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Welcome to Miss Gibson Reads!

Hi, and welcome! I’m Steph, and I’m a Primary Teacher, mother to two and a huge lover and advocate of reading, with a particular focus on children’s fiction. I hope to use this blog to share that passion with others, reviewing the latest releases in the world of children’s fiction and how books can be used for such a huge variety of purposes so we can learn from them and share them with our children in the most effective way to pass on a love of reading to the next generation.

Review: The Tower at the End of Time by Amy Sparkes

I was so excited to get my hands on The Tower at the End of Time, having loved The House at the Edge of Magic! I read the first in this wondrous series to my Year 5 class online this time last year, when we were all locked away and having to figure out home schooling for the second time. Each day, I posted a video of me reading the next chapter online, and the children were absolutely enthralled. It takes a really special book to capture children even over the internet, but they would still be online at the end of every day, waiting for the next chapter and some even bought their own copies so they could read along – I both love and hate when they do that, because they skip ahead! Anyway, The House at the Edge of Magic will always hold a special place in my heart, and if you want to read my review of this first, you can find it here: missgibsonreads.co.uk/2020/12/29/review-the-house-at-the-edge-of-magic-by-amy-sparkes/

The Tower at the End of Time by Amy Sparkes

As we return to the House, we find Nine, an orphaned Pickpocket who helped to free the House from a dreadful curse, adjusting to life living with a young, permanently flustered wizard called Flabberghast, a troll with a penchant for cookery, a kilt-wearing wooden spoon, and a particularly dusty skeleton in the closet! Although she is relieved to have escaped The Nest of a Thousand Treasures, her new life isn’t perfect, and her mind often wonders if she truly belongs in the House with its unusual (to say the least!) occupants. At least the House is able to travel now they are free from the dreaded curse which brought Nine there… free to travel to extraordinary worlds and do as they please… but there’s just one problem. A house which hasn’t travelled for many years can become a little… nervous… leading to it developing the hiccups, thrusting Nine and her companions from world to world with stomach-churning force. Exhausting all the advice from books about house hiccup cures, Flabberghast decides that the only way to cure the house is to win the Wizard Hopscotch Championships and ask the Tower at the End of Time – a an enchanted tower with the power to answer any question asked of it. But can Nine and her comrades save the house in time, especially when it’s decided to hold its breath for so long it’s in danger of exploding, and is the Tower all that Nine hopes it will be?

I often say that books feel like “coming home” but these characters are some of the best-written, funniest, and well-suited characters I’ve read in a children’s novel. Each one is so unique, and I’ve got so much love for each of them. I think my favourite has to be Eric, with his attempts at cooking, and loved the saga of the pancakes in this one. Although he doesn’t appear in this instalment, there was also some harking back to Mr Downes the librarian, who Nine knew in her previous life, and I loved that she says that he and his library saved her, as books do for so many of us. I was glad that although the House is no longer cursed, elements which made the first book so hilarious remained, including the illustrious toilet, and the rogue tea cupboard! The House remains my most beloved element of this series, and I loved imagining a house with hiccups, along with the remedies to try and rid it of them! Although each house occupant has their own agenda and their own question, the House is the most important thing to all of them. Wizard Hopscotch was an excellent addition to the story, and I loved the descriptions of the game and the players, along with Nine’s cheeky cheat. The Tower itself was a brilliant climax, and I loved each of the tricks and challenges they faced. Without giving away spoilers, one particular moment broke my heart! I’m not sure I’ll ever look at hopscotch in quite the same way again – Every page of Amy’s writing just sparkles with magic and mystery, and I’m just once again enthralled by the series. I was so glad the ending seems open to the continuation of the series and eagerly await the next instalment!

Sunday Shelfie #1 : Most Anticipated Sequels of 2022.

In the first #SundayShelfie, I’ve packed the shelf full of some of my most anticipated sequels of 2022 from those series I’ve enjoyed in the past. Hopefully this will give you the opportunity to seek out the first instalments of the series before the new instalments are released! Reader beware, these descriptions of the sequels often contain spoilers about the previous books in the series.

