#Blog Tour Review: Poppy Loves Devon by Gillian Young

Poppy Loves Devon is the second book in the Crazy Cream Adventures featuring the magnificently friendly golden retriever, Poppy and her “hooman” family. A deliciously sweet tale about friendship, perceived rejection and finding one’s strengths, with a heart as warm as a sunny day on a Devon beach. This book drips empathy which is cleverly anthropomorphised in the character of Poppy and the animals she encounters, opening up recognition of a range of emotions in middle grade readers. For children who love animals and who can sometimes relate to a non-threatening family pet more readily than to their peers, this story could provide valuable insights into behaviour such as sibling jealousy. Other children may not see the deeper subtext but simply thoroughly enjoy a summer holiday read filled with lovable animal characters (and some lovely “hoomans” too)!

Poppy, an adored and adorable retriever sets off for a week of bliss at a farm cottage in Devon with her family; Mum, Dad, Jack and Evie. She cannot wait to have unlimited time to play fetch, be spoiled with doggie ice-creams and explore the exciting new surroundings of the farmyard and neighbouring woods. Her boisterous enthusiasm bounds from the page and her encounters with the farmyard pigs will definitely raise a smile. However, she is stopped in her tracks by the sight of working sheepdog Samson who appears superior and sleek compared to her clumsiness and over-enthusiasm. As the story unfolds, these two canines both learn lessons from each other as their very different strengths bring each of them to realise that they are capable of stepping outside their normal boundaries.

Each of them fear rejection by their owners. Samson is helping to train a younger sheepdog who he feels might replace him on the farm and Poppy thinks that she will be replaced in her family’s affections by a retriever pup that she has discovered abandoned in the woods. As the idyllic week’s holiday draws to a close the reader is gently led through the emotional highs and lows as decisions have to be made. This book will make a lovely summer term or summer holiday read for fans of Michael Morpurgo or Dick King-Smith; it is a gentle story with just a small edge of jeopardy, suitable for children of 8+ who love animals and animal stories. There are beautiful pencil sketches of the animal and human characters decorating the chapter headings. The beach holiday setting will be familiar to many children, and whether you are heading away on holiday or not this summer, Poppy Loves Devon will give readers a relaxing break in the company of a perfect pet.

I am most grateful to the team at LiterallyPR for sending me a copy of the book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour. Do read the reviews posted by other book bloggers on the tour!

#MG Review: The Billow Maiden by James Dixon

Postcard shows cover artwork by Tamsin Rosewell, due to be published in July 2022 by Guppy Books

 The Billow Maiden is the debut MG novel from James Dixon, due to be published by Guppy books in July 2022. It is a beautifully and sensitively crafted tale, exploring the plight of a tween whose mother suffers serious ill-health, related against a backdrop of Norse legend and sea-faring island life. The story takes place on a remote Scottish island which is not named in the book, however, the sense of place is rendered so perfectly by the author that I found the images redolent of my own visits to Orkney. 

At the centre of the story is Ailsa, who we discover has grown up with a mother who suffers from a recurring illness. Her support network are her Uncle Nod, his wife Bertha and their dog Moxie. In the opening chapter, Uncle Nod responds to Ailsa’s anguished telephone call by driving to collect the pair from their city home and taking them to stay at the cottage he shares with Aunt Bertha on a windswept Scottish island. The reader is uncertain for most of the book about the nature of the mother’s illness, but the unquestioning support, love and care that both Ailsa and her mother receive is movingly portrayed. Uncle Nod and Aunt Bertha are people of few words, but they never stop trying to help Nod’s sister recover her spirits, whilst simultaneously trying to shield Ailsa from their fears for her mother’s health. They never once complain about the extra burden placed on them but demonstrate tender, open-hearted, family love.

Wishing to escape her feelings of helplessness about her mother’s condition, Ailsa spends much of her time tramping across the island, exploring the cliffs and beaches, always accompanied by her faithful companion Moxie. It is Moxie who leads her into a hidden cave pulsating with sadness, cut into the cliff face in which she discovers the billow maiden of the title. The descriptions of her early encounters with Hefring will send a ripple of fear down your spine and there is great poignancy in her yearning to help this forgotten individual. Along with a new found friend, Camilla, who happens to be the daughter of the island’s most feared and unpopular inhabitant, Ailsa embarks on a quest to save one broken individual and in doing so, gains an understanding of the plight of her mother.

