The best children's books for the summer break

There are many wonderful books for children of all ages to enjoy over the long summer break, writes Jane E Sandell

The Queen's Handbag
The Queen's Handbag

0-5 years

My First Book of Opposites (Button Books, £4.99) is an amusing little board book. Alain Grée’s take on a common enough theme has a style all its own as it quirkily depicts a selection of opposites. I particularly like the double page spread showing a big elephant filling one side and a small mouse balancing on the adjective in the corner of the other. The text uses a clear font and the illustrations are dynamic in bold colours. There is much for young children to enjoy as they learn from this neat little book.

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Another board book, for slightly older readers, is How to Lose a Lemur (Pavilion, £5.99) by Frann Preston-Gannon. As the first page tells us, once a lemur takes a fancy to you there is not much that can be done about it, but the young hero tries his best to get away from one. He tries hiding up a tree but that doesn’t work so he travels by bike, by train, by boat and even by camel. Still the lemur follows. The simple story is accompanied by expressive illustrations and has plenty of interest to keep the attention of a young reader.

When The Queen’s Handbag (Hodder, £6.99) is stolen by a sneaky swan a chase around the United Kingdom ensues as the Queen tries to recover it. Steve Antony’s evocative illustrations are full of humour as the Queen cycles, flies and gallops in pursuit. The locations are instantly recognisable and full of detail. There are lots of things to spot on each page, including the Queen’s butler carrying a box. This is a confident and accomplished follow-up to The Queen’s Hat.

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It’s summertime and Ava is enjoying the seaside, but with Squishy McFluff in tow there always seems to be something that can go wrong. Whether digging a hole, buying an ice-cream or chasing invisible fish, nothing goes quite to plan for the inseparable twosome. And then Squishy goes missing. Pip Jones and Ella Okstad return with another funny adventure starring the little girl and her invisible cat in the early chapter book Seaside Rescue! (Faber & Faber, £5.99).

6-10 years

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In a new edition of When We Were Very Young (Egmont, £14.99) EH Shepard’s original illustrations have been coloured by Mark Burgess, to great effect. That apart, the collection is just as parents, grandparents and great-grandparents will remember it: full of amusing poetry, eccentric characters and some surprisingly deep insights into human nature. Anyone who has grown up with AA Milne’s writing will have a favourite poem (or two) here to share with new young readers. For me, Disobedience starring young master Dupree is only narrowly bettered by The King’s Breakfast.

Erica’s Elephant (Scholastic, £8.99) written by Sylvia Bishop and illustrated by Ashley King, is a charmingly old-fashioned tale of friendship, family and belonging. When Erica opens her front door one morning to find an elephant on the doorstep she is non-plussed. Fortunately the elephant turns out to be very intelligent. Unfortunately, although Erica is extremely practical, she is not so good at knowing who she should trust. How the situation is resolved, with the good and the bad getting their just desserts, makes an entertaining story for young readers.

Beaky Malone: World’s Greatest Liar (Stripes, £5.99) is the anarchically funny first book in a series by Barry Hutchison. Beaky, aka Dylan, lies as a way of life, creating scenarios and leaving devastation in his wake. But all that changes when, at the end of her tether, his sister Jodie pushes him into a truth-telling machine. The lies stop but the devastation somehow continues. Illustrated by Katie Abey, this is laugh-a-minute storytelling at its best.

Wherever you’re heading on holiday this year Hello World (360 Degrees, £14.99) is the way ahead. Written by Jonathan Litton and illustrated by L’Atelier Cartographik this fascinating large board book teaches how to say hello in at least one language from every country in the world, from hei in Norway to awana in Australia. There’s a multitude of flaps to lift to uncover facts and a series of pictorial maps to study. Even if you’re staying at home this summer, this is an ideal way of perfecting all your international greetings.

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9-12 Years

Calypso lives a life apart from everyone else. Her best friends are to be found in books and she spends most of her time with them. Since her mum died, Calypso’s dad seems always to be shut away in his library writing a book. But when Calypso and her new (real-life) friend Mae discover what he has done to help him with his writing, everything changes. Will Calypso’s life be better or worse as a result? A Library of Lemons (Piccadilly, £5.99) by Jo Cotterill is a seductive story of the fragility and strength of human relationships, and the power of books.

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The Girl in the Blue Coat (Macmillan, £7.99) is set in Amsterdam midway through the Second World War. It is the story of Hanneke, a teenage black-marketeer, who stumbles into more serious and perilous acts of rebellion against the Germans occupying her country. Very definitely for mature readers, Monica Hesse’s novel opens a window on the life-changing actions and decisions made in a minute but with far-reaching consequences. Hesse creates characters skilfully, resisting the temptation to paint them as black or white, and allows them to develop against an ever-changing backdrop.

Over the Line (Barrington Stoke, £6.99) is set in another war. Tom Palmer tells the story of Jack Cock, a professional footballer turned volunteer soldier. His dream is to play for England but as the First World War rages on, Jack decides he must represent his country in that biggest of all battles. Based on fact, Over the Line is a graphic and gripping account of life in the trenches written in an accessible style.

From Nosy Crow comes Little Bits of Sky (£6.99), SE Durrant’s debut novel. The story of Zac and Ira, siblings in care in the 1980s, it is a beautiful book. The plot is slight but the characters are brilliantly drawn. SE Durrant writes both economically and subtly as she tells the story of the children and the mysterious Glenda. In spite of its lyrical quality, realism permeates the book and the ending, whilst optimistic, is entirely believable. I can offer no higher compliment than that this is worthy of Elizabeth Laird at her very best.