February Literature Review

Posted on: 01/02/2024

Written byPippa McGeoch

Senior Consultant

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We always say that books can be a window to the world for children but so too can they immerse readers in other worlds, times and places. Douglas Adams of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy fame wove together a plot of time-travel, friendship and humour that has (forgive the pun!) stood the test of time. Perhaps it’s the time-bending, physics-debunking improbable plot-line that engages the reader and creates such a cult/pop classic? Perhaps it’s the escapism and suspension of reality that the reader experiences? 

There are books set in a different historical time-period or those which transport the reader back in time where peace-seeking protagonists seek to set things ‘right’; on a better course. But can we change the course of history? Should we? And then there are books that present limitless possibilities. Books that are a beacon of hope and source of nourishment for young minds; plot-lines that invoke consideration of what might just be achieved if enough courage, resilience and ‘sticking power’ is applied to a situation.

This month, not only is our selection of texts themed around travel through time, space and place but so too are there themes of courage, resilience and hope. Whether it’s a rocket, the Timebender, a time travel App on a mobile phone or a motorised tuk-tuk that’s the means of transportation into other times, places or space, the end-result is the same for each of the characters: hope is renewed; bonds are forged and the realisation that rewriting history won’t fix all that feels wrong in the present, dawns. We must take all that’s wrong from the past and use the lessons to make the present fairer, even if that means accepting what we didn’t think we wanted.


Picture Book

Snail in Space by Rachel Bright and Nadia Shireen

(Simon and Schuster Children’s UK, 18th January 2024)

This is such a clever, executed with perfection collaboration between the brilliant Bright and Shireen. Gail is a snail (snailette, actually) but isn’t afraid to shoot for the moon. Some snails have instilled in them from birth: Don't dream too big. Don't make a sound. Keep that foot on solid ground. There’s perhaps good reason for the idiom ‘hiding in ones shell’ seeing as snails are generally quiet and unassuming. But Gail, well she isn’t afraid to go against the grain: she ‘zigs’ when others are ‘zagging’; she sets her stalks on stuff that’s BIG. She has an EPIC dream to chase; to be the first snailette… in space!

And so she does! Her dream is achieved and even when success is threatened through self-doubt and a dramatic fall from the ladder she’s scaling to climb-aboard the moon-bound rocket, she masters her fears. She sets aside the seeds of doubt planted by the other snails and picks herself up and does indeed become the first ever snailette in space.

This is such a rousing call to everyone to dream big with the most delightful illustrations, clever use of idiom and fabulous vocabulary that we think it would make a brilliant book for Reception and Year 1 children to support PSHE whilst linking in with themes of space. Would be a perfect companion text if using our Writing Roots for Look Up! by Nathan Bryan and/or Astro Girl by Ken Wilson-Max



Graphic Novel


Time Travelling Penguins Pablo and Splash by Sheena Dempsey

(Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 18th January 2024)

Splash is freezing cold and has decided that a holiday is much-needed; Pablo -happy with his lot but wanting to make Splash’s wish come true sets about coming up with a plan. And this plan is formulated through (80’s children will ‘get’ this reference) a Timmy Mallet ‘Mallet’s Mallet’-style game leading them to set off in search of scientists because surely they’ll know about sea-travel? Splash isn’t convinced: will the scientists speak Penguish or will the adventure-seeking penguin-pair need to communicate via ‘Penguin Charades’? After falling through an ice-hole that takes her deep into the earth, passing bones, fossils and all manner of other ancient artefacts, Splash’s rescue comes in the form of loyal Pablo and they shoot out the other end of their earthy flume, landing with a bump in a science lab. And it just so happens that the occupying scientist has invented a time-machine and is delighted that two ‘volunteers’ have magically appeared to test its powers…

What follows is a series of hilarious near-misses where the Timebender machine first plays the not at all hilarious prank of whizzing our protagonists towards the burning sun before following the orders to turn around. At last, the adventurers find themselves in what appears to be a holiday resort: white sand; azure seas and the (futile, it turns out) hope of a hotel, some deckchairs and a couple of mocktails… because mocktails haven’t yet been invented seeing as it’s the CRETACEOUS period they’ve travelled to.

