With the help of the experts – the writers and the young readers – we round up the best children’s books this summer
With the help of the experts – the writers and the young readers – we round up the best children’s books this summer
(Abrams Appleseed, £10.99)
A block book with board pages for easy turning, flaps for lifting and bold illustrations, Dinoblock will hold even the most impatient baby’s attention. It compares prehistoric animals with animals living today, uses accurate dinosaur names and even provides a phonetic spelling to make pronunciation easier.
Incy Wincy Spider
(The Templar Company, £4.99)
As part of the Amazing Baby series, which includes Baby Animals and Rainbow Fun, this lovely little book is a sensory take on the classic nursery rhyme. Each line is illustrated on a double page spread and each illustration is completed with a sparkly, touchy-feely aspect.
Babies Don’t Walk, They Ride!
Kathy Henderson and Lauren Tobia
(Brubaker, Ford & Friends, £6.99)
Lauren Tobia’s illustrations can be likened to Helen Oxenbury’s but with a bolder palette and a contemporary eye. Her romantic pictures show a diverse range of city-dwelling parents using every modern and ancient type of baby transport – from sporty buggies and car seats to woven slings and cardboard boxes. Kathy Henderson’s simple and lyrical story about these various modes of transport make this a perfect picture book.
Bing: Paint Day
(Harper Collins, £6.99)
UK-based American children’s author Ted Dewan’s Bing books are reproduced for a new generation of early readers following the huge success of the delightful CBeebies adaptation. In Paint Day an excited Bing gets to grips with his colours while a cautious Flop warns him not to spill his water, providing a funny narrative to an educational, brightly illustrated book.
One of my all-time favourite books has to be The Sign on Rosie’s Door by Maurice Sendak. It’s a chapter book for early readers about Rosie, a girl with a fabulous imagination, who leads a troupe of neighbourhood kids, putting on shows and getting up to all kinds of mischief. It was a book that really resonated with me; as the eldest of six children I spent many hours entertaining my younger sisters. Like Rosie and her gang, we dressed up in elaborate costumes (mainly stolen from Mum’s wardrobe), invented songs, jumped on sofas and generally caused a lot of trouble and mess. I still treasure my original copy. Beautifully illustrated, the book is funny and silly. It draws you in from the opening, with the mysterious sign: “If you want to know a secret, knock three times.”
Abie Longstaff is the author of The Fairytale Hairdresser series and the new Magic Potions Shop series. The Magic Potions Shop: The Young Apprentice (Red Fox, £5.99) is out now
There are simply so many books I could recommend to you – but here’s a tiny top five to delve into. Wild by Emily Hughes is a beautiful and brilliant wild child saga about a girl who is just as she should be. Beautiful colour palette and linework with a wonderfully simple storyline. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a chocoholic’s literary feast, full of quirks, imagination and mouth-wateringly wonderful words. Roald Dahl at his very best. The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis is a beautiful classic saga set in a fantastical world full of magical creatures. Storytelling at its best, with a wonderful thought-provoking hidden message. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen is a simple, dry and hilarious book not just for children. Finally The Jolly Postman by Alan and Janet Ahlberg is the best novelty book ever made, where you get to nose your way behind the scenes of famous fairytales by peeking through their post.
Emma Yarlett is the author and illustrator of Poppy Pickle (Templar, £6.99) and other children’s books
I haunted public libraries as a child and read like a maniac, and I have tons of favourites. I’m going to pick Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian, which I read as an older teen – it changed everything that I thought about children’s books. It’s about a boy who is evacuated to the country during World War Two, but it deals with huge, difficult issues like child abuse, violence and neglect in a brave and honest way I’d never encountered before. The book made me cry and turn straight back to the start to begin reading again – and I began to see that children’s literature could be very much more than just adventure and fantasy stories. I suppose it was the book that made me certain that I wanted to be a children’s writer.
Cathy Cassidy is the author of more than 20 children’s novels, including Looking Glass Girl (Puffin, £12.99), a reimagining of the Lewis Carroll classic, which is out now
William Heads to Hollywood
International Cat of Mystery William (of Missing Masterpiece fame) returns, and this time he’s in the bright lights of Hollywood, rubbing shoulders with studio execs and film stars, not least the dazzling Audrey Miaowski. William is there to solve the mystery of the missing Golden Cuckoo film award. Hancocks’s witty and pacy narrative is no second fiddle to her bold, charming illustrations – as this article shows.