  1. Vi Spy: Never Say Whatever Again by Maz Evans

Maz Evans is a legend in her own right in the world of Middle Grade fiction series, with Who Let The Gods Out being one of my favourite series of all time – I love introducing my Year 5s to Elliot and the Gods every year, and every year readers go away and seek out the rest of the series themselves, hungry to continue the odyssey. So when Vi Spy was released, I knew it would have all of Maz’s signature brand side-splitting humour, mixed with genuine heart-wrenching moments and I knew that I wouldn’t be disappointed! This series follows Vi, whose parents were once the greatest spy of all time and the greatest villain of all time. In Never Say Whatever Again, Vi is failing at top spy school Rimmington Hall – even though the school motto is “Failure is not an option”. To make it worse, nearly-stepbrother Russel Sprout is an A* student. Worst of all, Vi’s shadowy nemesis Umbra is still at large. Can Vi unveil the arch villain before she gets expelled and her parents ground her forever? If you’re in UKS2 and haven’t read Who Let The Gods Out, Vi Spy, or Scarlett Fife, order them immediately and cancel your plans, you’re in for a treat! I’d also highly recommend an author visit from Maz, she had Year 5 in stitches and gave some excellent writing advice to our enthusiastic young authors.

Released: February 3rd 2022.

Vi Spy 2 – Never Say Whatever Again
  • Amari and the Great Game by BB Alston

Amari and the Night Brothers was my absolute favourite read of 2021. It came at a time when I really needed a new Middle Grade series to get into, and with its brand new diverse world of magic and mystery, it absolutely delivered! The series has been recommended for readers of Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, Percy Jackson etc, but to be honest, to compare it to any other series does it a disservice, because it’s so unique and wondrous, it stands in its own right already. In Night Brothers, Amari sought to find his brother Quinton, and found herself in the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. (Spoilers!) In the Great Game, Amari is now a Junior Agent and believes her Summer will be a breeze, but between the fearsome new Head Minister’s strict anti-magician agenda, fierce Junior Agent rivalries and her brother Quinton’s curse steadily worsening, Amari’s plate is full. So when the secretive League of Magicians offers her a chance to stand up for magiciankind as its new leader, she declines. She’s got enough to worry about! But her refusal allows someone else to step forward, a magician with dangerous plans for the League. This challenge sparks the start of the Great Game, a competition to decide who will become the Night Brothers’ successor and determine the future of magiciankind.

I absolutely cannot wait to return to the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs!

Released: April 14th 2022.

Amari 2 – Amari and the Great Game
  • Legendarium by Jennifer Bell

Wonderscape was one of the first ever middle grade books I felt compelled to review as I felt like I’d been on the most thrilling journey through a gaming universe steeped in History and legend. It began with potentially my favourite opening line of all time – “Arthur was already running late for school when the gnomes exploded” – and introduced me worlds and historical figures I’d never heard of before, but haven’t forgotten since. In Legendarium, Arthur, Ren and Cecily are transported hundreds of years into the future once again, where a brand new in-reality adventure game, featuring famous legends from around the world, is the new gaming obsession. But the friends soon uncover a sinister plot by a mysterious raider called Deadlock, who wants to recreate dangerous time-way technology. With the fate of the universe in their hands, the friends must enter a dangerous iSports tournament, that will take them from the lost city of Atlantis to Viking battlefields and subterranean Incan tunnels. Can the friends stop the evil Deadlock and play their way home before time runs out? It sounds every bit as exhilarating as Wonderscape was – definitely not to be missed!

Released: May 5th 2022

Wonderscape 2: Legendarium (Image not yet available)
  • Firesong by Vashti Hardy

Every now and then a series comes along which is so well-written and adventure-packed, you genuinely feel that you’re part of the crew, and the Brightstorm series has always welcomed me with open arms. I adored Brightstorm from the moment I stepped aboard the Aurora to explore The Wide, and can’t wait to greet the Brightstorm twins once again in the conclusion to the series. (Spoilers!) In Firesong, Arthur, Maudie and the rest of the Aurora crew are going on a mission to the Volcanic North, where years before their parents discovered the moth that is their family symbol. But their scheming, ambitious aunt, Eudora Vane, is still dedicated to destroying the Brightstorm family name, and the further North the Aurora travels, the more long-buried secrets are revealed!  I’m both incredibly excited for another Brightstorm adventure and dreadfully sad that the series will come to an end.

