It is not often that I post a book stack, where almost all the books are massively high on the must read list… and most of these books should come with a “this will grow your heart” sticker. If you ever wondered how you could teach your kids empathy… then this book stack is the place to start. Absolutely epic reads through and through.

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You have to read:

  1. Felix Unlimited: if you have a child that may start a business one day;
  2. Wink: if your child is ever going to be in contact with someone who suffers from cancer this true to life book is a gem of how it really feels;
  3. Utterly Dark: If your child loves the ocean and a magical world;
  4. And the Stars Were Burning Brightly: If you need to understand the level of online bullying that is the norm for your teens, how they experience it and worse how they cope or don’t cope with it.
  5. Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths: if your child hates maths or struggles to get on with the older generation;
  6. An Elephant in the Room: if your child loves animals and the pressure facing refugees;
  7. A Kind of Spark: if your child or a child in their class who is just “different”;
  8. The Time Traveller and the Tiger: If your child loves time travel and tigers (as I do), and animal rights;
  9. A Potjie Pot of Poems: If your kids love light hearted fun with a South African flavour.


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Felix UnLimited

by Andrew Norris

This is by far the best business book ever, for all ages!!! Any young entrepreneur will be inspired to start a business, selling absolutely anything. This book is the step by step guide to staring a business, setting everything in place and how to continue, all in the guise of a story. Felix is a boy who loves trying out new business’s and to be honest they don’t normally go very far. But when he, with a handful of friends start an online card selling business, it becomes something bigger than them almost overnight. One friend creates the artwork, another the website and another keeps the books. Together they have a shoebox, under Felix’s bed, that is steadily filling up with cash. All good entrepreneurs have a mentor, and Felix’s uncle steps in with all sorts of great ideas to help the team. This is a really fun read, with loads of lessons tucked into the story. It would be impossible to read this book and not be inspired to create a few business ideas. This is a really great read for chapter book readers.

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by Rob Harrell

This book is sad, its funny and very, very real… and heartbreaking and hilarious all at the same time. This is the story of Ross, he is twelve and desperately wants everything to be normal, but with a rare cancer diagnosis, and daily radiation treatments, absolutely nothing in his life is normal. His classmates can’t be “normal” alongside him, and his body is doing nothing normal. As we live along side him during his journey, he has to go through the emotional roller coaster of discovering the cancer, to hopefully finding a solution for him. He knows he will lose his vision, he could possibly lose his life… but everyday school keeps on happening: assignments, talent competitions and bullying, all around him. As you can imagine this book is sad, but Ross is an overcomer and shows us that we can find allies in unexpected places. He finds ways to cope, including starting a rock band… he finds friends in unexpected places and demonstrates clearly that no man is an island. This is a very authentic read and with such a difficult topic, manages to be an absolutely fantastic read.

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Utterly Dark and the Face of the Deep

by Philip Reeve

This book is a story that sometimes dips into another world, a world under the ocean… and so of course I loved it. It is the story of a delightful and determined young girl, called Utterly, who was adopted by the Watcher of Wildsea, Mr Andrewe Dark. Utterly was found as a baby, washed up on the seashore of a truly wild and stormy island. He was an important man and a somewhat distant fatherly figure, but his housekeeper and her husband, the Skraevelings, raised her as their own. Mr Dark, was the watcher for the island and his task was to make sure the island remained safe from that twilight time of day, when the boundary between other worlds becomes surprisingly thin.

When Mr Dark drowns suddenly, Utterly is left to be the watcher until her uncle arrives to take over, but during that interim time she notices some strange warnings and notes Mr Dark’s observations and journals. This book is magical through and through, you can literally feel the icy cold ocean emerge from the sea to make their claim… and yet her uncle is a scientist and an absolute realist, he will not believer her observations cannot be reasonably explained. Only they can’t… this is whimsical, a little frightening in places and utterly magical. If you love the ocean then you will absolutely love this beautifully written story.

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And the Stars Were Burning Brightly

by Danielle Jawando

Put this book on every high schoolers reading list, it is a fantastic read. It is sad, it is heartbreaking and will open your eyes to the issues our teens are facing in their everyday life at school, that weren’t even on the table when we were at school. Fifteen year old Nathan comes home from school to discover that his older brother, Al, has killed himself. He is absolutely shattered and determined to work out why. His oldest brother is the father figure in the family, and tries to help Nathan through it, his mum tries to protect his younger sister from all that is going on around her… and Nathan is desperately looking for answers.

The more Nathan looks, the more he uncovers. Al was a rising star, he was good at everything he tried… arty and talented in a way that just didn’t fit the local norm. His school mates were expected to be thugs and gangsters and the assumption was “born on the wrong side of town, you would stay on the wrong side of town.” But everyone knew that Al was different and he would break free. The more Nathan is told to let things lie, to let things be… the more he seeks and the more his own anger issues are pushed to the surface. His mother has already lost one son and insists he gets counselling. As Nathan learns to navigate the harsh reality of social media and online bullying on a level us parents find it hard to imagine… we finally find out the horrific truth around Al’s death. This is a book that highlights the dark side of the online world that our kids are living in.

This book covers really traumatic events, my heart was breaking for the pain this family went through. The reason I think it is a must read for parents is that it is a reality check, regarding the on-life our kids living through… and a must read for our kids, because they need to know that they are not helpless to bullying and online attacks, they can get help and to keep on trying till they get the help that they need.

