Non-fiction Review: The Invisible World of Germs by Isabel Thomas

Cover image by Geraldine Sy and Ana Seixas, published by OUP, May 2022

The latest in the Very Short Introductions series provides answers to many questions that children and adults might have after the past two years sitting through news briefings about viruses, vaccines and R numbers. Isabel Thomas is a first class science communicator, never talking down to her readership, but presenting scientific information and vocabulary with absolute clarity, leaving readers enlightened and satisfied. This book has been intelligently designed with photos; illustrated diagrams and cartoon strip inserts by Geraldine Sy and Ana Seixas; and shout-outs to introduce new vocabulary and concepts. Information is broken into bite-sized chunks with clever use of colour and layout, so that complex ideas can be understood. The overall package delivers a comprehensive education of the microbial world in under 100 small format pages.

It is split into eight chapters which provide a history of the scientific research that led to our present day understanding of microbes, the effect of different microbes on the human body, immunology, medicines and the positive uses of microbes in our world. I particularly liked the use of regular features throughout the book such as Germ Hero, which provided single sentence biographies of scientists who had made breakthrough discoveries; and Speak Like a Scientist where key scientific terms were explained. As you would expect from a great non-fiction book, there is a glossary at the end.

As a librarian working in the health sector, I am always delighted to find books which provide evidence-based information that is accessible and informative for a wide readership. An informed population is likely to be one that is better able to contribute to the management of their own health and less likely to fall for misinformation. The Invisible World of Germs … and its impact on our lives would be suitable for upper Key Stage 2 classrooms, as well as secondary school settings, and also provides useful information for adult readers; I highly recommend that you read it.

I am most grateful to OUP for sending me a copy of this book in return for my honest opinion.

#PrideMonthReview: The Marvellous Doctors for Magical Creatures by Jodie Lancet-Grant, illustrated by Lydia Corry

Cover image by Lydia Corry, published by OUP, June 2022

This was the most perfect book to read on a hot, sunny June day which radiated the same warmth and colour found within this picture book. Published to coincide with the June Pride celebrations, this story imaginatively promotes acceptance of unique identities, representing a family with two dads as the backdrop to a funny, engaging tale. The interplay of Lydia Corry’s beautiful artwork and Jodie Lancet-Grant’s creative storytelling will bring smiles of delight to readers young and old(er).

From the first page we are introduced to a town populated by a wide variety of magical and non-magical creatures. The text names some of these; dragons, fairies, mermaids and centaurs and children will enjoy spotting many more depicted amongst the humans on the bustling street (I loved seeing the pirate mums from the previous book by this partnership). We are told that whenever anyone in town feels poorly, they know to consult Ava and her dads, Daddy and Papa. I loved the illustrations of “trainee doctor” Ava, with her stethoscope, too long labcoat and expressive face. Alongside the narrative which portrays her inquisitive, kind and observant nature as well as determination to uncover the cause of a unicorn’s tummy-ache, she is a heart-warming poster girl for a career in medicine, in the opinion of this health librarian! The spread where Ava is struck by the answer to her medical mystery is an absolute masterpiece of “show, don’t tell” and strikes right to the heart of this book’s message of celebrating difference.

The Marvellous Doctors for Magical Creatures bursts with a kaleidoscope of colour, energy and kindness and whilst promoting a message of inclusivity, is first and foremost an entertaining and throughly engaging story. Family life is portrayed in scenes such as bedtime story time familiar to all, and shows that whilst there are all kinds of families, they have more similarities than differences. I highly recommend this picture book to be shared with children of 3 -6 years of age and I will certainly be adding it to my recommended reading list for health-related books.

I am most grateful to Liz Scott and OUP for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Picture Books Review: Spring 2022 arrivals from OUP

Cover image by James Jones, published by OUP May 2022

One More Try is the second picture book from the partnership of Naomi and James Jones. Naomi writes the stories and James illustrates them, although after attending a very enjoyable online book launch for this title, it sounds as if the collaborative process is a whole family affair, with input from their two young children too! This direct understanding of what appeals to children is certainly apparent in this strikingly interactive picture book.

Combining an introduction to the language and properties of shapes with the subtext of resilience and perseverance is a winning combination in this story of Circle, who notices the squares and hexagons building a tower and wants to build one too. However, the circles, diamonds and triangles discover that forming themselves into a tower is far trickier than the other shapes make it look. They try all kinds of strategies to find a solution; eventually Circle looks at the problem in a different way and with a beautifully subtle shift from 2-dimensional to 3-dimensional shapes, a solution is found.

