Playful visions of a vulnerable Earth, a scheme to save a mosque, adventures on a train – and more.
Several picture books this month focus on our planet and its vulnerable beauty. My Friend Earth (Chronicle), with Patricia MacLachlan’s text illustrated by the superlative Francesca Sanna, shows a brown-skinned, tenderly personified Earth who smiles through cleverly designed cut-outs and flaps. She peers at spiders, rides whales and raises the wind. MacLachlan’s understatedly poetic prose combines with the lushness of Sanna’s images to powerful, celebratory effect.
A chilly peak meets a sympathetic young problem-solver in A Hat for Mr Mountain by Soojin Kwak (Two Hoots), in which Nara, a skilled hat-maker, is asked to create a topper for a mountain. But wool shrinks, leaves get eaten, wood burns and Nara briefly despairs before her animal pals help her to come up with the perfect solution – an ethereal bonnet of cloud. Kwak’s endearing style should appeal particularly to creative kids who like to invent, solve and make.
From Emily Haworth-Booth, author of The King Who Banned the Dark, comes The Last Tree (Pavilion), another thought-provoking picture book that straddles the border with graphic novels – one to share with slightly older children. People take branches from the forest for fires, but the wind rushes through the gaps between trees and leaves them cold; as they continue to take more wood, the consequences spiral, until there is only one tree left. The defiant wisdom of the children who defend the last tree, prompting their elders to sow and tend the forest anew, makes for a timely and inspiring parable.
For readers of five-plus, Planet Omar: Unexpected Super Spy (Hodder) by Zanib Mian, with cheery illustrations by Nasaya Mafaridik, returns to the world of imaginative, impulsive Omar. He joins forces with his erstwhile rival Daniel and his friend Charlie to save their local mosque by hosting a talent contest – but will a thief upset their plans? Wild imaginings, daft jokes and invented swearwords add up to another funny, sweet, inclusive story.
Those who love poetry should snap up Matt Goodfellow’s rich and vivid new collection, Bright Bursts of Colour (Bloomsbury), illustrated by Aleksei Bitskoff. From joyfully absurd meditations on whether cats have flavoured fur to a harder-hitting examination of how it feels to live between two homes, Goodfellow has the knack for choosing all the right words, and retaining the resonant simplicity essential to the best children’s poetry.
For budding natural historians, The Bat Book (DK) by Charlotte Milner follows The Bee Book and The Sea Book, replicating their winning formula of captivating graphic art and meticulous but child-friendly text. Chiropterans of all kinds, including bamboo bats, cave nectar bats, epauletted fruit bats and flying foxes, are shown in different ecosystems, playing their vital roles as pollinators, seed spreaders and devourers of pests.
Trainspotting readers of eight-plus should scramble gleefully aboard The Highland Falcon Thief (Macmillan), first in a new series by Beetle Boy superstar MG Leonard and debut author Sam Sedgman, with lively illustrations by Elisa Paganelli. When Harrison Beck joins his Uncle Nat on the last journey of royal train the Highland Falcon, he isn’t expecting to enjoy it; but a stolen brooch, a stowaway, a cabin full of samoyeds and a race against time create a pacey and intensely satisfying mystery, boasting a sparkling golden age crime fiction sensibility despite its contemporary setting.
There’s epic good-versus-evil fantasy in Evernight (Andersen), an assured and atmospheric novel by Ross MacKenzie in which the wicked Mrs Hester, presiding over an army of soulless White Witches, intends to unleash eternal darkness on Kings Haven. But Mrs Hester doesn’t know that Larabelle Fox, a tenacious city orphan with a mysterious locket, has the power to thwart her plans.
Fantasy lovers will also devour Orphans of the Tide (Puffin) by Struan Murray, illustrated by Manuel Sumberac. It’s set in a city terrified of the Enemy, the god who drowned the world, and his Vessel, a possessed human through whom the Enemy acts. When a boy washes up from the sea, he’s condemned to die as the Vessel; but fearless inventor Ellie Lancaster knows he’s innocent, and sets out to save him in this twisty and gripping debut with a touch of Frances Hardinge’s bizarre brilliance.
Finally, for young dystopia fans, Where the World Turns Wild (Stripes) by Nicola Penfold is set in a sterile city, where nature has been banished and humans imprisoned by a deadly tick-borne virus. But Juniper Greene and her brother Bear are immune. If they escape the city, will they survive a dangerous journey to find their mother? A sense of the natural world’s curative power runs through this adventurous story like a seam of gold.
You Must Be Layla
by Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Penguin, £6.99
Big-mouthed, smart and bossy, Layla is determined to do well when she arrives on a scholarship at her prestigious new school. But she’s the only Muslim student – and some kids have it in for her from the outset. Can she prove her worth without getting into trouble? Some parts feel somewhat rushed, but this warm, humorous account of a larger-than-life Sudanese girl navigating a posh Australian school is an engaging read for 12-plus.
The Good Hawk
by Joseph Elliott, Walker, £7.99
In a mythic ancient Scotland where plagues and internecine strife make life hard and dangerous, Agatha, a girl with Down’s syndrome, and Jaime, an anxious, self-lacerating misfit, find themselves the last hope of a people enslaved by treacherous invaders. Can Agatha and Jaime survive a taxing voyage and free their tribe? A thrilling, strange and brutally involving debut, filled with fearsome and compelling detail.
Diary of a Confused Feminist
by Kate Weston, Hodder, £7.99
Holly Bourne fans should love this uproarious debut by standup comic Weston, which pinballs from period jokes to giant penises projected on the whiteboard as 15-year-old Kat attempts to figure out how to be a feminist, good or otherwise, and wonders whether she will ever feel like a grownup. Sensitive treatment of panic attacks, anxiety and depression gives depth to the (considerable) hilarity.
by Rory Power, Macmillan, £7.99
On the island of Raxter, the Tox – a deadly virus that causes mutations and savagery – has kept the girls of Raxter School quarantined for 18 months. As the outside world forgets them, the survivors forge fierce bonds; when her best friend disappears, Hetty will break all the island’s rules to find her. Body horror meets boarding school in a moving, terrifying thriller, perfect for fans of Peadar Ó Guilín.