BOOK REVIEWS, NEWS, ACTIVITIES AND MORE!

BOOK REVIEW: I, COSMO

Feb 3, 2020: I loved I, Cosmo (by Carlie Sorosiak) because it was really different. This is because the narrator who tells the story is actually a dog, Cosmo! We learn about everything from his point of view and sometimes this is cute and sometimes it is really funny. This is also a book with a really nice story about family and friendship and overcoming shyness. I liked the way it was written and I also think the characters are all really well written. Its definitely a feel good story, I loved the ending, and I would recommend it to anyone aged between 8 and 12 years old. Lily J (age 10), Harrogate, UK

BOOK REVIEW: IN DARKLING WOOD

Jan 18, 2020: In Darkling Wood was a compelling read. It is the first book by Emma Carroll that I have read but I am keen to read more as I love historical fiction. This book flips between the past and present and really draws you in as you want to know what all the connections are between the different characters in the book. It also touches on a range of themes that I really enjoyed, including family relationships and conservation. There is also a touch of magic which I loved. The writing is captivating and there is lots of detail and the characters are all really likeable too. The ending is great and was quite a surprise to me. Some readers might not enjoy switching to between the past and the present so much, especially at first as it can get a little confusing, but I found that this added to the mystery. I would really recommend this book and this author to bookworms aged between 9 and 12 years old. Katharina (age 10), Leeds, UK

RECOMMENDED READS: MOVING ON TO CHAPTER BOOKS

Jan 3, 2020: Unlike Peter Pan, most kids do want to grow up, and often they want to do it faster than their parents would wish for! For many parents it feels like only yesterday that they were just beginning to delve into the wonderful world of picture books. Then all of a sudden their little one is learning to read with growing confidence, and they’re ready for more.  Kids are usually excited to read chapter books because it marks their coming of age as a reader. But this can also be an intimidating transition. Children can typically worry about the number of pages, the amount of text on each page and the reduction in the number of pictures which results in fewer context clues. It can also be just as difficult to know which books to put in the little hands of our young readers in order to make the change a smooth one. The choice on the shelves might seem overwhelming. So here are a few things you can do to help your child successfully transition to chapter books, as well as some of our favourite books and series that we feel really hit all the right buttons for this important milestone.

The biggest difference between reading a chapter book and a picture book is that the story usually continues for more than one reading session. Your child needs to remember what’s happening in the story from one reading time to the next. The key is to help your child hold that information in his or her memory. After reading, have your child share what happened. Then prior to restarting the book again, take a quick look back together at what was previously read, including any illustrations, to refresh the memory. Books that still have plenty of illustrations are preferable at first, and those whose chapters aren’t too long are also a good choice. Reading two or more shorter chapters in one session can provide a real sense of achievement. If you can get your kids into a book series that they like, they’ll have a lovely backlog of reading material that features the same characters or follows a simple formula. Here are five great choices for those wondering which books to choose first at this important stage in their child’s reading journey:

Fantastic Mr Fox, by Roald Dahl:  The three meanest farmers around are out to get Mr Fox. Fat Boggis, squat Bunce, and skinny Bean have joined forces, and they have Mr. Fox and his family surrounded. What they don’t know is that they’re not dealing with just any fox. As his fantastic plan to outwit them unfolds, Dahl’s humour is at its best. It’s a highly enjoyable read with plenty of wonderful accompanying illustrations by Quentin Blake. It is funny and fast-paced with nice short chapters for the early days of chapter books.

Zoe’s Rescue Zoo Series, by Amelia Cobb: When Great-Uncle Horace brings back lost and homeless animals from his travels around the globe, it falls to Zoe and her mum, the zoo’s vet, to settle them into their new home. Zoe is good at this, because she can understand what they say and talk to them, too. But that’s a secret! With baby animals to help, a sprinkling of animal facts, a main character with the supernatural ability to talk with the animals, minimal adult interference in the storyline, a smattering of humour and cute illustrations, this is a charming series that is sure to delight most young readers. There are currently 11 in the series, with the first being The Lonely Lion Cub.

Ivy and Bean Series, by Annie Barrows: A charming series of more than 20 books about the creative adventures of two friends, Ivy and Bean, illustrated with lovely full colour pictures. Ivy and Bean are like chalk and cheese; Ivy is a well-behavied, independent thinker, while Bean is a bit of a trouble maker. Together they find that friendship is about more than being the same as someone else and you never know what will happen when you give people a chance.  Their adventures, which include digging up dinosaur bones and trying to set world records, are both funny and decidedly not girly, and will entertain boys as well as girls.

