‘They just wanted us to read about a white boy and his dog’: why teenager Marley Dias fought back


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She was 10 when she first decided to distribute children’s books with black girl leads – a campaign that has taken her to the White House. Now she’s written a book of her own

When I arrive at the photography studio to meet the education activist Marley Dias, I am surprised to find the shoot is long over. The 14-year-old is sitting patiently, her luggage packed, coat neatly slung over her lap, waiting. The photographer explains the early finish is because they got all the pictures they needed with Dias near-immediately; that she is the perfect subject to work with.

This was perhaps the first inkling of what would become abundantly clear during our interview: Marley Dias is a pro. Despite her tender years, the campaigner for diverse children’s books – which took her from her New Jersey home town to the White House – carries herself with a mature ...

Book clinic: What can I give a child to help them with losing a parent?


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Writer and critic Kate Kellaway suggests nonfiction and novels to support young people dealing with grief

Q: Are there any children’s books dealing with grief and, specifically, losing a parent? My niece and nephew, aged 11 and seven, are likely to lose their mum due to illness and I am wondering what may be of help.
Anonymous, 38

A: Kate Kellaway, Observer writer and critic, writes:
The first thing to say is that there is a gap where the perfect book should be. I’ve been to bookshops to inquire (a book was thrust into my hands in which a mother is in a car crash but survives). I’ve searched online and, with premature triumph, ordered Still Here With Me: Teenagers and Children on Losing a Parent, edited by a Swedish writer, Suzanne Sjöqvist. But the book’s first-person accounts seem more depressing than consoling (double-check – you’ll know what is ...

Why Harry Potter and Paddington Bear are essential reading … for grown-ups


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Oxford don champions children’s books as figures show that sales to adults are soaring

By day, she researches the poetry of John Donne as a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. But in the evening, when Dr Katherine Rundell wants a bit of comfort, she reads Paddington. “As an adult, the thing I love about Paddington is that the structure Michael Bond has built into his books is one of hope. Things which appear to be negative turn out to be just cogs in the greater machine. I think Bond sees life as miraculous – and that’s in the structure of the book.”

In her own forthcoming work, Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise, Rundell argues that children’s literature offers unique insights and distinctive imaginative experiences to adults. “Defy those who would tell you to be serious,” she writes, “those ...

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


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A scruffy puppy’s friendship, a young adventurer’s guide to the wild, poltergeist spooks and scroll down for the best new books for teens

Spring is bursting with good books for five- to eight-year-olds, and newly independent readers will lap up the cat-and-dog tale of Jasper and Scruff (Little Tiger) by author-illustrator Nicola Colton. Fastidious feline Jasper aspires to membership of the elite Sophisticats, but when Scruff, a bedraggled, chronically enthusiastic puppy, ruins his chances, he discovers that companionship matters more. Adorable illustrations, snappy dialogue and outrageous puns make it the cat’s pyjamas for bedtime reading, too.

For slightly older kids, especially those navigating friendship challenges, Rebecca Patterson’s A Moon Girl Stole My Friend (Andersen) is superb. In a gently down-at-heel future, complete with robot teaching assistants, cyber pets and flying cars, Lyla’s best friend, Bianca, falls under the spell of mean girl Petra Lumen. Newly arrived from the Moon, Petra ...

Gripping refugee tale wins Waterstones children’s book prize


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Anti-trafficking campaigner Onjali Q Raúf was inspired to write adventure story The Boy at the Back of the Class by a Syrian mother and baby she encountered in a Calais camp

Onjali Q Raúf has won the Waterstones children’s book prize with her debut novel, which she wrote while recovering from life-saving surgery.

Raúf is founder of the charity Making Herstory, which fights the trafficking and enslavement of women. After botched surgery for endometriosis left her vomiting and in crippling pain, she was told she had only three weeks to live. Further major surgery saved her life, but forced Raúf to spend three months recovering in bed.

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


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A boy who turns into a pigeon, love in a lighthouse and the pain that inspired Mary Shelley

This month ushers in a feast of funny, fearsome, folklore-laced fantasy for readers of eight to 12. The Midnight Hour (Chicken House), from storytelling partners Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder, features bold Emily, who’s lost both parents somewhere in the Midnight Hour, a dark Victorian London suspended for ever in time and inhabited by the mysterious Night Folk. As she encounters an embodied Library, a policeman with superpowers and an appalling predator, Emily grapples with what it may cost to find and save her family. Anarchic humour, rich imagination and poetic writing, interspersed with elegant line drawings, add up to pure delight – with a stowaway hedgehog as a bonus.

More wildness, witchcraft and forthright, sparky girls appear in Michelle Harrison’s A Pinch of Magic (Simon & Schuster). The Widdershins sisters, Betty, ...

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


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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?


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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


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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 ...