Released: May 5th 2022

Brightstorm 3 – Firesong

It was so tough to narrow my most anticipated sequels down to just four, and I’m looking forward to so many others in 2022, including:

  • Sabotage on the Solar Express – the next in the thrilling Adventures on Trains series by M G Leonard and Sam Sedgman. Released February 17th 2022.
  • Rainbow Grey: Eye of the Storm – the next in the Rainbow Grey series about a weather-wielding earth explorer by Laura Ellen Anderson. Released March 3rd 2022.
  • Eternity Engine – the third instalment in the incredible Orphans of the Tide series from Struan Murray. Released March 17th 2022.

Review: The Secret of the Treasure Keepers

Ruth has lived through the harrowing events of World War II and even survived the Blitz in London with her mother, so may be forgiven for hoping for a quiet life with little more drama. Her mother and father are on the brink of divorce, and she’s in danger of losing her family home if her mother doesn’t secure a paid job working for the British Museum, where she currently volunteers. But when she answers a telephone call intended for the Curator of British Collections in the British Museum, she becomes embroiled within an underground plot of hidden treasures on a farm filled with mystery and secrets. Ruth and her mother’s careful excavation leads to the discovery of some very significant objects indeed. Rook Farm is in danger, and the treasure could very well save it, but can they keep it safe, and is the treasure all that is seems, or could somebody be keeping secrets?

I’ve made no secret that I believe AM Howell to be the queen of Historical Mystery, and The Secret of the Treasure Keepers is another addition to a stunning collection of stories. Ann-Marie drops just enough breadcrumbs for the reader to be able to piece together the puzzle in order to solve the mystery, with some distractions and red herrings of course! I adore the detail in the stories, and always truly learn something about the period, this time the story of the Baedeker raids, which, having taught all about World War II had escaped my knowledge, but piqued my interest enough to research further, as I hope it would do for a young reader. To that end, there are links in the back of the book for budding archaeologists to pursue a potential new hobby or career. I also loved that although Mary’s medical bills were going to cost a fortune, there’s the mention of a new health service which won’t cost a penny to use, and of a self-service shop to encompass the butcher, baker and grocer – imagine! This would be a great title to use alongside a WWII topic, or more specifically to look at what happened in Britain post-war.

Rook Farm is a gem of a setting, where the reader is just as welcome as Ruth, and I adored the characters involved in this mystery, and found myself getting very attached to the family, and Joey inparticular. Joey and Ruth’s awkward, suspicious friendship makes their working together difficult, but each is in danger of losing their own home, and desperate to prove themselves to their families. Anyone and everyone could be keeping secrets, and while some might appear to have motive or means, skeletons may be lurking in the most unsuspecting of closets and not every action is simply right or simply wrong.

Featuring beautiful cover artwork by Rachel Corcoran, The Secret of the Treasure Keepers is available 31st March 2022. If you haven’t already read The Garden of Lost Secrets, The House of One Hundred Clocks and Mystery of the Night Watchers, seek them out immediately!

Learning Links

  • Links to work on post-war Britain, in particular to the beginning of the NHS, of supermarkets, etc.
  • I’d love to do a specific research project on the Baedeker raids.
  • Reading journals making notes on possible suspects, secrets, motives etc, discussion of potential theories, debate work.
  • Historical writing set in post-war Britain.
  • Newspaper writing based on the discovery of the treasures.

Review: Escape Room by Christopher Edge

Twelve-year-old Ami loves puzzles – escape rooms in particular. So as she arrives at The Escape, she’s grateful to her father for sending her as a reward for all of her hard work. Her teammates Adjoa, Ibrahim, Oscar, and Min soon join her, and The Host instructs them that to save the world, they must find the answer. But this is no ordinary escape room… Ami and her teammates quickly discover that this escape room is larger than life, as they battle intelligent foes, perilous puzzles and exposing environments. Can they work together to find the answer before it’s too late?

The premise of this book intrigued and excited me – I absolutely LOVE an escape room, and thought this was an absolutely brilliant idea for a middle grade adventure. I really enjoyed the characters, and how each represented a different element in solving the riddles, and the building of the different environments within the escape room was fantastic. My favourite was, of course, the Bibliotheque Universelle – the answer can always be found in the library. But I also loved the shopping mall, and the riddle that came with it!  

And then for Christopher to add THAT ENDING into the mix… Without wanting to give too much away, the ending absolutely blew my mind. Once I’d picked my jaw up off the floor and read the ending again more than once, I immediately wanted to read The Escape Room again, with a whole new perspective. The clues must have been there. Everything is part of the game. But I’m not ashamed to admit, I didn’t see it coming, and I’m glad I didn’t. Brilliantly pitched for a middle grade audience, I truly hope it draws in middle grade readers and encourages them to find the answer and save the world themselves.

