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Not all great books come through big publishers. Check out some of our favourite indie books on the market.
Very cleverly this gentle story links the astonishing tale of the migration of the tiny swift to find a safe nesting site in Africa, with the story of Leila, who also must travel thousands of miles to find a safe home. The parallel migrations mirror each other in the perils of the journey but also in the hope engendered by the welcome they receive in their new home. The passage of the brave bird and the places and people who mark the passing of the seasons by his journey is evocatively told and really highlights to young readers both the physical distance and the challenges of climate and geography. All of which subtly underscores the challenge for Leila and the physical and social challenges she will face. It is thought provoking but wonderfully hopeful too. As if the miracle of nature and the endeavours of the swift can act as an inspiration for human endurance and kindness as shown by the kindness of the welcome for Leila from other children. Manuela Adreani’s gorgeous, stylish illustrations are the perfect foil for the simple yet powerful text. With many cross curricular uses for older children as well this is a very worthwhile purchase.
This witty, stylish counting book will catch the attention of adults as well as the imagination of the very young. A rhythmic, rhyming text and eye-catching illustrations present us with one fox in socks, then two gorillas looking in mirrors, followed by three jolly llamas in pyjamas, right up to the twenty birds who have the last words. Along the way we also meet five goats wearing coats, the goats labelled and clearly identifiable under their coats (Nubian, mountain, angora…). Other favourite spreads include the one featuring sixteen chickens reading (and clearly enjoying) Dickens! A wonderfully original counting book that is as handsome as it is effective.
Following the success of The King Who Banned the Dark, Emily Haworth-Booth has created another timely, beautiful and enthralling fable. As the best stories do, it starts ‘Once upon a time …’ A group of friends looking for somewhere to live choose a peaceful forest, but the longer they live there, the more trees they cut down, and the loss of the trees leads to all sorts of problems. Fortunately, the children of the settlement choose to quietly protect the last tree, and from there rebuild a caring and happy society for themselves and their parents. The artwork, mostly retro green and black, feels timeless and deliberately child-like, but the story is urgent, contemporary and thought-provoking, and will speak direct to readers of all ages.
Although the original tale of the wild wolf and proud girl is known to have a sad ending this has been retold for this version giving a hopeful outcome. Wild Wolf is the guardian spirit to his people, wise in knowing that people can be very proud and cruel in their actions. When Proud Girl refuses many suitors one, Bravest Warrior, seeks revenge by making her fall in love with a creature built from ice and scraps.As Proud Girl follows Ice Man, she is separated from all she knows, until Ice Man melts in the sun. Proud Girl might also perish, except for the care of the spirit wolf who helps keep her warm until Bravest Warrior finds her and keeps her alive, ultimately winning her hand, though they had both gone through many changes.A simple but very tough story of revenge, pride and forgiveness told in bold pictures with bright, vibrant colours. Each double spread has few words and big illustrations with bold blocks of colour filling the page. The wolf has an almost hypnotic stare, you could imagine him as a truly great guardian spirit in a harsh natural world. A moral fable for our times.
Thanks to Scallywag Press, the wit and wisdom of Jon Agee is becoming more familiar to UK audiences and this delightful picturebook will only add to his growing reputation. The tale is told with characteristically few words and his distinctive black line that outlines the setting and characters, filled with soft-coloured chalk pastel washes. Comical details pepper each spread, whether in the background (for example, a certificate from Harvard School of Claw) or through the expressive faces of the characters. Lions are a popular picturebook character from Ed Vere’s How to be a Lion to The Lion Inside by Rachel Bright and so one can see why our young hero might choose to take Lion Lessons rather than violin or karate. Most of the boy’s attempts to master the essential characteristics of a ferocious feline, such as speed, agility, the loudest roar, and the ability to pounce, end with less than satisfactory results, “The lion checked my scores. ‘This is not very promising.’” The lion’s wry expressions and droll criticism: “We do not eat spaghetti”, provide lots of laughs for both adult and child readers. Everyone will be rooting for the little boy who channels his inner big cat to save a little kitten from the bully neighbourhood dog, as he triumphs in the last lesson of Looking Out For Your Friends. Another Jon Agee treat to enhance your picturebook collection.