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Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths

by Maisie Chan

illustrated by Anh Cao

We loved this story of 11 year old Danny, who lives in an apartment in Birmingham. He hates math, in fact school in general, but he loves drawing. His best friend is Ravi, and his arch enemy and the local bully is Carter. Danny’s parents are immigrants from China and they own a Chinese take out store. One day his parents tell him they have a lovely surprise for him and he guesses that they are redoing his bedroom, he is so excited… only to discover that his granny from China has come to stay and is moving into his room, and taking the top bunk. Danny is devastated, and feels so misunderstood by his parents… Danny and his granny are left alone together for most of the school holidays, there are loads of misunderstandings and lots of hilarity for the reader as they get to know each other. There are several ups and downs, not least of which is Danny’s discovery that math and art are closely connected in a marvellous way… And all’s well that ends well.

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The Elephant in the Room

by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Oh I loved this book, a fabulous family read, one of those “there is something for everyone” in this book. Not to mention it has a really dreamy feel, one of those books that takes you to places you have never been before. In a word heartwarming. This book has loads of love between the covers of this book and when life gets tough, and it does for all the characters in this book, then somehow this collection of characters find each other and build each other up. The main character is Sila, a young girl who’s parents are Turkish immigrants, they arrived in the country several years before, seeking political asylum. When Sila’s mom queries her pay check, she is “suddenly” fired and deported. Sila and her dad are literally bumbling along through life… her schoolwork deteriorates, she is battling in so many ways. Her school decides to put her in a special programme, where she has to spend twenty minutes at the end of every school day, with another child that is struggling: Mateo, who gas been diagnosed as autistic, and who never speaks at school.

Sila and Mateo see straight through the system and without apparently communicating, sit and read their own books that they bring along, for the enforced twenty minutes. What the school and authorities don’t know is that Sila and Mateo have become firm friends outside of school and they spend the summer (spoiler alert), helping an elderly friend look after an elephant he rescued from a traveling circus. There are all sorts of connections in this book, the old man’s wife was Sila and Mateo’s second grade teacher, for example. There is loads of evidence that animals and good friends can heal all sorts of broken heartedness in this book. It is a great read and a sweet balm in troubled times.

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A Kind of Spark

by Elle McNicoll

Must Read. Must Read. Must Read… okay not my usual introduction to a book review, but hopefully I have your attention… this one is a must read. Read it aloud in class, read it aloud to the world. This is the story of Addie, and her struggle with autism. How hard everyday school is for her and her battles with trying to fit in. She is bullied and finding friends is a relentless struggle. She has a supportive librarian, who is always looking out for books that she might like and understands her quirks and idiosyncrasies. Maddie discovers that in her small town, hundreds of years ago, women were tortured for being witches, women who may have been different like she is, women who were afraid to go out in public, women who just didn’t fit in with the norm. She wonders why people stand by and accept this, when nothing about it is acceptable. Addie decides to campaign for a town statue, she has to stand up and speak to a crowd, which is her absolute worst nightmare… and she does it well, she is eloquent and gets all but the hardest hard on her side. This is a fabulous story of triumph over struggle and a must read for middle graders and their teachers who need to understand the kids in their class and don’t realise just how hard children like Addie need to work, just to get through the day, let alone succeed through the day. This is a powerful read, a thought provoking story and Addie will touch your heart. She represents so many children who have not been heard and yet still they go on to conquer their world.

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The Time Traveller and the Tiger

by Tania Unsworth

You had me at Tiger, it has definitely been the year that I read loads of books with Tiger in the Title. This is a Time Travel book and so you can expect it to be multi layered. Elsie is living in the present age, and has to spend her holidays with her great uncle. He has a large tiger rug on the floor of one of his rooms and claims it to be his biggest regret. Seventy Four years back in time and twelve year old Uncle John is living in the Indian jungle. Elsie manages to step back in time and her main goal is to try and prevent Uncle John from his biggest regret. But Uncle John is living in the era of British Rule, when hunting was a way of life, and he is hoping to hunt down a tiger in order to impress his parents. At the same time the children stumble on a wicked project. A sinister hunter and his game lodge, setting the tigers up to fail in the thrill of the hunt… greed is the dark and dirty theme… power and greed, can they be conquered? I really enjoyed this book, its a great middle grade read. I loved the time traveling, I loved the tigers, and I especially loved how much the children really care… Tania Unsworth really created characters with big emotions. That being said, this book belongs firmly in the tween read category as older kids will see right through the plot and solutions to the problems as well.

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Potjie Pot Poems

written by Liza Seele

illustrated by Shannan Gia

A collection of thirty poems with a very South African flavour… hence the name “Potjie Pot”… they fun to read, quick and light. Perfect for middle grade and younger, perfect for anybody who likes a good laugh. We have been reading a fairly serious poetry book for school lately and this one was just thing to raise everyone’s spirits, and break the tension. There are poems about all sorts of things from hadeda’s to lockdown, from the tooth mouse to baked beans. This book is just a bit of fun in a season of “not a lot of fun”… possibly the perfect, very #localislekker antidote to all the crazy things that are going on in our country right now.

Here is an extract from a poem called Potjie Pot Prattle:

…My friend is called my chommie

You are my china or my brah,

If I want to answer with a yes

I say yebo or ja.

Yoh! I use if I’m surprised

And eish! when things go wrong,

When something’s good it’s lekker

Like our Bokke and biltong!

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