Children's books roundup – the best new picture books and novels

·5 min read

Sly humour abounds in picture books this month. Morag Hood deploys her characteristic surreal comedy via bold primary-coloured images in Spaghetti Hunters (Two Hoots), in which Duck, hindered by the enthusiastic Tiny Horse, embarks on a search for the trickiest of all pastas (“You can’t just MAKE spaghetti”). Joyously silly, it’s enormous fun both for reader and listener.

Also from Two Hoots, author Ben Manley teams up with illustrator Aurélie Guillerey in the adorable Albert Talbot Master of Disguise. The day may be full of challenges, but Albert’s alter ego Zandrian Delaclair is not afraid of swimming lessons, and Professor Octavius Pickleswick is undaunted by Show and Tell – though it may be Albert, rather than Xarlon Quarkstar, who eventually falls asleep with a goodnight kiss. Each splendidly grandiose secret identity is brought to life by entrancing colourful illustrations.

For budding linguists, Oi Frog! illustrator Jim Field’s authorial debut, Monsieur Roscoe on Holiday (Hodder), features a lexicon of delightful, sometimes unexpected words – not just la mer and des frites, but un nounours, une ombre and un camion poubelle. With a Richard Scarryesque feel to the lively pages, it’s the ideal way to go on holiday in a picture book.

For five-plus readers, a feline star is born in the first of Clara Vulliamy’s deliciously fluffy new series, Marshmallow Pie the Cat Superstar (HarperCollins). Capricious and exacting, Marshmallow Pie doesn’t distinguish himself when his young owner takes him to an audition; but, given a second chance, his genius shines through … A lovely mixture of appealing, tail-twitching illustrations and impeccable comic timing.

There’s more highly illustrated fun in Sophy Henn’s Pizazz (Simon & Schuster), kicking off another new series with an unwilling young superhero at its heart. Being part of a family of “supers” isn’t much fun when your parents delegate everything from saving the world to emptying the dishwasher, and you’re the reluctant wielder of the world’s most embarrassing power. Blocky comic-style panels, a fire-farting granddad and a conservationist message make for accessible, quirky reading.

From Bloomsbury Education, My Other Life is a compelling, resonant little story of portals and parallel lives by Polly Ho-Yen, illustrated by Patricia Hu. Mae is sometimes tired of dealing with her asthma, but when she gets sucked into an alternate world, she realises how rich her own life actually is – if she can ever return to it.

For eight years and over, Death Sets Sail (Puffin) is the last in Robin Stevens’s beloved, bestselling Murder Most Unladylike series. Seasoned schoolgirl detectives Hazel and Daisy are in Egypt on a Nile cruise when the leader of a bizarre cult is murdered; they are on the case at once, but only one of the Detective Society’s founders will be coming home … A triumphant conclusion to a satisfying, wide-ranging series that deserves to be read for years to come.

From Pushkin’s new True Adventures series, meanwhile, comes the brief but brilliant Queen of Freedom by the superlative Catherine Johnson, illustrated by Amerigo Pinelli – a gripping, atmospheric and moving account of Queen Nanny, the woman who led the formerly enslaved Jamaican Maroons in their fight against slavers and soldiers. Johnson’s gift for bringing the nuances, fears and flavours of history to life is very much to the fore.

And for readers aged 10 and up, Patrick Neate’s Small Town Hero (Andersen), following 13-year-old Gabriel as he grieves for his dad and investigates his family’s impossible secrets, is a brain-melting exploration of gaming, multiverse theories and the nature of life, death and the human instinct to tell stories. It is gripping – and features some thrilling football writing to boot.

Teenagers roundup

Boy Queen
by George Lester, Macmillan, £7.99
At almost 18, Robin’s next steps are all planned out – until he fails to get into drama school and is stranded without a back-up option. Then a birthday visit to a drag night opens up a fascinating world of performance, one that new boy Seth might help him explore. Can Robin balance the obligations of friendship, an overprotective mum, a closeted boyfriend and a budding romance – and discover his drag identity in time to perform? A hilarious, exhilarating, touching debut novel, filled with failure, self-discovery, resilience and glitter.

by Jordan Ifueko, Hot Key, £7.99
Raised in isolation by tutors who fear her, Tarisai has lived all her life in the same house, until she is sent away by her mysterious mother to become an anointed member of the Crown Prince’s Council, and then assassinate him. Somehow, Tarisai must find a way to circumvent the command, and to fulfil her own extraordinary destiny. This intensely readable, satisfying fantasy asks questions about identity, choice, power and obligation, against a vivid, richly imagined backdrop of west African-inspired magic.

Eight Pieces of Silva
by Patrice Lawrence, Hodder, £7.99
Becks and Silva have nothing in common but their parents and a love of K-pop. When Becks’s mum and Silva’s dad go on their long-awaited honeymoon, it’s not long before Becks’s new sister disappears. Investigating Silva’s room, Becks finds a trail that seems to suggest a secret romance. Can she solve the mystery of Silva’s disappearance while dealing with her own prodigal father – and the possibility that the girl she fancies feels the same way? This compelling thriller from an award-winning writer is distinguished by brilliant, nuanced characterisation.

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