2021 Read for Empathy Book Collection revealed …

Primary School Collection
Secondary School Collection

“Empathy is learnable – only 10% of our empathic ability is genetic. Scientists say that
reading builds empathy, and this collection will play a direct role in helping raise an
empathy-educated generation.” Miranda McKearney OBE, EmpathyLab’s founder

EmpathyLab have revealed the 2021 Read For Empathy book collection after an expert judging panel weighed up hundreds of publisher submissions to select 50 of the very best contemporary empathy-boosting books for 4-16 year olds.

The aim is for schools, libraries, families and community groups to use the books to help raise a generation with strong empathy skills. Free downloadable guides, with tips on how to use the books with children and young people in the home or learning settings, are available online for free at empathylab.uk/2021-read-for-empathy-collections. EmpathyLab’s work on the book collection is supported by specialist book suppliers Peters. Schools and libraries can order the books from them at peters.co.uk/empathy 2021.

The primary collection is for 4-11 year olds and consists of 30 books; the secondary collection features 20 books for 12-16 year olds. Many of the books help readers understand the lives of those experiencing tough situations, from witnessing domestic violence to becoming a refugee. Others gently explore everyday situations and emotions, like friendship problems. Several help readers understand the experience of living with autism. The ebullient range of creators, formats and genres helps expand children’s world view and understand others better.

The 2021 Read For Empathy book collection comes at a time when empathising with others has never been needed more. As the judges said, “We have an unprecedented chance to do things differently, building on the wave of community caring we’ve seen in the pandemic. This collection seizes that chance with both hands. The books will help children be their best selves; to think “we”, not “me”. Right now, what could be more important?”

EmpathyLab is a not-for-profit organisation whose aim is to harness the power of the word – of stories, graphic novels, non-fiction and poetry – to build a more empathetic generation. Each year EmpathyLab select a new contemporary Read for Empathy collection. They also deliver an annual Empathy Day to shine a light on this real life superpower. 2021’s Empathy Day is on 10 June.

Top Ten Tuesday

This is a weekly meme now hosted by That Artsy Girl Reader.  This week’s theme is New-to-Me Authors I Read in 2020. I read books by lots of authors last year who were new to me. I’ve decided to choose ten authors who were new to be who also have books due to be published later this year. I have noticed that some publication dates are changing, so some of the dates I’ve posted may change too.

L D Lapinski: I loved The Strangeworlds Travel Agency and am so excited that I have an e-ARC of The Edge of the Ocean via NetGalley. It is due to be released on 15th April.

Hilary McKay: I read both The Skylarks’ War and The Time of Green Magic last year and loved both of them. I’m really looking forward to The Swallows’ Flight which is due to be released on 27th May.

Elle McNicoll: A Kind of Spark absolutely blew me away last year, and Show us who you are is one of my most anticipated releases for this year. Luckily, I don’t have too long to wait as it is due to be released on 4th March.

Phil Hickes: I adored the wonderfully spooky The Haunting of Aveline Jones and am really looking forward to the next one, The Bewitching of Aveline Jones. I’m not sure when it will be released – hopefully by October, ready for Halloween!

Struan Murray: I listened to the audiobook of Orphans of the Tide last year which was just incredible with a twist I definitely didn’t see coming. I’m so glad I don’t have too long to wait until the sequel, Shipwreck Island which is due for release on 4th March.

M G Leonard and Sam Sedgman: This is such a fun adventure series that sees Hal solve mysteries as he travels with his uncle aboard some wonderful trains across different parts of the world. I loved The Highland Falcon Thief and Kidnap on the California Comet and am really looking forward to Murder on the Safari Star which is due for release on 4th February.

Katie & Kevin Tsang: If anyone has read Dragon Mountain, they will understand why I am desperate to read Dragon Legend! I’m so glad I have been approved to read an e-ARC on NetGalley, especially as the publication date for this one has changed and it is now due to be released on 29th April.

Maria Kuzniar: I really enjoyed The Ship of Shadows which is brimming with magic, excitement, danger, twists and revelations, but also with strong female characters, teamwork and friendship. I am so looking forward to the next book in the series, Secrets of the Stars which is due to be released on 8th July.

