Monday 8 January 2024

New year, New books: A sneak peek at 2024...

2023 seemed to pass in a blur of brilliant reads. From awesome adventures to laugh out loud comedy to some beautiful tear-jerking tales, we met characters - both human and animal - that will stick in our memories forever. 

But a new year inevitably brings new books and we are already super excited to read some much-awaited sequels as well as some brand new offerings. In fact, over the festive period, we have taken the chance to take a sneak peek at what's a-coming and, from picture books to chapter books to middle-grade, it's already shaping up to being another fantastic year...

PICTURE BOOKS

We are the Wibbly! A Tadpole's Tail by Sarah Tagholm and Jane McGuinness

Link to publisher

Published by: Bloomsbury, 28th March 2024

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In Three Words: Funny, Adorable,Educational

We've known about this one for a while and feel so lucky to have been able to read it early, courtesy of NetGalley, because it is ace. Telling the story of one tadpole's transformation from wibbly to frog, this is a picture book that every KS1 teacher will be crying out to have on their bookshelves...

OH MY CRIKEYS! Everything and everyone around me is changing. First we is the wibblies and now nothing is staying the same. What is happening to them...and what if it doesn't happen to me?

Nailing an hilarious voice and a child's anxious viewpoint perfectly, Sarah Tagholm explores what change can look like to little ones and the importance they place on those around them. If everyone is changing, then why aren't they? Can they do what everyone else can do? And what if they can't? Besides, what is this change anyway? What on earth is going to happen next?

Alongside all these humany questions, is also the simple but brilliantly executed tale - or tail - of a tadpole's journey from frogspawn to frog. Fitting in with topics such as life-cycles and nature, it will capture children's fascination and interest in a thoroughly entertaining way, enriching their understanding and curiosity. Even older children will be chuckling along and uttering the catchy catchphrase: OH MY CRIKEYS! Throw in the most adorable illustrations from Jane McGuiness and what you have is a perfect picture book package. 

Please by Simon Philip and Nathan Reed

Link to publisher

Published by: Bloomsbury, 18th January 2024

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In Three Words: Brilliant, Bonkers, Manners

We've read quite a few stories about manners over the years but this is, by far, the most brilliantly bonkers one. If you struggle to remember to say 'please' then prepare to be whisked off on a rip-roaring journey that will never let you forget again...

Uh-oh! Bill wanted ice-cream but forgot to say please. Now he's been kidnapped by alien toads, crash-landed in a jungle and has had an unexpected encounter with a yak. What's going to happen next? Will Bill ever find a way to get his sweet treat?

Told in bouncy, upbeat rhyme, this cautionary tale will make readers laugh out loud whilst also imparting an important life lesson. Manners cost nothing and using them might save you from upsetting those around you. But instead of hammering the message home in a dull and didactic way, readers will have a whale of a time predicting what crazy thing will happen to Bill next. 

The voice is as hilarious as the illustrations and the repetitive refrain is a delightful and funny treat. Each spread is as random as the next and you can just imagine the author having the time of his life writing this text. Little ones will surely want to invent their own scenarios too and the ending leaves you with another big laugh. This is exactly what everyone needs to read in January...as long as they remember to say please!

Meet the Dinosaurs by Caryl Hart and Bethan Woollvin

Link to publisher

Published by: Bloomsbury, 18th January 2024

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In Three Words: Dinosaurs, Rhyme, Learning

Another great book for the classroom is the latest in the Meet the... series. Following Meet the Planets, Meet the Oceans and Meet the Weather, Meet the Dinosaurs is perfect for any dinosaur enthusiast but also a brilliant introduction to these prehistoric beasts. 

Have you ever wondered where those old bones in the museum actually came from? Well, now is the time to find out! Why not get in the truck and travel back in time on a dino-safari to meet who those bones belonged to?

Perfectly pitched for young children, this well set-up picture book begins in a museum and explains the age of the dinosaurs in a fun but easily understandable way. The bold and vibrant illustrations by Bethan Woollvin have been joyful in all of these books but are perfectly suited to dinosaurs, allowing them to leap out from the page. From Bront-to-saur-us to Dip-lod-o-cus to the infamous Ty-ranno-saur-us, the rhyming text is packed full of factual information about the dinosaurs' diet, habitat and features and even helps new readers with pronunciation by breaking down the long names. The language is both child-friendly yet challenging with some brilliant sound words and dynamic verbs. This is a lesson that both children and adults will not want to miss, made even clearer by the fabulous timeline at the end.

Once Upon a Storytime by Gareth Peter and Natelle Quek

Link to publisher

Published by: Bloomsbury, 15th February 2024

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In Three Words: Fairytales, Love, Reassurance

If you're looking for a lyrical, bedtime story then this gorgeous picture book is really special. With stunning illustrations and a heart-warming message, it's perfect for snuggling under a blanket with and reminding little ones how much they are loved.

