It’s been an indisputably sombre year, but the youngest among us have been particularly discombobulated by global events, gloom and grim predictions emanating from every news source, including via osmosis from their worried adults. Good News by Rashmi Sirdeshpande is here to redress the balance, a book stuffed full of happy real-life stories, including good people in power, businesses making a difference and the collective determination of everyday people. It will change the way the kids in your life think about both the media and the world.
Buffeted by the storms of Covid-19 and climate change, our teenagers are navigating turbulent times, and that’s aside from the fizzing hormones and usual angst-inducing challenges. For those young readers who are feeling mentally fragile as we approach the new school year, Be Resilient by Nicola Morgan provides balm for the troubled soul. With compassion and clarity, the award-winning teenage brain expert gives us five practical steps towards cultivating resilience, the happy reward being a strong mind, capable of surviving and thriving in an uncertain world.
Stan’s philosophy has always been to firmly decline anything resembling an adventure. There are just too many things that could go wrong. To date, he’s managed to avoid such horrors as bungee jumping and dancing in public, but now, at the age of twelve, the worst has happened. He’s going on a totally unwanted holiday to Italy with his friend, Felix, and family. In Worst. Holiday. Ever. by Charlie Higson, we join Stan as he grapples with a lengthy personal list of holiday fears, including octopuses, weird toilets, and being beach body ready.
Don’t let the melancholic title mislead you, Loveless by Alice Oseman is a novel absolutely brimming with love in a myriad of guises, some of which you may never have considered. Awarded the YA Book Prize 2021 by judges keenly aware of the literary zeitgeist, this warm and engaging story introduces us to Georgia, a young woman coming to terms with her asexuality. A decidedly 21st century campus drama, Loveless contains the classic elements of a coming-of-age tale, while also presenting a welcome challenge to lazy heteronormative thinking.
Blessed with gorgeous paintings to be admired by all ages, but words more suited to middle-grade readers, The Snail with the Right Heart by Maria Popova is a curious tale. Based on a real event, it tells the story of a very uncommon garden snail named Jeremy, whose shell spirals left instead of the usual right. The unassuming mollusc is set to garner worldwide attention in an ambitious exploration of genetics, the beauty of existence and the startling realities of snail sex.
When the school bell sets the kids free, what do they get up to on their daily walk home? In the Carnegie Medal winning Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds, we join a bunch of urban American schoolchildren in this precious liminal space. Old enough to walk unsupervised, and with the adult world and its accompanying complications looming on the horizon, this astute and empathetic book grants us a window into their dramas, comedies, and rich interior lives.
We love unearthing books for reluctant readers, and I Hate Reading by Beth Bacon is unlike anything we’ve come across before. It’s aimed at an outrageous subsection of young readers, those wishing to hoodwink gullible adults into believing they’ve become devoted bookworms overnight. If the bookish bore in your child’s life (surely not you?) is nagging them to open a book, try this one. Filled with hints and tips on how to fool people into thinking you’re reading, it’s a must for anti-book bamboozlers everywhere.
‘London stank.’ The punchy opening line to The Dark Lady by Akala sets the tone for this smart and inspired YA adventure, set in the fetid and brutal streets of Elizabethan London. A novel laced with the supernatural, it gives us Henry, an orphan and pickpocket possessed of extraordinary powers, in thrall himself to the poetic magic of William Shakespeare’s sonnets and plays. An intriguing combination in a tale that will take Henry from London’s foulest gutter to its most exclusive gentlemen’s society.
In what feels like a new golden age for kids’ literature, the scope and ambition on display is often dazzling, none more so than in The Shark Caller by Zillah Bethell, a truly exceptional read. Set in Papua New Guinea, it tells the story of a young orphan named Blue Wing. Privy to the magical secrets of the ocean, Blue Wing is intent on learning to call the sharks to her side, and in particular, Xok, the notorious shark that haunts her days. Vengeance is her goal and we accompany Blue Wing on her dramatic journey to wish fulfilment.
Weirdo by Zadie Smith & Nick Laird is a celebration of the unconventional by two authors who we’re told ‘usually write for grown-ups’ and are ‘both a bit weird.’ The stratospherically successful spouses, having mastered novels, essays and poetry, now join creative forces in this endearing new picture book, their first foray into children’s literature. It tells the story of Maud, a self-effacing young guinea pig, and her struggle to fit into a new home where her dress-sense and demeanour utterly baffle the family pets. Prepare for a lesson in assertiveness from the gentlest of domestic rodents.