By Nicci, The Kids Books Curator
My top picks selected from both new and recently published children's illustrated chapter books (for ages 5+, 7+ & 9+).
How many of these have you read and enjoyed too? Any you hadn't come across before?
Scroll down for the reviews... or click the quick links to the each book:
The books are listed in alphabetical order (not in order of preference).
Adventuremice: Mermouse Mystery by Reeve & McIntyre (Out 1.6.23, David Fickling Books) For ages 5+
Di Island Crew Investigates: The Case of the Lighthouse Intruder by Kereen Getten, illustrated by Leah Jacobs-Gordon (Out 1.6.23, Pushkin Press) For ages 7+
Nightjar by Katya Balen, illustrated by Richard Johnson (Out 1.6.23, Barrington Stoke) For ages 9+...dyslexia-friendly format
The Thames and Tide Club: The Secret City by Katy Balen, illustrated by Rachel Dean (Out 11.5.23, Bloomsbury) For ages 7+
'Adventuremice: Mermouse Mystery' (book 2)
(David Fickling Books)
For ages 5+
🌱They’re back! The adorable, and so so cute Adventuremice - a brilliant series for young readers looking to continue their reading journey with a chapter book that’s not too overwhelming regarding the quantity of text, and is filled with colourful illustrations on every double spread. Did you read my review of the first in this series, ‘Adventuremice: Otter Chaos’, earlier this year? Reeve & McIntyre are a very well known creative duo, who are incredibly passionate about children’s books and children reading for pleasure. Previous books published include: the ‘Roly-Poly Flying Adventure…’ series (OUP), ‘Pugs of the Frozen North’ (OUP, 2016), and ‘Cakes in Space’ (OUP, 2015). If you ever see they’re doing a live/online children’s event, do book on, as it’s so much fun!!!!!
🌱In book 2, Pedro mouse is now a fully signed up member of the seafaring rescue squad, and he’s absolutely loving it! However, much like our beloved and revered RNLI, the Adventuremice are busy, busy, busy with rescues nearly all the time. And with most of the team out on missions one day, it falls to Pedro to keep watch at the base. Pedro spies something struggling in the rocks below and discovers a baby mermouse in trouble!! Following the clues Pedro, along with team-mouse Juniper, hop into the submarine to try to find the mermouse’s family.
🌱What follows is an action-packed underwater adventure that takes them first to a disused shipping container that had fallen into the sea and now is ‘mined’ by mice who use the stranded produce (toy boats, planes, doll’s house furniture, batteries etc) to upcycle for their own practical use. They have their own mystery afoot… things have been going missing…
🌱Only once they have solved the ‘Box Island Mining Company’ mystery, do Pedro and Juniper then discover how they might be able to return the baby mermouse to its parents, and it’s not going to be a walk in the mer-park!!!! Queen Frangipani Camembert-de-Mer the 44th… does that sound like someone reasonable to negotiate with?
🌱This is a super fun series, filled with problem-solving and subtle messages for children about caring for our oceans, STEM and helping others. I’m really pleased to let you know that book 3, ‘Adventuremice: Mice on the Ice’ is out on 5th October 2023. I’ll be preordering it soon myself!!
🌱For free official Adventuremice children's activities, downloads, videos and more, check out: https://www.adventuremice.com
🌱Previous titles in the series Adventuremice: Otter Chaos by Reeve & McIntyre (David Fickling Books, 2023)
Adventuremice: Mice on the Ice by Reeve & McIntyre (David Fickling Books, 5.10.2023)
by Kereen Getten, illustrated by Leah Jacobs-Green
For ages 7+
[Ad - review copy]
🌱Kereen Getten, one of my favourite authors right now!! I love reading her middle grade books, how she transports me to Jamaica in the Caribbean for her mystery-filled adventures brimming with rich cultural heritage. Have you already read her previous titles: 'When Life Gives you Mangoes’ (Pushkin Press, 2020), and ‘If You Read This’ (Pushkin Press, 2022)? If not, you’re in for a real treat!!
🌱What’s so fabulous about this new work from Getten, is that it’s a brand new mystery series. It’s always exciting (and a relief) to know that when you read a book, adoring the story and the characters, that there’s promise of more to come! What’s really super is that with this series, our middle grade readers, who aren’t always that happy that suddenly their fiction books, once they reach 8-9 years old/Year 4+ in school, are lacking illustrations - just pages and pages of text, text, text and what’s more it gets smaller as you get older! I’m happy to report that the text size in this book is slightly bigger for a middle grade, and that illustrator, Leah Jacobs-Gordon, has provided artwork that is dotted throughout the story - including a double spread map at the start. They may not be full page illustrations, but are illustrations that provide context - a building, a clue, characters, to convey emotion or suspense. Great!
