A roundup of the best books for children

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Jane Sandell pads her way carefully through this autumn’s children’s fiction

BABIES AND TODDLERS

The world is full of cats this month. First up is Naughty Kitty! (Templar, £10.99) by Adam Stower. Lily’s new kitty is cute and cuddly and no trouble at all – at first. But suddenly every time Lily leaves him alone total chaos ensues. Lily is cross with Kitty. But is Kitty really responsible? Surely all the devastation couldn’t have anything to do with a missing animal from the safari park… This hilarious follow-up to Silly Doggy! is a tale of mistaken identity sure to win Adam Stower many new fans.

Another big cat strolls into town in How to Hide a Lion (Alison Green Books, £6.99) by Helen Stephens. All he wants to do is buy a hat but the terrified townspeople chase him away. He takes refuge in Iris’s playhouse but it is too small for him so Iris tries to find somewhere else for him to hide. The funny but sad story ends happily, though, as the lion becomes a hero – and gets a hat. Helen Stephens’ engaging illustrations complement her tale of an unusual friendship and together they create a warm and welcoming story.

Matilda likes playing with wool, tea parties, drawing and climbing trees. Her cat does not! Matilda’s Cat (Macmillan, £10.99) is simple, funny and charming as one would expect from the pen of Emily Gravett. Each double page spread shows Matilda engaged in an activity and her cat not. The large amount of white space focuses the eye on the two protagonists and draws attention to the details. And it is not until the last spread that a cosy picture shows us what Matilda’s cat does like.

And finally there’s Poppy Cat, originally created by Lara Jones. This TV tie-in title, All Aboard! (Campbell Books, £4.99), takes our heroine off on a pirate adventure. The crew is looking for buried treasure but there are difficulties to be overcome before they can celebrate. Poppy and her friends are as engaging as ever in this sturdy, child-friendly board book. With its brightly coloured illustrations and just enough of a story for young children this is a welcome addition to Poppy Cat’s life story.

4-6 YEARS

Thistle Street (Picture Kelpies, £5.99) sells itself as “a braw Scots story for bairns”. And so it is! Mike Nicholson’s tale of the happenings in a Scottish village is designed to introduce some Scots vocabulary to young readers. Told in rhyme, each page uses a Scots word and Claire Keay’s illustrations ensure that its meaning is clear to everyone. The book creates a warm sense of a bustling community with its friendly words and dynamic pictures.

Debi Gliori needs no introduction to discerning readers. Her artistic talents are well showcased in What’s the Time, Mr Wolf? (Bloomsbury, £10.99). The book takes us through a day in Mr Wolf’s life and leaves us with a gathering sense that all is not quite well in his world. The simple story is full of references to well-known characters. Children will love spotting three little pigs, a girl in a little red hood and a cat with a fiddle amongst other subtler allusions. The illustrations are vibrant and full of emotion. As Mr Wolf’s day is played out, young readers will be glad to know that it ends happily.

My Happy Life (Gecko Press, £7.99) is a charming story for new readers. Written by Rose Lagercrantz and illustrated by Eva Eriksson, it is the story of Dani’s first few months at school. There she meets Ella and they become best friends. Dani’s life is very happy until Ella and her family move to a new town. Then she wonders if she can ever be happy again. The short chapters and expressive illustrations make this a very accessible first book to read alone and also ideal for reading aloud. The story accurately captures life through a little girl’s eyes and the optimism is heart-warming.

Bob is back! Simon Bartram’s new book, Bob and the Moontree Mystery (Templar, £12.99), is as zany as you would expect. One day, as Bob and his best-ever friend Barry are rocketing up to the Moon, they crash land in a spectacular tree that wasn’t there the night before. Where has it come from and why is it there? Bob really isn’t quite sure – but he is certain that it has nothing to do with aliens. After all, no sensible person believes that they exist… Full of wacky humour and glorious colour, this is a welcome addition to the Bob (and Barry) series.