Sophie Kirtley: The Wild Way Home was one of my favourite reads last year. I loved the time travel element and how clever the writing was not to reveal the gender of Charlie. When putting this post together, I just happened to check if Sophie had another book due for release and was so excited to see that she does! The Way to Impossible Island is due to be released on 8th July.

Alix E. Harrow: The Once and Future Witches is the only adult book on my list. I absolutely devoured this over the Christmas holiday – such an incredible story! I will definitely be buying Alix’s next book, A Spindle Splintered which is due for release on 5th October.

What have been you top reads by authors new to you? Have you read any of these authors?

Review: The Shark Caller

The Shark Caller is a stunning and powerful story which wove its magic straight into my heart; an unforgettable tale set on the beautiful island of New Ireland in Papua New Guinea; a tale of two young girls from different worlds who find a bond of sisterhood that saves them both.  This is an incredibly moving story that left me in floods of tears, but it also left me filled with hope and reassurance.  An absolute masterpiece that I’m already confident will be one of my top reads of 2021! 

Blue Wing lives with her waspapi, Siringen, after the loss of her parents who were killed by a shark.  He is the village shark caller, a role that Blue Wing is desperate to step into.  Siringen refuses to train her in this magical calling as it is a traditional role passed on through the male lineage, and as he is worried that she is seeking the role for the wrong reason:  in a desperate need to assuage her anger and avenge the death of her parents by killing the shark who took them from her.  Siringen is wise, honest and clever and perhaps knows what is best for Blue Wing more than she does herself, even if she is not willing to accept this.

Both Blue Wing and Siringen have a wonderful affinity with the world they live in, respecting the natural environment and reluctant to let the modern world encroach on their idyll.  They want to keep the traditions of their people alive, despite the changing times.  However, change is forced upon them by the village chief who is intent on modernising the island and opening it up to the outside world.  He has demanded that Siringen look after visitors to the island:  an American professor who has come to study the coral and his daughter, Maple. 

It is no surprise that Blue Wing’s first meeting with Maple is difficult and that friendship does not come easily to the girls who do not seem, at first, to have anything in common.  This story doesn’t shy away from the complexity of emotions that are experienced by both girls as they suffer the pain of grief at the loss of loved ones.  Theirs is not an easy path, but they learn to travel it together as their friendship and trust in each other grows, and as they learn valuable lessons relating to forgiveness and acceptance.

As the girls’ friendship develops, they find themselves caught up in a compelling mystery to uncover the secrets that Maple’s grieving father is hiding, secrets that uncover their family’s history and reveal a longing to change the past …

Some stories have the power to speak to the very core of our being and to transcend time and place; I have found a peace and solace in this story which has helped me deal with my own personal grief.  I am in awe of the emotional depth of this story, of the honest and heartfelt portrayal of the relationship between these two young girls which captured my heart and, yes, broke it a little in order to heal it again.  I mean, how does a writer do that to a reader?  There is magic and power in storytelling and this story has been imbued with its own unique magic that makes it a truly special book, an exceptional story that deserves to be read by both children and adults alike.  As an avid reader of children’s books, I can honestly say that this is one of the best books I’ve ever read:  I really cannot recommend it highly enough!

Thank you to Fritha Lindqvist and Usborne for an e-ARC.  I have ordered a signed copy from the wonderful Rocketship Bookshop.

Six for Sunday

The January theme for Six for Sunday, hosted by A Little But a Lot is It’s all about booooooooooks and today’s prompt is for Books you’re excited for in 2021.  There are so many middle-grade books I’m excited for in 2021, and lots I will be excited for – as soon as I know they exist! I’m going to choose books being published from May onwards as I have posted a Blog Post for Anticipated Releases for February until April.

  1. I first saw Harklights mentioned on Twitter and was intrigued by it, so looked up the synopsis. It definitely sounds like the kind of book I will love! It is due to be released on 13th May and is published by Usborne.

