Category Archives: Book review

Book Review: The Lost Magician

Title: The Lost Magician

Written by: Piers Torday

Cover illustrated by: Ben Mantle

Published by: Quercus

The Lost Magician

The Lost Magician is an exciting and unique quest that has significant parallels to C S Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe. The story is set in 1945 just after the Blitz in London. Two brothers and two sisters, Simon, Patricia, Evelyn and Larry Hastings are sent to stay with their aunt, Professor Diana Kelly, who lives in Barfield Hall, a large house in the countryside. The book opens with an omniscient narrator who talks directly to the reader, explaining why the children have been evacuated and how they discover the mysterious library hidden in the attic. The reader is then swept along on a phenomenal adventure written from all four children’s point of view.

Larry is the first to venture into the library and the magical world of Folio where he meets a fairy knight called Tom Thumb riding on the back of a butterfly. In true CS Lewis style his brother and sisters will not believe the library exists. Until Eve the more scientific of the children discovers the entrance for herself but where Larry went to the land of the Reads, Eve goes to the non-fiction world of the Unreads which is ruled by the notorious Jana, Secretary of the Unreads whose mission is to rid the world of fiction.

The desire for knowledge and the free-will of imagination are pitted against each other in the epic battle scenes between the reads, un-reads and Never-reads in an eternal battle. The children’s only hope is to search for the magician who created the library but he has been lost for centuries.

This novel highlights why a good range of diverse books are essential throughout the world and demonstrates the importance of libraries to society and the need for more good librarians.

The Lost Magician is a celebration of the importance of reading.

Book review: If You Were Night

Title: If You Were Night

Written by: Mượn Thị Văn

Illustrated by: Kelly Pousette

Published by: Kids Can Press

This enchanting picture book asks the reader a series of questions like: “If you were night, what would you do?” It encourages the reader to walk into the night on an adventure to explore what they can find and to consider how they would act and respond to the breath-taking stimuli such as an otter splashing, a spider stitching by starlight or a slug munching.

There is a poetic, calm and lyrical feel to this beautiful picture book. It is certainly a unique and fantastical exploration of the natural world at night that engages all the readers senses. The illustrations are amazing paper-cut dioramas that brings the night alive with wildlife and magic – each one more evocative than the last. The children will spend hours examining the intricate cut-outs to spot the creatures and learn more about their world.

The ideal book for bedtime reading and to lull your small child into a sleep full of miraculous dreams about what happens outside when the sun goes down. It could be used in the classroom to support topics and discussion on nature and the natural environment and will help to encourage their observations skills and encourage curiosity.

A book to cherish.

Book Review: The Pirates are Coming!

Title: The Pirates are Coming!

Written by: John Condon

Illustrated by: Matt Hunt

Published by: Nosy Crow

The Pirates are Coming

The Pirates are Coming is a captivating tale about Tom who climbs the hill each morning to watch for pirates to arrive at the village. John Condon uses knowledge of eh classic story The Boy Who Cried Wolf to its advantage to set up a humorous and satisfying twist ending.

Unlike The Boy Who Cried Wolf story, Tom is not being naughty when he cries, “The Pirates are Coming!” as he really does believe he has spotted a pirate ship. Tom’s dad explains what a pirate ship looks like with patience and understanding, which gives the text a heart-warming feel.

I like the ingenious ways the villagers hide from the [pirates in the illustrations by Matt Hunt. Young readers can explore the pictures to see if they are able to find where each villager is hiding providing an interactive reading experience.

This book could be used to extend observation skills by looking at a selection of different silhouettes and asking the children to guess what the object is. An ideal book for stimulating discussion on families and relationships.

Book review: Farmer Falgu Stays at Home

Title: Farmer Falgu Stays at Home

Written by: Chitra Soundar

Illustrated by: Kanika Nair

Published by: Karadi Tales

Farmer Falgu Stays at Home

This superbly written story will help to encourage both children and adults to find fun things to do at home during the pandemic.

Farmer Falgu’s daughter, Eila, is fed up of staying indoors as she misses her friends and wants to play and explore outside. She doesn’t understand why everyone has to stay at home. Through a simple to read and easily relatable text, Chitra’s main character, Farmer Falgu, explains sensitively that staying home is the only way we can keep everyone safe.

I particularly like how Chitra has included the fact that sometimes the adults have no choice about going out, as in when they need to buy, or sell food. The book could be used to trigger discussion on why they can’t go with them. I know from experience this has been a difficult issue for lots of young children to understand when they are used to accompanying their parents to the shops and now they are not allowed.

I also like the message for children that we are also trying to avoid making other people ill too. In this way, Farmer Falgu Stays at Home promotes empathy and understanding of how we can all do our little bit to help and it does not need to be boring. Eila discovers there are fun and exciting things she can do at home without having to travel further than her front door. The final spread gives useful advice for parents to encourage their children to wash their hands, maintain social distancing and avoid getting ill.

