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
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
By J.K. Rowling, published by Bloomsbury, RRP £6.99
What’s the story: Say you’ve spent the first 10 years of your life sleeping under the stairs of a family who loathes you. Then, in an absurd, magical twist of fate you find yourself surrounded by wizards, only to discover you’re a wizard yourself! This is exactly what happens to young Harry Potter. Enrolled at Hogwarts, the most prestigious wizarding school in the world, Harry soon finds out that he has a legacy that he didn’t even know about.
Why we love it: JK Rowling has a special writing talent, where you actually feel like you have been to places like Privet Drive, Platform nine & three quarters and the great Hogwarts itself. Memorable characters, that you’ll either love and loathe, and a perilous adventure and Bertie Botts jelly beans in every flavour imaginable (including ear wax and sick) make this an addictive series to read. Join the hype, forget about the real world and enjoy!
First published: 1997
A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning
By Lemony Snicket, published by Egmont, RRP £5.99
What’s the story: In this unhappy tale (as we are so intensely warned by the narrator), the three intelligent Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus and baby Sunny become orphans after their parents are killed in a fire. They end up living with their conniving cousin, Count Olaf, in his house that has a weird feeling about it. They quickly realize that the Count’s only interest is in the money they have and in nothing else, and the trio must work together and use their cleverness to get out of their dreadful situation.
Why we love it: For those who are sick and tired of the cheery world of children’s literature, here comes the very opposite. Lemony Snicket makes no pretensions where his books are concerned. Each one of these magically morbid tales, of which this is the first, features deaths aplenty and more than a few situations which would have less realistic children’s authors of yesteryear spinning in their grave.
First published: 1999
By Michael Morpurgo, published by Egmont, RRP £8.99
What’s the story: Morpurgo’s moving story plunges into the horror of the First World War by following the story of Joey, a cavalry officer’s horse on the Western front. Raised by Albert on a Devon farm, Joey is soon sold to the cavalry and shipped to France. Joey embarks on an odyssey, serving on both sides before finding himself alone in No Man’s Land. Albert can’t forget Joey and, still too young to enlist in the Army, he embarks on a dangerous mission to find the horse and bring him home.
Why we love it: The story is tightly written, the narrative excellent, and the things that happen will live with you long after the book is finished. A climatic scene between enemies is the highlight of the book and should make children (and adults) realise the futility of war. Get the tissues out…this is a wonderful, thought provoking story-with a happy ending of sorts.
First published: 1982
George’s Secret Key to the Universe
By Lucy Hawking and Stephen Hawking, illustrated by Garry Parsons, published by Corgi, RRP £6.99
What’s the story: The great scientist and his daughter have written a phenomenal book about a small boy called George who finds his way to slip into a computer generated portal and travels around the solar system. The book goes much further than the familiar tour of the Solar System and even mentions the latest developments in our understanding of black holes.
Why we love it: Filled with fascinating fact files and drawings of discovery this is a book that will intrigue your budding scientist. Illustrations are scattered liberally throughout the text, in the form of both amusing pen-and-ink sketches and breathtaking photographs of astronomical phenomena.
First published: 2007
A Really Short History of Nearly Everything
By Bill Bryson, Corgi, RRP £9.99
What’s the story: Bill’s story-telling skill makes the ‘how’ and ‘who’ of scientific discovery making it entertaining and accessible for all ages. He covers the wonder and mysteries of time and space, the frequently bizarre and often obsessive scientists and the methods they used, the crackpot theories which held sway for far too long, the extraordinary accidental discoveries, and the mind-boggling fact that, somehow, the universe exists and, against all odds, life came to be on this wondrous planet we call home.
Why we love it: Questions that young readers have been asking for years, are presented to them in easy to understand language. Add to this, quirky facts, and comprehensive breakdowns on each subject covered and it’s a great book for young readers. If your kid has a question, plonk this book in front of them.
First published: 2008