Cheerfully irreverent, The Asparagus Bunch by Jessica Scott-Whyte is one of the most entertaining books we’ve read this year. It tells the story of Leon, who is precisely 4,779 days old. The confectionery-obsessed owner of fourteen identical yellow hoodies, Leon has been told he has an attitude problem. This could be why he’s been moved on from six different schools. Or maybe he’s just been terribly misunderstood. We join him at school number seven, as he navigates life as a square peg in a round hole.
When the school bell sets the kids free, what do they get up to on their daily walk home? In the Carnegie Medal winning Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds, we join a bunch of urban American schoolchildren in this precious liminal space. Old enough to walk unsupervised, and with the adult world and its accompanying complications looming on the horizon, this astute and empathetic book grants us a window into their dramas, comedies, and rich interior lives.
Imagine a computer chip in all its complex miniature glory, and then your soul, mind, and lifetime of memories installed upon it in the creation of a ‘you’ hologram, the perfect comforter for your loved ones after your death. Digital immortality and peace for the bereaved, what’s not to like? We find out in Show Us Who You Are by Elle McNicoll, as we follow intrepid schoolgirl, Cora, into the AI world of the intriguing Pomegranate Institute. Sci-Fi thriller and fizzing celebration of neurodiversity, it’s one of my favourite reads of the year to date.
The highly coveted Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration 2020 has been awarded to the magnificent Tales From the Inner City by Shaun Tan. Described by the man himself as ‘a strange book for strange times,’ this darkly beautiful collection of stories and paintings explores the dynamics of human and animal urban co-existence. City-dwelling animals, birds and fish live alongside us, submitting to our authority. Tan envisages what would happen if they tried to reclaim the cities and how humanity is inexorably entwined with the natural world in memory and spirit.
The wonderful shortlist for this year’s Carnegie Book Award included such luminous characters as a rapper, a drag artist, and a lighthouse keeper’s daughter. But in the end, two everyday teenagers from Yorkshire have scooped the coveted Carnegie crown in Lark by Anthony McGowan. Brothers Nicky and Kenny may seem ordinary but their tale is anything but when they become stranded on the Yorkshire Moors during a day trip. What was meant to be ‘ a stroll, a laugh,’ a lark, is set to become a test of brotherly bonds and a fight for their very survival.
11-year-old Margaret Simon is fairly sure that deodorant is unnecessary until at least the age of twelve, when the advent of body odour will also shoo in periods, bras and with any luck, first kisses. As if looming adolescence wasn’t taking up enough of her waking thoughts, Margaret is also caught in a whirl of moving house, changing school and wondering if she’ll fit into this new suburban world. 50 years since publication, the candid and perceptive Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret byJudy Blume remains the quintessential pre-teen read.
‘Our apartment door was unlocked when I got home from school that Friday, which was strange.’ Nothing appears to have been stolen from 12-year-old Miranda’s home but she subsequently discovers a cryptic note, informing her that someone she loves is in mortal danger. In order to avoid catastrophe, Miranda must turn detective cum scientist and challenge her own received notions of the nature of time. A 2010 Newbery medal winner, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead is an inventive time travel mystery set in 1970’s New York, ideal for canny young sleuths in search of an invigorating read.
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.
Read full Review