The Ancient Egypt Sleepover by Stephen Davies

The geek in me honestly thinks the coolest thing ever is to sleep over at the British Museum, and Mo gets to experience this thanks to winning a writing competition. After a brief bit of sightseeing – Lord’s Cricket Ground, Buckingham Palace, Madame Tussauds – a once in a lifetime experience certainly becomes that, for all the wrong reasons.

The sleep over starts off in a normal manner – chit chat amongst the other winners, rules laid out by over-excited organisers and the odd bit of creepiness that threatens a good night’s sleep. There is even an obnoxious bully who has managed to win a place. Pretty standard stuff until someone drugs the entire party hoping to steal the rare artefacts!

Heist stories are always thrilling, and this one is no exception. Mo and his friends find themselves in a situation in which the adults are useless and the peril they face is very real. Stephen Davies does a great job at making the story rattle along at a good pace, while developing characters at the same time.

Now for the teacher bit. As a teacher, I often see people asking for books linked to their history topics. Finding good books linked to the ancient civilisations is much harder than you think. Stephen Davies does a great job in presenting the discovery of Tutankhamun by Howard Carter: he has littered the book with cool facts of this event and of ancient Egypt. I particularly like the use of hieroglyphics in the story and can easily see this being extended into an activity for your class.

A perfect read for Year 3 and 4.

The Comet by Joe Todd-Stanton

Sometimes simple stories are what the heart needs. They sing on for far longer than other tales. The Comet is such a story.

Nyla loves her life, her life of making up stories, fresh air and fun outside, of smiles and laughter with her father – a life that anyone would want to lead. However, life can’t always be plain sailing and Nyla’s life is thrown off course by the winds of change.

A move to the city, a new job for dad, a new school and no friends, this is Nyla’s life now. She pines for her old life in the open spaces, but that isn’t her main issue. Her father has more demands from work placed on him, and this impacts on Nyla even more. The strong bond between the father and daughter is so well crafted that you feel the sadness as the father becomes increasingly busy.

Fear not, this is a story of hope and a happy ending awaits the reader.

Joe Todd-Stanton is an amazing storyteller. His ability to create the perfect fusion of picturebook trappings with graphic novel style is a joy to behold. Although he creates great adventures, such as the Brownstone series, it is in quieter settings like The Comet that he shines.

Now for the teacher bit. This book would be perfect for any new children in your class. Moving home, starting new schools and making friends are some of the biggest challenges a child can face, so sharing The Comet with new children is a great way to let them know that it is all about creating new, positive memories.

Vibrant, beautiful, soulful – a sincere, sensitive story of hope.

Fake by Ele Fountain

I have to hold my hands up at this point and declare that l’m a huge fan of Ele Fountain’s work. Boy 87 is still one of the best ever children’s books I’ve read and her follow up novels Lost and Melt are also cracking reads. So any time a new book is released, I hope it hits the heights of the rest. Breathe easy everyone, as Fake more than reaches that level.

Well, if there was ever a book that feels like an extension of the recent events around the globe, this is it. Ele presents a world in which human interaction is restricted due to antibiotics failing. Minor ailments become deadly without effective antibiotics, so the world shifts online. Family units are the only other humans people ever encounter, until it is time to go to school at 14.

Jess is more than ready for going to school. Of course, leaving your family is hard, especially as her sister Chloe is suffering and unwell, yet this is the path that Jess must follow. Bright and determined, she knows she will thrive in her new environment…unless her secret is discovered.

Ele Fountain has an outstanding ability to build characters so that their flaws and virtues stand side by side to make the character compelling. She makes Jess a complex, real person who impacts on those around her and, at times, shifts between someone who wants to help others and someone willing to place others in harm’s way.

Now for the teacher bit. As with any cracking read, the fact that you can share it with a class means you are able show children just how great books are. If reading Fake leads them to Lost or Melt or Boy 87, then that is reward enough and a step in the direction of creating more readers in our schools. Another aspect I love about Fake is that the leads are all strong females in one form or another. Far too often, girls struggle to find female protagonists who are strong-willed and willing to take risks; in Fake, Jess and co stand proudly to represent in such a manner.

There is nothing fake about how amazing this book is!

Saving Sorya: Chang and the Sun Bear by Trang Nguyen & Jeet Zdung

My word! I love this graphic novel and although the themes are very different, I am reminded of When Stars Are Scattered. Whenever creators opt to tell important stories related to the real world in graphic novel form, I’m instantly drawn to them. With Saving Sorya, the quality is such that everyone should be.

This is a story of love, kindness and hope. Chang witnesses a bear farm as a young child and this sets her off on a journey to become a conservationist. At this point in the story, never giving up is the main message. Thankfully Chang doesn’t, so we get to watch her grow as a person. But this isn’t only Chang’s tale, as Sorya is the real star.

