The 1000 year old boy by Ross Welford ISBN: 9780008256944 £6.99

Alfie Monk isn’t like other children. He is 1000 years old and can remember the last Viking invasion of England. But Alfie is tired of living so long as an 11year old, watching his friends grow old and having to keep starting again. When he is made homeless and motherless by an accidental fire he decides to find a way to grow old alongside his new found friends Roxy and Aidan.

I have been taking a long time to finish this book and I will attempt to say why. When I began reading I found the pace of the first third of the story was very slow. There was a lot of background relating to Alfie and his mum and how they came to be living for such a long time. I found all the backstory filling very tedious but I persevered because I know a few Carnegie winners where I have struggled with the start and persistence has paid off. So I was pleased when two thirds of the way through the tempo was picking up. Alfie was taken into care, Aiden’s sinister “uncle” is following Alfie, and Roxy and Aiden are struggling to keep Alfie out of the limelight. The plot was moving on at a pace and I was keen to see Alfie progress to his ultimate aim, with hopefully some last minute danger involving the uncle. But just before this can occur, the two characters readers were introduced to at the very beginning of the story, reappear to make their peace with Alfie. I was completely flumoxed by this, as it seemed to have no bearing on the rest of the current story line. I wonder if, with more judicious editing, it would have been removed so the reader could cut to the chase. Then Alfie and Aiden steal a boat – an illegal act that bothers me less as a responsible adult recommending books to year 6 children than the fact that they call the coastguard out on false pretences as a distraction! Everything ties up very neatly at the end but it was an upstream swim to get there and I can’t help feeling that Alfie should have been adopted by (spoiler alert!) Dr Heinz and Prudence rather than Aiden’s parents. My favourite part of this book is the character of Roxy’s mum, Precious Minto…genius! I’d like more of this aspect of Welford’s writing in future novels.

my thanks go to Harper Collins Children’s Books who supplied me with a copy of the book via the YLG newsletter.


Completely Chloe by Candy Harper

Chloe has quit rugby in protest because her coach didn’t choose her for training camp. In order to take her mind off how much she misses playing, she forms the Adrenaline Club where she and her 3 friends dare each other to do dangerous things. She soon starts to realise everything is getting out of hand, but what can she do about it?

This is a moving and funny family story which cleverly interweaves the complexity of having 4 sisters all with different personalities and the struggles of growing up; taking on more responsibilities and being more self-aware.  The genius of this character led storytelling is that all the girls have character flaws but they are all likeable and learn from their mistakes (most of the time!) which endears them to the reader. Candy Harper has written books on 3 of the sisters so I eagerly await the one to come which should focus on the youngest belligerent and tough cookie Lucy. I’m loathe to compare authors usually but as a fan of Cathy Casssidy’s Chocolate Box Girls series this comes a close second in my opinion.

Why I chose these books for 6 year old niece

Martin Brown’s Lesser Spotted Animals by Martin Brown ISBN 9781910200537 £12.99 

I gifted this to my niece for Christmas 2017 and am pleased to say she seems to be enjoying sharing it. I was not certain that at 6 years of age she would be old enough to appreciate the more complex text which is pitched at Year 3/ 7-8 year olds. She is a fast learner and one of the oldest in her class, so I’m confident that if she wants to read it then it won’t take her long to learn. However, she can happily enjoy the clear colourful yet cartoon style illustrations with brief boxed annotations without adult intervention. The reason I chose this particular book is that last year she discovered the magic of ‘Siri’ and, after the novelty of asking silly questions and throwing insults at it, she found that the internet could tell her more about the naked mole rat…a character she had come across in another storybook. This title is a perfect way to introduce less conventional animals to childrens’ attention in a fun, accessible  and informative way. It also appeals to my niece’s wicked sense of humour!

That is Not a Good Idea! By Mo Willems ISBN 9781406355581 £6.99

Knowing my niece’s propensity for mischief and a love of slapstick humour I was fairly confident that she would enjoy this story. A hen chicken meets a fox and is invited back for tea, and throughout the story baby chicks pop up and warn “that is not a good idea” right up until the surprise denouement! The cinematic style of illustration with 1920s style text between each page of character and plot development brings a little sophistication to what is otherwise essentially  an alternative version of Little Red Riding Hood. But it is the humour implied in the illustrations juxtaposed with the text which makes this a little gem to share together.