I read this book twice. The first time I read this on my own and found it a delightful read. It was entertaining and filled with a fun adventure. The Halloween Parade is about a girl called Trixie Grimble who is sent to a boarding school even though she doesn’t want to go. The boarding school is not your average boarding school, this one is full of Vampires, Ghosts and Werewolves and the only normal thing about the school is Trixie. I really liked how the books shows that we can all be different but can go through the same feelings when we are bullied or left out. The second time I read this book it was with my 5-year-old nephew. He's a big fan of helping me reading children’s books, but he normally struggles to sit through the bigger ones like this one. But not this one. He actually reminded me that we need to read a few more chapters. Together we finished this whole book in a few days. When I asked him what he liked about the book he said: “It was really funny, we have to read it again next week”. This was a big hit with both me and my nephew. A very enjoyable read, suitable for all ages young and old. Manisha Natha, A LoveReading4Kids Ambassador
This blast of a book represents children’s non-fiction at its finest. It’s packed with inspirational interstellar facts about the first moon landing, all delivered in a well-considered, scrapbook-style design that enhances the subject matter, from the retro typewriter font, to the easy-on-the-eye information boxes. Covering everything from why the moon mission happened in the first place, to astronaut training, lift-off preparation, life on board, exploring the moon, and much more, the book’s USP is its emphasis on how it felt to be in Neil, Buzz and Michael’s moon boots. It provides answers to questions all space-obsessed kids will devour: how did the astronauts get to the moon? How did they go to the toilet? What did they eat? What were their space suits like? What work did they have to do on board? How did they actually land? With an inspiring introduction by Helen Sharman, the first Briton to travel to space, this is perfect for fact-loving young readers to launch into, and should be on the shelf of every school library.
A cracking Christmas presentation box comprising a seasonal storybook and snow globe gift. This fully-illustrated seasonal storybook plus snow globe looks like a real labour of love, with no corners cut on the smart gift box packaging that comes replete with golden cloth lining. The story tells how Mrs Claus allocates a personal elf to each child, and it falls to the elf to watch over the child to determine whether they’ve been naughty or nice so Mrs Claus and Santa can “decide what gifts you will receive from your list”. The tale is told from the point of view of Gabriel, an almost-ten-year-old, who’s lost all sense of the magic of Christmas now his dad has a new family who have “everything I could ever want”, while he and his mum will be stuck making their own Christmas decorations and eating chicken. Monumentally disgruntled, Gabriel disobeys his mum and flees to find his dad’s new town. Then, in a strange and initially terrifying turn of events, he encounters one of Santa’s reindeers and – wait for it – his very own elf! The elf certainly has his work cut out persuading Gabriel that Santa is real, but with the help of a magical snow globe and through showing Gabriel the true spirit of Christmas much like the ghosts in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, he manages to do just that. With its mix of real-life worries and seasonal magic, this captures the feeling of being on the brink of not believing in Father Christmas and is underpinned by the message that love is the best gift of all. Joanne Owen, A LoveReading Ambassador
This eighth book in the Riverdale Pony Stories series is packed with peril, mystery and high-octane action as pony-mad Poppy McKeever goes into detective mode to track down the dog that attacked the sheep on her friend’s farm, while also preparing for a big riding competition. While the writing is pacey and has an urgency to it, at times the somewhat dense descriptions could benefit from a little trimming. But, overall, this gripping, entertaining adventure rings with authentic dialogue, strong evocations of the countryside and Poppy’s indomitable spirit.
