Through the Woods by Emily Carroll


As mentioned before, I adore comics and feel that the likes of Nimona and the Watchmen are a fantastic way of introducing teenage audiences to a love of reading.  What is not mentioned previously is how I’m a big scaredy cat when it comes to horror and my word Emily Carroll brings the horror by the bucket load.

This series of superb tales are gothic in presentation and spinechilling in delivery.

Some of the stories can be used with younger children such as ‘Our Neighbor’s House’ tells the story of three sisters left by their father in the middle of a snow storm.  Their father explains to them if he doesn’t return that they are to leave for a relatives home.  One by one, each sister disappears…how or why is left to the reader.


Emily Carroll lets an air of uncertainty hang over most of the stories she shares.  The reader never fully knowing what fate has in store for the characters.  The engrossing ‘His Face All Red’ is a fantastic tale of betrayal between two brothers that slowly builds the tension of a secret between them.  While ‘My Friend Janna’ explores what it means to deceive others.   As with many good horror tales, these stories show how humans act is sometimes as awful as anything the unnatural can display.

Now for the teacher bit.  Teaching through images is always a great way to hook in children and with art as good as this it always going to happen. The historical settings and the fact that the stories seem to be set in period USA means that you can explore aspects of history and social class that UK children may not be aware of.


I particularly like the poetry in a haunting tale that is presented in the form of a rhyme from a disembodied ghost that plagues a young lady.  This example of spoken poetry is a great way of engaging children in poems.

A haunting set of tales that resonant with the victim….I mean reader.

A Place Called Perfect by Helena Duggan


There is a word that I love when it comes to children’s stories: sinister.  I adore the quirky darkness of not knowing, not trusting the characters or the author who make you want to walk a path that you know you shouldn’t.  Helena Duggan does all of this and more in her first novel.

Violet moves to her new home under protest.  Why did her father have to take a new job?  Who cares about the prestige?  Certainly not Violet, or even her mam (as a North Eastener I love seeing this in a book).  This uprooting of our eyes into this strange new place means that we root for Violet as her dislike for her surroundings becomes ever more justified as we learn more about Perfect.

Helena Duggan creates a sinister landscape based on the town reflecting it’s name: Perfect.  Something isn’t quite right in Violet’s view as everything is so perfect and to make matters worse her mam seems to be now the town’s biggest advocate.  The beauty of the story is that we as the reader know much is wrong but to what extent.  How will this little girl manage to save her family if it doesn’t want saving?


Like many tales like this, not everyone loves the status quo of the town and we are introduced to Boy.  Through him we find out what happens to those who reject a perfect life and this contrast between settings is great to explore as a reader.  I’d like to say that Boy is a mysterious character but I’d struggled to find someone in this brilliant book who isn’t.  With a book filled with so much intrigue, it would be wrong to spoil your enjoyment so please find, read and adore this book yourself to find out if Violet succeeds or succumbs.

Now for the teacher bit.  Like all fantastic stories, there is a wealth of writing opportunities to be explored such as travel blogs for visiting Perfect or adverts of Archer’s Tea.  The extract below shows the level of language and how it can be used to develop vocabulary for your upper KS2 children:

“Now on to our spectacle makers’ emporium,” he called, as the engine whistled to life.

Violet had always thought a “spectacle” meant she was doing something wrong, as her mam often told her to stop making a spectacle of herself.

Moving into the cross-curricular aspects of the text, it isn’t often you read something that links to one of the harder science topics to find a book for. Eyes! Light and shadows and how our vision works normally depends to non-fiction texts but now we have an ideal story to excite the children about how our eyes actually work.

Hats off for Helena Duggan for a superb first novel.  Eagerly await the next…


The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Graveyard Book 4

Neil Gaiman is a fantastic author who superbly straddles adult and child literature.  If you haven’t ever picked up any of his work please do and if you wish to start with The Graveyard Book then you will be engrossed.

The tale starts with the murder of a family, which I know is daring for a children’s book, by one of the greatest villains I have ever came across:  The man Jack.  However, the man Jack doesn’t quite succeed as the youngest child escapes.

