Jun 25, 2022
From pageturning thrillers and comic novels to an antidote to doomscrolling – our pick of the best new fiction and nonfiction. Plus 10 brilliant paperbacks, and 10 great reads for children and teens
The Exhibitionist by Charlotte Mendelson Continue reading...
Longlisted for the Women’s prize, this is a darkly funny portrait of a dysfunctional family bent out of shape over decades by its narcissistic artist patriarch – and of what happens when his wife will no longer squash her own creative energies. Wise, waspish and emotionally astute, it’s addictive reading.
Jun 17, 2022
A dog’s secret day out; a celebration of wildflowers; a guide to dinosaurs; tales of espionage and more; plus the best YA novels
A Day by the Sea by Barbara Nascimbeni (Thames & Hudson, £10.99)
Mischievous dog Frido is off to the seaside! While his owner naps, he surfs, digs and feasts on ice-cream – but can he get back before he’s missed? A joyful, exuberant, summery picture book.
I am Nefertiti by Annemarie Anang, illustrated by Natelle Quek (Five Quills, £7.99) Continue reading...
Nefertiti’s drumming brings the whole band together – but when her music teacher can’t pronounce her name, shortening it to “Nef”, something happens to Nefertiti’s playing … A deft, empathy-fostering exploration of the importance of names and respect.
May 27, 2022
A call to embrace wildness, a guide to shells, a tall tree tale, wishing candles, paper spirits, and a tough apology to make
Be Wild, Little One by Olivia Hope and Daniel Egnéus (Bloomsbury, £6.99)
This luminously beautiful picture book is filled with tender, thrilling exhortations to embrace wildness: diving into the deepest blue, swinging along with chimpanzees or wishing on every star.
The Boy Who Sailed the World by Julia Green and Alex Latimer (David Fickling, £6.99) Continue reading...
A little boy loves the sea so much that he builds a boat and sets sail in it, weathering sea currents and storms, making friends, and finally sailing home – before a new voyage beckons. Words and images are rich with wonder in this lovely picture book, based on the adventures of the author’s dauntless son.
Apr 29, 2022
Astral phenomena, Greek goddesses, deadly family curses and the best new YA fiction
How to Count to ONE by Caspar Salmon and Matt Hunt (Nosy Crow, £6.99)
A sly, interactive picture book that tries, with transparent duplicity, to trick its small readers into counting numbers higher than one. Bold colours, naive images and a strong, sustained shared joke make for a counting book with a delightful difference.
The Comet by Joe Todd-Stanton (Flying Eye, £12.99) Continue reading...
Nyla is sad when she and Dad move to the city, away from trees, stars and the sound of waves. When she sees a comet race across the sky, she feels a sense of home – but will Dad understand as she tries to trace its path? A luminously beautiful picture book, full of bittersweet farewell feelings, about learning to welcome the new.
Mar 25, 2022
Dressing up, finding solace during conflict, a monster underfoot and more, plus the best new YA novels
Mum, Me and the Mulberry Tree by Tanya Rosie and Chuck Groenink (Walker, £12.99)
With its lulling, looping rhymes and softly muted palette, this adorable picture-book account of a mother-daughter trip to gather mulberries evokes the sweet immediacy of small childhood rituals – and the loving memories they lay down for a lifetime.
John Agard’s Windrush Child by John Agard and Sophie Bass (Walker, £12.99) Continue reading...
Debut illustrator Bass’s intricate, colourful, arresting pictures bring out all the resonances of Agard’s spare text in this story of a child, a ship, a journey, and a new life enriched by the loves and memories of the old.
Feb 25, 2022
Two vivid picture books from noted poets – plus Loki’s secret diary, the return of Mayor Bunny, and the pick of the new middle-grade and YA fiction
Don’t Ask the Dragon by Lemn Sissay and Greg Stobbs (Canongate, £12.99)
In poet Lemn Sissay’s debut picture book, little Alem, alone on his birthday, wonders where he can call home – but bears, foxes and assorted wildlife all tell him just one thing: not to ask the dragon. A warm-hearted, richly coloured, peril-spiced quest, culminating in the poignant realisation that “home was always inside him”.
Can Bears Ski? by Raymond Antrobus and Polly Dunbar (Walker, £7.99) Continue reading...
