Picture Books for young children
Ernest & Celestine: The Picnic
Written by Gabrielle Vincent and Sam Alexander
Catnip (R) £10.99
These reissues are appearing as the film, which the first book inspired, is gathering accolades. A close look at this story shows how the pages are set as a continuing picture story which must lend itself well to film. There may be one line of text to four pictures showing a sequence, as when Ernest has to tell Celestine it is too wet to picnic. With the book, the child can talk their way through the sequence. The story is simple. A picnic is planned but the weather on the great day is dreadful. Long suffering Ernest cannot bear to disappoint little Celestine so they go anyway. In private woodland they encounter the irate landowner who is won over by the charming pair and he invites them to tea in the chateau. Throughout, the story is carried by the expression of the physical stance of the characters which indicates their emotional state. It is rewarding to ‘read’ the illustrations with children and do look especially at the final page where Celestine looks uncertainly at the newcomers as the text declares “the best picnic ever!”
Bubble and Squeak
Written by James Mayhew
Illustrated by Clara Vulliamy
James Mayhew is a superb illustrator of his own books, but on this occasion his story is illustrated by the talented Clara Vulliamy. This is the story of the unlikely friendship between Bubble, a famous, circus-performing elephant and a little mouse that crept into the circus one night looking for somewhere warm and dry. The little mouse is enchanted by the colour and spectacle of the world he has entered and particularly by Bubble and her breathtaking performance in the Pyramid of Peril. He decides to stay, but there is drama ahead. This book is full of joyful colour. The illustrations are bold and clear and the text fits in around them. Circuses and performing animals might be rather out of fashion nowadays, but this is a lovely story and the circus setting means that we can meet such wonderful characters as Boris the Strongman and Umberto the Human Cannonball. Small children will be captivated.
Written and illustrated by Gillian McClure
Two boys and their dog go down to the beach and decide to build a dam. They have to find a stream, not too wide, not too fast, and then the fun begins. What will it take to hold back the water – stones, driftwood and seaweed? Expressive, detailed illustrations catch the drama of the afternoon. A perfect book for beach lovers.
Marianne AdeyBears, Bears, Bears!
Written by Martin Waddell
Illustrated by Lee Wildish
When Ruby pins a sign to the trunk of a tree, 'Bears Wanted for Playing with Ruby', she gets more than she bargained for, in this bright, colourful picture book from Martin Waddell, creator of such classics as Can't You Sleep Little Bear and Owl Babies. There's a delightful humour running throughout the book, perfectly captured in Lee Wildish's jazzy, fun-filled illustrations. The bears come teeming out of Bear Wood and descend upon Ruby's house for a Bear Party. They raid the cupboards, sleep in her bed and occupy the toilet, the bath and the shower. Enough is enough! Ruby's Bear (the one who responded to the sign first) yells 'Bears Out!' and off they go, streaming from the house back into Bear Wood, like a bunch of partygoers who have just gatecrashed a house party. The moral of the story: one bear is more than enough, especially if you are inviting them round your house!
Written and illustrated by Vanya Nastanlieva
Simply Read Books £11.99
This is Vanya Nastanlieva’s debut picture book and both the story and the artwork are delightful. Sam, a very young hedgehog, moves into a new home in the forest. He is completely alone so he devises a plan to find some friends to play with and he writes some little notes that he pins to the trees. Unfortunately a strong wind blows the notes away and the lonely little hedgehog wonders if he will ever find some new playmates. Unbeknown to him, the other animals have been watching him and they are all very happy to welcome him into their woodland community. This heart-warming little story is very simple and the wonderful illustrations have plenty of details for small booklovers to spot. The wood is full of autumn colours and endearing woodland creatures and the author/illustrator’s clever, but sparing, use of speech bubbles ensures that we know Sam the hedgehog will not be lonely for long.
Do Not Enter the Monster Zoo
Written by Amy Sparkes
Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie
Red Fox (eB) £5.99
A fast paced fun fantasy tale all about a little boy who wins a prize. His prize is to be the keeper at the Monster Zoo for the day. Quite unlike any zoo that you have seen, this zoo has monsters of all colours, shapes and sizes! Children are encouraged to explore intonation through bold typefaces, exclamation marks and pauses. Children will enjoy the rhyming text and its layout as it is busy and different on every page. The illustrations are exciting and imaginative and the use of bright colours make the monsters almost jump out of the page. Children will enjoy sharing this story and pointing at all of the different coloured monsters. How many different coloured monsters are there? Which one is your favourite? This story is perfect for all monster lovers!
