A timeless classic, a growing up guide and a mining mystery by various authors – children’s book reviews –
Age 10 plus:
Skellig: the 25th anniversary illustrated edition
David Almond and Tom de Freston
‘The story of Skellig came out of the blue. I had no plan nor plot, but once I began to write, it had a life of its own.’
When David Almond’s timeless and life-affirming tale of love, loss and hope was published 25 years ago, it became an international bestseller and won both the Carnegie Medal and the Whitbread Children’s Book Award.
And to celebrate this magical book – which is adored by generations of children and has inspired a stage play, a movie, a radio play and opera – readers of every age can enjoy a deluxe 25th anniversary edition, spectacularly illustrated for the first time by acclaimed artist Tom de Freston.
And what a moving, mystical and mysterious adventure Skellig is, drawing on elements of the author’s own childhood in Newcastle and written with a rare beauty and lyricism that cannot help but touch the minds and hearts of all those who share the strange journey of a little boy called Michael.
When a move to a new house coincides with his baby sister’s illness, Michael’s world seems suddenly lonely and uncertain. One Sunday afternoon, he stumbles into the ramshackle garage of his new home and finds something magical. It’s a strange creature... is it a human, a beast, a bird, an angel? Whatever he is, he’s a being who needs Michael’s help if he is to survive. With his new friend Mina, Michael nourishes Skellig back to health. But Skellig is far more than he at first appears, and as he helps Michael breathe life into his tiny sister, Michael's world changes for ever...
With its messages of love, friendship and trust, a sense of wonder that pervades every page, and now brought to life by de Freston’s stunning and atmospheric black and white illustrations, Skellig is as emotionally powerful and unforgettable today as when Almond sat down to pen his story 25 years ago.
(Hodder Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)
Age 13 plus:
Lads: A Guide to Respect and Consent – Step Up, Speak Out and Create Positive Change
Recognising boundaries, and learning what is and isn’t acceptable, have always been some of the conundrums facing teenage boys.
Many youngsters now turn to the internet for guidance but instead of relying on a plethora of all-too-often ‘hateful voices,’ there’s now a book that provides not just the know-how to tackle the pains and pluses of growing up, but offers important help to create a culture of positive change.
Determined to help young men call out bad behaviour and understand the serious issues facing girls today, Scottish novelist, playwright, and former secondary school teacher and university lecturer, Alan Bissett has come up with the perfect ‘toolkit.’
Topical, timely and like nothing published before for this young male market, Lads is a much-needed non-fiction guide for teenage boys, exploring consent, respect, bullying and navigating relationships, and written in a conversational, witty and fully accessible style.
Have you ever been in a situation where there’s a loud guy making dodgy comments, cracking jokes that only he thinks are funny, or leering at the girls in the room? You can feel the tension... you know ‘That Guy’ is the worst, but no one is saying anything because the whole situation is intimidating and awkward.
It is just this kind of all-too-recognisable situation that is addressed in Bissett’s invaluable book which comes complete with helpful resources. From flirting disasters and what staying in the friend zone really means, to the perils of porn, ‘locker room talk’ and the importance of consent, this is a vital handbook for lads who are fed up of That Guy, and want to ensure that everyone feels happy, heard and respected.
In a world where negative influences seem to abound, Lads is a breath of down-to-earth fresh air, full of wisdom and experience, perfect for instilling understanding and confidence, and a must for school libraries.
(Wren & Rook, paperback, £9.99)
Age 9 plus:
The Storm and the Minotaur
Lucy Strange and Pam Smy
History, mystery and myth combine in a beautiful and mesmerising story inspired by the real-life mining disaster at the Huskar Pit near Barnsley, South Yorkshire, in 1838 which killed 26 children aged between seven and 17.
The Storm and the Minotaur comes from the creative team of bestselling children’s author Lucy Strange and critically acclaimed illustrator Pam Smy, and explores the tough lives and times of children working in coal mines in the early decades of the 19th century.
Money is scarce in George’s family and so at the age of nine he has to join his father underground, hewing coal in the local mine. It’s a far cry from the dreams George had of continuing his education after learning to read and write, and it’s also a dangerous way to earn a living which has already claimed the life of his dad’s older brother Mal. George is worried but consoles himself every night with a book of Greek myths that belonged to Uncle Mal and contains the amazing tale of Theseus and the Minotaur. But not long after he starts work, a summer storm leads to flooding in the mine. Trapped down in the dark, George spots a shadowy figure that seems to be the Minotaur and is telling George to follow him. Can a ghost from the past lead him back to safety, or will George meet the same fate as his long-lost uncle?
Strange works her own special magic on this compelling, moving and eye-opening story which blends the down-to-earth harsh realities of pit work and perils with the miasma of an ancient mythological beast.
With its air of mystery, high emotional intensity, edge-of-the-seat suspense, and exquisitely illustrated by Smy, The Storm and the Minotaur is brilliantly imagined by both author and artist.
(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £7.99)
Age 9 plus:
Simon Packham and Lucy Mulligan
When you suffer from anxiety, it can too often feel like you are struggling alone with your worries.
It’s a situation all too familiar to Simon Packham who uses his own experiences of being bullied at school, and his daughter’s problems with anxiety, for a resonant story which explores feelings, friendships, and transition, whether that is a move to a new area or to secondary school.
Packed with emotional power, suspense, drama and humour, Worrybot – illustrated by Lancashire-based artist Lucy Mulligan – is ideal for encouraging youngsters to open up about their own feelings, and offers some practical techniques and strategies for coping with anxiety.