This inventive Wimpy Kid-esque book for 8+ year-olds (more graphic novel/comic than conventional novel) brims with high-stakes dilemmas, high-octane action, and a whole lot of humour. To set the scene, iLK is a Glubwark from planet Glub and his scary dad has invaded Earth. The book takes the form of iLK recounting the attack and its unexpected aftermath in his journal. From the off iLK is an amusing narrator, such as when his dad instructs him to land on earth to “help with the invasion” and he winds up realising that “I didn’t do a very good job, so now my job is to stay out the way. I’m very good at that.” This kind of wry humour and the accompanying doodle-style illustrations provide lots of laughs throughout. iLK is much happier caring for his collection of plants than getting involved in the invasion, but when his dad deems planet Earth useless, it falls to iLK to take on his father’s “Emperor of the World” role. There’s much tension as iLK steps-up to his new position but, little by little, he accepts it, first installing his HQ at Machu Picchu, then learning about the Amazonian rainforest. iLK is really getting into the idea of helping Earth survive and thrive when his dad drops a bombshell about why they really came here. Funny, engaging and with strong messages about making right choices and saving the planet, this is spot-on for eight to ten year-olds, and comes especially recommended for reluctant readers. Joanne Owen, LoveReading4Kids Ambassador
It's a lovely, sweet story and quite unusal. The illustrations were very good, although they would be better in colour. Ferdinand is a very friendly dragon and this comes across both in the story and in the illustrations: I don't think any child would perceive him as being scary. My only concern is that the language is a little grown up in places and doesn't always flow although I don't think that a child would necessarily notice this because they would be too interested in what is happening in the story. As well as being an entertaining story, I think it teaches a child about sadness and hope and the importance of friendship. I think adults will enjoy reading this story too, I certainly did. Pauline Braisher, A LoveReading4Kids Ambassador
My five year old son and I absolutely loved Don't Drink the Pink. In fact, he made me read it to him twice, one straight after the other, partly because he loved it and partly because he wanted to read it the second time after taking on board what happens in it. The book begins on Madeline's first birthday. Her beloved grandfather is always busy in his workshop cooking up, as it turns out, wonderful potions that give Madeline a superpower. Each year, on her birthday, she gets to choose a new potion but each time her grandfather tells her "just don't drink the pink". She gets to be tiny, to be a giant, to be able to move faster than a locomotive and, my personal favourite, to be able to build rollercoasters for herself and her friends. So many things about this book make it special. Firstly, it all rhymes which I think gives it a rhythmical flow that really keeps children (and their grown ups) interested. Secondly, the rhyme about not drinking the pink is the same for every birthday and it gave my son the opportunity to join in with the "just don't drink the pink" line with a big smile on his face. He can read perfectly well himself but it made it a nice joint endeavour. Thirdly, the story is fun and magical. There's a sad element to it but it's tempered by an uplifting ending. Finally, the illustrations are gorgeous and complement the story perfectly. They're colourful and give an accurate depiction of what is happening in the story. I really can't praise this book highly enough. Be aware, it does deal with the death of a relative but it's sensitively done and although my son did feel a bit sad at that bit, he bounced back with the ending. It's a fabulous little read for the 3-8 age group. Nicola Smith, A LoveReading4Kids Ambassador
A wholesome hygiene message about how, when and why to wash your hands is here delivered through irreverent loo, poo and goo humour (even the queen gets slimed!) that’s sure to appeal to seven+ year-olds. Pands is woefully resistant to washing his hands. In fact, he “believed washing dirt off his skin was a bad thing.” But thankfully his brother Seb comes to the rescue as a hygiene Superhero, armed with an antibacterial cape and the knowledge that “germs were nasty and cruel”. Seb’s mission to persuade Pands to clean up his act begins at home (the detailed cross-section of their slide down a toilet pipe is sure to raise a few eyebrows and elicit some grins), before he undertakes an epic quest save the earth from succumbing to an invasion of zombiegerms. This provides parents and teachers with an original way to teach kids about hygiene, with the glossary and hand-washing instructions that follow the story delivered in the same comic style. Joanne Owen, A LoveReading4Kids Ambassador