Written by Jan Dobbins and Laura Huliska-Beith
Sung by The Flannery Brothers
Experience a day on the farm through rhyme and song. The repetitive rhyme and rhythm encourages your child to join in with the story and predict what is going to happen next. Children and adults alike will enjoy joining in with ‘1, 2, 3. It’s a farmer’s life for me’. To put the story into context, the writers have included some factual information about working farms and the food and animals that appear in the story. This is lovely to share with the older children in your family and promotes discussion about where food comes from. The illustrations are bright and colourful and there are things to count on every page. This book is also accompanied with a CD and the music to the song is included in the back of the book so that your little one can enjoy the story in a variety of ways.
Written and illustrated by Jon Klassen
Walker Books £11.99
Combining the sparsest of texts and beautifully grave illustrations, this picture book charts the rise and fall of the little fish’s hope that he can get away with stealing the big fish’s hat. The little fish knows that stealing is wrong, but, as he says, the hat suits him so much better than it does the big fish. Never mind, he’ll probably be away before the big fish realises, no-one will see him escape, the crab won’t give him away and he’ll hide undetected in the tall plants. Probably! The climax of the story doesn’t even require words as we see the big fish swimming out of the tall plants with a tiny hat perched on his head. The book is a lovely morality story about the dangers of self-deluding thinking that takes over when we’re in the grip of wanting something that’s not ours. It’s a simple, striking and humorous tale which gently conveys all that children need to know about not stealing.
Written by Kara Lebihan
Illustrated by Deborah Allwright
While Mrs Vickers is pegging her knickers on the line, a sudden gust of wind blows her favourite pair into the sky and off they fly over the town. The bright pink spotty knickers have many adventures as they try to find their way home, unwittingly causing chaos below them. Minimal text in this lively and fun book makes it ideal for the very young and the action flows well. The layout gives adults and children the opportunity to elaborate on the story together by adding their own conversations between those witnessing the flying underwear. The illustrations by Deborah Allwright are colourful and very detailed, showing the pandemonium caused by the flying knickers. The book is ideal for sharing with groups of children who can have fun imagining additional disasters that could be caused by the airborne undies. The book has a fun ending as it hints that Mrs Vickers’ other knickers may also be due their own adventures.
I Am An Artist
Written and illustrated by Marta Altés
A big, colourful picture book but one which deals with more sophisticated concepts than that suggests. The child character sees himself as an artist but his mum is not always sympathetic. He creates a “Multiple Self Portrait”. His mum just sees a broken mirror. “Where I see the Loneliness of the Carrot, my mum sees An Unfinished Dinner.” As he declares he is inspired by nature, colours, movement, textures, shapes”, we see examples of these but also the chaos created in the house to achieve it - until he, surely, Goes Too Far? We do not know but this would be an interesting introduction for children who are just beginning to understand that art can be interrogated.
Who Am I?
Written by Gervase Phinn
Illustrated by Tony Ross
An egg hatches out in the sun and from it hops a strange little creature. Determined to find out who he is, he sets off on a journey through the jungle and asks the animals he meets there for advice. But the giraffe, the crocodile, the elephant and the cheetah, have no idea who he is and are only firm in the conviction that they know who they are. It's not long before we've worked out the answer, but once we know its great fun watching Tony Ross' pictures changing colour on each page. Gervais Phinn's humorous text leads the unlikely hero through tall, green grass, into the trees and over the river, until he arrives back home and finds himself in more familiar surroundings, side by side with his brothers and sisters. A lovely, original tale, showing young readers that it sometimes takes a while to find yourself in this big crazy world.
Written by Mike Brownlow
Illustrated by Simon Rickerty
Being a pirate isn’t without its perils in this clever and exciting counting story. One-by-one the little pirates are swept overboard, swallowed by a giant squid or lured away by a mermaid until only a single little pirate is left ‘sad and alone’. Thankfully, his friends aren’t far behind him making for a satisfying and reassuring ending. Mike Brownlow’s deceptively simple text has toddlers and adults joining in to count the diminishing numbers of pirates and wondering what will befall the next unlucky sailor. Simon Rickerty’s bold cartoon-like illustrations add a dramatic punch to the fast moving rhythm of the story. With a mix of genders and backgrounds among the pirates, this fun adventure is sure to be a favourite read, while helping to reinforce their numeracy.
This engaging rhyming and counting book will appeal to all young pirate lovers and teach them a thing or two. Bold black lines and attractive splodges of colour catch the eye and lots of humorous detail makes a careful perusal of the illustrations very rewarding. The story has a conventional opening, ‘Ten little pirates sailing out to sea . . .’ but the vigorous activity that ensues is matched by equally vigorous language as one-by-one the pirates disappear and then happily reappear. Is this a great piratical read-aloud? Arrrrrrrrrgh, it surely is!
