and glad at the same time. I Remember does this and that is why it is so special. Whenever a person reads anything, their experience of it is wrapped up in their own life. As a tear rolled down my cheek, I smiled at the thought of a child’s lived experience being there on the pages in my hand. Knowing that your life is shared by others is sometimes all the support someone needs.

Kathleen answers her door. Stood there is a little boy in his blue coat, a visitor there to chat. Kathleen doesn’t quite remember when the boy last came, nor where she put the biscuits. However, she does feel comfortable with the boy as he reminds her of her grandson. The way the boy brings joy and care into Kathleen’s world is a joy to be seen and this is how Jeanne Willis elevates the story into something special. Life is all about the little moments and this book shines a light on those moments.

The gentle, traditional illustrations are perfect for the story and Raquel Catalina creates a timeless day’s play in Autumn that is so inviting. Throughout the story, Kathleen’s facial expressions convey the inner turmoil – joy, confusion, fear and relief – in such a subtle manner and that can happen when an artist is as skilled as this.

Now for the teacher bit. Dementia cases have increased over time and this pattern seems set to continue. As a result, more and more families will have to adjust to life with a loved one who needs care and consideration due to the condition. Schools need to help children be prepared to accept what are truly trying times, and this book is a great way to do that.

A beautiful book that brings tears from your heart.

Glitter Boy by Ian Eagleton

Glitter Boy is the first full length children’s novel by Ian Eagleton. His previous books, Nen and the Lonely Fisherman and The Woodcutter and the Snow Prince, have had similar themes and it is great to see how this transfers into a longer format.

James is a young boy who enjoys life and gets on with almost everyone (not Paul…he is awful, as bullies often are), but his life isn’t free of bumps. With his Mum gone, his Nan frail and his Dad desperately lonely, his home life doesn’t help his care free attitude to strive…and neither does the question of who he really is.

What I like most about this book is that it is brave in meeting the challenge of confronting homophobia head on. It would be easy to pretend this still isn’t an issue in our schools and I’m a strong believer that books are one of our greatest tools for helping others understand those who are different to them.

They say ‘write about what you know’. Now that doesn’t mean that authors have encountered aliens or fought evil wizards, but it should mean that when they write characters that it comes from the heart. Ian does this perfectly. The struggles of day to day school life mixed with finding your place in the world is so well crafted that you can feel James dissecting every feeling he has.

Great character writing extends beyond James in the central role. I have a huge soft spot for Nan and how she brings joy to his life as well as Harriet, who is another that brings a cheeky presence whenever she appears due to her confidence and integrity.

Now for the teacher bit. I can’t stress the importance of books like this finding their way into the hands of teachers and children. People need to know that there are stories that represent them and their families. For those who didn’t know, Ian Eagleton is someone who has plenty of experience of Primary school life due to his time as a teacher. This means that the story is extremely authentic and would be perfect for the modern class library.

When life gets dark, let yourself shine – when life gets dull, grab a copy of Glitter Boy!

Witchstorm by Tim Tilley

Harry Potter casts a large, dark shadow over books with a magical theme despite it continuing to be an amazing genre. Tim Tilley adds another fantastic entry to the world of wizards, witches and warlocks with Witchstorm.

With his Ma missing, Will’s concern grows by the day as him and his Fa prepare for the incoming storm. Both Will and his Ma believe in the ancient rumours of witches that are tied to the local lands, but most are sceptical at best. Will is convinced that his Ma finally found the witches and this is why she disappeared. In a fruitless search for his Ma, he comes across a silver amulet…and this will drag him into a fight he is ill prepared to win.

Without giving away any spoilers, Will becomes embroiled in a battle for who rules the witches. Long since hidden from humans for their own protection, this magical community is under siege from within and only Will and Magda, the strong-willed witch, can turn the tide for witches and humans alike.

Tim Tilley does a fantastic job in drawing the reader in with some brilliantly paced scenes that are gripping while moving the story on. Peril drips of the page in most chapters and this will be one that everyone enjoys. These stories often live or die by the villain. Hildreth is a fantastic villain; one of menace and purpose. His willingness to turn others into slaves and his hatred of humans highlights how dangerous he is. I adore the way that he ignores those he believes to be beneath him, despite their best efforts to confront and defeat him.

Now for the teacher bit. Sharing cracking books is enough so if you need only one reason to read this to your class, then you’re sorted. However, if you’re someone who needs a theme or must link it to wider learning, then the best angle I can see is the one of conservation. Throughout the book, there are many references to the natural materials the witches require disappearing and this reflects our own relationship with the planet. An important message to highlight, but the fact that this is a great read is the real reason to share it with the children.

Fast paced, gripping, filled with great characters – a fantastic read for adults and children alike.

Paper Boat, Paper Bird by David Almond & Kirsti Beautyman

David Almond is a children’s literature great with works that really impact on the reader. The likes of Harry Miller’s Run, Skellig, My Dad’s a Birdman and The Dam are all amazing examples of how David Almond can pretty much master any form of storytelling.

Paper Boat, Paper Bird continues the story of Mina, who we met quite a while back in Skellig, and her travels to Japan. As she explores this new culture, we as the reader get to as well. This is the beauty of the book, a gentle tour of a place we know little about – the observations Mina makes, the interactions with others and the snippets of language all delight.

At its heart, as with almost every Almond tale, Paper Boat, Paper Bird is about relationships and how they evolve. Mina and her mother cope with the loss of her father, not forget…more accept. Mina’s growing friendship with Miyako warms the reader. All the while, Kirsti Beautyman presents gorgeous illustrations that compliment the story perfectly.

Now for the teacher bit. Origami is often ignored in UK primary schools, despite being a genuine artform. Any easier to resource sculpture lessons should be on the radar of art subject leads, and when you add the cultural aspect of learning about how an artform is interwoven with a nation, in this case Japan, then it is a winner in my eyes for schools to introduce.

As an aside, for teachers in the North-East, the creative team are both Newcastle based and highlighting this using the notes at the back of the book is an ideal way of highlighting career aspirations for the children.

素晴らしいアーモンドの冒険 – 日本での生活を垣間見ることができます。