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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

Our Tower by Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Richard Johnson.
Our Tower by Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Richard Johnson. Photograph: Richard Johnson

Wrong! by Ciara Flood, illustrated by Lucia Gaggiotti, Farshore, £7.99
Spoilt, demanding and horribly rude (“Spaghetti arms!” “Wrinkle bum!”), Hog ruins things for the entire jungle – until he runs into a very polite Tiger. A hilarious, mordant, exuberantly illustrated picture book about the pitfalls of bad manners.

Our Tower by Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Richard Johnson, Frances Lincoln, £12.99
Three children live in a grey tower block with nothing green nearby, but when they find an old tree and a magical old man inside it, they discover bright love growing in their tall grey home, too. This glowing, poetic picture book from the new children’s laureate celebrates the joys of community in urban spaces while quietly affirming that the natural world belongs to everyone.

Illustration by Jeanetta Gonzales from Our Story Starts in Africa.
Illustration by Jeanetta Gonzales from Our Story Starts in Africa. Photograph: Jeanetta Gonzales

Our Story Starts in Africa by Patrice Lawrence, illustrated by Jeanetta Gonzales, Magic Cat, £12.99
When Paloma visits her Trinidadian cousins, she feels out of place – until Tante Janet tells her how their family first came to the Caribbean, sharing tales of warrior queens and the “treasure chest” of Africa. For 4 or 5+ readers, this bright, enticing picture book sensitively explores the legacy of colonisation and the sustained telling of African stories “in the weave of our kente cloth … in the beats of our talking drums”.

The Inflatables: Bad Air Day and Mission Un-Poppable by Beth Garrod and Jess Hitchman, illustrated by Chris Danger, Scholastic, £6.99
At the “Have a Great Spray!” waterpark, forgotten floats Cactus, Flamingo, Donut and Watermelon bob in a deserted pool. They’re happy hanging out with sarcastic lilo Lynn, but will Flamingo ever realise his dreams of stardom? And is the new inflatable, Avocado, everything he seems? A pun-tastic, abundantly silly graphic novel for 6+.

Wild Summer: Life in the Heat by Sean Taylor and Alex Morss, illustrated by Cinyee Chiu, Happy Yak, £12.99
In this gorgeous nonfiction picture book for five or 6+, a girl and her grandpa walk down to the beach, noticing grasshoppers, dragonflies and the aftermath of a fire, and discuss the delights and dangers of the hot, hot summer. Boundless blues and vivid yellows impart a sunlit heat that rises off the page, while the story addresses the changing climate with openness and hope.

Illustration by Cinyee Chiu from Wild Summer: Life in the Heat.
Illustration by Cinyee Chiu from Wild Summer: Life in the Heat. Photograph: Cinyee Chiu

Space Blasters: Suzie Saves the Universe by Katie and Kevin Tsang, illustrated by Amy Nguyen, Farshore, £6.99
When young inventor Suzie Wen gets catapulted into Space Blasters, her favourite TV show, there’s no time to waste – especially as she’s crash-landed on smelly Planet Cheddar and finds that its moon’s gone missing! Can Suzie help Captain Jane and crew solve the mystery of the stolen satellites? A high-energy, accessible, fun new series for 6+.

Call Me Lion by Camilla Chester, Firefly, £7.99
Unfazed by his selective mutism, Leo’s ebullient new neighbour, Richa, immediately insists on becoming his friend. As they bond over their shared love of dancing, Leo realises Richa is special; when he writes her a letter, he discovers she has a secret too; and when he accidentally hurts her, he faces his deepest fears. A small delight for readers of 8+.

The Black Curriculum Legacies: Black British Pioneers by Lania Narjee, illustrated by Chanté Timothy, DK Children, £9.99
Featuring a foreword by Lewis Hamilton, this brightly coloured and engaging book for 8+ features pioneering Black artists and musicians, nurses, actors, activists, scientists and sportspeople, from Winifred Atwell to Ade Adepitan, Dr Cecil Belfield Clarke to Claudia Jones.

A Beginner’s Guide to Ruling the Galaxy by David Solomons

A Beginner’s Guide to Ruling the Galaxy by David Solomons, illustrated by George Ermos, Nosy Crow, £7.99
Gavin is sick of the new girl at school telling him he’s the most insignificant being in the universe. But when Niki proves to be a galactic princess whose warring parents are about to wipe out the planet, Gavin discovers he’s actually pretty important, … Solomons’ hilarious writing is perfectly judged for comic and superhero fans of 9+.

The Worlds We Leave Behind by AF Harrold, illustrated by Levi Pinfold, Bloomsbury, £12.99
When Hex and Tommo go to the swing by the stream, little Sascha tags along – but when Sascha breaks her arm, Hex is in big trouble. Ashamed and angry, he runs into the woods, finding a strange cottage where a jolly old woman offers him the chance to erase his enemy from reality. But someone else has been offered the same deal … An extraordinary book from an extraordinary partnership, its measured, powerful words and superlative shadowy illustrations will delight 11+ readers with a taste for the uncanny.

The Last Whale by Chris Vick

The Last Whale by Chris Vick, Head of Zeus, £14.99
At her grandmother’s home in Norway, Abi, a passionate young eco-activist, uses a stolen quantum computer to track whales’ movement and understand their song. Abi’s whale-hunting great-grandfather also recorded whalesong, learning to study rather than kill; in the future, Abi’s daughter Tonje searches the deserted seas. Is there any hope left? This generation-spanning story for 12+ readers is a hard-hitting, beautifully written conservationist call to arms.

Rapunzella, Or, Don’t Touch My Hair by Ella McLeod, Scholastic, £8.99
There may be turmoil elsewhere, but at Val’s hair salon, a teenage girl feels forever safe and comforted – not least by Val’s graceful son Baker. In the world she visits in her dreams, meanwhile, another girl, Rapunzella, is imprisoned in the enchanted forest of her own afro. Can both girls discover how to unlock their magic, find their power, and change their futures? Ambitious and original, this genre-blending YA debut braids fairytale, poetry and coming-of-age story into something elegant and unique.

Unraveller by Frances Hardinge, Macmillan, £14.99
In Kellen’s world, anyone who hates deeply enough can place terrible curses on their enemies, but only he can unravel them. Dangerous people want to use Kellen’s gift, and a conspiracy of Cursers is gathering … This multilayered, humane and brilliant YA fantasy is the Costa-winning Hardinge’s best yet.

These Are the Words by Nikita Gill, Macmillan, £7.99
Illustrated by the author, this collection of poetry aimed at teenage girls is warm and richly celebratory. Clear and kind, occasionally a little on the nose, it’s full of proud, affirmatory lines to resonate with readers navigating growing up in a female body.

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