This book is sure to be hugely popular in pre-schools and early years classrooms and would be perfect for parents and carers to share with young children, I certainly look forward to sharing my copy with the youngest relative. The shapes designed by James Jones are completely engaging with their textures, colours and expressions enticing the reader to try to lift them from the page. The simple text from Naomi Jones is delightfully playful, encouraging an interaction with maths that is experimental and fun and, without a hint of dogmatism encourages youngsters to never give up. I highly recommend One More Try to be shared with all children of 3-6 years of age.

Cover image by Korky Paul, published by OUP March 2022

The latest book in the Winnie and Wilbur series, written by Valerie Thomas and illustrated by Korky Paul, recounts the story of Winnie and Wilbur’s first meeting. In a situation that will be familiar to many children, Winnie the witch feels lonely after moving to a new house and decides that she needs company. Her first step is to invite her three sisters to stay and at first they enjoy spending time together. Sadly, the family squabbles begin and after a spectacular and brilliantly illustrated fight between the sisters’ cats, the happy family reunion comes to an end. Winnie then explores a number of unsuitable friendships before the arrival of a stray cat resolves her problem, and the rest, as fans of the series will know, is history!

I absolutely love the Winnie and Wilbur series because Valerie Thomas’ stories are such fun to share with young children and the intricately detailed illustrations by Korky Paul present so much rich material for children to linger over. These books spark a huge range of opportunities for conversation and this one in particular could be used to prompt chat about loneliness (which has been shown to have increased since the COVID-19 lockdowns began) and the qualities needed to form a good friendship. There is a QR code on the inside back cover which

You can read my reviews of two more Winnie and Wilbur books here.

I am very grateful to Oxford University Press for sending me copies of these two picture books in return for my honest opinion.

Reviews: Marv and the Mega Robot & Marv and the Dino Attack by Alex Falase-Koya, illustrated by Paula Bowles

Cover art by Paula Bowles, published by OUP, February 2022

Meet Marv, the latest, coolest young superhero in town! In his “origin story” we meet Marvin as an ordinary schoolboy, probably at the top end of primary school, who is hugely excited to be working on a project for the school science fair with his best friend Joe. They are clearly two very bright boys as they have created a robot that can read aloud and it is very apparent that they make a great team. They also share a love of superhero comics and Marvin is excited to see a black superhero character in one of the vintage comic books that Joe has brought into school. He is astounded later that evening when his kind and empathetic grandad sends him to explore an old trunk in the attic; there is the outfit he spotted in the comic…and when he tries it on, it shrinks to fit! Even more astonishing is the fact that it comes equipped with a robot sidekick! Pixel is the cutest robot I have seen since R2D2, and I greatly applaud that she is a female robot character which I have not seen in a children’s book before.

When supervillain “Mastermind” crashes the science fair, Marv needs to put his new superhero powers to the test. I won’t spoil the plot for anyone, suffice to say that there is enough exciting action here to blow any young readers’ circuit boards! I greatly enjoyed the inclusion of a child supervillian, it gave this story a genuinely playful element in tune with the intended readership.

There are many aspects to this book that I loved. The idea of a superhero suit powered by kindness and imagination is top of the list; what a brilliant message to pass on to young readers. In the foreword, author Alex Falase-Koya, explains his desire to create a young black superhero based on his own reverence for a cartoon called Static Shock that he watched as a child. I think that he has created a wonderful character that will be enjoyed by readers of all ethnic backgrounds. The overall design of the book is perfect for readers of 6-8 years old; cartoon style illustrations with a blue palette by Paula Bowles throughout help to break the story into small readable chunks; a large, bold font is used; chapters are short and fast-paced; the book itself is a smaller size that younger children can hold comfortably and the cover art with its blue foil highlights is hugely appealing. Highly recommended for Years 1, 2 and 3 classrooms, school libraries and home bookshelves.

Cover art by Paula Bowles, published by OUP,
February 2022

In Marv’s second adventure we find our young superhero and his class setting off on a coach trip to The Natural History Museum, a scenario that many young readers at the present time may not find so familiar, due to the restrictions on school trips during the periods of lockdown. Consequently, I loved the description of the awe and wonder that Marvin experiences as he steps into the great reception hall for the first time. It is so easy to take for granted our great museums when we have made multiple visits over the years, but the opening chapter actually sparked a memory from my own first childhood visit as a 10 year old and I am sure will inspire young readers to request a visit.

Fortunately, Marvin has packed his Marv superhero suit and his sidekick robot Pixel in his backpack, so when the dinosaur skeletons are suddenly sparked into life by another child supervillain, this time named Rex, he is ready to suit-up and spring into action. As with the first book, Marv is inspired by kindness and imagination. He outsmarts Rex with strategic thinking and is motivated by the desire to keep his friends and the other museum visitors safe.

