David Wyatt


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Choosing a Quality text is a real joy- and something which needs to be done with the greatest care. Whether linking to another curriculum area- like history or science- or for an English focus, to use for guided reading or as a whole class text, it is so important to select something with lots of appeal and which lends itself to being explored as well as enjoyed. Here are our choices for this year!


When his father, a fisherman, dies, Jabir is left in charge of his mother and his three sisters. When their landlord threatens to evict them, Jabir must find work so he heads for Baghdad, the most fascinating city in the world.

However, Jabir is thrown into prison for stealing food and things look desperate for him. Fortunately, Jabir’s talent for whittling toys means he is rescued by a clockmaker who needs him to carve twelve golden horsemen to decorate a water clock for Caliph Harun Al-Raschid. But someone seems determined to prevent Jabir from completing his task and he and Yasmina, daughter of the clock maker, have to seek help from his mother’s people who live in the desert. Will the clock be finished in time?

Not only is this an amazing adventure story with a pacey plot and excellent characters, but it is perfect for supporting the History curriculum at KS2-’a non-European society that provides contrasts with British history… early Islamic civilization, including a study of Baghdad c. AD 900’. The book is richly detailed and offers much information about Baghdad and life at this time as the fabric of the story, making in invaluable for those choosing to teach this period. The quality of writing, its historical setting and the compelling nature of the story make it an excellent text for using as a focus both both history and English, bringing the period alive and offering many opportunities for drama, writing in a range of genres and contexts, exploring vocabulary and offering a challenging read. It’s length also makes it a very achievable read. This is the type of book that makes me itch to start planning! Fabulous!

The Golden Horsemen of Baghdad Saviour Pirotta

Bloomsbury ISBN: 978-1472955999


Living in the settlement of Kilsgard with her mother, uncle, baby brother and pet wolf, Fenrir, Alva misses her father who is away a-viking. They miss him deeply but her uncle, Magnus, like her father, encourages Alva to read the runes, be inquisitive and explore the world around her. The arrival of men from England searching for treasure disturbs the community’s peace and when one of them is kidnapped, Alva investigates with her uncle.

Perfect for using as a focus text when studying the Vikings, ‘Riddle of the Runes’ is a satisfying adventure story with plenty of mystery to solve alongside Alva as she embarks on her quest. It is full of detail about life in Viking times, customs, traditions and beliefs as well as daily life. The inclusion of runes and a glossary at the end are a great addition to the book. Full of atmospheric illustrations, the beautifully written text offers many opportunities for writing in different genres as well as plenty of chances for drama, art and craft work. Further adventures for Alva are an added bonus!

Riddle of the Runes Janina Ramirez, illustrated by David Wyatt

OUP ISBN: 978-0192766335

You can read another review of this here.

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Sorrell Fallowfield always follows the rules until the day she finds a mysterious packet of ‘Surprising Seeds’ buried under a tree in her back garden. Her mother is often exhausted from working long, boring hours in the freezer factory -the only real employer in their town and Sorrell is desperate to win The Most Obedient Child of the School. When the school playing field- the only bit of green they have- is going to be replaced by a concrete exam hall, not everyone is happy and in spite of her desire to be a good girl, Sorrell develops an uncontrollable urge to plant the Surprising Seeds. And then flowers start to grow from the top of her head…

With its strong environmental message, this book is also full of humour and originality. It considers the importance of taking a stand for what you believe in and celebrating those who have taken action previously. It would be perfect for linking to science work on plants or about caring for the environment and lends itself to writing across the curriculum and debating important issues. It could also be the inspiration for lots of art work or perhaps developing the school’s garden or nature area- enjoying the beauty of green spaces and valuing them, their benefits to our mental well being- all so important. The book is an absolute joy to read!

Bloom Nicola Skinner, illustrated by Flavia Sorrentino

Harper Collins ISBN: 978-0008297381


Shy Pet’s life revolves around her family and the lighthouse which they call home. She loves listening to the legend of the Daughters of Stone which stand on the cliff top and the mysterious Wyrm which lurks beneath the surface of the sea.

When war starts, her life is turned upside down as the coast and the lighthouse becomes a target for air raids. The villagers become suspicious of Pet’s German born mother and neighbours they have known all their lives turn against them. Mutti is sent to an internment camp where the threat of execution for those seen to be traitors hangs over her. As her father and sister start to act suspiciously and everyone seems to be hiding secrets, Pet must draw on all her strength and resources to save her family.

Full of historical detail- much of which is not usually taught in schools, ‘Our Castle By the Sea’ is a beautifully written, compelling adventure story with a mystery to solve. Offering plenty of opportunity for discussing prejudice and intolerance as well as empathy and loyalty, the book also highlights the importance of family. Valuing traditional tales and legends also provides a rich vein to explore with a class. Although the story is set against the backdrop of WWII and is full of historical detail, it is a perfect quality text for use without being part of a history focused topic. Excellent!

