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Smart, incisive, brimming with the breath of human experience and written with engaging age-appropriate verve, this clever concept (“a tale told in ten blocks”) is perfectly executed. For the chorus of kids whose lives play out on these impeccably-written pages, the walk home from school represents a rare time of freedom; a period of limbo between being under the watchful eyes of teachers and parents. Unsupervised, the kids reveal their true selves, most of them dealing with hidden heartache and anxieties alongside goofing around, self-reflecting and navigating their way through Middle School. As always with Jason Reynolds, the characterisation is ingeniously vivid, with deep insights expressed through, for example, the different ways kids open their lockers. Many of the stories are intensely poignant, such as that of the Low Cuts crew whose bad behaviour is fuelled by a desperate love for their sick parents. The moment it turns out that Bit the hustler is a “son who was scared. A son who loved his mum” is shatteringly powerful. There’s much humour too, such as the laugh-out-loud scene in which smelly Gregory is slathered in VaporRub by friends seeking to beautify him before he visits a girl he’s keen on. Bittersweet, hard-hitting and powerfully perceptive, these pitch-perfect reader-centric stories shine a light on oft-overlooked lives and ring with empathy and authenticity.
Award-winner Katherine Rundell has already taken readers on thrilling journeys over rooftops, across the Russian steppes and of course deep into the forest. She understands absolutely children's longing for wild adventure and no-one is better suited to write new stories for Kipling's Jungle Book characters. This very handsome book, which features beautiful colour illustrations by Kristjana S Williams, tells five different stories, and with each perfectly-imagined episode adds to what we love about Kipling's unforgettable characters, including Bagheera, Baloo, Shere Khan and Kaa. It opens too with a story about one of the most interesting characters, Mowgli's fierce wolf-mother Raksha, who has long deserved more time in the spotlight. These are stories of bravery and cunning, full of excitement and danger, but most of all they are stories of loyalty and community, and by the time they reach the end, readers will be daydreaming themselves into the jungle family. Mowgli links all the stories, and has his own of course, and is exactly the same impetuous, selfish, boasting but warm-hearted, generous boy drawn so vividly by Kipling. In fact the book does exactly what sequels should but seldom manage - it tells us new stories that grow out of the originals, and enhance and enrich them.
Interest Age 8+ Reading age 8 | Chris Priestley is a superb teller of ghost stories and knows just how to bring the uncanny into the ordinary, or turn the homely suddenly horrifying. A tour for talented young writers round a haunted house is the backdrop for this collection of linked stories. Each of the seven ghosts we meet is a child, each of their stories is different and each is guaranteed to send shivers up the spine or have you nervously checking over your shoulder in the dark. Written for dyslexia-specialists Barrington Stoke, this will enthrall even the most reluctant or struggling reader and concludes with a fantastically chilling twist. It’s the season for ghost stories, and this is required reading for fans of the genre.
July 2019 Book of the Month | It’s more than 150 years since the publication of Alice in Wonderland and it is delighting today’s readers as much as it ever has. Both a tribute to and a celebration of Lewis Carroll’s story, this collection includes new adventures by eleven favourite contemporary children’s authors, each of whom has been inspired by Alice. With such an extraordinary set of characters and scenes to take as starting points, the stories are wonderfully varied. Pamela Butchart chooses to write about the Queen of Hearts in a follow up story, while Swapna Haddow picks the Mock Turtle. There’s an environmental message in Lauren St John’s lively story ‘Plum Cakes at Dawn’, while Robin Stevens puts the real Alice into her Oxford set story. Together they make for a sparkling collection, one well worth tumbling back down the rabbit hole to enjoy.
All of Joyce Lankester Brisley’s Milly-Molly-Mandy stories start Once upon a time … and always what follows are charmingly described, detailed little domestic adventures, such as being sent on an errand, riding Grandad’s pony Twinkletoes or playing in the puddles in the lane. The stories are just the right length for newly independent readers, and will prove as enchanting to children today as they did when they were first published way back in the 1920s, though modern readers might need to consult their elders for explanations of strange things such as kippers, grocers and threepenny pieces. Milly-Molly-Mandy’s world is safe and wonderfully reassuring, Lankester Brisley’s ingenuous, warm-hearted storytelling still a treat and it’s lovely to see these attractive new editions with the author’s own illustrations carefully coloured up.
