Five of the best

Books for the summer holidays

How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk, illustrated by Sara Palacios (for age 4+)

It’s the last day of the summer holidays, and Pearl’s attempts to build a sandcastle have not been going well.  Errant frisbees, the pesky tide, and a dog creating an unwanted ‘moat’ are some of the obstacles sabotaging her efforts.  With the help of her robot Pascal, Pearl has high hopes that her luck is about to change.  But first, she has to make sure that she can give Pascal clear instructions he can understand, and to do that, she will need to use computer code.

Written in collaboration with the non-profit organisation Girls Who Code, this picture book is an ideal introduction to some of the concepts of simple coding.  Pascal’s comical misunderstandings show children how to break tasks down into steps, and explain each one clearly.

The Great Paper Caper by Oliver Jeffers (for age 5+)

Mysterious changes are afoot in the forest.  Branches are disappearing and the forest animals want to find out why.  Could it have anything to do with the imminent 112th Biennial Paper Airplane Competition?

Whilst not strictly set in summer, (and full disclosure: snow is pictured in more than one scene!) this is a perfect holiday book, as much of the plot is linked to making paper aeroplanes.  The inside covers show ‘Advanced paper planery’ guides, to inspire children to create their own designs and perhaps even hold the 113th Biennial Paper Airplane Competition! A genuinely hilarious book to read together.

Pog by Padraig Kenny (for age 9+)

After losing their mother, Penny and David leave London to make a new life in her beloved family home.  Situated in the midst of a forest, the rambling, dilapidated house they move to with their father is home to more than just the occasional bold mouse.  It is also home to Pog.  One of the First Folk, the endearing and otherwordly Pog lives secretly in the attic, keeping a long held promise.  And meeting the children will change everything.

Taking place over a long summer, the challenges and dangers that unfurl for Pog, Penny and David will leave their mark on them all.  Their unlikely friendship is at the heart of this fantastically written story, which blends genuine menace and peril with Pog’s warmth and valour.  Likely to inspire a generation of children to peer hopefully into attics, just as previous generations examined the backs of wardrobes!

Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper (for age 10+)

At the start of the summer holidays, Simon, Jane and Barney Drew arrive in the Cornish village of Trewissick.  Waiting for them there is their enigmatic Great Uncle Merry: mysterious and charismatic, around whom strange things always seem to happen.  When King Arthur obsessed Barney discovers an ancient map in his great uncle’s attic, the siblings realise that they are at the beginning of a quest.  But where will it lead?  And who should they trust? 

Over Sea, Under Stone is the ideal summer holiday read.  Even the premise (of the very British weather leading to adventures for the housebound children) is what every holidaying child dreams of!  It is full of adventure, mystery and distinctly drawn characters from the first page- characters which grow throughout the rest of Susan Cooper’s series.  Perfection. 

(The only downside: if you love seasonal reading, it seems a long five month wait until you can continue the sequence with The Dark is Rising!) 

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (for age 13+)

Six-year-old Sophia and her grandmother, an artist, spend their summers on a tiny island.  To them, the island is a whole kingdom, and the two of them make up its whole society.  The Summer Book tells of their adventures as they live their outdoors existence, in harmony with the island itself.  Losing false teeth, having a friend to stay, finding a dead bird: all the little occurrences of their time together become the most beautifully described stories.

Full of gentle humour and minute observations of details and feelings, the island of the book draws on Tove Jansson’s own home and experiences, with the two main characters being based on her mother and niece.  The spirit of The Summer Book is similar to her good natured Moomin stories, and was her own favourite novel.  Peaceful and life affirming, this is a book that finds the everyday magic in the outdoors.  

Books by BAME authors

Look up by Nathan Bryon, illustrated by Dapo Adeola (for age 4+)

Narrated by a young space fan, Rocket is desperate to share her enthusiasm with all around her, but particularly with her phone obsessed brother Jamal.  As the time of the Phoenix meteor shower approaches, Rocket cannot contain her excitement: handing out flyers to neighbours and appropriating the supermarket tannoy to spread the word! 

Look up works perfectly as a touching story of a sibling bond, and a child’s wonder of space.  But Rocket’s exuberance for her favourite subject even spills over to her reader, as she frequently gives us facts and information.  Engaging and inspiring, Look up is a gorgeous book for a parent and child to share together, before they too look up at the skies.

Varjak Paw by SF Said (for age 6+)

Born into a family of vain, indolent Mesopotamian blue cats, Varjak Paw has always been the misfit.  Valuing adventure more than his appearance, he finds his only ally in his grandfather who tells him thrilling stories of the Outside.  When a mysterious Gentleman arrives to replace the indulgent Contessa who has kept them in luxury, life is set to change forever.  Urged by his Grandfather to become a warrior and follow the footsteps of their great ancestor Jalal, it is up to Varjak to journey to fulfil his destiny.

Varjak’s adventures follow him as he makes unforgettable friends in the cutthroat outside world, and grows from innocent kitten to warrior.  An essential childhood read, Varjak Paw is one of those rare books that has the power to provoke spontaneous cheering from a class!  Utterly uplifting. 

(And with a sequel that manages to be even better!)

The boy at the back of the class by Onjali Q. Rauf (for age 8+)

Seen through the eyes of its 9 year old narrator, The boy at the back of the class tells the story of the ripples that are created when the school’s new pupil is also a refugee.  After escaping from war torn Syria, Ahmet has arrived in London, separated from his family and far from his home.  Silent and isolated, he faces whispered rumours, the unwelcome attention of Brendan-the-Bully and some enthusiastic attempts at friendship, in the form of winks and sticker covered fruit offerings!

The innocence of the narrator works beautifully as they process the different opinions and prejudices they hear about Ahmet.  A warm hearted story of friendship and courage, which also serves to build young readers’ awareness and empathy with refugees.

Asha and the spirit bird by Jasbinder Bilan (for age 9+)

Asha loves her life.  Despite having little money and missing her absent Papa, she loves her family, her home by the Himalayas and her best friend Jeevan.  But her father’s absence begins to take its toll, and without his regular money and letters, her family stand on the brink of collapse.  Rather than losing their farm and being forced to leave India, Asha and Jeevan make their own plan.  They vow to journey across the mountains and find Asha’s father themselves.  And with them goes unexpected company in the form of a bird, which reminds Asha strangely of her beloved nanijee…

This beautiful adventure story is made richer by the vivid, evocative descriptions of its setting.  We share Asha’s questions over what has happened to her father, and whether her grandmother has truly become a spirit animal, and are drawn further in with each compelling chapter.

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman (for age 13+)

In an alternative Britain, white Europeans known as Noughts face prejudice and segregation whilst the black Crosses, of African descent, are the ruling elite.  Fighting to build a friendship, and later a relationship across this divide in society, are Nought Callum and Sephy, the daughter of a senior Cross politician. 

With chapters narrated alternately by Callum and Sephy, Malorie Blackman switches masterfully between the two perspectives of the teenagers’ lives in this gripping and devastating story.  By switching the historic background in this world (with white Noughts as the former slaves) the novel serves perfectly as a mirror to show up the accepted prejudices in our own Great Britain. 

Winning multiple awards and featured in Best 100 lists, Noughts and Crosses is an incredibly powerful novel, which stays with you for weeks and months after reading. 

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