It’s been an indisputably sombre year, but the youngest among us have been particularly discombobulated by global events, gloom and grim predictions emanating from every news source, including via osmosis from their worried adults. Good News by Rashmi Sirdeshpande is here to redress the balance, a book stuffed full of happy real-life stories, including good people in power, businesses making a difference and the collective determination of everyday people. It will change the way the kids in your life think about both the media and the world.
Stan’s philosophy has always been to firmly decline anything resembling an adventure. There are just too many things that could go wrong. To date, he’s managed to avoid such horrors as bungee jumping and dancing in public, but now, at the age of twelve, the worst has happened. He’s going on a totally unwanted holiday to Italy with his friend, Felix, and family. In Worst. Holiday. Ever. by Charlie Higson, we join Stan as he grapples with a lengthy personal list of holiday fears, including octopuses, weird toilets, and being beach body ready.
Blessed with gorgeous paintings to be admired by all ages, but words more suited to middle-grade readers, The Snail with the Right Heart by Maria Popova is a curious tale. Based on a real event, it tells the story of a very uncommon garden snail named Jeremy, whose shell spirals left instead of the usual right. The unassuming mollusc is set to garner worldwide attention in an ambitious exploration of genetics, the beauty of existence and the startling realities of snail sex.
We love unearthing books for reluctant readers, and I Hate Reading by Beth Bacon is unlike anything we’ve come across before. It’s aimed at an outrageous subsection of young readers, those wishing to hoodwink gullible adults into believing they’ve become devoted bookworms overnight. If the bookish bore in your child’s life (surely not you?) is nagging them to open a book, try this one. Filled with hints and tips on how to fool people into thinking you’re reading, it’s a must for anti-book bamboozlers everywhere.
In what feels like a new golden age for kids’ literature, the scope and ambition on display is often dazzling, none more so than in The Shark Caller by Zillah Bethell, a truly exceptional read. Set in Papua New Guinea, it tells the story of a young orphan named Blue Wing. Privy to the magical secrets of the ocean, Blue Wing is intent on learning to call the sharks to her side, and in particular, Xok, the notorious shark that haunts her days. Vengeance is her goal and we accompany Blue Wing on her dramatic journey to wish fulfilment.
2021 marks the 60th anniversary of The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, but also sadly, the ingenious author’s death. Juster had a long life and bequeathed us this uniquely marvellous and clever book, the revisiting of which has confirmed my long held belief that it’s nothing short of a masterpiece. It tells the story of perennially bored Milo, who is gifted a coin-operated tollbooth by a mysterious benefactor. It is purple, the colour of mystery, and on the other side of its turnpike lies adventure, magic, and the road to some much-needed enlightenment.
Stella loves the ritual of Family Film Night. Every Sunday, the lights are dimmed, popcorn popped, and then…Stella gets her phone out, brother Teddy is glued to his tablet, and Mum and Dad watch an arty film on TV. On this particular Sunday, as they’re enjoying their ‘separate things like a family,’ the unimaginable happens. Every single screen in the entire world just stops. The Day the Screens Went Blank by Danny Wallace invites us to join Stella and her family in the ensuing mayhem, as with civilisation collapsing around them, they embark on a road trip to rescue Gran (without satnav!)
The year is 1835, and Charles Darwin is immersed in his groundbreaking discoveries in the Galapagos Islands. Assisting him is former cabin boy, Syms Covington, cherry-picked by Darwin to be his assistant collector, hunter, and right-hand man. So far, so historically accurate. Darwin’s Dragons by Lindsay Galvin begins its flight of fancy in a gap in Covington’s real-life journal, where she steps in to conjure up a wonderfully cinematic read, involving a mysterious isle, restless volcano, and fire-breathing golden winged beasts. This Galapagan adventure could rewrite history.
It is the first April since the Great War, and spring 1919 brings welcome blue skies and the anticipation of new beginnings. For Ben and Lotti, it also heralds the most fantastical adventure, as the fellow orphans embark on a self-manned boat journey to France, in search of missing loved ones. An old-fashioned tale of valour and determination, Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant has just scooped the Costa 2020 Children’s Book Award. It is a novel rich with the kindness of strangers and the affecting consequences of war.
It is the seventh month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar and in Singapore, The Hungry Ghost Festival is under way, a time when the gates to the underworld are flung open and the dead roam freely among us. In this new novel from the wonderfully globetrotting Pushkin Press, we’re transported there, along with troubled Danish schoolgirl, Freja. A reluctant new arrival into her dad’s second family, Freja is struggling to belong. She is far from being the only uneasy soul in The Hungry Ghost by H.S. Norup, an evocative exploration of family, memory and the nature of grief.