A mysterious suitcase, secret dragons, a breathtaking acrobatic heist and more

Imogen Russell Williams
June 2019


Look Up! – (Puffin)
by Nathan Bryon

There’s a star-gazing theme to picture books this month. 
Look Up! by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola features science-crazed, irrepressible chatterbox Rocket, who is determined to get her whole town out watching a meteor shower – to the annoyance of her big brother, who would rather stay glued to his phone. Energetic and with a wry, sweet take on family dynamics, it will alert readers to the thrilling mysteries of the night skies.

Cover: Look Up! by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola. Photograph: Puffin

Astro Girl (Otter-Barry) by Ken Wilson-Max stars Astrid, another little girl intent on discovering the secrets of space, who enjoys acting out the challenges of zero gravity with Papa while Mama is away. When Astrid welcomes her back, the twist in the tale reveals that Mama might be an expert on space herself. A delightful combination of imaginative play and inspiring role model from a much-loved author-illustrator.

Cover: Astro Girl by Ken Wilson-Max (Otter-Barry)

Fifty years after the moon landing, young readers of five-plus can make their own lunar voyages with The Usborne Book of the Moon by Laura Cowan and illustrator Diana Toledano, a compendious, thoroughly readable volume that contains not only plenty of facts about the moon’s orbit and phases, but also the legends and stories told about it worldwide. Engagingly illustrated, with well judged, engaging text, this is the best and broadest kind of non-fiction.

Cover: “The Usborne Book of the Moon” at Usborne Children’s Books

Mouse & MoleGraffeg 
By Joyce Dunbar

Back on Earth, Joyce Dunbar’s beloved duo Mouse & Mole, richly illustrated by James Mayhew, have recently reappeared, reissued by Graffeg. This cosy pair enjoy the gentlest of Kenneth Grahame-style adventures, making plans for picnics, overindulging in roast chestnuts and toasted muffins, and trying and failing to get rid of excessive clutter; the perfect antidote to real-world worry.

Cover: Mouse & Mole by Joyce Dunbar & James Mayhew, Graffeg

The Suitcase Nosy Crow 
by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

Meanwhile, in The Suitcase (Nosy Crow) by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros, a strange animal appears, dragging a suitcase he says contains a teacup, a table and the cabin where he used to make tea. When he falls asleep, exhausted by his journey, the other animals break open the case – only to discover a broken teacup and an old photograph. As the stranger wakes to find the others have built him a new cabin, a sense of new joy and hope arises; the story has a feel of Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, but for a preschool audience.

The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros. Photograph: Nosy Crow

The Dragon in the Library Nosy Crow
By Louie Stowell

For seven-plus readers with a yen for more modern-feeling escapism, Louie Stowell’s The Dragon in the Library (Nosy Crow) stars the book-fearing Kit, dragged to the library by her friends only to discover that she is a wizard, with a vital role to play in protecting the great dragon who sleeps within. Cracking pace, comic one-liners and a gleefully evil villain, brought to life by Davide Ortu’s illustrations, add up to a debut with broad appeal.

Cover: The Secret Dragon by Ed Clarke (Puffin)

The Good Thieves – Bloomsbury
By Katherine Rundell

Finally, from the superb Katherine Rundell comes The Good Thieves (Bloomsbury), a heist story set in 1920s New York.
This is as compelling as an Enid Blyton circus caper – if Blyton had written with inclusive compassion and the sort of limpid, elegant prose it’s a pleasure to sink into.
Indomitable Vita Marlowe, whom polio has left with a weakened leg, is determined to break into the home her grandfather lost to swindlers and steal back his treasure. But the heist will need the help of circus boys Arkady and Sam, with their acrobatic skill and gift for charming animals, not to mention Silk, the pickpocket – and Vita’s own redoubtable marksmanship. Purring mafiosi, breathtaking feats of nerve and a crackling sense of atmosphere throughout make this book a single-sitting treat, showcasing Rundell at the peak of her powers.

Cover: The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell (Bloomsbury)

Owen and the Soldier – Barrington Stoke
by Lisa Thompson

Back in the present day, Lisa Thompson’s Owen and the Soldier (Barrington Stoke) is brief, super-readable, and poignant. Owen’s dad isn’t around any more, and his mum is increasingly struggling to cope; he shares his feelings only with the crumbling stone soldier in the memorial garden, until the council announces plans to redevelop. Can Owen save the soldier? This slim, focused story packs considerable punch.

Cover: Owen And The Soldier by Lisa Thompson (Barrington Stoke)

Teenagers roundup:

Catching Teller Crow Penguin
by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina

In this Australian prizewinner focusing on two Indigenous teenagers, 15-year-old Beth Teller has died in a car crash, but her spirit remains visible to her grief-stricken police detective father. When Dad is called to investigate a murder, Beth meets Isobel Catching, a young witness, who can see her too. Catching’s strange story reveals the painful, long-buried secrets at the heart of the case, and shows Beth that she can’t stay stranded in the living world for ever trying to tend her father’s broken heart. Combining taut, intricate thriller with ancient Indigenous tales and the darker side of Australian history, this is a deeply poignant and original novel.

Cover: Catching Teller Crow by Kwaymullina, Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina. Image: Penguin Random House SA

Perfectly Preventable DeathsHot Key
by Deirdre Sullivan

When twin sisters Madeline and Catlin move to their new stepfather’s castle in the fictional Irish hamlet of Ballyfrann, the remoteness appeals to them at first. Everyone is apparently related, their stepfather’s cousin seems to be a witch and, of course, there are the stories of the girls who have gone missing there, year after year. Madeline and Catlin think they will be safe, though; they look out for each other. Salty hilarity and an assured evocation of siblings’ prickly closeness give way to unnerving folk-horror menace and gore in Sullivan’s latest lush, weird and lyrical book.

Cover: Perfectly Preventable Deaths image from Book Depository

‘I Will Not Be Erased’ – Our Stories About Growing Up As People of Colour Walker Books
By gal-dem

From gal-dem, an award-winning magazine created by women and non-binary people of colour, come essays and stories in which contributors write to their teenage selves as kindly, validating mentors. From Niellah Arboine’s “‘You Speak Well for a Black Girl’: Black Is Who You Are” to Sara Jafari’s emphasis on choice and autonomy when dating as a British Muslim, the pieces are warm, personal and sometimes traumatic. The authors assert their right to their own history, feelings and experience, and their refusal to be ignored.

“I Will Not Be Erased”: Our stories about growing up as people of colour. By gal-dem

Read more book news here with the Guardian UK.