Written and illustrated by Sam Lloyd
Yucky Mucky Manners is a bold, lively book which will appeal to children’s (and parents’!) mischievous side. As the book takes us through the jungle we are introduced to a whole host of animals, none of whom unfortunately appear to have any manners, as the gorilla is picking his nose, the crocodile is burping and the parrot won’t stop talking. Sam Lloyd’s drawings are simple, but perfectly suit this irreverent book. Each page is filled with brightly-coloured, bold illustrations of each of the animals being bad mannered. The picture of the ape’s ‘bare botty’ is particularly hilarious. Each image is accompanied by silly rhyming verses describing how ill-mannered the animals are. No doubt children will enjoy that their parents have to say the rude words such as ‘bogey’, ‘pooped’ and ‘parp’! Yucky Mucky Manners is a very funny book which will, hopefully, help children to learn the important difference between good and bad manners.
Written by Mark Sperring
Illustrated by Sarah Warburton
HarperCollins (eB) £12.99
Mabel is best friends with Me, a large white creature with pink, hairy legs and distinctly rodenty tail. Me is supremely confident and loyal to Mabel, taking compliments for herself and indignant for Mabel when insults are actually meant for Me! The language, the sounds and the rhythms are warm and engaging. When Mabel tries to explain that she thought Me strange, an explosion threatens, then Me remembers, “Oh Mabel, you are my BESTEST, BESTEST friend because… you always say the CRAZIEST things!” and they both laugh, and laugh, as best friends always do. An adorable picture book about how to survive friendships, engagingly illustrated in soft colours by Sarah Warburton.
Mixed Up Nursery Rhymes
Written by Hilary Robinson
Illustrated by Liz Pichon
Younger readers will take real pleasure in creating their own versions of well-loved nursery rhymes by flipping part of the page. Bright colours and clear images make this a great book for sharing with a group. This welcome follow-up to Mixed Up Fairy Tales will have broad appeal.
The Perfect Present
Written and Illustrated by Fiona Roberton
In the first book in this series, Henry wants a dog as a pet but ends up with a duck that is given the inappropriate name, Spot. It is Henry’s birthday and Spot thinks he has found the perfect present for him – a fishing rod. The excitement builds as Henry opens his other presents. He is just about to open Spot’s when another is delivered – his grandparents have bought him a puppy. Henry is immediately enraptured by this ‘perfect present’ and spends succeeding days playing with the puppy until Spot decides he is now unwanted and leaves home. He sets off into the dark rainy night and ends up in danger. The puppy finds him and the fishing rod rescues him, so all ends happily as Henry declares Spot will always be the perfect pet. The story, the characters and the simple illustrations weave a gentle, warm, funny and engaging experience to share with a young child. And there are incidental jokes in the illustrations which will probably appeal more to the adult reader than the child, such as the shop window of the angling store which offers “Cans of worms – Do Not Open”.
Written and illustrated by Miriam Latimer
Red Fox (eB) £5.99
An enchanting story about friendship and letter writing. Florence has moved house and is feeling lonely as she does not have any friends. She soon starts writing to her neighbour and starts receiving letters back. However, this neighbour is like no other! It is the panda from the neighbouring zoo! The pair soon meet and discover that they like doing different things. Flo likes hula-hooping whilst Panda likes to climb. With the worry of a new school looming over her, Panda agrees to accompany Flo on her first day. This opens new doors of friendship for Flo and boosts her self-esteem and confidence. This is a story of many levels. Children will enjoy looking at the letters in the text and develop their understanding of how they are written. This story will also spark much discussion about friendships and feelings surrounding starting a new school. What a lovely celebration of friendship!
Written by Peter Bently
Illustrated by Russell Ayto
Simon & Schuster (eB) £ 6.99
The rhyming text of this quirky picture book tells a humorous and cautionary tale. Dad has a huge appetite and cannot bear to see left-over food on a plate so eats all unwanted food, whether it is tasty or not. Mum calls him a dustbin on legs and despairs. One day Dad mistakes some medication for the cat as soup and gobbles it up. It has a strange effect on him and he turns into a giant cat. The illustrations are in Russell Ayto’s classic style and have humorous detail and unusual twists and turns as the reader interacts with the story. Dad causes havoc as a cat until the potion wears off but not before he learns his lesson. The family too learn to make sure they eat all the food on their plates!