Mr Skip, by Michael Morpurgo: Set in Dublin where horses run wild in the fields near the tower blocks, Jackie watches the boys on the estate ride their horses and she longs to own one of her own. Meanwhile Mum dreams of a little cottage in the country for her and Jackie to live in. All Jackie has is her Gran’s old donkey, but things are set to change. Jackie finds a garden gnome in a rubbish skip which she lovingly repairs and calls Mr Skip. And Jackie soon discovers that with Mr Skip, anything is possible. Michael Morpurgo is a master of well-crafted children’s stories, and this one is a great length for those just beginning to tackle chapter books. With its dash of magic, it doesn’t disappoint.

Anna Hibiscus, by Atinuke: A truly unique early chapter book series about a girl named Anna Hibiscus who lives in “Africa, Amazing Africa.” Anna Hibiscus is a delightfully curious character who lives with her Canadian mother, African father, twin baby brothers Double and Trouble, and close-knit extended family. The author spent part of her childhood in Nigeria, and her lovely illustrations help bring this exotic setting and the funny, sweet stories to life for young readers. These are lovely, simple, and really well written early chapter books and Anna is a very likeable character who almost all children will identify with.

One final very important thing – don’t abandon picture books once your child starts reading chapter books! Picture books offer many benefits to children: they give kids a story they can finish in one sitting, they increase language development and enrich vocabulary, and the illustrations give opportunities to make inferences and enhance the story visually. Children learn certain critical comprehension skills from picture books that cannot be taught through chapter books: interpreting imagery based on the information given in the text; understanding that there is more to a story than what the words alone convey; and visualizing a story in their own mind’s eye. Mastering visual literacy is fundamental to success with more advanced material. Decoding the information in picture books can teach a child not only to read but also to interpret and understand. Kids need all kinds of books; adding chapter books into the mix when they are ready is a way to expand their selection.


BOOK REVIEW: DISCOVERING ARCHITECTURE 

Nov 2, 2019: Discovering Architecture, by Eduard Altarriba & Berta Bardí I Milà. I loved this beautiful book. If you want to know more about the buildings around you, this guide is a totally perfect introduction to architecture from around the world. It has lots of fascinating facts and captivating, colourful illustrations, so it’s a really engaging book for inquisitive young people. From igloos to bridges to towers and domes, it takes readers on a journey through time telling us about the way civilisations have approached architecture throughout history. The book is full of information and ideas to make us think about what we see around us. It’s really interesting to learn all about famous buildings from around the world and how they were built, and what they were built with.

The illustrations give us a clear understanding of how different structures have been put together and there is lots of information on inventions like thermal baths and aqueducts. The book also covers ideas for the future and introduces us to the people who created iconic buildings and how their ideas are still used today. I love books that provide interesting facts and answer questions, and this one is brilliant at just that.  Books like this a great for dipping in and out of or for coming back to again and again. It is also a really excellently illustrated hardback book. I think it would make a wonderful gift for anyone aged 8 to 12 and it would be especially interesting for kids who want to learn more about engineering, buildings, history and so on.  

Katie G, age 10, Aichach, Germany

BOOK REVIEW: SECRETS OF A SCHOOLYARD MILLIONAIRE

Oct 20, 2019: Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire by Nat Amoore is a dramatic, surprising and interesting book about hard decisions. I thought that this book was going nowhere at the start, but once I was really in to the book it was terrific!!! It had tips and surprises that you’ve got to read. The book is about girl called Tess and her friend Toby. It all starts when Tess and Toby get a million dollars and spend a bit too much of it. Now someone wants it back! I think this book is a fun story for kids, teens and adults. Or, if you’re a cool person who wants to be rich, then this is the book for you. I give this book a 5 star rating and a big thumbs up because I liked the surprises and interesting setting. 

Elliot B (age 7), Sydney, Australia

BOOK REVIEW: BLACKTHRON KEY - CALL OF THE WRAITH

Sept 15, 2019: Call of the Wraith by Kavein Sands is the perfect title for another Christopher Rowe adventure. I think this book is the most exciting of them all. Call of the Wraith  is a wonderful novel because it gives all of the characters full emotion, especially 14 year old riddle solving Christopher Rowe and his best friends Tomas Bailey (Tom) and Sally. In the beginning of the book we learn that Christopher has lost his memory in a shipwreck in Devonshire. An old farmer named Robert finds Christopher and takes him in. While staying at Robert’s farm Christopher learns about the legend of the White Lady who steals children and takes their souls. Robert explains to Christopher that the children of local villages have gone missing, and people are starting to think the White Lady is behind their disappearances. Along with hearing rumors of the White Lady, Christopher hears villagers saying he was possessed by some kind of evil and was awoken by a local witch and the only way to get his memories back is to save the missing children. On his journey to find the children he reunites with Tom and Sally. By the end of the book we learn the truth of the missing children and Christopher’s struggles.