Nia and her mum love reading adventure stories and fairy tales together. But Nia has some questions. If the scenarios in the stories ever happened to her, would Mum come and find her? Even if she stumbled across a wicked witch in a gingerbread cottage or was about to be gobbled up by a grouchy giant? 

But Mum has a question too! What would happen if SHE ever got lost? Who would come and save her?

Told in beautiful, lyrical prose, this story draws on the fairy tales we know and twists them into a gentle tale of love and reassurance. Highlighting the special bond between a mother and daughter, it can also be used by any parent, grandparent, family relative or carer to help a child feel secure and settled before bedtime. We loved all the different settings and adventures, brought to life by the incredible illustrations, and it definitely left us with a lump in the throat and in need of a warm hug. Although real life doesn't always offer us the happy endings that fairy tales do, this shared story will empower readers, both young and old, with hope and the knowledge that they are special, unique and important. 

When Dinosaurs Walked the Earth by Sean Taylor 

Link to publisher

Published: July 2023

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In Three Words: Big and Small Dinosaurs 

This picture book was actually published in 2023 but we missed it back then and thought it was too good not to point out. With a repetitive text and brilliant larger-than-life characters - called Smallosaurus and Badasaurus and Worseasaurus - it's the voice that makes this picture book absolutely hilarious.

Smallosaurus just wants to eat a patch of juicy ferns. But Badosaurus isn't going to let her eat them in peace. And that's the way it sometimes was when dinosaurs walked the earth...until Worseasaurus comes along...

This is a tale of a small dinosaur coming out on top in a laugh-out-loud hilarious escapade. It deals in facts in a totally deadpan way and is a definite must for Jon Klassen fans. Told with a very child-like perspective, it will appeal to the sense of humour of young listeners who are very likely to ask for it over and over. These are the picture books I am most in awe of; those with minimal text but which just get how to make children (and adults) laugh and laugh and laugh. 

A big thanks to NetGalley, Bloomsbury and Quarto for allowing us to preview these texts. 


CHAPTER BOOKS

Princess Katie's Kittens: Poppy and the Prince by Julie Sykes, illustrated by Sam Loman

Link to author website

Published by: Piccadilly Press, 4th January 2024

In Three Words: Princesses, Kittens, Adventure

The fourth instalment in this re-released series by Julie Sykes becomes available today, offering another gorgeous story which centres around palace kitten, Poppy. Following on from her siblings, Poppy is keen to find a way out of the boot room and explore...although a rather unpleasant experience is waiting for her. 

When Princess Katie's cousin, Prince Edward, comes to visit, Katie is really excited to spend time with him again. But Prince Edward soon announces that he is far too grown-up to play with Katie anymore and sets about teasing her kitten, Poppy. 

Poppy can't understand why this visitor is being so unpleasant to her. But when the pair go missing at the same time, things come to a head. Will Poppy find herself in danger or can she handle the situation?

This series has become a firm favourite in our house. With a familiar and reassuring format, gentle characters and a dual POV which switches between Princess Katie and her kitten, each book is easily accessible with a managable reading length and a heartwarming adventure with a subtle message. 

In this story, Prince Edward's treatment of Poppy is both unkind and unacceptable and teaches children, through both Katie and Poppy's point of view, how important it is to treat animals kindly. This is all gently wrapped up in a lovely adventure which involves mazes and picnics and family. There's a lovely exploration of Prince Edward's character and a great resolution which I really didn't see coming. Great for newly independent readers, this oozes charm and warmth.


Middle Grade

Stitch by Padraig Kenny

Link to publisher

Published by: Walker Books, 4th January 2024

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In Three Words: Frankenstein's monster, Friendship, Humanity

I've been in awe of Padraig Kenny's writing ever since I read The Monsters of Rookhaven and this new, relatively short novel inspired by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein absolutely tugged on my heartstrings. Simply told, the story takes us on an exploration of what it means to be human and what it means to be different. 

Stitch and his friend, Henry, are alive - creatures created by Professor Hardacre. But when Professor Hardacre dies and his troubled and ambitious nephew takes the helm, things take a sinister turn. Determined to progress science by experimenting on Henry, Stitch is horrified by the professor's intentions. Can Henry and Stitch escape?And what will become of them if they do?

Both Stitch and Henry - but especially Henry and his innocence - are incredibly special characters who will leave a monster-sized imprint on readers' hearts. Yet, as the story unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear who the monsters actually are. Challenging attitudes and preconceptions of anyone who is 'imperfect' or 'different', Padraig Kenny's paired back narrative only serves to make the impact of the tale more powerful - the simplicity of it allowing us to see the truth in a compelling yet clear way. 

The length of the novel and the way it is told makes this rather literary story accessible. There's twists and turns and lots of hooks, an exploration of motives, conscience and the reasoning (or justification) behind actions and, most importantly, an exploration of acceptance. I was really sad when the novel ended and am wondering if we'll ever get to see more of Stitch and Henry's adventures...  

