Summertime brings one of our favourite book prizes, the Little Rebel’s Children’s Book Award. Honouring storytelling that challenges stereotypes and discrimination, the shortlist is often more radical and interesting than other contemporary prizes. Freedom by Catherine Johnson takes the 2019 award, and what an important book it proves to be, relating the story of Nat, a young Jamaican slave, and his journey to an England that he believes will set him free. Interwoven with real events and characters, it’s a compelling and enlightening read.
With Autumn upon us, and the nights drawing in, surely now is the time to get your kids cosily curled up with a book. Or two. Or preferably, a whole series, to keep them busy until Spring. With this in mind, we’ve cherry-picked a few, for discerning young minds.
The Girl of Ink & Stars has just added Waterstones Children’s Book 2017 to it’s collection of glowing accolades. Isabella lives on the myth-rich isle of Joya. Her father was once an accomplished cartographer, and she has inherited this gift. It provides a rich backdrop to her childhood. When her best friend Lupe vanishes, Isabella joins the search party, venturing into the uncharted interior of Joya, where nebulous terrors are lurking in it’s dark heart.
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Shortlisted for The Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize 2016, The Bone Sparrow is newly released in paperback. It’s the story of Subhi, a boy who was born in a refugee camp. He has never seen the ocean or the mountains. But he knows that someday he will. As soon as his dad comes for him. The global refugee crisis is one of the biggest stories of our time, making this a timely and illuminating read. Based on verified reports of life in refugee camps, this lyrical and moving story aims to show our children the humanity behind the refugee label.
New Guard is the seventeenth book in the exhilarating CHERUB series by Robert Muchamore. Aimed at young teenagers, these books are ideal for parents who struggle to keep their boys reading. While it seems regressive to talk about ‘boys’ books and ‘girls’ books, in my experience, teenagers tend to split into these camps. And frankly, whatever it takes to kickstart the reading habit has got to be worth a shot!
A short but interesting autobiography of a privileged girl in Beijing who’s life is thrown into turmoil by the Cultural Revolution and the ‘Great Leap Forward’. A simple read with good insight into China in the early 70s. A must for young history lovers, to be enjoyed more for content than style.
Also known as Youth without God – the literal translation of the original Jugend Ohne Gott – The Age of the Fish is a brilliantly succinct and multi-layered novel about identity, integrity and the freedom of speech and thought. Written by von Horváth after he had himself faced censure from the Nazis’ Third Reich, emigrating first to Vienna and then later, after the Anschluss with Austria, onto Paris. The story is told from the point of view of a disaffected teacher who, despite all his muted criticisms about his emotionally-numbed pupils and the totalitarian state he lives in, is ensnared in a web of deceit and impotence.
The Age of the Fish is published by William Heinemann, 206 pages.
Ostensibly a children’s fable about farm animals’ revolt against their (human) farmer, it is not only a parable of the Russian Revolution and the messy battle for power as Orwell intended, but also a cautionary satire that can be translated to other examples of dictatorships and government propaganda. No reading list should be without this singularly spectacular piece of work.
On the surface, this is just yet another YA dystopian thriller and, as such, an easier read. It soon becomes apparent to an adult reader, however, that it is a rich source of discussion topics – I couldn’t actually help jotting down almost 20 questions I wanted to discuss with the young ‘uns – about society and responsibility (Dr Sigmundus says ‘society is answerable to authority; authority is not answerable to society’), types of leadership, dictatorship and the concept of free will.
A book that was utterly worthy of all the accolades, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time defies categorisation. Not only a very minuscule insight into Asperges, but a mystery, domestic story, and a coming of age rolled into one. The marvellously direct voice of Christopher is deceptively simple, but a device that is skilfully used, and yet somehow remaining very accessible even to younger readers. (For those are in London, go see the near perfect stage production as well).
(Also for 11+ years)