The story transmits a powerful sense of the hopelessness and despair that some people experience, alongside a reverence for the life force of the natural world and the healing power and sense of purpose that can be found in nature. The juxtaposition of mental well-being set against Norse legend makes for a moving narrative which engenders a real feeling of empathy for people who lose agency over their actions. An extraordinary story about caring, family bonds and healing, which I would highly recommend to Year 6 and Key Stage 3 readers, classrooms and school libraries. 

I am most grateful to Guppy Books and Liz Scott for supplying me with a proof copy in return for my honest opinion.

#MG Review: The Good Turn by Sharna Jackson

Cover art by Paul Kellam, published by Puffin Books, May 2022

A thrilling contemporary mystery wrapped around a real-life legal injustice, The Good Turn by Sharna Jackson is a fantastic new MG novel, as powerful as it is gripping.

We are introduced to the three main protagonists as they decide to form a club based on the principles of doing good deeds to earn badges, having been inspired by the example of Josephine Holloway. This club is known as The Copseys, because Josephine, Wesley and Margot all live in Copsey Close, a cul-de-sac close to an abandoned car factory, known locally as the Chicane and its adjoining wasteland, the Outback. Author, Sharna Jackson, is a brilliant creator of characters, building a picture of three authentic Year 6 children as she captures their personalities through pinpoint facsimile of suburban tween dialogue. Josephine is the ideas person, and from the first page we know that she is a girl who wants to get things done:

Do you know what I dislike most in the world? The wasting of time. Mine specifically.

Chapter 1

Margot has recently moved to Copsey Close following her parents’ divorce and Wesley has been Josephine’s neighbour and friend for as long as they can remember. At first there is a palpable tension between affluent Margot, who is constantly capturing conversations and scenarios in her notebook, ready for use when she becomes a writer, and Wesley who bears the weight of being the male support to his mother and three younger siblings. Wesley thinks that Margot is a spy and that she looks down on him, saying to Josephine:

She’s a snob and she thinks I’m budget.

However, as the plot unfolds, each child faces up to their own fears and insecurities, forging stronger bonds with each other and significant adults as they learn that doing the right thing means so much more than earning another badge. And what a plot! The reader is driven through the story by whip-smart dialogue, snappy sentences and short chapters, each named after a Copsey badge.

When Josephine observes lights on the top floor of the derelict factory late one night, she is determined that The Copseys should earn their investigating and camping badges by spending the night in the Outback and tracking down the source of the lights. She will have to lie to her loving parents, a task which does not come naturally despite her resentment about the imminent arrival of a young sibling. Margot has no difficulties in sneaking out at night as her lawyer father appears to be too committed to his high flying career to spend much time at home with her. Wesley is reluctant on two fronts, he suspects that the factory might be haunted and he is embarrassed about his lack of upmarket camping equipment. After being persuaded to join the expedition, he discovers more than he bargained for and connects with his inner confidence, as the owners of the lights are revealed.

I really don’t want to reveal any more plot details as this is such a unique story that I do not wish to ruin anyone’s enjoyment of it. I genuinely could not have predicted the direction in which the plot was going to turn, and the incorporation of a serious social and racial injustice into the story arc is handled expertly and organically without ever becoming didactic. I utterly applaud Sharna Jackson for engaging readers, young and old, with a compelling and captivating narrative which delivers such a powerful message, prompting us all to look beyond our privilege and ally ourselves with those who need a voice. At the end of the book there is a short summary of the real-life background to the story, which will no doubt prove helpful to classroom discussions of the novel.

I have no hesitation in recommending The Good Turn to readers of 11+ and I think it will be an essential addition to primary and secondary school libraries.

I am most grateful to Puffin Books and NetGalley for allowing me access to an e-ARC of The Good Turn in exchange for an honest review.

