Book Spines at a site for book reviews and reading ideas for children
The Book Gnome
The Book Gnome, a site for book reviews and reading ideas for children

Giraffes Ruin Everything by Heidi Schultz - April 2017

Many people don't realize that giraffes ruin everything like birthday parties, going to the movies, playing in the park, Hide and Seek and Everything Else. "A giraffe will eat the ice cream right off your cone from half a block away," with its long spotted neck according to the boy narrator.

Giraffes aren't being mean, in fact, they just want to be good friends, helpful and appreciated. They really cannot help always being in the way.

The tables are turned when the boy is accused of being in the way and the giraffe demonstrates that he is a real friend.

The book reminds us that friends come in all shapes and sizes, and with understanding, friendship is rewarding even with a lanky, spotted friend who tests your patience. It is funny, mischievous and entertaining. It delivers aheartwarming message with engaging illustrations. Ideal for 5 to 7 years olds.

Gangsta Granny by David Walliams - March 2017

Ben's Granny has white hair, false teeth and tucks tissues up her sleeve, like most other grannies but she is not like other grannies. The thing is that Ben's granny is an international jewel thief.

At first, Ben does not know this about his gangsta granny and finds visiting her each Friday night, very tiresome and boring.

When he does find out, he discovers something even more amazing. His gangsta granny is planning her greatest jewel heist ever - stealing the crown jewels from the Tower of London. Friday nights with Granny suddenly become the most exciting part of Ben's week, and he cannot wait for them to come around.

Ben's ballroom dancing obsessed parents, his Granny's nosy neighbour and their attempts to steal the crown jewels make for an entertaining and amusing story. However, the book is not only funny, but thoughtful, reflecting on parents expectations and relationships between grandparents and grandchildren.

This Book Just Ate My Dog by Richard Byrne - February 2017

A little girl Bella takes her dog for a walk when it disappears. This may seem like an ordinary tale but it is not, but quite the opposite. Bella actually takes her dog for a walk across the page of a book and it is during this walk, that the dog disappears into the book. Yes, the book captures her dog.

Bella goes through a range of emotions from surprise to shock, and then hope when the authorities arrive to help her. She, her friend Ben, and the authorities agree that the book is dangerous but no-one can help. Then matters go from bad to worse when Bella heads towards the dangerous centre of the book, and she disappears too.

The book has eaten its characters and all is lost, unless maybe the reader can help. A note appears, from Bella, asking the reader to intervene and save the day.

A wonderfully creative story that will delight its readers.

How Machines Work by David Macaulay - January 2017

How Machines Work won the Royal Society's young people's prize for 2016. The Society promotes science books for children.

Seventy-five panels of children's judges across the UK picked the winner from a short list of six books. Feedback from the children on the winner was extremely positive.

It is the story of a clever and intelligent sloth who makes and invents endlessly to achieve his goals and outwit the keeper. He builds levers and bridges using cogs and pulleys, in fact, each page explains how he solves a problem using the the principles of engineering and mechanics.

The book uses pullouts and pop-ups to demonstrate the principles used in each problem. It makes what is an applied science lesson, seem like entertainment. It is what the teaching of science should be - fascinating and fun, as well as educational.

Quit Calling Me a Monster by Jory John - December 2016

Floyd angrily resents being seen as a stereotype, and trys to prove to readers that he is not monstrous. "Quit calling me a monster! Just ... stop it, right this minute!", screams the immaculately dressed, wildly hairy monster.

However, the problem is that Floyd has a "huge, toothy smile that glows in the dark", "crazy hair" and "wild eyes" so looks just like a monster, and cannot shake the label.

The monster fails miserably to make his point so decides on a different approach. Accepting that it looks like and is a monster, it starts to introduce itself using a name that sounds like someone ordinary and likeable - "My name is Floyd, Floyd Peterson" - to show that he is more than shaggy purple fur and pointy monster teeth.

