An esoteric and distinctly biased list of 50 children’s books you probably really should read (part one)

Artichoke Hearts – Sita Brahmachari

Brahmachari stormed into publication with this stunning tribute to life, love and growing up. Told in first person by the engaging Mira Levenson, Artichoke Hearts covers some difficult topics but does so with such warmth and love that it’s hard not to fall in love with this rare gem of a book.

Similar to : Itself.

Jasmine Skies – Sita Brahmachari

The sequel to Artichoke Hearts, Jasmine Skies sees Mira exploring her heritage in India. Kolkata and India are intensely drawn with a lush richness that is gorgeous to read. Mira faces some difficult decisions and, in a way, completes the ‘coming of age’ story began in the previous novel.

Similar to : Artichoke Hearts (ha, sorry but it really is!)

Who’s afraid of the big bad book – Lauren Child

Both a stunning treatise on the book as object, the act of reading and also a metatextual treatment of fairytales, this book is superb. Plus it’s really, really very funny. I adore this.

Similar to : Revolting Rhymes

Beowulf – Gareth Hinds

Adapting an epic poem into graphic novel form is no mean feat (have you seen a graphic novel version of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner for example?) but Hinds does it with brilliant skill. His book has dark, macabre artwork that is so vital that it practically sings from the page.

Similar to : The Odyssey (Gareth Hinds)

Unhooking the Moon – Gregory Hughes

Another book which deserves to be a classic, this is the story of Bob and his sister ‘The Rat’ on their way to New York to meet their long lost Uncle. If you’ve not read this, you’re missing out on one of the greatest female characters this century: The Rat. She’s adorable, gorgeous and heartbreaking.

Similar to : Jack Kerouac meets Willy Wonka.

A Little Love Song – Michelle Magorian

This is one of Magorian’s lesser known titles, this is the story the summer where Rose fell in love, A Little Love Song is one of – and perhaps – her greatest. Set in the middle of the second world war, and featuring the ‘holiday’ town from Goodnight Mr Tom, it is a stunning achievement.

Similar to : I Capture The Castle

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

What to say about this stunning multi-award winning book? It is devestating, stunning, and deserves to be a forever classic. Based on an idea by the late Siobhan Dowd and ultimately written by Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay, Conor faces the unfaceable in the shape of a monster who visits him at night and forces him to confront the worst things in his life.

Similar to : Neil Gaiman (His ‘Sandman’ series in particular)

Life : An Exploded Diagram – Mal Peet

Sometimes we need a book to just go giddy and revel in what it is. Life : An Exploded Diagram is such a book. Stretching majestically over countries, lives, and years, this book is vividly human and alive. Alive. It’s an interesting thing for a book to be, but this one is.

Similar to : Brideshead Revisited, Flambards, Where the Wind Blows

Claude on Holiday – Alex T Smith

This is probably one of the only books which has transferred the ‘saucy British seaside’ aesthetic into a witty, astute and very very funny picture book suitable for all ages. Claude, and his best friend Sir Bobblysock, go to the seaside and naturally hijinks ensue. This book is gorgeous.

Similar to : That postcard your Nan sent you from Southend

Dead Man’s Cove – Lauren St John

Laura Marlin deserves to be on the national curriculum. A funny, brave, Buffy-esque heroine (without the actual violence!), she’s sent to the seaside to live with her mysterious Uncle and rapidly discovers there’s mysteries in her new home.

Similar to : Nancy Drew meets the Famous Five

Tune in next time for part two! It’ll be a picture book / graphic novel special 🙂

Summertime of the Dead : Gregory Hughes

Summertime of the Dead

Gregory Hughes, writer of the astoundingly good Unhooking The Moon, is back with a Kill Bill-esque tale full of darkness, revenge and love. Summertime Of The Dead, set in the streets of Tokyo, is a blinding book. It’s the story of one summer in the life of Yukio and it’s the summer where his world went wrong. His two best friends are dead following a spiral of events involving the Japanese mafia. And Yukio loved them. He loved them so much, he decides to avenge their deaths.

Because Yukio is also a master at kendo.

If there’s one thing (and there’s not, there’s several) that Hughes does really well, it’s tales where teenagers suddenly become adults. He writes those moments superbly (and incredibly sympathetically). The moments when Yukio takes his first nervous, terrified, angry, furious steps into the adult world and starts to avenge his friends, are moments which are superbly written.

Where this book gets particularly interesting is with the introduction of The Lump. This character has a lot of parallel with The Rat from Unhooking The Moon and if it were poorly done, I’d be picking Hughes up on it. But it’s not. The Lump is Yukio’s cousin and she acts sort of as his moral barometer, even when he’s lost down so very low in his darkness. She’s fascinating. And sort of utterly lovely.

Summertime Of The Dead isn’t for the squeamish. There’s a fair few explicit scenes of death and murder and a couple of graphic situations at the end and it’s got a heck of an ending that doesn’t pull any punches (no pun intended). But where I think this book shines is in the relationships between characters, and that curious awareness that people may damn you but some people can also save you.

It’s a book that is somehow full of both death and life all at once.

Unhooking the moon : Gregory Hughes

Unhooking the MoonUnhooking the Moon by Gregory Hughes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Meet Marie Claire and Robert DeBillier. Aka Bob and his sister – The Rat. Following a tragic family incident, the two of them decide to seek out their long-lost Uncle who lives in New York. Trouble is – these kids currently live in Winnipeg. Cue one of the most heart-breakingly brilliant roadtrips I’ve ever read about.

I can’t believe how good this book was. It’s extraordinary. Hughes has the ability to construct character so well through his use of language; The Rat is one of those gloriously eccentric other-wordly creatures that you meet quite often in books. And you do meet them quite often, but you never meet them done as well as this. The Rat is a wise-cracking, bleeping brilliant creation, a ball of imagination and courage wrapped up in the guise of a ten year old girl. She’s amazing. You can’t help but root for her and Bob.

The story as a whole is full of some lovely seditious comments on humanity. It’s refreshing to see these presented as offhand comments rather than the blunt moralising that some “issue” books can slide into. I actually really enjoyed how the story had a bit of respect for the nous of the reader. Kids are smart creatures and sometimes authors forget this.

And then there’s the ending. Hughes presents a very quiet, very subtle ending but it packs a stunning emotional punch. The movement towards this heart-breakingly brilliant ending is one that practically defines the term “page-turner”.

This book is amazing.

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