Fiction for older children reviews – ancestral spirits and daring dogs


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Himalayan adventure, transformation and time travel feature in the standout stories this month

Can you judge a book by its cover? Often, in children’s fiction. Set in the foothills of the Himalayas, Asha and the Spirit Bird (Chicken House) – the debut from Jasbinder Bilan, winner of her publisher’s children’s fiction competition in 2017 – hits you with lush tropical artwork: namaste, illustrator Aitch and designer Helen Crawford-White.

The words do justice to the pictures. If one of the gifts of fiction is to proffer unfamiliar footwear in which to walk a while, Bilan’s story is an eye-opening adventure, with one sandalled foot in atmospheric realism and a toe-hold in the mythical. To thwart the debt collector, plucky young Asha has to find her father, missing in the faraway city. As her desperation turns to real danger (policemen, blizzards, wolves) help is on hand in the form of the powerful ...

Children’s and teens roundup: the best new picture books and novels


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Mealtime wars, a puppy without a bark and crazy science … fun and facts for all ages in this month’s selection

The final children’s books roundup for 2018 reflects a brilliant year. From the subtle to the over-the-top, the tear-jerking to the comic, it’s been a bumper crop – and 2019 shows early signs of being just as good.

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The best children’s books of 2018 for all ages


This post is by Fiona Noble, Imogen Carter, Kitty Empire and Kate Kellaway from Books | The Guardian


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From celebrity-penned tales to fresh interpretations of the classics, here is our pick of the best for hungry readers from tots to teens

Children’s books have had a record-breaking few years. The sector was worth £381.9m in 2017, according to Nielsen BookScan, and 2018 may well top that. One in every three physical books sold is now a children’s book. Judging by bestseller charts and supermarket displays you’d be forgiven for thinking that most of those were by celebrities. Famous faces certainly continue to sell in big numbers: David Walliams’s The Ice Monster (HarperCollins), David Baddiel’s Head Kid (HarperCollins) and Greg James and Chris Smith’s Kid Normal series (Bloomsbury) are among the year’s most notable. But beyond this, a rich and varied landscape of books for children and young adults is very much in evidence. This year, Jacqueline Wilson returned to her best-loved heroine in My Mum Tracy Beaker ...

AL Kennedy: ‘It is all terrible but that’s when you can’t despair’


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The award-winning author on revisiting Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince and the joy of messing about in boats

AL Kennedy was once described by fellow Scottish writer Ali Smith as “the laureate of good hurt”. She is the author of seven novels, seven short story collections and three works of nonfiction. Born in Dundee in 1965, she has lived in Glasgow and London, but has now settled in Essex. She has appeared twice in the Granta best young British novelist list and in 2007 won the Costa Book of the Year award for her novel Day. In the last couple of years she has published stories for children. Her latest book, The Little Snake (Canongate, £9.99), is a novella written to mark the 75th anniversary of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.

What was it like to return to Saint-Exupéry’s much-loved classic?
If you read The Little Prince as ...

Book clinic: which books can help with my daughter’s low self-esteem?


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A selection of books, from Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl to Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, to help build confidence

Q: Which books can help my 10-year-old daughter navigate her feelings of low self-esteem and not fitting in at school?
Joanne Phillips, 48, writer, indexer and single mum

Fiona Noble, children’s book reviewer for the Observer, writes:
On the cusp of secondary school and puberty, 10 can be a challenging time, and books offer children a safe place to explore these emotions. In the award-winning Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, 12-year-old Astrid faces the toughest summer of her life when she and her best friend begin to drift apart. Signing up for roller derby camp is a gamechanger.

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Fiction for older children reviews – many happy book returns


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With a host of popular characters back this autumn, picking up from where you left off has rarely been more fun

It’s easy to be sniffy about franchises, especially when they absorb all oxygen and shelf space. But there is such pleasure in catching up with characters in which you are invested.

Returnees stud this autumn’s books calendar – few bigger than Jacqueline Wilson, whose most famous creation, care-home rebel Tracy Beaker, is now all grown up with a headstrong, mop-haired daughter of her own. My Mum Tracy Beaker (Doubleday £12.99) is narrated by young Jess. She has an imaginary dog named Snapchat; she’s embarrassed by her mum’s ongoing authority issues, and horrified at Tracy’s new boyfriend, a flash footballer. It’s no spoiler to note that Tracy’s past has a way of turning up in her present, and that rehoming strays remains a strong moral theme in this ...

Want the kids to read more? 15 modern classics for all ages


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From greedy dogs to shimmering dragons and from dance competitions to grisly murder – these books can inspire a lifetime of reading

The Street Beneath My Feet by Charlotte Guillian and Yuval Zommer (Words and Pictures)
A concertina-book that falls open in yards of pages, taking you to the centre of the Earth and back again; good for budding geologists, treasure-hunters, archaeologists and those who aren’t too keen on traditionally book-shaped books.