The ideal book to read to your child during the current lock down. You can find details on how to get hold of this free e-book here

Book review: Fantastically Great Women who saved the Planet

Title: Fantastically Great Women who saved the Planet

Written and Illustrated by: Kate Pankhurst

Published by: Bloomsbury

Fantastically Great Women who saved the Planet

Fantastically Great Women who saved the Planet by Kate Pankhurst is a fun, creative non-fiction book containing snippets of interesting facts about thirteen inspirational women from all over the globe who have dedicated their lives to studying and protecting planet Earth and all its living things, making significant contributions towards improving the environment. It is part of a series of books celebrating female achievements.

Each of the women is presented in a double-page spread, which outlines where in the world they are from, their environmental beliefs and inspiration for their achievements, from the ‘shark lady’, Eugenie Clark, who inspired people to learn about the oceans and respect all underwater creatures; to Isatou Geesay who highlighted the problems of using plastic bags and encouraged people to recycle and use reusable packaging; and Daphne Sheldrick whose love and devotion to animals in Kenya inspired her to care for young elephants in the wild and go on to found The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

The illustrations and characterisations are bright and imaginative bringing the characters alive. They catch the eye and will keep young readers turning the pages. Throughout the book the emphasises is on how with determination and hard work anything is possible. Every page of the book contains the message that everyone can make a difference if they put their mind to it.

Fantastically Great Women who saved the Planet supports primary teaching in STEM and meets the requirements of the history programmes of study as it documents the lives of significant individuals who have contributed to national and international achievements. This book would provide an excellent springboard for encouraging pupils to research their own exceptional women, which could be made into a book or encyclopedia with their own illustrations or photos printed from the Internet. 

The snippets of information can be read in any order which is ideal for the child with short attention span who prefers to dip in and out of a book. At the back there is a glossary of words ideal for helping young enquiring minds with useful definitions with examples of using the words in context helping them to use accurately environmental vocabulary and give them a greater understanding of the related concepts.

It highlights important environmental messages in a fun and motivating way and would be the ideal gift for any child interested in the environment and an excellent resource to support topics on green issues, recycling and conservation. It could also be used for triggering discussion and encouraging empathy at home and in the classroom.

Book Review: The Crayon Man

Title: The Crayon Man The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons

Written by: Natascha Biebow

Illustrated by: Steven Salerno

Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The Crayon Man

An ingenious narrative non-fiction book about Edwin Binney the inventor of Crayola Crayons. This book examines the history of children’s writing implements and the inspiration behind creating something children could write and draw with that did not smudge or rub off and was perfect for producing coloured pictures.

Aimed at children between the ages of 6 and nine years old, the text has a fun chatty tone ideal for reading aloud with the added bonus of a more fact based information box added to the lower left corner of some of the spreads.  In the story, Natascha recalls how Edwin Binney experimented with different ideas to create his top secret formula –  emphasising a trial and error methodology where he learnt from his mistakes. She also reveals how they came up with the new word ‘Crayola’ to name the crayons.

The illustrations by Steven Salerno are bold and colourful. I like the way they contrast to emphasise the colour of the outside world compared to the carbon factories where black printing inks and shoe polish are made. Through his illustrations Steven gives us a real sense of how the introduction of colour transformed education and learning.

I believe this book would be enjoyed by older children who like biographies and also younger aged children with adult support, so could be used in the classroom, or for home schooling, for both KS1 and KS2, as the book supports science, in that they are discovering how Edwin Binney developed a useful new material and it encourages children to think about the properties of materials that make them suitable or unsuitable for particular purposes as well as any unusual and creative uses for these materials. It supports design technology and the history national curriculum in that they are learning how a key inventor has  helped shape the world and could also be used to inspire children’s creative art work.

At the back of the book Natascha has listed some of the names given to each colour. this could be used to stimulate children to invent their own imaginative names for each colour. There are also step-by-step photographic instructions on how crayons are produced from the transporting the paraffin wax to being packaged and shopped to stores. This could be used as a sequencing activity in the classroom. The additional single page biography of Edwin Binney could be used to encourage children to research and write their own biographies of a significant person who has made an inventive contribution to society. i particularly like the inclusion of a selected bibliography listing research resources suitable for children to find out more information that includes books, interviews, articles, websites and videos.

All in all The Crayon Man The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons is a well-crafted book that is informative and educational is a fun and inspiring way.

Book Review: The Austen Girls

Title: The Austen Girls

Written by: Lucy Worsley

Published by: Bloomsbury

The Austen Girls

An expertly written historical YA novel that weaves real people and places with fictional events that portray the realities of Georgian England. Fanny Austen is the eldest of eleven children. She is the niece of the infamous Jane Austen and is about to be launched at her debut ball in order to find a husband who can support her and take the burden off of her family. Both Fanny and her cousin Anna are frequently told their futures depend on finding a husband with money.

Although, I am aware these were the attitudes of the time and is no reflection on author and historian, Lucy Worsley, I personally found the opinion that women need to be married made my skin prickle and could feel myself getting angry and defensive. It drummed home how the majority of people are much more enlightened than they were over 200 years ago. Lucy skilfully portrays her characters to consider these attitudes and make up their own minds about their reasons for marriage.