This book has a great, realistic account of the mid 1600s. To get around places you would either take a boat, walk, or ride in a carriage. For example, in one part of the story Christopher – who is pretending to be the Baron Ashcombe of London – writes a letter to the King’s warden. He has to send a carrier to take the letter to London. The carrier must take a boat instead of car or plane like what we have today. Another reason this novel is amazing is that Kevin Sands makes the readers really care about the characters and feel their true emotion. By the end of the book you will feel like you know Christopher, Tom, and Sally personally. Through most of the book Christopher struggles to remember his real self. He starts to think his memories will never return, he feels lost without his personal thoughts. Thankfully Tom and Sally help him through this difficult time in his life.

This novel is one of my most favorite books because not only is it deep and emotional, it is suspenseful and action packed. The novel walks you through not only heartache but great friendships and victories. I give this book 5 stars and recommend it to anyone who loves action packed mystery novels!                     

Grace H (age 12), Chesapeake, Virginia, USA

BOOK REVIEW: EVEN SUPERHEROES MAKE MISTAKES

Aug 12, 2019: We loved Even Superheroes Make Mistakes. An action-packed and brilliantly illustrated hardback, this offers a unique take on teaching tolerance and responsibility. With it’s fast paced rhyme and cool pictures it really captures kids’ imaginations. The story delivers an important message for little ones: that not everyone is perfect, and that’s ok. The book gives thoughtful advice about accepting mistakes and taking responsibility. Real heroes pick themselves up, take a moment to think about what to do next, fix things and then most importantly, have the courage to try again. It’s a great blend of serious and amusing, and we think it really gives children something to think about. This is the second book about superheroes by Shelley Becker; the first, Even Superheroes Have Bad Days, is equally super, and delivers another key message about the importance of understanding our emotions and learning to deal with them. Our daughter wants to read both books almost every night, and she says she loves them because they are funny and because the superheroes are super-duper good! The illustrations feature lots of detail which she spends time poring over, so overall we think that both books offer a great combination of visual detail, engaging rhyme and moral messaging. Perfect for all children aged between 3 and 7, we would highly recommend these. 

Sophie H (age 4) and her daddy, Ingolstadt, Germany. Even Superheroes Make Mistakes by Shelley Becker, illustrated by Eda Kaban, is published by Sterling.

BOOK REVIEW: FINDING ESME

Aug 2, 2019: Finding Esme, by Suzanne Crowley, is a heartwarming story about growing up, and a fascinating read.  Esme’s life changes when she discovers dinosaur bones on her family’s farm. She sees the bones as a message from her grandfather, whose loss she is still mourning. But when a rumour gets out that the farm is hiding something valuable, all sorts of people like reporters, researchers, and of course the neighbours, arrive in droves. Esme has to find a way to understand who has her best interests at heart, whilst still holding on to the memories of her grandfather. I loved the setting of this book, in rural Texas, because it is a setting so totally different from where I come from. I also loved reading about a bold female protagonist experiencing personal growth. Esme is courageous and loyal with a big heart.

Esme’s voice is strong, and from the beginning I was completely immersed in her world. At 12, she is on the brink of moving on from childhood. She is struggling to find herself and still coming to terms with the loss of her grandfather. She is navigating her way through some really tough life situations, such as an absent father and a mother battling mental illness, and she gradually learns to follow her own instincts. The author adds a touch of magic and fantasy with Esme’s grandmother’s gift for “finding” or “seeing” things, something Esme has inherited. Esme is trying to work out if this is a blessing or a curse. While she is trying to make sense of everything, her best friend Finch tells a professor at a nearby college about the dinosaur bones she found, and Esme feels betrayed that her secret is now exposed. The book becomes a real page turner as we wonder if she will be able to forgive Finch, and if her father will ever come back home. Most importantly, will Esme be able to save her family home from being taken away by the bank? Finding Esme seemed to me to be about understanding or finding your purpose in life and making difficult choices. The book emphasises the importance of family, friendship and loyalty and also deals with other key themes like loss, abandonment, betrayal. I think that the book is beautifully written and I would especially recommend it to readers aged 10 or older. 

