Half term kids books round-up

With help from authors and school children who have written about and drawn their favourite scenes, we round up the best kid’s books to beat rainy half term boredom

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Age 2-7

Story Path
Illustrated by Madalena Matoso

(Bonnier, £12.99)
Suitable for age five and over to read independently, this “choose your own story” book offers endless alternative narratives and hours of fun. It teaches the basics of storytelling by asking children to choose their character, setting and plot, with bold and imaginative illustrations.
Antonia Charlesworth

The Night the Stars Went Outd
Sue Hughes

(Curious Fox, £6.99)
With illustrations and a storyline heavily inspired by Oliver Jeffers, The Night the Stars Went Out is about an alien who polishes the stars until they go out. We follow him as he journeys to Earth to retrieve a special polish but instead he meets a boy and their resulting friendship leads to a solution the alien wasn’t looking for.

First Snow
Bomi Park

(Chronicle, £10.99)
South Korean illustrator Bomi Park creates a visual feast in First Snow, which follows a young girl as she wakes up to the year’s first snowy day. From her initial glimpse out of the window to rolling a snowman and making snow angels it is a story to build excitement for the coming months.

Cleo, age 6 (St John Vianney Primary School, Blackpool) says: “My favourite part was when all the children made snowmen together.”

The Dragon Keeper’s Handbook
Katie Haworth, illus: Monica Armino

(Templar, £14.99)
Directly addressing the reader as the Chosen One, who must hatch and keep a dragon, this engrossing, interactive book has lift-the-flap, pop-up and carousel features. Illustrated in old English style, it’s like Game of Thrones (though less bloody) meets Pokemon Go for little readers and sure to capture the imagination.

One Very Big Bear
Alice Briere-Haquet, illus: Oliver Philipponneau and Raphaele Enjary

(Abrams Kids, £9.99)
One very certain bear thinks he’s the biggest thing around until two walruses, three foxes, four sea lions and five penguins come along. When six sardines outdo him, the bear has had enough. A counting book for small children with a humorous twist and simple attractive illustrations.

UntitledCozy Classics: Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Holman Wang and Jack Wang

(Chronicle, £6.99)
This is about a boy who goes on a big journey and meets friends along the way. It has really simple words so it is easy to read. The boy is really good, pictured as a puppet, and the other characters as well. I’d recommend it to friends and family because it’s a nice little book and quick to read. It’s suitable for anyone over age four because it is easy to read for children who are just learning to read.
Gracie, aged 10 (SJV)

More Cozy Classics
Holman Wang and Jack Wang

(Chronicle, £6.99)
Gracie’s brilliant review of Huckleberry Finn looks at just one of a series of adaptations by the Vancouver-based Wang twins. The illustrations in the board books, which include Jane Austin’s Emma, Les Miserables and The Nutcracker, are in fact photographs of intricately handcrafted felt puppets depicting scenes from the classic stories. Each scene is accompanied by a single word describing the action. It’s credit to the Wang twins that Gracie followed the story based on this and she’s right to suggest it would be a good starting place for children learning to read. Even younger children will enjoy flicking through the easy to handle pages.

Herbie’s Big Adventure
Jennie Poh

(Curious Fox, £6.99)
Herbie the hedgehog’s mum decides he’s ready for his first foraging adventure and sends him into the world alone. With pretty autumnal and wintry illustrations it is an educational seasonal story with a moral of independence and bravery for small children.

UntitledThe Velveteen Rabbit
Margery Williams, illus: Sarah Massini

(Nosy Crow, £14.99)
A little boy has a little rabbit and he has lots of other toys. When the boy goes out they all come alive but when he is in they become toys again. His favourite toy is the bunny. My little sister loves rabbits so she would love it. I’d recommend it for year two or one because it is about someone who loves teddies and it’s kind of not my age.
Demi-Leigh, age 9 (SJV)

The Wish Tree
Kyo Maclear, illus: Chris Turnham

(Chronicle, £10.99)
Beautifully presented with dreamy illustrated The Wish Tree follows Charles as he breaks away from his brother and sister to journey to the titular tree and discover that wishes can come true in the most unexpected ways. It’s simply and poetically told – only slightly distracting is the personification of Charles’s toboggan.

Bunny Slopes
Claudia Rueda

(Chronicle, £9.99)
If you’re struggling to tear your child away from the iPad this book offers a gentle transition into books. Taking interactive concepts like shaking the book to make it snow and tilting it to help Bunny tackle ski slopes, and with a limited colour palette reminiscent of Dr Seuss, it’s a simple story with an innovative concept.

