13 of the best children’s books for kids aged 12 and under

Stanley the Amazing Knitting Cat by Emily MacKenzie
Stanley the Amazing Knitting Cat by Emily MacKenzie
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JANE E Sandell checks out the latest publications aimed at the under-12s and finds a colourful cast of characters hopping to entertain all the family

9-12 Years

A century after her death, Puffin has re-issued its edition of Jean Webster’s best-selling and most famous novel Daddy-Long-Legs (£6.99). It’s the story of Judy Abbott, an orphan sent to college by an anonymous benefactor. The novel is told in a series of letters written by Judy to the man she calls Daddy-Long-Legs (because she has only ever seen his elongated shadow). Through them the reader witnesses her adjusting from orphanage life to the kind her new friends take for granted. Judy is a very human heroine and she really steps off the page in this engaging story.

There always seems to be something sinister going on at Izzy’s school so she and her friends are not surprised when the dinner ladies start to change their appearance and alarming new food is offered to the children. As the situation worsens it’s up to Izzy, Jodi, Zach and Maisie to protect the school from its caterers – and the gathering seagulls... Pamela Butchart’s Attack of the Demon Dinner Ladies (Nosy Crow £6.99) bounds along, fuelled by its diverse collection of well-defined characters, a strangely believable plot and a wonderful sense of the ridiculous.

Ash McCarthy is fighting the jungle, his fears and an unseen, unknown enemy as he attempts to stop a lethal virus being unleashed on the world. Can he stop the criminals, retrieve the antidote and save his Mum before the clock ticks down? Boy X (Chicken House £6.99) is a breathless adventure where nothing and no-one is as expected. Dan Smith’s pacey prose gallops along, capturing the reader and entangling us in the puzzle plot. Who is to be trusted? That would be telling, but you can believe that this is a thriller not to be missed.

Aspiring writers will love My Book of Stories: Write Your Own Adventures by Deborah Patterson (British Library £9.99). This high-quality journal-cum-notebook is desirable and diverse, and full of teasers, ideas and illustrations to inspire young writers. With space for notes and thoughts, it’s a wonderful way to fire the imagination.

It’s Easter 1916 in Dublin and violence is about to break out on the streets. Molly, her family and friends will all face danger in different ways. Who will survive with life, ideals and hope intact? Molly’s Diary (Poolbeg £5.99) by Patricia Murphy recreates the events of the fateful season through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl in this exciting non-stop adventure.

6-10 Years

Perfect for Easter is Miracle Man: the story of Jesus (Abrams Books for Young Readers £11.99) written and illustrated by John Hendrix. Hendrix takes some poetic licence but does not detract from the Biblical account and his words are few but carefully chosen. His illustrations are dramatic, dynamic and colourful with the final two double-page spreads hitting the hardest. Using little text they show Good Friday and Easter Day with equal power. Although aimed at younger children, this book is for everyone.

From Story Land’s sunshine and flowers to New York City is quite a journey for a young unicorn. Louie Lets Loose! (OUP £5.99) is his story, told by Rachel Hamilton and illustrated by Oscar Armelles. Making friends, looking for cake and aspiring to stardom, Louie remains generous and naïve as he adjusts to life in the big city. Will he survive the cut-throat world of the New York School for Performing Arts? This is a clever, funny and very accessible book enhanced by its illustrations.

If there’s a would-be knight or princess in your house don’t miss The Knight [Princess] Craft Book (GMC £6.99) by Laura Minter and Tia Williams. Each book is full of simple ideas for crafts, baking and dressing-up. Clearly laid out and packed with illustrations these books will be a boon to any artistically-challenged parent and a jumping-off point for their more gifted comrades.

Flying Fergus is a new series written by Chris Hoy and Joanna Nadin and illustrated by Clare Elsom. In the first book, The Best Birthday Bike (Piccadilly £4.99), cycling-mad Fergus is given a bike that turns out to be more spectacular than it first appears. Join Fergus for adventures at home and abroad as he tries to find the father he’s never met whilst challenging the local bully in a cycling race.

0-5 Years

Stanley the Amazing Knitting Cat (Bloomsbury £6.99) by Emily MacKenzie is crazy, quirky, colourful and fun. Mice are safe around Stanley and he doesn’t care about dozing in the sunshine. Stanley loves to knit. All his friends are dressed in his handiwork and stay warm thanks to him. But when he runs out of wool before an important competition he is forced to take desperate measures. With its cute animals, bright woollens and happy ending, this is a joyful story about friendship and loyalty.

Nibbles is a little monster – literally. He chews on everything but mostly he likes books. In fact, he chews his way out of Nibbles the Book Monster (Little Tiger £11.99) by Emma Yarlett. In the course of the story he chews his way through a selection of fairy tales upsetting characters along the way. Who can stop him? The stories within the story are clever and funny and the illustrations are wonderfully detailed. It is ideal for family reading and seems set to become a favourite.

Blackbird, Blackbird, What Do You Do? (Hodder £11.99) by Kate McLelland is a tale of adventure and discovery. Pip is a young blackbird who wants to find out where his talents lie. He sets off to ask the other birds about theirs but they all have talents that Pip doesn’t share. It’s only after he returns home, despondent, that he discovers just what it is that blackbirds do. A warm and very simple story that is beautifully illustrated.

New from the pen and brush of Emily Gravett is Tidy (Two Hoots £12.99). Pete the badger spends his days ensuring his forest home is tidy. He snips the flowers, polishes the rocks and washes the birds. It keeps him busy but he copes until one day the leaves start to fall. And then Pete goes too far in his quest for tidiness. Emily Gravett’s place in the world of children’s books is established but in Tidy she excels herself and will delight new audiences. n