Author, Alex Falase-Koya, again shows all young readers a positive message as even without his superhero suit on, Marv demonstrates his kindness by befriending new pupil Eva and welcoming her into his friendship group. There is also a sprinkle of smart humour throughout, often provided by Pixel. I really do think that the combination of inclusivity and superhero action make Marv and the Dino Attack an essential addition to Key Stage 1 and Year 3 classroom and library book choices. I look forward to further challenges between Marv and juvenile supervillains in the future!

I am most grateful to Oxford University Press for sending me copies of these two books in exchange for my honest reviews.

Review: Kitty and the Woodland Wildcat by Paula Harrison, illustrated by Jenny Løvlie

Cover image by Jenny Løvlie, published by OUP

The ninth adventure for Kitty, the girl with cat-like superpowers, has leapt onto the bookshelves! It takes our young superhero-in-training out of her usual urban surroundings and into the countryside for a fresh challenge. As always, the new book in the series is a joy to behold, the cover with its trademark black, orange and grey colour scheme with foil highlights, gives a clear indication of the delights to be found within. Jenny Løvlie’s unique illustrations appear throughout the story, allowing young readers the chance to pause and examine the exquisite details, as they take their early steps on the journey of becoming readers.

The story opens with Kitty and her best friend Ozzy using their super senses to explore a woodland as they seek the perfect spot for their families to pitch their tents for a camping holiday. Ozzy, like Kitty, is a young superhero and his owl-like superpowers of long distance vision and the ability to glide silently between the trees with his feathered cape are the perfect complement to Kitty’s cat-senses and agility. Their excitement in discovering the natural delights of the woodland will be familiar to all young readers who have had the opportunity to play in a natural environment. I loved the touch of humour introduced by Kitty’s pet, Pumpkin, showing some discomfort at being in a natural environment rather than the familiar cityscape that she is used to.

The children’s super-senses and desire to help animals in need are called into action when Kitty discovers an injured wildcat who has lost her kittens. This leads to a thrilling night time adventure which will entertain a readership of 6+, featuring just the right level of peril to make the story exciting without being too scary. Themes of kindness, gentleness, acceptance of difference and appreciation of nature run lightly through the narrative. I am in awe of the way that Paula Harrison has managed to keep this series so fresh, producing a selection of stories which always surprise and delight, and which I am sure many children must treasure on their bookshelves.

It is so important to be able to offer children enticing book choices to encourage reading for pleasure and Kitty and the Woodland Wildcat, with its perfect sizing for small hands, ideal length, nicely sized font and thoroughly enjoyable storyline is an essential for Key Stage 1 and lower Key Stage 2 classrooms.

If you enjoy this book and would like to read others from the series, I have reviewed some of the others previously on the blog:

Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue

Kitty and the Sky Garden

Kitty and the Starlight Song

Review: The Lights That Dance in the Night written and illustrated by Yuval Zommer

Cover image Yuval Zommer, published by OUP Books

A perfect picture book to share with young children, especially this autumn/winter when the Northern Lights have been visible to many in the north of the UK, Yuval Zommer’s latest work is an absolute essential for home and school bookshelves. He consistently produces the most amazing books which capture the awesome spectacle of nature through his distinctive artwork and careful choice of simple text.

Giving a sentient voice to the tiny specks of dust that have travelled through the stormy atmosphere to perform the awe-inspiring light display known as the Northern Lights, Yuval Zommer inspires all readers – adults and children to embrace their potential to spread joy. His wondrously rendered artwork shows the radiance, happiness and pleasure that this natural phenomenon brings to a range of creatures; making whales sing, wolves howl…and my favourite, foxes sashay! Every page sparkles with the mystery of the lights and the marvels of the natural world. The human storytelling inspired by the lights is encompassed as:

People stopped to stand and stare, to feel the magic in the air.

p20

I think that his description of the Northern Lights as “a miracle of winter” can be applied to this book as well as to the festive season and this will be high on my gift-giving list to young relatives this winter and, I suspect for many years to come. An absolutely perfect picture book which I highly recommend to everyone to share with a young child.

I am most grateful to Liz Scott for organising my gift copy of The Lights That Dance in the Night from Oxford University Press in exchange for my honest opinion.

Other books from Yuval Zommer which you might want to share as Christmas gifts include A Thing Called Snow and The Tree That’s Meant to Be.