Graveyard Book

Seeking refuge in a graveyard, the child becomes adopted by the Owens who are ghosts. ‘Nobody’ Owens grows up in the graveyard, spending his time with vast array of ghosts who populate the place he now calls home.  During his time, he befriends a girl called Scarlett who thinks Nobody is her imaginary friend and learns about the weirdness of his surroundings.  This is were Neil Gaiman excels as he fills the book with an amazing amount of ideas, many of which could be their own story.

The author fills each chapter with inventiveness such as Nobody being able to pass through solid objects while in the graveyard or his protector Silas; possible a vampire who has seen the error of his past.  A whole range of supernatural beings are developed as characters including werewolves and witches.  This ensures that every single character, regardless of their role in the story, is interesting and memorable.

Graveyard Book 2

The man Jack is not a forgotten foe and returns to hunt Nobody due to a prophecy that states that the child that was lost would destroy an ancient society that he is of.  At this point all of the ideas come colliding together into a white knuckle experience that delights.  To add to this, Chris Riddell provides beautiful illustrations that show a glimpse into what the author is creating.

Now for the teacher bit.  A master of description; Gaiman’s use of language is exceptional and is an excellent example to share with children with regards to painting pictures with words.  As mentioned, this book is filled with so many wonderful, complex and interesting character that don’t play to stereotype that character studies and descriptions are a must to explore with a class.  Despite the gruesome start, I’d say this could be shared with Y6 children as long as you don’t dwell on it.  It compares well with the likes of Harry Potter – boy with no parents being raised in a strange world due to being part of a wider prophecy that powerful enemies fear – sound familar?

A mind boggling array of ideas presented in beautiful prose. Read it. Love it. Share it.

Graveyard Book 3

The Dragon Detective Agency: The Case of the Missing Cats by Gareth P. Jones


I came across Gareth P. Jones back accident as a random pick off a shelf in a Cambridge bookshop.  I loved his quirky ideas so when I was at the library encouraging my child to take part in a summer reading challenge this caught my eye.

Private Eyes are cool.  Very cool.  Dragons are cool. Very cool.  So what could be cooler than a scaly, fire breathing detective trying to solve cases?  Gareth P. Jones weaves a tale that excites and entertains in equal measure with his gumshoe Dirk Dilly the Dragon Detective.  When Dirk accepts a simple case of a missing cat he has no idea the way things will unfold.

This case takes him of a white-knuckle ride in which he meets Holly, a young girl who is far cleverer than Dirk, and into the middle of what might be the start of war between Dragons and humans all while trying not to be seen by humans at all.   Each chapter is short and snappy making it a rapid read.  The characters all bring something to the story such as Karnataka the cowardly dragon who provides many laughs.  Gareth P. Jones provides a huge amount of backstory to the world of dragons that increases the stakes of what is happening in the story.  If only missing cats were the problem?

I have since found out it is a series of books so I’ll have to seek them out.


Now for the teacher bit.  Based on the short chapters and large print, I’d recommend this book to Y3/4 children who will love it.  First off it is set in London so you can explore lots of the modern capital through the places Dirk has to go to investigate the case.  Ealing and the changing face of the docklands are examples of London that are mentioned.  I know lots of teachers struggle to find texts based in London in the modern era.  Secondly, the running joke that Dirk can’t tell the time is a great way to motivate a class.  Use this fact as a way of pointing out how Dirk isn’t quite as clever as he thinks and watch a group of kids want to learn a basic life skill. Finally, and most importantly, the vocabulary is simply divine.

“Wow,” said Holly.  “Karnataka must be fairly important to live here.”

“You’re confusing important with ostentatious,” replied Dirk.

“What does ostentatious mean?2 asked Holly.

“He’s a show-off,” said Dirk.

That exchange  is just a small example of the language you can expose readers to.  Without doubt an ideal way to introduce challenging words to a younger audience.

So glad I found Gareth P. Jones and always look for his books now. This didn’t disappoint.

Monkey Puzzle by Julia Donaldson

Monkey P

As we all know, Julia Donaldson is one of those authors who is now a part of the reading elite due to the fact that nearly every child in the UK who has enjoyed books would have enjoyed one of hers.

Monkey Puzzle starts with an experience that a lot of children will have had and can understand.  The feeling of being lost, alone and that little bit scared.

