March’s 8-11 Book Box
What is in March’s 8-11 Book Box? March has been a busy month. On World Book Day, we launched our programme with Chelsea Foundation. For International Women’s Day, we celebrated diverse female characters in children’s books.
Check out our reviews of the books included in March’s 8-11 Book Box.
Sleepover Take-over by Simon James Green, illustrated by Aleksei Bitskoff
‘I guess, sometimes, you’ve just gotta wear your weirdness with pride; it’s when you try to hide it the problems start.’
Otis and his best mate Jagger are given a last-minute invite to Rocco Rococo’s birthday party. Rocco is known for having extravagant over-the-top birthday parties. Otis and Rocco have never spoken before. Rocco is the untouchable “cool” kid in the class, flanked by a group of girls, the Chloes.
But Otis is suspicious of the invite. Jagger pushes for them to attend. It turns out that Jagger has being accepted in a performing arts school for secondary school, and so, he wants Otis to make some new friends so that Otis isn’t all alone.
Despite warnings from his Mum about the dangers of a sugar rush, at the party, Otis over-indulges in the chocolate fountain. There’s also a hypnotist. And a VIP section.
The next morning, Otis wakes up in a wedding dress, with no memory of what happened the night before. There’s also a giant inflatable sausage. A peeing cherub with a missing ankle. And a donkey on the loose.
As soon as the disarray is realised, all the other party guests rush off…but Otis. Otis stays to help Rocco work out exactly what happened last night and where these strange and valuable items come from. On their way to solve the mystery, Otis and Rocco gain the aid of two other kids in their class, Tiana and one of the Chloes.
They form a great friendship with one another. Rocco and Chloe reveal that they often feel the need to perform. Otis and Jagger never perform for anyone. They are just themselves. And they make each other happy. Rocco and Chloe appreciate being around Otis. His presence enables them to loosen up, to just be fun-loving kids. In turn, solving the mystery with Rocco and Chloe makes Otis realise that he has judged them too soon and that they have much more in common than he previously thought.
‘I like having fun, and laughing, and messing about and just being a kid, because we won’t be kids for much longer!’
This is a wonderful, fun, creative story about the importance of friendship. It is a great read for kids who are starting to think about going to secondary school, as it encourages them to be open-minded about the people they meet. It is a book that teaches children to defy clichés: no one should feel restricted when it comes to who they can and cannot be friends with. Furthermore, the whacky mystery at the heart just makes this book hard to put down.
Simon James Green…
Recently, the author of this book, Simon James Green, was banned from visiting a school by the Catholic church. This is because Simon James Green is a gay author. At Little Box of Books, we are saddened and appalled by this. In protest, we have created a Simon James Green Book Selection. By buying more of Simon James Green’s books we are putting more of his joy into the world – and that is a truly great weapon against bigotry.
Leonora Bolt: Secret Inventor by Lucy Brandt, illustrated by Gladys Jose
‘As Leonora tinkered with its microprocessors, and single-handedly reinvented the laws of physics, she felt excitement bubbling inside her.’
Leonora is an inventor. Alone, she likes to create machines that defy the laws of space and time. Her ideas are: musical socks, bee sting reverser, rocket pyjamas, and more.
Leonora lives on Crabby island with tyrannical Uncle Luther, their housekeeper Mildred, and Twitchy Nibbles the otter. Uncle Luther comes and goes, but Leonora has never been allowed off the island. On the mainland, Leonora has been told, children are not allowed to laugh or eat sweets.
However, when a boy named Jack washes up on Crabby island, he threatens to throw all that Leonora thinks she knows apart. For starters, Jack has eaten chocolate biscuits and sweets. Jack knows that his parents and siblings will be worried about him, something that Leonora has not experienced herself at all. Jack also recognises Uncle Luther as a celebrity face. And he recognises some of Leonora’s inventions.
Leonora gets really curious about her understanding of the world. With Jack, she sneaks into Uncle Luther’s room, where she finds out a newspaper clipping, revealing that her parents were scientists lost in the Arctic, and not shopkeepers, as she had been led to believe.
35% of STEM students in the UK are women. This is partly down to gender stereotypes with STEM subjects not seeming accessible to girls when it comes to choosing subjects to pursue at school. Hence, if you have a science-keen girl, then this is exactly the book they need to encourage them to pursue their interests in later. Leonora is a fabulous, wise role model. Even if you do not have a science-keen girl, this is still as great read for smashing stereotypes. For International Women’s Day, we wrote about the importance of giving kids examples of diverse female role models – Leonora Bolt is a perfect example of that.