The Crocodile Under the Bed
(Harper Collins, £6.99)
Veteran children’s author Judith Kerr is still prolific at 92 and her latest book harks back to her earliest and arguably best, The Tiger Who Came To Tea. The story of a poorly young boy who has to stay in bed while his family go to a party, only to have an even better one of his own, uses a timeless formula employed by authors from Dr Seuss to Oliver Jeffers. But Kerr’s familiar illustrations and charming writing style set her apart – an enchanting addition to her back catalogue.
Darth Vader and Friends
(Chronicle Books, £9.99)
This tongue in cheek creation from Jeffrey Brown is one of a range of autobiographical comics, humorous graphic novels and bestselling Star Wars books. Sure to please any young Star Wars fans (and older ones), it is attractively illustrated and provides a rare insight into some of the protagonists of the Star Wars universe.
(Chronicle Kids, £10.99)
A touching story from critically acclaimed author and illustrator Benjamin Chaud, Farewell Floppy is a story of friendship between a boy and his lop bunny. The boy feels he’s too old to be friends with a rabbit and decides he needs normal friends, so tries to set him free in the woods. Letting him go, however, proves harder than he thought – literally. The unemotional approach of the boy in the story is one that matter-of-fact children will identify with but only adds to the poignancy of this quirkily illustrated picture book.
Polar Bear’s Underwear
Quite how children’s authors discovered their readers are lovers of stories about underwear is unclear but, spawned by Claire Freedman’s Aliens Love Underpants – which has even been adapted for the stage – pants are big business. If they are your child’s thing then this addition from Japanese design duo Tupera Tupera is worth adding to the collection. It’s simplistically written but the book itself is to be savoured with its quality paper, brilliant illustrations and cut-outs. It even has a pair of pants for the book to wear.
In the Troll and Oliver series author and illustrator Adam Stower has found his signature voice and style – influenced by Dr Seuss but firmly his own. In this delightful adventure, Oliver, the cake-making boy who’s tamed trolls, sets out to win over the most fearsome troll of all, the Grumbug who he fears has his sister Dolly.
(Random House Children’s, £11.99)
Veteran children’s author and illustrator Shirley Hughes provides another instalment in her Alfie series, which celebrates the outdoors. Alfie is surprised to learn vegetables don’t just come from the supermarket in packets and reluctantly starts a vegetable patch in his garden with Dad. He is soon captivated, eager to take his carrots to the goat sanctuary. But Gertrude, Alfie’s favourite goat, escapes. Good old-fashioned fun.
Troy Andrews and Bryan Collier
(Abrams Young Readers, £10.99)
Grammy-nominated multi-instrumentalist Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews gives an insight into New Orleans life with a memoir in the form of a children’s picture book – brought to life with the evocative illustrations of Bryan Collier. Its resounding message is one of home and belonging. It’s a simple, lovely book, giving parents the opportunity to start important conversations with their children while giving them the possibility to dream.
The Hueys: The New Jumper
(Harper Collins, £6.99)
This summer Harper Collins Children’s Books publishes new editions of brilliant illustrator and author Oliver Jeffers’s back catalogue. His new book about a quirky bunch of egg-like characters is aimed at slightly younger readers. In The New Jumper one of the Hueys decides to break convention and knit himself a jumper, much to the horror of the other Hueys. But one by one the trend catches on. With subtle humour it teaches a lesson about non-conformity and standing out from the crowd alongside unpretentious and quirky illustrations.
(Harper Collins, £12.99)
Each year, for as long as the forest has stood, a contest is held for the bears of the wood… Rob Biddulph’s second book is a playful rhyming tale about a champion bear who learns that there is more to life than being the best. With colourful and funny illustrations on glossy pages, it is a quick read with layers of meaning.
Daddy Lion’s Tea Party
Mark Sperring and Sarah Warburton
(Harper Collins, £6.99)
It’s feeding time at the zoo and Daddy Lion wants it to be a civilised affair. But the quiet tea party for him and his cubs doesn’t quite go to plan when the rest of the animals hear about it. Sarah Warburton’s comical illustrations and Mark Sperring’s clever wordplay make for a fun and engaging book.
