What are my kids and I reading this December, 2022?

Katherine Rundell is one of my favourite middle grade children’s writers. Her prose is soaring, her stories read like classics and the relationships she builds between her characters are deeply emotional. Most of Rundell’s books have a historic setting, but this one is never specifically dated. Despite that it did feel like it was set in a time gone by, perhaps the 50s or at most 70s. I think this was because it had a lot of Rundell’s Zimbabwean childhood wrapped up in the text itself. You felt close to the authors own childhood experiences and emotion, and parts of it felt deeply personal.

The story begins with the main character Wilhelmina, better known as Will or Wildcat. A feisty twelve year old girl living on a farm in Zimbabwe with her beloved father William. Life is carefree, with no locks and few rules and Will spends most of her time climbing mango trees with her pet monkey and African best friend Simon. The wild life suits Will’s untamed and honest personality. Will has never had the guidance of her mother, who died of malaria when she was only five, or the experience of social restrictions and norms . Her father has given her love but with the independence she has also been allowed a freedom unrestricted and at times indulgently so.

As the story unfolds and tragedy occurs, Will is forced from the life she knows and loves. She is forced to travel to England where she must attend an all-girl’s boarding school with strict codes of conduct in a place where the sun never shines. Here the book takes on an entirely new character and pace. Suddenly life feels more familiar to us and far less exciting and we easily feel Will’s pain in her new confinement.

When Will runs away from her problems and takes to the streets of London we are not shocked. Her survival skills kick in and though she learns to live rough, she is eventually made to face her problems and find the courage to over come them. I was relieved to find that at the end there was still a lot to wonder about Will’s new life and her future choices. Ending back at the boarding school was both satisfactory, realistic, hopeful but also troublesome. The book would make for a great discussion with kids, particularly girls, about which life feels more appealing and how they feel about the restrictions placed on their lives.

I was glad to see that some of the female characters at the school had more positive, redeeming features at the end of the book than they are first portrayed and that we are left on a note of uplifting hope. I definitely recommend this for its sweeping prose and depth of character and wild adventure. Enjoy reading!

What are my kids and I reading this November, 2022?

THE GIRL WHO WALKED ON AIR by Emma Carroll was a whirlwind of an adventure. I simply loved every page! Both my middle son Calum, and I devoured this book. It is beautifully written, emotive, lyrical and captivating. Carroll writes with the same magic in her pen as Rundell and Ibbotson. I can’t recommend this book enough!

The story focuses on Louie, a young, girl who dreams of becoming a showstopper in Mr Chipchases’ Travelling Circus as a famous tightrope walker. Her passion ignited and her talent clear, Louie starts out full of frustration as Mr Chipchase only ever lets her sell tickets. Our curiosity peeks as Carroll hints that the circus ring master makes Louie wear disguises and hide her hair when in public and our investment in Louie grows increasingly strong. There is another story lurking in the shadows of the circus…

Louie is passionate, strong willed and easily lovable. We feel her pain when she is hidden away and her talents are not allowed to shine through. We feel her anguish over never knowing her mum and having that guiding light in her life. We feel it too when a terrible accident occurs one night and Louie’s mentor and chief supporter becomes bedridden. 

At first, all hope seems lost, until the rival circus, Mr Wellbeloved, comes to town and promises Louis the world. As the heady heights of America beckon and the potential thrill of crossing Niagra Falls like her great hero Blondin, Louie gets caught up in a world where nothing is quite as it seems. 

Her bravery is tested over and over as Louie navigates the high-wire and sinister world of Wellbeloveds. We are constantly on tender hooks wondering what will become of her, the circus, will she ever discover where her mother is and will her dreams ever come true.

I loved the relationships developed so deeply throughout the book between the characters. Each one with sensitivity, care and depth. Particularly that of Louis and the young star Gabriel, which starts as rivalry and develops into a deep respect and fierce friendship.