Waterstones Synopsis:

Wick has always lived in the dark and dreadful Harklights Match Factory and Orphanage, working tirelessly for greedy Old Ma Bogey. He only dreams of escaping, until one day a bird drops something impossible and magical at his feet – a tiny baby in an acorn cradle… As midnight chimes, Wick is visited by the Hobs, miniature protectors of the forest. Grateful for the kindness shown to their stolen child, they offer Wick the chance of a lifetime – escape from Harklights and begin a new life with them in the wild… Winner of the Joan Aiken Future Classics Prize, Harklights is a magical story celebrating family, friendship and the natural world, filled with a message of hope for our times.

2. Skyborn by Sinead O’Hart. I have loved all of Sinead’s books: The Eye of the North, The Star-Spun Web and The Ravens’ Call, so I was ridiculously excited when she tweeted that she has a new book, Skyborn, due to be published on 10th June. It is set in a Travelling Circus and, I think, features a character from Eye of the North. Don’t know much else about it yet, but I know I definitely want to read it as soon as I can get my hands on a copy.

3. I adore Vashti Hardy’s writing and have devoured all her books: Brightstorm, Darkwhispers, WildSpark and The Griffin Gate, so I was very excited to discover that she has two books being released this year. Harley Hitch and the Iron Forest (illustrated by George Ermos) is due for release on 1st April, published by Scholastic, and I’ve already included it in my post for February-April Anticipated Releases. Her other book being released this year is Crowfall which is due for release on 1st July, also published by Scholastic.

Waterstones Synopsis:

More high adventure and invention with an ecological twist from the Blue Peter Award winning author of Wildspark and Brightstorm. Cast out from the clockwork island of Ironhold, where mechanical technology controls everything, Orin Crowfall finds himself adrift on a small boat in the middle of the ocean. As Orin and his robot friend Cody struggle to make sense of the events that brought them here, the one thing they know for sure is that Ironhold is in trouble. They need to get back, whatever the cost. Plagued by perilous seas and freak storms, and with a terrifying sea monster on their tail, Orin soon realises their journey won’t be easy. It will take courage and strength, trusting in new friends and embracing the spirit of adventure, if Orin wants to save his home.

4. I have adored all the Unmapped Chronicle series, so I’m really, really looking forward to The Crackledawn Dragon which is due for release on 10th June, published by Simon & Schuster Ltd .

Waterstones Synopsis:

Where the map ends, the adventure begins . . . 11-year-old Zebedee Bolt is on the run. Again. Only this time it’s not the police who find him. It’s an evil harpy called Morg. And when she hauls him into Crackledawn, an Unmapped kingdom that conjures sunlight for our world, Zeb discovers running away only gets you so far. When magic’s involved, you’ve got to pick a side. And though Zeb vowed he wouldn’t trust anyone ever again, he didn’t expect to stumble aboard The Kerfuffle, an enchanted boat belonging to a girl called Oonie and her talking chameleon, Mrs Fickletint. Suddenly, Zeb finds himself on a voyage complete with silver whales, fire krakens and underwater palaces. Can he muster up enough trust in others, and in magic, to summon a dragon, find the Ember Scroll and defeat Morg once and for all? This is a story about saving the world but it’s also a story about trusting friends, and chameleons, even when kingdoms are falling apart. 

5. Shadowghast – The Legends of Eerie-on-Sea. I have absolutely loved this series (Malamander and Gargantis) and am so looking forward to reading the third book, even though it is quite a wait, with publication not due until 2nd September, published by Walker Books.

Waterstones Synopsis:

A creepy magician with a shadowy act. A legend that goes back to the dawn of time. Eerie-on-Sea just got stranger. And darker… A mysterious stage magician has set up in the theatre at the end of the pier, with an act so hypnotic and strange that Herbie Lemon and his friend Violet Parma suspect dark forces are at work. Meanwhile, folk are disappearing from Eerie-on-Sea, and no one knows why. There is an Eerie legend that goes back to the dawn of time, about a creature made of darkness that devours the shadows of the living. But could the Shadowghast really have returned?