Written by Trish Cooke
Illustrated by Caroline Binch
Papillote Press £6.99
A picture book with a longer text, in which Grannie tells a story from her childhood in Dominica, in the Caribbean. It concerns the dreaded Ti Bolom who walks behind you, following you in the darkness. Grannie never quite saw him in the forest. Christopher, however, needs to know if he is being stalked by Ti Bolom and makes his plans. Great illustrations of both the forest in Dominica and of the people, demonstrating their character and emotions. As one always hopes for in traditional stories of this kind, there is also plenty of opportunity to join in.
Titles for the young child just beginning to Read Alone
The Abandoned Kitten
Written by Sue Mongredien
Illustrated by Jon Davis
Lily’s Mum works at an RSPCA centre. One day, Mum brings home some abandoned kittens and Lily is thrilled to be asked to look after them. She names them all and becomes very attached to them as they are very tiny and need a lot of care in order to survive. However, it is Meg, the Border Collie cross, who is the star of the show. She was herself rescued by Lily’s Mum and proves to be the perfect mother-substitute for the kittens. A gentle, heart-warming story based on a real life rescue which will appeal to all young animal lovers. The end of the book is full of facts about being an RSPCA worker and useful tips about looking after kittens.
Arthur and the Guard Dog
Written by Johanne Mercier
Translated by Daniel Hahn
Illustrated by Clare Elsom
Phoenix Yard £4.99
This is the fourth adventure about Arthur, aged seven who lives with his Grandparents and a duck. One day, Arthur finds a big and hairy stray dog beside the lake. No-one in the neighbourhood knows who he belongs to, so Arthur and his Grandad take him home. But Grandma is not happy about having a dog in the house as well as the duck and she needs convincing that he will be useful. Grandma enlists the help of Cousin Eugene, who goes to university and knows things. Eugene decides to put the loveable and lazy dog through a series of tests to see if he could be useful as a guard dog, or even a rescue dog. Needless to say, as with most animals, their plans go awry and it is touch and go whether the dog will persuade Grandma of his usefulness. The text of this lively book is full of subtle humour and is ideally accompanied by black and white illustrations full of character.
Written by Anne Fine
Doubleday (eB) £10.99
Anne Fine writes with energy and originality in the persona of Tuffy the Killer Cat. ‘OK, OK. So twist my tail. I spat at the stupid baby.’ Tuffy, though not a very cuddly cat, is in fact not good at killing so when he leaves home in a huff, and a spit and a scratch, he is hard pressed to find food. His mission is to find another home, but none of them proves as congenial as the home he has left. He misses Ellie and Ellie misses him. Of course they are re-united but not before a series of hilarious adventures. Division into twenty-one short chapters, copious illustrations, inventive language and sheer fun make this book hugely inviting to young readers.
Monster and Chips
Written and illustrated by David O’Connell
HarperCollins (eB) £5.99
Fuzzby’s Diner proves a useful refuge when Joe is cornered by the local school bully, but to his surprise, the owner is a monster, as are all the customers. Fuzzby is looking for help in the restaurant, and after a zany interview, Joe gets the job. He soon settles in to the role and enjoys some hilarious cooking adventures with his monster friends. Finally, Joe saves the day when a cheating monster threatens to sabotage Fuzzby’s creation in the Monsterchef competition. This is a bright and cheerful read, with plenty of jokes and humour, and some interesting formatting to keep readers engaged. The monsters are both funny and endearing, with basic characterisation which supports the story and helps the reader to anticipate the plot developments. As a result, readers are likely to feel absorbed in the story and feel a sense of satisfaction at reading this simple chapter book. An enjoyable and rewarding read.
Wendy Quill is a Crocodile’s Bottom
Written by Wendy Meddour
Illustrated by Mina May
OUP (eB) £5.99
Wendy Quill is a quirky, confident girl, who deals with the ups and downs of life in a breezy manner. She is very disappointed not to be picked for the part of Wendy in Peter Pan, instead ending up as the rear of the crocodile when the costume does not fit. Wendy really wants to be ‘a little bit famous’ in order that people will call her by her real name, rather than her nickname of ‘wheezy bird’ and by the end of the book she has inadvertently achieved this goal with her picture being printed in the local paper. This book is packed full of style with doodles and notes on every page, as well as some full-page black and white illustrations by a talented young artist (the author’s 11 year old daughter) that add humour and interest throughout, drawing the reader into the ups and downs of Wendy’s world. Readers will enjoy her cheery commentary on family and friends and her narration of life around her, while memorable moments such as Wendy’s rescue of the escaped rat in the classroom are sure to lead to giggles and gasps of amusement.