Sorya is a sun bear. Small, young, vulnerable – Sorya isn’t prepared for life in the wild, so Chang must help her adjust. The time they spend together is heartfelt. Chang adores the little bear and does everything she can to aid this timid character to grow into an independent citizen of the rainforest who can protect themselves and hunt for food.

The skills of Jeet Zdung must be applauded as each page is vibrant and beautiful. Any work by this illustrator will be quickly snaffled up in the future, and I advise everyone to do likewise.

Another aspect I admire is how there is a mix of non-fiction weaved into the illustrations. As Chang is a keen observational drawer, you get to learn about the different species of bear as well as other cool facts.

Now for the teacher bit. The focus on conservation means that a class of Ks2 children would be better global citizens just by reading this wonderful story. It provides various examples of how humans impact on forests, and explains how returning to the wild isn’t a simple process for captive animals. The fact that all this is wrapped up in a beautiful story makes it ideal to use to inform children about such an important matter.

An absolute delight – a must read!

The Worst Class in the World Dares You! by Joanna Nadin & Rikin Parekh

I’m going to show my age now and declare that I became a reader thanks to the likes of the Beano and Dandy. For any youngsters who have never heard of these comics, then I doubt you’ll know the Bash Street Kids: a collection of kids who were a teacher’s nightmare. Well, when I read The Worst Class in the World Dares You, I was transported back to being that young nipper chuckling at the chaos.

4B aren’t horrid children, just anything they try to do goes dramatically wrong. I mean, a foolproof plan to all catch nits to avoid a test surely can’t fail, can it? Our narrator is Stanley who, to be honest, knows the fate that normally befalls his peers, yet buys into his best friend’s crazy plans each time. When Manjit declares he has a foolproof plan, you know trouble isn’t far behind.

As a teacher, I love the fact there is 4A, the polar opposite to the kids of 4B. Many assembly I’ve been the teacher on high alert as I have that class. It is a book ideal for lower Ks2 as it presents two separate stories with illustrations throughout – Rikin Parekh perfectly gets the mood of the characters right. Also, handily, you don’t have to have read any of the previous books.

Now for the teacher bit. First and foremost, books should make children smile and this certainly ticks that box. Reading for pleasure is a huge part of becoming a reader and any book that helps with that is a winner. What I also love to see is when a book acts as a mirror to the reader. Sikhism isn’t as prominent in children’s literature as it should be, so it is great to see a character like Manjit in this book. It isn’t mentioned in the text as his religion isn’t as important to his character as his madcap plans, but the subtle way Parekh’s illustrations informs the reader is lovely to see. Hats off to the creators of this book for that.

Silly, fun, frivolous – exactly the type of book you need to brighten up your children’s day.

Monstrous Devices by Damien Love

Every now and again, you buy a book and plonk it on your TBR pile. It sits waiting while other books nip in front to take the limelight. Every now and then, you glance at it and wonder why you got it. The cool cover and title caught your eye, but there are so many books and so little time…then you read it, my word, should you have read it earlier. Monstrous Devices is this book for me, and, to my shame, it sat waiting for far to long.

Alex is a twelve year old boy with normal twelve year old’s woes. School bullies, absent father, and an adventure loving, globe gallivanting grandfather – you know, the normal stuff. His life is turned upside down when his grandfather sends him a wind-up tin robot. A simple child’s toy from a bygone era. A collector item really. Yet all isn’t how it seems…

The toy holds the key to a dark secret; one that very dangerous people seek, people willing to stop at nothing to get this item.

I adore the manner in which Damien Love builds on existing mythology, while weaving in new elements that create a real sense of danger. The retro tin toys being manipulated into tools of death has a fresh feeling to proceedings. But what makes the story sing is the relationship between Alex and his grandfather. One is unsure, confused and massively out of their depth, while the other seems to be relishing their constant plight. A brilliant duo!

Now for the teacher bit. Simply put, it is a cracker. Reading for pleasure is the pinnacle for a teacher. Get your class loving books and wanting to read just to enjoy it, then you’re on the right track. The only way to do this is share absolute belters like Monstrous Devices and watch them absorb every word. So go on then, what are you waiting for?

Daring, fast-paced, captivating – a monster of a read

Pippin Paints: A Portrait by Charlotte Mei

Pippen is a dog. Like all dogs, he enjoys doing dog-type things: writing in his journal, philosophising and, of course, painting. With his high opinion of himself, he has the perfect subject to paint…himself. When he starts to compare his own self-portrait with those his friends have done, he becomes frustrated and this leads to a discovery of artists he knew little about.