Monkey P3

Using this as the starting point draws the reader in so we care about the little monkey.  Thankfully help is at hand in the form of Butterfly.  Her kindness is touching as she troops the little monkey around the jungle in search of her mum.  Where Julia Donaldson excels is in her use of rhyme and the building frustration of the monkey as Butterfly keeps taking her to the next creature that is obviously not her mum. Children love this bit, the slightly silly side of the search that makes them forget the sadness the story starts with.  Needless to say, like many children’s tales, everything works out well in the end, but only after we find out something special about butterflies.

Monkey p2

The artwork by Axel Scheffler is delightful and the facial expressions of the little monkey match how they feel at the different points in the story.

Now for the teacher bit. Monkey Puzzle is an absolutely brilliant book for developing a topic from due to the sheer different aspects it showcases.  Already mentioned in The Very Hungry Caterpillar, it is an ideal we to introduce life cycles to young children.  Which animals babies are like monkey and which change like caterpillar’s offspring? As a starting point it is great. In terms of PHSCE, the story is so rich and a lot of discussion can be generated about family, feelings and friendship. If ever planning to teach a topic based around the jungle it is a winner due to the range of animals the monkey and butterfly meet on their journey.  Even the river based animals such as the frogs allow for a geography link.  All in all, a must for every KS1 teacher.

A landmark book in Julia Donaldson’s collection. Fabulous!

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle


When I first started these reviews I made a point that every book, every story, every tall tale is new to it’s audience if it has never been encountered before.  Inspired by #favechildrenslit that rocked Twitter and my own daughter’s choice of her something ‘old’, I decided to shine a light on this amazing book.

What is not to love about this story?  It is simple, elegant, informative and each page bursts with life and vibrant colours.  For the few who need it: The story is one of greed.  The caterpillar eats, and eats, and eats until he can no longer eat anymore.  He has without a doubt the most varied diet ever.  However, like with all good stories that greed has a consequence.  Check out this animated version that is great to share alongside the book.

Now for the teacher bit:

Hungry Cat 1

The picture superbly illustrates some aspects that can be taught using the text.  It is no wonder that as a story it is a must for many EYFS teachers.  Counting to ten. CHECK. Days of the week. CHECK. Vibrate colours to learn.  CHECK. Discussion about foods and what is healthy/unhealthy. CHECK.  Even at the core of the story it describes what is a complex process: life-cycles.  The science that can be inspired by this text is fantastic with classes often getting their own caterpillars to watch the process occur before their own eyes.  Using this alongside Monkey Puzzle is an ideal way to bring story into a different subject.  And all this is before looking at replicating Eric Carle’s fabulous artwork.

There is a reason why this is a CLASSIC. Don’t be afraid to champion something less new.


Silverfin by Charlie Higson & Kev Walker


This is the graphic novel adaptation of the book of the same name.  The young life of Bond, James Bond is explored for unmined narrative gold.

The story starts with a  ghastly death that is left hanging as a story thread to unpick later in the novel.  We are then transported to Eton where Bond is thrust into the world of elite education and very little parental compassion.  It is here we start to see his character displayed through adversities faced by Bond in a series of events to win a cup.  The author does a great trick by never making Bond the outright winner at any point setting him up as beatable.  We meet the spoilt George Helleborne at this point and his father’s darkness is merely hinted at.

Swiftly moving to Scotland to visit his remaining family, Bond becomes involved in a missing persons investigation, a hidden laboratory creating the next level in  warfare and there is even a hint of romance.  The adventure and intrigue at this point is notched up and the story becomes a white knuckle ride that is a joy to be part of.  The art by Kev Walker is great as it has enough period detail while not detracting from the danger in each panel.


Now for the teacher bit.  Firstly, a rating of 12A is needed for this graphic novel.  A few deaths at the jaws of horrible eels means that primary school children could become upset.  I always find that the illustration of a punch connecting is far more jarring than reading a sentence describing the same action.  As a graphic novel that is an adaptation of a book, it is extremely well produced into clear chapters:  Eton, Scotland & Silverfin.  This means that sections like Eton can be explored as a single story and still make sense.  The varied settings of Eton and Scotland allow for a great deal of knowledge to be imparted:  What is a boarding school?  What does the role of a Housemaster have? Is a loch the same as a lake?

Action packed Bond adventure.  What more would you want?