The funny story, expressive illustrations and endearing protagonist, show how it feels to be different.

My Brother is a Superhero by David Solomons - November 2016

The book follows Luke, who because of a five minute trip to the loo, loses out on the the chance to receive superpowers from a powerful alien, along with every superheroes dream, a mission to save the universe.

Luke, a comic-mad eleven-year old, shares a treehouse with his older brother, Zack, who knows nothing about superheroes, has no interest in superheroes, and has never read a comic. All Zack is interested in, is doing his homework and some girl at school, so Luke is angry and jealous when his brother receives superpowers instead of him.

Everything changes when Zack is kidnapped 5 days before his most important mission. Luke and two of his friends are left to rescue his brother, in order that he can save the world.

David Solomons won Children's Book of the Year 2016 for his debut children's novel, and rightly so. The book is exciting and funny, and will appeal to a wide range of readers and ages.

No, No, Gnome! by Ashlyn Anstee

It's time to harvest the school's garden, and Gnome cannot wait. Everyone has a responsibility, even Gnome, but because he is so eager and excited he keeps getting things wrong, and whenever he does, the other students shout in unison "No, no, Gnome!".

It actually seems that no matter what job Gnome is given, even watering or collecting clippings, he can't seem to last without doing something wrong, so is eventually sent back to the classroom and the harvest is postponed.

When Gnome finally realises how much he has upset his schoolmates, he sets out to make amends. The next day, they are excited to discover that Gnome has tidied up, and their garden is beautiful again. This time they shout, "Oh, oh, Gnome!", and can happily bring in the harvest together.

The story is clever and charming, and supported by illustrations that are full of life and colour. It is bound to become a favourite of any child, and will encourage a love of books and reading.

Listen to the Moon by Michael Morpurgo

Listen to the Moon brings together many of Michael Morpurgo's favourite themes which readers of his other books like Kensuke's Kingdom and War Horse, will know all too well.

The action is set on the Scilly Isles during the first world war. Alfie Wheatcroft and his parents, Jim and Mary, live on the island of Bryher, fishing and farming to survive. One day Alfie skips school to go fishing with his father. Together they go to an uninhabited island and discover a girl on the island. The girl is in very poor shape. She is injured, and nearly dead from starvation, so they take her back to their island, Bryher.

The girl is at the centre of the story as the family tries to find out how she came to be stranded on one of the Scilly Isles. When she won't speak, the working of a small community and the paranoia of the war, the intrigue of the islanders turns to suspicion.

Michael Morpurgo is a skilled story teller, and like his other books, this one is a rewarding read.

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar

While her friends are enjoying the summer holiday socialising and going out, Carol accompanies her parents to the New Mexico desert to help them move the mentally ill grandfather that she does not know, from his deserted ranch into home for people with dementia.

Bees seem to be following Carol around, but the drought means this is impossible. She must be imagining things. In addition, she struggles with the suffocating heat and her grandfather's illness, but as time passes, she becomes intrigued by the tales he tells. She is captivated by his fantastical stories of a a healing tree, a green-glass lake, and the bees that will bring back the rain and end a hundred years of drought.

Carol sees something special in what her parents call Serge's madness. His stories make her reconsider her roots and her view of her family.

The novel is a wonderul coming-of-age story, as 12-year-old Carol tries to understand herself and her world. It is a skilfully written book, ideal for readers of 11 and over.

Beetle Boy by MG Leonard (7 to 10)

Dr Bartholomew Cuttle, the director of science at the Natural History Museum, vanishes from the locked beetle vaults in mysterious circumstances. His only son Darkus vows to find him.

Darkus is forced to move in with his eccentric archaeologist uncle Max who leaves him to search for his father undisturbed helpedby two school friends, courageous Virginia and timid Bertolt.

However, the real hero is Baxter, a rhinoceros beetle, who Darkus rescues Baxter from the unpleasant cousins Pickering and Humphrey, who live next door in a house infested with beetles. While Baxter does not speak, he is brave, kind and loyal.