Swop the Satsuma-Sized Secret by Lucy Noguera, illustrated by Laura Ireland

cover illustration by Fabio Gois, published by Brilliant Monsters Books

I absolutely love this gently humorous and endearing adventure written by debut author Lucy Noguera! It features a Key Stage 2 boy Ernie, who is facing some major upheavals in his young life. He is mourning the loss of his father and faces further change with a move from the countryside to London so that his mum can start working again as a doctor and the family can live closer to their gran. Whilst his mum and teenage sister Ivy are excited about the relocation, Ernie is having a much harder time adjusting.

Imagine his surprise and delight when he investigates the scuffling noises emerging from the battered leather suitcase that serves as his memory box, whilst he is unpacking in his new bedroom, and finds a tiny, satsuma-sized dog! Before his father’s death they had been planning to buy a puppy, so Ernie is understandably overjoyed with his pocket-sized companion. However, there are stresses involved too. The landlord has a strict “no pets” policy, and when Swop sneaks into Ernie’s lunchbox and accompanies him to school there are a multitude of embarrassing and awkward situations to be faced!

This book is special for a number of reasons. (At risk of sounding like Mrs Merton)…I was first attracted by its dyslexia-friendly format, clear font, off-white high-quality paper so that text does not confusingly bleed through and illustrations by Laura Ireland which give a young reader reflection time. As well as being accessible to children with dyslexic difficulties, the short chapters and fast paced plot make this an ideal book for newly emerging readers.

The story itself highlights many aspects of the need to ally with those individuals who might otherwise feel excluded, incorporated perfectly into the context of the story so that readers will not feel they are being preached at. Ernie’s teenage sister, Ivy, is deaf and communicates with sign language and lip reading. She is portrayed as a lively, outgoing character, always in the centre of things due to the necessity to clearly see people’s faces as they are speaking to her. This is such a positive example of an individual turning what might be seen as a disability into a positive factor in her life. Just as importantly, there are two characters in Ernie’s new class who demonstrate the kind, empathetic behaviour that all of us would like to encounter in our daily lives. Rafa, who befriends Ernie during his first calamitous lunch break and Clemmie who senses Ernie’s discomfort on his first day and positively intervenes to stop the unthinking sniggers of other classmates. Both are wonderful and age-appropriate examples of kindness for this story’s readership.

In case that all makes the book sound very “worthy” please be assured that it is also a humorous, entertaining and enjoyable story of a boy and his unbelievably cute dog. There are many laugh out loud moments as Swop causes chaos at school, some containing the delights of tiny dog accidents, which are guaranteed to appeal to the sense of humour of many young readers! I think that this story will be very popular for children of 6-9 years of age and I am certainly looking forward to the sequel which will be set at The Natural History Museum!

#MGTakesOnThursday: The Closest Thing To Flying written by Gill Lewis

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog which I urge you to read. Also, please check out all the other posts and Tweets with the #MGTakesOnThursday tag, you will be sure to find many fantastic recommendations!

If you love books written for an MG audience and wish to take part, the steps to follow are:

  • Post a picture of a front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

One of the many reasons that I love this meme created by Mary Rees is that it presents the opportunity to revisit great books published in previous years, which can so easily be overlooked as blogs generally focus on new releases. This week I am looking at a book first published in 2019, which presents a perfect combination of historical fiction and present day refugee story, The Closest Thing to Flying.

Cover image by Paola Escobar, published by OUP Children’s Books

Author: Gill Lewis

Illustrator: Paola Escobar

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“ The ink had bled into the cloth, but Semira could read the words, The Feather Diaries.”

This book in three words: Courage – Kindness – Empowerment

This beautifully written novel combines the story of Henrietta the twelve-year-old daughter of a wealthy feather merchant in Victorian London with the modern day experience of Semira, a twelve year-old refugee from Eritrea as she tries to find a better life for herself and her mother in London. Such is the skill of Gill Lewis, that she has crafted a powerful and deeply moving story which has remained with me long after first reading it.