6. The Haunting of Aveline Jones was one of my favourite spooky reads in 2020, so I’m so looking forward to The Bewitching of Aveline Jones which is due to be released this year, but I’m not sure when. The author, on Twitter, described it as “Standing stones, crows, magic. How much more solsticey can you get?” and I’m so up for that!

What books are you looking forward to in 2021? Are there any that you’d recommend I read?

February-April Middle-Grade Anticipated Releases …

There are so many middle-grade books that I’m really looking forward to reading in 2021. A few of those on my list, I’ve been able to read an early copy of, but will be buying the physical copy as I love to be able to add books to my class library.

February Releases

I’ve been lucky enough to read an early copy of A Tangle of Spells and The Shark Caller which are both fantastic reads. I’ve also been approved to read an e-ARC of The Dragon and her Boy. Murder on the Safari Star is series I’m eager to continue. I’ve loved reading the Who Let the Gods Out? series by Maz Evans, so am really looking forward to her new book, Vi Spy Licence to Chill. I’ve chosen the others as I’ve seen them recommended by other authors and bloggers, and feel I will definitely enjoy them. I’m just about to start The Ocean Squid Explorers’ Club which I’m so excited to read as I loved the first three books in The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club.

March Releases

I was sent a sample of The Dog that Saved the World and was hooked, so am really looking forward to reading the complete book. I have been lucky enough to read an e-ARC of The Weather Weaver and really enjoyed it. I have an e-ARC of Mort the Meek and Dragon Legend, both of which I’m really looking forward to reading. The Magicians Map, Picklewitch & Jack and the Sea Wizard’s Secret, Dragon Legend, Starfell Willow Moss and the Vanishing Kingdom, The Storm Keepers’ Battle and Orphans of the Shipwreck Island are all books in series that I’ve loved, so I’m very excited to continue them. I absolutely loved Elle McNicholl’s A Kind of Spark last year, so am really excited to read her next book, Show Us Who You Are.

April Releases

I’ve been lucky enough to have e-ARCS or physical proof copies of Everyday Magic, The Strangeworlds Travel Agency The Edge of the Ocean, The Abbey Mystery and The Incredible Record Smashers, so I’ll be reading and posting my reviews before publication. Skin Taker and Agent Zaiba Investigates The Haunted House are both continuations of series I’ve really enjoyed. Featherlight, Starboard and Harley Hitch and the Iron Forest are new books by authors whose books I adore, so I’m sure I’ll enjoy these too!

There you have it! 31 middle-grade books that I’m aiming to add to my bookshelves during February, March and April. Have you already read any of these? Have you any recommendations that you think I’d enjoy?

First Lines Fridays

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

‘All girls ooze sin.’ Deputy Headmistress Wolsley’s bonnet, high and round like a black moon, casts a shadow that trickles down her nose to pool in her lap. ‘But Wicked Girls, unless corrected, wield it like a weapon.’

Any ideas?

This is one that arrived as a late Christmas present! I absolutely love the opening, and can’t wait to find some time to read this as I just know I’m going to love it!

Goodreads Synopsis:

A spellbinding new middle grade series crackling with magic and adventure, perfect for fans of Starfell, Nevermoor and A Pinch of Magic.

I am Spel. Daughter of witches. The only one who can step between worlds. The only one who can save my sister. If I can find her before the witch hunt begins . . . Thirteen years ago, magic was banished and the witches were hunted. Sisters Spel and Egg are the daughters of witches, but they grow up in Miss Mouldheel’s School for Wicked Girls with no idea who they really are. Until the day the message arrives telling them to run . . . The message sends them to a funeral parlour in a far away village – and their new guardian, the Undertaker, has a secret. Beneath the funeral parlour is a portal to the Other Ways – four worlds that lie parallel to ours. When Egg vanishes through the portal, Spel knows she must try to save her sister. But no one can step between the worlds – or can they?

MG Takes on Thursday

This is my new weekly meme celebrating amazing middle-grade books. I hope others will enjoy taking part in this too!

