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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Imogen Russell Williams

Children’s and teens roundup – the best new picture books and novels

The Best Bad Day Ever by Marianna Coppo
The Best Bad Day Ever by Marianna Coppo. Photograph: Frances Lincoln Children's Books

The Best Bad Day Ever by Marianna Coppo, Frances Lincoln, £12.99
Everything’s going wrong for Wolfie today – and everyone else is happy, and no one understands. Then Penguin turns up in a similar grump, and they share a joyful afternoon: it’s the Best Bad Day Ever! A funny, sweet and resonant picture book of toddler crankiness ameliorated by friendship.

The Concrete Garden by Bob Graham, Walker, £12.99
When, after a long winter, the children spill outdoors “like sweets from a box”, Amanda comes last, with her box of chalks – and a wild garden grows from many inventive fingers. Restrained, poetic, humorous text and joyously burgeoning pictures speak to the perennial power of shared imagination.

Geoffrey Gets the Jitters by Nadia Shireen

Geoffrey Gets the Jitters by Nadia Shireen, Puffin, £7.99
Geoffrey is Not OK. Worrying about “what ifs” has given him the tummy jitters – and they’re multiplying! How can he get rid of them? Complete with comic deep-breathing advice and a Very Useful Guide to Worries, this follow-up to Barbara Throws a Wobbler confirms Shireen as a hilarious, kindly and invaluable source of “feelings” advice for preschoolers.

Becoming Brave by Jennie Cashman Wilson and Tomekah George, Little Tiger, £12.99
This profoundly moving picture book for 4 or 5+ tells the story of a fearful little girl – Wilson herself – who grows into a woman always braced for the worst, and of the brave, creative musician she marries. Her story of weathering his loss, and learning to be “scared and brave, happy and sad, all at the same time”, is heightened by George’s delicate yet hugely powerful illustrations.

Huxley and Flapjack- Race to the Rescue by Alan Macdonald and Francesca Gambatesa

Huxley and Flapjack: Race to the Rescue by Alan Macdonald and Francesca Gambatesa, Little Tiger, £6.99
Huxley the bold koala and Flapjack the timid penguin are off to spend some pocket money when a burglar intervenes. Can the friends stop Jollygoods department store being robbed – and Huxley taking the rap? This daft duo’s gently pottering adventures are ideal for newly independent readers.

Our Earth Is a Poem, various authors, Little Tiger, £12.99
Featuring a cornucopia of modern poets and illustrators, this stunning anthology for 6+ is focused on the natural world, from the “underwater thunderbolter” of Robert Macfarlane’s Otter to Rebecca Perry’s “bus-sized and gentle” stegosaurus.

The Dog Squad- The Newshound by Clara Vulliamy, HarperCollins

The Dog Squad: The Newshound by Clara Vulliamy, HarperCollins, £6.99
When aspiring journalist Eva finds a stray dog, she knows this could be a scoop for her paper. But can she persuade Mum – and the landlord – that Wafer should be allowed to stay? A thoroughly charming new 7+ series, with Vulliamy’s cheery, cuddlesome illustrations throughout.

Ten-Word Tiny Tales by Joseph Coelho and Friends, Walker, £14.99
In this playful, unsettling collection for 7+, Coelho’s ultra-concise tales, featuring broken hamster cages, underwater carnivals and bears in outer space, are amplified by images from Shaun Tan, Dapo Adeola and many others, inviting kids to dive through strange portals of imagination. (And at the back, Coelho’s suggestions for building on the stories may help enthuse children who hate writing to order.)

Leif the Unlucky Viking: Saga of the Shooting Star by Gary Northfield, Walker, £7.99
When Leif, Viking wolf cub, finds himself on a quest to retrieve a magical star-shard in company with a tedious duck, a smelly musk ox and a not-very-clever puffin, things are bound to go his way – aren’t they? Highly illustrated, slyly clever hilarity for Norse lovers of 8+.

One Chance Dance by Efua Traoré, Chicken House, £7.99
Jomi’s mum has gone to Lagos, following a dream for them both. After months pass with no word, Jomi sets out for the big city with only a friendly bush baby and a wild idea of how to find his mother: auditioning for the dance show she always watches. A standout, richly layered story of perseverance, creativity, joy and love, for readers of 8 and up.

Nowhere Island by Tania Unsworth, Zephyr, £14.99
Gil has bounced between foster homes without ever finding a family, but when he runs away and discovers a tiny island in the middle of the motorway, he meets Riley, Grayson and reclusive Pez, who’ve made the scrubland their home. Enthralling and uplifting, this story of survival, ingenuity and belonging is perfect for adventure lovers of 9+.

Kòkú Àkànbí and the Heart of Midnight

Kòkú Àkànbí and the Heart of Midnight by Maria Motúnràyò Adébísí, illustrated by Simone Douglas, Orion, £7.99
When Kòkú unleashes an ancient demon on a school museum trip, something worse than detention is in store. To finish what he’s started, he must travel to his homeland, Olori – and then into the dangerous jungle of Jujuland, on a terrifying quest to stop the destruction. Sharp, witty, original and thrilling, with comics-style artwork throughout, Adébísí’s debut is a great read for 9+ fans of Amari and the Night Brothers.

Secrets of the Vampire by Julie Légère, Elsa Whyte and Laura Pérez, Wide Eyed, £14.99
A sumptuously illustrated, elegantly chiaroscuro guide to vampire history around the world, from the bloodthirsty goddesses Lilith and Lamashtu to the latter-day likes of Buffy and Twilight. Ideal for 11+ aficionados of the undead.

Jay’s Guide to Crushing It by Ruby Clyde

Jay’s Guide to Crushing It by Ruby Clyde, Scholastic, £8.99
After a bullying incident and a fresh start, Mum lays down the law – at Jay’s new school, she must go by “Jennifer” and wear a skirt. Struggling with the new regime, Jay dresses in her brother’s clothes to skate at the local park, and soon acquires an admirer: closeted Alex, who thinks she’s a boy. But what about her schoolfriend Mina, who also seems to be flirting with her? A warm, witty and touching romantic comedy for 12+, with a quiet emphasis on being your authentic self.

Lads – A Guide to Respect and Consent by Alan Bissett, Wren and Rook, £9.99
While the likelihood of a teenage boy actually reading this – at least in public – may be slim, it’s a generous, useful book for 13+, avoiding both over-familiarity and alienating earnestness. Instead, it provides tips on how to flirt, how to handle rejection and how to check the worst excesses of banter with humour, sympathy and moderation. The antithesis of Andrew Tate.

Sold by Sue Barrow, Cadence Publishing, £8.99
When she’s offered the chance to stay with family in the UK, 14-year-old Roza, a gifted student, is eager to improve her English. On arrival, though, she’s forced into drudgery – she’s been sold by her father, and her “hosts” now consider her their property. Compulsively readable, harrowing yet hopeful, this YA debut shines a fierce light into the shadows of child trafficking.

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