Frank Einstein and the Electro-Finger
(Amulet Books, £6.99)
Kid genius Frank Einstein and his friends Watson, Klink and Klank take on their arch-rival T Edison, who is after Frank’s invention the Electro-Finger, which can provide free solar and wireless energy to the town of Midville. A funny and inventive tale for pre-teens with real life historical, scientific and environmental context.
The Terrible Two
Mac Barnett and Jury John
(Abrams Books, £6.99)
In this story of mischief and mayhem, prankster Miles Murphy goes up against the ultimate mystery prankster at his new school in Yawnee Valley (known only for its cows). A battle of legend-worthy pranking and tomfoolery ensues. Just as the war seems to come to an end, the jokers join forces to create the prank of all pranks in this unlikely tale of friendship for pre-teens.
Star Wars Epic Yarns Trilogy
Jack Wang and Holman Wang
(Lucas Books, £5.99 each)
A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi are making their debut in crafted form. These delightfully simple one-word-per-page pictureboard books are a fantastic introduction to the Star Wars universe for the child of any sci-fi loving parent. Each double spread consists of a classic Star Wars scene depicting felt puppets of the characters. Twelve famous scenes have been recreated in each volume to pithily retell the saga in the simplest possible way.
The Parent Agency
(Harper Collins, £6.99)
From comedian David Baddiel, with illustrations by Jim Field, comes The Parent Agency – a tale of a world where children are allowed to choose their parents. When Barry investigates this new, much more sensible way of doing things he thinks that it’s a dream come true. This is surely a way to ensure that his parents won’t be nearly as boring as his first mum and dad, who had the cheek to call him Barry! Inevitably, it proves not to be such a super solution.
Amy Wild: Amazon Summer
(Random House, £6.99)
Lake District-born Helen Skelton draws on her many extreme experiences as a Blue Peter presenter to create Amy Wild, a clumsy and boisterous adventurer. Amazon Summer finds Amy in Peru where she’s followed her batty Auntie Marg. But when things go wrong she has to fend for herself in the Amazon rainforest. Young ambitious girls will relate to Amy and her author.
The Jolley-Rogers and the Cave of Doom
Matilda, Jim Lad and the Jolley-Rogers family are back for another swashbuckling adventure. This time the family is bewitched by a magical haul of treasure and it’s up to Matilda, thwarted by the sea witches, to rescue them. Primary age kids will devour the easy-to-read but intelligent tale, helped along by Duddle’s brilliant illustrations, which give the story real colour, despite all being black and white.
Deborah Underwood and Meg Hunt
(Chronicle Kids, £10.99)
Deborah Underwood’s modern take on this enduring classic drives some sense into the fairytale. The format of the story remains, wicked stepmother, ugly sisters and all, but here Cinderella is a space mechanic who rescues Prince Charming from a jam. She carelessly leaves behind one of her tools (a la glass slipper) but the twist comes when PC tracks down Cinders to take her as his bride – she has other ideas. It’s a lengthy rhyming tale that may not hold the attention of younger readers but it should counter some of the damage done by the original.
Poppy Pickle – A Little Girl with a Big Imagination
I can’t believe this story it’s crazy. Poppy is very special and she has cats like me. But she has three cats and I’ve got two and one of her cats can fly. I really like the chocolate tree she imagines and I would like one too. I wish I had an imagination. Poppy is nice and she’s got a funny face. My favourite bit was the end ‘cos the mum and dad were so frightened and the woolly mammoth was so crazy. It was funny because her mum and dad were not nice when they said she was naughty and that she should clean her room.
Safina, 4, from Blackpool
What a Naughty Bird
Sean Taylor and Dan Widdowson
The story is about a naughty bird who likes to poo on everyone. The bear didn’t like it when the naughty bird did a poo but I don’t think anyone likes it. The bird was a bit naughty but a bit funny. The pictures were funny but the poo was disgusting. I wouldn’t like it if a bird did a poo on me. The book was good, I liked it.
