Books: This summer’s best children’s books

Jane E Sandell rounds up the best reads to keep the children happy for the holidays

How To Wash a Woolly Mammoth

Sometimes – not often enough – you come across a book that’s fun from start to finish and which you could enjoy at almost any age. Weasels by Elys Dolan (Nosy Crow, £10.99) is just such a picture book, and tells both of their plans for world domination and how they are hilariously thwarted. I heartily recommend it. My other summer favourites are slightly easier to arrange by age...


Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Books Always Everywhere (Nosy Crow, £10.99) by Jane Blatt and Sarah Massini gives strength to the maxim that you are never too young to be introduced to books. The bold illustrations show babies with a variety of books and accompany a simple text in a joyful celebration of books and reading.

With even less text is Bang (Gecko Press, £11.99) by Leo Timmers. It’s the story of a pile-up started when the driver of a yellow car crashes into a dustbin only to be followed by a succession of other vehicles. Each has its own colour and a different cargo. As the pile-up grows these cargoes move around from car to car, causing lots of amusement for children as they notice the strange mix-ups. The final double-page pullout is a riot of colour containing many wordless stories just waiting to be told.

There’s another riot in Time for Bed, Fred (Bloomsbury, £6.99) by Yasmeen Ismail. Fred is a boisterous dog who would do anything rather than go to bed, racing from flower bed to tree to muddy puddle in an effort to avoid the inevitable. Fred is a likable mutt, engaging in his naughtiness, and this would be an enjoyable bedtime story. The illustrations convey movement superbly, being painted in strong tones in a very free style. The story winds down nicely as Fred finally falls asleep and the illustrations support this well.

How to Wash a Woolly Mammoth (Simon and Schuster, £6.99) by Michelle Robinson and Kate Hindley introduces us to another obstreperous animal giving its owner the runaround. Presented as a step-by-step guide complete with figures and diagrams, there is no story as such but children will enjoy the antics of the little girl and her mammoth. Depicted in a limited colour palette that focuses attention on the protagonists, the illustrations add immeasurably to the humour. This hilarious book is sure to be asked for again and again.


Bob and Barry are off on another adventure in Bob’s Film Fiasco (Templar, £4.99) by Simon Bartram. A film is being made about Bob’s life, starring the super-famous Frankie Las Vegas. Bob is ecstatic but things don’t go exactly as he’d imagined. Can Frankie Las Vegas ever be Bob? Can the Moon survive its stardom? Can Bob save the day? Read on for another hilarious adventure with our lunar duo.

Camilla Reid and Ailie Busby join forces again to give us Lulu Loves Nursery (Bloomsbury, £6.99). There are all sorts of things that Lulu loves: blueberries, Daddy, swinging … But most of all she loves having fun with Mummy, splashing in puddles, feeding the ducks and – on very special days – eating ice cream. So Lulu is a little bit worried on her first day at nursery because she thinks she’ll miss Mummy. Another warm and reassuring story about Lulu, ideal for reading with an apprehensive child.

Jo-Jo the Melon Donkey (Egmont, £10.99) is an appealing, if sentimental, story written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated here by Helen Stephens. It’s a story of dreams and friendship, heroism and self-worth, a rags to riches tale, metaphorically speaking, of one donkey and the Doge’s daughter. Helen Stephens captures Venice and the surrounding countryside in her strong colour-packed illustrations and she animates Morpurgo’s characters with her expressive depiction of their faces. The words and the pictures have charm and engagement in this book, ideal for reading together.

Blood and Guts and Rats’ Tail Pizza (Orion, £4.99) might not sound very appetising but the story, as written by Vivian French and illustrated by Chris Fisher, is very palatable. It is a simple book, part of Orion’s Early Reader series, and designed for children new to reading alone. It’s a funny story about two rival cafes, some prejudices and two cooks working together to produce food that sells, well, like hot cakes! The colourful cartoon style illustrations help the reader along and add to the general amusement.

7-10 YEARS

In Precious and the Mischief at Meerkat Brae (Itchy Coo, £9.99) Alexander McCall Smith takes us back to Precious Ramotswe’s childhood in an enjoyable and humorous tale set in the Botswanan countryside. The book has been translated into Scots – by James Robertson – and it is illustrated by Iain McIntosh. Three such prodigious talents could scarcely go wrong and the result is an utterly delightful book. Precious and her new friends demonstrate the power of truth, loyalty and friendship in this short episodic book. And the gentle wisdom of Precious Ramotswe, evident even at a young age, sounds absolutely right in Scots.

Chris Higgins gives us a story of family relationships in My Funny Family Gets Bigger (Hodder, £4.99). Mattie is a worrier and in a family the size of hers she has plenty of scope. How will her youngest sister cope with being the only child at home? Will her little brother like school? Will V ever stop being so angry? This amusing story is laced with a child’s anguish and confusion and offers the young reader much to think about. Its ending is happy, however, as Christmas brings the most wonderful present.

Tony Robinson’s Weird World of Wonders: World War II (Macmillan, £5.99) recounts the main points of the war without shrinking from its horrors. He includes sidebars on, amongst other things, how to put on a gas mask and a look at the secret weapons on offer to spies. Children who enjoy history will love this quirky but accurate look back in time.

9-12 YEARS

The Shadow Lantern (Templar, £6.99) brings to a satisfying conclusion Teresa Flavin’s art world fantasy trilogy. Once again Sunni and Blaise return to Blackhope Tower where their involvement with Fausto Corvo began. On entering the magician’s painted world they discover that, while much has changed, their enemy and his is still in pursuit. Teresa Flavin continues to display dexterity of mind and a lightness of touch as she resolves the many layers and facets of this unusual and engrossing trilogy.

If asked to name a Scottish writer I doubt that any child (and probably very few adults) would come up with George MacDonald. An influencer of both JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, MacDonald is largely forgotten today. Fortunately for modern readers Jane Nissen has added The Princess and Curdie (Jane Nissen Books, £7.99) to her list of books brought back to delight a new generation. Fantasy or fairy-tale, allegory or sermon, there is magic in this story of Princess Irene and Curdie, the miner’s son, as they battle to root out corruption in the court. MacDonald does not trouble to hide his ethical and spiritual beliefs but the story is no worse for that. Beautifully written, his language lures readers into his world and compels them to linger.

Jack Shian and the King’s Chalice (Black & White, £7.99) by Andrew Symon is an exciting, engrossing and entertaining first novel. The Shian, a magical people, inhabit a world hidden beneath Edinburgh Castle. Jack lives there in his uncle’s family, aware that there is a mystery in his past but hazy as to its nature. When he and his cousins set out on a quest to recover an ancient chalice, some of the mystery is revealed, giving rise to fresh uncertainties for Jack. Blending history, theology, fantasy and good old-fashioned adventure, this is a cracking start to what promises to be an intriguing series.

Grounded firmly in the real world is Kite Spirit (Macmillan, £6.99) by Sita Bralmachari. Kite’s life is shattered when her best friend, Dawn, commits suicide. Stunned by grief, and oveercome by feelings of guilt, Kite struggles to continue with the everyday routines of her life. When her Dad’s work takes him to the Lake District for the summer, Kite goes with him and there she finds a way to live her life without Dawn. Sita Bralmachari captures the maelstrom of shock, disbelief, anger and pain that is grief without sliding off 
into either hysteria or sentimentality in this difficult, but rewarding, book.