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.
The letter, when it lands on Seb’s doormat, manages to be both celebratory and commanding. Sent on behalf of the HappyHead project, it congratulates 17-year-old Seb on being selected for a pioneering programme designed to eradicate teenage unhappiness. It’s an immersive 13-day course of challenges and assessments, and by the way, attendance is mandatory. A timely exploration of our 21st century preoccupation with happiness, HappyHead by Josh Silver launches us into a government-endorsed mental health bootcamp. What in the name of dystopian thrillers could go wrong?
In three weeks time, Imogen Stewart will turn eleven, an impressive age by any measure. She’ll be taller, cleverer, and probably quite sensible, but what she won’t be is a detective. Those days are behind her, her last solved mystery having taken place when she was nine. All she has to remind her are the newspaper clippings that detail her rescue of an imperilled penguin named Einstein. In The Case of the Fishy Detective by Iona Rangeley, we discover that Imogen’s detective days are far from over, as the charismatic Einstein waddles back into her life on a trail of herrings and havoc.
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.
Vivaldi by Helge Torvund is the perfect book for back-to-schoolers with ‘dread in their little knees’. It tells the story of Tyra, a little girl whose classroom experience has left her sad and silent. Her interior life is gloriously vivid, but at school she feels unseen. She’s in need of a friend, and as all true cat lovers know, friendship often arrives in feline form, in this case with the bluest eyes Tyra has ever seen. With her new pet, supportive family, and the inspiring music of Vivaldi, maybe life can be different. If only it were that simple.
One snowy night, a little girl named Otilla runs away from home, into the deep dark woods. She runs all through the night, escaping we know not what, but in the best tradition of spooky tales, she comes upon an old and neglected house. Here lives a lonely skull, separated from his body and in need of a friend. We join this odd couple in The Skull by Jon Klassen. Adapted from an obscure Tyrolean folktale, it’s a strange and charming story of facing fear and finding friendship in unlikely places.
Miss Marple once reflected that ‘One does see so much evil in a village’. But even the famously unflappable sleuth would surely have raised an eyebrow at the goings on in the usually somnolent village of Barbourough. Here, teenage friends and Agatha Christie fans, Kerry and Annie, are called upon to investigate a diabolical murder, after their frankly unpleasant classmate, Selena, becomes possibly the only person in history to have been suffocated with a menstrual cup. A laugh-out-loud girl-powered whodunnit awaits in Murder on a School Night by Kate Weston.
For the unitiated, mudlarking is the practice of combing river banks for interesting artefacts that may have washed ashore. For Clem and her friends, it’s treasure-hunting and story-finding, and in The Thames and Tide Club by Katya Balen, we join them at a time of chaos and calamity on London’s famous river. Only the young mudlarkers can save the day, in an aquatic adventure that will see them encountering pirates, a ballgowned porpoise named Barbara, and an underwater branch of the famous department store, Shellfridges.
Dedicated to Jewish grandmas everywhere, Alte Zachen by Ziggy Hanaor kicks off with a Yiddish proverb, which declares that ‘A person’s heart is like a sausage. No one knows exactly what’s inside.’ In this wonderful Carnegie-shortlisted graphic novel, we attempt a peek into the heart of Benji’s grandmother, Bubbe Rosa. The story charts their walk through Brooklyn and Manhattan as they buy ingredients for a Friday night dinner, an expedition that will uncover aspects of Bubbe’s chequered past and her struggle to accept the inevitability of change.