In need of some chuckles? The Worst Class in the World by Joanna Nadin is the perfect pick-me-up for dark January days. As the exuberant front cover suggests, we’re in for some fun and mayhem with a rather challenging bunch of school kids, in this case, the irrepressible 4B from St Regina’s primary school. Previously on the naughty step for such incidents as trying to tunnel under the playground to Finland, and smuggling a penguin onto the school bus, here we join them as they aspire to become young entrepreneurs and Show and Tell champions.
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.
I cannot remember a time when Michael Rosen wasn’t part of my reading life. As a London school kid, I vividly recall his organised poetry events and his books of joyously informal verse gracing our school library. In this latest collection, the theme of migration is explored through the lens of his own family history. Complemented by the evocative illustrations of Quentin Blake, On the Move: Poems About Migration by Michael Rosen takes us from Nazi-occupied Europe to the present day, and reminds us that ‘Home is where you find it.’
When did you last make a snow angel? Can you recall the powdery chill of the snow and the sweeping of arms and legs ‘back and forth, back and forth?’ Maybe you witnessed it thaw and dissolve, and mused on the ephemeral nature of snowflakes. Well, Where Snow Angels Go by Maggie O’Farrell holds no truck with temporary magic. In this tender story of salvation, we encounter the notion that an angel made in the snow remains in service to its creator forever.
Early December is delicious for its ‘glimmerings and promise of special things,’ a feeling that gathers a gladly expectant momentum as we approach the home stretch towards December the 25th. In A Children’s Literary Christmas edited by Anna James, all the sparkle of Yuletide is captured in a charming and thoughtful selection of festive writing. Whether its significance to you is religious or cultural, James has a story or poem in mind. From beloved classics to contemporary tales, this British Library gift book contains more delights than a box of Harrods’ crackers.
Having languished in the British Intelligence vaults for eighty years, this TOP SECRET file is about to be revealed to wide-eyed young readers. Set during the darkest days of the London Blitz, it tells of one brave orphan’s battle against the might of the Nazi regime, with only an escaped gorilla and his tin-legged great-uncle Sid for company. Be prepared for espionage, a plot to bring Britain to its knees, and an awful lot of tickling, in Code Name Bananas by David Walliams.
If the virulent events of 2020 have propelled you into a spiralling gloom, The Book of Hopes edited by Katherine Rundell, could be exactly what you need. This wonderfully uplifting collection of stories, poems and illustration is part of a Hope project, initiated by Rundell and intended to ‘kickstart the engine of delight inside the human heart.’ Her rallying cry to fellow creatives has led to an astonishing role call of talent, Anthony Horowitz, Jacqueline Wilson and Axel Scheffler, to name but a few of the hundred plus contributors.
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.
Touted as ‘Lemony Snicket meets Dorian Gray,’ and already snapped up by Warner Bros, there’s a real bookish buzz around The Beast and the Bethany by Jack Meggitt-Phillips. It is the macabre tale of Ebenezer Tweezer, a vain and frankly immoral 511-year-old gentleman, who has the glowing appearance and spring in his step of a young man. In true Wildean style, Ebenezer has entered a pact which guarantees him eternal youth. In exchange, he has to tend to something rather beastly in the attic, something evil, greedy, and potentially child-munching.
At Puerto Plata Airport in the Dominican Republic, a teenage girl named Camino waits for her beloved father’s plane to land. After a three and a half hour flight from New York, Papi will be greeted by ‘…his favourite girl waiting at the airport.’ Papi, however, never arrives. His plane crashes into the Atlantic Ocean, leaving no survivors, and a devastated Camino discovers that maybe she wasn’t his ‘favourite girl’ after all. Maybe that accolade belongs to his hitherto secret daughter in New York. Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo is a compelling exploration of family secrets, identity, and forgiveness.