This month we are thrilled to welcome Francesca Simon, author of the phenomenally popular Horrid Henry series and of a wealth of children's literature from picture books to YA novels, as our Guest Editor.

Francesca Simon was born in St Louis, Missouri, grew up in California, and attended both Yale and Oxford Universities, where she specialised in Medieval Studies.

She worked as a freelance journalist and, after her son Joshua was born in 1989, she started writing children’s books full time. She is one of the UK’s best-selling children’s writers including the immensely popular Horrid Henry series, which has now sold over twenty milllion copies and is published in 27 countries.

Francesca won the Children’s Book of the Year in 2008 at the British Book Awards for Horrid Henry and the Abominable Snowman and was shortlisted for the Costa Children's Book Awards for her novel The Monstrous Child and her first picture book, Hack and Whack. Hack and Whack, the two naughty vikings went on to star in her new book - Two Terrible Vikings, the very best worst vikings in the village. 

As our Guest Editor, Francesca took the opportunity to write a letter to her readers;

We asked Francesca to give us five must-read book recommendations and she also picked a recently published bonus title. She told us a little about each book;

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle This famous US classic is, bizarrely, almost unknown here. One of my all-time favourite books, it’s about Meg, a clever, weird, lonely girl, who goes on a quest across space to find her missing father, with only her “faults” to help her.

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen. Stunning picture book about a little fish who has pinched a big fish’s hat, trying to convince himself that he’s got away with it. Meanwhile, the wronged fish is in hot pursuit. I actually screamed when the two adversaries vanish into the big, tall plants. My favourite kind of picture book, where words and pictures tell a subtly different story. Genius.

Half Magic by Edward Eager. I was 9 or 10 when I discovered Edward Eager’s fantastic books about a group of children’s magic adventures. Squabbling siblings Katharine, Jane, Mark and Martha pick up a coin on the way to the library. They think it’s an ordinary nickle, but gradually discover that it’s a magic coin. The catch is it only grants half your wish. I was so intrigued by the idea of magic’s wilfullness: that magic got fed up, that magic wasn’t controllable, that magic happened or it didn’t. The books enthralled me. The children were unlike story-book children: they fought and argued, their widowed mother had big money troubles, they were bookish and imaginative. If magic could happen to them, an ordinary family, it could happen to anyone. Perhaps even to me.

Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce I first read Philippa Pearce’s Tom's Midnight Garden as an adult, staying up all night to finish it, and sobbing at the end. It’s about Tom, sent away to relatives while his brother is sick, who discovers that when the grandfather clock strikes 13 that the modern world disappears and he is transported back to the magnificent Victorian garden which once existed at the back, and meets Hatty, the girl who once lived there. I envy anyone reading this book for the first time.

Norse Myths, Tales of Odin, Thor and Loki by Kevin Crossley-Holland and Jeffrey Alan Love. I adore Norse mythology and this superb book with its eerie illustrations by Jeffrey Alan Love bring these myths to life in all their enthralling wildness and humour and power. A fantastic introduction to these brilliant stories.

And published in January 2021, Francesca selected When the World Was Ours by Liz Kessler, as her bonus recommendation:  An extraordinary, powerful, and important book, based on the true story of how Liz Kessler’s father escaped from Nazi-occupied Europe thanks to a British couple his family had met once.  But what elevates this book about three friends and their different fates in World War Two is the story of Max, the nice, ordinary boy who gradually becomes seduced into hatred and prejudice. The ringing question, ‘What would I do under these circumstances?’ echoes on every page. 

You can find a selection of Francesca's many books below, plus we have been lucky enough to ask her a few questions about her staggeringly popular Horrid Henry books, her new Vikings series and which book she wished she'd written.