Blog Tour: Kitty and the Starlight Song, written by Paula Harrison, illustrated by Jenny Løvlie

Published by Oxford University Press, artwork by Jenny Løvlie

I am delighted to be joining the blog tour for the eighth book in the delightful Kitty series. These beautifully crafted stories are so much loved by young readers that I’m honoured to be introducing you to the latest adventure of junior superhero Kitty.

For anyone who has not yet met her, Kitty is an ordinary primary school child by day, but when evening falls she dons her cape and mask and the cat-like superpowers that she has inherited from her mum allow her to scamper across the city’s rooftops with her feline friends, solving problems and righting wrongs. Kitty and the Starlight Song like the other books can be read as a standalone story, although it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to resist reading more from the series once you’ve encountered Kitty on a moonlight adventure.

This story begins in the school hall, with Kitty and her class rehearsing for the school concert. In a scene which will be immediately relatable to young readers, Kitty is a bundle of nerves as her turn to sing a solo line of the song approaches. As the teacher plays her accompaniment, poor Kitty cannot find her voice and her cheeks grow hot as some of her classmates turn to stare at her silence. She returns home and shares her worries about her upcoming performance with her loyal cat Pumpkin, and resolves to practise hard over the next two days. However, her rehearsal plans are set aside when another of her feline friends Figaro is hurt as he tries to help Kitty apprehend a jewel thief. Kitty invests all of her energies in taking over the planning for Figaro’s birthday party to cheer him up and distract him from his mortification at having to wear a plastic collar! She rushes around the city gathering tasty treats, decorations and guests to create a perfect evening for her friend.

She pictured Figaro lying in the dark and feeling sad about his birthday. ‘I bet he isn’t asleep yet. Let’s get everything ready and then we can knock on the window! He’ll be so excited when he sees the decorations’

p83

Paula Harrison’s gentle storytelling is perfectly pitched for a readership in the 5-8 age range, although I have seen older children enjoying these stories too. She builds suspense and excitement but there is not so much peril that sleepless nights will ensue, indeed I would suggest that Kitty and the Starlight Song would make a lovely shared story at bedtime. Kitty and the Starlight Song is fully illustrated on every page in distinctive black, white, grey and orange by artist Jenny Løvlie. The gorgeous images, filled with detail, movement and personality complement the text perfectly and give young readers time to pause and reflect during independent reading. At just over 100 pages, Kitty and the Starlight Song is the perfect length to give newly confident readers the warm glow of satisfaction at reading a whole book alone and the design and size of the book is ideal for small hands.

If you know a Key Stage 1 or lower Key Stage 2 child who loves adventure, pets and problem solving, and you want to provide them with a story full of friendship, kindness, action and overcoming nervousness, look no further than Kitty and the Starlight Song.

My thanks to Liz Scott and Oxford University Press (Oxford Children’s) for providing me with a review copy and inviting me to join the blog tour. Do read the reviews from my fellow book bloggers throughout this week.

Cover art by Jenny Løvlie, published by OUP on 2nd September 2021

My reviews of earlier Kitty stories can be read here: Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue and Kitty and the Sky Garden Adventure

Review: Lightning Strike by Tanya Landman

Cover art by Chaaya Prabhat, published by Oxford University Press in association with Barrington Stoke

This book is one of the Super-Readable Rollercoasters series published by OUP Children’s Books in association with Barrington Stoke, and in my opinion is a perfect spark to ignite enjoyment in reading. Tanya Landman is an award winning author and her talent is on full display here as she conjures an enthralling work of historical fiction with fully imagined characters and a gripping plot in just over one hundred pages.

The story is based on an actual event, the Match Girl’s Strike of 1888. It is told through the first person voice of Eliza, and through her eyes the reader is presented with a vivid picture of the lives led by the working poor in the East End of London during the Victorian era. Eliza and her sister Nell work 12 hour shifts in the poisonous confines of the match factory, where a tray of dropped matches can lose a worker her week’s wages, a cruel and crooked foreman takes a cut of the wage packets and the prospect of the dreaded “phossy jaw” hangs in the air. Their father works long hours in the dockyards, where tragic accidents are commonplace and their mother takes on piecework at home so that she can look after the youngest children. Despite their backbreaking industry, the family can never afford enough to eat and are constantly worried that they will not be able to pay the rent. Eliza’s anger and frustration at their powerlessness burns through the pages.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but a catalyst for change arrives in the form of a “toff” who actually listens to the grievances of the working class leading Eliza and the factory’s match girls to discover the power of collective action.

