Early on in the proceedings of The Zebra’s Great Escape by Katherine Rundell, we’re told by an agitated zebra that ‘adults always want to follow the rules!’ This is why times of crisis traditionally call for a free-spirited child, in this case a young girl called Mink. Flagrantly flouting bedtime orders, Mink is accosted in a city playground one evening by the distressed creature, who tells her that his parents have been captured by a moustachioed scoundrel. He needs her help, and as it turns out, so does an entire living alphabet of wild creatures in this deliciously colourful story from one of our favourite writers.
In essence a celebration of kindness, The Station Cat by Stephen Hogtun is a thing of beauty, exquisite illustrations accompanying the tale of a lonely cat who makes her home at a suburban railway station. Set in a time of steam trains and bowler-hatted city gents, this drab, sooty place exudes a forlorn air. The waiting passengers appear absorbed, sometimes in their ink-stained broadsheets but more often by their own personal troubles. Like the station, they are sad and grey, turning their indifferent faces away from the feline newcomer, unaware of the impact she will have on their lives.
Painful as it is to acknowledge, there seems to be a small but vocal anti-reading brigade out there, and boy, are they lacking in compassion! Have they ever considered how it feels to be a neglected book? It’s a lonely life, perched on the bookshelf, desperate to be picked up but knowing you’re destined to sit facing the wall all day, ‘doing a whole lot of nothing’. In The Book No One Wants to Read by Beth Bacon, we join a hopeful little book as it attempts to engage with youthful indifference.
A delightful premise and a visual treat, I Am the Subway by Kim Hyo-eun tells us a story from the unusual perspective of a subway train. Across the course of an average weekday, we join the train as it runs in one big ring around the city of Seoul (think the Circle Line but reliable!) As the train rattles on, it shares stories of the passengers it welcomes aboard every day, giving us a glimpse into the everyday lives of the inhabitants of this great Korean metropolis.
Weirdo by Zadie Smith & Nick Laird is a celebration of the unconventional by two authors who we’re told ‘usually write for grown-ups’ and are ‘both a bit weird.’ The stratospherically successful spouses, having mastered novels, essays and poetry, now join creative forces in this endearing new picture book, their first foray into children’s literature. It tells the story of Maud, a self-effacing young guinea pig, and her struggle to fit into a new home where her dress-sense and demeanour utterly baffle the family pets. Prepare for a lesson in assertiveness from the gentlest of domestic rodents.
When Flannery O’Connor was a little girl, she came to the considered conclusion that there is something about strangeness that makes people ‘sit up and look.’ Just as well really, as this eccentric child grew up to write singularly unsettling stories that made the entire literary world sit up and propelled her to an enduring fame.The Strange Birds of Flannery O’Connor by Amy Alznauer explores the life and childhood fascinations of the late American writer. A radiant and wonderful portrait, it will captivate free-spirited young readers.
Named one of The New York Times best children’s books of 2020, There Must Be More Than That by Shinsuke Yoshitake provides a welcome antidote to anxiety for our youngest readers, particularly during these Covid dominated days. Fans of Yoshitake’s marvellously offbeat books will know his gift for unpicking knotty issues in a humorously philosophical way, and in this sweet new picture book we meet a young girl beset by fears of a disastrous and doom-laden future.
In need of some chuckles? The Worst Class in the World by Joanna Nadin is the perfect pick-me-up for dark January days. As the exuberant front cover suggests, we’re in for some fun and mayhem with a rather challenging bunch of school kids, in this case, the irrepressible 4B from St Regina’s primary school. Previously on the naughty step for such incidents as trying to tunnel under the playground to Finland, and smuggling a penguin onto the school bus, here we join them as they aspire to become young entrepreneurs and Show and Tell champions.
When did you last make a snow angel? Can you recall the powdery chill of the snow and the sweeping of arms and legs ‘back and forth, back and forth?’ Maybe you witnessed it thaw and dissolve, and mused on the ephemeral nature of snowflakes. Well, Where Snow Angels Go by Maggie O’Farrell holds no truck with temporary magic. In this tender story of salvation, we encounter the notion that an angel made in the snow remains in service to its creator forever.
When Yayoi Kusama was a young girl, she had a close encounter with a pumpkin. In later years, she would describe how it (literally) spoke to her in an animated manner, its radiant energy filling her with love. If you think that’s startling, just wait until you hear how she feels about polka dots! This unusually sensitive girl would grow up to be one of the most famous artists in the world, and in Yayoi Kusama Covered Everything in Dots and Wasn’t Sorry by Fausto Gilberti, we learn about her amazing life.