Top Texts for March 2024

Martin Galway has chosen a super selection of powerful texts for March

Northern Soul

by Phil Earle

Barrington Stoke’s seriously impressive run of titles by a seriously impressive array of great writers for children and young people continues with this gem from Phil Earle.  Writing close to home, close to some of his own formative misadventures in seeking love and finding music, Earle’s Northern Soul is a deeply funny, toasty-warm gem of a novella.  I have no doubt I could heartily recommend the print version, expertly presented by its publisher so that as many readers as possible can enjoy its many pleasures. Here though, I’ll be recommending the audiobook, with Earle himself bringing to vivid life the frequently mortified Marv – our teenage narrator, wannabe Romeo, and subject of a series of squirm-inducing attempts at wooing new-girl-in-school, Carly, guided, I kid you not, by the kebab-loving ghost of Otis Redding.  As such, we have what might be described a coming-of-age, magical realist, comedy of errors, fit for young teen readers, as well as those post-teens best qualified to fully appreciate the tortures of those early, dare-to dream pangs of crushes and being crushed. It’s funny, feel good/feel bad/feel good again dynamics will offer charm, amusement and an abundance of cringes in expertly metered doses.

Do You Remember?

by Sydney Smith

Sydney Smith’s Do You Remember? is his second title as both author and illustrator.  If you are already familiar with the work of this double winner of the of the Kate Greenaway medal, you will not be surprised to read that this is an incredibly beautiful picture book.  It brings to life moments in time shared between a mother and son embarking on a new life.  It considers memory, and it depicts the making of memories.  It is packed with beauty, humanity and the power of noticing and noting the apparently small, utterly huge moments in life.  To some degree, that has been true of all Smith’s work whether solo or in collaboration.  Here, though, this noticing and noting takes on a greater thematic weight.  Elsewhere, I’ve compared Sydney’s work to that of the autobiographical films of Terence Davies ( light, framing, composition, and the particularity of distinct images and moments in time working to create a mosaic of life perhaps richer than a singular narrative thread can manage.  This is a work of rare, crafted beauty, Smith develops his images to a rare form of painterly expression that marries style and substance to startling, evocative effect. It is, without question, my favourite picture book of 2023.

Wild Song

by Candy Gourlay

Wild Song by Candy Gourlay is now out in paperback and is a true must read, deserving a wide audience in KS3 and 4 and beyond. This meticulously researched novel stands as a companion piece to Gourlay’s earlier, equally acclaimed Bone Talk. Where Bone Talk imagined what it might have felt like to live in a country on the brink of colonisation, Wild Song picks up Luki’s story following the US invasion of the Philippines.  Gourlay does an incredible job of weaving a gripping fictional story wrought out from shameful history. It is a tale of Luki’s self-determination that somehow leads to exploitation at the hands of colonial showmen, exhibiting ‘exotic’ peoples and cultures as part of the St Louis World Fair of 1904. Candy Gourlay’s novel is powered by history, offering a clear-sighted, driving account of Luki’s journey towards what she hopes will be a new, liberating kind of freedom. Luki drives the pulsing rhythms of Wild Song, richly drawn and perfectly formed to propel this enthralling, enlightening story. Wild Song offers an accessible and rewarding exploration of identity, power, hidden stories, and the tensions of embracing and resisting the push and pull of communal ties. A serious, and seriously engaging piece of work.

Martin Galway

About this month's reviewer

Martin Galway is Head of School Programmes at the National Literacy Trust and leads on programmes relating to Reading for Pleasure as well as teacher professional development and conferences. Prior to joining the National Literacy Trust, Martin has worked as a Primary Teacher, Leading Teacher for English, as well as phase and literacy lead in an outstanding primary school. More recently he worked as a Teaching and Learning Adviser for Herts for Learning’s primary English team. He is deeply committed to bridging research insights and classroom practice and has particular interests in early language, and reading development, and the interactions between reading and writing.