Another first picture book from an acclaimed poet, in which a small bear is baffled by people asking “Can bears ski?” until he visits an audiologist, and discovers they were really saying: “Can you hear me?” Drawing vividly on Antrobus’s childhood experience with undiagnosed deafness, this new paperback edition comes with a BSL alphabet, as well as Polly Dunbar’s inimitably cuddly illustrations.
Jan 28, 2022
A monster trying to order pizza, a Nigerian girls’ boarding-school story, a YA Indian fantasy about scheming siblings – and much more
Baby, Sleepy Baby by Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank (Walker, £12.99)
This dreamy, unrhymed lullaby for the tiniest listeners is based on a song from the author’s own childhood. Illustrated in soft moonlit tones, it’s filled with smiles, stars and a sense of boundless love.
Monster! Hungry! Phone! by Sean Taylor and Fred Benaglia (Bloomsbury, £6.99) Continue reading...
A starving monster calls multiple wrong numbers – including a jaguar in Nicaragua and a panda called Amanda – in his ill-fated quest for pizza. A shouty, colourful picture-book romp, begging to be read aloud with gusto.
Dec 10, 2021
A festive tale from Julia Donaldson, an illustrated version of David Olusoga’s Black and British history and the return of a YA thriller queen
The Christmas Department Store by Maudie Powell-Tuck and Hoang Giang (Little Tiger, £11.99)
Money is tight, and Benji’s family are a little sad – but when Benji visits the enchanted Christmas Department Store, he finds the perfect presents, full of laughter and delight. A warm, golden picture book about treasuring joyful feelings and the people closest to you.
The Christmas Pine by Julia Donaldson and Victoria Sandøy (Alison Green, £12.99) Continue reading...
A simple, sweetly festive story from picture-book legend Donaldson and Norwegian illustrator Sandøy, celebrating the pine tree sent from Oslo to London every year, and following its journey from seed to splendour.
Dec 06, 2021
From magical picture books and rollicking adventures to the conclusion of Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses series, standout reads for all ages
After months of sadness and uncertainty, there is pure enchantment to be found in the year’s best children’s books. For picture-book lovers, Scissorella: The Paper Princess by Clare Helen Welsh, illustrated by Laura Barrett (Andersen), is an extra-special story full of delicate filigree art. Mill worker Lotte, scorned by her siblings, cuts elegant puppets out of paper, trusting hard work over happy endings – until she’s invited to a ball, and meets a prince who loves puppets too.
In the luminous fairytale Frindleswylde by Natalia O’Hara, illustrated by Lauren O’Hara (Walker), a capricious winter spirit steals the light from Grandma’s lamp, and Cora must go to his icy kingdom to retrieve it – but will Frindleswylde freeze her heart first? Filled with pastel sweetness and frosty aquamarine light, this has a flavour of Hans Christian Andersen. Continue reading...
Nov 19, 2021
A shy candle flame, Covid chronicles, unscrupulous zookeepers, a YA mermaid romance – and more
Little Glow by Katie Sahota and Harry Woodgate (Owlet, £12.99)
Perfectly timed for the gathering darkness and the world’s many festivals of light, this glimmering, gorgeous picture book features gentle rhyming text, joyous gatherings and a shy candle flame who gradually realises that a small, quiet glow can light an entire home. Continue reading...
Jul 31, 2021
A zombie thriller, a flooded world, poetry and a very worried pig … plus the best new YA novels
This month, readers of eight plus with a taste for apocalyptic fiction will relish Polly Ho-Yen’s How I Saved the World in a Week (Simon & Schuster). Billy’s fierce, unusual mother taught him fire-building and foraging, hammering home the rules of survival before a disastrous accident forced them apart. Now Billy’s dad says Mum was ill, and the skills she taught are no longer needed – but when a mysterious virus breaks out, and the infected overrun the cities, Billy may be humanity’s last hope. This tense, haunting zombie thriller perfectly balances terrifying peril with emotional depth.
Set in a damaged, flooded world to which hope is just beginning to return, Nicola Penfold’s second novel, Between Sea and Sky (Stripes), follows Pearl, who lives on a floating oyster farm with her sister Clover, and Nat, visiting them for the summer from the mainland – with a secret in his luggage that could overthrow everything. Atmospheric, memorable, extraordinarily gripping, this is storytelling at its finest. Continue reading...
