Summer holidays are the perfect time for children to choose the books they want to read and for families to read aloud together. It’s also a time for older children to re-read the books they loved when they were younger and to read to their younger siblings. Familiar books and books written for younger readers are soothing and restorative for an older child. They can also turn children back into avid readers.
The Faraway Tree by Jacqueline Wilson. All ages (even teenagers!)
I was hesitant to read Jacquiline Wilson’s re-imagining and modernizing of Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree because of how much I’d loved the original series as a child. However, it’s really good. There’s no question the stories have been elevated, they’re less formulaic (although that also had its advantages) and the parents, most especially the father, are substantial characters rather than invisible foils for the children’s adventuring. Wilson also develops the children’s distinct personalities, which makes the magic seem even more real because the reader feels connected to the characters. This is also achieved by modernizing the setting and giving Silky a life-sized upgrade.
As with all the best children’s writers, Wilson has high expectations for her readers. She seamlessly includes words like ‘stoically’, ‘loftily’, and ‘indignantly’ in her writing, and by so doing, she sets up the earliest reader and listener with an ear for more sophisticated vocabulary.
Skandar and the Unicorn Thief, by A. F Steadman. Ages 8+
This recent release delivered the highest ever seven-figure multi-book deal for a debut novelist and it’s evident why. It’s a really substantial, tense, and exciting read with an immensely likeable protagonist. It shares a number of similarities with other mega-book series and this will appeal to fans of those series. The high-stakes magic and trope of The Chosen One remind us of Harry Potter; the deep and dependent relationship between the protagonist and mythical creatures has parallels with How to Train your Dragon, and the magical elemental battles between the children and their bonded unicorns are resonant of Pokemon. However, Steadman has managed to create a unique and vivid new world, aided by the pace and quality of her writing.
Perhaps the end wrapped up too quickly and neatly considering the magnitude of the denouement and the fact that Skandar is a deep thinker, but the second book may well develop this further. It’s glorious to know there is a second book and one after that to keep children excited about reading. Highly recommend.
The Hunt for Nightingale, Sarah Ann Juckes. Ages 10+ (adults too!)
This is a gentle and beautiful evocation of grief for a slightly more mature reader or a family read-aloud for 7+. It’s written from the point of view of Jasper, nine, who goes in search of the nightingale and his sister who are both missing. Jasper and Rosie are bird lovers, and each of the thirty-eight chapters starts with a fact about birds, that is loosely tied to the chapter. For example, Bird Fact #19 ‘Ptarmigans moult their brown feathers for white in winter to stay camouflaged in the changing weather’ heads a chapter where Jasper has changed his clothes in the Lost and Found so he can’t be recognised.
These, and other facts which thread throughout the story, have the effect of turning the readers’ awareness toward birds and, in this way, subtly connecting us to Jasper’s heart. Juckes uses dramatic irony to invest the reader further in caring passionately about the outcome of the story and the well-being of the characters. Masterfully done.