Opening its doors for the first time on Easter Monday 1881, the beautiful Natural History Museum in London was conceived as nothing less than a ‘cathedral to nature.’ Today, its galleries continue to brim with treasures, from the tiniest specks of DNA to the bones of the colossal blue whale. In Wonder – The Natural History Museum Poetry Book by Ana Sampson, a glorious selection of poems inspired by the natural world is created, and even the great museum itself.
Once upon a medieval time, there was a fisherman, his wife, and their new-born baby boy, a family so impoverished that the couple had nothing to give their son as a christening gift. Concluding that actually the greatest gift they could confer would be the patronage of ‘an honest man to be his godfather’, the fisherman sets off to find one. Beginning the journey as a naive and unworldly soul, he is set to meet three of history’s greatest characters. Godfather Death by Sally Nicholls is a morality tale with a brilliant sucker punch.
All dedicated bookworms are familiar with the Victorian orphanage, looming large in children’s literature as a place of gruel and gruesomeness. Here we have something much much worse, the Home for Unfortunate Girls, an institution that houses girls with disabilities ‘that make it improper for them to be part of polite society.’ For 12-year-old Cosima and her officially ‘defective’ friends, years go by in ceaseless monotony. Until one fateful week in 1899, when they’re called upon to simultaneously foil a villain, stage a heist, and reveal family secrets, in the inspiring Cosima Unfortunate Steals A Star by Laura Noakes.
Kids Fight Extinction by Martin Dorey is the third instalment in his excellent #2minutesuperhero eco-series for primary school children. Aimed at empowering young readers in the current environmental crisis, Dorey is here to tell us that we don’t need a caped crusader in a Batmobile to save the world. Everyday people making changes can be the heroes of this story. Jam-packed with cheerful illustrations and information, the book sets us an array of points-earning missions. Tot points up at the end and achieve Everyday Superhero stardom.
A young girl stands alone in a vast, dusty red landscape. No sound apart from her quiet breath, no people, no roads, just emptiness beneath an azure sky. She is wearing only one shoe, and carrying a locked metallic box that she cannot open. Three questions nag at her exhausted brain, ‘Where am I? What am I doing here?,’ and most worryingly, ‘Who am I?’. We find out in The Song Walker by Zillah Bethell, a twisty and evocative tale of song, sisterhood and spirituality set in the Australian outback.
Published here in English for the first time, Glowrushes by Roberto Piumini is an enchanting classic of Italian children’s literature. Set in Turkey in bygone days, it tells the tale of an acclaimed artist, Sakumat, who has been summoned to the palatial home of a young invalid named Madurer. Stricken with a mysterious illness, Madurer is doomed to a short life within the confines of his windowless bedchambers. It will be Sakumat’s task to bring him the outside world via the magic of his paintbrush. What follows is a rich and affecting celebration of art, storytelling and friendship.
Bridie Sweeney is a slum-dwelling Victorian match girl. In her smoggy world of bone-weary souls, it’s hard to believe in the existence of magic. But as this is a fairytale, exist it does, in the form of three very special matches, the striking of which will illuminate Bridie’s path to an empowered future. The Little Match Girl Strikes Back by Emma Carroll is an audacious retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s classic tale, one in which, instead of dying quietly in the street, our heroine leads the match factory workers out on strike.
First published in 1947, The Dolls’ House by Rumer Godden beautifully captures the post-war Make Do and Mend era. It tells the tale of the Plantagenets, a family of dolls who reside in the London nursery of sisters, Emily and Charlotte. In this time of acute shortages, there are no dolls’ houses to be had, and consequently, the Plantagenets live crammed into two woeful shoeboxes. When their dreams of acquiring their very own dolls’ house come true, delight turns to dismay when malevolent Marchpane moves in with them, a china doll on a ruthless mission.
Frankenstiltskin by Joseph Coelho is the second in his series of fiendishly clever literary mash-ups. Coelho, our newly appointed Children’s Laureate is an award-winning poet and passionate advocate of the power of verse, used to marvellous effect in this retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, with its literally galvanising Frankensteinian goings on. This is Bryony’s story. Kidnapped by an autocratic king, she is given three impossible tasks to complete on pain of, if not death, then something unspeakably hideous. The situation seems hopeless, until a sinister impish creature materialises with an offer of help. The price is beyond anything the Brothers Grimm ever imagined.
Set in the boisterous heart of modern Mumbai, Ajay and the Mumbai Sun by Varsha Shah, tells the story of budding journalist, Ajay, and the ambitious 12-year-old’s attempt to create a newspaper with his pals. Warnings that news seekers have defected from old-school print to mobile phone turn out to be the least of their worries, as this bunch of lionhearted crusaders find themselves reporting on the corrupt underbelly of their beloved city and battling to save their slum-dwelling community. In 2022, is the pen (or printing press) still mightier than the sword?