7-10 YEARS

As the nation is gripped by dance fever again, a new series of books to tie in with Strictly Come Dancing has appeared. Tango Tangle (Hodder £4.99) by Chloe Melody is Bella’s story. She has been granted an audition to the Strictly Dance Academy and this book tells of her audition from the excitement of meeting some of the professionals to the fear that she has blown her chance. These short novels are sure to be a hit with star-struck little girls and they will also like the short feature with one of the programme’s professional dancers.

Bella Donna: Cat Magic (Piccadilly, £5.99) is written by Ruth Symes and illustrated by Marion Lindsay. Bella Donna is a little witchling who has been adopted by Lilith, a fully-fledged adult witch. Bella is very happy living with Lilith, playing with her friend Sam and looking after her cat Pegatha. But one day Pegatha goes missing. Everyone searches for her but when Bella finds her something seems to be different. Readers who are not overly confident will enjoy this story and not be daunted.

Archie’s mother is constantly irritated with him for not doing the little jobs she asks. But it really isn’t Archie’s fault. Somehow, if things can get mixed up or go wrong or become confused, they’ll do it in his life. And trying to explain just makes the situation worse. This collection of seven short stories describes a week in his life. Written by Andrew Norriss and illustrated by Hannah Shaw, I Don’t Believe It, Archie (A&C Black, £10.99) is a quirky clever romp.

Elly, Tash and Sierra are the Flip Flop Club. In Whale Song (OUP, £5.99) by Ellen Richardson the girls set out early one morning to try to photograph some whales known to be in the vicinity of Sunday Island, the girls’ home. Tash is an experienced sailor but when a sudden storm overtakes them the girls find themselves stranded on an uninhabited island. But that is only the beginning of their adventures. Reminiscent of the Famous Five and Swallows and Amazons, the Flip Flop Club is an entirely modern series with three strong female leads and a dash of marine ecology thrown in.

9-12 YEARS

In After (Puffin, £6.99) Morris Gleitzman returns to the Second World War to bring us the end of the young Felix’s story. As the war enters its last few months, central Europe is a confused and confusing place. Felix, forced from his hiding place, finds it difficult to know who to trust and where his loyalties should lie. This book lacks a little of the suspense other the other three titles in the series as we already know Felix’s ultimate fate. But the poignancy and immediacy of the story remain and Felix himself is believable to the end.

Joan Lingard is also in the sequel writing business in What Holly Did (Catnip, £5.99). Now living in Edinburgh with her dad, Holly’s life is more stable but she continues to worry about her unreliable mum with her sleazy boyfriend back in Glasgow. And then her dad starts showing an interest in unsuitable (in Holly’s opinion) women. What is Holly to do and how can she keep everyone, including herself, happy? Joan Lingard’s effortless prose, careful plotting and varied personalities combine in a compelling story of an ordinary Scottish girl.

Edinburgh is the star of Olivia’s Enchanted Summer (Nosy Crow, £5.99) by Lyn Gardner. Set during the Festival, it vividly conveys the vitality and diversity of that season of the city’s life. The Swan Circus, featuring Olivia and her dad Jack, is performing on the Fringe, but there is more drama outside the big top than their audiences could ever guess at. Why are Olivia’s dad and grandmother arguing? Who does a young street magician remind Olivia of? And what is the mystery surrounding Evie and Tati? As Olivia’s summer unfolds it feels anything but enchanted. Lyn Gardner goes from strength to strength in this series, which is full of complex and developing characters and believable but exciting storylines.

The excitement in Paul Dowswell’s new book is of the terrifying kind. Eleven Eleven (Bloomsbury, £6.99) is set on the last day of the First World War and tells of the meeting of two soldiers and an airman, one British, one German and one American. How they come to meet and what happens to them in the few hours on either side of 11am make for compelling reading. With every turn of the page mature readers will hold their breath, expecting the worst and hoping for the best. Can the three survive until the Armistice? Paul Dowswell deals with war head on, leaving his readers in no doubt of its complexities and horrors.