A special thanks to Nosy Crow for the most beautiful bookpost I’ve ever received!

Learning Links:

  • Without wanting to publish spoilers – links to the environment and looking after the planet.
  • I would LOVE to do a specific writing unit on adventure/suspense/puzzle writing where children design their own room within The Escape and play out the scene.

Review: FURTHERMOOR by Darren Simpson

Furthermoor follows twelve-year-old Bren, who, having recently suffered the tragic loss of his sister Evie, is living as a shadow – going through the motions of daily life at home and at school, but never really present, never really in the moment. Worse still, Bren is plagued by the school bully, Shaun, who not only preys on Bren’s insecurity and cowardice, but has recently set his sights on the new kid too. Shaun and his gang make Bren’s life a living hell – a fate he’s resigned himself to, and even learned to live with. Bren’s only solace is Furthermoor: a world he’s imagined, a world he can escape to where he is safe, and Evie lives on. When Bren climbs through the canopy of crystal leaves into his mechanical forest, with its shimmering lake and beautiful meadow, he is in control. With the turn of a few cogs on his watch, he can create stunning works of nature and magnificent creatures. But as Bren’s real life takes a turn for the worse, strange things start to happen in Furthermoor too, with the emergence of Featherly, a dark and malevolent creature who seems hell-bent on destroying Furthermoor and Bren himself. Can Bren overcome his deepest fears and darkest thoughts in order to save himself?

After reading Darren’s previous titles, and particularly enjoying The Memory Thieves, I couldn’t wait for Furthermoor, and absolutely devoured it. Darren’s writing is beautiful, the descriptions of Furthermoor and world-building are exquisite, but this book is so much more than a portal-type adventure novel. The most prominent theme is that of grief and loss. Darren’s signature exploration of the big issues is, as usual, thought-provoking and brutally honest. I really felt Bren’s pain and suffering, not just in the moments of violence or bullying, but also in those vulnerable moments where he was alone, or in the awkwardness of his parents trying to navigate family life having lost a child. Grief can be a challenging topic for a middle grade audience, but Darren really conveys the nuances, the emptiness, and the numbness. Added to the ruthless campaign of bullying that Bren experiences, Darren really taps into the very real anguish that many teenagers face every day.

When Bren’s torment begins to permeate Furthermoor, Featherly reminds Bren that everything that happens there is Bren’s own perception. The strength of Bren’s own dark thoughts and feelings is enough to destroy everything good he has created, and that is an incredibly powerful metaphor for those experiencing grief and suffering. I can’t remember another middle grade to young adult title with such a striking take on the pain of loss and the effect it can have on the mental health and self-worth of those left behind. Bren’s story is haunting and poignant and will remain with me, as I hope it will remain with young readers, serving as a reminder that finding your voice in your darkest moments is tough, but when bravery and courage prevail, the darkness can be overcome.

Learning Links:

  • Clear links to PSHE work on grief/loss and bullying.
  • Perfect to link to work on Anti Bullying weeks – both the scenes involving the bullying and confronting the bully.
  • Descriptive writing work based on Furthermoor – worldbuilding etc.

Trigger Warnings: Grief, Loss of a sibling, Loss of a child, Mental health, Bullying, Violence.

Review: Grandpa Frank’s Great Big Bucket List by Jenny Pearson

Frank John Davenport is pretty fed up… His dad’s dodgy dealings have forced another move, and his mum is at her wits end trying to clean up the mess. Poor Frank is caught in the middle, but just as it seems that life is hopeless, Frank inherits a small fortune from a grandma he didn’t even know he had – BUT the money comes with very strict instructions to take special care of Frank’s grandpa. Seizing the opportunity to spend time with his grandpa, and with the promise of a handsome reward, Frank takes on the task of giving Grandpa Frank the time of his life, and creates a bucket list of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. But what he forgets to consider, is whether Grandpa Frank actually wants to be looked after!

