The 15th of March 2019 was an extraordinary day in history, marking as it did, the very first global school strike for climate. Raising their collective voice, more than a million and a half school children across the world took to the streets, demanding immediate action on climate change. How to Change Everything by Naomi Klein is inspired by this new wave of bold, young campaigners. Aimed at teenagers who wish to understand the history, science and politics of climate change, while also acquiring the tools for activism, the renowned social activist and writer shares her decades of accumulated wisdom.
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!)
When Flannery O’Connor was a little girl, she came to the considered conclusion that there is something about strangeness that makes people ‘sit up and look.’ Just as well really, as this eccentric child grew up to write singularly unsettling stories that made the entire literary world sit up and propelled her to an enduring fame.The Strange Birds of Flannery O’Connor by Amy Alznauer explores the life and childhood fascinations of the late American writer. A radiant and wonderful portrait, it will captivate free-spirited young readers.
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.
Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas is the third novel from this brilliant chronicler of young, urban black experience. Having previously tackled institutional racism and stereotyping, here she turns her gimlet eye on the complexities of black manhood. In this prequel to her outstanding debut novel, The Hate U Give, Thomas presents us with a morally conflicted young man named Mav. Firmly entrenched in gang life, an unexpectedly early fatherhood shocks the 17-year-old into reconsidering life’s priorities. Maybe it’s time for this self-confessed ‘drug-dealing, gangbanging, high-school flunk out’ to go straight.
Why Your Parents are Driving You Up the Wall and What To Do About It by Dean Burnett, a marvellous title that delivers on its promise. In a world full of books advising parents on how to deal with their troublesome teenagers, how refreshing to discover a manual for dealing with parents, ‘…literally the most annoying people in the world.’ Covering potentially volcanic issues, from school to social media, to leaving wet towels on the floor, advice is on hand from a friendly neuroscientist.
In this year of racial unrest and protest, the world of children’s literature has responded with a welcome wave of history and fiction books concerning multiculturalism and prejudice. Several of these make it their business to shine a light on systemic racism, the very brightest being, for me, Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam. Applauded as a depiction of what it means to be young and black in America, this is the story of Amal, a thoughtful and artistic teenager, convicted of a crime he didn’t commit.
Named one of The New York Times best children’s books of 2020, There Must Be More Than That by Shinsuke Yoshitake provides a welcome antidote to anxiety for our youngest readers, particularly during these Covid dominated days. Fans of Yoshitake’s marvellously offbeat books will know his gift for unpicking knotty issues in a humorously philosophical way, and in this sweet new picture book we meet a young girl beset by fears of a disastrous and doom-laden future.
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.