The tale opens with Semira impulsively buying an old-fashioned hat, along with its accompanying hatbox, from a London street market when the bird ornamenting the hat elicits a deep-seated memory. Closer inspection of her purchase back “home” in the single room she shares with her mother in a house run by Robel, a people-trafficker, reveals the bird to be a real stuffed specimen and the discovery of the diary written by Henrietta Waterman in the 1890s, referred to in the quote from page 11 above.

Hen’s diary unfurls a story of escape from the confines of Victorian society’s expectations of female behaviour as Hen is taken under the wing of her rebellious Aunt Katherine (Kitty) and becomes involved in the women’s suffrage movement and the foundation of the RSPB. Her realisation of the horrors inflicted by her father as he exploits wildlife for profit reveal the provenance of the Abyssinian lovebird on the hat, and her courage in breaking with etiquette in order to ride a bicycle both help to embolden Semira.

Meanwhile, Semira has to face another new school and the continued agony of seeing her noble mother isolated and controlled by Robel. This aspect of the story is written very sensitively so that children of 10+ can understand what it must feel like to go without food, not be allowed access to the internet and have your life completely controlled by someone, without the details ever becoming too overwhelming for this age group. Older readers will be able to infer much more, such is the perfection of the writing.

The school setting provides some lovely additional characters. Holly and Chloe, on the surface the sort of “cool” girls that Semira would usually avoid, are the two buddies who show her the ropes and develop into kind friends, and Patrick who is bullied for being different and is a fellow lunchtime “library refugee”. As the friendship with Patrick develops and the recognition that he and his mother had to flee from the imprisonment of domestic abuse (again handled very sensitively), an escape route beckons for Semira and her mother.

I love the structure of the story with chapters alternating between Semira’s struggles in modern day London and extracts from Henrietta’s diary, which emboldens Semira to take action against her predicament. Throughout, the motif of the caged bird, plucked from its homeland and exploited by greedy capitalists is used to great effect, as is cycling as a metaphor for flying free from the shackles in which some people are trapped.

I think this is one of the finest examples of a story which is both an incredibly satisfying and enjoyable read as well as providing so many lessons in empathy without ever seeming sanctimonious. It places you in the shoes of others for a short time and helps you understand the hardships they suffer and also demonstrates how the recognition of the suffering of others followed by kindness and mentoring, can make such a huge difference to individual lives. This is certainly a book which should be available in every school or upper KS2 classroom library.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog which I urge you to read. Also, please check out all the other posts and Tweets with the #MGTakesOnThursday tag, you will be sure to find many fantastic recommendations!

If you love books written for an MG audience and wish to take part, the steps to follow are:

  • Post a picture of a front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.
cover design by Mick Wiggins, published by Faber & Faber

I thought that this week it would be appropriate to feature an MG book which helps us to remember those who have lost their lives in wars. There have been many wonderful books on this theme published recently, but I am going to go back to 2014 and a book which I read with my youngest child when she was still at primary school.

Author: Kate Saunders

Cover illustration: Mick Wiggins

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Favourite sentence from Page 11: This is the point at which the sand-fairy reappears in the gravel pit at the Pemberton family home and is discovered by the two youngest children in the family:

“Edie and the Lamb stared at his peculiar pucker of a mouth, his sprawling arms and legs and swivelling eyes, and felt a strange stirring in their deepest memories “

This book in three words: Poignant Magical Love

This is the heart-wrenching sequel to the Edwardian classic, Five Children and It. Kate Saunders has captured E Nesbit’s voice perfectly, setting the start of her book at the moment of the outbreak of the First World War. She brilliantly combines fantasy with the story of a family’s experience of war and the loss of a generation of young men. The Pemberton children from the original novel have grown up and been joined by a younger sibling Edie, who at nine years old is utterly enchanted by the Psammead or sand-fairy and is immensely forgiving of his more tyrannical outbursts. The Lamb (Hilary) and Edie are both delighted to find out that the magical adventures that their older siblings used to talk about were actually real and not imaginary.

Cyril, Anthea, Robert and Jane are equally delighted to see their old friend “Sammy” although the ancient sand fairy has lost his magical powers and will not divulge the reason why he has reappeared at this precise time. As Cyril heads off to fight in France the rest of the children try to discover the Psammead’s dark secret whilst experiencing the war from their very different perspectives.