How to take part:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence. 
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

This week, I’m celebrating …

Written by Cat Weldon
Illustrated by Katie Kear
Published by MacMillan

Favourite Sentence from Page 11:

They might be loud, they might be enthusiastic, but they were not in tune.

This book in three words:


How to be a Hero is a brilliantly fun, action-packed fantasy adventure, drawing on Norse mythology, that kept me giggling throughout.  I just know that my class will love this and, as a Year 4 teacher who teaches about the Vikings, it will be brilliant as a class read to accompany our topic.

Whetstone wants to make something of himself in life, and has decided that being a thief is better than being a nobody.  Surrounded by singing Vikings, he manages to steal a magical cup, but it is not long before he is being chased by irate Vikings!  It doesn’t help that the cup likes reciting poetry – rather bad, but brilliantly funny poetry!  In a desperate bid to escape his pursuers, he buries the cup and hides in a barn … 

Meanwhile, Valkyrie-in-training Lotta’s training is not going quite as well as she had hoped, but she is determined to improve.  She must go on a mission to Midgard (Earth) to bring back a fallen hero to Valhalla, but her flying horse Thighbiter has other ideas …

Through a desperate need to fulfil her mission, Lotta and Whetstone meet … and so begins an hilarious, warm-hearted adventure filled with mishaps, discoveries, mean girls, a trickster and a dragon, not to mention the Norse Gods.  I loved how much I discovered about Norse mythology wrapped up in a brilliant bundle of fun – the perfect way to learn!  At the heart of the story, there is an intriguing mystery to solve which kept me turning page after page. 

Both Lotta and Whetstone are incredibly endearing characters:  unlikely heroes who find friendship, and the courage to overcome obstacles through quick-wit, determination and teamwork.  Through selfless acts, standing up for themselves and facing peril, they show true heroic qualities.

The illustrations that are included in the proof are gorgeous and complement the story perfectly, showing a real sense of fun and character. I’m definitely looking forward to buying a final copy and seeing all of the illustrations.

This is a perfect read for fans of the How to Train your Dragon series, and is one I have no doubt will become a firm favourite of young fans of rib-tickling, action-packed fantasy adventures.  I’m so looking forward to sharing this with my class when we start our Viking topic.

Thank you to MacMillan for a proof copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

I’d love if anyone who wants to give this meme a go would comment in the comments box and include a link to your post so I can visit, comment and find some great middle-grade recommendations. If you do create a post and are on Twitter, and would like to share your post, please use the hashtag  #MGTakesOnThursday so I can find it, read it and share it!

WWW Wednesday

I’ve just started listening to George on audiobook on my way to work and am really enjoying it. I started Uki and the Outcast last night and just know it’s going to be as wonderful as the Podkin stories.

I think that qualifies as a good reading week! I absolutely adored the sheer escapism in Explorers on Witch Mountain and Explorers on Black Ice Bridge. I really like the child characters who all have wonderfully distinct personalities, and also have a deep bond of friendship. I also really liked Felix who is Stella Starflake Pearl’s (the ice princess) adoptive father. He gives the BEST advice and is what I call an all-round good guy! The action is non-stop and exciting. The creatures they meet along the way are just brilliant – I have no idea how someone can imagine some of them, but I loved the diversity and both the humour and tension they infused into the stories.

I also read The Raven’s Call by one of my absolute favourite authors. This is a beautifully told short adventure with some wonderful imagery, perfect for younger readers. The ravens have come back to the king’s rookery, but Alys notices that her beloved birds have been changed:  they have speckles of white on their feathers and silver on their beaks.  What has changed them, and why?  Ravens are the protectors of the Kingdom, so Alys must make a journey to tell the King of their change.  The ravens go with her, and what she discovers strikes fear into her heart … will the ravens she loves be able to protect the kingdom from a terrible danger?  The illustrations which accompany the story are absolutely gorgeous.

I listened to Here in the Real World on audio and, whilst I wasn’t sure of it at first (despite hearing so many wonderful things about it), it really grew on me as I continued to listen. I really liked the portrayal of the friendship between Ware and Jolene, the link with the environment, and how he had the strength be himself rather than feeling he had to live up to others’ expectations. I do think maybe this is one I need to re-read in paperback to appreciate fully.

