Beautiful illustrations of nocturnal creatures, imaginary friends and frustrated vampires bring these children’s stories to life, write Emma Dunn and Sarah Mallon
Guardian Children’s Books Roundup, selected and commented on by Imogen Russell Williams
Imogen Russell Williams’ latest review roundup for The Guardian includes this enthusiastic recommendation for Thornhill by Pam Smy:
For readers who like a frisson of fear, Pam Smy’s ominous, hefty hardback, Thornhill (David Fickling), is a rule-breaker in the vein of Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret – a skin-crawling story of a derelict house haunted by past cruelties, told almost entirely via illustration, with some help from found texts and tattered ancient diaries. Smy’s intense chiaroscuro, delicately drawn handmade dolls and spare, evocative detail, with pure black pages marking the division of days, combine to create an unsettling, deeply memorable read.
roundup by Claire Hennessy
Grief, loss, and a sense of “brokenness” suffuse several recent young adult titles, although these thematic similarities still result in very different novels. The most intriguing and innovative of this month’s selection is Kendra Fortmeyer’s Hole in the Middle (Atom, £7.99), in which 17-year-old Morgan has a literal gap in her body that she’s kept hidden for years. When she finally bares the hole in her stomach at a nightclub, she finds herself “more myself than I have ever been”, but this sense of self-worth is soon impinged upon by a social media frenzy.
This in turns to leads to meeting Lump Boy, whose body offers up her missing puzzle piece – but Morgan is suitably sceptical about the idea that this stranger is her “destiny”. The magical realist element allows for a sharp but never preachy take on body image, romance and internet culture, most delightfully when strangers speak up about their own “holes”, having “found an empowering metaphor for their lives” in the narrator. An optimistic ending is hard-won rather than saccharine. With this debut, Fortmeyer establishes herself as a writer to watch.
As the long summer holidays begin, Emma Dunn and Sarah Mallon have lots of suggestions to keep children of all ages turning the page
Imogen Russell Williams had some recommendations in Saturdsy’s Guardian review…
Here are her 12+ picks
For 12+, there’s The State of Grace (Macmillan), another debut, from Rachael Lucas. Diagnosed as autistic herself, Lucas has created a wry, engaging autistic protagonist in her titular heroine. Overstimulation and mockery make school challenging for Grace, and her parents’ relationship has hit a rocky patch; but with the help of her best friend, her beloved horse and her own determination, she might just get through The Big Party (and talk to gorgeous Gabe Kowalski into the bargain). This honest, romantic, hilarious novel feels long overdue.
Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined (Scholastic), meanwhile, is an elegant, humorous tearjerker from Canada’s Danielle Younge-Ullman. Ingrid has been inveigled on to a hardcore wilderness exploration programme by her mother; blighted by the end of her opera career, Margot-Sophia is determined to instil resilience in her daughter. In letters full of sarcasm, affection and self-revelation, Ingrid tracks her progress through the past and present, learning to face and shape her own future in the process.
Jenny McLachlan, author of the amusing Ladybirds series, is on stellar form with Stargazing for Beginners (Bloomsbury), a standalone novel about super-intelligent, shy, space-mad Meg. Working desperately to win a trip to mission control at Houston, Meg doesn’t expect her free-spirited mother to jet off to Myanmar, leaving her in charge of Elsa, her determined, none-too-fragrant baby sister, with only Grandad, with his cavalier attitudes and ever-growing hamster farm, as back-up. Funny and moving, this book is a treat.
Education Guardian’s Christmas gift ideas from teachers and authors, with Anne Fine, Holly Smale, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Michael Morpurgo and Julia Donaldson…
Three of the recommendations below – for the rest, follow the link
The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori)
Recommended by Michael Morpurgo, children’s author, best known for War Horse, Kensuke’s Kingdom and Private Peaceful
I loved this book. Pushkin Children’s Books are to be congratulated in making it available to an English audience. How important it is, in these times, that our children read the stories from other peoples, other cultures, other times.
Set in Tokyo just before the second world war, the Little People, Bilbo, Fern and their children, Robin and Iris, live on a shelf in a dusty room full of books and are cared for by the Moriyama family. The Little People have been entrusted to the Moriyamas by an English teacher, Miss MacLachlan, who has to leave Japan after 20 years’ teaching English as the war comes closer. There is a strong sense of place and the changing seasons are beautifully described. While the story has elements of the work of Oscar Wilde and Hans Christian Andersen, the author admits to having been inspired by Kenneth Grahame and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
It’s a short novel, suitable for ages nine- to 13, written as a series of poems. The narrator is Lonnie Motion, an 11-year-old boy whose parents died four years previously in a fire and whom, having spent some time in “group home” now lives with his foster mother, Ms Edna. His teacher encourages him to “write it down before it leaves your brain” and so sets about writing a series of poems through which we learn of his feelings about the loss of his parents, his separation from his sister and the people in his life who show him love.
Woodson captures the language of a young African American boy who is determined to make sense of his world. I was struck by how well I felt I knew the other characters in the book just through their appearances in Lonnie’s poems. The warmth and optimism of the book shines through without ever feeling forced.