There is so much packed into this wonderful story but you don’t ever feel that the author is trying to teach you something or being dogmatic. Rather, you just absorb her messages by osmosis as they unfold organically through the Pemberton children’s experiences. Feminism is covered as Jane battles with her mother to be allowed to attend medical school. The class system is explored through Anthea’s relationship with Ernie, a brilliant young writer who is from a poor cockney family. Courage, bravery and loyalty are embodied by neighbour, Lilian who selflessly nurses a childhood friend.

As the children face the realities of war in their individual lives, the Psammead tries to gain redemption from the heartless crimes he perpetrated many centuries earlier when he ruled a desert kingdom. His former tyranny runs in parallel with the tyranny of war, and through Cyril’s story the waste, heartbreak and destruction of war is personified. In a heart-rending letter home, Cyril laments the number of friends that he has lost in the three years of war – almost too many to remember.

Wonderful stories such as Five Children on the Western Front help to ensure that we will never forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the tragedy of war.

#MGTakesOnThursday: The Book of Hopes edited by Katherine Rundell

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog which I urge you to read. Also, please check out all the other posts and Tweets with the #MGTakesOnThursday tag, you will be sure to find many fantastic recommendations!

If you love books written for an MG audience and wish to take part, the steps to follow are:

  • Post a picture of a front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.
cover image by Axel Scheffler, published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This week I am highlighting the pinnacle of #MG writing, a collection of short stories and illustrations featuring more than one hundred children’s writers and illustrators, the brainchild of Katherine Rundell. NHS Charities together will benefit from sales of this book.

Editor: Katherine Rundell 

Illustrator: This book features illustrations from many of the most popular illustrators of children’s books

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Favourite sentence from Page 11: The short story on which starts on page 11 just happens to be written by one of my absolute favourite writers, Frank Cottrell Boyce. It is a wonderful allegory about finding the light in the midst of the gloom.

“Once, Sunny asked her mum, ‘My name – Sunny – what does it even mean?’ “

This book in three words: Endlessly Hopeful Possibilities

This book is the brainchild of Katherine Rundell and was first published online during lockdown. It is now available in a glorious hardback edition, with beautiful gold foiling on the cover and endpapers designed by former Children’s Laureate, Lauren Child. It is the perfect gift for any child and a joy to share in school classrooms and libraries.

It begins with a very short essay about hope and the power of stories and books to help rekindle and nurture hope in all of us, written in her usual elegant, wise and precise style by Katherine Rundell. Following this there are contributions from over 100 children’s book authors and illustrators, divided into themed categories. You can quite happily sit and read the entire book cover-to-cover, or just dip in and out of the section headings or alternatively seek out the contributions from your favourite authors first. There is genuinely something to appeal to everyone, no matter what their taste, mood or circumstances.

It is a perfect book for every teacher or librarian to have on their desk; each reading is at most 500 words long, so could be read in those changeover moments, or these days, the hand washing or wiping down the equipment stages of each day. There are true stories, poems, wild flights of imagination, beautifully illustrated quotes on the theme of hope, fascinating facts about the natural world and some pieces specifically reflecting on the period of lockdown. I found the item by Jackie Morris to be extremely evocative of the early weeks of lockdown when the treadmill of everyday routine was paused and there was actually time to observe the natural world.

Of the items I have read aloud, highlights include:

Anthony Horowitz’s poem, Hope, which has delighted boys who until now saw him solely as a writer of action-packed spy adventures.

M.G. Leonard’s reflections on the dung beetle, always a topic of interest to many primary school children. This piece is packed with scientific and ecological knowledge perfectly explained to satisfy an inquisitive young audience.

Isabel Thomas’ true story of the hungriest caterpillar and the importance of taking the time to observe and ask questions. This is a lovely item to read to Children in Years 5 and 6, before or after a science lesson.

Finally, if you want to hear a room-full of youngsters in fits of giggles, read them Lockdown Cat Haircut by Sharon Davey.