How to Hide a Lion at School
Helen Stephens

(Scholastic, £6.99)
In the third adventure in the bestselling How to Hide a Lion series Iris’s lion doesn’t want to be left behind, but lions aren’t allowed to school. Stowing away on the school trip to the museum, the lion causes much madness and mayhem as he hides among the exhibits.

Lily Rose, aged 6 (SJV) says: “My favourite part was when the children and Miss Holland rode the lion back to school.”

Hello Mr Dodo
Nicholas John Frith

(Alison Green Books, £6.99)
It is about a girl called Martha. She really loved birds, so she went to the wood and was looking for birds and there was something wiggling in the bushes. It was a blue bird. It was a dodo bird. They played and couldn’t stop. One day she has to leave the bird because people wanted to see it. A week later she went to find it and when she found it, it had a good friend next to him and all of them became friends. I would recommend it to a younger child because they would be interested more in the book. This book is suitable for children who love birds because they might be interested in the bird.
Kasia, aged 10 (SJV)

My Encyclopedia of Very Important Things

(DK Children’s, £14.99)
As it supports the Key Stage One national curriculum this book is recommended for children four and up but the brilliant, vibrant illustrations make it engaging for very tiny minds while the wealth of information makes it a valuable addition to even an adult bookshelf. Split into six sections – My Planet, Places, Animals, People, Me and Other Very Important Things – children will learn everything from where animals live to how to say “hello” and “goodbye” in different languages. It offers a welcome change of pace from storybooks and will keep brains from idling over the holidays.

I Am a Very Clever Cat
Kasia Matyjaszek

(Templar, £6.99)
Funny and farcical this illustrated yarn is about Stockton the cat who is extremely clever and very good at everything, especially knitting. He never gets in a tangle at all.

Ava-Grace, aged 5 (SJV) says: “My favourite part was when the mice helped Stockton the cat to knit his scarf.”

Raven Child and the Snow Witch
Linda Sunderland, illus: Daniel Egneus

(Templar, £12,99)
Some picture books can be as appreciated by adults as they can their children and this book, about Anya who lives in the shadow of an icy glacier where the Snow Witch reigns, is of that ilk. Swedish illustrator Daniel Egneus’s surrealist collage-style pictures – complemented by glittery textures – bring to life this enchanting story inspired by traditional fairytales.

One Hundred Sausages
Yuval Zommer

Scruff just can’t resist sausages. Salami, pepperoni, chorizo – he simply loves them all. But gatecrashing barbecues and hanging around outside the local butcher’s shop is not making him the most popular dog in town. Then one day, disaster strikes. There’s a break-in at the butcher’s – and all the sausages are stolen. There’s only one thing for it – Scruff will have to sniff them out.
Mica, aged 6 (SJV) says: “My favourite part is when Scruff falls asleep and dreams of lots of different sausages, small, big, and spicy.”

Duck Gets a Job
Sonny Ross
(Templar, £6.99)
Duck’s friends all work for big city banks and he thinks he should probably get a job too but he doesn’t think spreadsheets sound too exciting. Another one for children with a fascination for feathery friends Duck Gets a job is an original, quirky and funny book with a clear moral about following your dreams.

Age 7-11

Off The Shelf
Richard Dikstra

I was a slow reader as a child. It might have been something about having an older brother – he did all that sort of thing for me. But it certainly gave my parents cause for concern when I announced proudly one day after school, aged five, “I can read without the book.” We must have done the same Janet & John (Summersdale, £5.99) by Mabel O’Donnell story once too often so I could recite it by heart. You see, to me it was about the story – not the mechanics of deciphering the symbols on the page. What I really liked was TV – Fireball XL5, Yogi Bear and Stingray where “Anything can happen in the next half hour”.

Luckily the school (and this was in 1960) was very relaxed about how quickly their pupils learnt to read – everyone is different. I was probably seven or eight before I read anything on my own. I read Enid Blyton’s Famous Five (Hodder Children’s Books, £5.99), WE Johns’ Biggles (Red Fox Publishing, £7.99) and Richmal Crompton and Thomas Henry’s Just William (Macmillan, £6.99), but I particularly liked books that stretched the imagination, or had a quirky take on life – so I really wish there had been books around like Piers Torday’s The Last Wild (Quercus, £6.99) trilogy when I was young.

Perhaps my worst literary admission is scraping past my first year English exam by skim-reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (Alma, £5.99) the night before the test. It meant only reading every second chapter. Luckily the plot did not seem to move too fast, or, then again, perhaps I was fortunate and the questions favoured events and characters from the odd numbered chapters.