Titles for the Confident Reader in Primary School
Shrinking Violet is Totally Famous
Written by Lou Kuenzler
Illustrated by Kirsten Collier
Shrinking Violet may be described by some as a Mrs Pepperpot for the modern age, but there are some significant differences between Violet and the classic character, not least the world she inhabits, which in this tale, the third in the series, is one of TV celebrity, polka dot pants and mobile phones. Violet needs to meet celebrity ‘explorer’ Stella Lightfoot to beg her to rescue her friend Mo’s café which is under threat of closure as a result of chaos caused by Violet’s shrinking. There are twists and turns aplenty, some inevitable with a main character who shrinks when excited, but a surprising depth of plot develops towards the end as Violet discovers that appearances can be deceptive. As she deals with her anger and disappointment, Violet discovers that things sometimes have unforeseen explanations and the reader may find themselves regretting the speed with which they jump to conclusions! Pages are peppered with black and white line drawn illustrations, and the text has been cleverly used to create effects with font size, style, doodles and labels.
The Secret River
Written by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon
Simon & Schuster (eB) £13.99
A picture book for older children and parents to enjoy. The story is about a little girl, Calpurnia, and her dog, Buggy Horse, who set out on an adventure. Calpurnia’s father does not have enough fish to sell at market so she finds a way to help him and his customers. With assistance from the wisest person in the forest, Calpurnia finds a secret river and uses pink paper flowers from her hair to catch more than enough catfish to feed the whole swamp. When Calpurnia tries to return to the secret river she is unable to find it and has to learn a very important lesson. It is a story of living in a time of hardships and beautifully illustrated with rich, lyrical language.
Written by Glenda Millard
Illustrated by Stephen Michael King
Phoenix Yard (eB) £5.99
This is a remarkable book about families, love, loss and death, which establishes its thoughtful mood from the very first paragraph. As the story unfolds, we learn that Senior Citizens’ Day is looming and the children are invited to bring an old person to school. Nell wants to introduce them to Miss Amelie, who, despite her frail condition, is able to visit the school on Senior Citizens’ Day. Although she suffers from dementia, she retains her older memories and keeps the children absorbed with her stories. They learn she is still waiting for her sweetheart, John William, who never returned from the war. However, she continues to decline and eventually dies. Layla is left contemplating the nature of life and loss. This is a moving story about family life, and how we come to terms with the death of those we love. It interweaves the loss of several characters quite naturally, and never talks down to the reader. It can be enjoyed at a variety of levels - read aloud to younger children, a read alone for slightly older children, or even used as a focus for discussion with teenagers.
Written by Steve Cole
Illustrated by Jim Field
Simon & Schuster £6.99
Stew is a twelve-year-old boy who is a keen comic book fan, and even spends time writing and drawing comics about his superhero alter-ego, Stupendous Man. When Stew’s grandfather, a professional comic book artist, dies, he leaves his house and all of its contents to Stew’s family. However, all is not as it seems, for when they move in they discover a pig in a top hat running through the house! Stew enters the attic that his grandfather had locked 20 years earlier and discovers magic ink: anything he draws come to life! Steve Cole has delighted younger readers before with his Astrosaurs and Cows In Action series and now, in Magic Ink, he is once again on top form. Steve Cole creates a host of interesting and funny characters that will have readers helpless with laughter. This is particularly true of Posho, the pig that dresses in a top hat and tails, can talk and loves to play practical jokes. The story is accompanied by fantastic and humorous illustrations by Jim Field, which helps to give the comic book feel.
Little Lost Hedgehog
Written by Jill Hucklesby
Illustrated by Jon Davies
Aptly titled, this is indeed the tale of a little, lost hedgehog, which is not only warmly related but based on a real-life RSPCA rescue and informs about animal care as well as the work of the RSPCA. Grace is a young girl from a nature loving family who adores the outdoors, pet dog Barney and pet rabbits Bramble and Lulu. She is actively involved in Pet Club at school. After feeding her own rabbits and giving them extra hay one cold, rainy Saturday evening at the onset of winter she’s alerted by a rustling sound which turns out to be Hedgie. He is quickly identified as a very underweight hoglet by an official RSPCA officer. Hedgie’s progress is thereafter closely monitored by the RSPCA and witnessed by Grace as well as her class from school. This is one of four titles in a current series for the RSPCA, proceeds of which help fund the charity to save animals’ lives and it’s an altogether heart-warming and informative tale.