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Clive King obituary


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Author of Stig of the Dump, the children’s classic that has never been out of print since it was published in 1963

Clive King, who has died aged 94, was the author of several children’s books and is best known for Stig of the Dump, the original and imaginative fantasy story of the friendship between Barney, a boy of the modern era, with Stig, a boy from long, long ago who lives in a nearby chalk pit in a home created from things he can creatively and skilfully repurpose from waste, including a chimney from tin cans and windows from glass bottles.

Taking place without any adult supervision, the two boys’ adventures – some contemporary and some in a time-slip back to Stig’s prehistoric time – are underpinned by the childhood delights of play and friendship: they quietly challenge conformity and celebrate the freedom to live differently.

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Salley Vickers on Stoke-on-Trent: ‘Thanks to my upbringing, my books have a tenderness for misfits’


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The former therapist and novelist on her ‘committed communist’ parents, seeing Paul Robeson sing and her abiding love for the Potteries

I was born in Liverpool, my mother’s home town, which was bombed during the second world war. But my father was warden of Barlaston Hall near Stoke-on-Trent, a residential adult education college, founded by Josiah Wedgwood, and run jointly by the WEA (Workers’ Educational Association) and the TUC.

Related: Lisa O'Kelly talks to therapist turned author Salley Vickers

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The Lifters by Dave Eggers review – a strong first children’s book


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The plot may not be very original, but Dave Eggers can’t write a boring sentence - kids will love this tale of dark underground forces

Twelve-year-old Granite Flowerpetal, hero of Dave Eggers’s first book for children, is having a rough time. His mechanic father is struggling to make enough money to support the family, which also includes Granite’s mother, who uses a wheelchair, and little sister Maisie. Dad’s solution is to move hundreds of miles to the town of Carousel, where things start going wrong as soon as they arrive.

Granite is worried about being the new kid at school, and hopes to make that easier with a slight name change, from the hard-edged moniker given to him by his father to balance the family surname to “Gran”. But nobody is interested in his name, or anything about him, and before long he discovers that something strange is going on ...

The Lifters by Dave Eggers review – a strong first children’s book


This post is by Tony Bradman from Books | The Guardian


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The plot may not be very original, but Dave Eggers can’t write a boring sentence - kids will love this tale of dark underground forces

Twelve-year-old Granite Flowerpetal, hero of Dave Eggers’s first book for children, is having a rough time. His mechanic father is struggling to make enough money to support the family, which also includes Granite’s mother, who uses a wheelchair, and little sister Maisie. Dad’s solution is to move hundreds of miles to the town of Carousel, where things start going wrong as soon as they arrive.

Granite is worried about being the new kid at school, and hopes to make that easier with a slight name change, from the hard-edged moniker given to him by his father to balance the family surname to “Gran”. But nobody is interested in his name, or anything about him, and before long he discovers that something strange is going on ...

Book clinic: what titles might help children deal with grief?


This post is by Fiona Noble from Books | The Guardian


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The Bookseller’s children’s and YA previews editor selects three titles offering a variety of perspectives on bereavement

Q: What books do you recommend for children aged four and up to prepare for, and deal with, a death in the family? What are the best kids’ books on grief?
Postdoctoral student, two book-loving kids (four and eight) and a terminally ill, much beloved relative

A: Fiona Noble, children’s and young adult previews editor for the Bookseller and member of 2017 Costa book awards judging panel
Talking about death can be overwhelming for adults; where to start with a child? Books are an invaluable way to open dialogue. Rebecca Cobb’s Missing Mummy is a straightforward but warm, tender look at the loss of a parent through the eyes of a small boy. Cobb excels at capturing a child’s perspective and a whole spectrum of emotions: anger and guilt, sadness and confusion. The child finds solace in being ...

Tracy Beaker, please never grow up | Claire Armitstead


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Jacqueline Wilson’s bolshie girl is now a single mum on a council estate. Raymond Briggs’s wordless Snowman is becoming a book for ‘a new and older audience’. Why can’t we leave kids books for kids?

Stop the world, I want to get off. On 10 March, it was announced that Tracy Beaker has grown up and become a single mum, in a sequel to Jacqueline Wilson’s beloved trilogy aimed at adults and teenagers as well as preteens. And now it’s been announced that Raymond Briggs’s Snowman is flying towards a similar fate with a retelling by the (admittedly admirable) Michael Morpurgo that will transport the heart-melting carrot-nosed snowman to a “chapter book” for “a new and older audience”.

A chapter book! I ask you! The whole point of The Snowman is that there are no words. He exists in the magical storytelling space that enfolds parents and the smallest ...

The many tongues of Lost in Books, the only bookstore in Fairfield


This post is by Stephanie Convery from Books | The Guardian


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Most of Fairfield, in Sydney’s west, speaks a language other than English – and now it has a bookstore to match

Walking into Lost in Books is a little like walking into a daydream. Models of hot air balloons float near a ceiling covered in billowing white fabric. Bookshelves line one wall, murals adorn another. The gently sloping floor is carpeted in bright colours. A pile of cushions and soft toys is heaped in a corner beside some armchairs and a piano sits opposite. It’s a stark contrast to the hot concrete and brick of the Fairfield street on which it sits.