Rudyard Kipling’s How the Leopard got his Spots (Adapted by Tulien & Rodriguez)


As stated many times before, I love comics as they were my gateway to reading as a child. When traditional tales are done as well as this I just beam with excitement.

Tulien and Rodriguez deserve a huge amount of credit for taking a well-known story and producing a witty, fun adaptation that delights the reader.  Both the leopard and the Ethiopian are there to like despite being hunters and the cleverer/not so clever dynamic adds wit to the tale.  The simplicity of the story is given a modern day element with the breaking of the 3rd dimension and the main characters bickering with the unseen narrator. This interesting trick is something you could highlight and discuss with older readers.

Leopard 2

It mixes elements of non-fiction such as fact files and a ‘glossary’ as well as delivering on the storytelling aspect.  The artwork is fantastic and creates the world of the plains and the jungle in the right amount of detail so the reader can enjoy yet not be overwhelmed.  Each character’s personality is displayed through subtle expression such as the leopard’s annoyance at the narrator.

Now for the teacher bit.  Even though it is a comic, the language is rich much like Nimona meaning that you can explore words like aboriginal, fauna and migrated.  It even has a handy guide to what these words mean at the back due to the mixing of fiction & non-fiction style.  The research facts presented about the animals informs and educates – who knew leopards eat up to 90 different types of animal?  I have just finished teaching Egypt and Beyond as a topic and used the Tinga Tales as writing prompts.  I wish I had found these excellent graphic novels first!

Leopard 3

A clever comicbook that mixes non-fiction and fiction to entertain and inform in equal measure.

Friend or Foe by Michael Morpurgo

Friend or Foe

Michael Morpurgo is the Stephen King of Children’s authors due to his relentless efficiency to produce captivating books for decades now.

Friend or Foe follows the exploits of two boys from London, David and Tucky, as they are evacuated to the countryside. Unlike many offerings of this time, the boys end up with a lovely family who care for them like they were their own children.  If not for events beyond the boys control the story would end here.  One night they witness a German aircraft disappearing over the hills and inform the authorities who search without success.  Mocked and embarrassed, the boys are determined to catch the enemy and prove themselves to be heroes.

Events unfold and the German crew are indeed found by the boys deep on the moor.  However, like many of Michael Morpurgo’s stories, life is more complex and the boys need to make a choice between doing the right thing and doing what is expected.  This is what makes this story a delight – the choice.  Discussions about which action is the right one will make your class buzz with debate so please try sharing this with your children.

Now for the teacher bit.  First off, it is a must for anyone teaching WWII due to the home based action. Starting with the briefness of the evacuation and the allocation of places to stay, the story reflects life for many children at that time.  The fact that the boys find a lovely home echoes my own Grandfather’s experience which delights me.  In terms of inference skills, I like to use the range of covers it has had since first being published in 1977.  Discussing which best represent the story and challenging the children to design their own cover is a great way to explore the understanding of a book.

A great read that links well to possible the best history topic for Primary teachers.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by JK Rowling


A series of short stories from JK Rowling the creator of Harry Potter, The Tales of Beedle Bard presents five tales, each with a moral and magical aspects.

I’ll share my views of 3 of my favourites with all of you:

The Warlock’s Hairy Heart is a strange tale that has a slightly eerie edge to it and it’s macabre ending means that you must be careful when sharing with an audience.  I really enjoyed it and the dark themes it explores as it reminded me of Romeo and Juliet with the sad ending.

The Tale of the Three Brothers is a great example of a simple structure, which brother makes the best wish, and having death as a character is great for firing up the imagination of children.


My personal pick would be Babbitty Rabitty and her Cackling Stump.  I love the fake wizard, vain king and quick witty witch hiding in plain sight, each of whom are characters that are so well-rounded considering the short length of the tale.

Now for the teacher bit.  As a series of short stories that are written in a quite traditional style, these tales are ideal for whole class reading.  The length and self-contained nature of each story works well for engaging children in discussions about the morals presented.  The bonus is that it eases children into the world of Harry Potter which is a rich world for any reader young or old.

I will admit I didn’t read the notes presented after each story that links the tales to the ‘modern’ events in Harry Potter.  This didn’t prevent my enjoyment of each story, in fact made them even more entertaining in their own right.

Dip your toe in the water before swimming in the ocean that is Harry Potter.