The best children’s books for the half-term holiday

FROM toddlers to teens, there is a wonderful book out there to fire-up imaginations this half term holiday, writes Jane E Sandell

When I First Met You, Blue Kangaroo!
When I First Met You, Blue Kangaroo!
When I First Met You, Blue Kangaroo!

0-5 Years

Blue Kangaroo is a favourite of mine and I am delighted with When I First Met You, Blue Kangaroo! (HarperCollins £12.99). In it Emma Chichester Clark tells of the arrival of Lily’s new brother Jack and Lily’s attempts to help look after him. But Lily needs to learn to be gentle so Grandma brings her a very special present. Although the words are helpful, the story is all there in Chichester Clark’s vivid, dynamic, characterful illustrations. Buy this for yourself if you don’t know a young reader.

Something new from the pen and pencil of Nick Sharratt is always welcome. Vikings in the Supermarket (David Fickling Books £10.99) is a collection of six simple poems for young children written by Sharratt and exuberantly illustrated in his distinctive style. As well as Vikings, the collection features mermaids, pirates, vampire animals, a castle and a tartan MacFarm. The humorous rhymes and brightly coloured pictures make this ideal for young readers beginning to explore the fun you can have with words.

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Flo of the Somme (Strauss House £7.99) is a beautiful book telling the story of Flo, a mercy dog working on the Somme during the First World War. Hilary Robinson describes how Flo and other animals were used in the conflict in rhyming text that builds up in the style of the House that Jack Built. The repetition will have children joining in as the story is read aloud. The text is complemented by Martin Impey’s stunning pictures showing the devastation caused by the war. Beautiful though the pictures are, it is the two maps of the Somme, one from 1914, the other from 1918, that are the highlights, a visual reminder of the destruction of war.

The Little House by the Sea (Birlinn £6.99) is a charming story of a derelict house on an unnamed (but perfectly recognisable) island. Although no people live there, it is home to many different animals. What will happen to them when Finn the fisherman sets about restoring the house so he can live there? In very few words and a series of beautiful illustrations Benedict Blathwayt describes a gentle tale of land and sea and the relationship between humans and nature.

6-10 Years

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories about her pioneer family in 19th century America has delighted generations of children. With a set of new editions, Egmont has ensured that the entire series is available once more. These Happy Golden Years (£6.99) brings the core series to a close and takes Laura from schoolgirl through teacher to wife. Simple and somewhat sanitised the stories may be but they capture the essence of a time and a way of life long past. Pa’s fiddle, Ma’s rocking-chair and the chatter of the sisters echo down through the years. What a treat for children reading them for the first time.

It’s always a happy day when a new Matthew Fitt translation appears. His latest work, Mr Mingin (Black & White £6.99), is a Scots translation of David Walliams’ Mr Stink. The story loses nothing at all in translation. It remains as warm and funny as the original and the translation is as clever and consistent as one would expect. Whether or not they have read the original, children will love the expressive re-telling of how Chloe’s life is changed when Mr Mingin comes to stay in the shed.

Thorfinn comes from a long line of ferocious, rampaging Vikings. His father, Harald the Skull-Splitter, is a Viking chief feared across Norway and beyond. But Thorfinn is a peace-loving, tea-drinking, jam-making thoroughly nice Viking. So, to make him fierce and nasty, his father decides to take him on his next voyage of destruction to Scotland. Thorfinn the Nicest Viking and the Awful Invasion (Young Kelpies £4.99) is the first in a series by David MacPhail for newly fluent readers. The short, funny story is enhanced with illustrations by Richard Morgan.

Elizabeth Laird is one of the best modern storytellers. In a few short chapters she is able to conjure up distinct landscapes and lifestyles. In Dindy and the Elephant (Macmillan £6.99) she sweeps her readers off to India on the verge of independence. The story is told by nine year-old Dindy as she tries to come to terms with what the future holds as she faces up to saying goodbye to all she has ever known. With a light touch Elizabeth Laird draws character and setting, evokes a society long gone and tells a satisfying story.

9-12 Years

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It all starts when Alasdair is on the train from Glasgow to Mallaig en route for Skye, the birthplace of the father he scarcely remembers. On board he encounters two men, each chilling in his own way, who leave the train in dramatic fashion and leave Alasdair with a crumpled note saying “Hunt at the Hill of the Red Fox MI5”. Allan Campbell McLean’s classic thriller is as exciting today as it was fifty years ago. The Hill of the Red Fox (£6.99) is published by Kelpies Classics.

Liquidator (David Fickling Books £12.99) is a frantic chase of a novel, perfect for mature, confident readers. Told in a series of first person narratives, the characters come alive as they tell their various parts of the story. It’s work experience week and the Year 8 pupils are looking forward to their placements with varying degrees of enthusiasm. For one group of them, however, life will never be the same again as they are drawn into a global conspiracy that truly means life or death. Andy Mulligan’s pacey writing mirrors his characters’ need for haste and sucks the reader in to their impossible task.

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Ada Goth returns in Goth Girl and the Wuthering Fright (Macmillan £10.99) the latest in Chris Riddell’s series. Ghastly-Gorm Hall is playing host to a literary dog show and Ada is helping with the preparations. But there’s trouble afoot and Ada needs to find out what the mysterious howls in the middle of the night are all about. Are they related to the unexplained paw prints and chewed shoes? Maybe – but the joy of this book lies in Riddell’s clever, witty prose, full of puns, jokes and literary allusions, and the Children’s Laureate’s distinctive illustrations, with meaning and character in every line.

Soon (Puffin £6.99) is Morris Gleitzman’s latest novel in the collection about Felix. It goes back to his days as a teenager in Poland in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Life is constantly dangerous, society is chaotic and racial hatred is still rife. But Felix is still hopeful, still helpful and still trying to stay true to himself. Once again Morris Gleitzman’s laconic and understated style packs an emotional punch, leaving the reader reeling.