How to Find Gold by Vivian’s Schwarz ISBN 9781406371642  £6.99 

Before my niece started school most of her creative play came from her mum’s ideas and resources from the local children and family centre. But for a lively 4 year old indoor activities don’t keep her interested for long.  Luckily they live near the beach and this is one of the most popular activities for our outdoorsy little girl, so I knew Schwarz’s treasure hunting story would be spot on. While the illustrations are deceptively childlike, there are many styles and textures of painting and drawing demonstrated with Anna and the crocodile outlined in charcoal and the sea in broiling blue wax crayon and pastels. However the key to the success of this story is the treasure seeking, with map and ship to aid them and the determination not to give up resulting in treasure at last. Refreshing to have a story led by a girl with a strong character, steely determination and independence – all traits I can see my niece developing, and I am pleased she can see herself reflected with humour and charm in the character of Anna even though they don’t look alike.

The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson illustrated by Paul Howard ISBN 9781405201773  £6.99

I chose this particular edition of “The Owl Who Was Afraid” because it is an illustrated edition and felt that was more appropriate for my niece who is still learning to read and is not ready for short chapter books just yet. Plop is an owl who is afraid of the dark, so  his mum sends him into the night to talk to some characters who love the dark with the hope that knowledge will help take away his fear. I must confess to giving into to a little bit of nostalgia in choosing this title, as I remember this title fondly from my own early reading days. But the main reason I chose it is because it is such a perfectly constructed simple yet entertaining tale about night time. Most people suffer from night fears at some time in their life and this is such a great story to share with anyone who wants some reassurance and the warmth and comfort of great storytelling, lovable characters and soothing language. Perfect as a bedtime story to share over several nights.

Chocolate Cake by Michael Rosen illustrated by Keith Waldron ISBN 9780141379203. £6.99 

In my opinion most poetry is written to be performed aloud rather than read, and Michael Rosen’s poetry is no exception. A quick search on YouTube will locate the live performance by the author of this singular creation of wit and wickedness about the awful theft of a whole chocolate cake! My niece has, with the encouragement of her father, developed a taste for chocolate of all kinds. She is also a budding diva who, though unwilling to perform in front of strangers, will happily sing Let it go in front of her toy microphone and borrow her auntie’s acoustic guitar to strum along to the music from mummy’s iPad. As this poem requires some emphasis and change of pace in the telling, it is advised to rehearse and read with your accompanying child together before viewing the performance by the master, or you may suffer from performance anxiety. Well worth the effort however you choose to tell it.



Why I chose these books for my 3 year old nephew

Sir Dancealot by Timothy Knapman illustrated by Keith Robinson ISBN: 9781408846995  £6.99 paperback

I gifted this book just before the start of the Strictly Come Dancing series in the autumn. The story features a dragon who defeats his foes not by fighting and eating people but by a dance off with accompanying disco ball and sparkly costumes. This is a fun simply told tale filled with the highs and lows of competition and ending on a final page full of glitter and glitz. Even though the reader suspects a happy ending, the final dance off leaves the reader with a warm glow. Just perfect for bedtime reading and short enough to keep the attention of a lively curious little boy.

This is Our House by Michael Rosen illustrated by Bob Graham. ISBN: 9781406323887 £7.99 paperback with accompanying CD

I gifted this book because my nephew had started attending nursery and, as an only child, had the new experience of playing with lots of other children his own age. The story is about a boy who finds a discarded box and makes it into a playhouse. When everyone else suddenly wants to play he is not so sure but eventually all the children learn that it is more fun to play together. I love this book for two reasons: I remember the magic, as a child, of turning a cardboard box into any number of things; and I love the combination of Michael Rosen’s lyrical dialogue and the urban backdrop of Bob Graham’s calm fluid watercolour illustration

Shark in the Park by Nick Sharratt ISBN: 9780552549776. £6.99

If you’re purchasing this book, make sure it is the Nick Sharratt version and not the Usborne phonics title. Good though phonics reading is, there is no comparison with the warmth and humour of Sharratt’s unparalleled storytelling for under 5s. This is a very simple story, told in rhyme, of Timothy Pope who thinks he can see a shark through his telescope but is in fact mistaken on every occasion! The rhythm and rhyme coupled with the predictive text and inference on every page of what is to come make this a great read-a-loud story for any time of the day.

What is Poo? by Katie Daynes illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguenz ISBN: 9781474917902. £7.99 board book format with flaps

You can currently only buy this book in the very small hand sized board book format   but this hasn’t detracted from the pleasure my nephew draws from this title. Like all small children he has a great appreciation for toilet humour and enormous curiousity about how things work. This book explains the process of digestion for all animals including humans in a very simple way including flaps which introduce a more interactive element. The flaps will help keep the attention of those who are not yet reading fluently but have a veracious interest in non-fiction. I gifted this book because it is both fun and educational at the same time; my initial concern after gifting it was that I had purchased something that was too complex for someone so young. However, I appear to have chosen precisely the topic to capture his interest and I don’t think he will tire of reading this any time soon!

