In three weeks time, Imogen Stewart will turn eleven, an impressive age by any measure. She’ll be taller, cleverer, and probably quite sensible, but what she won’t be is a detective. Those days are behind her, her last solved mystery having taken place when she was nine. All she has to remind her are the newspaper clippings that detail her rescue of an imperilled penguin named Einstein. In The Case of the Fishy Detective by Iona Rangeley, we discover that Imogen’s detective days are far from over, as the charismatic Einstein waddles back into her life on a trail of herrings and havoc.
Vivaldi by Helge Torvund is the perfect book for back-to-schoolers with ‘dread in their little knees’. It tells the story of Tyra, a little girl whose classroom experience has left her sad and silent. Her interior life is gloriously vivid, but at school she feels unseen. She’s in need of a friend, and as all true cat lovers know, friendship often arrives in feline form, in this case with the bluest eyes Tyra has ever seen. With her new pet, supportive family, and the inspiring music of Vivaldi, maybe life can be different. If only it were that simple.
One snowy night, a little girl named Otilla runs away from home, into the deep dark woods. She runs all through the night, escaping we know not what, but in the best tradition of spooky tales, she comes upon an old and neglected house. Here lives a lonely skull, separated from his body and in need of a friend. We join this odd couple in The Skull by Jon Klassen. Adapted from an obscure Tyrolean folktale, it’s a strange and charming story of facing fear and finding friendship in unlikely places.
For the unitiated, mudlarking is the practice of combing river banks for interesting artefacts that may have washed ashore. For Clem and her friends, it’s treasure-hunting and story-finding, and in The Thames and Tide Club by Katya Balen, we join them at a time of chaos and calamity on London’s famous river. Only the young mudlarkers can save the day, in an aquatic adventure that will see them encountering pirates, a ballgowned porpoise named Barbara, and an underwater branch of the famous department store, Shellfridges.
From cricket on a Caribbean beach to building a snowman in an English park, John Agard’s Windrush Child by John Agard tells the tale of one family’s journey across the Atlantic, and their new life as part of the legendary Windrush generation. A poem set to some of the most joyous and vibrant illustrations you’ll ever see, this splendid picture book gives us a unique perspective; told through the eyes of a little boy who is cheerfully unaware of his place in history.
After a series of unfortunate school-related events, culminating in setting fire to his headteacher’s trousers, Harvey Small’s exasperated mother makes a momentous decision. Harvey is to go to Madame Bogbrush’s School for Gifted Giants, a curious decision as Harvey is neither gifted nor a giant. Equipped with stilts and a sense of foreboding, Harvey is set to discover that the world is far bigger than grown-ups would have us believe. Welcome to Small! by Hannah Moffatt, a merrily riotous tale shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2023.
Voracious young bookworms need a steady diet of fabulous fiction, and their obliging parents are often relieved to discover a book series that stretches into infinity. How marvellous it is to report then, that There’s a Beast in the Basement by Pamela Butchart is the thirteenth in a series of uproarious school adventures spent in the company of Izzy and her intrepid pals. Previous exploits have seen their school seemingly plagued by aliens, werewolves and demon dinner ladies. This time round, there’s a beast lurking in the boiler room, and it has a murderous glint in its eyes. Read full Review
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.