Jess Butterworth


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Part two of our wonderful Quality Fiction long list. Books to make you go ‘ooooh’.

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Clara’s lives in a crumbling old house with her cold uncle whose rules dictate every aspect of her life. When he abandons her, she is determined to enjoy her freedom. Then Peter turns up with his cat, Stockwell, and together it seems as if they will manage quite nicely. But the house is for sale and it seems as if Uncle has been lying about everything.

Set in the 70s, with no technology to interfere with the plot, ‘The Secret Starling’ is full of charm whilst offering a romping adventure. It offers something completely different with plenty to recommend it as a class text. Beautifully written, the story is compelling and full of intrigue and there are many points which lend themselves to writing opportunities in a variety of genres and for a range of purposes. The rich language makes the text perfect for discussing and enjoying, with wonderful descriptions and well formed characters. Wonderful stuff!

The Secret Starling- Judith Eagle, illustrated by Kim Geyer

Faber and Faber ISBN: 978-0571346301


This beautiful book is a treasure trove of stories from around the world and through the ages about the stars in the sky above us. Familiar tales sit alongside less well known stories, each linked to a different constellations. Some stories could be used as part of work in a particular area of the curriculum- Greece, Egypt or science work on the earth and space.

These fascinating myths are brilliantly retold by a master story teller. The lyrical language is perfect for encouraging oral re-tellings, developing vocabulary before children develop their own versions of these stories or creating their own. The illustrations are stunning, richly coloured and beautiful. The whole book is a joy!

Star Stories- Anita Ganeri, illustrated by Andy Wilx

Templar ISBN: 978-1787410305


Twelve-year-old Eliza and her sister, Avery, have lived their whole lives in a small fishing village on the coast of Louisiana, surrounded by nature. However, the sea levels are rising and the home they love is at risk. Determined to save it, the sisters search the swamps for the legendary loup-garou, in the hope that its discovery will force the government to protect the land. With a tropical storm looming, more than their home might be at risk...

A gripping adventure, ‘Swimming Against the Storm’ offers a clear message about protecting the environment which will resonate with children. Offering great potential for a wide range of writing opportunities, the setting is beautifully described, using a rich vocabulary. The unusual setting of the Louisiana swamps lends itself to discovering a contrasting location and the message about individuals fighting for what they believe in and taking action to cause change is a powerful one.

Swimming Against the Storm - Jess Butterworth, illustrated by Rob Biddulph

Orion Children’s ISBN: 978-1510105485


Jack lives with his aunt who struggles with some of his behaviour. Finally at the end of her tether, she sends him off with his Uncle Edmund on an expedition to India, searching for botanical specimens. Once off on their adventure, they are faced with setbacks and danger and it soon becomes obvious that there is a traitor in their camp who is sabotaging supplies and alienating local people. Will they succeed in locating the hidden valley and the rare blue rhododendron?

This is a pacey, exciting story perfect for using with KS2 children, offering plenty to discuss. Although it could be used as a focus text in its own right, it could also form part of work linked to classification or adaptation in science. It would also work very well with work on explorers. The story also lends itself to discussions about some of the moral issues connected with exploration and ‘discovery’. Fabulous writing combined with clever plotting makes this a fabulous read!

Jack Fortune and the Search for the Hidden Valley- Sue Purkiss

Alma Books ISBN: 978-1846884283

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Living with her grandparents at Pages and Co, their bookshop, Tilly is an ardent book lover. With few friends, she takes comfort from escaping into fictional worlds and she is looking forward to the long summer holidays where she can lose herself in books each day. But when she starts seeing characters from her favourite books in real life, Tilly realises that she can wander into stories. However, there are dangers and Tilly and her new friend, Oskar, have to face challenges if they are to solve a mystery from Tilly’s past.

A magical book full of surprises, ‘Tilly and the Bookwanderers’ is a delightful story. Its links with other stories, the joy of ‘book wandering’ and the possibilities it holds make this an excellent choice as a key text. The quality of the writing and the use of vocabulary offer a wonderful example of story building. Plenty of writing, art and drama could come from using this text and the story is both engaging and satisfying. A gem of a book!

Pages and Co: Tilly and the Book Wanderers- Anna James, illustrated by Paola Escobar

Harper Collins ISBN: 978-0008229863

You can read another review here.


The empty chair at the back of the class is filled one day by Ahmet, a refugee from Syria. A group of children in his new class seek to make him feel welcome and become his friends. As they learn his story and try to help him, they make the world sit up and take notice.

This is a powerful, moving story, perfect for using in upper KS2. It brings attention to the plight of refugees, particularly children straight into the classroom in an immediately accessible way. A perfect quality text for using with a class, the book lends itself to plenty of writing opportunities, developing empathy through discussion and taking action and challenging prejudice. A stunning piece of writing!

The Boy at the Back of the Class Onjali Q Rauf, illustrated by Pippa Curnick

Orion Children’s ISBN: 978-1510105010

You can read another review here.

