By Nicci, The Kids Books Curator
My top picks selected from both new and recently published kids chapter books (for ages 8+, 9+ and 10+).
How many of these have you read and enjoyed too?
Any you hadn't come across before?
The books are listed in recommended reading age order (not in order of preference).
'The Boy Who Saved a Bear' by Nizrana Farook, illustrated by David Dean
For ages 8+
🌱Yes, I welled up as soon as I closed the book. This is the fourth and final story by Nizrana Farook set on her imaginary island of Serendip (much akin to Sri Lanka). There are even ‘easter eggs’ to spot from The Girl Who Stole and Elephant, The Boy Who Met a Whale, and The Girl Who Lost a Leopard in honour of this final foray. So lovely! All these stories have at their heart a theme of conservation, respecting and living alongside wildlife. The heartfelt relationships all Farook’s characters develop whether with a whale or a bear, result in a symbiotic protective bond that allows them both to stay safe from whoever the baddies might be in the adventure, then return to their own natural habitat/community as it should be.
🌱In the last book, it was poachers, this time it’s thieves who want to steal a precious and ancient key, who replace it with a fake to present to the Queen. Meanwhile, a young boy, Nuwan is struggling to find his place in his family and it feels like he needs to do something to prove his metal. Being the middle sibling isn’t a walk in the park. Big brother gets all the responsibility and praise, and the baby gets all the coos and cuddles. Nuwan decides to take his older brother’s place delivering books from the library to monks far away in the King’s City. He happens upon the real key’s hiding place at the library, and unbeknownst to him is in mortal danger from both the thieves and the legendary ferocious wild bear Karadi!! In only a few days time the elephant procession with the fake key will reach the Queen, so Nuwan decides that he is going to take the real key to her himself and expose the baddies. It’s a long way to go, and there might be danger, lack of food and no safe bed for the night. Perhaps if one had a rather large fury sloth bear, useful for scaring off the persistent thieves, protecting the key and making memories of eternal friendship with - only then could such a quest succeed!!!!
🌱As always, I loved travelling through the wild of Serendip with Nuwan and Karadi. Along the way I learned all about some incredible fruits, plants and trees to fill my imagination with new tastes, smells and vistas. I can’t wait to find out what Nizrana Farook has in store for readers next. I sincerely hope there will be a new middle grade series in the not too distant future.
'Glitter Boy' by Ian Eagleton
For ages 9+
🌱This is a story from the author’s own heart. Having been at the launch of the book I can tell you that Ian Eagleton’s authentic experiences and emotions are very much alive in this story, which makes it all the more important for those who parent and care for children of this age to read this book. James is in Y6 at school, loves Mariah Carey, dancing, singing, feeling alive and joyful, loving life with his friends. He lives at home with his dad. Things aren’t going too great lately as mum left and dad’s not coping well at times. This being said, James has a Nan and he LOVES his Nan. James pops round to her house after school to hang out with her, tell her all the goss of the day and show her his new dance routines - and if she can she joins in! What’s more there’s a new class teacher, Mr Hamilton - who’s awesome, and he’s getting married - to a man and MAJOR EXCITEMENT - the choir have been asked to sing as a surprise at the wedding!!
🌱Just when it all seems to wonderful and things are on the up, this fabulous boy’s life starts to crumble around him piece by piece. Nan has a fall, Dad is trying to stop James hanging out with his gay friend, bully’s in James’s class are calling him hurtful and confusing names like “girly”, “poof” and “gay boy”. (Yes, this even makes it onto a class WhatsApp group!! - the bane of every parent’s life). Mr Hamilton, without intention, sets James and his friend Joel a class project and as a result James learns all about gay activists like Marsha P. Johnson. At first he’s really embarrassed and ashamed about having to learn about the history of PRIDE and the Stonewall Riots. However, gradually James finds courage and strength Marsha’s story. Through his poetry (included throughout the story), encouraged by his wonderful teacher Mr H, he manages to start to process his feelings about all that is going on in his 11 year old mind. With a whomp of emotion, as huge events collide, the people who love James and want to nurture him build him back up, believe his truth and respect him for who he loves to be - a Glitter Boy.