When wealthy insect collector and fashion designer, Lucretia Cutter, becomes interested in the beetles, links emerge connecting her to the disappearance of Dr Cuttle.

There are fireflies, jewel beetles, blister beetles, a Goliath beetle and some dung beetles who aid Darkus in solving the crime. The books is funny, informative, orignal, and captivating, right from the outset.

Owl Bat Bat Owl by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

This wordless, picture book features two families whose paths rarely cross.

A mother owl and her three owlets are living happily on their branch when one night when they are trying to get some sleep, another family choose to make the same branch their home, a mother bat and her bat children.

Adult bats and adult owls know that owls and bats do not mix, even when sharing the same branch. The baby bat and the baby owl have no such knowledge, and make friends much to the consternation of the adults. Then a stormy night disrupts the families shared home forcing them to think about the meaning of difference and acceptance.

The illustrations in this book are exceptional especially the expressions of the characters, which the author-atist uses to tell the story. It is an extremely joyful book abounding with humour and charm that will be willingly read again and again.

We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen (2+)

This book is the final book in Jon Klassen's very popular prize winning hat trilogy. The two prior books in the series are I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat.

Two turtles find a large white hat in the desert ("We found a hat. We found it together") and each try it on thinking it looks good on them although the reader is likely to think otherwise. They both want the hat but there are two turtles and only one hat so ...

Klassen tells the tale through the expressions and actions of his characters, cleverly portrayed with delightful illustrations. The book evokes sympathy, laughter, and surprise as the story works it way towards an unexpected twist before it concludes.

The book can be enjoyed on several levels. The story and illustrations are a delight in themselves that will charm both adults and children. If you want more, the stories are about justice illustrating that it means different things to different people and is not always easy to achieve.

Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat

From Caldecott medal-winner Dan Santat comes a mind-bending twist on the bored car-journey plea, Are We There Yet?. The journey to Grandma's takes so long that time is reversing - locomotives, dinosaurs and ancient civilisations appear outside the windows, and even the passengers are subtly changing. Unashamedly clever and challenging, it's a dazzling display of a picture-book's capabilities.

Imogen Russell Williams

Home in the Rain by Bob Graham

Home in the Rain by Bob Graham is a remarkable story from another master of picture book art. Graham thrusts us straight into the downpour. The first page shows a little red car in a grey deluge with the simple exclamation: "Didn't it rain!" The story involves the plight of a baby rabbit diving for cover, a drenched field mouse and - wonderful idea - a kestrel, 300ft up, who has lost sight of its prey. Graham has the confidence and talent to tell his sodden adventure like it is, even down to the state of the family car with "two stale toffees found under old parking tickets in the door". Young and old readers will be spellbound throughout this torrential tale.

Kate Kellaway


Sexism in publishing: 'My novel wasn't the problem, it was me, Catherine'

Author reveals that submitting her manuscript to agents under a male pseudonym brought more than eight times the number of responses.

'They had issues': Sally Wainwright and Tracy Chevalier discuss the Brontës

Sally Wainwright's new drama To Walk Invisible offers a radical new take on the Brontës. She talks to novelist Tracy Chevalier about the siblings' extraordinary lives.

The 10 Best Books of 2016

The year's best books, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review. 1 December 2016.

Charlotte Brontë, the filthy bitch

Enough of the Brontë industry's veneration of coffins, bonnets and TB. It is time to exhume the real Charlotte - filthy bitch, grandmother of chick-lit, and friend.

Beryl Bainbridge was nice as well as naughty - and a brilliant novelist

The fictions of Beryl Bainbridge's life were as important to her as the facts. As a novelist, she knew the dramatic exigencies of telling a tale.

Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë for A level English Literature essays and coursework.

Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald for A level English Literature essays and coursework.

Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote for A level English Literature essays and coursework.

Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on A Streetcar named Desire by Tennessee Williams for A level English Literature essays and coursework.

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