Children’s books roundup – the best new picture books and novels
Dogs in Disguise by Peter Bently and John Bond (HarperCollins, £12.99
A rambunctious rhyming picture-book romp ideal for fans of the “Oi!” books, full of ingenious pooches and some truly outrageous rhymes (think schnauzers in trousers and shih-tzus doing ju-jitsu). Bond’s trademark wide, staring eyes and bright block colours perfectly complement Bently’s bouncing text.
There’s a Ghost in This House by Oliver Jeffers (HarperCollins, £20)
From the renowned author-illustrator of Lost and Found and Here We Are, a delightful interactive story for Halloween, long on spectres but short on scares. A lonely girl has never seen a ghost in the big old house she lives in; perhaps the reader can help spot the mischievous, laughing spooks who appear when tracing-paper pages are laid over sepia-tinged photographic backgrounds. Hauntingly adorable.
The Best Diwali Ever by Sonali Shah and Chaaya Prabhat (Scholastic, £6.99
Blazing with intricate whorls of colour, full of mouthwatering food and best-clothes excitement, this giddily sweet story, featuring an annoying younger brother whose interference ends in unexpected triumph, is a gorgeous celebration of the festival of lights.
What is Racism? by Katie Daynes and Jordan Akpojaro, illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat (Usborne, £9.99
Exceptionally useful for four-plus readers and their parents or carers, this nuanced yet succinct lift-the-flap book explains gently and clearly what racism is, why it’s never OK, and how to work towards wiping it out for good. A boon for answering small children’s tricky questions.
Nina: A Story of Nina Simone by Traci N Todd, illustrated by Christian Robinson (Scribble, £12.99)
This celebration of Simone’s extraordinary life, career and activism, written in soaring song-like cadences, and heightened by warm, expressive illustrations, packs enormous meaning and impact into a brief, beautiful picture-book biography for ages six plus.
The Story of Afro Hair by KN Chimbiri, illustrated by Joelle Avelino (Scholastic, £9.99
A brilliant read for Black History Month, this thought-provoking, lively and accessible guide for seven plus takes its reader from the stately hairstyles of ancient Egypt and Great Benin to the wide-ranging fashions of the present day, explaining the history and care of each – and the interwoven politics of racism, oppression and defiance. The accounts of Black female entrepreneurs who grew wealthy devising and selling hair products are particularly fascinating.
Locked Out Lily by Nick Lake, illustrated by Emily Gravett (Simon & Schuster, £12.99
For ages 8-plus, this creepy-humorous homage to Neil Gaiman’s classic Coraline and the terror of the doppelganger features an angry girl with a long-term illness, an imminent new baby, and a frightening family of black-eyed interlopers – not to mention a motley assortment of animal helpers. Gravett’s stark, menacing illustrations heighten the tension of Lily’s quest to win back her home in this beautifully written story, full of shadowy thrills.
The Boy With Wings by Lenny Henry, illustrated by Keenon Ferrell (Macmillan, £12.99
Apart from getting picked on by school bullies, Tunde is an ordinary boy – so why do his mum and dad insist he must never run, or do sports? When a mysterious peril threatens Earth and Tunde suddenly sprouts wings, everything starts to become clear … Hilarious and heartfelt, this frenetic, highly illustrated take on the Chosen One fantasy is interwoven with messages about family, friendship, courage and belonging.
Little Horror by Daniel Peak (Firefly, £6.99
Rita is clever. She can weigh up any situation, conduct appropriate research, and devise a plan in seconds. So when her family vanish and a creepy clown in an ice-cream van starts pursuing her, she’s not short of ideas for what to do next. There’s just one slight snag – she hasn’t yet turned two … A gloriously daft toddler odyssey, with an unforgettable protagonist, a bone-dry comic voice, and a memorable escape on a mobility scooter.
Lionheart Girl by Yaba Badoe (Head of Zeus, £12.99
Raised in a family of gifted witches, Sheba has always been afraid of her controlling mother, who transforms into a crow to spy out secrets. Sheba, however, has her own gift: she reads people’s thoughts as she dresses their hair. Can she find the courage to defend those she loves, and defeat her mother once and for all? Ideal for twelve plus, this stirring fantasy, rich in west African legend, investigates the bonds of blood, love and friendship, and what it takes to grow into your power.
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao (Oneworld, £14.99)
In Huaxia, girls are second-best – except when they’re matched with boys to become concubine-pilots, steering giant robots into battles that usually claim their lives. When 18-year-old Zetian loses her big sister, she offers herself as a pilot in turn, secretly swearing vengeance. But layers of lies and cruelty lie in wait, especially when she is paired with a boy notorious for killing his own family … A ferociously original fusion of Chinese history and mecha sci-fi, this is a fast-paced thrill-ride for 14-plus.
Empress & Aniya by Candice Carty-Williams (Knights Of, £7.99
Aniya is the girl who has it all; Empress has almost nothing. When Empress joins Aniya’s school, they don’t have much in common, but when the girls carry out a body-switching spell on their shared 16th birthday, they get more than a taste of how the other half lives. This engaging novella about privilege, courage and the importance of best friends is hard-hitting in its portrayal of poverty, but lightened by its Freaky Friday premise.