🌱Adults: this isn’t a coming out story, but a lesson to all about homophobic bullying, the impact it can have on a child and the confusion it leads to. It’s a fantastic book that really captures your heart and would do well to have a place upon any bookshelf whether at home, in a public library or at school. P.S. I loved spotting the ‘easter egg’ for Ian’s bestselling kids picture book ‘Nen and The Lonely Fisherman’ a gay fairy-tale that has now sold over 10k copies!! What an amazing debut MG!!
'Xanthe & The Ruby Crown' by Jasbinder Bilan, illustrated by Bex Parkin
(Chicken House Books)
For ages 9+
🌱The history of the programme of expulsion of the Indian heritage communities from Uganda in 1972 by the then dictator Idi Amin is in danger of being swept under the carpet. The British Empire, through it’s network of global colonies offered opportunities to its new subjects to work and live in nations where the British had discovered commodities that would end up (along with the slave trade) funding most of ostentatious buildings, technology and treasures what you see today in the UK’s major cities.
🌱The author herself remembers observing Indian-Ugandans arriving into her home town when she was a child, and this was the inspiration for her story. Xanthe is a confident young girl, in Year 6, who love history and archeology, living with mum and dad. She and her mum go to stay at Nani’s home in the Summer holidays in Nottingham. When they arrive, Nani doesn’t appear to be as well as she usually would be - the flat is in disarray, the roof garden, once so beautiful, is almost ruined. Something has changed. Nani is a wonderful character. She left Uganda with her family in 1972, a country she loved so dearly, and defied all the odds for women at the time, by attending university and becoming an archaeologist. With a likely diagnosis of dementia the family need to come to terms with how to support Nani and care for her in the future. Xanthe struggles with Nani’s emotional responses to talking about her childhood in Africa. There’s obviously some trauma, but what happened?
🌱Together with her friends Romeo and Pria, Xanthe spends a magical summer following clues and finding treasures from Nani’s past to help piece together a museum of her life story before it’s too late. She also gets some help from a mystical tiger-like cat called Leo too… but how come only she and Nani can see him? A fascinating and engaging story, very well written with family and friendship at its core together with true historical events to learn from, and some sumptuous blending of Ugandan, British and Indian culture through plants, birds, and food.
'Jamie' by LD Lapinski, illustrated by Harry Woodgate
For ages 10+
🌱I’m such a fan of LD Lapinski’s books. Their Strangeworlds Travel Agency middle grade series was BRILLIANT - did you think so too? LD has made an brave and incredibly important statement in ‘Jamie’. Where some children mightn’t know their true gender at the age of 11 years, Jamie is a confident non-binary child. Accepted and respected for their gender both at home with mum, dad and gay older brother, and at primary school, Jamie is living a happy life, blissfully floating along with best friends since nursery - Daisy and Ash. It’s not until the quandary arises around secondary school that a very big dilemma arises. The only two choices for secondary where Jamie lives are an all boys school or an all girls school! Which school should they attend? Surely neither is right? Then there’s the added pressure of the best friends being split up, Ash going to the boys school and Daisy going to the girls school… who would get Jamie? The thing is that at the meet and greet with the heads of the secondary schools, its very clear that neither of them ‘get’ Jamie at all!! Jamie is not going to stand for it and neither are their friends. They take their protest to the city council, because the system needs to change for non-binary kids like Jamie!!
🌱LD’s telling of Jamie’s story is paused every now and again as they have included a age-appropriate glossary of terms about not only gay history and activism, but also words that explain gender - especially the importance of respecting pronouns ‘they’ or ‘them’, andwhat it means for a non-binary person when you get it wrong. Although I work with non-binary people, I have made the unconscious error of saying ‘he’ or ‘she’ and felt embarrassed and apologised in the moment, however, this story really brought it home to me how that feels for them. I needed this book in my life to be able to walk in a non-binary person’s shoes and see the world they way then need to see it. I would expressly recommend all teachers of Y6 and Y7 children read this book. Thank you LD… and Harry Woodgate for your incredible illustrations.
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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.