Whenever I get a chance to browse, I find myself constantly drawn to the picture by Alex T Smith, illustrating Audrey Hepburn’s quote: To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.

This is a book which will plant a seed of hope in anyone who wishes to spend time with it.

I am grateful to Toppsta and Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sending me a review copy of this beautiful book.

#MGTakesOnThursday: The Night Bus Hero by Onjali Q Raúf

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog which I urge you to read. Also, please check out all the other posts and Tweets with the #MGTakesOnThursday tag, you will be sure to find many fantastic recommendations!

If you love books written for an MG audience and wish to take part, the steps to follow are:

  • Post a picture of a front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.
Published by Hachette Children’s Group

Author: Onjali Q Raúf

Illustrator: I have this as an eARC from Netgalley and cannot find an illustrator’s name

Publisher: Orion/Hachette Children’s Books

Favourite sentence from Page 11: (The story is told in the voice of ten-year-old Hector, who at the beginning is revelling in his role of school bully and family outcast)

“After class, I headed straight to detention, and sat in my usual chair in the corner of the classroom “

This book in three words: Homelessness – Bullying – Redemption

How many of us rush to judgement based on the behaviour of the people we meet rather than stopping to think about the reason for their behaviour and spending time to try to understand and help them? In her third MG novel, Onjali Raúf shines her compassionate light on homelessness, showing the true humanity of individual lives and gently encouraging her readers to see the person rather than a social problem defined by a collective noun “the homeless”. As with her previous two novels, her message is suffused through a thoroughly engaging story, which I read deep into the night as I was compelled to finish it in one sitting.

In a clever contrast the two main characters Hector and Thomas represent two forms of homelessness. Thomas, the archetypal picture that we think of; unwashed, shabby clothes, sleeping on a park bench in an old sleeping bag, against Hector who is from an affluent family but with parents largely absent on international jobs. He feels that he is a disappointment to his high-achieving family and with the nanny largely preoccupied with his younger brother, his life consists of cheese toasties, late-night video games and travelling into central London, unsupervised, to skateboard. If home is the place where we are nurtured by people who love us and who we love in return, then at the start of this story I would consider Hector to be homeless.

As the story opens, Hector, the ten-year-old school bully is in the middle of his latest cry for attention, dropping toy snakes into the school lunch soup pan. He is part of a toxic trio of friends, with Will and Katie constantly encouraging him to acts of increasingly poor behaviour, which he performs to gain their approval. This culminates with him starting to harass Thomas, an old, homeless gentleman who lives in the town park, eventually destroying his meagre belongings. 

His final act of vandalism is witnessed by Mei-Li, a classmate who he despises for being their “teacher’s pet” and a “brainiac”. Whilst the other school children cower in terror or bribe Hector with their sweets or pocket money, she is unafraid to stand up to him and forces him to apologise to Thomas and eventually to help out at the soup kitchen where she volunteers alongside her father.

Meanwhile the news headlines are gripped by a series of thefts of valuable public statues from central London, including the famous Paddington Bear from the mainline train terminus. The thief leaves behind coded signs in yellow paint, these symbols are known only to the homeless community and thus suspicion falls upon an entire group of innocent people. When Hector witnesses a theft in Piccadilly Circus one evening and casts suspicion on the wrong man, he finds himself in the midst of a race against time to uncover the true villains.

This story is thoroughly entertaining as a detective mystery puzzle, with the ingenuity and teamwork of Thomas, Hector, Mei-Li and Catwoman combining to an exciting denouement at a major London landmark. In the accepted way of MG fiction the thread of redemption and hope is woven through the tale, leaving readers with the ambition to look for the good inside everyone and the belief that transformation can take place in the everyday events of life. Once again Onjali Raúf has written a beautiful story which makes us think again at the over-looked in our society. Highly recommended for all readers of 9+.

I am grateful to #NetGalley and Hachette Children’s Books for granting me access to an eARC of this wonderful story.

#MGTakesOnThursday: New Kid by Jerry Craft

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog.

