What’s That In Dog Years?

By Ben Davis, illustrated by Julia Christians

Before the book even gets started, it say, “A really funny story (but with a few sad bits too, so get your tissues ready!) They weren’t joking – I made it to page 3 before needing them…

George knows that Gizmo is getting old – after all, he’s been around since before George was born and what’s that in dog years? – so he writes Gizmo a bucket list. As the pair work their way down the list they have lots of adventures and lots of laughs.

A brilliantly funny, poignant, heartbreaking book about life, best friends, growing up and moving on.

There is something truly beautiful and painfully relatable as we watch George come to terms with the fact that his best friend and confidant since the incident, isn’t going to be around forever. His determination to make every moment count and ensure Gizmo lives the life he has left to the full are life lessons for us all.

George’s relationships at school are a struggle, and it is difficult to accept the way he is treated. I was really pleased to see people step up, with a gentle reminder that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness.

Ben has a way of taking serious subjects, adding his sharp humour and weaving them together to create stories that entertain, connect you with the characters and give you lots to think about. Tackling serious issues; death, family break-up, anxiety, bullying, poverty, and child careers, What’s That In Dog Years is a great read for empathy, and anyone in need of a jolly good cry (but you’ll laugh a lot too!)

Julia Christians’ warm, humorous illustrations pepper the pages, helping to bring the characters and settings to life.

Great for fans of The Dog Who Saved The World by Ross Welford, Charlie And Me by Mark Lowery, Just Jack by Kate Scott and D-Day Dog by Tom Palmer.

Otto Tattercoat And The Forest Of Lost Things

by Matilda Woods

Otto lives in the frozen city of Hodeldorf, where eternal winter has fallen. When his mother goes missing Otto vows to find her – joining forces with the Tattercoats, a gang of brave orphans. Now they must journey into a dark forest where witches lurk and sun dragons lie sleeping.

Sublime storytelling whisks you away to the dark depths of a fairytale world, with hints of Oliver and Grim. From the very first page it’s clear you are entering a town that is bitterly cold, both in temperature and temperament. Otto is quickly abandoned in his new home and falls fowl of the fastest thief in town. With nothing left, including his freedom, he manages to hold onto hope.

The townsfolk treat the Tattercoats with the same disgust as rats, leaving them to fend for themselves in the never-ending winter that has descended. Their tenacity and teamwork, and rules and respect for others mean that although their lives are incredibly hard, they have riches beyond the people who shun them. Once Otto realises this, he forms friendships as strong as family bonds as he attempts to regain what he’s lost.

The stories the Tattercoats listen to at night are as magical as any fairytale and enlightening as any creation tale, especially after the children enter the forest. Matilda Woods has, once again, written a book that reads like a timeless tale. An absolute delight from beginning to end.

Great for fans of The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson, Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone and The Girl Of Ink And Stars by Kiran Millwood-Hargrave

Pie In The Sky

by Remy Lai

A cup of humour, two of heart and a whole lot of cake are mixed together to create a poignant, moving tale of emigration, loneliness and grief.

Jingwen feels like an alien as he struggles to adapt to his new life in Australia – English is incredibly hard to learn and that means making friends is hard. He understands enough to know that the children in his class think he’s slow. His younger brother and his mum don’t seem to be finding the adjustment as difficult as he is, and Yanghao picks up the language much faster than he does, adding to his frustration.

What’s worse though, is that the move was his father’s dream, and he’s the one person who isn’t there. Jingwen spends his nights making the cakes his father planned to bake to connect him to his old life, as we slowly discover why they’ve moved to a new country without him.

The fusion of prose and graphic novel works brilliantly to emphasise the emotions the characters are going through, and just how hard a school day is for a child with little understanding of the language they are being taught in. By writing spoken English in Alien, we experience the same lack of comprehension as Jingwen. Coupled with the memories of his father, and the heartbreaking emotions he is going through and his mother’s inability to even talk about Papa, it is all too easy to understand the (sometimes dreadful) decisions he makes.

I thoroughly enjoyed this thought-provoking read, reminding me how difficult school is for newly arrived children, especially when they can’t express their worries, and that even if only for the time you are baking and eating it, cake really does make life better.

A brilliant read for empathy, and one that should be in every school.

Great for fans of Raina Telegaimer and Jerry Craft.

About this month's reviewer

Nicki Cleveland is School Librarian (and Higher Level Teaching Assistant) at Cannon Park Primary School and made the School Librarian Of The Year Honour List In 2018. Despite having only 3.5 dedicated hours in the library and a limited budget, she has revolutionised the way the teaching staff at Cannon Park Primary think about Reading for Pleasure; due to working in close partnership with the staff around her, it is now at the forefront of the school’s ethos. She blogs at www.missclevelandsreading.com and tweets as @MissNCleveland.