Beastlands: Race to FrostFall Mountain by Jess French

Published by: Piccadilly Press, 18th January 2024

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In three words: Beasts, Quest, Adventure

If you're looking for a novel that's full of danger, pacy adventure, thrilling beasts and exciting flora and fauna then this is an absolute must-read. Despite reading a lot of 'magical beast' stories recently, the imaginative world-building and confident writing of this fantasy novel hooked me in faster than a beast could bite me. Not only that but the narrative, as fast-moving as a river, kept me absolutely gripped. As the story of three different main characters evolve, their stories soon collide in a epic quest of discovery and realisation. 

Before people, there were beasts. But now people have arrived on the island of Ramoa, beasts are feared and the cities keep the citizens locked in and the terrible beastlands outside. But when sky-rider Kayla's beloved pagron is stolen, she is desperate to find him. Alone in the beastlands, she soon encounters a failed warrior, Rustus, and a healer, Alethea, who are each on their own missions. Can the three of them unite to find what they are looking for and have they been told the truth about these terrifying beasts?

Although a fantasy novel, the expertise of author Jess French - who is a veterinary surgeon, zoologist and children's TV presenter - is plain to see. The world-building is edgy and the beastlands are fierce and yet there is a plethora of exciting beasts and plants for the reader to encounter. Each of the three main characters bring something different to the novel in terms of personality, drive and motive and there are certainly fireworks when their paths cross. I loved the plotting and the pace and found myself thinking about the world long after I had finished reading. 

In terms of theme, there is a definite exploration of the impact humans have on their surroundings. Fear, survival, prejudice and disease are also prominent as is social hierachy and control. I loved the character's burgeoning respect as they unravel the truth and also the gentle eco message. This is a cracking novel and definitely one to watch.

Libby and the Manhattan Mystery by Jo Clarke

Link to publisher

Published by: Firefly Press, 4th January 2024

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In three words: New York, Actresses, Jewels.

There is something so utterly charming about this mystery series. Perhaps it is the concept of a travelling school or the relatability of the characters or just the cosy and unthreatening atmosphere that Jo Clarke evokes in her writing, despite there being plenty of peril for Libby to contend with. Whatever, the secret ingredient is, this series has gone down a storm with both myself and my ten year old and this third instalment, set in New York, is full of danger and excitement... 

Libby is looking forward to settling in New York for the next school term and things get off to an exciting start when Connie's godmother - famous actress Eloise Fitzwilliam - asks them to help her and her friend, Count Alverez, organise a charity auction. But Libby soon spots that Count Alverez is acting oddly and might not be all he seems. Is he planning something unsavoury or is there someone else behind the puzzling palava?

This is the perfect read for younger middle-grade readers or for anyone who just wants to cosy up and do a bit of sleuthing. The fact that each mystery is set in a different part of the world instantly makes the books exciting. Throw in food, friendship and the coolest boarding school you'll ever encounter and you have all the ingredients for a corker of an adventure. Just like with Alice Eclair, Spy Extraordinaire and other school detective novels for this age-group, there is also something reassuring in the format - each adventure is different and yet we know what we're getting. The level of peril is just right on the notch-dial and readers know they are in capable hands with Libby. I also really enjoyed the more personal mystery, regarding her own family, that Libby is encountering throughout the novels. This has left the series open to even more interesting developments. 


City of Spies by Iszi Lawrence

Link to publisher

Published by: Bloomsbury, 4th January 2024

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In Three Words: History, Plots, Spies

Set during the American War of Independence in the year1780 and based largely on facts, this is a gripping historical novel full of spies, traitors and difficult decisions. Packed with action and compelling twists and turns, the costumes and corruption created an atmosphere of such danger and intrigue, it was hard to put down. 

The war for American independence is raging in New York and twelve year old Aiden Blaise is sure that the British are on the verge of winning. But Aiden's certainty is soon shaken as he discovers that the city, where he is desperate to prove himself, is full of spies and secrets. As Aiden gets drawn into a tangled web of lies and deceit, can he decide what is right and wrong and can he hold his nerve?

It was really exciting to see a middle-grade historical novel set outside both the First and Second World Wars and outside of British soil. However, occasionally the language was a little confusing and it might have been useful to begin with a short historical overview to help readers establish who was on which side, although I was reading a proof copy. However, the characters carried the story brilliantly and the level of danger and deception felt immediate and gripping. 

There were a lot of key figures and historical detail in the narrative. I was fascinated by the end papers and the information about the Culper Spy Ring, George Washington, Benedict Arnold and James Rivington. There was a lot to learn and absorb and Iszi Lawrence achieves this by placing readers right in the thick of the action alongside Aiden Blaise. I loved Aiden's realisation of not necessarily being on the 'right' side and the subsequent exploration of the complexities, justifications and devastation of war. The personal and human cost really rang clear and I'd highly recommend this to competent readers who are looking for something a eye-opening and different.



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