To take part, the steps to follow are:

  • Post a picture of a front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

Author: Jerry Craft

Illustrator: Jerry Craft

Publisher: Harper Audio Productions/ Harper Collins

Favourite sentence from Page 11: I listened to the audio production, so I have estimated the position of this quote and have chosen it to highlight Jordan’s sense of displacement early in the story.

“It was great not to be the only black kid in class but after being fooled by the chauffeur and then the whole Mory/Oreo thing , I turned my head when Drew tried to make eye-contact and I have no idea why”

This book in three words: Comics – Friendship – Diversity

As we reach the end of another school year and many children are moving on from Year 6 to their secondary schools, it seemed the perfect time to review New Kid by Jerry Craft. I don’t listen to many audio books as I often find the narration irritating – but this full-cast audio production is exceptionally good and I have listened to it three times during the loan period from my local library.

Here is my review:

 I had seen this book recommended in several lists compiled to increase the diversity of book collections and was delighted to spot that it was available as an audiobook on the Borrow Box app from my local public library. I have been swept away by the  full cast performance of this beautifully crafted and thought-provoking story which highlights the issue of racism and the need for everyone to have the courage to speak out when it is encountered. I believe that the physical book is actually a graphic novel which fits perfectly with the main protagonist Jordan being a 12-year-old obsessed with drawing comic strips.

Jordan Banks is a charming and bright boy who has won a place at prestigious elite,  Riverdale Academy Day School or RAD for short. His mum works in publishing and has high aspirations for her son and wants him to learn the unwritten rules which will help him, as an African American, succeed in whatever he chooses to do. His father on the other hand has opted out of corporate life and now runs the local community centre and coaches the local kids’ baseball team in his spare time. He is less certain about Jordan joining the privileged, predominantly white cohort of students at his new school and has promised that if things don’t work out he can move to art school in ninth-grade. This conflicting views of the parents and their concerns for their talented son are deftly explored throughout the story.

On the first morning of term Jordan is collected from his home in an apartment block in Washington Heights by his “guide“ Liam Landers and his father, a successful and wealthy businessman. Liam is the third generation of his family to attend RAD and on first contact the two boys seem to have very little in common. However as the story progresses it is clear that Liam is an extraordinarily kind and considerate boy who is quite uncomfortable with his family’s vast wealth and his father’s constant absence on business trips, and despite their social differences he and Jordan develop a close friendship

The lack of diversity in the school is made very clear from Jordan’s first arrival, where the only people who look like him are the “drivers” of his affluent classmates. There are only a handful of African American students and the innate racist behaviour of some students and even staff members is made clear. By lunchtime on his first day Jordan feels “lost and alone” and despite being rescued by Liam in the cafeteria he is bewildered by the continued racism displayed by the swaggering, white-priviledge behaviour personified by Andy Petersen. This character’s bad behaviour and the fact that nobody surrounding him has the courage to call him out on it gives readers/listeners an opportunity to reflect on their own behaviour. Jordan’s fellow African American classmate, Drew, expresses more overt anger, in particular to the form teacher who constantly refers to him by the name of a former pupil with whom she clearly had a bad relationship in a previous year.

The story is punctuated by Jordan’s “sketchbook breaks” where he articulates his feelings in the form of comic strips. He is a compellingly engaging character, trying his best to fit in and ultimately unafraid to stand up and do the right thing. He is driven by the wise words of his grandfather, “you don’t have to like everybody, but you don’t have to be a jerk about it” and by applying his good sense and natural charm has a positive effect on those around him.

There are very many things to enjoy in this story, from the quirky chapter titles which play with the names of famous books and films, to the perfectly drawn characters and Jordan’s skilled navigation of the race and wealth differences between himself and his class-mates. Jerry Craft has constructed a wonderful story which promotes kindness, tolerance, courage and friendship. A wonderful read for Year 6 pupils as they move on to secondary schools and I think that it is likely to appeal to teens who will love spotting the Hamilton references- my favourite was the echoes of the Ten Duel Commandments in Chuck Banks’ rules for handshakes! Having listened to the audio-book I will certainly be buying a copy of the graphic novel for the school library where I imagine it will be greatly enjoyed and I would recommend this audio production to any school or home collection.