Rory’s Room of Rectangles by Ian Eagleton & Jessica Knight

Ian Eagleton is fast becoming an author with an impressive back catalogue of books. Glitter Boy, Nen and the Lonely Fisherman and The Woodcutter and the Snow Prince have built a solid reputation that has made the next Ian Eagleton a one to seek out. Thankfully, there is a new one to enjoy in Rory’s Room of Rectangles.

Rory has a great dad, he really does. He does fun stuff with him like go to the park…but only on the weekend. The rest of the time he lives with mum and her partner Tony. Tony is pretty cool. Rory likes him, he really does. Yet one day in class, when asked to make a Father’s Day card for someone special, Rory becomes confused and angry. Tony might just have an idea to help Rory feel better…

Ian masterfully takes an annual event and mines it for emotional gold that any child could relate to. On top of this, Jessica Knight does a great job at illustrating a real life situation with enough charm that the love each character feels towards one another in there on the page. I particularly like the backgrounds in the art gallery with the paintings of display adding to the story in such a subtle manner.

Now for the teacher bit. As I have often stated in this blog, books can be mirrors or windows depending on your own experience. Blended families are far more common and this means that this book is the perfect book for many children to see themselves in. Any story that opens up the discussion about what is a family and how there can be many different ways to create a family is always a welcome read. Add to that the discussions between the characters about how the art makes them feel and how, as a teacher, you can use this to prompt thinking about abstract art, then this book is a must for classes to share.

Ian’s Room of Fantastic Books will soon be a thing!

Monster Support Group: The Werewolf’s Tale by Laura Suarez

Lowell has a problem. He is hitting his teenage years and is starting to feel himself change. He talks to his dad…an awkward chat in which his father shares his own struggles at that time in his life. Problem is, Lowell isn’t just going through normal changes!

I shared this with my own little monster (a hectic 3 year old) and he loved it. In fact, it has been the bedtime read for over a week. If the little man gives it a huge thumbs up, that is enough for me.

As a child of the 80s, I am always here for stories of teenage werewolves facing down bullies and desperately trying to hide their ‘condition’. That said, Laura Suarez brings such charm that this stands apart from any werewolf stories that you may have read before. The framing of the tale using the support group is a clever idea and makes the reader naturally wonder which spook, ghoul or monster is next up to share.

Now for the teacher bit. More and more, teachers are becoming increasingly comfortable in using graphic novels and comic strips in their classrooms. Flying Eye Books, amongst others, are helping schools by producing a range of perfectly pitched stories that are not the traditional ‘superhero’ fare. The level of vocabulary and inferences that can be developed using graphic novels should not be underestimated. On top of that, there is even a history opportunity to be had as the story of Lycaon the king of Arcadia is shared. For anyone learning about Ancient Greeks, it is a handy link to make.

A howl lot of fun!

Operation Banana by Tony Bradman

Susan has a simple plan. One she hopes will cheer her mum up – the long hours in the factory and the lack of letters from her husband serving in the troops is taking its toll. Everyone is finding life tough and a gift of a humble banana might just be enough to make her mum smile.

Finding such an item in WWII wasn’t as straight forward as it is today. Susan even considers turning to Doreen, whose lifestyle makes a mockery of the suffering of everyone else. Having a dad working on the black market will bring its perks. With the help of her best friend, Jimmy, she tries everything she can to succeed.

Tony Bradman mixes historical fact with family drama with ease. A story well told is always welcome. Although it is a brisk read with little over 50 papers, it is well worth seeking out.

Now for the teacher bit. Most primary schools teach WWII and when you start unpicking it, like many topics in History, you become aware that there is so much to focus on. I like to build a unit of work around the impact on those left at home. Operation Banana is an ideal book for doing this. The blitz is explained in a way that children understand the strains of families trying to cope with the harshest of times. As you can imagine, the book is perfect for opening up a discussion about rationing and the impact this had on the lives of so many.

WWII is my favourite era for children’s books and this earns its place amongst my go to stories.

The Best Bear Tracker by John Condon & Julia Christians

Sometimes you find books by chance. I’m certainly not the best book tracker and often stumble around without much of a plan or clue about what I’m looking for. Every now and again, a cover just catches my eye and invites me to check it out.

One day, a brave young explorer sets out to track down a bear. She has a plan…in fact she is an expert. And as the lucky reader, you also get to learn each of her rules so you can be the best bear tracker you can be.

The know-it-nature of the hapless bear tracker adds an element of fun throughout the story and reminds me of Wolves by Emily Gravett. Of course, the little girl doesn’t intend to hunt down a grizzly and all of this is a quaint game of make believe.

Now for the teacher bit. The perfect book for teaching instructions: it is that simple.

A joyful, fun book that children will love.

The Artist by Ed Vere

Ed Vere is one of the modern day picture book masters. His work will be known by everyone as it is always fun and eye-catching. However, none have had the heart that The Artist does. And my word does it have heart!

The story is a simple one – an artist who wants to just create. Take an idea and let it flow. See what happens when they put pen, pencil, crayon, paint…whatever they wish to paper, cardboard, brick…and so on. Then one day, the Artist travels to find a larger audience for her artwork and this is when she faces her real challenge. A challenge of self-belief.

The artwork is a joy and the story packs just the right amount of punch. Ed Vere has gotten everything spot on! I adore the little things in the book: the ‘tape’ on the page, the fact the dinosaur is a she or the change of colour to match her mood. Even the first page, with its mix of photography and doodles makes me smile. This is the work of a creator at the top of their game.

