Christmas is cancelled at Griselda Bone’s orphanage. No tinsel, no mince pies, and certainly no presents. Instead, algebra is the order of the day, plus extra fractions and a spelling test. This bleak scenario is 7-year-old Phoebe’s reality in The Snow Dragon by Abi Elphinstone & Fiona Woodcock. Seasoned readers of traditional Christmas tales will want to reassure Phoebe that there’s just bound to be a liberal sprinkling of festive magic on the way.
‘He whose face gives no light,
Shall never become a star.’
This lovely quote from William Blake adorns the final page of A Visit to William Blake’s Inn by Nancy Willard. Imagine if you will, an 18th century London inn, whose proprietor is none other than the great man himself. Overnight guests are in for an unconventional stay, in this B&B where dragons bake the daily bread and celestial angels plump the pillows. And all in Blake-inspired verse. Intrigued? Come on in.
September ushers the kids back to school, or for some of our littlest ones, signals the very beginning of their school careers. Here then is the timely tale of newcomer, Aada, and The Truth Pixie, her best friend and personal navigator through the bewildering complexities of school life. The Truth Pixie Goes to School by Matt Haig is a story in rhyme, aimed at soothing school nerves and instilling confidence at an often anxious time. Energetically illustrated by the always-excellent Chris Mould, we join Aada as she anticipates starting a brand new school. A daunting prospect but thankfully the Truth Pixie is right by her side, effervescent, forthright, and most importantly, a wonderful listener.
Now here’s a wondrous book to behold. A combination of philosophical conundrums and thoughtful artwork, My Little Book of Big Questions by Britta Teckentrup is unlike anything I’ve seen before. It’s aimed at wide-eyed and curious little readers, those fizzing with wonder at life and the universe. ‘Why can’t I fly?,’ ‘Do twins want to stay together forever?’, a plethora of thorny questions designed to prompt contemplation, debate, and engrossing parent-child reading time.
As discerning readers and bookshop browsers, no doubt you’re familiar with all the great book emporiums within a 50-mile radius of your home. I am, however, willing to bet that you’ve never once visited a meta bookstore. So, with much fanfare, I’d like to introduce you to one, as presented to us in The I Wonder Bookstore by Shinsuke Yoshitake. This quirky Japanese bestseller reveals a typical day in the life of a bookstore that only sells books about books. Prepare to be charmed.
‘Data entry clerk. Seventeen year.
No sick day. No mistake.’
Meet Cicada. He is a quiet, conscientious insect who has toiled away in a dreary office for many thankless years. His working day is so bleak, can there be any hope for his future? A new book by Shaun Tan is always a cause for celebration. An acclaimed author-illustrator, he has redefined the picture book. Here, with Cicada, he illuminates the world of the unappreciated, bullied and ignored.
Almost 50 years after the death of her creator, Mrs Pepperpot continues to beam out from the bookshelves of every decent bookshop. Old ladies don’t usually wake up in the morning to find themselves shrunk to the size of a pepper pot but that’s exactly what happens to our eponymous heroine, shrinking at the most inconvenient moments, and becoming embroiled in various hijinks and escapades along the way. This edition of her classic adventures is the ideal bedtime companion for the 5-8 year olds in your life.
‘Hello, this is the office of Mr Penguin, Adventurer and Penguin. Mr Penguin speaking.’ These words launch our seabird hero into the very first case of his adventuring career. The fabulously named Boudicca Bones is calling. The owner of a dilapidated local museum, Miss Bones believes that there is treasure hidden somewhere among the exhibits. If Mr Penguin finds it, she can restore her beloved museum and reward him handsomely. Mr Penguin gleefully accepts, and so begins Mr Penguin and the Lost Treasure by Alex T. Smith, a thrilling, flipper-quivering escapade, involving secret tunnels, sinister characters, and a clutch of disgruntled alligators.
With a nod to the V & A’s enthralling summer exhibition of Frida Kahlo’s personal artefacts, I’ve chosen to highlight Frida Kahlo by Isabel Sánchez Vegara, one of the most iconic artists in history. My hunch is that of all the artists that kids may engage with, this colourful Mexican, with her flamboyance and drama, is a surefire winner. Aimed at our youngest readers, this charming book works as an accompaniment to an exhibition or a stand-alone introduction to an inspirational character.
Hands up who knew Sylvia Plath had written stories for children. I certainly didn’t, and was thrilled to stumble across this trio for young readers. Discovered among her papers after her death, and subsequently published, they aretales of magic and mischief, and cast their author in an unexpected and welcome new light.