by Phoebe Demeger
Each month CLPE's Librarian, Phoebe Demeger, will reveal some of her favourite books she has recently added to our Literacy Library.
Discover February's below:
From Morag Hood, the celebrated creator of Colin and Lee, Carrot and Pea, Brenda is a Sheep and many more, comes Dig Dig Digger (Two Hoots), a brightly coloured tale of adventure, ambition and resilience, in which little Digger, tired of always digging “down”, decides to try going “up” for once. Brilliant for exploring the topic of opposites, and perfect for any young reader keen on ‘things that go’.
One Tiny Treefrog (Tony Piedra, Walker) is a unique work of non-fiction for Early Years: not only does it depict in poetic prose the life cycle of a tree frog, it also functions as a counting book in reverse. Each double-page spread sees one of the ten tadpoles or froglets not survive into the next spread, thus showing the key role played by predators within an ecosystem. A clear and honest approach to the topic, with lush rainforest illustrations by Mackenzie Joy.
When I’m Gone (Marguerite McLaren and Hayley Wells, Ladybird) is a tender picturebook exploring bereavement, narrated in the future tense by a parent who has passed away – the book was written as a letter to her young daughters following the author’s cancer diagnosis. The language is matter-of-fact and honest – “Some people live a long, long life, and others don’t”, “please understand that I didn’t want to die” – and helps legitimise the conflicting feelings that come with grief, whether sadness, confusion, or remembering to embrace the good things in life. Supported by Child Bereavement UK.
If You Were a City (Kyo Maclear and Francesca Sanna, Chronicle) uses rhyming text and figurative language to explore the diversity of both cities and people, encouraging young readers to view parallels between the two – if you were a city, would you be “buzzing, bright, and magic-seeming?”, or “secret, shaded, and story-hiding?”. The book would link well to a KS1 or KS2 geography curriculum as Sanna often depicts real cities in her illustrations. An imaginative way to inspire reflections on identity, as well as an early introduction to urban planning.
Perfect for fans of Oi Frog! and Bunnies on the Bus, There’s Nothing Faster Than a Cheetah (Tom Nicoll and Ross Collins, Macmillan) sees alliterative animals attempt to beat a cheetah in a race with increasingly absurd results – if a hippo in a hang-glider fails to be faster, perhaps squirrels on snowmobiles will succeed? Features two fun twists, and a closing graphic showcasing the top speeds of all the animals depicted.
A picturebook inspired by the author’s coastal hometown, The Baker by the Sea (Paula White, Templar) is a love letter to a hard-working fishing community, and the town’s baker who keeps everyone fed. With gorgeous language and a beautifully drawn father-son relationship, the book speaks to the dignity of a quieter role, and pride in pursuing your desires, even if they do not match those of the majority. The colour palette is largely greyscale, with blue and yellow highlights reflecting the nautical theme. Recently longlisted for the Yoto Carnegie Medal for Illustration.
Some fantastic new fiction for young readers:
To the Other Side (Erika Meza, Hodder) is a powerful picturebook focussing on an often-underexplored refugee crisis. Narrated by a young boy describing a game played between him and his older sister, we quickly come to realise that what we are reading is in fact a narrative of migration as the children journey to the Mexico-United States border wall and beyond. A sophisticated and visually striking narrative, with much of the storytelling performed by Meza’s illustrations and use of colour.
Inclusive publisher Knights Of expand their list of chapter-books for younger readers with Mind and Me by Sunita Chawdhary, a comedy double-act starring a young girl named Maya, and Mind, the physical manifestation of Maya’s emotions and mental state. There’s a relatable dynamic between the pair, with Mind hindering and helping Maya in equal measure, and the book serves as a great introduction to emotional literacy for younger readers.
Juniper Mae: Knight of Tykotech City (Sarah Soh, Flying Eye) marks the start of an exciting new graphic novel series, perfect for fans of Hilda and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. The technologically advanced yet isolated Tykotech City is experiencing rolling power-cuts, which intrigues shy young inventor Juniper Mae. But what happens when a malfunctioning jet-pack leaves Juniper stranded in the wild forest beyond the city’s border? Soh’s worldbuilding is compelling, her colour palette pitting the metropolis against the forest, and in loveable protagonist Juniper we learn about self-confidence and different kinds of strength.
In Swimming on the Moon (Bloomsbury), the latest novel from award-winning author Brian Conaghan, young Anna is determined to derail her parents’ impending separation by orchestrating a family trip to Italy – the title refers to the perceived impossibility of pulling off such a task. Central to the story is the tenderly-drawn relationship between Anna and her twin Anto, a non-verbal autistic boy – in all, an emotionally literate look at family and empathy.
A compelling work of historical fiction from Andersen Press, Little Sure Shot by Matt Ralphs tells the story of Phoebe Ann Mosey growing up in poverty in rural Ohio with her family, facing trauma and hardship to eventually become the celebrated sharpshooter she is known as today, under the stage name Annie Oakley. Feminism is a key theme here, as Phoebe/Annie attempts to carve out a life within a very patriarchal society; the book also explores other aspects of American history, including racial (in)equality and the role played by First Nations Americans in this chapter of the country’s history. Annie’s individual voice shines through in Ralph’s assured prose.
Also from Andersen, and following on from 2018’s Mary and Frankenstein comes Arthur Who Wrote Sherlock – where Mary was illustrated by Júlia Sardà, here Isabelle Follath’s illustrations accompany Linda Bailey’s text. This picturebook-format biography of Arthur Conan Doyle explores not only how an author can become inextricable from their work, but the power of a work or character to eclipse the author entirely, to the point of Doyle ‘killing off’ Sherlock Holmes in order to try and escape the association (only to resurrect him following mass outcry). Links well to study of the Victorian era, and would appeal to any with an interest in detective and mystery stories.
A Passing On of Shells marks the launch of a new poetry list from independent publisher Scallywag Press. The imaginative exercise that poet Simon Lamb sets himself is to write poems of exactly 50 words. Their compact length does not come at the expense of depth, far from it; these warm and witty poems cover a wide range of themes, feelings and poetic devices, and are accompanied by supportive illustrations from the award-winning Chris Riddell.
Ravencave is the second Barrington Stoke title from Marcus Sedgwick, publishing in March following the author’s tragic passing in 2022. A complex and atmospheric ghost story set in rural Yorkshire, with a key focus on family and ancestry, in particular around the industrial history of the county. Like all the best ghost stories, Ravencave is inextricably linked to place and people, with a raw emotional heart. Sedgwick’s previous title for Barrington Stoke, Wrath, has been posthumously longlisted for the 2023 Yoto Carnegie Medal for Writing.