The best children’s books for October break

How To Find A Friend, written and illustrated by Maria S Costa
How To Find A Friend, written and illustrated by Maria S Costa
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From young rodents learning to recognise cats to an English Civil War adventure, there are lots of great books for children of all ages to enjoy this October break

0-5 Years

In This is NOT a Cat! (Sterling, £12.99) by David Larochelle and Mike Wohnoutka, the first lesson at mouse school is how to recognise danger. And danger, of course, means cats. It’s a simple story but clever and very funny with a double twist in the tail. The text is repetitive, ideal for encouraging small children to join in, and the illustrations are strong and dynamic. I especially love the expressive faces of the three pupils. Much of the plot is told pictorially and repeated readings will only enhance the enjoyment.

Lulu and the Noisy Baby (Bloomsbury, £6.99) by Camilla Reid and Ailie Busby is designed for toddlers about to gain a sibling. Lulu is a much-loved character and this book shows how a new baby in the family is a positive thing. It is illustrated in the bold colours and patterned style that young readers have come to associate with this series. It also has many flaps to lift and plenty of detail to spot. A welcome addition to Lulu’s story.

Rabbit and Squirrel both feel a bit lonely. As they go about their daily lives, each wishes for someone to enjoy things with. But in spite of some helpful hints it seems that each is alone in the world. How to Find a Friend (OUP, £6.99) by Maria S Costa is a classic example of a story being carried by the illustrations. Quirky, funny and ultimately heart-warming this is a simple story of friendship and belonging. The limited colour palette is used expressively and children will love seeing the action from various points of view.

Captain Crankie and Seadog Steve (Little Door Books, £6.99) is a book with an ecological message. Written by Vivian French and illustrated by Alison Bartlett, it tells how Captain Crankie’s attempts to tidy up the village go wrong. Fortunately Seadog Steve has a plan and gets everyone working together. With a bit of co-operation and creative thinking the whole village benefits. Full of vibrant colours, natural dialogue and a cast of strong characters, this is a highly enjoyable picture book.

6-10 Years

Finally, Ottoline returns! Superbly illustrated with pictures, maps and diagrams, Chris Riddell’s new story introduces us to the mysterious Purple Fox who, in turn, introduces Ottoline and her best friend Mr Munroe to Big City’s hidden nightlife. But there’s something strange going on that Ottoline can’t quite put her finger on in Ottoline and the Purple Fox (Macmillan, £10.99). Ottoline is my favourite of the Children’s Laureate’s creations and this long-awaited title does not disappoint. It is just as clever, quirky and hilarious as I’d hoped.

Tommy is excited beyond belief to be joining Captain Firebeard’s School for Pirates (Scholastic, £5.99). He quickly settles in, making new friends and meeting some less desirable shipmates. Chae Strathie’s foray into the world of young fiction is engaging and funny with a little bit of bite. Anna Chernyshova’s bold and bright illustrations add interest and humour. This neat little book is pitched at confident young readers looking to progress into the world of novels.

Grandpa was an Astronaut (Little Gems, £6.99) is written by Jonathan Meres and illustrated by Hannah Coulson. It is a poignant story of family and imagination laced with a hint of reality about the circle of life. Sherman loves the Moon and loves hearing his Grandpa’s stories about his time as an astronaut. But after one spectacular adventure, Grandpa has a strange request. This is a charming story, sympathetically told and beautifully produced.

In The Vikings and All That (BC Books, £4.99) Allan Burnett turns his attention from purely Scottish history and moves north to Scandinavia to focus on some of our most famous (and most misrepresented) neighbours. With cartoon-style illustrations by Scoular Anderson, the book romps through 700 years of history, entertaining and educating as it goes. For young readers who like their stories to be gory and gruesome this is ideal. But, beware! It will also shatter some myths and illusions.

9-12 Years

Religious intolerance, radicalisation, violence and flight: a story of our times you might think. But Hill of the Angels (SPCK, £6.99) by Sue Mayfield is set centuries back, during the English Civil War. Full of complicated relationships, family feuds and deeply-held beliefs, the novel is told alternately by Grace and Abigail, friends who unwillingly find themselves on opposing sides. Sue Mayfield is a superb storyteller with a gift for creating characters with strong voices. Hill of the Angels is a welcome addition to her all too small collection of novels.

Paul Dowswell returns to the First World War with Wave (Barrington Stoke, £6.99), a novel set on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Compelling and brutal, it is the story of the (imaginary) Hastings Pals and specifically of brothers Charlie and Eddie. In the midst of the chaos of that notorious day, the Pals’ home community is shattered. The brothers’ lives are changed and the repercussions of that summer morning echo down the years. Paul Dowswell’s unflinching writing and eye for detailing make this a gripping and haunting read.

The Secret of Nightingale Wood (Chicken House, £6.99) by Lucy Strange is set in the immediate aftermath of the First World War. Following a fire in their London home, Henrietta’s family moves to a house in the country. They might have escaped the smoke and flames but their new start is full of secrets that threaten to engulf them all. When Henry’s father leaves to work in Italy things start to unravel and Henry realises that only she can

avert real danger. But will she be strong enough? This is a powerful and engrossing debut novel about grief, mental health and responsibility.

Who are you going to ask if you’re looking for some help with your bike? How about Chris Hoy? Now you can read his advice on choosing the right model, getting fit and cycling better in On Your Bike (Piccadilly Press, £9.99), written with Joanna Nadin.

They’ve already proved they work well together in the series of books about Fergus, and he and his friends make guest appearances in this non-fiction title. Whilst being full of good advice, great tips and spot-on facts, it’s also fun and easy to read. It’s brightly coloured, packed with photos and illustrations and neatly ring bound in hard covers for ease of use. n


There is arguably a good deal of support out there for new writers, but securing a publishing deal is often far from a happy ending, and professional writers often struggle to find the support they need. The Scottish Book Trust’s Mentoring Programme is a unique project for published writers who live and work in Scotland to receive intensive support with their current project. The charity offers up to four published writers the chance to be mentored by an experienced writer or industry professional and provides them with a sustained period of support devoted to developing a particular writing project. Previous mentors include authors Bernard MacLaverty, Alan Warner, Andrew Crumey and literary agents Judy Moir and Kathryn Ross.

Mentoring supports writers to make transitions, achieve breakthroughs and overcome challenges. It can help writers who are looking to approach new subject areas and genres, grow artistically and develop professionally. Some examples of what this may include are:

◆ A fiction author writing creative non-fiction for the first time

◆ An illustrator aiming to write a novel

◆ A poet who would like to develop work for the radio

◆ A published novelist in need of help with a second novel

◆ A writer who would like to adapt work for film or television

◆ A Gaelic writer developing a manuscript in English

◆ A graphic novelist working on a screenplay

◆ A writer for adults creating work for children

This programme is for published writers who have completed at least two-thirds of their manuscript and have reached a point where they feel further support will be productive. The programme is suitable for early career authors as well as writers with a long publication history.

Catherine Hokin, who took part in the 2016 programme, says:

“Having an engaged, critical mentor, who has pushed me to recognise both the strengths and weaknesses in the writing, has meant it is now almost at agent-ready stage, bar the last polishings.” n

More information is available at