The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf

This book needs to be on every bookshelf in the country. This has to be one of the most wonderful stories I have ever read.

Onjali Q. Rauf has written the Children’s book that needed writing – I could not believe how easily accessiable she has made the issue that she tackles in this novel.

Through the innocent eyes of nine-year-olds, we meet Ahmet – a young refugee boy who is running away from the bullies. And all our young heroes want to do is help him find his family. The most wonderful adventure then unfolds as they attempt to ensure no borders are closed before Ahmet is reunited with his family.

This tale will make you smile and it will make you cry. Tears of happiness as well as of sadness. And this book will stay with you long after you have read the final words.

The thing that made this novel was the fact that the children who befriended Ahmet saw nothing but a friend who needed help, without being influenced by any opinions of others. It also makes it so clear that we can all learn so much from each other and that a multicultural society is one of the best gifts that we have.

This book truly deserved to be a ‘Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize’ winner – but it should never only be read by children. It is a gift that should be read by all to remind us that, metaphorically, we should all make friends with the boy or girl at the back of the class.

Pages and Co – Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna Jones

I think I may have found my book of the year (although I did purchase at the end of last year) and, yes, it is Children’s novel, and I have no problem with that at all. ‘Tilly and the Bookwanderers’ will speak to any bookworm or anybody who loved books as a child.

I want to be Tilly because she is a Bookwanderer – and lives in a bookshop – what more could a bibliophile want? Tilly does not just read books – she enters them!! Tilly, and her friend Oskar, really end up in Avonlea with Anne (that’s with an ‘e’) among other fantastic places we encounter through novels. Of course, this wonderful chance for adventure does not come without its risks and dangers. That does not hold back our two adventurers from trying to discover the family secret that has hovered over Tilly all her life. And, of course, there is a shady character in the background attempting to thwart Tilly and Oskar in their mission.

Everything about this book is perfect. The illustrations by Paolo Escabor are delightful and represent the characters and events perfectly. Also, the font and typesetting throughout the novel is used to express some of the events and emotions as you read them. Thus just adds to how delightful this book is to read.

However, what really strikes me about this beautiful book is how much I agree with all the references to how important it is to read and enjoy books as individuals. Yet it is also clear that the enjoyment of books can bring people together too.

So, please, whatever your age, seek out this novel and remind yourself why you fell in love with reading in the first place.

The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

So, the first book of 2019 is completed. It was a gem to start the year – especially as we are all probably looking for a way past winter as we enter January.

Although we all know we should not judge a book by its cover, how can you not be drawn to this stunning cover? Classical and stylish in white, gold and green, it oozes winter fantasy. There is also the figure of the girl which is another delight of this novel: strong female leads (well, they do not have a choice, as all the boys appear to be mysteriously disappearing).

The story is set in perpetual winter, the only season many have known, with spring and summer almost a myth. Mila and her sisters have already lost their father in a mysterious disappearance that, when their brother, Oskar, also disappears on the same night the family have some strange visitors, they decide something is to be done. It leads them on a magical adventure with Rune, the boy mage.

This is a beautifully written tale that whisks you off on a fantastical adventure. Strong female leads can give inspiration to many young readers – after all, we can all go on adventures in our own way.

Which book have you started your 2019 reads with?

The Truth Pixie by Matt Haig

2018 has been a funny old year so far, but one constant has been my enjoyment of books by Matt Haig, both fictional and factual. I did, in fact, read his Children’s Christmas fiction first and was intrigued when this year he released his first Children’s book that really tackled those issues he can be so outspoken about on social media.

Although ‘The Truth Pixie’ is a Children’s book it is a book, I think everyone should read it. The Truth Pixie is a little bit of an unhappy soul at the start of the book. However, her chance encounter with a little girl who is finding things tough helps them both find some happiness. In fact, the truth our pixie friends speaks is a truth about life that we should all try to learn from.

This book, for me, was not only a beautiful read from cover to cover, with great illustrations from Chris Mould, but will also be a little reference guide. You can turn to a number of pages and you will find a spark of inspiration or motivation for any number of difficult situations.

So, I urge adults and children alike to read this book – or why not read it together? After all, most of my fondest memories with those I love are of when we shared a book together!

Tin by Padraig Kenny

Apologies for the delay in blog posts – technical issues meant that everything slowed. However, now we are back in business and we start with ‘Tin’. My lovely friend suggested that this may be a book I would enjoy, so I gave it a go.

The concept was an interesting one – a world of humans loving alongside a world of mechanicals. In some cases, it is difficult to tell them apart – in fact mechanicals are almost seen as a replacement for some lost ones.

However, what really struck me about this novel was its comment on war and the struggle for power that can come with this. The conflict that comes with having a machine that can end war but also the moral dilemma of the additional issues this causes. Now, I may have read too much into this as a children’s novel, but this is why I enjoy books of all genres for all ages as they can be enjoyed and interpreted in so many ways. This, of course, is why reading is the gift that keeps giving.

Additionally, the characters in this book bring some wonderful humour to the story (despite the very serious messages I have suggested it carries). It is an enjoyable read. Another great discovery for 2018.

Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

A second award winner for April. Nevermoor won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2018 for Younger Fiction, so I decided I needed to give it a go.

The cover is wonderful, you are automatically intrigued about the tale as the blue and gold suggests a beautifully magical world. Centre-stage of the cover is our bold heroine, Morrigan Crow. It is lovely to read another tale with a strong female lead. Morrigan is whisked away, on her eleventh birthday, to Nevermoor by Mr Jupiter North, her guide and protector in this new city. She has to face a series of trials to earn her membership of the mysterious Wunderous Society. To succeed in these trials, Morrigan must use her exceptional talent – whatever that may be. Of course it all results in some exciting, and occasionally scary, adventures with a whole load of colourful characters to encounter along the way.

