Early in the proceedings of Over to You! by Roger McGough, the poet gives us a gentle warning. Learning to write poetry at school can be a chaotic affair. Once words are invited to the party, they’ll never want to leave. From the first tentative attempts at verse in the classroom to the moment it sets young imaginations free, McGough’s latest collection takes us on the most delightful of literary journeys. Read full Review
For the uninitiated, escape rooms are a singularly 21st century leisure activity, comprised of a team, one or more locked rooms, and a game master, whose fiendish challenges and puzzles must be solved within a set time. In Escape Room by Christopher Edge, we meet Ami, whose dad has booked her a ticket for the ultimate experience. An ingeniously plotted adventure is in store, as Ami and her unknown teammates grapple with an incendiary game of chess, a herd of woolly mammoths, and the realisation that the future of the world itself may be at stake.
Worthy winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2022 and our stand-out favourite of the year to date, The Last Bear by Hannah Gold is an exquisitely lovely read. It is the story of 11-year-old April and her time spent living on a meteorological station on an island in the Arctic circle. In this beautiful land of the midnight sun, the ice caps are melting and the polar bears are gone. Except, April has seen one, silhouetted on the horizon. A bear that will change her life, in a moving clarion call for our changing planet.
A major London railway station, 1941. The platform is a sea of parents and young evacuees bearing regulation gas masks, I.D tags, and heavy hearts. Walking against the tide is 12-year-old Joseph, an arrival as opposed to a departee, and stricken with rage rather than sorrow. In When the Sky Falls by Phil Earle, we join Joseph as he is placed under the care of the equally fiery Mrs F, the owner of a rundown local zoo. If the Luftwaffe don’t get him, her silverback gorilla might, in this phenomenal story of war and compassion.
In the delightful Telephone Tales by Gianni Rodari, we’re transported to 20th century Italy, where we meet a travelling businessman named Signor Bianchi. Being away from his family throughout the week is tough for this doting father, and so to compensate, every evening at 9pm on the dot, he rings his daughter and tells her a bedtime story. As this is the era of pay phones and Signor Bianchi is a frugal gentleman, each story must be related in the time that a single coin will buy. Here we discover seventy of his deliciously peculiar (and short!) tales.
Locked Out Lily by Nick Lake is both a deliciously spooky adventure and a journey into one girl’s fragile psyche. Lily is struggling with both a potentially fatal illness and the impending arrival of a new sibling. Sent to stay with her gran while her parents await the new baby in hospital, she broods that the baby is intended to replace her sickly self. That turns out to be the least of her troubles, when she returns home to find her parents have themselves been replaced by sinister dead-eyed doppelgangers. Ousting the imposters will require Lily to confront her innermost fears.
The Amazing Mr Blunden by Antonia Barber is the perfect book to curl up at home with during these bleak days of midwinter. Rich in atmosphere and old-fashioned charm, it’s the story of siblings Lucy and Jamie, newly resident caretakers of a seemingly unoccupied country mansion. Far from being empty, however, the house is inhabited by ghosts and secrets stretching back a century. In this (literally) haunting time slip story of courage, faith and redemption, the children are tasked with righting a terrible past wrong.
In the canny world of kids’ publishing, the mood of 2021 is exemplified by a verdant sweep of environmentally conscious books. Amongst the very best is The Girl Who Talked to Trees by Natasha Farrant, the tale of 11-year-old Olive, whose best friend in the world just happens to be a four-hundred year old oak tree. When her beloved tree comes under threat, Olive is swept into a world of arboreal magic, on a mission of salvation and conservation. This little girl who talks to trees is about to discover that they’re a voluble bunch.
Hear the sound of cash registers pinging away merrily throughout the land as Gangsta Granny Strikes Again by David Walliams hits bookshop shelves in time for Christmas. A sequel to the much-loved Gangsta Granny, it picks up Ben’s story a year after the death of his beloved gran, who fans will recall had been leading an extraordinary double life as The Black Cat international jewel thief. For Ben, life without her is decidedly sedate, until some world-famous treasures go missing and the modus operandi seems startlingly familiar. Has The Black Cat used up her nine lives after all?
Imagine this: You’re enjoying your breakfast as usual, tea and toast with delectable honey, some cheese, a pear, perhaps an egg. While musing on the day ahead, you notice that a tiny scrap of paper has been pushed under your door. It reads ‘you had poison for breakfast.’ A potential murder is under way and it’s your own! In Poison for Breakfast by Lemony Snicket, the legendary narrator reveals how he employed both investigative expertise and philosophy when landed with this very dilemma.