Cheerfully irreverent, The Asparagus Bunch by Jessica Scott-Whyte is one of the most entertaining books we’ve read this year. It tells the story of Leon, who is precisely 4,779 days old. The confectionery-obsessed owner of fourteen identical yellow hoodies, Leon has been told he has an attitude problem. This could be why he’s been moved on from six different schools. Or maybe he’s just been terribly misunderstood. We join him at school number seven, as he navigates life as a square peg in a round hole.
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.
In essence a celebration of kindness, The Station Cat by Stephen Hogtun is a thing of beauty, exquisite illustrations accompanying the tale of a lonely cat who makes her home at a suburban railway station. Set in a time of steam trains and bowler-hatted city gents, this drab, sooty place exudes a forlorn air. The waiting passengers appear absorbed, sometimes in their ink-stained broadsheets but more often by their own personal troubles. Like the station, they are sad and grey, turning their indifferent faces away from the feline newcomer, unaware of the impact she will have on their lives.
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?
Painful as it is to acknowledge, there seems to be a small but vocal anti-reading brigade out there, and boy, are they lacking in compassion! Have they ever considered how it feels to be a neglected book? It’s a lonely life, perched on the bookshelf, desperate to be picked up but knowing you’re destined to sit facing the wall all day, ‘doing a whole lot of nothing’. In The Book No One Wants to Read by Beth Bacon, we join a hopeful little book as it attempts to engage with youthful indifference.
Congratulations to Danica Novgorodoff, worthy winner of the Yoto Kate Greenaway Medal 2022, for her stunning illustrative interpretation of Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. Reynolds’ blistering American verse novel tells the story of Will, witness to his brother Shawn’s death in a turf war shooting. Schooled in the ways of gang life, Will believes his only option is bloody revenge. In an elevator ride encompassing a mere sixty seconds and seven floors, he will be forced to confront some long overdue truths.
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.
Teenage girls today have a freedom and power that their foremothers could only imagine, and yet with it has come an unprecedented level of pressure and expectation. In You Don’t Understand Me by Dr Tara Porter, we look at a 21st century society that sometimes seems ‘awash with emotion.’ Navigating the perennially thorny issues of teenhood, Porter provides a refreshingly free-thinking perspective on maintaining emotional stability in a world in which all the game rules have changed. Using case studies and observations gleaned from many years of clinical practice, she lights the way for young women (and their often flummoxed parents).
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.