Our Castle By the Sea Lucy Strange

Chicken House ISBN: 978-1911077831

You can read another review here


Aya is an asylum seeker from Syria, living in Manchester with her mother and baby brother. A talented ballet dancer, she fears that has all been left behind her in the cold, unfamiliar world she has found herself in where she must care for her mother and brother. However, she is drawn to a ballet class in the community centre whilst they are waiting to see their case worker and her talent is recognised by the dance teacher. The potential to gain a ballet scholarship gives her hope for the future, but her family must fight to be allowed to stay in the country- and to try to find Aya’s father.

Beautiful, powerful writing encouraging empathy and compassion, ‘No Ballet Shoes in Syria’ would make an excellent quality text for inspiring work in class. Offering plenty of opportunities for developing writing, drama and debating skills, using a rich vocabulary and adding the colour of dance and its ability to express emotion. It is a glorious read!

No Ballet Shoes in Syria Catherine Bruton

Nosy Crow ISBN: 978-1788004503

You can read another review here


The daily life of the new lighthouse keeper is explored in pictures and words in this glorious book. His solitary life changes when he is joined by his wife. Together, they save sailors from shipwreck, battle illness, have a baby and see a new light fitted to the lighthouse which means it will no longer be their home.

The author’s note at the end of the book includes additional details about a light house keeper’s job and how electric lights eventually made them redundant. The beautiful illustrations are full of charm and detail, making them the perfect starting point for writing, role play and art activities. Perfect for use with any age group, it is an exquisite book and offers a window to a life style that no longer exists. Research into the less idyllic aspects of this life style and mysteries connected with lighthouses (for example the Flannan Isles Lighthouse) could be investigated depending on the age of the children. A gorgeous book with much to recommend it!

Hello Lighthouse Sophie Blackall

Little, Brown Books ISBN: 978-0316362382

Wonderful books- each and every one- and the next six will be reviewed tomorrow!

The Five Realms...


The Bard is moving on as it is not safe for him to stay. Before leaving, he manages to gain an apprentice Bard- young Rue- who travels with him to the excitement of the Festival of Clarion. On the way, the Bard shares more of the legend of Podkin One-Ear. 

When Podkin finds the Gift of Dark Hollow and overhears a secret conversation, the rabbits hope to find Surestrike, the hammer of Applecross, another of the Twelve Gifts. Podkin, Paz- and Pook- set off on another adventure to try to defeat the Gorm. 

Every bit as good as the first, 'The Gift of Dark Hollow' is a beautifully told, exciting story. The reader's understanding of the characters and their connection to them is developed and the balance between the bard's story and the legend of Podkin is perfect. Rue is a wonderful new character- full of life and enthusiasm!

Throughout the book, there are the most amazing black and white drawings of scenes from the story. The detail is incredible, bringing the text to life with great skill- they are so atmospheric!

Kieran Larwood is a master story teller. One minute he pulls the reader into the thick of the action, feeling the terror of the rabbits- the next, gentle humour creeps in. I love his use of language- even some of the fighting seems poetic! I cannot wait for book three and am feeling the need to read both Podkin and this one again to fill the gap!

Highly recommended for those who like something to get their teeth into! 

The Gift of Dark Hollow by Kieran Larwood, illustrated by David Wyatt 

Cover illustration by Fernando Lopez Juarez

Faber and Faber   ISBN: 978-0571328413

You can read a review of Podkin One-Ear here

You can read our longlist review of Podkin One-Ear here.



I was expecting something along the lines of 'Watership Down', but after a few pages, I almost forgot that the characters in the story were rabbits, so convincingly were they described and developed.

The tale opens with some beautiful description, which could be exploited for work on ‘settings’. The repetition of ‘Crunch, crunch, crunch’ links the opening scenes depicting a happy rabbit community, which lull the reader into believing that the story is going to be peaceful and happy. However, into this peace steps the Bard and he is soon gripping the imagination of the rabbits of Thornwood with his tale of hero Podkin One-Ear, the son of a rabbit chief. He and his feisty sister Faz, along with their little brother Pook, have to escape the powerful Gorm, who rise up from below. The Bard’s story charts their thrilling journey and their efforts to conquer the Gorm.

Podkin himself is charmingly developed, starting out as a lazy ‘boy’ who is certainly outdone by his clever and resourceful sister. Indeed, I wanted her to be the main character as she could have been a great symbol of girl power! However, Podkin gradually takes on responsibilities and becomes the son who would have made his father proud. The enemy ‘Gorm’ are scary; there are some fairly graphic scenes and the pace of the action keeps the reader hooked right to the end.

I enjoyed the story within a story and wanted to get to the end of the book to check that Podkin was victorious and able to rescue the ‘goodies’. I would read it to upper KS2 classes, but not younger children because some of the scenes could frighten them. There is plenty of scope for discussion of novel types; journey, good v. evil, quest, goals and also discussion around comparison with well known titles such as The Hobbit and Watership Down.

Podkin One-Ear by Kieran Larwood, illustrated by David Wyatt

Faber and Faber   ISBN: 978-0571328406


You can read another review of Podkin here.