My Family and Other Animals
By Gerald Durrell, published by Puffin, RRP £7.99
What’s the story: This is the true story of the childhood of Gerald Durrell, naturalist, zookeeper and celebrated conservationist. He grew up in Corfu with his family and discovered the beautiful landscape and the local wildlife, adopting a few of them along the way.
Why we love it: This book is absolutely, brilliant and immensely funny. The wit and unique characterizations are woven with great descriptions of the animals. Durrell’s depiction of a larger-than-life expatriate family on a larger-than-life Greek island is a tremendous celebration of human, animal and plant life. Achilles the tortoise and Dodo the dog are among the many animals that stay in the Durrell household.
First published: 1956
By Anne Fine, published by Puffin, RRP £6.99
What’s the story: When the annual school science fair comes round, Mr Cartwright’s class don’t get to work on the Soap Factory, the Maggot Farm or the Exploding Custard Tins. To their intense disgust they get the Flour Babies – sweet little six-pound bags of flour that must be cared for at all times.
Why we love it: Flour Babies can easily be read as a book about a class of boys who have to look after little bags of flour for three weeks as if they were babies. The story goes much deeper than that dealing with issues of growing up and the responsibility of parenthood in its presence and absence.
First published: 1992
By Morris Gleitzman, published by Puffin, RRP £6.99
What’s the story: For three years and eight months Felix has lived in a convent orphanage high in the mountains in Poland. He’s convinced his parents are still alive, and he embarks on a long and dangerous journey through Nazi occupied Poland, befriending a little orphan girl called Zelda and a kindly dentist, Barney, who hides and cares for Jewish children.
Why we love it: Written in very simple language from the viewpoint of a young Jewish boy helps the young reader relate to the character where they understand his hopes and fears. This story will leave you thoughtful for days. Exciting, thought-provoking, often harrowing, but also uplifting, it’s a great book to discuss with your children after you’ve both read it.
First published: 2005
The Story of Tracy Beaker
By Jacqueline Wilson, illustrated by Nick Sharratt, published by Corgi, RRP £5.99
What’s the story: 10 year old Tracy Beaker is an irrepressible, imaginative child (although the grown ups in the care home where she lives label her as a girl with behavioural problems). Tracy writes the story of her life while waiting for her busy ‘movie star’ mum to come and pick her up. For now, Tracy will document her life of abuse and deprivation (she’s not aloud Smarties or Mars Bars), attempt to avoid being put in the quiet room, and battle with her arch enemy Justine Littlewood.
Why we love it: Wilson is wonderful by writing about the kind of children which are all too unrepresented in young fiction. Direct without being patronising, there are many books by Wilson that both boys and girls will want to read.
First published: 1991
Stig of the Dump
By Clive King, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone, published by Puffin, RRP £6.99
What’s the story: No one believes Barney, who’s a bit of a loner anyway, when he falls down the chalk pit and meets Stig, a rather strange boy, that dresses in rabbit skins, grunts instead of talks and has shaggy black hair – something of a throwback from the Stone Age. As Barney and Stig’s unusual friendship grows so do their adventures. This was the first book to be published by Puffin – a great choice as it’s stood the test of time and is still in print today.
Why we love it: It has everything, humour, wonderful descriptions from a child’s point of view, a cracking concept and a great storyline.
First published: 1963