Lucy Strange


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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!

Our Castle By the Sea


Told through the eyes of Pet, the youngest member of the family who live in the lighthouse, ‘Our Castle by the Sea’ is an exciting adventure story set during the Second World War.

Petra’s world- filled with her German born mother, her father, her older sister, Mags, and the lighthouse- has been full of love, laughter and stories of the sea. The outbreak of war brings this to an end as their home becomes threatened, her mother is interned and her father and sister start to behave strangely. Everyone seems to have secrets and as things go from bad to worse, Pet has to find the courage to save her family.

Beautifully written, this compelling story is a real pleasure to read. The internment of civilians born in Germany, Austria and Italy is not something often talked about in primary schools, but it is a very real part of our history. Neighbours turned on those who had previously been part of their community as patriotism turned quickly to bigotry and the reader shares Pet’s confusion and horror as this happens to her own mother and others in her village. This suspicion of and lack of tolerance for others sadly has become a very current issue and the story allows for empathy for those in this position to be developed and for discussions about the senselessness of prejudice. Many of those who were settled in England before the war did so to escape persecution and injustice; people migrate for all manner of reasons and have always done so.

The story also highlights the very best in people- the lengths people will go to to protect those that they love, the sacrifices that they will make to ensure their safety, even when this is misguided. Pet feels increasingly isolated as her family try to protect her from what is happening and she shows great resilience and bravery as she solves things herself. Even when no one believes her and she feels truly alone, her courage doesn’t fail.

The legend of the Daughters of the Stone is cleverly woven through the story, adding to Pet’s deep sense of connection to her home and the place she loves. The stones are her ‘rock’, her connection to her father and the stories he used to tell and add a fantasy element to the book.

There is so much potential for using this book in school. As well as lending itself to lots of role play, discussion, writing and pleasure, the story is full of historical detail. Lighthouses being painted, various government acts, rationing, gas masks, evacuation, bombings all form part of the background to this exciting adventure packed with excellent characters. It offers the chance for a different approach to learning about this period of history and about excellent writing!

‘A Castle by the Sea’ is highly recommended and will be suggested as one of our teacher book group reads this term. It really is fantastic stuff!

Our Castle By the Sea Lucy Strange

Chicken House ISBN: 978-1911077831

You can read our review of ‘The Secret of Nightingale Woods’ here.

Book Club Reading List for the Winter Term

At our last meeting, members of JAB decided to read Lucy Strange's 'The Secret of Nightingale Wood' and 'Over the Line' by Tom Palmer for discussing at our next get together in January. Both are excellent books, each offering something very different.

Here is a review of 'The Secrets of Nightingale Wood' by one member of our group. A review of 'Over the Line' will follow soon.

It is 1919, the Abbott family are broken. Something terrible has ripped them apart and they have moved from London to Hope House in the country -hoping this wooded location will bring them the ‘Fresh start’ that father has promised.

Things do not improve.

Mama is ill and the doctor who attends her frequently and exuberantly seems to have his own agenda and does not help her.Father leaves and ‘Henry’/Henrietta is left with the preoccupied Nanny Jane and baby ‘Piglet’, neither able to listen to Henry’s worries and the things she may have seen in the woods and in the shadows of Hope House.

Isolated in so many ways Henry, with only her stories and imagination for company, is drawn to the fire light she sees eerily flickering from her window into Nightingale Wood and what she finds there takes us on a moving, mystical adventure complete with wonderfully drawn fairytale like villains and saviours and a stirring message of hope against adversity.

If any book is perfect for bringing comfort on a cold,dark,damp evening, it is Lucy Strange’s debut novel ‘The Secret of Nightingale Wood’. Reading it is like sinking under a soft blanket of warm winter words.

The story is reassuringly ‘Classic’ in its narrative reminding the reader of  wonderful books such as the ‘Children of Green Knowe’ and ‘Henry’ the  heroine shares some of the exceptionally intelligent qualities of Sara Crewe in Hodgson Burnett’s ‘The Little Princess’ although, at the same time, ‘The Secret of Nightingale Wood’ is refreshingly modern.

The author explores with great compassion Post War Britain’s attitude to trauma, creating a world where every character is an embodiment of one or more of the stages of the grief process.Guilt, denial,all consuming sadness are all there battling in a society that lives under a ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality and the equally cruel ‘children should be seen and not heard’ ethos and Strange highlights how dangerous this was in her portrayal of the evil Doctor Hardy. However, as the story moves on, hope,time, love and acceptance are there too in the emergent changes in mental health treatment, the enigmatic character of ‘Moth’ and the childlike clarity of Henry who instinctively knows how to heal her family.

It is ‘Henry’ who makes this book so beautifully compelling.Her love for her family, her determination to mend what is broken, her bravery when she is suffering such enormous mental pain and the power of the stories she employs to cope with the frustrations, obstacles and trauma that has submerged her young life make her a heroine to be admired and much discussed.

‘The Secret of  Nightingale Wood’ with its cosy familiarity and its delicious spine tingling moments is a book that longs to be shared at winter storytimes.  I can’t wait to read it aloud!

The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange

Chicken House   ISBN: 978-1910655030