Review: Hetty and the Battle of the Books by Anna James, illustrated by Jez Tuya

Cover image by Jez Tuya, to be published by Barrington Stoke,
7th July 2022

This is a book to make every school librarian or library advocate’s heart soar! As regular readers of my blog will know, I have loved Barrington Stoke books since discovering their titles for one of my own children almost twenty years ago. I have greatly enjoyed the books that they have commissioned from many of the top writers for children in the intervening years and Hetty and the Battle of the Books has just jumped straight to the top of my favourites list.

It is a funny, thoughtful, powerful manifesto for the necessity of having a library and a trained librarian in every school, published in fully accessible format so that it can be read and enjoyed by the very individuals to whom a library often matters the most. Anna James has wonderfully captured the voice of a quirky Year 7 pupil, Hetty, who is going through the friendship issues which occur so commonly as children progress from primary to secondary school. Her place of sanctuary is the school library, which in this story is presided over by Ms Juster, a librarian who knows how to cater for the needs of every pupil who enters her domain. When Hetty learns that the dastardly headteacher, Mr McCarthy, plans to close the library and make Ms Juster redundant, she puts her outrage into action, recruits her former friends to the cause and designs her own campaign to save the library. In a book of approximately one hundred pages the narrative crackles with a sense of urgency and is heavily laced with Hetty’s wry sense of humour. I absolutely adored the greyscale illustrations throughout by Jez Tuya, I am not aware of seeing his artwork before but I shall certainly be on the lookout for further books that he illustrates.

I urge all school librarians and literacy coordinators to purchase a copy of Hetty and the Battle of the Books for your pupils to enjoy, I think it will appeal to all readers of 8-13. In my opinion, this quote from the penultimate chapter summarises all that is magical about school libraries:

You can do your homework there as well as visit a faraway kingdom. You can research the Tudors as well as meet a Greek god, all from a beanbag. You can watch a film, or make a newspaper, or play Dungeons and Dragons. Or you can just read a good book…Because a library is a place for everyone…

Chapter 9

I am most grateful to Barrington Stoke and NetGalley for allowing me access to an e-ARC prior to publication, and I will certainly be buying a paperback copy when it is published on 7th July 2022.

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