Jenny Pearson is the absolute queen of comedy with a heart and yet again she has delivered a story filled with rip-roaring laughter, but dotted with poignant moments and important life lessons. Even more so than her previous books, with Grandpa Frank those little life mottos and lessons are prominent in the chapter titles, explicitly giving the middle grade reader those little tips for navigating life’s tricky moments. I adored the relationship between Frank and his Grandpa – it reminded me of the film Up! Frank’s determination to give his Grandpa a good time is equalled only by his Grandpa’s determination to stay grumpy. Frank tries so hard to plan the most exciting experiences that he can think of, but forgets that a bucket list is usually written by the person themselves! Grandpa Frank may not have planned on hot air ballooning or monster trucking, but can old people learn new tricks? The results are hilarious, and I enjoyed each stop on the bucket list, with “swimming with The Dolphins” being my personal favourite!

I love that Jenny always shows that adults are often fallible in more than just a comedic, slapstick way. Even when they have the best of intentions, they’re never perfect, they all have their own vices weaknesses, and they often don’t follow the wise words they bestow upon children. Jenny perfectly illustrates the trials and tribulations of family life and reminds the young reader that no family is perfect. As always, I loved the twists and turns of the plot, and the side-splitting culmination right at the end. Jenny writes such brilliantly colourful characters, the residents of Autumnal Leaves in particular are just wonderful. Once again, Jenny has delivered an absolute triumph of both comedy and heart. Grandpa Frank is proof that you should really never underestimate old people!  

If you’ve not read Jenny’s other titles, it’s WELL worth grabbing yourself a copy of The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates and The Incredible Record Smashers – both also wonderfully written rip-roaring comedies which explore big issues with both humour and sensitivity. Both also have fantastic free teaching resources.

Review: Girl (in real life) by Tamsin Winter

In June 2019, I sat in the audience of an Usborne Books at Home event called “Dream Bigger”, waiting for one of my favourite authors to talk about her new book – Jemima Small vs The Universe. Having already read Jemima, I was enthralled while Tamsin shared her knowledge of the issue of body image among teenage girls, how this stems from the media they consume, and how they are targeted by that very media. Taking her inspiration from a news story about year 6 children being weighed in school, she skilfully and sensitively examined the pitfalls and pressures of such a policy on teenage girls. I was astounded at how Tamsin had her finger on the very pulse of such an important and relevant issue, and had produced a book which I felt needed to be put in the hands of every teenage girl, and on the bookshelf of every secondary library in the land. Of course, after discussing Jemima, the inevitable question for an author Q&A came… what have you got in the pipeline? This seems such an awful question sometimes, a kind of “yeah this is great, but what are you doing next??” doesn’t seem to do an author or their book justice sometimes, but it does come from a place of love, a feeling of anticipation for what’s to come. Luckily, Tamsin had already had her next idea, and boy was the issue every bit as relevant and important for today’s tweens and teens…

Girl (in real life) tells the story of Eva, who rose to internet fame before she was even born, thanks to her parents and their online channel “All About Eva”, documenting every moment and milestone of Eva’s life. Every spot, every tantrum, every moment of her life is up online for the world to see, and comment on. The world is part of her family, and “the brand” is a constant presence as much as her mum or her dad. As her mum shares one of her most private milestones on the channel without her consent, Eva has finally had enough. Feeling ignored and unheard by her media-hungry parents, Eva takes matters into her own hands, and with the help of a new friend, she seeks to end her involvement in the channel by any means necessary. This time inspired by the children of vloggers seeking to sue their own parents, Tamsin examines the effects of a life of internet exposure on teens.

I loved the cast of supporting characters, from her hilarious friend Spud, to her fantastic grandmother, Farmor, who doesn’t stand for any of the online vlogging business from the beginning. She very much reminded me of my own grandmother, who warned of the dangers of such “new-fangled nonsense” long before social media was ever invented. Her parents are, of course, a major part of the novel, but though they could be painted as the villains of the piece, they’re not bad people, it’s clear that they began the channel out of love, and have watched it grow and provide for their family, but don’t know where to draw the line. The title “All About Eva” has almost become ironic, as they fail to listen to their daughter and her needs, instead pandering to subscribers, media and sponsors. As with all good teen novels, the angst of friendships is also explored, as Eva negotiates difficulty in her relationship with her best friend Hallie, and a new friendship forming with a new girl to school, who comes amidst rumour of her previous behaviour and the reason for her transfer. The balance of humour and slapstick events in the story with genuine, poignant moments makes for an authentic and genuine read.