I’m quite a fan of this type of book – a narrative that wraps knowledge through its core. The works of Seurat, Degas, Picasso and others introduced through the narrative. What’s not to love about a picture book that does that? Charlotte Mei provides playful illustrations that contrast with the fine art at the heart of the book.

Now for the teacher bit. This is the perfect book to hook young children into learning about fine art. Most children start to develop themselves as artists by drawing portraits of themselves and those around them, so the focus on this is quite clever. For anyone hoping to develop their understanding of art, it is a joy to to see how much is packed into one book. Mediums are discussed, abstract is presented and techniques like pointillism is shared with the reader.

Let your children dream, let them become artists.

Refuge by Anne Booth and Sam Usher

A huge festive favourite of mine is Refuge by Anne Booth and Sam Usher. They breathe new life into an age-old tale in a way that makes me smile.

Although this retelling of the Nativity is simple in many ways, it is so so clever due to the viewpoint it takes. When using this with a class, I do like finding out who can tell me the narrator of the tale. This is always an interesting point of the session when sharing this brilliant book as some pick up on the clues, while others are delighted at being taken by surprise at the genius of the concept. The Nativity told from the point of view of the donkey – what’s not to like about this?

I’m a huge fan of Sam Usher so this instantly jumped off the shelf. I love his expressive use of water colours and the way the landscape engulfs everything. The simplicity of his artwork goes hand in hand with the way the story is told.

Now for the teacher bit. I’m a huge fan of taking the time over the Christmas period to share as many retellings of the nativity that I can, so when I find one with a quirky angle to generate discussion, I’m in. As a teaching activity, I’d suggest doing a Diamond Nine to explore the importance of each player in the Nativity. For those who haven’t used this task before, this is a brief description. Display a list of each person/thing involved e.g. Mary, Jesus, Innkeeper, Donkey, etc and then ask the children to decide on the most significant. That is the top point in the diamond. Next explore who would be the next two and continue until the diamond shape is completed. A great way to generate discussion for children.

An important story told from the most unexpected point of view.

The Christmas Star by Hilary Robinson and Ciara Ni Dhuinn

What a gorgeous retelling of one of, if not the most famous stories.

The nativity has one true star, and it isn’t the baby who is born on that special day. This book tells the story of how the angels came up with an imaginative way to let everyone know the good news. What I like most is how the star isn’t brash, nor the best candidate for the job, but through an excellent attitude and a willingness to help, they shine their brightest to bring joy to all. What a great message for children!

Hilary Robinson is a fantastic author who always pitches her tales so well for her audience. This is clearly aimed at the younger pupils we teach, with lovely crafted sentences sprinkled with rhyme a joy to read. Hats off to Ciara Ni Dhuinn who creates illustrations that will attract the attention of the biggest reading humbug.

Now for the teacher bit. Books that tell the story of the Nativity from different points of view, or with an interesting focus, are a must for Primary schools. In the build-up to Christmas, I find sharing stories like The Christmas Star, and Refuge, are the perfect way to embed the children’s understanding how important each person or, in these cases, non-human aspects roles are.

A perfectly gentle retelling that makes the reader know how important it is to shine your brightest to be your best self.

Curious Creatures Glowing in the Dark by Zoe Armstrong & Anja Susanj

I’ve been saying it for a while now, but is there anyone better than Flying Eye Books at non-fiction for children? They constantly take the natural world, give it a shake and see what wonderful curiosity it can present to us in a beautiful manner. With Curious Creatures Glowing in the Dark by Zoe Armstrong and Anja Susanj, they have done it again.

As an avid reader of non-fiction, I always smile when a book title says exactly what is in store for the reader. Lots of crazy information about creatures that defy common sense and seem to create their own light? Check! A whistle stop tour of the globe so you know where to find these wild, wondrous animals? Check! Explanations about how a New Zealand glowworm uses sticky goo to catch its prey; similar to how a spider uses a web? Check! Except a spider doesn’t have the need for a glow in the dark bottom to attract flies to its web…

What I like most about this is the pitch. Often, non-fiction feels like is is aimed at the upper end of primary school or is so brief that it is for the youngest of readers. In this case, I feel as though it would be perfect for those Y3 and Y4 children thirsty for cool facts and ace graphics.

Now for the teacher bit. Of course this text is amazing for your science lessons on adaptation or even light, but the real joy is the other curriculum subjects you can explore with it. A fantastic activity would be to chart the locations the animals live at, which are littered throughout the book – New Zealand, Wales and Japan to name a few. If you want to explore the origins of words then this is a winner as well. Etymology fans will have a field day with this book.

An enlightening read – see what I did there!?