My upbringing made me realise that a book needs to grab children’s attention. Yes, the Tigeropolis (Belle Media, £7.99) series is based on my travels through India’s tiger reserves and my long-held passion for conservation, but it also owes a lot to the Flintstones, Yogi and Paddington Bear.

UntitledThe Magical World of Amy Lee
Amy Lee

(Scholastic, £7.99)
This is about a girl called Amy Lee [of Minecraft video fame]. She is an animal lover and she is magical. It has facts, puzzles, activities, games, quizzes, colouring, mazes and stories.
Gracie, aged 10 (SJV)

The War Next Door
Phil Earle

(Orion Children’s, £6.99)
Masher is the bully of Storey Street – no one dares to stand up to him – until Jemima moves next door. She’s not scared of him and she’s not doing his image any favours. This is the third instalment of the Storey Street series by Yorkshire author Phil Earle as he expands the ever-engaging Storey Street with a brilliant female hero.

Alice Roberts, with introduction by Robert Winston

(DK Children’s, £12.99)
This book is about how our bones move and work to create a skeleton. It’s also about how our skeleton changes throughout our lives. Anybody who’s interested in how bones work and why they are important for your, mine and everyone’s lives would like it and I would recommend this book to anyone eight plus who is interested to know the properties of their bones.
Viktoria, aged 10 (SJV)

A Day at the Dinosaur Museum
Tom Adams, illus: Josh Lewis

(Templar, £14.99)
A natural history museum in a book this is packed full of information and 3D exhibits. Open drawers, peek inside cabinets and explore behind the scenes – it’s fun and educational.

Children Just Like Me
Barnabas and Anabel Kindersley

(DK Children’s)
Suitable for Key Stage Two this educational book is a celebration of children – aged 7-11 – around the world, their cultural differences and similarities. It’s an updated version of a DK 1995 classic with new content for and about a new generation. Broken down into continents, 40 children feature and demonstrate what they eat, wear and do for fun.

Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond
Sam Hearn

(Scholastic, £8.99)
Following a school age Holmes and Watson and told through Watson’s blog, detective notes, school assignments, media reports and comic-strip illustrations, this is an easily digestible take on the classic detective set-up. Watson has barely settled into Baker Street Academy, his new school, when a trip to a London museum results in him trailing a stolen jewel.

The Pocket Dog
Holly Webb, illus: Sharon Rentta
(Scholastic £5.99)
The book is about a girl called Kitty and her family. She has a hard time at school and becomes a bully to her friend all because a new girl comes from Sydney. It also features a small dog called Frankie and it tells you about his travels. It is called The Pocket Dog because the dog always goes in its dad or Kitty’s pocket. I would recommend this book to my sister because I know she would really like it. I think the book is suitable for 8-11 year olds because it’s quite emotional but it’s also really funny.
Gracie, aged 10 (SJV)

The Ultimate Peter Rabbit
Editor: Camilla Hallinan

(DK Children’s, £12.99)
To mark 150 years since Beatrix Potter first captured the imaginations of children with mischievous, vegetable stealing rabbit, DK has created a visual guide to the world of Beatrix Potter. Beautifully presented it traces the inspiration behind the tale – Potter’s pet rabbit – and visits the locations that inspired the tales, making for a perfect gift for a Potter fan.

Secrets of the Sea
Kate Baker, illus: Eleanor Taylor

(Big Picture Press, £14.99)
This book is all about all the strange and beautiful creatures that live in the deep and shallow depths of the sea. I loved this book because of the vibrant illustrations and facts about the creatures of the sea. My favourite character is the sea angel because its graceful dance is stunning.
Georgia, aged 8 (SJV, Blackpool)

Build the Dragon
d Steer
(Templar, £14.99)
Part fact book, part activity this original work is bound to occupy an adventurous mind for a rainy day. Packed full of information on mythical dragons it comes with parts for readers to construct their own, complete with motor for movable wings.


Off The Shelf
Abie Longstaff

In How to Catch a Witch, 11-year-old Charlie has moved schools right in the middle of year seven. She’s desperate to fit in, desperate to feel normal. But the new house is creepy, school makes her nervous and the village seems odd – spooky and almost magical. What she needs is a witch to solve her problems – if only she could find one.

Fear of not fitting in is common. Most children go through a stage of wondering who am I, what will I become? How should I speak/sit/act? Books are a great way to make you feel less alone – they put you inside the head of someone else and help you realise that, actually, we’re all just figuring it out as we go along.

In Wonder by RJ Palacio the main character, Auggie, has a facial deformity. After years of being home-schooled, he’s starting mainstream school for the first time – a place full of other children, pointing and staring. The book is mainly written from Auggie’s point of view, but the occasional chapters from others give us insight into what it’s like to be his sister or his friend. It’s beautifully written, warm and funny, despite the heart-wrenching content.