Milly-Molly-Mandy first burst onto the scene way back in the 1920s and Joyce Lankester Brisley’s stories, now reissued as very pretty little hardbacks and with her illustrations newly coloured, have retained all of their charm. This book contains seven individual stories, each of which details a little domestic adventure, the kinds of things that would be very familiar to children at the beginning of the last century – picnics, family parties, playing out with friends – but which for modern readers will convey a distinct and fascinating sense of youthful freedom and security. Milly-Molly-Mandy and her associates little-friend-Susan and Billy Blunt have lots of fun in a world that is wonderfully safe and reassuring, and these cosy stories are just perfect for newly independent readers.
This perfect little package (a cute clothbound hardback sprinkled with glittery goodness) comprises two festive-themed stories that are packed with heart, wrapped in hope and perfectly embellished with Simini Blocker’s warm and witty illustrations. Set over several New Year Eves, the opener Midnights tells the tense “Will they? Won’t they?” story of best buddies Mags and Noel, whose lives are on the giddy brink of change. Kindred Spirits, originally published as a World Book Day book, is a funny tale of a friendship struck up between Star Wars fanatics sleeping outside a cinema before a new movie opens. Certainly a must-read for Rowell fans, this short and satisfying treat is also perfect for introducing newbies to her unique talent for creating believable characters and writing romance with real-life authenticity.
Clever, funny and on occasion just plain daft, this is the perfect stocking filler for kids and Terry Pratchett fans alike. Open the pages and find eleven short stories which have been fabulously illustrated by Mark Beech. The text marches up hill and down dale, in between, over and under the illustrations, shouting, bursting, capering across the page so the story and illustrations become a glorious Christmas pudding mix of a read, give it a stir and get ready to duck as the tales take flight. The stories made me chuckle, in fact as soon as I had read the first offering, ‘Father Christmas’s Fake Beard’, I promptly insisted my husband read it too (it’s always the sign of a good book when I do that!). Yes this is a kids book, and yes I fully expect that adults will get just as much enjoyment from the stories as the children. A Terry Pratchett book was always on my Christmas list, I treat each and every one of them with love… set a new fan in motion, or delight a well established one - this is a proper little gem.
Best known for his action-packed Alex Rider series, Anthony Horowitz is also a master of the macabre, as evidenced by these ten terrifying tales. Take the gruesome opener, “Bet Your Life”, that sees 16-year-old Danny participate in the finale of a TV quiz show in which there’s much more at stake than the multimillion pound prize. Other sources of shock include the sinister sat nav in a stolen BMW, a rogue Robo-Nanny, a monumentally messed-up French exchange, and a deeply disturbing incarnation of eBay on which people bid to buy humans. Then there’s the centrepiece of “Are You Sitting Comfortably?”, a monstrous massage chair that serves a generous helping of just desserts to an exploitative stepdad. The stories are sharply crafted, and the writing wryly amusing, with “Note from the Chairman of Walker Books” providing a deliciously dark denouement, and added in-the-know gallows humour to those in the children’s book world. This is a tense, twisted, treat for fans of frightsome fiction, with the bite-sized narrative bursts making it ideal for reluctant readers.
Winner of the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2020 | In this mind-blowingly beautiful book comprising twenty-five tales, visionary artist and writer Shaun Tan turns his attention to the relationship between humans and animals in varied urban contexts. A rhino on a motorway. An owl at the side of a hospital patient. An eagle spied at multiple international airports. Giant snails declared “indecent” by the public. Dreamlike, mysterious and poignant, this is a book to pore over. Both words and illustrations lend themselves to multiple readings, each experience unearthing alternate interpretations, new discoveries, fresh ways of seeing the world. What a sublimely strange feat this is.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month October 2018 | | Award-winning illustrator Shirley Hughes is regarded as a national treasure for her touching and realistic picture books of contemporary pre-school life. This delightful anthology is full of Christmassy and wintery poems and stories all brought to life by her familiar illustrations of families enjoying seasonal delights. The perfect for book for the season.