Pixie, 3, from Wirral
The human condition can sometimes be a bit tricky, can’t it. Through no fault of our own, at times we can struggle. One of the beauties of storytelling is that we can get the sense that we are not alone. Good stories offer hope and consolation, and encourage compassion. I make picture books, so let’s talk about four illustrated books that deal with difficult subjects in a deeply powerful and resonant way. First, The Red Tree by Shaun Tan deals with the difficulties we sometimes face and the vivid wonder of being alive. Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbrucht is a beautiful meditation on the nature of loss and permanence. Black Dog by Levi Pinfold offers exquisitely sensitive illustrations and a triumphant story on facing your fears. Jim’s Lion by Russell Hoban and Alexis Deacon is a sensitive and moving story on finding your inner strength.
Faye Hanson is author and illustrator of The Wonder (Templar, £7.99)
Penguin by Polly Dunbar was published in 2007. It is still a firm favourite of mine and a book I gladly recommend to anyone who asks. It is a deceptively simple tale of the relationship between a little boy and the penguin he receives as a present. Dunbar masterfully combines simple yet expressive illustrations with a sparse text to tell the story. This is a book that longs to be shared. It offers many moments to act out and enjoy together. It is packed full of warmth and humour and has more than one surprise along the way. The last page still gives me goosebumps.
Adam Stower is a children’s author and illustrator. The Grumbug (Templar, £6.99) is out now
Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat books were groundbreaking when they were published in the late 1980s and even today I’ve never read anything quite like them. Glitzy and punky, poetic and dreamy, they’re a must-read for anyone who likes to live life like a story and find the magic in the everyday. Another author who is a master at making the ordinary extraordinary is David Almond, and My Name is Mina is probably my favourite of his books because it takes the quirky, homeschooled secondary character from Skellig and gives her her own completely unique and spellbinding voice. Exploring everything from William Blake to fig rolls, this beautiful stream-of-consciousness narrative is made of poetry, a deep love of words and so much heart.
Moira Fowley-Doyle is the author of Accident Season (Corgi Children’s, £7.99), which is out now
(Amulet Books, £10.99)
When Marty starts high school she thinks things can’t get much worse. She is stuck in a private, all-girls Catholic school and has been separated from her best friend Jimmy. But when Jimmy comes out and initiates her into his new circle of gay friends things start to look up. She gets involved in the school theatre production and meets the handsome heartthrob Felix. Filled with angst, romance and sneaking out this is a realistic and honest account of teenage life with a strong message about the importance of friendship and acceptance.
It’s About Love
(Harper Collins, £7.99)
From the critically acclaimed author of Tape comes this offbeat love story about Luke and Leia. When they meet in a college film studies class, their mutual passion strikes them immediately but, when Luke’s past catches up with him, he thinks he has ruined his chances with Leia and it takes a lot of moral support from his film studies teacher Noah to get him back on track. A fresh take on a teen love story.
Elena and Clare B Dunkle
(Chronicle books, £11.99)
Elena Dunkle has enlisted her mother, an award-winning author, to help tell her harrowing true-life tale of anorexia. Offering an honest insight into the rituals and obsessions of an anorexic teen, it is hard-hitting reading for teenage girls interested in understanding the dark reality of preoccupations with beauty.
The Accident Season
(Corgi Children’s, £7.99)
This book is thrilling, exciting, twisted, engaging and unique. As a slightly darker book, the storyline keeps the reader on the edge of their seat and eager to read on. The book is about a family that experiences a dangerous series of events that occur for a few days each year, putting them in harm’s way. It includes several very relatable characters such as narrator Carathe, Sam, the tough but kind brother, and Bea, the slightly odd but lovable friend. These characters are all intriguing and come to life on the page by being so realistic. This book is perfect for someone who enjoys riveting stories and is a must-read for any keen readers like myself.
Bridie Gromley, 15, Preston
One Thing Stolen
(Chronicle Books, £10.99)
One Thing Stolen is a riveting book that explains the intriguing story of Nadia Cara. She recently moved to Florence in Italy from Philadelphia. Her father is a historian researching the catastrophic flood in Florence, which destroyed the city. She is filled with an uncontrollable compulsion to steal and build nests from her stolen treasures. She’s a driven artist and, as other parts of her life disappear, she flounders amid the detritus of memory. She is powerless. I enjoyed the narration and how it presented the different points of view of Nadia and her best friend. I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the beauty of Florence and it is a place I would now love to visit. In my opinion I felt that the detail of the flood was unnecessary as it wasn’t important to the story, other than being partly inspired by it. I would definitely recommend this book even though I don’t usually read books of this genre. It explores a neurological disorder that is rarely discussed, making it very interesting and different to other books.