This section - the first part of the story - introduces us to Maisha and her family and focuses upon the main message that she has learnt at school; she is so traumatised by the fact that her species is in danger that she needs support to communicate it to her herd. The section ends with her being teleported back to the school with the prospect of her partnering with another wild animal in order to work towards their protection. There is a lot to like about this introductory part of the story. It is well written and focuses very clearly upon the lifestyle of elephants and the danger that is facing them by man's intervention. I especially enjoyed the dedication to living creatures and the fun element of the 'Note to Big 'People'. The illustrations are delightful and match the text well. If the story continues as positively, I can envisage that this would be a good text for teachers to read aloud to their lower junior aged classes or to be used in themed assemblies on wildlife protection. I look forward to reading the rest of the book! Val Rowe, A LoveReading4Kids Ambassador
This vibrant inter-planetary picture book sees mini Mercury, the smallest planet closest to the sun, fulfill his mythical job as a messenger when he warns his fellow planets that a sun storm is approaching. Mercury’s message makes its way to each planet in turn – loving Venus, lively Earth, warrior Mars, giant Jupiter (who “farts a lot”, due to being such a gaseous planet!), singing Saturn, ice-giant Uranus, before finally reaching freezing Neptune. Thanks to Mercury’s thoughtful warning and the planets’ varied ways of preparing for it, everyone stays safe from the storm. The story imparts an underlying message of friendship and support through the entertaining and educational personification of the planets, and the page of planet-themed questions at the back is a great extra. All in all, this is a fun way to introduce 4+ year-olds to the solar system. Joanne Owen, A LoveReading Ambassador
Featuring effervescent illustrations and an engaging rhyming text, this picture book has lots of page-turning “what happens next?” appeal, which makes it perfect for reading aloud to animal-mad toddlers. Poor Tiger! He’s lost his stripes while doing his washing, and a real sense of drama is evoked as Tiger prowls the jungle in search of them. Along the way he encounters a host of animals who’ve also lost their defining features - first parading Peacock who’s lost his “fabulous tail”, then Mongoose who’s lost his nose, then Wolf who’s without his teeth. But who’s the thief? While the text could be trimmed in places for smoother scansion, and the concluding morals could be expressed more subtly, this is a well-designed, vibrant picture book, and the reveal and outcome is sure to illicit surprise from little ones. Joanne Owen
Puff is a “caring, noble” grey squirrel whose propensity for distraction is seemingly hampering his future potential to represent the Grey Clan in the Tournament of Oaks, a contest that determines which clan will rule the park for the coming seasons. Indeed, according to Puff’s mentor, Sir Pattercloud, Puff will never become a Knight Captain unless he learns “how to determine what is most important”. Puff gets his chance to prove his worth when Pattercloud vanishes right before he’s due to represent Clan Grey in the tournament and do battle with wily Scratchclaw of Clan Black. While the tale is tightly-told and crisply atmospheric, its messages are driven home a little too hard, too often. Having said that, it’s a good read for 8+ year-olds who like animal-centred fantastical adventures (think Brian Jacques for younger readers), but struggle to finish a whole novel. Perhaps also one to recommend for time-pressed, fantasy-fan adults to read with or to kids.
A high-stakes quest. A magical kingdom. A boy in possession of a coveted power. This mythology-rich novel for 10+ year-olds has all the ingredients of an epic adventure. Ankido is a twelve-year-old British-Iraqi boy with a passion for words. So much so, his beloved grandmother calls him her “Word Boy”. One morning, his grandmother announces the terrible news that Ankido’s father, an eminent archaeologist, has gone missing on a field trip in Iraq. When she leaves to search for his dad, she entrusts him with a special book: “The cover was made of fine, gold-inlaid leather. The title read, The Land of Mesopo. Ankido wondered why it was so special but thought it best not to ask.” Left with his aunt and uncle, Ankido is destined to be sent to boarding school, but not before he’s forced to burn Grandmother’s special book when his aunt tries to take it from him. He knows the book is special - “When I started reading it, it felt so real. Almost as if it was calling me to step inside “ – and indeed it does turn out to be special. Rather than end up at boarding school, he finds himself in the Library of Nineveh after being pursued by “a creature of the dark” who “feeds on words. And she knows that you can make your own words.” Ankido’s quest to find his father, and to save the fantastical word-world of Mesopo as the Kingdom’s newfound Tale Smith is sharply evoked, and packed with heart-pounding peril, mysterious atmosphere and intriguing characters, among them scribes, princes and magicians. Joanne Owen, A LoveReading4Kids Ambassador