Josh is such a worrier, he worries about everything from water slides and school to global warming and sleepovers. But he knows something is really wrong when his mum and dad begin to act strangely... his family is moving to Brighton and he must start a new school with new teachers, new pupils and new everything! He used to have his own Worrybot – a home-made cardboard robot which was supposed to eat up his worst fears if he wrote them down on bits of paper and posted them into its mouth – and it did help a bit. But now Josh is terrified that his anxiety will return when he starts at his new school. And he is more than a little surprised to discover that there’s a robot in his new class... a real-life learning robot which sits on the desk next to his and allows classmate Charlie to join lessons remotely. Soon Charlie becomes Josh’s best – and perhaps his only – friend. Will Charlie’s friendship help Josh overcome his fears, or will it just give nasty Noah more reasons to make fun of him? And why won’t Charlie come to school anyway?
Josh’s emotional, high stakes journey is packed with authentic characters and the kind of worries and fears that many children will recognise from their own young and impressionable lives. As the tension rises and the mystery of Charlie’s absence becomes more profound, Packham makes sure the reveal holds a surprising twist.
An entertaining and warmly wise addition to school and home bookshelves...
(UCLan Publishing, paperback, £7.99)
Age 9 plus:
Her Majesty’s League of Remarkable Young Ladies
Alison D. Stegert
It was when she read The Secret Garden at the age of twelve that Alison D. Stegert – a country girl from small-town America – began harbouring her fascination with the UK and a desire to write and travel.
Now living in Australia, and winner of the Times/Chicken House and Institute of Engineering and Technology Prize, Stegert unleashes her storytelling skills on her debut novel, an epic Victorian adventure, set between London and Paris, and featuring a heady mix of plots, spies and real-life historical inventions and events.
Mischief is afoot, and Queen Victoria is not amused. Her stalker must be stopped. Forget the cavalry... this is a job for Her Majesty’s League of Remarkable Young Ladies which includes Stella, a stylish young lady who specialises in hand-to-hand combat, Celeste, a charming Belle-of-the-Ball who is also a champion fencer, sharpshooter, and world-class equestrian, and softly spoken Effie who can crack codes as easily as cracking eggs! The League’s newest recruit is Winifred Weatherby, a feisty girl-genius, gadget-maker and social misfit. Winnie’s creations are remarkable – not least her Multi-Device Interchangeable Utility Chatelaine (patent pending) – but is she clever enough to protect the Queen... and achieve her own dream of winning the top prize in Paris for young inventors?
Her Majesty’s League of Remarkable Young Ladies is a Victorian romp to relish as Stegert celebrates the important roles girls play in the world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and the hurdles and prejudices they must overcome to keep the realm from harm.
With its mix of fact and fiction, an all-action plot brimming with villains, spies, gadgets, mind-boggling inventions and fearless heroines, this is inspirational (and fun!) reading for all ambitious and remarkable young ladies!
(Chicken House, paperback, £7.99)
Age 8 plus:
Monster in the Woods
If your summer holidays need a laughter shake-up, look no further than award-winning author and illustrator Dave Shelton as he puts mirth and monstrously funny mischief into a marvellous medieval romp!
Warm, wise and witty, Monster in the Woods is a truly unique adventure about family, friendship, and first impressions which brings with it all the hallmarks of a modern comedy classic with a big helping of heart.
Rumour has it that there’s a scary monster in the woods... but why doesn’t anyone do something about it? Frith isn’t so sure that the monster story is true and is convinced that there’s more to the mystery than everyone else believes. Determined to save the day, and accompanied by her hard-working dad, younger brother Spuggy, and a dog called Cabbage, Frith travels to the big city on a wild journey to convince the king that Something Must Be Done. Along the way, she will encounter a Big Wise Head and a curiously cheeky squirrel, and discover that not all is as it seems... and that the truth is more surprising than she could ever have imagined.
Every page of this exciting, action-packed, laughter-filled adventure offers a feast of fun and an imaginative take on the whole theme of mystery and monsters. Fizzing with energy and brought to anarchic life by Shelton’s brilliant illustrations, this is perfect reading for all young mischief-makers!
(David Fickling Books, paperback, £7.99)
Age 9 plus:
The Light Thieves: Search for the Black Mirror
When it comes to saving the world, it’s only kids you can trust! Welcome back to the second, thrilling eco-adventure from Irish author Helena Duggan, creator of the much-loved and bestselling A Place Called Perfect series. Brimming with action, mystery, and timely warnings about the dangers of placing too much reliance on technology, The Light Thieves stars a group of plucky youngsters whose mission is to stop the theft of invaluable sunlight. The energy from the sun is being stolen, the days are getting darker and it’s a catastrophe for the planet and every living thing on it. Friends Grian, Jeffrey and Shelli are desperately trying to work out how it’s happening. They know secretive billionaire and tech genius Howard Hansom is behind the theft and they are determined to stop him. But they can’t use any of Hansom’s smart technology in their quest as it will track them wherever they go. The three young heroes need to find a strange black mirror to help them save the sun. Time is running out... can kids really save the world? Set against a superbly imagined dystopian world, and full of Duggan’s now trademark humour, intrigue, quirkiness and thrilling adventures, this is a thought-provoking and excitingly imaginative series full of ideas, fantasy and gripping twists and turns, and guaranteed to keep readers hooked from first page to last!
(Usborne Publishing, paperback, £7.99)