Written by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham
Illustrated by P.J. Lynch
This haunting tale from Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham was inspired by the long and difficult journeys that traders took through the deserts and mountains of Africa on their way to sell salt and gold. They depended upon guides to lead them across dangerous terrain. When Issa travels out on a donkey he is delayed by a sandstorm and takes refuge in a cave where he finds a basket with a baby in it. He takes the basket home and brings the child up as Mariama, teaching her all he knows about the desert. Mariama learns to read, 'the maps made by stars' and 'the stories told by stones'. When Issa's sight begins to fail she becomes his eyes as they follow two strangers and a boy to the Bitter Mountains, where destiny awaits them. The mystery and danger of the desert, is reflected in the 'great brown rocks piled up like books that might belong to a giant', and 'the big-bellied baobab trees (lifting) their branches and fingery leaves into the air like a line of fat old ladies dancing.' There's more than a touch of the Arabian Nights about the story and P J Lynch's sand-coloured camels, gold mountains bathed in blue light and shroud-wrapped Bedouins, add to the atmosphere.
Titles for readers Moving On from Primary to High School
Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse
Written and illustrated by Chris Riddell
Ada Goth sleeps in an eight poster bed, tells time by a great uncle clock, but has no real friends until she meets Ishmael, a ghostly mouse who needs her help. Together they must convince her father that the evil Maltravers is up to no good and that having a brave and talented daughter is reason enough to live again. This highly imaginative and comical novel is full of expressive line drawings that add to the fun.
Written by Dan Smith
Chicken House (eB) £6.99
It is the Second World War and 12 year old Peter lives near the coast of North East England with his mother. German bombers are often overhead, dropping unused bombs as they head back to Norway. One day Peter sees a plane crash near his home and glimpses a parachute landing in distant woods. One who rushes to the crash site is Kim, a tomboyish girl who has been evacuated from Newcastle. These two quickly become friends – having in common a thirst for adventure and relatives away fighting in Africa. Despite police and soldiers searching for the German parachutist, Kim and Peter find him first. Initially, they are scared of him, then, feeling that it might guarantee the safe return of their loved ones, they decide to help him. A believable relationship develops between the children and the injured parachutist, Erik. At the same time, Peter and Kim are drawn to each other, especially when she helps him to face down the village bully. Dan Smith has created sympathetic characters and the emotional and moral dilemmas they face are framed by a tense, exciting and moving drama.
Written by Darren Shan
Illustrated by Zack McLaughlin
Barrington Stoke £5.99
This magical story from ancient, timeless Japan is for all ages, and, for all readers. It is identified as ‘dyslexia friendly’, but you do not need to be dyslexic to enjoy it! This is a truly special book which exudes undeniable magic, darkness and light, the complex and the simple. Hagurosan is a little boy. Like all little boys, he would prefer to play than take on an hour-long, uphill trek under a sizzling sun. But, his simple goodness means that he obeys his mother and even when it is totally understandable that the cake in his pocket is too tempting to remain untouched, his purity prevails and his humility and simple goodness prompt him to repent honestly and selflessly to the gods at the shrine when he eventually arrives. His sincerity and selflessness are tested and further tested as his wish is granted at the cost of spending the rest of his earthly life within the shrine until his old man’s body slips away and his words are “softer than a spring breeze”, audible only to the gods. Beautiful!
Written by Jon Mayhew
Bloomsbury (eB) £6.99
Prince Dakkar has been sent by his Indian father to Count Oginski to learn how to rule his people and to defeat all enemies. Despite his own ego and the oddness of Oginski’s remote castle, Dakkar learns how to fight, how to survive, and how to engineer and steer a secret submersible craft being developed in Oginski’s hidden sea cavern. In a page–turning, multifaceted adventure, reminding you of Jules Verne and James Bond with a touch of Pirates of the Caribbean, Dakkar deals with sea monsters, pirates, Oginski’s evil brother, Cryptos, intent on world domination, and Georgia, his rather cross American ally. It is a very visual tale which may well make an animated film, especially with the cataclysmic conclusion. A rip-roaring adventure for confident readers, in a classic mould with modern twists. Highly recommended!
Written by Julia Lee
OUP (eB) £6.99
Clemency Wrigglesworth was born and brought up in India. She was an only child leading a privileged life, until her father and mother both die suddenly, leaving her orphaned and penniless. She is a very practical child and decides she must make her way to England to search for long-lost relatives. On the voyage she is looked after by Mrs Potchard and when no-one is there to meet her she finds herself welcomed into the home of Mrs Potchard’s family, the eccentric Marvels. When the mysterious Miss Clawe drags Clemency away without giving her a chance to gather her belongings, or say goodbye, the Marvels set out to find her. Will the Marvels find her in time? There is a fantastic and likeable cast of madcap characters supporting Clemency, whose unconventional approach to the challenges life throws at her make her very likeable. The elaborate plot is great fun and makes The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth appeal to fans of both Eva Ibbotson and Lemony Snicket.
