Imaginary worlds, absorbing nonfiction and daft belly-laughs are hopefully providing some relief to frustrated kids during lockdown. In picture books, Smriti Halls and Ella Okstad offer a cheeky rhyming romp through a house invaded by animals, including a badminton-playing panda and a tiger doing something smelly, in Elephant in My Kitchen! (Egmont). But the rowdy displaced creatures just want their own habitats to be protected in this blithe, engaging introduction to ideas of conservation for the very young.
From Richard Jones, illustrator of The Snow Lion, comes Perdu (Simon & Schuster), his first title as author-illustrator. Perdu, an appealing, diminutive dark-brown dog with a jaunty red scarf, is lost, with no place to call home. From countryside to uncaring city he wanders, fearful and hungry, until a gesture of kindness draws him in. It may not be an unusual story, but its delicate pathos and warmth imbue it with a salutary sense of reassurance.
I Am Brown (Lantana) by Ashok Banker and Sandhya Prabhat is a joyful celebration of brown skin and wide-ranging achievement – “I am brown, I am beautiful, I am perfect. I ran this race, I won this prize, I wrote this book.” Full of all the different – and wonderful – ways to be brown, whether worshipping, working, playing or eating, it’s uplifting without being preachy, rolling out an inspiring range of possibilities.
Meanwhile Avocado Asks (Orchard) by debut illustrator Momoko Abe is a delightful, boldly graphic wander down the supermarket aisles, as Avocado asks: “What am I?” Fruit or veg, cheese or egg … Avocado’s quest for self-knowledge eventually brings him to the exuberantly confident Tomato, who declares that when you’re as fabulous as Avocado, it simply doesn’t matter.
For five- to eight-year-olds, the Pig Diaries author Emer Stamp moves from porcine to musine capers in PESTS (Hodder), kicking off a hilarious new series. Grandma has drilled into young mouse Stix that he must never let humans see him – but when Stix joins the Peewit Educatorium for Seriously Terrible Scoundrels, how far will he go in his quest for the coveted accolade of pest of the year? Stamp’s new venture is riotously funny, with enough expressive drawings and poo jokes to delight longstanding Pig fans as well as new readers.
In the Garden (Princeton), a gorgeous oversized picture-book from Emma Giuliani, features two silhouetted siblings, Plum and Robin, as they enjoy a year of tending their patch. Under beautifully designed flaps lies information about fruit, flowers and foliage. Full of rich words (peduncle, pericarp) and the sensuous pleasures of a warm breeze, sweet smells and the enjoyment of growing things, it creates a consolatory sense of space for those with limited access to the outside world.
For seven-plus, Jack Noel’s Comic Classics: Great Expectations (Egmont) is a comic book exploration of the adventures of Pip, Miss Havisham, Magwitch and Estella, featuring much of the original language and packed with engaging doodles explaining or riffing on the story. A funny, thought-provoking treat, it’s the ideal way into an author whose verbosity is off-putting to most children, but whose meaty plots and unforgettable characters offer much.
Eight-plus readers with a taste for fantasy are in for a treat in LD Lapinski’s debut The Strangeworlds Travel Agency (Orion). When Flick walks into a dilapidated travel agency and befriends Jonathan, its teenage proprietor, she makes the intoxicating discovery that the suitcases lining its walls are gateways to other worlds. But energy is draining from Five Lights, the world at the centre of everything – can Flick somehow save it from collapse, and save her own world too? Assured, witty, riotously inventive, this debut has “future classic” written through it like Brighton rock.
From super-readable publishers Barrington Stoke comes David Long’s thrilling Survival in Space, a retelling of the Apollo 13 mission published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of its launch. Written with limpid simplicity, filled both with fascinating facts about the history of space travel and a tensely contained sense of dramatic excitement, it offers pent-up imaginations the chance to leave Earth on a nail-biting adventure.
Finally, Kirsty Applebaum’s TrooFriend (Nosy Crow) is an agreeably sinister account of artificial intelligence, sentience and corporate obfuscation. The TrooFriend 560 will never lie, steal or bully – what parent wouldn’t want one for their child? But when Sarah is given the TrooFriend she calls Ivy, she soon discovers that human-like responses lead to human-like emotions. What happens when an android learns to feel? Told from Ivy’s perspective, Applebaum’s second novel is a heartfelt, compelling sci-fi story.
Robin Hood: Hacking, Heists & Flaming Arrows by Robert Muchamore, Hot Key, £6.99 Set in a contemporary, slightly dystopian version of the Midlands, this high-octane, rip-roaring escapist reimagining from the author of the cult CHERUB series serves up a 12-year-old Robin flush with hacking skills, quick wits and a carbon-fibre recurve bow. When his dad is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit, Robin falls foul of gangster Guy Gisborne and takes refuge with the hippyish denizens of the dangerous Sherwood Forest, robbing Gisborne-controlled cashpoints with the help of Marion Maid while his half-brother Little John finds unexpected common ground with the Sheriff of Nottingham. Intensely readable, outrageously enjoyable action.
Good Girl, Bad Blood by Holly Jackson, Egmont, £7.99 Pip Fitz-Amobi, schoolgirl star of Jackson’s bestselling debut, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, is back, now running a hugely popular podcast. She is determined not to be a detective any more, however – too much hate came her way in the wake of her first case. So when her friend Connor’s brother goes missing, and his family ask her to help, Pip is dismayed to feel a familiar tingle of excitement. As nail-biting, taut and pacy as her first book, Pip’s second outing confirms Jackson as a homegrown thriller writer to watch.
Rules for Being a Girl by Candace Bushnell and Katie Cotugno, Macmillan, £7.99 When “Bex”, her handsome teacher, is attentive to her, Marin is flattered – but when he kisses her, she’s appalled. Her best friend won’t believe her, so, in the school paper, Marin writes an article laying out the rules for girls: don’t be easy, don’t be a prude, don’t friendzone him, don’t blame him for trying. School and social hierarchies may be poised to punish Marin instead of Bex, but that doesn’t mean she’s ready to stop fighting, or to lose her newly discovered voice. A fiercely feminist call to arms, from Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell.
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