• December 9, 2022

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

  Reading time 7 minutes

Ballet Kids by Holly Sterling, Walker, £12.99At their ballet lesson, little Thomas and his friends plié and sauté, twirl and thump – until it’s time to choose costumes for their big show, where Thomas will be the perfect Sugar Plum Fairy. A candy-sweet, gently inclusive picture book capturing the magic of dancing and performance for the very young.

My Rhinoceros by Jon Agee, Scallywag, £12.99When a boy buys a rhinoceros, he’s disappointed to discover it can only do two things: pop balloons and poke holes in kites. But perhaps those skills will come in handy some day – and is that really the limit of his pet’s special powers? This hilariously unexpected and dynamic picture book has the feel of a perfectly constructed joke.

The Perfect Gift by Alan Durant, illustrated by Marjan Vafaeian, Tiny Owl, £8.99Kind, generous Rabbit is loved by everyone – but when the queen invites her to the palace to welcome the new royal baby, Rabbit doesn’t know what present to take. Setting out with her lamp to apologise, she finds the light she brings is the perfect gift. Vafaeian’s intricate ball-pen illustrations will ensure this gorgeous picture book lingers in the little reader’s memory.

What Feelings Do When No One Is Looking by Tina Oziewicz, illustrated by Aleksandra Zając, Pushkin, £12.99Though it’s a book of few words, this delightful, warm-hearted picture book filled with “off-duty” emotions is best suited for readers of perhaps 5+. Here, “joy bounces on a trampoline”, “insecurities build cages”, “anger explodes” and “nostalgia smells a scarf”. Zając’s grey, dense-textured creatures, with their expressive ears and limbs, are reminiscent of Sendak’s, with a charm all their own.

India, Incredible India by Jasbinder Bilan, illustrated by Nina Chakrabarti, Walker, £14.99For 7+, this colourful, evocative journey through India, via the fascinating souvenirs in Thara’s nanijee’s trunk, does a superb job of conveying the vast scale, variety and richness of the subcontinent, touching intriguingly on its wealth of wildlife, food, festivals, dance, scientific innovation and history.

Gross FACTopia by Paige Towler, illustrated by Andy Smith, Britannica, £10.99From chickens in nappies to nose-picking giraffes, the honeybee’s hairy eyeballs and the hundred daily times a mouse might poo, this compendium of foul facts is gruesomely captivating – its bright, splashy, inviting pages should appeal strongly to (gross) trivia 7+ fans.

Curse Breaker by Simon Tudhope, illustrated by Tom Knight, Usborne, £7.99This superlative gamebook features a thrillingly constructed story of dark forces at work in a magical city, heightened by Knight’s sinister illustrations. Armed only with Skill, Athleticism, Sixth Sense and Endurance (to be noted in the Logbook pages at the front), it’s up to the intrepid 9+ reader to navigate the sleepwalkers, strange creatures and terrifying men in top hats who roam the streets of Mirewick, and solve the mystery at the heart of the Citadel without being executed first.

Wren by Lucy Hope, Nosy Crow, £7.99Wren lives on the island of Anglesey in an ancient house that sings, cracks, smokes and hides a centuries-old secret. After her daredevil mother died in an experimental flying machine, her father wants to break Wren of her dangerous habits and pack her off to an institution. But Wren is determined to fly, and to unearth her home’s long-buried secret, finding freedom in the process. A compulsive, soaring gothic fantasy for 9+ by the author of Fledgling.

Beyond the Frozen Horizon by Nicola Penfold, Little Tiger, £7.99In the near future, swathes of the Earth are designated Wilderness, where humans are almost never allowed. When Rory’s mum is hired as a geologist on a sustainable mining project in the Arctic, Rory leaps at the chance to go too. But the people of Pyramiden are suspicious and unfriendly to the Greenlight crew – and little by little, Rory uncovers a conspiracy. This thought-provoking, vividly evoked story for 9+ weaves together conservationism, grief, mystery and ghost story in a bleakly beautiful Svalbard setting.

Let’s Chase Stars Together by Matt Goodfellow, illustrated by Oriol Vidal (Bloomsbury, £7.99)A punchy, poignant, playful volume of poetry for 10+ filled with the fearfulness of moving from primary to secondary school, the pain of fractured relationships with absent parents and the glorious sensation of losing yourself in the natural world. Goodfellow’s assured use of rhyme and repetition gives his work a powerful, singing depth.

The Haunting of Tyrese Walker by JP Rose (Andersen, £8.99)Grieving and hurting, Tyrese is taken to Jamaica to stay with Grammy and cousin Martin – but he’s soon overcome by strange visions and swarming insects, unable to trust his sense of what’s real. Worse is to come: when he finds a mysterious bite on his hand, it turns out he’s being haunted by a fearsome figure called the Shadow Man. Now Tyrese, Martin and their new friend Elise must discover the Shadow Man’s identity before he takes Tyrese as his own … A creepy, atmospheric psychological horror for 12+ pitting grief’s destructive potential against the restorative power of love.

Activist by Louisa Reid, Guppy, £7.99At Cassie’s prestigious private school, a female student shares an anonymous post about experiencing sexual abuse, but nothing is done. When Cassie begins to challenge sexism and bad behaviour, she’s accused of being a troublemaker; when she leads a fight to preserve local woodland from aggressive development, she’s told it’s hopeless. But Cassie will not be silenced, and she will not give in. A raw, unflinching verse novel for 14+ filled with white-hot, justified rage.

Big Bad Me by Aislinn O’Loughlin, Little Island, £8.99Evie Wilder is used to living with “a rare form of diabetes” – until the day she discovers she’s actually a werewolf. As if that wasn’t bad enough, her mother’s gone missing, and she and her sister are hiding out in a motel whose weird manager keeps pushing Evie to go “full wolf”. Not to mention the reports of animal attacks and missing teens that are coming in – plainly there’s more than one predator on the loose. Bloodily funny and appallingly enthralling, this YA debut is a crowd-pleaser for Buffy fans.

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