The inception of characters Pablo and Splash came during lockdown 2020, where Dempsey created webcomic, Penguin Chronicles where the author and her husband appeared as penguins. This is the first graphic novel accomplished illustrator Dempsey has written and it’s brilliant! There’s a richness of vocabulary, humour, classic misunderstandings and penguin-related puns. But also at its core is the message that we sometimes need to sacrifice our own hopes and dreams in order to save someone else and sometimes all that we need, we already have at home.

If you're looking for a high quality, whimsical and extremely well-written graphic novel to add to your school library, book corners or give as a gift then this is perfect. We also think that this could be ideal for children who have entered lower key stage 2 lacking in confidence to read independently as the chapter format and physical size of the book has the feel of a traditional novel but the content within feels manageable. A triumph!



Time Travellers – Adventure Calling by Sufiya Ahmed, illustrated by Alessia Trunfio

(Little Tiger, 1st February 2024)

The first of what we hope will be many in this brand-new series from the brilliant Suffiya Ahmed, this is an important book not just in the sense that it explores 1911 London and the fight for suffrage but also for authentically voiced representation. Suhana Shah from Stratford is astonished when, by way of a hacked-phone-turned-portal, she and new-found friends Mia and Aayan find themselves transported back in time to the Edwardian era. She’s further astonished when she realises that brown-skinned people just like her were living in London all those years ago: not something of which she was aware.

The three children hail from the same school and each has been shortlisted in MP Sir Peter Frome’s annual Christmas card competition. Suhana’s thoughtful design that acknowledges the plight of refugees crossing seas in precarious boats bound together by the search for peace (represented by a dove) seems quite lost on head teacher Mr Hayes. Hayes is a deeply unpleasant character who seems to have taken a dislike to Suhana. Perhaps he’s battling his own demons but, nonetheless, some of his open disdain even shocks other adults in the text. Suhana is curious and clever but so lonely: she’s a looked-after child, currently being fostered and school should really be a place of safety and belonging for this plucky protagonist.

Can Suhana use the courage she garners from protesting with the like-minded women of 1911 to protest with Fridays for Future climate activists? Will the sense of belonging she experiences back in time translate to the modern day and her reality? And, separated from her new friends, will they all manage to make their 5pm deadline of connecting to the portal in order to return to 2024 and the rest of the prize-winners? Will Suhana really want to return to the future or will she use what she’s learned to make a difference?

Sufiya Ahmed has a background in advertising and worked in parliament before becoming a full-time author. In 2010, she established the BIBI Foundation, a non-profit organisation, to arrange visits to the Houses of Parliament for diverse and underprivileged school children. Time Travellers sends a clear message that chimes with the intent behind the BIBI foundation: protest is for all; parliament works for all and equality and belonging should be the status quo for all. Perfect for children in key stage 2 and particularly as a companion text to our Writing Root for Suffragette: The Battle for Equality by David Roberts.





Time Travelling with a Tortoise by Ross Welford

(Harper Collins Children’s Books, 4th January 2024)

Sometimes, bonny lad, not getting exactly what you want turns out to be the best luck of all. These words, spoken by Grandpa Byron on the penultimate page of this moving, yet humorous sequel to Time Travelling with a Hamster encapsulate one of the book’s core messages: rewriting history won’t fix all that feels wrong in the present.

Following a brilliant précis of book one in the prologue, the reader is taken back in time (several times, actually) as Al Chaudry, who initially travelled back in time in the first novel to save his father’s life, now needs to use this ‘power’ to erase the terrible accident that robs his beloved Grandpa of his ‘palace of memories’. Working with ex-stepsister (ex in this current dimension, it turns out!) he attempts to restart his dad’s time machine. Paulie Macfaddyan, bully, but apparently Al’s friend in this existence, has popped round to meet Alan Shearer, the time-travelling hamster from the eponymous book one. But things – as they are wont to do – go wrong and Alan’s little scuttling claws seem to reboot the time-machine. The result? Rodent plus the three human children find themselves in an uninhabited, prehistoric world. Why on earth is Paulie his friend? How will the trio escape this dimension when the time-machine’s battery is flat? And what is that with the pretty shell? Cue Tortellini - the tortoise that leads the children to break the golden-rule of time-travel: do not remove matter from one time-period into another. Al soon realises that meddling with something so big, so much bigger than ourselves can have an unprecedented impact on everything else.

With a moving and bittersweet ending, we see a character reach a state of acceptance. Just stunning and would be perfect for children in upper key stage 2, especially as a read-aloud book.

Posted in: Literature Review

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