I also finished Another Twist in the Tale. This is an absolutely wonderful twist on the story of Oliver Twist and tells the story of Oliver’s twin sister, Twill, who was abandoned on a rubbish heap shortly after her birth as females had very little value!  This story follows the Dickensian trait of casting a light on the darker side of Victorian society:  the social injustices; gender inequality; treatment of the poor, especially children; poverty and the lengths the young had to go to in order to survive; and, the exploitation and cruelty towards children.  These issues are brilliantly woven into the story through the lives of the young characters who are brave, resourceful, strong and determined, despite what life has thrown at them.  I loved that they formed such close bonds and looked out for each other:  they were a family.  The ending is gorgeously heart-warming and joyous!

Finally, I read How to be a Hero which is just brilliant! I loved the hapless thief-who-wants-to-be-a-hero Whetsone and determined-but-still-with-a-lot-to-learn Lotta, a Valkyrie-in-training. The humour really is hilarious with lots of mishaps and mistakes. There is also plenty of information about the Vikings which is perfectly blended into the story. Year 4 study the Vikings in mu school, and I can definitely see this being a great introduction that will have them laughing-out-loud – and learning lots!

I’m really looking forward to reading The Ocean Squid Explorers’ Club next as I’ve enjoyed the The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club so much.

What have you read? Have you read any of these?

Six for Sunday

The January theme for Six for Sunday, hosted by A Little But a Lot is It’s all about booooooooooks and today’s prompt is for Books you wish you’d read in 2020. Oh my goodness, I am a bit of a book buying addict, so my bookshelves are full of books I’ve bought in 2020 that I’d fully intended to read but just haven’t got round to them – yet!

I’m going to choose three books from series and three books I’ve heard so much about that I really, really want to read them soon!

I loved the previous books in all of these series, and eagerly bought these as soon as they were published. I know I’m going to love all of these – and will get round to reading them soon – I hope!

These are all exactly the kind of books I enjoy, so I really need to find some time to read them. I suppose it is a testament to the quality of the books being published that I have so many I’m keen to read. This could definitely have been a Fifty for Sunday for me – and I do read lots of books – it’s just that I also buy lots of books!!

Have you read any of these? What books do you wish you’d read in 2020?

MG Takes on Thursday

This is my new weekly meme celebrating amazing middle-grade books. I hope others will enjoy taking part in this too!

How to take part:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence. 
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

This week, I’m celebrating …

Written Alex Bell
Illustrated by Tomislav Tomic
Published by Faber & Faber

Favourite Sentence from Page 11:

She [Stella] woke up early the next morning, though, and scrambled straight out of bed, practically trembling with anticipation as she changed out of her pyjamas and into a white travelling dress with star-shaped buttons, a fur-lined hood and extra long cuffs to keep out the snow.

This book in three words:


I adored this incredible adventure which completely drew me in with its rich and wonderful world-building and gorgeous descriptive language, not to mention the depth of the character-building which made getting to know the protagonists a heart-warming experience.  The children really captured my heart.

The children go on the most incredible adventure across the Icelands, full of danger and excitement and meet some brilliantly imaginative creatures including frosties and a carnivorous cabbage.  Secrets are revealed and friendships blossom as the children battle to return to the rendezvous point, but will they make it in time, or find themselves trapped in the Icelands?

Whilst this story is full of fast-paced action and dangerous situations which kept me irresistibly turning the next page, I also loved how beautifully and realistically it portrays the relationships between the children, who all have past heartache, as they get to know each other, reveal their secrets and fears and come to trust and rely upon each other to survive.

You can read my full review here.

I’m currently reading the rest of this series:

I’d love if anyone who wants to give this meme a go would comment in the comments box and include a link to your post so I can visit, comment and find some great middle-grade recommendations. If you do create a post and are on Twitter, and would like to share your post, please use the hashtag  #MGTakesOnThursday so I can find it, read it and share it!