March 2021 review round-up book covers
Book Reviews

Libraries 4 Schools 2021 Review Round-Up 1

So many brilliant books have been published in the last six months, and a lot by new and exciting authors, which is always great to see!

We’ve decided that the best way for us to keep you up to date is to do a round-up of titles we’ve recently read, so you can get a quick idea of what you might like to add to your school or home library.

First up, we have a couple of great books for younger readers.

The first one is Sohal Finds A Friend by Jion Sheibani (it’s the first title in The Worries series).

Sohal is a ‘worrier’; he constantly worries about everything, but when he draws his worries they don’t look as frightening as they originally seemed. But when they start coming to life and decide they want to go to school with Sohal, he finds his worries can become quite a handful!

This is an ideal book for primary children returning to or just starting school who might be feeling a bit anxious, particularly after the last year of lockdowns, with its endearing characters and message of mindfulness.

We love Barrington Stoke Little Gems range, and Phil Earle’s Albert Johnson and the Buns of Steel is no exception.

Albert is sports mad and, although his dad is a Master Baker, Albert prefers to eat cakes than to bake them. Needing help around the bakery, his dad invents the Doughmaster 5000 but, when it becomes a rampaging monster, he’ll need Albert’s sporting skills to help stop it in its tracks.

With easy-to-follow formatting, a wonderful cast of characters and some absolutely crazy and colourful illustrations by Steve May, it’s a great addition to the Little Gems range that is bound to be a hit with younger readers.

Dragons are very popular with readers at the moment, so here’s two dragon titles that, despite being very different, we think you’ll love!

Dragon Mountain by Katie and Kevin Tsang finds us joining Billy Chan who is sent to a culture and language summer camp in China to improve his Mandarin. Dragon Camp is in a remote part of China, in the shadow of the myth-laden Dragon Mountain, and when Billy’s team take an unauthorised short cut during the Great Race activity, it’s the start of the adventure of a lifetime.

The first in a new series, Dragon Mountain introduces us to a range of characters, both human and dragon, each with their own strengths and personalities. Billy’s struggle to reconcile the two sides of his heritage (his mother is American and his father Chinese) feels very authentic, and the Tsangs have obviously put a lot of research into Chinese folklore which has definitely paid off with this story. Book 2, Dragon Legend drops at the end of April, so now’s a great time to get stuck in!

Darwin’s Dragons by Lindsay Galvin takes us back to Charles Darwin’s expedition on the Beagle in 1835.

When Syms Covington, cabin boy and Darwin’s assistant, falls overboard during a storm, he is washed up on one of the unexplored Galapagos Islands. The barely habitable island isn’t all Syms must contend with, as the active volcano stirs into motion something hidden on the island. Will Syms’ find make his fortune? And what will the cost be if it does?

A truly engaging blend of history, science and fantasy, Galvin’s story gives us a wonderful portrayal of real people, despite the fiction of the story itself. The book is gorgeously illustrated, including fold-out maps, timelines and biographies, which make it a great accompaniment to learning about Darwin and evolution – even with the made-up bits!

Still with the sea and islands, but with a different large animal, Nizrana Farook’s The Boy Who Met A Whale is set back on the island of Serendib (the same setting from Farook’s 2020 debut The Girl Who Stole an Elephant), where a storm and a shipwreck delivers Zheng to the beach near local fisherboy Razi’s home. Zheng’s story of lost treasure, sea monsters, and a murderous crew would seem unbelievable if it were not for the sudden appearance of two strangers, intent on finding Razi’s new friend.

With danger at their heels, Razi, his sister Shifa, and Zheng set sail. But they’ll have to face more than just the sea if they have any hope of finding the treasure.

Once again, Farook spins a vivid tale of peril and adventure in a beautiful setting. The pace is unrelenting, and the difference in personality of the characters lends to some excellent tension and banter. This tale of friendship and wonder is bound to entrance both fans of Farook’s previous book and newer readers alike!

Magical mishaps and adventures come to the fore in the next two books, both featuring strong and feisty young girls.

In The House on the Edge of Magic by Amy Sparkes, Nine, an orphan and pickpocket down on her luck, snatches a tiny ornament of a house; a home that Nine can only dream of. But when she knocks on the tiny door, the house grows. Inside, she meets the strange but friendly inhabitants, and learns of the curse they are under – a curse that they desperately need her help to break.

The story is ridiculous fun, and the house itself is incredibly imaginative (though I wish we were shown more of it!) that you can’t help but find yourself drawn in as Nine navigates her way around this magical mystery, with plenty of laughs to boot!

The Beast and the Bethany written by Jack Meggitt-Phillips and illustrated by Isabelle Follath is a wonderful, humorous gothic tale.

Ebenezer is a youthful and handsome 511-year-old who keeps a beast in his attic. Yes, you read that right. The beast showers Ebenezer with everything he could ever want, though always at a price. But when the beast demands “something it’s never tried before” – a nice, juicy child – for Ebenezer’s 512th birthday, Ebenezer wonders if the price might have finally got too high. Still, no child, no youth potion. Which is where Bethany comes in…

“Lemony Snicket meets Dorian Gray” is certainly an apt description! The story is darkly humorous and witty, although also tinged at times with sadness. Neither Ebenezer nor Bethany is particularly likeable at the start, but as they grow together, they grow on the reader as well. It’s a quick and pacy read, that you’ll probably get through swiftly because you won’t want to put it down!

Finally, we finish this round-up with a World War 2 home front book.

Valley of Lost Secrets review

The Valley of Lost Secrets by Lesley Parr is a bittersweet story about a group of children from London who are evacuated to a small Welsh mining village.

The book highlights the tensions and pleasures of village life, and how the local community view the evacuees. But there is also a tragic secret that has left uncertainty among the inhabitants for years, finally coming to light by a chance discovery.

It’s a touching story, full of sorrow and intrigue tempered with friendship and hope. You can read our full review of it here:

That’s it for now – we have lots more books in our pile to review though, so watch out for our next round-up coming soon!