So many books are being published at the moment that it can be hard to keep up with them all. I have selected just a handful of recent titles which I think prove that fiction for children can be both entertaining and enable children to see themselves and others in stories. These books celebrate difference and similarities, friendship and families using humour, understanding and experience to engage their readers.
My Name is Sunshine Simpson (Usborne Books) is a charming debut by G M Linton inspired by her own family background and told with tenderness, humour and kindness. Ten year old Sunshine is part of a loving extended family, with good friends and an enthusiastic approach to life. However when friction develops in a new friendship, the challenge of a stressful school event approaches and worst of all her beloved Grandad’s health starts to deteriorate Sunshine’s smile begins to slip.
The narrative voice of Sunshine captures effectively the hopes, dreams and worries of a child of her age and helps to create this delightful story’s appeal. The bond between Sunshine and her cherished grandad is both joyful and poignant and is at the heart of the novel. Her family is made up of distinctive and likeable characters and their pride in their heritage is integral to their way of life. There is laughter and tears, joy and heartbreak in this poignant story celebrating the Windrush generation and their achievements and a lovely message of hope, trust and the importance of self belief and positivity. The good news is this is the first in a new series.
Hilary McKay’s latest novel for Barrington Stoke, Jodie is an atmospheric, ghostly tale set in a desolate backdrop captured beautifully in Keith Robinson’s haunting illustrations. Hilary McKay has a knack of grabbing her reader with her opening lines and the first page or so of Jodie’s story was enough to make this a ‘read in one sitting’ book. The skill of providing a back story which provides an understanding of Jodie’s issues in a few lines is masterly and effective. In short sentences, family drama, loss and change is conveyed without delaying the story we are now starting.
Jodie is a reluctant participant in a residential school trip to a nature field centre and finds herself sharing a dormitory with girls from her class who don’t understand her. Although not unpleasant or cruel they make Jodie feel different and excluded so she escapes to the salt marshes where she can hear a small dog barking in the distance. Alone and in danger Jodie is trapped in the mud as the tide approaches. When rescue arrives it is both unexpected and welcome.
The details of the school trip made me smile in recognition and as ever Hilary McKay’s dialogue has a natural and believable ring to it. The voices of the girls, their happy chats and their inevitable disagreements are just right. Although I did not predict the final rescue scene it will reassure readers in its hopeful and kind message to those who may feel isolated or different. Jodie is a ghost story, deliciously spooky in places, but also a wise tale of friendship and loyalty.
In The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei by Christina Matula illustrated by Yao Xiao (Inkyard Press) the author has done an excellent job of balancing a story of friendship and fitting in with an exploration of what it means to be of dual heritage. Holly- Mei is initially excited about moving across the world to Hong Kong for her mother’s new job, ready for a new start and new friendships. However she soon realises that the rules may be slightly different in her new environment and without the guidance of her loving grandma Holly-Mei starts to struggle and worries about letting her mother down.
Drawing on her own personal experiences Christina Matula has ensured that this book has an authentic and distinctive voice which enlightens the reader whilst also entertaining them. Heritage and cultural background are part of this story however the everyday issues adolescents face are typical for all but are happening to Asian youngsters in this particular book. Any child experiencing a move of home or school, or both like Holly, will find this positive story reassuring.
Portraits and Poison is the second book in The Lizzie and Belle Mysteries by J. T. Williams (published by Farshore) and despite not have read its predecessor I thoroughly enjoyed this historical adventure. The back story is helpfully supplied in the prologue and within pages I was immersed in this Georgian world of intrigue, corruption, friendship and courage. Lizzie Sancho works in her family’s tea shop in Westminster and Dido Belle is an heiress being brought up by her aunt and uncle in a grand house but although from different backgrounds they both love solving mysteries. When the portrait of their two families together is stolen during its unveiling the girls resolve to find it but soon find themselves in a far more dangerous world of intrigue and kidnapping than they could have ever anticipated.
The author has successfully combined a thrilling page-turner and an exploration of Black British history for her young audience. The two female leads are different enough in character to provide a balance in attitude and approach that adds to the drama. Although a work of fiction some of the characters are based on real historical figures and inspiring stories of Black resistance to the appalling treatment by some is incorporated in the plot increasing awareness and understanding. The first book in the series has appeared on several award lists and having read the second I think that it would be a valuable addition to school libraries.
I should like to thank the publishers for my review copies. All these books are now available to purchase at your local independent bookshop.
All worthy tales even if largely very different from each other: Jodie appeals, as does the Holly-Mei novel. Good to know there is a plethora of excellent titles being published at the moment!
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With my librarian’s hat on I would recommend Jodie to you, probably the one you would find the most satisfying, Chris. I’m desperately playing catch up with the plethora at present!
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