From experience of working with tweens, if you ask the question “what do you want to be when you’re older?” the general consensus these days is a YouTube star. Nothing wrong with an ambition, and some would certainly relish the fame and the freebies that they see other “influencers” have showered upon them, but this title examines the other side of the camera. From Eva’s side of the camera, the freebies aren’t worth the harassment she receives from her peers in school, and the fame comes with a whole host of problems for her to deal with. Tamsin’s writing, as always, is spot-on for a middle-grade/teen audience, getting her message across without being condescending or preaching, just good, honest story-telling. I loved the fact that this wasn’t written about a teen posting their own life online – it almost seems too easy to berate teens for over-sharing, but instead the issues of control, consent and “sharenting” are explored. Although this has its own teen target audience, I think many parents would benefit from reading it, I know that I certainly did – at what point does a cute picture of my toddler posted to insta cross the line of consent, or jeopardise her mental or physical health? In a culture of likes and shares, where do we draw the line? Are we inviting comment from perfect strangers on their little lives? Who is teaching our teens and our adults how to use social media safely for themselves and for others? How do I teach my toddler to negotiate an ever-changing, ever-evolving virtual world which I never had to navigate at her age? Our adults never grew up with social media (which I thank my lucky stars for), so are we naïve to the pressures it can put on our children? Once again, Tamsin has her finger right on the pulse of what needs to be examined, and I find myself saying yet again that this book belongs on the bookshelf of every teen, every secondary school, and possibly every parent who uses social media!

*Trigger Warning – Grief/Bereavement*

There are fantastic teacher resources and book club discussion questions for this title, which can be found here:

https://usborne.com/gb/girl-in-real-life-9781474978484

Review: The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke by Kirsty Applebaum

Having adored Kirsty’s quirky and unusual books The Middler and Troofriend, I was delighted to receive a proof copy of The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke in exchange for an honest review. Kirsty has long been considered the queen of dystopian fiction for children in my mind, and I’ve described her books in the past as “Black Mirror for a middle grade audience” – and her third is no exception.

We join Lonny at age 12, already aware of his differences, a lifeling, kept hidden in the woods by his father for his own protection. We learn very quickly that Lonny being a lifeling is both a blessing and a curse: he can save beings on the brink of death from dying, but in exchange, he sacrifices years of his own life. Resentful of having to spend his life in the words with his father, grandfather, and his younger brother Midge, Lonny snatches a moment of opportunity to make his way out to the nearest town, Farstoke, where it just so happens to be festival week, a celebration of lifelings. Despite Grandpa’s warnings still ring in Lonny’s ears – “The more good and dandy it seems, the more worse it is” – Lonny is welcomed by the Farstoke folk with open arms and homemade pizza. But are things as they seem? Are the people really as nice, and are lifelings truly as valuable to them as they make out?

Kirsty’s ideas are just incredible, and written so realistically and always with a root in real life, so the reader truly begins to question their own morals, and what they would do, given the opportunity to be a lifeling, or to know a lifeling. The moral dilemmas presented aren’t just around whether a lifeling should give up their own life for others, but deeper than that, who they would give up their life for? Would it depend on the amount of life given, or their relationship with the person? All really interesting questions, and brilliantly woven into the story. The issues of grief, and even depression, are explored sensitively, but not brushed over – we see the full extent of the harm that both can cause a person, and the desperation which they can lead to, and that’s so important in middle grade fiction. My favourite part of this one was the stories told by Grandma Quicke, and in particular how there are two different versions, each one demonstrating a slightly different bias – a brilliant way to explore the ideas that stories can change depending on the storyteller, and indeed change over time. I love all of Kirsty’s work, but I think this is the deepest her exploration of human nature has gone so far, and I think it will lead to fantastic discussion within a classroom setting. I can’t wait to share Lonny Quicke with Year 5! A truly thought-provoking exploration of human nature and the value of human life.

Learning Opportunities:

  • Kirsty’s books make a brilliant start for Philosophy For Children (P4C) sessions. This one in particular could form the basis for discussions on what children would do in Lonny’s situation, or what they would do if they were friends with a lifeling but a family member was sick.
  • Could certainly be linked to the Science curriculum focus on the human timeline, possibly comparing life cycles, thinking about how much life saving different creatures would take from a lifeling.
  • Dystopian themes are rarely explored in the KS2 curriculum, it would be great to explore this genre further, and explore some of the different outcomes of this story.