Jun 26, 2021
Mermen and pirate mums, things to do and see outside, black British history in songs, plus the best new YA novels
There’s a watery feel to picture books this month. Nen and the Lonely Fisherman (Owlet) by Ian Eagleton and James Mayhew is a lovely, gentle story of friendship and love between a merman, Nen, and Ernest, the fisherman of the title, with a conservationist theme rippling throughout. Mayhew’s light-dappled, tender illustrations are the perfect foil for Eagleton’s quiet, well chosen words.
The exuberant Splash (Farshore) by Paralympian Claire Cashmore, illustrated by Sharon Davey, is full of the joys of swimming, following a little girl from initial aquaphobia to eventual championship. Like Cashmore herself, the heroine has a limb difference, understatedly conveyed in both text and pictures, while the chief focus of the story is fun, perseverance and supportive family love. Continue reading...
May 29, 2021
A lost puppy, a judo-practising guinea pig and victory for a girls’ football team, plus the best new YA novels
This month’s picture books range from the comic to the meditative. Swapna Haddow and Dapo Adeola’s My Dad Is a Grizzly Bear (Macmillan) is a feast of sly visual jokes and loving fun poked at a hulking, hairy, silhouetted father, with bouncy interwoven repetition that makes it huge fun to read aloud.
Grandad’s Camper (Andersen) by Harry Woodgate, meanwhile, is a colour-flooded riot of memory. Grandad used to go everywhere with his husband in their beloved vintage camper van. But now that he’s a widower, he doesn’t feel like travelling – until his granddaughter suggests he get the van out again. A poignant sense of intergenerational love and grief made manageable makes this beautiful debut stand out. Continue reading...
Apr 23, 2021
Spies, ships’ captains, terrific tantrums and more – plus the best new YA novels
Books for nine-plus are far ranging and imaginative this month, especially the spectacular, synopsis-defying Starboard (HarperCollins) by Nicola Skinner, intricately illustrated by Flavia Sorrentino. On a school trip aboard the SS Great Britain, 11-year-old YouTube star Kirsten does not expect to be declared the old ship’s captain – or to be kidnapped alongside her former best friend as the vessel breaks loose and heads for the open sea … A wild, hilarious, surreal adventure of self-discovery, by the brilliantly original author of Bloom.
For espionage enthusiasts, there is some delicious escapism in Amber Undercover (Oxford) by Em Norry. When Amber distinguishes herself in a locked-room challenge, she’s amazed to be recruited by a spy organisation. Can she really make it as a secret agent? This swift-paced, lively debut balances down-to-earth believability with wish-fulfilment fun. Continue reading...
Mar 26, 2021
The dangerous beauty of sharks, sisters in 18th-century England, the biology of the brain and more - plus the best new YA novels
World Book Day tie-in titles are especially strong this year, from Katherine Rundell’s Skysteppers (Bloomsbury), a nail-biting scramble across the skyline of Paris (and prequel to the bestselling Rooftoppers), to the crazed fun of Humza Arshad and Henry White’s Little Badman and the Radioactive Samosa (Puffin), illustrated by Aleksei Bitskoff, in which a box of irradiated triangular treats confers superpowers on a trio of kids. Continue reading...
Feb 27, 2021
A hilarious spy mission; a maritime adventure; a lipstick rampage; a celebration of black youth and more
There’s a bumper crop of brilliant books for those aged eight and above this month, including Vi Spy, Licence to Chill (Chicken House), first in a new series by Who Let the Gods Out? author Maz Evans. Valentine “Vi” Day has an unusual family; her dad was a supervillain, her mum is an ex-spy and just about to marry Vi’s teacher. Now Vi herself is determined to win a place at spy school by carrying out a dangerous mission, with the help of her indomitable Nan, her shy almost-stepbrother, and a supporting cast of geriatric secret agents and semi-retired rogues. Wildly hilarious, full of bum jokes and acutely observed family dynamics, and with illustrations by Jez Tuya, it’s riotous escapist fun.