Elina F (age 12), Munich, Germany

BOOK REVIEW: SKY SONG

Jun 29, 2019: Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone. This book follows a girl, Eske, and a boy, Flint, who live in a faraway kingdom called Erkenwald ruled by an evil Ice Queen. Eske and Flint try to stop the Ice Queen’s power. I really liked the characters, especially Eske who is very brave, and although the book sometimes made me a little bit nervous or scared, it was really exciting and the writing was so good it almost made me feel like I was there with them! The book was full of all sorts of magic. I would recommend this book to kids who like drama and adventure.  

Sienna T (age 8), Edinburgh, UK

TOP TIPS: READING ALOUD WITH CHILDREN

Jun 3, 2019: We’ve read this message a million times, but perhaps it can’t be emphasised enough. It’s so important to read aloud to children from a very young age, even if they want to hear the same old book again and again and again (which they all will!). “Familiarity with language, the ability to construct worlds, and later to deconstruct them, and the ability to recognise, follow and ultimately to build and sustain complex arguments are all skills that enrich our apprehension of the world and help us to master it. This is what reading gives children,” says The Guardian, in this great article that laments the closing of libraries and the revelation that this year, for the first time, spending on digital entertainment surpassed that on the printed word: The Guardian view on children’s books: read more, more often

But often we associate this activity with younger children, without realising that it is equally important to continue reading aloud and sharing stories with our older kids. As they become independent readers themselves we become less focussed on sharing this activity with them. This article in The Huffington Post provides some great reminders about why we should continue to read aloud with our children right up until they are in their early teens, even after they have become fluent, confident readers: Why we should continue to read aloud to older children

In today’s busy world though it can be hard to find enough time to read aloud to children. We can all relate to that. So it’s great to remember that parents aren’t the only ones who can take on this role. Older siblings often love to read to their younger brothers or sisters. It helps give them a sense of responsibility as well as providing a way to be helpful and demonstrate their own skills. They learn to give something back. (Not to mention it keeps more than one kid occupied at the same time!). It also helps both children develop fluency. Younger siblings often tend to emulate their older siblings, and sharing this activity together can help with learning new vocabulary and help foster a sense of excitement in preschoolers about learning to read. Cousins or older friends can also play a role, for those who are the only or the eldest child. It seems like a win-win situation to us!

BOOK REVIEW: NEVERMOOR

Apr 30, 2019: I am completely smitten by Nevermoor! I was at once drawn into the wonderful world that the authorJessica Townsend has created and I can’t wait for the sequel. The book follows Morrigan Crow, who knows that she is a cursed child. But instead of the promised death on her eleventh birthday she is whisked away to Nevermoor by the unusual and intriguing Jupiter North, who promises to help her join the Wundrous Society. But first she has to undergo and excel at a series of difficult and mysterious trials. Morrigan is a brave and bold protagonist with a lovely dry sense of humour. She is surrounded in the book by a wonderful array of characters, many of them magical, such as a very endearing giant cat, to name just one. The plot sweeps you up and takes you on a joyful ride. It is full of adventure, mystery and magic (and also full of wonderful detail) but there are strong messages of hope, kindness, acceptance and belonging too.  This was one of my absolute favourite reads this year. It really makes you want to be a part of this magical world. I recommend it to absolutely everyone! I think it is most suitable however for those over the age of 8. It will really appeal to anyone who enjoys books full of magic and adventure. 

Madison K (age 11), Banbury, UK

BOOK REVIEW: THE PEPPERMINT PIG

Apr 4, 2019: The Peppermint Pig was one of my favourite summer reads. It is set in the English countryside about a hundred years ago, and follows young Poll and her siblings through a tough year in their life. They have moved from London to Norfolk and have to adjust to a new home and different circumstances. Little Johnnie, the runt of a litter, becomes part of their family for a while and provides both them and the story with plenty of humour. At times the story is a little sad, and it is about growing up and learning new perspectives. The story shows the position of children in a world that is controlled by adults, as they struggle to understand things. The characters are well written and I like Poll and cheeky Theo best. It’s not full of adventure or excitement but it is a lovely story with lots of funny and surprising moments. It’s definitely a modern classic, and I would recommend it to readers aged 7 to 10 years old. 

Sara E (age 10), Yorkshire, UK

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