🌱Fayson Mayor is 12 years old AND she’s already an FBI agent!! Well, not really, but in her own make-believe world she is. Plus, if anyone can solve a mystery, it’s Fayson, and her cousins, Aaron and Omar, know it. That’s why she hears from them out of the blue. They’re inviting her to their wealthy holiday home on an exclusive island off the mainland of Jamaica during the school break. Fayson lives with her mamma in a small home barely scraping by, life is tough and money is scarce, but they have each other and there’s a lot of love between them. By the way, Fayson considers her second home to be the library - #teamFayson!! Her best friends are the characters in her books… I kinda know how she feels… but her mamma is right, she needs to get out and find some human connection.
🌱It’s a hard decision to make, but Fayson agrees to go to her cousins house for the holidays. Mamma can’t look after her and she can’t afford childcare. Fayson is all too aware of their poverty and difficulties. The reader is already filled with heartfelt respect for this little family, even by the 2nd chapter. Our investment in Fayson’s welfare so early on in the story is very real. The level-headed attitude she has when it comes to making the difficult decision to leave home, and all that is safe and familiar, to go ‘overseas’ to what is probably going to be a trying situation due to the differences in status, is inspiring.
🌱Life at her cousins’ house is so far removed from normality. She has a maid, she has fresh new beautiful clothes, is made up like a doll, eats plentiful meals. It’s all very overwhelming. Then she gets kidnapped…
🌱Kidnapped by her cousins that is. She’s taken to a secret location, a hut. She’s been summoned and she’s about to find out the real reason why they wanted her to visit them. Inside the hut there’s a group of children with an obvious leader, Tia, barking the orders. It’s a secret club! Fayson’s not that impressed, but she keeps quiet until she’s sussed out all the characters. They need her. There’s a mystery to solve on the island. Why her? Top of the class, super-smart, can solve anything.
🌱Tia. Well Tia, she’s majorly rich, majorly spoilt, and majorly a control freak. Her parents own the island. The gang, up until Fayson’s arrival, have been filled with loyal followers, bowing to her every command, and doing every bidding. Her attitude towards Fayson is despicable. She is abhorred at Fayson’s low status and refers to her poverty and situation with unkind words often. It’s hard to digest these moments in the story, but regular readers will already know that Tia will get her comeuppance, will be exposed and come out the other side of her own personal journey a better person. Explaining about Tia, brings me onto another theme of the story. Being from the city and living within her socio-economic demographic, Fayson speaks with a heavy Jamaican accent speckled with Patois, disallowed and ridiculed by the wealthy side of the family, who celebrate their ‘Queens-English’ style of speaking. Fayson’s Uncle in particular nags Fayson frequently, and she tries her best for her Aunt and Uncle not to ‘embarrass’ them. It’s wearing, and chips away at what happiness she’s holding onto. Taking these very real problems of bias within the Afro-Caribbean community, alongside the class divide, and infusing them into this children’s story raises awareness for future generations of adults and exposes it for discussion within families and classrooms.
🌱Back to the mystery afoot. Every now and then there’s a shadow of a man at the top of the lighthouse - who is it, why are they doing it, is it a ghost or a real person? Like all brilliant mysteries, there are clues, problems to solve, witness statements to dissect, suspects with motives to establish. It’s a race against time, and a popularity contest for position of gang leader as the crew start to switch loyalties to Fayson. Their investigations are exciting and at times edge-of-seat risky, but together they solve it! It’s not obvious, readers, by the way, so you'll keep second-guessing yourselves!
🌱Getten takes the stigma of poverty, and exploits it within this story for the purpose of teaching about how children can inherit unhealthy attitudes from their responsible adults about class divides, language bias, and typically old world values. It is through the children coming together and learning about their differences, finding out about each others lives and why they are who they are, that by the end of the story, they influence their grown-ups to behave with more kindness, understanding and acceptance. Always a winner in my eyes.
🌱Very pleased to let you know that book 2 in this series, ‘Di Island Crew Investigates: The Case of the Haunted Wardrobe’ (Pushkin Press) is out on 5th October 2023.