More complex family interactions lie at the heart of Proud of Me (Usborne) by Sarah Hagger-Holt. Josh and Becky were born to their two mums only eight days apart. As the siblings hit their teens, Becky begins to wonder whether she might be gay herself – and Josh is increasingly desperate to discover more about their donor … Warm, sweet, funny and believable, this gentle coming-of-age story is thought-provoking without ever sacrificing plot to “issues”. Continue reading...
Jan 29, 2021
Secrets in the second world war, great female scientists, a wonder dog, a slug in love and more
The year may be off to a dismal start, but January’s best books for children are filled with adventurous magic. For readers of nine-plus, BB Alston’s Amari and the Night Brothers (Egmont) is a Chosen One fantasy with a fabulous protagonist: a whip-smart black girl from the projects. Amari is convinced her brilliant brother Quinton isn’t dead, but the police have given up investigating his disappearance. Stumbling across a mysterious briefcase and an invitation to try out for the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, Amari discovers the everyday world’s occult underbelly – and her own powerful magical gift. A splendidly imaginative debut, ideal for fans of the Percy Jackson or Nevermoor series.
Another debut, Lesley Parr’s The Valley of Lost Secrets (Bloomsbury), follows Jimmy in wartime, evacuated with his brother to a Welsh mining village, as he slowly acclimatises to his new surroundings. But when Jimmy finds a hidden skull, he unearths a secret that has haunted the community for years. Atmospheric, direct and gripping, with a superbly assured narrative voice, this book is woven through with powerful themes: grief, belonging and making peace with the past. Continue reading...
Dec 17, 2020
Enchanted kingdoms, a history of music and the return of Dogger ... great titles for Christmas and the new year
The last children’s book roundup of the year boasts some tinglingly good titles and last-minute gifts, many with voyage themes to carry us onwards into 2021.
For Whovians of nine-plus, Dave Rudden’s The Wintertime Paradox (BBC Children’s) is a gorgeous anthology of Christmas-themed stories with the unpredictable flair of the Tardis itself. Encompassing terrors from Plasmavores to Autons, and with appearances from River Song and Davros, it’s full of delicious fear and complex emotion conveyed in Rudden’s trademark bell-clear prose. Alexis Snell’s linocuts amplify both tenderness and threat. Continue reading...
Nov 28, 2020
Wintry fantasy, young detectives, the return of Lyra and Pan - plus poetry for everyone
This painful year has produced some inspiring books full of poetry, adventure, powerful emotion and consoling humour. Oliver Jeffers’s newly released picture book, What We’ll Build (HarperCollins), follows a father and small daughter as they construct both a house to live in and a shared future. They’ll build a wall to keep enemies out, but also a gate to let people in – and set some love aside for later, on the shelf. Jeffers’s characteristic soaring spaces, colourful detail and quiet joy may induce suspicious wobbling in the adult reader’s voice.
In more down-to-earth vein, from earlier in the autumn, Jill Murphy’s Just One of Those Days (Macmillan) features the beloved Bear family on a day fraught with mishaps – spilled coffee, squashed glasses, nursery quarrels – followed by consolatory shared pizza and the reflection that it was, after all, just one of those days. Murphy’s acute observation of family life continues to delight both children and adults. Continue reading...
Oct 31, 2020
The last white rhino, a stolen inheritance, terrifying sea journeys and some ballet dancing bunnies
This month there’s an emphasis on change and transition, loss and hopefulness. In picture books, Nicola Davies’s Last (Tiny Owl) is inspired by the true story of Sudan, the last male northern white rhino. Having lost his mother to poachers, a captive rhino lives in a near-monochrome environment with other “lasts” of their species – a sad contrast to the colourful landscapes he remembers. Once returned to the wild, though, he finds he may not be the last after all. Pulling no punches, but inspiring the reader to fight for nature against all odds, the book is delicately balanced between sorrow and hope.
Hope is also invoked in Rain Before Rainbows (Walker) by Smriti Halls and David Litchfield. First released as a free ebook, this dreamlike vision of a girl and fox travelling from darkness and difficulty to a blaze of morning light offers, with its few well-chosen words and heart-lifting illustrations, a moving message of perseverance and eventual joy. Continue reading...