Jess Butterworth


This week, four of our schools were lucky enough to have a visit from the very inspiring Jess Butterworth. Last year, Jess came to talk to us about her debut novel, ‘Running on the Roof of the World’ so we were delighted when she agreed to come back and tell us all about her latest book, ‘Swimming Against the Storm’.


Set in a small fishing village on the coast of Louisiana, ‘Swimming against the Storm’ is the story of twelve-year-old Eliza and her family. Eliza enjoys a wonderfully close relationship with her younger sister, Avery, and together they explore the unique, fascinating wetlands that surround their home. However, the water levels are rising, threatening their home and their way of life. Determined to save the place they love so well, the girls launch a search for the legendary ‘loup-garou’ , sure that if they can prove it exists the government will take steps to save their home. When Avery goes missing in the swamps and a storm rushes in, Eliza has more to save than she ever expected.


Full of evocative images, ‘Swimming Against the Storm’ beautifully captures a young girl’s passion for the world she knows and the lifestyle she loves. The unpredictable weather, the dangers of the wildlife, the threats posed by the rising water levels- all these things are captured in this exciting adventure story.

With strong environmental themes, warm relationships and excitement a-plenty, ‘Swimming Against the Storm’ is, quite simply, a brilliant read.


Jess spoke about the amazing experiences she has had growing up which have inspired her writing and the children- and adults- were completely fascinated. She was so inspiring, offering some really useful writing tips and suggestions. The children asked so many questions which Jess answered with great patience! She read a section from ‘Swimming Against the Storm’, using props to help bring the story to life.


The other schools Jess visited were every bit as impressed as we were. Here are some of the comments I’ve had:

I just wanted to say how wonderful the response was from my year 5/6 colleagues after Jess Butterworth's visit yesterday morning. In particular, they said the students had been really inspired by Jess talking about the drafting and editing process and were desperate to write their own stories after the visit. Thank you so much

She (Jess) has inspired them (the children) … we spent a lot of time talking about her stories…

The feedback from Jess’s visit was so positive. The children were really engaged and loved it…

My class were so excited to hear her speak and thought she was wonderful. They were so excited to meet the author of ‘When the Mountains Roared’ and hear about what inspired her to write it…

One of my class simply said, ‘She’s lovely, isn’t she?’ which I think says it all!

Many thanks to Jess for coming to see us again and to Dom for coming too. Thank you to Alistair from Books on the Hill for arranging book sales for us again.

Swimming Against the Storm Jess Butterworth, illustrated by Rob Biddulph

Orion ISBN: 978-1510105485

You can read out review of ‘Running on the Roof of the World’ here.

Another year over...


What a book-filled year this has been! In many ways, it has not been the easiest; however, there is always so much to be thankful for.


We have read many marvellous books this year. Creating our long list was really challenging; whittling it down to the short list even more so, but we ended up with an amazing group of books. 


Twitter if full of people's lists of 2017 favourite books and I agree with many of the choices that are out there. I have read so many books that I have enjoyed- far more than I have time to review- enabling me to recommend and share with colleagues and children. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to tell us when they have found our reviews useful- particularly those in education who we hope we are supporting with our awards. Please continue to get in touch and let us know if you have any ideas!

SO -favourites of 2017! Where do I begin..?


Mr Penguin and the Lost Treasure by Alex T Smith. I absolutely adored this one. Expect to hear a lot more about this in the new year as it is one of our current teacher reading group titles and will be discussed in January!


This is NOT the Zoo for You by Ross Collins. This has had such an excellent response from children I have shared it with. You can read our review here.

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Grumpy Frog by Ed Vere- I am married to the original! You can read our review here.

The Great Gran Plan by Elli Woollard and Steven Lenton.  A review of this treasure will be coming soon! Such a great book to engage children with story and illustration.


So gorgeous! Origami, Poems and Pictures from The British Museum. You can read about our attempts at origami here.


Best book of the year. If you haven't read it, why not? You can read our review here   and find out about my trip to Heligan here.


I know I shouldn't just choose our winners, but I love this book. It's humour- and the importance of its message- make it a real hit! You can read our review here.

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Such a beautiful book- both in words and illustrations. A Story Like the Wind by Gill Lewis, illustrated by Jo Weaver. You can read our review here.

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Running on the Roof of the World by Jess Butterworth. Such a gripping story. You can read about the book and the launch here.

Cell 7 by Kerry Drewery, follow up to Day 7, is a great read for older children. 

That's 10- but there are so many more I could add- the whole of our long list for starters! I have read well over 300 books this year and so many have been really enjoyable for a whole range of reasons. For this list, I tried to pick things that other people haven't mentioned, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy theirs too!  Some of the books I have read and loved recently belong to next year- we are already gathering titles for next year's awards.

All at NSTBA wish everyone a fantastic, bookish, safe and happy 2018. 

Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.