The Best New Picture Books And Novels For Children

Lockdown can be definitely boring for kids who love to play and have fun. But why not turn this into a fun and learning experience which is both safe and enjoyable? The imaginary world of books is waiting for those who wish to be taken away in faraway lands of the unknown.

From Richard Jones, illustrator of The Snow Lion, comes Perdu (Simon & Schuster), his first title as author-illustrator. Perdu, an appealing, diminutive dark-brown dog with a jaunty red scarf, is lost, with no place to call home. From the countryside to the uncaring city he wanders, fearful and hungry, until a gesture of kindness draws him in. It may not be an unusual story, but its delicate pathos and warmth imbue it with a salutary sense of reassurance.

I Am Brown (Lantana) by Ashok Banker and Sandhya Prabhat is a joyful celebration of brown skin and wide-ranging achievement – “I am brown, I am beautiful, I am perfect. I ran this race, I won this prize, I wrote this book.” Full of all the different – and wonderful – ways to be brown, whether worshipping, working, playing or eating, it’s uplifting without being preachy, rolling out an inspiring range of possibilities.

I Am Brown by Ashok Banker and Sandhya Prabhat.
I Am Brown by Ashok Banker and Sandhya Prabhat. Photograph: Sandhya Prabhat

Meanwhile, Avocado Asks (Orchard) by debut illustrator Momoko Abe is a delightful, boldly graphic wander down the supermarket aisles, as Avocado asks: “What am I?” Fruit or veg, cheese or egg … Avocado’s quest for self-knowledge eventually brings him to the exuberantly confident Tomato, who declares that when you’re as fabulous as Avocado, it simply doesn’t matter.

For five- to eight-year-olds, the Pig Diaries author Emer Stamp moves from porcine to musing capers in PESTS (Hodder), kicking off a hilarious new series. Grandma has drilled into young mouse Stix that he must never let humans see him – but when Stix joins the Peewit Educatorium for Seriously Terrible Scoundrels, how far will he go in his quest for the coveted accolade of pest of the year? Stamp’s new venture is riotously funny, with enough expressive drawings and poo jokes to delight longstanding Pig fans as well as new readers.

Momoko Abe’s Avocado Asks.
Momoko Abe’s Avocado Asks. Photograph: Momoko Abe

In the Garden (Princeton), a gorgeous oversized picture-book from Emma Giuliani, features two silhouetted siblings, Plum and Robin, as they enjoy a year of tending their patch. Under beautifully designed flaps lies information about fruit, flowers and foliage. Full of rich words (peduncle, pericarp) and the sensuous pleasures of a warm breeze, sweet smells and the enjoyment of growing things, it creates a consolatory sense of space for those with limited access to the outside world.

For seven-plus, Jack Noel’s Comic Classics: Great Expectations (Egmont) is a comic book exploration of the adventures of Pip, Miss Havisham, Magwitch and Estella, featuring much of the original language and packed with engaging doodles explaining or riffing on the story. A funny, thought-provoking treat, it’s the ideal way into an author whose verbosity is off-putting to most children, but whose meaty plots and unforgettable characters offer much.

Eight-plus readers with a taste for fantasy are in for a treat in LD Lapinski’s debut The Strangeworlds Travel Agency (Orion). When Flick walks into a dilapidated travel agency and befriends Jonathan, its teenage proprietor, she makes the intoxicating discovery that the suitcases lining its walls are gateways to other worlds. But energy is draining from Five Lights, the world at the centre of everything – can Flick somehow save it from collapse, and save her own world too? Assured, witty, riotously inventive, this debut has “future classic” written through it like Brighton rock.

From super-readable publishers, Barrington Stoke comes David Long’s thrilling Survival in Space, a retelling of the Apollo 13 mission published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of its launch. Written with limpid simplicity, filled both with fascinating facts about the history of space travel and a tensely contained sense of dramatic excitement, it offers pent-up imaginations the chance to leave Earth on a nail-biting adventure.

Finally, Kirsty Applebaum’s TrooFriend (Nosy Crow) is an agreeably sinister account of artificial intelligence, sentience and corporate obfuscation. The TrooFriend 560 will never lie, steal or bully – what parent wouldn’t want one for their child? But when Sarah is given the TrooFriend she calls Ivy, she soon discovers that human-like responses lead to human-like emotions. What happens when an android learns to feel? Told from Ivy’s perspective, Applebaum’s second novel is a heartfelt, compelling sci-fi story.

Teenagers roundup

Robin Hood- Hacking, Heists and Flaming Arrows by Robert Muchamore

Robin Hood: Hacking, Heists & Flaming Arrows
by Robert Muchamore, Hot Key, £6.99
Set in a contemporary, slightly dystopian version of the Midlands, this high-octane, rip-roaring escapist reimagining from the author of the cult CHERUB series serves up a 12-year-old Robin flush with hacking skills, quick wits and a carbon-fibre recurve bow.

Good Girl, Bad Blood by Holly Jackson

Good Girl, Bad Blood
by Holly Jackson, Egmont, £7.99
Pip Fitz-Amobi, schoolgirl star of Jackson’s bestselling debut, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, is back, now running a hugely popular podcast. She is determined not to be a detective any more, however – too much hate came her way in the wake of her first case.

Rules for Being a Girl by Candace Bushell and Katie Cotugno

Rules for Being a Girl
by Candace Bushnell and Katie Cotugno, Macmillan, £7.99
When “Bex”, her handsome teacher, is attentive to her, Marin is flattered – but when he kisses her, she’s appalled. Her best friend won’t believe her, so, in the school paper, Marin writes an article laying out the rules for girls: don’t be easy, don’t be a prude, don’t friendzone him, don’t blame him for trying.

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