Titles for Young Teenage Readers
House of Secrets
Written by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini
HarperCollins (eB) £12.99
A breathless adventure, House of Secrets is a family based fantasy which takes the reader on spiralling journey of magic, danger and suspense. The Walker children have just moved house, to a rambling old edifice in a San Francisco suburb. But the house has a character of its own, seemingly drawn from a previous resident, an author of fantasy adventure stories. When the house itself starts to take the children on a series of wild adventures, they quickly realise that the stories themselves have come to life. The adventures that follow are laced with violence and terror, whilst the plot moves at a breakneck pace throughout. Somehow the children cope, although their survival at times seems doubtful. We warm to the children, share their hopes and fears, feel with them the chill of death and believed bereavement, and enjoy their relief at a happy outcome. The final chapters provide resolution, as well as a strong hint of more adventures to come. A great story for young fantasy fans who have developed some reading stamina.
Liz DubberUnnatural Creatures
Edited by Neil Gaiman
Bloomsbury (eB) £12.99
Neil Gaiman throws the reader into a menagerie of improbable or impossible creatures. He raids over a hundred years worth of stories to furnish his collection of sixteen fantastical creatures, from his own Sunbird to Edith Nesbit’s The Cockatoucan. Like visiting a zoo, the reader will find their own favourite stories and creatures, like the bizarre Inksplot in Graham Wilson’s nameless story and wasps that practice cartography, to classic beasts like a misunderstood Griffin. Even without the kudos of Neil Gaiman’s name on the cover, this is an accomplished collection of rare specimens. Not every story will hit its mark, but each short story is worth reading. Pre-teen, teenage and adult readers will find plenty to entertain and expand their minds beyond the more popular of the paranormal creatures.
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
Written by Catherynne M. Valente
Illustrations by Ana Juan
Much-in-Little (eB) £9.99
This is the most wonderful sequel to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland. Nearly a year has passed since September returned home from Fairyland and she has been desperate to go back ever since. When she finally does get there she sees straight away that something is terribly wrong. The inhabitants of Fairyland have been losing their shadows and their magic to the world of Fairyland Below where there is someone new in charge. The new ruler is Halloween, the Hollow Queen. She is September’s shadow. September realizes it is her responsibility to travel down into the underworld, among the creatures of ice and moonlight, to undo the damage done. She must save Fairyland from becoming a dull place without magic. The densely detailed, rich, imaginative prose is a joy to savour and get lost in, and, at the beginning of each chapter, the characters are brought to life with drawings by artist Ana Juan. An extraordinary modern fairytale of wondrous imagination, which can be enjoyed on its own merits, whether or not you have read the prequel.
. Gillian Macdonald
Written by Siobhan Parkinson
Hodder (eB) £6.99
Heart-shaped is a companion book to Parkinson’s earlier novel Bruised. This moving tale starts with Annie making a shock discovery which brings back distressing memories of a similar event in her childhood. To help her come to terms with both events she starts to visit a psychiatrist. As she talks to him Annie’s past and present stories begin to reveal themselves to the reader. Annie’s is a very moving story and, despite all the upsetting things that happen, a very positive one. Written from Annie’s perspective, often through conversations with her main confidents, her dry humour adds warmth even though some conversations are upsetting. Annie’s thoughts are often chaotic, jumping from past to present events, or referencing incidents in Bruised. Heart-shaped can be read as a stand-alone, although having read the prequel will help. Eventually it all comes together and, when the big reveal hits, it is very powerful. Heart-shaped is a delightful; heart-warming tale.
Written by Celia Bryce
Bloomsbury (eB) £6.99
Jackson is almost the first person Megan meets when she arrives on the children’s cancer ward. He is larger than life, with an energy and zest for life that belie his life-threatening illness. Is it safe to make friends in a place like this when she has chemo treatments ahead of her and, later, surgery? Little by little the outside world seems to retreat as their relationship grows. Family pressures and friendship issues add to Megan’s problems in the powerful coming-of-age novel.
Written by Sophie McKenzie
Simon & Schuster (eB) £10.99
This is a sequel to Girl, Missing but fills in enough back-story to work as a stand-alone novel. Madison’s unusual family setup is further complicated when she discovers that her biological father was a sperm donor. Madison decides to track the donor down and so plunges herself into a world of half-truths and crime. This novel has a compelling first person narrative voice that keeps you reading on. Events quickly unfold with little pause for breath and no chance of boredom on the part of the reader. A wide cast of characters are clearly defined and therefore easy for the reader to keep track of. This book could be a good choice for teenagers looking for an undemanding, but exciting, read.