Du Iz Tak by Ellis Carson ISBN: 9781406373431. £6.99 paperback

This is a very unusual picture book in that it has very few words and those it does have are not recognisable as modern English. The essence of the story is following the daily lives of a group of insects and their habits and routines. The language they speak is not one we as readers recognise but can be inferred by using the sumptuous colour illustration to draw conclusions. This is a great way to introduce the concept to children of how words and pictures can be integral to each other. It also highlights lots of other discussion points such as how there is more than one language in the world. Fun can be had speculating what language do dogs speak for example, discussion could take place about types of language where you don’t speak such as sign language and programming language. There is so much that can be gleaned from this book yet even just enjoying the retro feel of the illustration and speculating on what the bugs are up to make this the perfect sharing book for a quiet time just for two.

To be continued…………

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd illustrated by Levi Pinfold

December 1941. World War II is raging. Emmaline has been evacuated away from the bombs to Briar Hill Hospital in Shropshire. When she gets there, she discovers a secret. It’s not to be shared with anyone, even her only friend. This is Emmaline’s secret: there are winged horses that live in the mirrors of Briar Hill.

This is a tale of family love, guilt and a passion for life. The story is told from Emmaline’s viewpoint and beautifully illustrated by Levi Pinfold. The reader may want to spend time immersed in this story. This is not a pacy page turning tale but a slow thoughtful read . There are many multi-faceted characters from the bed ridden Anna who takes Emmaline under her wing, the seemingly severe Sister Constance and the one armed farm hand Thomas. Emmaline however is the driving force in this story. We hear snatches of conversation from the nuns and the other children which give the reader clues as to the events leading up to her quarantine in the hospital along with the other tuberculosis patients. However, it is not until the very end of the story after her many attempts to save a winged horse she finds in the gardens that we learn her backstory. The majority of the plot is taken up with her attempts throughout to prove that the wing horses exist and how this affects her relationships with the other children and adults in the hospital. The atmospheric illustrations by Levi Pinfold provide the occasional break in the text and a welcome pause from the intensity of the plot. The lyrical language and immediacy of the first person narrative create an emotional and poetic feel to this historical novel. A challenging read for the thoughtful reader, it will tug at your heart strings and provide an insight to the less well known aspects of this period in history.

Charlie and me by Mark Lowery

Thirteen-year-old Martin and his younger brother Charlie are on a very special journey. They’re going to be travelling 421 miles all the way from Preston to the very tip of Cornwall. They’re hoping to catch a glimpse of the dolphin that regularly visits the harbour there. But is that the only reason they are going?

This is a very funny and yet vaguely disturbing story. The reader knows something isn’t right but doesn’t know what and so the narrative makes for uncomfortable reading. The lead character writes poetry and a poem of his creation relating to the story line begins each chapter, which I think is a nice touch. The relationship between Martin and Charlie is very clearly portrayed and there is an authentic relationship with a teenage girl later in the story which also rings true . However,  I’d definitely question the likelihood of a 13year old convincing the train ticket salesperson that he is 16 especially after failing to buy 2 child tickets from the same person earlier. Having read the previous three books by this author, which are all in a similarly irreverent laddish style, I’d like to read a funny story for younger readers written by him, one that comes across as playful with a light touch where this one seems targeted at 12+ and not the 9-11 age group quoted by the publisher on the back jacket. It is possible to be amusing in dark situations without resorting to toilet humour, as Christopher Edge has successfully demonstrated in “The Many Worlds of Albie Bright”; and to tackle adult and children’s points of view in a story written from the child’s viewpoint such as in “Cosmic” by Frank Cottrell Boyce. I just didn’t warm to any of the characters in this book although I appreciated the sentiment behind the story. Perhaps it’s just not the type of humour that appeals to me, but I’m not the target audience. I expect there are teenagers who will love the humour and some who will appreciate the struggles of the main characters.

Thank you to Toppsta ( for the copy of this title to review.

The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club

Stella Starflake Pearl is determined to accompany her adopted father on his Polar expedition despite the rules refusing girls into the club or the frosty reception she receives from the son of the rival Ocean Squid Explorers’s Club. However, once they arrive in the ice lands, circumstances soon separate the children from the rest of the group and they have a short space in time in order to explore and make it back to the ship before it disembarks for the winter.

This is a rollicking read full of references to the Polar regions interspersed with random fantastical and magical creatures, including a giant yeti and some fairies that give you frostbite. If you can suspend your disbelief then this is a pacy adventure story with lots of twists and turns to keep the reader hooked. The characters all have well rounded personalities with faults and motivations for their behaviour. There are a few didactic explanations why good behaviour is to be encouraged such as when Felix explains to his daughter why it’s important to be kind. These come across as a little contrived but this does not detract from the essence of the story, which is one of bravery, love, loyalty, friendship and curiosity. Ideal for any independent young reader of 9+.