The multilingual children’s bookstore is the only one of its kind in the western Sydney suburb – the only bookstore, that is. The area hasn’t had a bookshop at all since Angus and Robertson turned its back on bricks-and-mortar outlets, and Kmart aside, the closest storefronts dedicated to ...

Amelia Edwards obituary


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Founding art director of Walker Books who oversaw some of the company’s great children’s classics including We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

Amelia Edwards, who has died aged 77, was the art director of Walker Books and one of the most important influences on children’s book publishing in the 20th century. Working with some of the best illustrators and writers of the age, she built a list of classic titles that shaped the reading experience of generations of children.

In 1978 the entrepreneurial Sebastian Walker invited her to join him as the first employee of his fledgling company, Walker Books. It rapidly became Britain’s leading independent children’s publisher.

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Fiction for older children reviews – snow quests, standup and skullduggery


This post is by Kitty Empire from Books | The Guardian


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A well-plotted comic quest from Harry Hill, a treat of a seafaring saga, and a Dickensian dystopia in which a fox leaves an orphanage in search of home

Snow flurries blow across ice palaces, and a penguin or seven crops up in this season’s stockingful of books. Best enjoyed with a mug of sustaining cocoa, Alex Bell’s The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club (Faber £6.99) – probably the start of a series – delights in sleety detail. Twelve-year-old Stella Starflake Pearl dreams of being an arctic explorer like her adoptive father, a derring-doer who disdains club rules about moustaches and not taking girls along on expeditions. Soon Stella is questing through the Icelands. Inadvertently stumbling across the uneasy secrets of her childhood, she forges unlikely friendships. Big on tiny enchanted penguins, pygmy diplodocuses, moustache wax, unicorns and compassion, Bell’s book also packs some fairytale-calibre grimness (hence the need for strong cocoa).

Another ...

Jill Barklem obituary


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Creator of the Brambly Hedge children’s books

Jill Barklem, who has died of pneumonia aged 66, was the creator of the Brambly Hedge children’s titles, a richly imagined and beautifully illustrated series of stories that are a fine example of the pastoral tradition in children’s books. Inspired by her observations of the countryside around Epping in Essex, where she grew up, Jill created the series on the underground as she commuted to her degree course at St Martin’s School of Art in central London. Hating the overcrowded trains, she transported herself to a place of her own imagining that offered peace, space and friendliness, populating it with a community of mice.

The first four Brambly Hedge books – each set in a different season – were published simultaneously in 1980, thus creating from the outset a year-round introduction to Jill’s wonderfully imagined, small-scale world. Together, and mostly in the illustrations ...

Move over, Hermione Granger – now girls have real-life heroines to read about | Lauren Chassebi


This post is by Lauren Chassebi from Books | The Guardian


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Children are revelling in books that showcase female role models from Virginia Woolf to Venus Williams. Such non-fiction has never been more needed

Children’s stories have often followed the same pattern: a girl is in trouble and enlists the help of a boy to get her out of this or that sticky situation. Then they live happily ever after. You only need to look at the classic fairytales to see this is the case. Of course, some fictional heroines have broken away from this mould. Anne of Green Gables, in the series by L M Montgomery, is inquisitive and bright, and Roald Dahl’s Matilda is famously brave and wise beyond her years. But, in picture books for younger readers, heroines such as these have always been few and far between.

As a child, the characters I looked up to were Disney Channel stars such as Lizzie McGuire, who I ...

Children’s books roundup: the best new picture books and novels


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Scary stories for Halloween, the transformative power of education … and fish-finger sandwiches

Ghoulish goodies abound for picture-book fans this Halloween, including I Want to Be in a Scary Story by Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien (Walker). Asked what sort of story he’d like to be in, Little Monster demands a scary one. But a spooky forest and haunted house prove too perturbing – and he wants to be the one doing the scaring … This is beautifully structured for reading aloud; a vibrant, viewpoint-flipping picture book that should lessen small readers’ fairytale fears.

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The Explorers by Katherine Rundell review – wildly exciting adventure


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The gripping tale of four youngsters plunged into the Amazon forest will delight with its warmth and wisdom

From the whimsical streets of Victorian Paris in Rooftoppers to the frozen white plains of Russia in The Wolf Wilder, Katherine Rundell conjures an extraordinary sense of place in her novels, no more so than in the lush Amazon rainforest of her latest. Readers are plunged, quite literally, into a wildly exciting adventure when four children crash-land hundreds of miles from civilisation after their pilot suffers a heart attack. They are alone and in absolute peril, without food or water, at the mercy of the ferocious jungle. But it’s also a place of wonder: Rundell’s rich, descriptive prose will transport her young readers to a mesmerising world where they can swim with river dolphins, eat a tarantula and discover a ruined city. The mystery deepens when the discovery of a map ...