23 Feb What to Read Now
Here’s our latest pick of books to escape with. For ages nine and over to 16 plus.
The Humiliations of Welton Blake by Alex Wheatle (suggestion for ages 9+)
This book made me laugh out loud. It follows the trials and tribulations of Welton Blake. He finally plucks up the courage and asks Carmella McKenzie out, and she says yes! But then disaster strikes. His phone breaks and there is no way he can ask his mum for a new one. This kickstarts a series of humiliating events which conspire to make his date seem totally impossible. Along the way Welton has to negotiate his parents fights, bullies and a scary misunderstanding with Coral, a girl who really likes him. It’s a rollercoaster ride and you will be shouting for Welton to make his date with Carmella. Go Welton!
Darwin’s Dragons by Lindsay Galvin (suggestion for age 13+)
This story follows Syms Covington, cabin boy on the Beagle on a voyage of a lifetime to the Galapagos Islands with the world-famous scientist Charles Darwin. When Syms falls overboard we are plunged into his battle for survival on an inhospitable volcanic island. The story is anchored on the real adventures and discoveries that Charles Darwin made – and adding dragons into the mix is perfect. The weaving of the story back into Victorian London and a meeting with Queen Victoria add to the thrill of the adventure and the importance of the discovery. I really enjoyed the ending too, and I like to think that if I ever have the chance to visit the Galapagos then Farthing and his descendants are still waiting to be found. Gordy Wright’s illustrations – from the front cover to the maps interwoven throughout – make the book feel like a scientific journal, which is a lovely device.
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson (suggestion for page 16+)
Red at the Bone follows two African American families brought together by a teenage pregnancy. From the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre through to post 9/11 New York, Woodson threads together different perspectives setting very personal choices in the context of changing race relations and shifting societal expectations.
The women are the main focus with the theme of ‘how to grow into womanhood right’ running through the book. Saba holding her family’s loss in Tulsa within her as she seeks security; her daughter’s search for something beyond motherhood; and her granddaughter’s deft blending of old and new in her ‘debut’. Love, desire, class and identity shape their lives, with pivotal decisions taken as they still seek a clear sense of their own self and what they want to become.
Moving between the characters, Woodson captures the voice of each generation offering different perspectives on wide span of American history. The writing is rich and resonant, her descriptions of both place and emotions examples of how to say a lot in carefully chosen words. This is definitely one to recommend to 6th formers and would be an interesting read to contrast with Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other which, across a similar timespan but from a British perspective, explores similar issues and uses the same device of different perspectives. Red at the Bone was first published in 2019 and long listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020, it has just come out in paperback at the end of January.
For younger readers (10+), Woodson’s memoir of growing up as an African American in the 1960s and ‘70s in the wake of the Civil Rights movement is also a great read. Written in verse, it tracks her love of stories (despite finding reading difficult) and her search to find a voice as she moves between the traditional South and New York.
As always, we love to her about your recommended reads. Do let us know.