A few days late, but I’ve taken time out of my assignment writing to get this month review written! I preach well-being in one of my first blog posts and so I’ve had to put it into practice! Isn’t accountability fun? Anyhow, I didn’t read as much this month due to placement and other things, but I have an INCREDIBLY strong selection of books below for your perusal!
Book 1: The Last Wild – Piers Torday (KidLit, Upper KS2)
I feel hopelessly behind the times reviewing this wonderful book…although I did review Harry Potter last month so I guess anything goes!
Kester Jaynes wakes up, as he does every day, in Spectrum Hall, a home for troubled children. Mute since tragedy struck him years before, he does his best to stay out of trouble in a dreary prison where he is served nothing but ‘formula’. But one day his world changes forever when he realises he CAN talk, just not in the way he thought…
Set in a world where wild animals no longer (officially…) exist, The Last Wild tells a story of adventure, courage and unlikely friendship as Kester must fight against the odds to save what is good in the world, all while piecing together his own family mystery. I was utterly gripped as I followed Kester’s exploration of this familiar, yet tragically different world. In him we have the unlikeliest of heroes, supported by the unlikeliest of teams. Every character is considered and well-defined, and I am unashamed to say I fell in love with the lot of them!
As much as this story is exciting, it is also funny, touching, emotional and relevant. It would lead perfectly into topics around extinction and environmental issues amongst many others. I am currently reading part two of the trilogy and it is already shaping up to be as good! Torday has amassed a legion of fans and you do not want to miss out reading this and becoming one of them!
Book 2: The Secret of Nightingale Wood – Lucy Strange (KidLit, KS2)
If any of the books on this list don’t quite fit in, a wildcard if you wish, then it is this one. Having seen some great reviews on Twitter, I snapped at the opportunity one Friday to borrow it from the library of the school I was on placement at. And then I accidentally read it in two sittings, finishing at 1am Sunday! Whilst the other books on this list involve a sense of pulse-raising adventure and/or exploration, The Secret of Nightingale Wood is, aside from one or two scenes, a much gentler story. If it sounds like I am criticising it I can only apologise, for it is one of the most hauntingly beautiful children’s books I think I’ve ever read!
Set in 1919, Henry, with her parents and baby sister, move to the countryside following a family tragedy. Out in the woods, with her father abroad and her ill mother being ‘cared for’ by a strangely obsessed doctor, Henry finds comfort in the characters of books she has read. As the days and weeks roll by, and as she feels increasingly alone in the face of her family being torn apart by events both past and present, Henry begins to venture into Nightingale Wood. What she discovers there could save her family, but what exactly is the secret that Nightingale Wood holds…?
Weaving together complex issues of family, mental health, grief, loneliness and so much more, all while being set a hundred years in the past, this charming book draws you gently in and refuses to let go. I could not refrain from recommending it to a teacher friend who similarly devoured it. For whilst it is at its most powerful when the narrative is seemingly moving slowly, it contains just enough oomph where needed to keep you hooked. Whatever you do, don’t think you’ll be able to say ‘just one more chapter…’!
Book 3: Beetle Boy – M. G. Leonard (Upper KS2)
A book about beetles. Well. As a self-proclaimed wimp with an unusual fear of butterflies (I know, right?), I was dubious it must be said! That dubiousness (is that a word?) only increased when I saw that the author it had been compared to was that mainstay of Key Stage 2 classrooms Roald Dahl! I like Dahl but…never mind. I am delighted to report that not only did I not see that comparison when I read it, but that I really loved the story! Like The Last Wild, this is the beginning of a trilogy which has got a lot of people talking, and this Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2017 Shortlisted tale more than deserves the plaudits!
When Darkus Cuttle’s dad mysteriously disappears whilst working as Director of Science at the Natural History Museum, he is presumed dead without question. Except Darkus does question. No-one knows his dad quite like he does. Or so he thought. Sent to live with his loving, yet eccentric, Uncle Max, Darkus is determined to find out what has happened to his beloved father. Alongside his investigation with his Uncle, he embarks on a separate journey with two new human friends, and one very special insect. In seeking to find his father, however, he discovers much that he didn’t know about the man he thought he knew best!