Madiha Adam, 14, Bolton
The Rise and Fall of the Gallivanters
The Rise and Fall of the Gallivanters is an intriguing story about youth punk-rockers of the early 1980s. The novel follows the Noah, a troubled teenaged boy with a dark history. He is fascinated by the disappearance of teenage girls and is convinced it has something to do with the mysterious owners of the local brewery. Noah is forced to regroup his band, the Gallivanters, in order to solve the enigma. Instantly the story hooks you with its exciting yet realistic characters and with the desire to find out the character’s complications – both past and present. The plot is exciting and fast-paced. A little too fast-paced in some areas as certain things are not explained or described well. Although most of the book is realistic, this is contrasted with a part of the plot which is surreal and silly, a seemingly unnecessary feature. However, this is compensated with a perfected sense of the 1980s and the punk-rock era. Everything from fashion to people’s behaviour is superbly presented, and I can imagine what the decade was really like. Overall, it is a great book, with plenty of excitement and heartbreaking moments.
Michael Stack, 16
(Doubleday Children’s, £12.99)
Finding Audrey is about a 14-year-old girl who has a severe social anxiety disorder after being bullied at school. Audrey makes very slow progress with her therapist until she meets her brother’s gaming partner, who encourages her to get out of the house and talk to new people. I think this book would be very inspiring to teenage girls going through similar issues such as anxiety and bullying. However, I also think the majority of teenagers would enjoy this book due to the romantic and comical aspects of it. I would certainly recommend this book as I thought the storyline was quite gripping and I found myself wanting to read more.
Katie Turner, 14, Bolton
Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell steeps you in a bleak and twisted landscape with prose that burns. I feasted on his words, reading slowly to prolong the joy. Every page has something to revel in in this modern day fairy-tale, following Ree as she heads into the woods on a primal quest to save her family. The ogres she encounters on the road are the in-bred redneck crack-burning criminals of the Ozarks. A brutal and gripping story but with beauty and majesty. Breath by Tim Winton is a rite-of-passage surf story as powerful as a surging wave. Winton hails from Western Australia and writes with effortless mastery about the coastal towns and ordinary people of this wild and beautiful place. The way he describes the shifting ocean is reason enough to lose yourself in this beautiful book. This is why I read, for the enthralling pleasure of a story that pulls you to the brink and beyond. Hold your breath. Dive in!
David Hofmeyr is the author of YA novel Stone Rider (Penguin, £7.99)
One of the best things about writing YA is getting to read YA releases early. One of those is Kris Dinnison’s lovely debut, You and Me and Him. It is heartfelt and funny and quirky and raw, and such good reading company. Dinnison is a dynamite writer and she has a gift of creating characters who live and breathe and walk right off the page. I also love RJ Palacio’s Wonder, which sits on my favourites shelf alongside Speak and Perks of Being a Wallflower. I wish I could give Wonder to my (All The Bright Places protagonist) Finch because I think he’d relate to Auggie in many ways, and I think Auggie could inspire him to know that it’s not only OK to be different, it’s actually pretty awesome.
Jennifer Niven writes fiction and non-fiction for YA and adult readers. All The Bright Places (Penguin, £7.99) is out now
When I was about 12 years old, I helped teach a theatre class for much younger kids in my hometown in Ohio, US. On the last day of the class, we held a performance for parents in which the kids acted out a “kabuki” version of Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are, ersatz drumming included. I hadn’t been particularly fond of that book before then, but as an older kid I found myself marvelling over how the story is incredibly simple and specific, but at the same time universal and complex. I fell in love with the illustrations, and that led to a deep engagement with children’s books – a passion that continues today.
Linas Alsenas is the author of Beyond Clueless (Amulet, £10.99)
Frog and Toad Are Friends is a high point of literature written in English – kids books, adult books, whatever. With simple language, Arnold Lobel has written five short stories that are morally complex, psychologically astute and formally inventive. This book is about everything: sadness, regret, storytelling, the mechanics of humour, the relativity of time. But mostly it’s about two good friends. And about how having a good friend is great solace in a hard world. Real friendship is a miracle, and so is this huge little book.
Mac Barnett is the co-author of The Terrible Two, (Amulet, £6.99) and sole author of Leo, A Ghost Story (Chronicle, £10.99)