Surely you’re joking, Mr Feynman! by Ralph Leighton and Richard Feynman
Recommended by Dan Abramson, headteacher of King’s College London mathematics school
This is a collection of stories about Richard Feynman, one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century. It’s all about how he got into physics and the fun he had doing it. Some stories are more serious – he was involved in developing the nuclear bomb – but a lot are about how he played with concepts and was always open to new ideas. The book challenges the sense that there’s a canon of material one must learn to master the subject – it’s about mindset, creativity and fun. It’s accessible to 15- to 16-year-olds who are interested in physics.
full list of recommendations via Top authors pick a children’s book for Christmas | Education | The Guardian.
1. Hello Little Babies by Alison Lester
(Harper Collins Publishers, 2016) Ages: 0 – 3 years
Cameos of babies’ lives and their families feature in ordinary but universal scenes starring babies as they sleep, play, eat and explore life.
The short, familiar text, such as “Zane rubs corn in his hair” and “Vikram yawns and stretches”, is perfect for parents to read aloud. Lester is at her finest in capturing the minutia of the ordinary and rendering it memorable.
2. Who sank the boat? And other stories by Pamela Allen
(Penguin, 2016) Ages: 1 – 5 yrs
Here’s a treasure trove of nine familiar favourites by a creator who excels in the art of simplicity, humour, playful images and universally loved stories including Grandpa and Thomas and Belinda. Allen’s jaunty language is perfect for reciting and performance by pre-schoolers.
Parents will enjoy performing words and actions and talking about the subtle character-building ideas, such as being kind to others and working together.
3. One Minute Till Bedtime written by Kenn Nesbitt, illustrations by Christoph Niemann
(Little Brown, 2016) Ages: 3 and up
These 60-second poems are perfect bedtime reading. Five countries, including Australia, feature in these 132 selections, each evoking strong emotions. Included are abecedarian, pantonums and haiku poems, plus others. The illustrations are minimalist and clever, ensuring imaginations are engaged.
Australia’s poems by Kathryn Apel, Mark Carthew, Sophie Masson and others add to the international flavour. Parents prepare for a rollicking read aloud and discussion of other kinds of poetry than those here.
4. Welcome to Country written by Aunty Joy Murphy, illustrated by Lisa Kennedy
(Black Dog Books, 2016) Ages: 5 and up
Welcome to country ceremonies are an important part of major events. They signify cultural greetings by Aboriginal elders who grant permission for visitors to enter their traditional lands.
This stunningly illustrated book has a deep yet simple text, which introduces its central concept through poetic language and earthy, evocative landscapes of blended colours and shapes of people and landscapes.
“We are part of the land and the land is part of us” reminds us to respectfully share cultural traditions. Parents might collect a range of picture books by Aboriginal creators for children, comparing illustration styles and discussing the meaning underlying traditional stories.
5. The Sisters Saint-Claire written by Carlie Gibson, illustrated by Tamsin Ainslie
(Crows Nest, NSW : Allen & Unwin, 2016) Ages: 7 and up
Gibson’s debut, gem-like story offers likeable characters, a tasty dilemma and a satisfying ending. Appealing ingredients include a family of four French mice who adore food, family and fashion, intricately detailed illustrations, lavish banquets of French food and a text in delectable rhythm and rhyme.
Adults and child can explore places in the world, locate these on maps, and share cultural diversity.
the other five selections via: http://www.businessinsider.com.au/the-10-best-australian-childrens-books-of-2016-2016-12
And yet more coverage of children’s books from the Irish Times…
Another selection by Claire Hennessy…
There is a terrible tendency for grown-ups to bestow only “worthy” books upon the young people in their lives at Christmastime, using a similar kind of logic to the insistence on finishing off one’s sprouts before opening a Selection Box. Adults, I implore you: let them have the treats this Yuletide.
Reading improves literacy and empathy and teaches us so much, but, just as with adult fiction, children’s and young adult fiction works best when the themes are woven into captivating stories, rather than loudly preached. Many of the titles here are “worthy”, addressing important themes – tolerance, compassion, difference, grief – but more importantly, they are carefully crafted and engaging works of art and literature.
Two fo the recommendations in Claire Hennessy’s round up for:
I’ll Be Home for Christmas (Stripes Publishing, £7.99) is an anthology for teen readers with a much more modern feel. Featuring both stories and poems on the theme of “home”, the collection has been put together in aid of UK homelessness charity Crisis. Although some of the stories feel a little too neat and tidy, there’s an impressive range of edgy YA authors included here: Melvin Burgess, Juno Dawson, Cat Clarke and Julie Mayhew, to name a few.
Finally, for a cosier Christmas YA read, David Levithan and Rachel Cohn’s The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily (Electric Monkey, £7.99) is a he-said, she-said romance about a couple struggling after a year together (the pair first met in Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares), and an attempt to rekindle Christmas magic in a world that seems a little too bleak for it to matter. The New York setting lends this quirky love story a glamour that will appeal to young teens, and there’s just enough reality in here to ground the more implausible aspects of this Yuletide adventure.
see the full roundup via Books to steal young people’s hearts this Christmas.