Written by Allen Zadoff
Orchard (eB) £6.99
Our hero is called Benjamin for much of this book, but his name changes with each mission, because our hero is a sixteen year old assassin, working for a shadowy governmental organization called The Program. He has worked for them since he was 12, when his parents were killed by another boy assassin trained by The Program. Zach is a good killer – cold, calculating, mentally and physically strong – with an excellent method for getting close to his targets: he befriends their children. So his life is a lie, a subterfuge, as he ruthlessly adapts his life-story to his needs. He is, as the title suggests, a nobody, a brainwashed killing machine. But, when he finds himself attracted to the daughter of his current target, things get complicated. Especially when it turns out that this time he is the one being used and lied to. It’s a tough, relentless, fast-moving story and the reader is dragged eagerly from one unpredictable event to the next. The short, staccato, hardboiled style of the writing suits the narrative and adds to the sense of breathless excitement. This is the first in a planned series and I’m certain that there will be many readers waiting anxiously for the sequel.
The Last Wild
Written by Piers Torday
Quercus (eB) £6.99
Twelve year old Kester Jaynes begins his story in the first person, simply and factually describing his bedroom, which is less a bedroom and more a cell, with its window tinted to maintain constancy of temperature and minimise stimulus and with a door that is locked shut being both electronically and manually controlled. Kester is mute after his mother’s death and all students are forced to eat only a slimy pink formula due to the disease in which his scientist father is somehow involved, and with whom he hopes to be reunited one day. We discover, with Kester, that he can communicate with animals. Kester realises the urgent need for a future survival, common to all. Then begins a crucial journey, both fantastical and terrifying, with amazing animal characters as well as feisty Polly. This is inescapable reading; clever, scary, brave, sad, and funny … roll on April 2014 for the sequel!
Titles for More Mature readers
Written by C.J. Omololu
Bloomsbury (eB) £6.99
Put together an attractive young man, coincidences, memories as clear as day, a talented young cellist and events from the past and you have the ingredients for this unusual mystery and love story. Nicole, known as Cole, meets Griffon who seems to know far more about her than she can understand and the connection between them seems to go further than usual girl-meets-boy attraction. Cole begins to have visions of previous times and other peoples’ lives and she soon realises that she is actually the person she remembers. Griffon helps her make sense of her new powers and as she overcomes her natural scepticism, Cole discovers she has a lot to learn. All too soon her life is in danger as the past returns to haunt her in a very real way. The descriptions of the past lives that Cole experiences are vivid and accurate and add a fascinating historical dimension to this love story which twists and turns as the past interweaves with the present.
Written by Sharon Jones
Orchard (eB) £6.99
Dead Jealous is an original, highly readable book which both fascinates and alarms. Teenager Poppy is at a pagan festival in a densely wooded area, surrounded by New Agers, including her mother and new stepfather, who believe in Tarot cards, handfasting ceremonies and mystic visualising. Poppy’s interest in science is challenged by the extraordinary events surrounding her, and then she discovers a friend, Sharon, drowned in the lake. She is determined to prove that Sharon was murdered. You suspect one character after another, as Poppy discovers lies, secrets and manipulation around her, with danger threatening in the lightless woods. She trusts Tariq, a hugely attractive and physical boy we know to be a drug dealer, but is unsure of her stepfather, friend Bob and a local farmer. Throughout, her best friend Michael tries to protect her, though his own girlfriend complicates his and Poppy’s relationship. We know he is someone she can trust, but she almost dies discovering it. A coming-of-age novel from a very talented writer whose expert plotting and sure characterisation will draw readers in.
All the Truth That’s in Me
Written by Julie Berry
Templar (eB) £10.99
This is a haunting and poignant tale, simply told by Judith as she recounts her strange story to Lucas, who she has loved for ever and who may never hear her words, for Judith has no tongue to give voice to the tragic events which shaped her. Steadily, Judith tells of the past, remembers their childhood friendship and gradually the scraps of information build the picture of who abducted her and where she has been for the past two years. Her disappearance, and equally strange return, mystifies the repressed and puritan society she lives in and her Mother cannot hide her feelings of shame. With no tongue to tell the truth Judith suffers in silence until she makes a friend who shows her a way forward. She is determined to learn to read and write and find another way of communicating. This is a story about the trials of a rural community working hard to survive and the dangers of superstitions and rigid traditions. Above all it is a love story, a story of heartache and steadfastness, hope and redemption. Julie Berry writes in short chapters which add to the pace and suspense as the story unfolds. It is a captivating, atmospheric read and the intrigue is maintained until the last pages.