I believe there are also a free digital teaching resources pack on the way, so I will come back and add the link to that when it arrives!  

Review: The Weather Weaver by Tamsin Mori

Many of us long for that nostalgic homely feeling of the place we spent our childhood, and eleven-year-old Stella is no different. Having moved away from the Shetland Islands as a young child so her parents could follow their careers, Stella is delighted to be returning, albeit alone, to share the Summer with her grandfather. But her delight soon fades, as she realises that the island, and her Grandpa, aren’t quite how she remembers them. Everything seems duller, somehow, and Grandpa is just not the same without Grandma, keeping her stuck in the house and forbidding her from exploring the island. Nomatter how hard Stella tries to cheer up Grandpa, she just keeps missing the mark and upsetting him more, so after a particularly difficult moment, she takes off alone to explore the island. But instead of finding the birds and wildlife she’s hoping for, she comes across a mysterious lady called Tamar, whose unique skills and ability to control the weather entice and intrigue Stella. As Tamar mentors Stella in the ways of weather-weaving, she begins to hone her own unique skills, but will her power grow string enough to take on a malevolent being, hell-bent on raising the seas and destroying the island?   

The Weather Weaver is a beautiful story of discovery and finding your true self. Stella not only contends with her new found skills, but also her sense of belonging to the island and to her family. As she uncovers new talents, she also uncovers truths about her family and their choices. Tamsin explores the issue of grief, bereavement and separation so delicately and sensitively, there are difficult and uncomfortable moments, and poignant moments too, but all pitched perfectly for a middle grade audience. It’s so important that these issues are included in fiction so children have the chance to experience these emotions along with Stella. I have to say my favourite part of the whole story was Nimbus – who knew it was possible to feel so much fondness for a cloud? The backdrop of the Shetland Islands was so perfect, I couldn’t imagine the story taking place anywhere else. I felt the strong winds on my face, and the sea spray on my face. The whole concept of weather weaving is original, exciting, and brilliantly written and explored, I do hope Tamsin explores it even further in her future work.

Thankyou to NetGalley and UCLan Publishing for advanced access to this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow by Benjamin Dean

This is the story of Archie Albright, a young teen struggling with the break-up of his parents. He desperately wants things to go back to normal, to his Friday nights in the arcade with his dad and his mum not locking herself in her room. But, unable to shake the feeling that there is a secret being kept from him, Archie searches for the answers until a colourful flyer falls from dad’s pocket, and he learns that his dad is gay. Despite support from his family, friends, and neighbours, Archie feels his world has changed forever, even his arcade trips feel different, tense somehow. So he and his friends set out on an exciting but hasty plan to follow the rainbow and find out more about the colourful world he is now a part of.

The vivid array of background characters they meet at pride feel like a genuine family, who welcome the Archie, and the reader, with open arms. Although Archie and his friends don’t always make the most sensible decisions, they are driven by love and wanting to accept Archie’s dad, for whoever he truly is. Sen and Bell make excellent allys, supporting Archie, listening to him, and helping him to explore and find out more about the LGBTQIA+ world. Oscar in particular serves as a brilliant mentor to Archie, he’s a calm and reassuring presence (despite the calamities of the trip!) and provides words of wisdom to Archie and to the reader, “It’s just interesting… What some people think is a big deal. People love to freak out over things that don’t really matter at all.”

The overwhelming reaction to “Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow” seems to be one of relief that this book exists – I’ve heard so many describe it as the book they wished they’d read when they were a child. While I feel a pang of sadness that such a book is still so vital in 2021, I am glad that I’ll be able to share this book with the next generation, and that it will not only open their eyes to a world of rainbows and acceptance, but also teach them how to be an ally to others in our increasingly vibrant and diverse world. This is a really wholesome exploration of a parent coming out, perfect for a middle-grade audience. It struck just the right note, balancing the acknowledgement of the discomfort Archie experiences, and the sadness of his Mum, but their drive to accept him and love him for who he is. A good introduction to the LGBTQ+ world, a little idealistic perhaps, and doesn’t explore the complex emotions or conflict which often comes with such a story, but at the end of the day, this is how it should be… No great fuss or commotion, just figuring out that things are, infact, exactly the same as they always were. Beautiful illustrations from Sandhya Prabhat set the book off perfectly. It’s gentle, it’s open, it’s full of love, joy, and acceptance – I can’t wait to put this on my class bookshelf.