For such a short book there are an amazing number of themes woven into the plot; poverty, feminism, socialism, collective protest, religion and education. Tanya Landman introduces these themes organically through beautifully drawn characters, you never feel that you are being preached at, rather, the strands occur naturally within the intriguing plot. Even more impressively, the vocabulary and sentence structure have been carefully designed so that they are accessible with a reading age of about nine/ten. As you expect from Barrington Stoke, an off-white paper is used in combination with an easily readable font, so that anyone with visual stress or dyslexia will find it easier to read than traditionally printed books. Finally, there are discussion points, background information and a vocabulary list (which in keeping with the plain English style is called a Word List) at the end of the book.

I absolutely recommend this book to school library collections, classrooms and for home bookshelves for readers of 11+. It is first and foremost a brilliantly written, enjoyable story which will inform and entertain all readers in equal measure. Additionally, it is so carefully constructed that it could re-ignite the spark of reading for pleasure which, sadly, the recent disruption to schooling has extinguished in some tweens and teens. Put it into the hands of a Key Stage 3 pupil who has enjoyed reading the works of Emma Carroll, Katherine Woodfine or Michael Morpurgo at primary school and watch their face light-up with the joy of reading again.

I am most grateful to OUP Children’s Books for providing me with a review copy of Lightning Strike in exchange for my honest opinion.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Diagnosis Danger by Roopa Farooki

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 art by Mike Lowery, published by Oxford University Press

Author: Roopa Farooki

Illustrator: Mike Lowery

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

‘ Where’s all your stuff?’ asked Jay, noticing that the girls didn’t have the regulation burst-to-the-seams plastic bags.

This book in three words: Twins – Trouble – Deception

The double detectives are back and ready to take you on a second heart-stopping, life-or-death medical mystery!

Diagnosis Danger begins two weeks after the end of Tulip and Ali’s first mystery,  The Cure for a Crime; you could read this book as a standalone but I would recommend that you read the books in order to fully appreciate the story.

When Ali and Tulip are around adventure is sure to follow and this book plunges you straight into the drama from the moment you open the cover. At first it is just Ali losing her cool as the girls walk home from school with neighbouring twins Jay and Zac. She has been looking forward to her first ever overseas holiday during half-term, but their hard-working, brain surgeon mother phones to cancel the trip at the last minute due to work pressures. The quote from page 11 illustrates the contrast in the family lives of both sets of twins: Jay and Zac are fed home-cooked, vegetarian, gluten-free meals by parents who treasure every cardboard creation, whilst Tulip and Ali live on fast food and don’t bother bringing art projects home because their mum is constantly working or exhausted.  As Ali stamps and shouts her displeasure and Tulip, aided by Zac and Jay, tries to calm her, rescue in the shape of their friend Momo’s minicab arrives on the scene.

However, before you can utter the words popliteal artery, Momo is stabbed by a heavily disguised passenger as she exits his cab. Ali and Tulip jump into action with the medical knowledge they have assimilated and stop the bleeding from his leg, accompanying Momo to Accident and Emergency at their mum’s hospital. After some funny banter between their mum and a vascular surgeon (electricians versus plumbers) they are eventually collected by their wonderful Nan-Nan, my favourite character in this series, a former secret service operative who has lost both of her legs at some point in her colourful career. Nan-Nan is now a member of an undercover operation known as SWAT (Senior Water Aerobics Team) and clearly has suspicions about who the disguised assailant might be. She declares her intention to take the girls away for half-term …although the destination is rather less glamorous than her grand-daughters hoped for.

Rounding up their feral cat Witch, they head to Catty’s Cattery, supposedly a luxury hotel for feline guests which turns out to be a rundown, dilapidated holiday camp, full of extremely ill pensioners who are fed on out-of-date junk food. Nan-Nan has recruited her smart, wisecracking pair of juvenile detectives to join her on an undercover investigation into the mysterious cash injections being received by the deeply unpleasant owner of this establishment.

This story rattles along at a frantic pace with the fast-talking  twins, their irrepressible grandmother  and loyal friends sifting through the clues to unearth the sinister criminal activities at Catty’s Cattery. Along the way, author Roopa Farooki ( a real-life doctor)  cleverly highlights the plight of many elderly people who cannot afford the costs of care in their old age and may be open to abuse and neglect.  I also admire this book for presenting a positive portrayal of a wheelchair user; Nan-Nan’s can-do attitude is laced with humour and bravery. Tulip and Ali are dynamic and inspiring tween characters and the Mini-Medix Blog appendix to the story provides unique scientific and medical content. If you are looking for an entertaining and educational MG Mystery for children of 10+ who love science then make an appointment with a Double Detectives Medical Mystery!

I am most grateful to Oxford University Press for providing my review copy of this book. 

#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.