With a varied cast of heroes and villains (perhaps this is where the Dahl comparisons come), including one nasty, Cruella-de-vil-esque baddie, Beetle Boy sets up the trilogy brilliantly with some HUGE questions needing to be answered!
Finally, on a personal note, it is so obvious when an author is writing from a place of passion. I do not share M. G. Leonard’s passion for beetles. They scare me. And make me feel a little bit queasy. But I was swept away by her clear love for our shiny armoured friends. The links at the end of the book to conservation/information could quite conceivably change the world if children discover their passion for nature through it. A wonderful book which could have been a Star Read if I read it later in the year!
– STAR READ – Book 4: Who Let The Gods Out? – Maz Evans (KidLit, Upper KS2) – STAR READ –
But there can only be one star read a month according to my own rules, and this is it!
I use the word favourite a lot. There are lots of things I like and I feel no shame in utilising hyperbole to convey my excitement. All that being said… Who Let the Gods Out? is quite possibly my favourite modern children’s novel ever! No Hyperbole!
Elliot has a lot on his plate. With a mother whose mental health is deteriorating, he is both child and carer, and with the bills piling up he has far more to worry about than his history teacher’s personal vendetta! What he certainly does not need is to be startled one night by an Ancient Greek goddess falling from the sky and putting a whacking great hole in the roof. What he really, REALLY does not need is to accompany her on a visit to an evil death daemon hidden beneath a popular landmark… What could possibly go wrong? Through Elliot’s journey to save the world and, more importantly, his home and family, we are introduced to the Greek gods like we’ve never seen them before. There is no time to go into them all now and I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but read it and become enthralled!
It may just be me, but there aren’t actually many books, much as I love them, that make me laugh out loud. In fact, thinking about it, I’ve probably had more books bring me to tears than to laughter! There’s a blog post there somewhere…anyway, back on track. Not many books make me laugh out loud. Until this one. I can honestly say I’ve never laughed so much at any book, let alone a children’s book! Before I was Mr B Reads, teacher trainee, I was a plain old history graduate. To see a book which so perfectly links history with humour is an utter treat. To see a book which so perfectly links history, humour and the eccentricities of 21st Century Britain is nothing short of a literary miracle!
In the interests of fairness, there was one page which really didn’t work for me (sorry Maz!), although Maz called it one of her favourite parts on Twitter! I encourage you to try to spot it and I’m sure children (and most adults) will agree with the esteemed author and not me! And that’s ok! I would also recommend some surface-level knowledge of Greek mythology, just to get the most depth out of it. And I feel ok adding these small caveats because I have, do and will continue to recommend this hilarious book for Key Stage Two all the way to ‘grown-ups’.
Book 2, Simply the Quest, cannot come soon enough!
Book 5: The Girl of Ink and Stars – Kiran Millwood-Hargrave (KidLit,Upper KS2-3)
What can I possibly add to the raucous praise for the newly crowned winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2017???
The Girl of Ink and Stars is a magical short novel set on the island of Joya, once a floating paradise but now a land plagued by division and the authoritarian rule of a cruel Governor. When Isabella hears of dark and terrible events happening on the island and her best friend goes missing, ancient myths and legends rear their heads once as she embarks on a desperate and frightening search.
In amongst the huge amounts of praise, there have been some dissenting voices who would like to have learned more about the island, its history and its future. I quite agree! And I think it is one of this book’s strengths that it leaves you wanting more. As appears to have been a theme of my reading this month, there is a family story, Isabella searching for her friend and seeking to save her father from imprisonment, and a grand narrative, that of the island and the familiarly named other continents in the world. Whilst the story focuses on the former, I would LOVE Kiran (if you’re reading!) to one day tell us more about the world she tantalisingly starts to unweave (Microsoft Word is telling me that isn’t a word but I’d rather make my mistakes than Word’s corrections…)!
The story contains some beautifully poignant quotes, mostly from Isabella’s cartographer father, and it’s the kind of book, if this makes sense, that I can imagine having a beautiful soundtrack if it were to be made into a film! Add to that the most stunning cover and page art I’ve seen in a book and you have yourself a charming debut novel which has launched this young author into the mainstream!
So that’s my review for another month! My studying is keeping me EXTREMELY busy and I am ageing at thrice the rate, but I hope to be back reviewing picture books and doing at least one blog post I have planned very soon! Please share and respond if you feel led to do so!