Six books, a graphic novel and three picture books. Lauren Wolk was by far my favourite, though Starseeker by Tim Bowler was excellent too.
24. Tim Bowler – Starseeker
This was fantastic.
It starts with Luke, a disaffected 14 year old with a gift for playing the piano; he is struggling to come to terms with the death of his father and has fallen in with the wrong crowd, who are encouraging – and later, forcing – him to do things he doesn’t want to do.
Luke’s relationship with his mother is deteriorating too, but, when he is asked to play the piano for Mrs Little’s blond granddaughter, he begins to find worth and value in himself.
Luke has to make several decisions – sometimes correctly, sometimes not – about his actions and of those he meets, but the musical gift of his father is always with him, and ultimately this is what helps him.
A fair bit of swearing, some serious violence and references to drug-taking and sex make this unsuitable for KS2, but as a novel in its own right it is excellent.
25. Rachel Joyce – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
A celebration of life’s normal folk, as Harold sets off on an unplanned walk to see an old dying friend. On his journey he meets a range of characters who fill him with hope and belief in the inherent goodness of people, and he is able to confront his demons and search for forgiveness for his own wrongdoing.
There are moments that soak in and celebrate life’s simplicity, and others that remind us of life’s harshness. Harold is ultimately looking for some sort of redemption, and the final few chapters really tug at the heartstrings.
Really enjoying Rachel Joyce’s writing.
26. Guy Jones – The Ice Garden
Jess is dealing with photosensitivity and the loneliness that comes with it. When she spies a crack at the end of her garden, she travels through it into the ice garden, a place where she can do everything she can’t in the real world. She plays, explores, has freedom and makes friends with Owen, a boy of ice.
Something links Owen to Jess’s condition, and perhaps vice versa, but the intrigue in this story is in what is left unexplained. We don’t know what becomes of Owen, or the ice garden, or how Owen or Davey – a boy from the hospital – are linked to Jess, but none of it matters.
Some magical description and a lovely shorter story for KS2.
27. Eoin Colfer & Andrew Donkin – Illegal
A hard-hitting graphic novel that tells the story of brothers Ebo and Kwame, who flee Niger in order to find a better life in Europe.
This story pulls no punches, based as it is on real events we’ve seen in the news so often. There is an important afterword from Eoin Colfer which would be brilliant to share with children. Essential reading.
28. Lauren Wolk – Wolf Hollow
Set in middle America, 1943, Annabelle’s life is changed by the arrival of Betty Glengarry, who immediately sets about bullying her.
A chain of events are set into motion, involving injury to Annabelle’s friends, family and even animals, and when Betty goes missing, the blame is pinned firmly on Toby, the town’s outsider, a man ravaged by the memories of war.
What follows is a coming-of-age tale in which Annabelle has to choose when to lie for good, when to keep secrets and learns who to trust. It is language-rich and I particularly loved Annabelle’s family – her parents are firmly on Annabelle’s side, and Aunt Lily gets what she deserves.
29. Glenn Ringtved – Cry, Heart, But Never Break
A poignantly written book that gives death a voice, allowing children to understand the loss of their grandmother.
A brilliant book for sensitive discussions about why people die, and why it is ok to be sad.
30. Juliette Forrest – Twister
Twister wants her dad back, and to do so she must decide whether to accept the witch’s offer of a cursed necklace: its power will lead her to her Pa, but should the evil spirits locate the necklace then all the children of the village will be killed.
Lots of magic and some fast-paced adventure, led by Twister, a likeable if naive character whose foibles include a rather endearing mis-turn of phrase (weak at the ankles, throwing the trowel in etc).
Ultimately a story about a child wanting her family to be complete, and she is willing to do anything to make it so.
31. Jen Campbell – Franklin’s Flying Bookshop
Franklin is a book-loving dragon, but has no-one to share his stories with, because, well, he’s a dragon. Along comes Luna, who trusts him, shares with him, and gives him the confidence to do what he loves for the benefit of others. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all do that?
32. Frank Cottrell Boyce – The Astounding Broccoli Boy
Silliness abound, albeit with a serious message.
Rory Rooney is not the most popular boy in his class, and becomes even less so when he turns inexplicably and unexplainably green.
Taken into quarantine for testing, Rory soon finds that his nemesis – bully Grim – has the same condition, and the two of them are stuck with one another.
Against the backdrop of a pandemic, a panicked London suspects the boys of being aliens, and they have to go a long way to prove they are not.
The message within is about being brave and proud enough to be different – don’t just blend in. I thought the message was a good one but the plot didn’t do it for me.
33. Frances Hardinge – Cuckoo Song
A quite bizarre story that took me a while to make my mind up about – and truth be told, I’m still not sure.
Triss is taken from her family and replaced with a ‘Besider’ – a monstrous creation that can take on human form. She argues with her sister Pen, and when she starts to see things that aren’t real, she begins to question her sanity.
Pen and Trista eventually join forces in order to find the real Triss, passing from one world to another in which cinema screens eat children and birds talk to the girls.
Violet, an ex-girlfriend of Pen and Triss’s deceased brother, Sebastian, is the real heroine here, full of bravado, gumption and determination. She believes the girls when no one else will and helps them carry out their plan.
As I say, I struggled here. Language-wise, Frances Hardinge is almost without compare, but the story here just didn’t grab me.