Sep 26, 2020
Consumerist cavemen, sibling rivalry, a dragon obsessed with buttons and the best new YA novels
There are many wonderful children’s books published this autumn, but for nine-plus, Jasbinder Bilan’s Tamarind & the Star of Ishta (Chicken House) stands out. When Tamarind first visits her Indian family’s Himalayan home, no one wants to talk about the mother she lost – but the wild garden hides an overgrown hut, and a mysterious girl. Could they hold the keys to her mother’s past? Bilan marries classic assurance to contemporary sensibility with a lush, gorgeous setting in a novel as vivid and original as her Costa-winning debut.
Sita Brahmachari’s When Secrets Set Sail (Orion) also interweaves past and present. Imtiaz has just joined Usha’s family – but Usha, mourning her grandmother Kali Ma, isn’t keen to welcome her adoptive sister. When Usha finds herself being haunted by Kali Ma, however, while Imtiaz is haunted by a mysterious woman called Lucky, they are drawn into the history of the Indian ayahs, or nannies, left abandoned in Britain. This is an absorbing, many layered story, set in a fabulous house rigged like a ship. Continue reading...
Aug 29, 2020
A search for spaghetti, an unwilling superhero, fighting slavery in Jamaica and the best new YA novels
Sly humour abounds in picture books this month. Morag Hood deploys her characteristic surreal comedy via bold primary-coloured images in Spaghetti Hunters (Two Hoots), in which Duck, hindered by the enthusiastic Tiny Horse, embarks on a search for the trickiest of all pastas (“You can’t just MAKE spaghetti”). Joyously silly, it’s enormous fun both for reader and listener.
Also from Two Hoots, author Ben Manley teams up with illustrator Aurélie Guillerey in the adorable Albert Talbot Master of Disguise. The day may be full of challenges, but Albert’s alter ego Zandrian Delaclair is not afraid of swimming lessons, and Professor Octavius Pickleswick is undaunted by Show and Tell – though it may be Albert, rather than Xarlon Quarkstar, who eventually falls asleep with a goodnight kiss. Each splendidly grandiose secret identity is brought to life by entrancing colourful illustrations. Continue reading...
Jul 24, 2020
A Dickensian orphanage, a rip-roaring secret agent caper, hunting for monsters and the best new YA novels
Homeschool may be out for the summer, but there’s new reading aplenty. For nine-plus, Victoria Jamieson, award-winning author-illustrator of Roller Girl, teams up with Omar Mohammed to tell his story in the powerful graphic novel When Stars Are Scattered (Faber). Omar and his disabled brother Hassan grew up in the Kenyan refugee camp Dadaab before being resettled in the US: young readers are plunged into the hunger, boredom and desperation of children growing up in limbo, as well as the hope that enables them to survive.
Sophie Kirtley’s debut The Wild Way Home (Bloomsbury) echoes Skellig and Stig of the Dump, with a bold, readable charm entirely its own. Charlie longs to be a big brother, but when his baby sibling is born with a heart defect, he runs away into the forest, where he finds the strange, fierce Harby, a Stone Age boy, floating in the river. Will Charlie and Harby ever break free of the wood? Full of peril, sadness and wild joy, it’s a timeslip adventure with a difference. Continue reading...
Jun 27, 2020
How to show love while we can’t hug, 50 poems dedicated to the moon, a memorial to Scottish witches and the best new YA
Warm, consoling, funny and sad, this month’s picture books offer something for every mood. From Anne Booth and Robyn Wilson-Owen, Bloom (Tiny Owl) is a story of hope, persistence and finding love in small things. Every day, a little girl speaks to a beautiful flower on her way to school, telling it how much she loves it, until the possessive gardener sends her away. Unable to understand why the flower then closes, he tries to make it bloom again – but only when he asks the girl’s advice will the flower again share its beauty. Wilson-Owen’s delicate illustrations are the perfect complement to Booth’s poetic text, with echoes of The Selfish Giant.
The tender simplicity of the tiny While We Can’t Hug (Faber), meanwhile, pairs Eoin McLaughlin’s text with Polly Dunbar’s rosy-cheeked images. Hedgehog and Tortoise, who love hugging, are not able to touch for a while – but Owl reminds them that a wave, a funny face, a letter, a shared song or a painting are wonderful ways to show love. Continue reading...
May 02, 2020
A badminton-playing panda, a celebration of the avocado, a travel agency with gateways to other worlds and more
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. Continue reading...