Our roundup of the best reads for children of all ages.
Babies and Toddlers
Open Very Carefully (Nosy Crow, £10.99) by Nicola O’Byrne and Nick Bromley is the story of an interrupted fairy tale. A crocodile has somehow got into the story of the Ugly Duckling and has taken over. As the crocodile starts eating the words of the story, the duckling tries to stop him. But it turns out that it’s quite difficult to get a crocodile out of a book. In fact, there’s just one thing to be done. The text and illustrations work together to produce a quirky crazy tale destined to be loved by young children.
My New Baby (Campbell Books, £5.99) by Stella Gurney and Fiona Freund is one of a series aimed at helping parents and children talk about, and come to terms with, tricky subjects. This title is a toddler’s view of what it’s like when another baby is on the way and how the baby’s advent changes things at home. It’s a sturdy board book with bright, engaging pages, a mixture of photographs and drawings and a little straightforward text. It offers a great way in to talking about a potentially unsettling time.
Amber Stewart and Layn Marlow collaborate once more to produce Too Small for My Big Bed (OUP, £11.99). Piper is a little Tiger who gets scared when he wakes up at night in his own bed. His mother wants him to stay there on his own and not come to her bed. During the day, as they play games and have adventures, she tries to make him understand that, even when Piper cannot see her, she is not far away. The warm and comforting tones of Layn Marlow’s beautiful pictures reinforce the message of Amber Stewart’s gentle story. An ideal book to read with toddlers.
Snug as a Bug (Simon and Schuster, £6.99) is a delightful rhyming counting book written by Tamsyn Murray and drawn by Judi Abbot. George is reluctant to go to the park on a gloomy grey day but his Mum persuades him that he’ll be as snug as a bug – “as warm as five gnus in green furry shoes”. And George gets so warm playing that he takes off his coat. Then his Mum is worried he’ll get too cold – “like ten sneezy kittens without any mittens”. The vibrant colours and the expressive nature of the illustrations add much to the humorous rhyme that is the story.
Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen combine to produce The Dark (Orchard, £11.99). The dark lives in the same house as little Laszlo and he is afraid of it. The dark hides in various places but mostly it lives in the basement. Laszlo peeks at it there every morning but doesn’t dare go down the stairs to meet it. But then one night the dark comes to Laszlo’s room … Simply told and evocatively drawn, this is an ideal book to read with young children who are afraid of the dark. Although many of the pages are dark, the tones are soft and warm, inviting the reader in to this sympathetic story.
Another book making good use of colour is Troll Wood (Frances Lincoln, £11.99) by Kathryn Cave and Paul Hess. No-one has been in Troll Wood for years but one day a family goes exploring there and discovers many things that have been lost for years: pathways and beautiful flowers, wild animals and a house. Something else is there too but the family seems not to notice. This is a charming tale of adventure, discovery and family harmony.
There’s another wood in Red Riding Hood and the Sweet Little Wolf (Hodder, £6.99) by Rachael Mortimer and Liz Pichon. Little Wolf doesn’t want to be big and bad like her parents; she likes pretty and pink things and fairy tales with happy endings. But one day Mr and Mrs Wolf send her out to find dinner: a little girl (tender and juicy). What is a sweet little wolf to do? What she does makes a delightfully frothy and funny story with a happy-ever-after all of its own. Liz Pichon’s illustrations are packed full of action, expression and humour, complementing and extending the story.
The Naming of Tishkin Silk (Phoenix Yard, £5.99) is a beautiful, tender story by Glenda Millard. Forced to go to school because of his mother’s absence, Griffin realises that he is different from most of his classmates. He is also holding a secret in his heart that influences his thoughts, words and deeds. It is not until he meets Layla that he is able to begin disentangling things. This is an exquisite story set in an evocatively realised Australian countryside.
Gwyneth Rees is well known for her warm, funny stories and My Super Sister (Macmillan, £4.99) enhances that reputation. Emma and Saffie have magical powers meaning that they can make inanimate objects come to life. Their parents are concerned about other people discovering the sisters’ powers and have forbidden their use outside the house. All is well until the new family moves in next door… Quirky, amusing and insightful, this is sure to be a hit with young readers who will also enjoy Ella Okstad’s illustrations.
Wolf and Dog are cousins. They are very different but they are friends. Wolf and Dog (Gecko Press, £5.99), written by Sylvia Vanden Heede and illustrated by Marije Tolman, is a collection of nine short stories about the two friends. They are funny and heart-warming, about everyday situations – if you are a wolf or a dog living in a forest. The language is simple and the illustrations expressive and dynamic, just right for early readers.
Life is complicated and people aren’t always what they seem. So Scarlett learns from the events that unfold after she receives a box belonging to her dead jewel-thief father. Along with the tools of his trade are some clues. But what is her Dad trying to say and why is she to keep looking up? As she tries to unravel her Dad’s story, Scarlett collects a new best friend, some penguins and a feeling that her Mum has been keeping secrets. In Dear Scarlett (Nosy Crow, £6.99) Fleur Hitchcock has created a story to make you laugh, cry and wonder.
Binny for Short (Hodder, £9.99) also recounts life in a family following the father’s death. But Binny loses more than her Dad. She is parted from her beloved dog by mean Aunt Violet and Binny is angry. When she and her family move into Aunt Violet’s house by the sea, Binny immediately acquires an enemy in the form of Gareth next door. He is trying not to come to terms with his Dad’s horrible new girlfriend. But Binny and Gareth also come to realise that appearances can be deceptive and that sometimes enemies are actually friends in disguise. Written by the talented Hilary McKay, this is a bittersweet story of family.
A special treat for mature, confident and enthusiastic readers this spring in the form of two outstanding novels. Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel (Templar, £6.99) is the concluding book in Michael Gerard Bauer’s trilogy revolving around Ishmael and his friends. It had me by turns hysterical with laughter, deep in thought and in floods of tears. When I finished it I was devastated because I knew there was no more. Readers who don’t know Ishmael will want to start at the beginning (Don’t Call Me Ishmael and Ishmael and the Return of the Dugongs) in order to get to know the boys and live with them as they progress through high school in Australia. Bauer’s writing is deceptively simple, easy to read and dialogue-driven. He meets difficult issues head on and allows his characters to deal with them. The characterisation is truly outstanding: even the fringe characters leap off the page as they interact, grow and develop. The plot twists and turns entirely believably, creating a world that even your fortysomething female reviewer would like to inhabit. Be a part of Ishmael’s world.
On a train journey I planned to read the first fifty pages of Smuggler’s Kiss (OUP, £6.99) just to whet my appetite. It turned out, though, that I literally couldn’t put it down and ended up reading the entire novel in one go. Marie-Louise Jensen has established herself as one of the foremost writers of historical fiction for young people and this latest novel can only enhance that reputation. Isabelle’s life is turned on its head when her father’s South Sea Bubble bursts, leaving the family with nothing. A series of events that we only fully understand at the end culminates in Isabelle throwing in her lot with a crew of smugglers. Becoming enmeshed in a life she could never have imagined, she is forced to re-evaluate her opinions and principles. The reader is drawn in to Isabelle’s dilemma as she ponders how to behave unselfishly whilst being true to her new self. Jensen deftly paints for us a series of engrossing characters, a compelling plot and a vivid landscape as a backdrop.