Set in the chilling and thrilling Victorian circus, Carrolls book is filled with drama, excitement and tension. This book is perfect for all boys and girls, aged 8-11. It has the feel of a classic about it and you simply must read it!

What are my kids and I reading this October, 2022?

DINOS DON’T DO YOGA, written by Catherine Bailey and illustrated by Alex Willmore is such a fun way to introduce yoga to little ones. We love yoga in my house and my little girl found this book hilarious! It is perfect for the prime picture book age 3-7 years old. The theme of dinosaurs also helps encourage boys to pick up the book and introduce them to a great range of yoga skills which will help them in life going forward.

The story centres around Rex, the talon-tearing tough leader of a Cretaceous crew. Rex loves to fight. he is rough and tough and a strong voice among the other dinosaurs. When Sam the yoga-saurus comes to town Rex both ridicules and rejects him. But his bullying tactics are beautifully ignored by Sam and they wash over him as he calmly continues to do what he loves and be who he is. A wonderful subtle lesson for children to ignore derision and trust in your self.

As the story progresses, we learn there is more to Rex’s anger than simply being mean. Rex’s struggles are identified in a gentle way and the story concludes with a delightful acceptance of Sam, his yoga moves and the power of being yourself!

The language is full of alliterative tongue twisters, which make it a fun read aloud. Rhymes pop up every now and again, adding colour, and the tone is full of humour and dynamic characters. The sentences are short, punchy and to the point. The storyline is neat and clean with a strong arc and the page turns are simply perfect. It has great pace and weaves yoga terms and poses in seamlessly throughout the story without any need for explanation. 

The story message of staying true to oneself and being brave in the face of bullies is clear but not didactic. It is a well-written picture book with a great message for any preschooler or early years pupil. 

The illustrations are bold, bright, simple and very funny – they complement the text well. It is bursting with character and comic timing. Whether you are a yoga expert or not, this book is such fun and I highly recommend it!

What are my kids and I reading this September, 2022?

THE HIKE, by Alison Farrell, is a delightful book that celebrates children love of nature. It highlights the importance of looking for beauty in the smallest object and teaching children how to create their own records of their hiking adventures, through nature journaling. 

The illustrations are simple, playful, childlike, bold, colourful and above all very fun! I love the fact Farrell uses coloured pencil throughout, drawing in the same way as children would and seamlessly moving between hiking images and actual examples of the children’s journaling pages! The illustrations also act as non-fiction diagrams, labelled with significant objects like photographs in a textbook. This is done in a playful way, for example, I loved the inclusion of labels such as ‘fairy ring mushrooms’ and ‘porcupine quills,’ which is just what a child would take note of and not just factual flora and fauna names!

The text is sparse and simple. Sentences are short and packed with onomatopoeia which makes it enjoyable to read aloud and adds texture to the story too. Speech bubbles keep this non-fiction book light and accessible. And the addition of images of journal pages where the characters have drawn nature-based activities adds yet another layer to this already delightful book. With many of the images, we see both above and below the ground, showcasing a whole world of life and adventure going on around the children as they hike through the forest.

I love how the children are given, freedom, autonomy and intelligence in the story. They navigate their way by themselves, map reading, using a compass and working as a team to find the right path when they are lost. The book shouts of independence, bravery, confidence and adventure. It is everything we hope our children’s childhoods can be, yet we are often afraid to let them explore the world, make mistakes and forge their own paths without holding their hands. This book is a great lesson to parents as well as children in learning to let them find their own paths and for kids it is an empowering look at independence and the great adventures life has in store for them if they are brave enough!

I love the final pages where children can explore the journal pages and learn all about nurse trees, moon phases and edible plants – its right up my street of teaching children that nature is forever giving to us and we should embrace it with open arms and a big thank you.

Highly recommend this book for any nature lovers, walkers, sketchers or explorers out there – a truly delightful book filled with heart and hope for children well connected to the world in which they live! It would make a beautiful gift or addition to any primary classroom or preschool library.