We follow Fanny through her trials and tribulations of feeling obliged to find a suitable husband without ever really knowing what her heart truly desires and the emotional ups and downs of life changing events. We also see through Fanny’s eyes how her cousin Anna deals with finding a suitor and views it as a means of escape from her own life.

Yet the only man who Fanny truly enjoys dancing with is the clergyman Dominic Drummond and she has been told clergymen do not earn enough money so are not good prospects. He is then conned and whisked away to a correction centre. Fanny is left to prove his innocence and with the help of her Aunt Jane adopts the role of a thief-taker, which is similar to a detective.

Lucy Worsley’s thorough research and knowledge shines through every page with her cleverly entwined details of rooms within Godmersham Park and other locations. The reader has a distinct idea of the era and the characters are all well formed and leave you wanting to learn more about the Austen girls, their families and their futures.

Book Review: Prime Suspect

Title: Prime Suspect – Suspect Identification System

Written by: David Holzer

Illustrated by: The Top That! Publishing team

Published by: Tangerine Press an imprint of Scholastic US

Prime Suspect - Suspect Identification System

Learn how to solve crimes by creating your own photo-fits and matching fingerprints. This book takes you through page-by-page the different skills required to solve crimes such as, making an e-fit using the CD-ROM, retrieving and studying fingerprints, interrogation methods and techniques and witness statements. There are many fun and interesting crimes to solve included in this book. They provide the reader with the chance to use the skills identified and see for themselves how and why they are used.

I think the CD-ROM is rather disappointing in the present climate of fast moving adventure games. The fingerprint database was too small to identify the fingerprints on the normal computer screen and would have to be enlarged on an interactive whiteboard. The photo-fit graphics are very simple and a little too basic for 9+ age range it is aimed at. Children today are use to creating miis on the wii and the Prime Suspect CD-Rom can not compete with this more advanced technology.

Book Review: Magnetic First Sums

Title: Magnetic First Sums

Written by: Mary Denson

Illustrated by: Barry Green

Published by: Top That! Publishing

These are hard-board books, which have been designed to promote numeracy skills, help hand-eye coordination and to encourage parent-child interaction are ideal for home learning at this difficult time. The pages are magnetic so the words and numbers do not easily fall off and the pages can be turned leaving the magnets in place, although there are not enough of some numbers to complete the whole book this way.

The Taking Away book contains over 70 sum magnets and the Adding Up book boasts to containing over 100 sum magnets. In my opinion the books will make learning fun whilst encouraging and reinforcing counting and taking away up to 10 (such as: 5-3 =; 7+2=).

Barry Green’s bright and colourful double-page spread illustrations contain a lot of action, ideal for prompting discussion whilst matching the numbers, pictures and symbols to the pages. I particularly like the way they relate adding and taking away to things that are familiar to the children in everyday life, such as how many children playing on the different equipment at the park altogether, and put the correct number of pairs of socks on the bed, if you put one pair of socks in the wash how many are left, etc.

Suitable for children aged three upwards, I think they would also make an ideal activity for KS1 children on the maths table. You will need a pretty little pot to keep all the magnets in though once you have taken them out to use.

Book Review: My First Book of Relativity

Title: My First Book of Relativity

Written by: Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferrón

Illustrated by: Eduard Altarriba

Published by: Button Books

My First Book of Relativity by Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferrón

Before we can understand Einstein’s special theory of relativity we need to fully understand what time and space is. My First Book of Relativity achieves this as it starts by explaining exactly what time is and how it is measured, from sundials to the exceptionally accurate atomic clock. Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferrón then goes on to define in a beautiful concise way what space is and how it is measured, explaining how using standard units of measurement, such as the metre stick, came into being.

The next important concept to understand is speed. Again, Sheddad Kaid-Salah Ferrón, walks the reader through the concept of speed in a clear and easy to understand fashion, so that when he goes on to explain how movement is relative it just all makes sense and the reader can make the connection instantly to how frames of reference are used to measure positions, distances and speed, just as Galileo Galilei had said 400 years ago. Her then goes on to explain exactly why light always travel at the same speed of 299,792 kilometres per second. The illustrations support and extend the readers understanding with each double-page spread having its own distinctive limited palette.

Each of Einstein’s thought experiments are broken down into small segments by organising the text into short, distinctive sections using the engaging illustrations, bullet points, bold and capitalised words to emphasise important information. My First Book of Relativity talks us through the incredibly difficult to understand concepts of time dilation, length contraction and mass increasing outlined by Einstein in his special theory of relativity in a fun, appealing and easy-to-read way so it is accessible to young readers of about 8+.

This is an ideal book for introducing the concepts of speed, light and movement to the class, or your own child. I believe it will inspire young scientists to think about time and space and even come up with their own thought experiments.

This book review was previously published on the online Armadillo Children’s Book Review Magazine.