SE Durrant’s Little Bits of Sky follows the story of two siblings struggling to adjust to their care home, a place where children from all different backgrounds come and go. One day, 11-year-old Ira finds an old letter under her bed. Honest and direct, this gentle book deals sensitively with the fears and hopes of looked-after children.

For younger readers, The Sneetches is one of my favourite Dr Seuss books. Sneetches live in a world where some of them have stars on their bellies, and some do not. The story captures perfectly the feeling of wanting to be with the in-crowd, and the wacky attempts to buck the system are laugh-out-loud funny.

Finally, for little ones, I recommend The Princess and the Dragon by Audrey Wood. When a dragon acts like a princess, and a princess acts like a dragon, there’s only one thing to do!

How to Catch a Witch
Abie Longstaff

(Scholastic, £5.99)
This story is super fun to read. In this book Charlie moves to a creepy new house near the woods. But when a witch named Agatha tells her that Suzy (from school) is cursed Charlie needs to break the spell. Agatha the witch makes me feel happy and excited, the same as Charlie and Kat. Also the cursed girl Suzy is sweet and loves to sing. I love this book. It’s great. I couldn’t decide what was my favourite part. The book was so good. I think it was all my favourite part! The funniest part was when Glenda told Charlie Hogwarts was expecting her to wear a blue and white dress. I would recommend this book because there are so many awesome things about it.
Neve, aged 9 (SJV, Blackpool)

Poppy Pym and the Double Jinx
Laura Wood

(Scholastic, £6.99)
Saint Smithens school is holding a production of Macbeth, but the show is ruined by three disasters. A fire, ghostly warnings and a chandelier almost crushing an actor. Is Macbeth jinxed? Also, Poppy, a young girl, has to find out where the lost gold of Phineas Scrimshaw is. I liked the characters. Daring Poppy – I felt excited! Clever Ingrid! Funny Kip! He talked of food a lot – I felt hungry! Busy Letty made me exhausted. I liked the book, because it was funny and made me laugh. I liked it during the first disaster – it was nail-bitingly nervous. I would recommend this to anyone who loves mystery and humour. It’s one of the best books ever, so read this book. You wont be able to put it down.
Katy, aged 8 (SJV, Blackpool)

The Thornthwaite Betrayal
Gareth P Jones

(Picadilly Press, £6.99)
After a lifetime of plotting each other’s demise, orphan twins Lorelli and Ovid Thornthwaite have called a truce but someone else is gunning for them. Living in their burnt-out manor house they have plenty of suspects – oddball builder Dragos, their triple Michelin-starred chef Jean-Paul Suricates, their gardener Tom and stinking rich uncle Harry Morgan. Fans of Lemony Snicket and Robin Stevens will enjoy trying to solve the mystery alongside the twins.

Young adult

Off The Shelf
CJ Skuse

My fifth young adult (YA) novel The Deviants (MIRA Ink, £7.99) chronicles one summer in the life of a fiercely angry teenager called Ella, who is struggling to come to terms with a childhood sexual assault. Here is my pick of the best YA books dealing sensitively with the theme of child abuse.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (Simon & Schuster, £7.99) is a compelling coming-of-age novel that tells the story of Charlie – a shy, perceptive young man trying to figure out what life’s all about, where he fits within its confines and how he feels about the formative abuse he suffered at the hands of someone he trusted. I think about this book all the time.

Boy Toy by Barry Lyga (Graphia Books, £7.38) is a powerful account of one boy’s grooming at the hands of his female teacher, convincingly conveying the effects of sexual abuse not only on the body but also on the mind. Terrifyingly real and heartbreakingly wrought it brings into sharp focus the hideousness of how insidiously child molesters operate.

Amy, Chelsea, Stacie, Dee by Mary Thompson (Chicken House, £7.99) is not out until next year but is worth waiting for. Six years ago, cousins Amy and Dee were kidnapped. Now Amy has returned but can’t tell anyone where she’s been or what has happened to Dee. Her readjustment is tortured and full of guilt, and events come to breaking point when she comes to realise that she must speak up to protect the ones she loves. Riveting, page-turning, breath-holding YA.

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott (Simon Pulse, £7.71) follows Alice, who was 10 when she was kidnapped on a school trip by Ray. He took her away to live in his apartment as father and daughter. Five years on, Alice is still there – a living dead girl who no one appears to be looking for. Evocative and lyrical, Scott’s writing style only adds to the horrific beauty of the piece. Not a book to enjoy, more endure. Still utterly compelling.

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