Now for the teacher bit. Much like Ish, this book is a must to share as a part of your primary arts curriculum as it gets to the heart of what it means to be an artist. It is about the mindset of being an artist, something that all children start with but many sadly lose on their way. If you want a class filled with children willing to try out ideas, be brave to explore and ok with making mistakes, then you must share this book.

Art matters!

The Laugh by Fay Evans and Ayse Klinge

Thank goodness for blurbs! As the old saying goes, never judge a book by its cover and in the case of The Laugh a truer word has never been said.

Fay Evans and Ayse Klinge have combined their creative skill sets to produce a book that shows the life of a lady – full of fun and laughter of her own making – and how she lifts those around her. You want to spent time with her as much as a family does. Yet, sadly, the time spent together for the family and the reader is limited. I did take one lesson from this story which was to live each moment with a smile.

Some books tell a story that touches the soul. The Laugh certainly does this with its simple story and lovely artwork. Sometimes the hardest of times requires the simplest of tales…at the end of it all, I could think about was my own mam and her laugh (normally at some physical misfortune of my Dad’s). Miss you, Mam.

Now for the teacher bit. Books that deal with grief are hugely important in Primary school as we can’t plan when a child will be faced with loss. That alone is why books like this are a must to be shared with children throughout their time with us.

The Laugh is a tale of those we love and why we must cherish them all. A message worth sharing with as many people as possible.

Bramble Fox

Some books seem to get such fanfare, while others seem to go under the radar. As someone who blogs about books, finding those that others may miss and shining a light on them is a must. Bramble Fox needs a massive spotlight on it as it is brilliant.

Fantasy reads are often those that gain the most ardent fans. They draw folk into their well-built worlds that have layers naturally woven through them. Kathrin Tordasi has created an amazing story that has history and weight attached while also being about two young people who are unsure of themselves, yet may just have to save multiple worlds they have little understanding of.

Portia visits a sleepy Welsh town with nothing much else to do expect seek out a friend to at least stem the boredom. She meets Ben in a bookshop and since he is the only person she knows even close to her own age, she agrees to meet with him. Little does she know that her curiosity regarding a fox, a key and a doorway deep in the woods would lead to an encounter with the Grey King and the mists that represent suffering and despair for everyone.

As a reader, I adore the structure of a chapter being told from the viewpoint of Portia or Ben. Both are very different characters, yet balance each other out perfectly. Splitting them up throughout the tale adds to the tension as either could prevent the other from succeeding and with the risks and rewards being so high, it makes for a fantastic read. My favourite character is Rose, the battle weary Aunt who has faced down the Grey King before and lived to tell the tale.

Now for the teacher bit. As always, great books need putting into the hands of young readers so that alone is a reason for adding this into your class library. I would suggest that teachers in Wales look to take a particular interest in it as it is set in their wonderful nation. It isn’t often that I come across a book set in Wales and I do wonder if this is an issue for those who live there.

A brilliant new world for readers to explore. Folklore at its best!

The Time Machine Next Door: Explorers and Milkshakes by Iszi Lawerence

Iszi Lawerence has created a cracking series that is ideal for that tricky age range in Primary – Y3 and Y4. The stuck in-between crew who are yet to be fluent readers that need to smash books with mature themes and 300+ pages are well catered for with this. Short and snappy is key for this age range, and if you throw in pacy adventure and a bundle of laughs then you are onto a winner. Tick and tick, in this case!

Sunil is the star of the show…and by that I mean he is clueless and mostly unaware of what is exactly going on. It is that age old story of boy breaks record, boy meets neighbour, neighbour has time machine to send him back to replace broken record, boy meets famous explorers as he tumbles through time without a plan!

Iszi Lawerence does a great job in plotting a story that could become quite confusing due to all the time travel nonsense. The use of famous historical figures adds a sense of fun that I didn’t expect and just shows how well crafted the tale is.

Now for the teacher bit. Of course, a time travel book has great history links and if you are teaching about Ernest Shackleton or Neil Armstrong then this would be a great book to use as a class reader. What I love about this book is the footnotes that are shared throughout. The facts that the children will learn from it are brilliant. Who knew that Neil Armstrong and Ernest Shackleton shared stories while stuck together on a PR visit? The geek in me adored this feature and the kids will as well.

This is the start of a series that you can easily lose time reading.

The Little Match Girl Strikes Back by Emma Carroll & Lauren Child

Emma Carroll is the queen of historical fiction and has a back catalogue that includes Letters From the Lighthouse and The Ghost Garden so you always know you are in for a treat. The Little Match Girl Strikes Back certainly doesn’t disappoint.

I’m often attracted to stories with strong-willed female leads and Bridie can make the claim to be one of the best. She braves the harsh streets to sell her matches, which is a constant battle to succeed and aid her family. One day it seems everything is against her – a troublesome stranger on her patch, a collision with a carriage and her stock trodden on or soaked in puddles. This is when she finds out that her final three matches allow her to see a vision of her future…now things become interesting.

The creative page design and use of typography is particularly welcome and it does make me wonder how much influence the always brilliant Lauren Child had on the overall look of the book. The dust jacket and inside cover are both superb in their simplicity.

Now for the teacher bit. Although this is a work of fiction, the way it presents the conditions of Victorian England and the struggles of the workers in the factories provides a great way into learning about the realities of the industrial revolution and what came after. Being able to focus on the workers fighting for their rights is a fine example of a timeless lesson to teach young people.

This one definitely strikes a cord!

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!