As you read this tale, you are on all the adventures with Morrigan and her friends. You are almost part of the secret city of Nevermoor, avoiding the Hunt of Smoke and Shadows, and trying to gain your place in the Wunderous Society.

This book would be perfect for any bookworm – especially those readers who may have enjoyed books such as Harry Potter and will go on to become fans of stories such as The Hunger Games. Remember some books can be enjoyed by readers of all ages – and this is one. Who knows where Morrigan’s adventures will take her next?

Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone

This was another title shared by my fellow bookworm Faye. Before we even discuss the book, we need to discuss the absolutely stunning cover. It is true that you should never judge a book by its cover, but this is a stunner! The cover beautifully sums up Erkenwald, our setting, but also it is almost alive with emotion. I adore it and could almost frame it and pop it on the wall.

So, the story: this is another beautiful adventure in a stunning snowy setting. A good versus evil traditional tale – with a wonderful villain in the Ice Queen. There is something a little Narnia-esque about it, so it will not disappoint, especially if you are a fan of ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’.

Erkenwald is in the grip of deadly winter as the Ice Queen’s hold seems to be getting stronger. Our heroes Flint, Erska and Blu are determined to prevent this from happening and return snowy Erkenwald to its rightful people, the traditional tribes.

Along with the support of the animals and mythical creatures of the land, they face danger and adventure as they aim to remove the Ice Queen from the Winterfang Palace. They want peace restored, families restored and the spell to be broken.

It is a lovely read, another novel with a strong female lead, but also the idea that we all have our skills to share. If you like a good old-fashioned adventure novel with a little sprinkle of magic, this is the book for you.

The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

In January, I got a comment on Instagram asking if I was only reading books with Eleanor in the title, after two of my choices had just that. Then, I have noticed that in February I appear to have a thing for books by authors named Katherine. Funny how these things work out. Anyway, back to the point…

‘The Explorer’ is the third book I have read by Katherine Rundell and I am going to make the bold statement that it is my favourite. This books is a wonderfully traditional adventure story. It reminded me of all the great classics such as ‘The Famous Five’ and ‘Swallows and Amazons’.

The joy of the story is that it proves how resourceful children can be in the face of adversity, without the support of adults. I mean being stranded in the Amazon jungle is more or less as extreme as it can get. However, it also shows that the majority of the important lessons we learn in life come from experience. Our four heroes learn an awful lot about themselves while they are stranded – even the very young Max.

Another theme of the novel which really struck me (and my love of History) is the real desire of the Explorer to preserve the ‘world’ he has discovered. I really admire the way Rundell addresses the damage the desire to explore did to different parts of the world and some things are better left a secret.

This book, although for younger readers, is one that I think we should all read, as there is a beautifully nostalgic feel to this tale which should be shared with all.

Toto – The Dog-gone Amazing Story of the Wizard of Oz by Michael Morpurgo

One thing on the New Year’s Honours list was Sir Michael Morpurgo. This is a man who has done so much for Children’s literature, he has brought the love reading and appreciation of History to so many over the years that it was a well-deserved accolade. I still remember that ‘The Wreck of Zanzibar’ was the first Morpurgo book I read, and I have not stopped since.

I admire writers bringing the classics to a new generation or offering a new perspective of a well-loved tale – it is quite a talent. I admit that I have never read the original ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and I do have a little bit of a fear of the original film (although I do love ‘Wicked’) – however, the beautiful illustrations by Emma Chichester-Clark on the cover and the name of Morpurgo attracted me to this book.

The story is told from the perspective of Dorothy’s loyal companion Toto. From my knowledge of the original tale (and the skill of Morpurgo) it is faithful to the original and the characters have the same charm. I enjoyed this book from the word go – drawn in by the skill of the storytelling and the beauty of the illustrations. I am now tempted to finally read the original classic tale to have an even better understanding of the story. However, this book is a lovely way to introduce children to a classic novel.

Have you read any retellings of the classic? Any you would recommend?

The Girl Who Saved Christmas by Matt Haig

I know we are in those strange days between Christmas and New Year, when you feel you need to do all the things that you have not done as you have been busy in the Christmas bubble. For me, it is also a time when I need to make sure that I catch up on all those blog posts that I have missed, especially as one of my main focuses has been the chance to read.

So, just before the Christmas craziness began, I read ‘The Girl who Saved Christmas’ by Matt Haig. It was a delight! It was all the things that you want from a Christmas story and was a well-crafted nod to the work of the classic author Charles Dickens; in fact, dare I say that I enjoyed it even more than ‘A Boy called Christmas’, which I have also blogged about this festive season.

Amelia (who you meet at the very end of ‘A Boy called Christmas’) is not in a festive spirit, as she is orphaned at Christmas and is resident at Mr Creeper’s workhouse. Losing her belief in the miracles of Christmas is having a detrimental on the work of Father Christmas, as the magic of Christmas is fading and he is not able to carry out his work. He must find her and restore her faith so that Christmas Day can be saved. It is a classic Christmas adventure involving a whole host of colourful characters who want to save the big day and the faith of Amelia, and restore the magic of Christmas.

To me, this novel is a tribute to Dickens and his work. There are cleverly named characters reflecting their part in the tale, but it is also a comment on the state of Victorian society and, sadly, not that far from the truth for some in modern times.

This is truly a children’s novel that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, so if you want to find or be reminded of your faith in the festive season (and you love ‘A Christmas Carol’ – book or film adaptations), then this is the novel for you – because Amelia Wishart really is the girl who saves Christmas for her and all of us.