This summer’s best childrens books for all ages

The New Kid by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick. Picture: Contributed
The New Kid by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick. Picture: Contributed
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AS the school summer holidays begin, Jane E Sandell offers some inspiring choices for children of all ages

9-12 Years

If you had spent most of your 11 years on earth devouring comics and knew all there was to know about superheroes, their powers and arch enemies, wouldn’t you be annoyed if your Maths nerd of an older brother was chosen to join their ranks? Luke is, in My Brother is a Superhero (Nosy Crow, £6.99). David Solomons’ debut children’s book is lip-twitchingly funny and clips along thanks to a super-plot and a cast packed with special (if unusual) powers. Miss it at your peril.

There are no superpowers and little humour in Niilo’s life. He’s basically angry although he’s not sure why. At the end of their tether, his parents send him away to experience a different type of life at school on a tiny island off the coast of southern Finland. Irrationally terrified of the sea, Niilo struggles to adapt but slowly he begins to trust enough to start overcoming both his fears and his anger. Wild Song (Piccadilly, £6.99) by Janis Mackay is a beautifully written story of friendship and hope set in an untamed landscape.

Sister, Sister (OUP, £6.99) packs a powerful emotional punch. Out of the blue Willow discovers a father and half-siblings she has never heard of, let alone met; her mother has been keeping huge secrets; oh, and her half-sister needs a bone marrow transplant and Willow might be a match. As her life becomes something from a reality TV show, Willow wonders if she will ever find normality again. Jess Bright’s debut novel displays an assurance and sensitivity that belie her inexperience, and deals with the issues in a completely appropriate manner that in no way detracts from their complexity.

One of Paul Dowswell’s greatest strengths is his ability to tell a story from an unexpected perspective. In Bomber (Bloomsbury, £6.99) his hero is 17 year-old Harry Friedman, an American gunner stationed in England during the Second World War. Harry is by turns excited, nervous, proud and terrified as his crew is sent to bomb key German targets. In between Harry’s war, we are also given glimpses of it from other perspectives, adding to the fullness of the story. Paul Dowswell’s novel humanises the stark realities of war, making them all the more shocking. Prepare to be impressed, horrified and surprised.

6-10 Years

Theresa Breslin’s storytelling and the artwork of Kate Leiper combine to produce An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Mythical Creatures (Floris, £14.99). Theresa has selected 11 stories from settings across Scotland to tell and re-tell: a Selkie tale from Orkney, Thomas the Rhymer from the Scottish Borders, a story of dangerous women from Arbroath and an adventure of the Wee Folk in Lanarkshire amongst others. Her engaging style makes this an ideal collection to read aloud. But be sure to allow plenty of time to absorb all the beauty in Kate’s minutely detailed illustrations. The book is full of colour, atmosphere and style, a testament to the partnership of writer and illustrator.

Another partnership is responsible for the new Knight in Training series from Hodder. In Dragons Can’t Swim (£4.99) Vivian French and David Melling introduce Sam J Butterbiggins, his annoying cousin Prunella and his Aunt Eglantine and Uncle Archibald. Sam (who wants to be a Very Noble Knight) is struggling to fit in as he stays at their castle for a while. But, as he helps to rescue a dragon stuck down a well, he makes an amazing discovery. If this, the first title, is anything to go by, young readers can look forward to a series of hilarious stories with added humour in their illustrations.

Also new is a series from Scholastic entitled John Smith is Not Boring by Johnny Smith and Laura Ellen Anderson. In Cap’n John the (Slightly) Fierce (£4.99) our young hero finds himself transported from life with his irritating, if well-meaning, family to the position of Captain of a pirate ship. As he commands his crew and fights off a hostile ship, he discovers that there’s nothing boring about being John Smith. But the really amazing discovery is still to come… Young readers will enjoy swashing their buckles in this madcap adventure.

Anna’s life is gradually falling apart without her realising it in Dog Ears (Catnip, £6.99) by Anne Booth. Her parents and extended family are preoccupied, her friends unsure and her school seems oblivious. The only one who appears to understand is her dog, Tim. Most of the story is seen through her conversations with him. Unlike the characters, the reader can see quite clearly what is happening but is, of course, powerless to help. What can Anna do – or should she just run away and leave everything behind? Anne Booth’s novel about seeing past facades is thought-provoking, challenging and compelling.

0-5 Years

Anzac Ted (EK Books, £10.99) is ragged and grubby and falling apart. When his owner takes him to school, the other children laugh at him. But Anzac Ted is special, a real hero. Belinda Landsberry’s charming Australian picture book pays tribute to the Anzac forces of the First World War, legends even in their own lifetime, and now a vital part of the centenary commemorations. The book, with its expressive hero and evocative illustrations, is also a reminder to young children not to judge on appearances.

The New Kid (Hodder, £6.99) is another picture book with a message. Ellie moves into a new house and the local children are told to ask her to play with them. But Ellie seems different and strange and at first the others laugh at her. As she gradually becomes accepted, though, another of the gang starts to feel that she might have taken his place. Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick’s subtle story of acceptance and friendship is vibrantly and dynamically illustrated.

Busy Baby (Ladybird, £7.99) is a bright and bold board book with a range of textures to touch and follows baby’s journey in the squishy red car. The book is strong and durable with smooth thick pages and rounded corners at the turning edges. It comes with a CD of ten bouncy tunes ideal, perhaps, for playing in the car as your own baby makes a journey.

There’s another journey on the go in Space Dog (Random House, £11.99) by Mini Grey. Space Dogs, Astrocats and Moustronauts are sworn enemies – even though no-one can remember why. But distress calls in space cannot be ignored and, after a series of rescues, representatives from the three groups end up on the same spaceship and find themselves wondering if they could become friends. Mini Grey has created a whole new universe and illustrated it from endpaper to endpaper with crazy, chaotic hilarious images. The story itself is simple but there is detail aplenty in the pictures, which will keep readers of all ages enthralled for hours.