Rock Star Detectives by Adam Hills
Twelve-year-old Charley becomes an overnight singing sensation after her friend George posts a video of her singing on to the internet. George is a wanna-be stand-up comedian and has been learning all about how social media works to further his career. However, he doesn’t quite have the confidence to be a comedian yet, so he has been using his skillset to help Charley. What you can except from George is a comedic take on everything, even at the tensest moments. This is the first novel from award-winning comedian and presenter of the Last Leg, Adam Hills.
Charley and George are on tour in Amsterdam. When they go home, they discover that one of the paintings they were staring at in a gallery, has gone missing. So far, all the clues point to Charley and George being responsible. The officer suggests that if they are not guilty, they should find out who is.
The tour hangs in the balance, but Charley keeps on going. Only in the next city she performs at, another valuable piece of art goes missing. Again, all the clues point to Charley and George being responsible.
So, a singing sensation and a wanna-be comedian turn detective. They are suspicious of everyone. First of all, Charley’s tour manager Sam, whose movements they cannot account for during certain hours. Next, there is a commenter on Instagram who seems to know more about the investigations than the rest of the public. Thirdly, a wanna-be journalist who keeps popping up at strange moments.
This is light-hearted, funny mystery. It is very tapped into the prevalence of social media today. Crucially, it has fantastic representation. George is a black wheelchair user. His disability is not the focal point of the story. Indeed, he is a three-dimensional character, just as he should be. There are nods to the struggles of accessibility. And George talks about being eye-level, and therefore, observant of, things that walking people are less likely to be aware of. In addition, Charley has a single mum. This is incidental to the storyline. We’re always on the lookout for different family set-ups.
You Must be Layla by Yassmin Abdel-Magied
So far, Layla has studied at the Islamic School of Brisbane: a school full of the children of recent immigrants: India, Malaysia, South Africa, and more. Layla is Sudanese and speaks a mix of Arabic and Australian English at home. At the Islamic School of Brisbane, Layla fits right in.
‘Nobody stared at the two Sudanese parents who arrived with their afro-haired children skipping between them…Nobody asked Fadia and Kareem where they were from or asked them to repeat their names ten times.’
When the opportunity for a fully funded scholarship at a private school comes up, Layla works as hard as she can to get it. She thinks it will enable her to achieve her dream of adventure.
‘She tried to squeeze the un-hijab-friendly piece on top of her headscarf, but it looked ridiculous. She giggled self-consciously. Oh yeah, that was the other thing. Layla was going to be the first person ever to wear a headscarf at MMGS. The only one! WILD!’
Layla struggles to navigate the school’s expectations for how she should behave. One racist, Islamophobic boy, Peter Cox, wants Layla to know that she does not just belong at the school: she doesn’t belong in the country. People tell Layla that Peter is a bully and it’s not worth standing up to him. But Layla doesn’t flinch in the face of injustice.
‘Like hell this kid was going to tell her that she wasn’t Australian.’
After Layla ends up having a fight with Peter Cox, she is suspended and told that her scholarship is at risk. To prove herself all over again to the school, Layla enters a tech competition. But everyone else is in groups and has been planning for the competition for a while. Layla is determined to be successful. Thinking on her feet, she creates an edible actuator!
At her new school, Layla is conscious of everyone being much more privileged than she is. She thinks that people will not understand the challenges she faces in life. However, over time, she comes to realise that everyone has challenges, even if they are not the same as hers. Furthermore, she comes to realise how enriched her life is by the love of her family, even if she is not as materially wealthy as her peers.
At crunch time, Layla is forced to work with – not against – her bully, Peter Cox. This experience opens her eyes to the importance of forgiveness.
‘Everyone really is fighting their own battles.’
This is a fantastic read that will enlighten children on how difficult it can be to fit in. It does not bend to stereotypes on Muslim families in the slightest. Simultaneously, it is honest about the racism and Islamophobia that Layla and her family face. Layla’s parents and older brother have had difficulty finding employment. Layla is subject to name-calling, bullying, and assumptions about her being a terrorist at school. In addition, because this book is set in Australia, it touches on the country’s history of racism. One of Layla’s teachers is a descendent of a child of the Stolen Generations. The Stolen Generations refer to a group of indigenous children who were removed from their homes in an attempt to whiten them.
Layla’s narrative voice is fun and clever. You will definitely appreciate how feisty and determined she is.
About the Author
Yassmin Abdel-Magied is a Sudanese-Australian writer, engineer, and advocate. She writes and speaks on politics, society, culture, and technology. Her TED Talk, What Does My Headscarf Mean To You, has been viewed 2.5 million times and was selected as one of TED’s top 10 ideas.
It is so brilliant to be featuring not one – but two – books featuring female characters who are inventors in March’s 8-11 Book Box. This will really transform children’s perceptions of the avenues open to them. Sleepover Takeover and Rockstar Detectives are extremely funny reads to keep kids hooked.
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