🌱Coming soon in this series
Di Island Crew Investigates: The Case of the Haunted Wardrobe (Pushkin Press, 5.10.2023)
Di Island Crew Investigates: The Case of the Abandoned Boat (Pushkin Press, 1.2.2024)
🌱Previous titles If You Read This by Kereen Getten (Pushkin Press, 2022)
When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten (Pushkin Press, 2020)
'Nightjar' (book 2)
by Katya Balen, illustrated by Richard Johnson
For ages 9+
A dyslexia-friendly format novella
[Ad - review copy]
🌱I’m going for a Katya Balen double whammy in this book review session. This author is demonstrating versatility and impressive ease in her ability to morph between characters and subject matter. Nightjar is one I’ve been excited about for ages, plus it’s published by the dyslexia-friendly publisher Barrington Stoke, and I always love their books! The first in this series, Birdsong, published last Summer and was the story of Annie who moved to a new tower block following a devastating car crash. Meeting Noah, a quiet boy who loved to take care of the birds outside the tower, enabled her to process her trauma and feel that life might be ok again as they became close friends.
🌱In Nightjar, Balen takes the reader for a journey into Noah’s story. We find out that Noah comes from a Jewish family, his mum and dad are no longer together. Noah lives with his mum, who lovingly cares for Noah, but spends a lot of her free time sewing beautiful gowns for babies who sadly have died in hospital - an unusual side story for a children’s book, but I have to tell you, the author, almost in a sense of awe and reverence, describes these dresses and the emotions that Noah and his mum feel around them with absolute respect.
🌱Noah’s dad now lives in New York with is new family, but is making a special trip over for Noah’s Bar Mitzvah (coming of age ceremony for Jewish boys at the age of 13). Exposing the disconnects that naturally take place when parents split; and the painful moments when a child realises that the parent they don’t see so much any more just doesn’t understand them or get them any more - as they grow up, they might grow further apart. Looking in, the reader might feel uncomfortable, as to us it is so obvious, obvious that Dad is trying hard to connect with Noah by taking him for a woodland walk to do some birdwatching, but they clash in their wisdom of different experiences when a poorly Nightjar is discovered - Noah wants to save it and knows just what to do, whereas Dad thinks what’s best is to leave it to die in nature. It's the last straw.
🌱As a metaphor, Noah’s coming of age experience (becoming a man) and his struggles with his relationship with his Dad (already a man) teach him how life affects us all differently, how our own emotions can be entwined with other sorrowful and traumatic events and that solving them can make us feel better. There’s also a lovely moment during the story, accompanied by illustrations, where Noah senses the beauty and solace of the Hebrew language from the Torah as he practices his readings for the Bar Mitzvah, that then have a calming effect on the recovering Nightjar.
🌱The author is one of a small circle of those in their field that can take trauma and upset in a child’s life and weave some almost supernatural thread through the narrative to bring the situation to light with a child unharmed, yet recovered and hopeful for their future. It’s quite a skill. Nightjar, like Birdsong, are novellas that can be enjoyed by all. They are highly illustrated by one of my favourite illustrators, Richard Jones. If you’re passionate about quality, you won’t want to miss out on these.
🌱Previous titles in this series
Birdsong (Barrington Stoke, 2022)
by Katya Balen, illustrated by Rachael Dean
For ages 7+
🌱Already a Katya Balen middle grade fan, I was keen to read her new offering for younger readers. Following the ‘Mudlark’ prize-winning adult novel and a now heightened fascination for washed up muddy finds along London’s historic river Thames, I couldn’t resist!
🌱Clem lives in a friendly community and she goes mudlarking each week with a group from her local estate for fun (think treasure-hunting)! What might they find on an average trip, you wonder? Oh, anything from a glass eye to a very dead bird! However, on this particular trip, they are struck by the odd sense of torment in the waves and weather, that the drains are suddenly overflowing… it doesn’t quite match up to the forecast, so what’s causing it? More later… At the end of their mudlarking sessions, the group always end up at Oswald’s, a museum for such wondrous found treasure, owned by rather a mysterious fellow with a pet iguana called Gerald for company.
🌱Days go by, and London’s waterworks are in turmoil, even the loos at Buckingham Palace have exploded!! Clem and her besties decide they need to get to the bottom of this and she wonders whether these ferocious sudden watery events might have something to do with a certain precious item she found while mudlarking…
🌱Would you believe me if I said that what happens next involves magical underwater diving suits, talking river-creatures and a whole lot of drama-Queen? Humour, heartwarming friendships, fantastic (plentiful) illustrations by Rachael Dean, and an exciting mystery to solve, I’m looking forward to diving into book 2, ‘The Thames and Tide Club: Squid Invasion’ (Bloomsbury) out on 1st February 2024.
🌱Coming soon in this series
The Thames and Tide Club: Squid Invasion (Bloomsbury, 1.2.2024)
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N.B. The tags below don't apply in entirety to each of the above books. The tags are grouped all together at the end of the post to enable readers to find relevant posts within the whole website, a bit like a search function.