Chapter Books with illustrations

“her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, `and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice `without pictures or conversation?’” A direct quote from Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland this accurately depicts most young newly independent readers’ opinion of fiction without illustrations. So it’s no surprise that there are many short chapter books being published now with black & white pencil illustration and in some cases full colour pictures on every third or fourth page.

A good example of some of these are:

Uncle Gobb and the Dread Shed by Michael Rosen & illustrated by Neal Layton

The Grunts on the Run by Philip Ardagh & illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Moone Boy: the Fish Detective  by Chris O’Dowd & Nick Murphy

Hamish and the World Stoppers by Danny Wallace

Future Ratboy and the Invasion of the Nom Noms by Jim Smith

Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans by Gary Northfield

Pugs of the Frozen North by Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre

Shouty Kid: How Harry Riddles Totally Went Wild by Simon Mayle

Badly Drawn Beth: Happy Birthday by Knife & Packer

The 65-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths & illustrated by Terry Denton

Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman & illustrated by Chris Riddell

My Embarrassing Dad’s Gone Viral by Ben Davis & illustrated by Mike Lowery

Eddy Stone and the Epic Holiday Mash-up by Simon Cheshire

The Spy Who Loved School Dinners by Pamela Butchart & illustrated by Thomas Flincham

The Bad Guys: episode 2 by Aaron Blabey

Nancy Parker’s Diary of Detection: maidservants, mystery & murder by Julia Lee

Electrigirl and the Deadly Swarm by Jo Cotterill & illustrated by Cathy Brett

Some of these books credit their illustrators on the front cover. This is a growing practice amongst children’s publishers of fiction for older children and no longer just the preserve of picture book illustrators. Others are joint author/illustrator partnerships and some authors both write and illustrate. It’s pleasing to see a growing acknowledgement of the important part illustrators have to play in the creation and complete packaging of children’s books.



High-Low Fiction Spring 2017

If you’re as old as I am you may remember a book promotion leaflet in public libraries called: Can’t Read, Won’t Read. It was aimed at those young reluctant readers who were struggling to finish a book and those who found even choosing a book they were both interested in and able to read was a challenge.
Nowadays we call this type of reader a “High-Low” reader. Primarily this refers to 7-11 year olds with a high interest level and low reading age. Teachers, who select differentiated non-fiction to meet the needs of these pupils in their class topic work, are constantly on the look-out for fiction which will be equally as accessible. There are many ways to reach reluctant readers and not all will apply to all readers, but the five main ones are:
fun non-fiction – these are the fact books which present information in visually appealing and bite sized pieces, often with humour and irreverence at the core. Examples might be: the Animal Science series by Nicola Davies; Greenaway award winning Shackleton’s journey by William Grill,; IF: “a mind bending way of looking at big ideas and numbers” by David J. Smith, and Survivors by David Long.
Poetry – poems are the ideal way to access rich language without the density of narrative text. There have been several excellent collections published recently for children aged 7+ including: Werewolf Club Rules by Joseph Coelho; Language of Cat by Rachel Rooney and Stars in Jars by Chrissie Gittins.
Picture books for older readers – as described these are picture books but with a complex theme, illustrations and subject matter targeted at a Key Stage 2 readership rather than the under 7s. Good examples recently published include: Footpath Flowers by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith; The Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan and I am Henry Finch by Alex Deacon, illustrated by Viviane Schwarz. Wordless picture books feature strongly in this genre and are a great way to practise the scaffolding of learning to read, and build confidence with visual literacy by drawing context from the illustrations.
Comic strip/Graphic novels –this type of material is often associated with the lurid illustrations of the Marvel and DC comics for adults, however there are a huge range of more age appropriate titles and themes for children. This format can be ideal for those with dyslexia and other reading difficulties, though beware of stylised fonts and busy illustrations. The glossy, grown up format is appealing to all readers allowing statemented readers to maintain some street cred in the playground. The more well known amongst these are character led fiction such as: Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, Dork Diaries by Rachel Russell and the “Tom Gates” series by Liz Pichon. However, for a more varied range of storylines and authors try: Sisters by Raina Telgemeier, Electrigirl by Cathy Brett, Lost Tales by Adam Murphy (of The Phoenix presents series) and Hilo by Judd Winick.
Fiction – High-low fiction can include everything from Barrington Stoke publications, which include a huge range of titles and reading levels (see their Barrington Stoke website for more information), to Michael Dahl’s really scary stories published by Raintree and the “You choose” series of choose your own adventure books published by Capstone Press.
With more titles published every day, it is a challenge to keep up with what’s good and what’s not so good. Ideally your local school or public librarian will be on hand to point you in the right direction but if you use these suggested authors & titles as a starting point then you may find the children themselves will proffer some new books to add to the collection. What could be better than using the untapped resources of those at the coal face to help inform and extend your High-low collection.