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Children’s and teens roundup – the best new chapter books

Children’s and teens roundup – the best new chapter books

The inimitable Lauren Child revived her longest-serving character, Clarice Bean (7m sales, 25 years in print) in 2021. Smile (HarperCollins), her latest title, takes on big themes – ecosystem collapse, at home and beyond – in Child’s matter-of-fact, meandering way. She is one of those gifted authors whose plots bimble along innocuously, with the ever-sparky Clarice internal monologuing about this and that.

All the while, Child unobtrusively builds Clarice’s worry over an ill parent, and her realisation about the role of plankton (small) in sustaining blue whales (huge) for a science project that goes very wrong, but also very right. Libraries groan with publications unfairly tasking the most blameless in society with doing the work of averting climate catastrophe – “things YOU can do”, etc – but Child captures the right worry-to-comfort ratio as disasters are turned around and unexpectedly lovely things happen too.

Elle McNicoll burst on to the scene in 2020 with A Kind of Spark, which found Addie, 11, campaigning to exonerate the victims of Scotland’s witch trials. How many neurodivergent women were among them? In Keedie (Knights Of), McNicoll returns to Addie’s family a few years earlier, focusing on her protective older sister, whose autism comes with fashion sense and an aptitude for righting wrongs.

Keedie takes down school bullies (verbally). Soon, she is charging others for her services; eventually she takes things too far. It’s another gripping, original read from McNicoll, who always has a moving plot ace up her sleeve.

In The Wrong Shoes – written and illustrated by Tom Percival (Simon & Schuster) – artistic Will is at the sharp end of a costof living crisis. His injured dad is out of work; there’s no money for shoes. Naturally, jerks like Will’s nemesis Chris home in on sub-par footwear.

‘Another gripping, original read’: Elle McNicollView image in fullscreen

But when Will’s dad turns to the loan shark, a furious Will ends up in league with Chris and out of his depth in this all-too-real tale of stolen footwear – and surprising turnarounds. Nearly three in 10 children in the UK live in poverty, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. This is a book for right now.

Escapism, of course, is a tried-and-tested method that can momentarily alleviate adversity. The subject of publisher auctions, The Whisperwicks: The Labyrinth of Lost and Found by Jordan Lees (Puffin) builds its parallel worlds convincingly. Benjamiah Creek is 11, and an arch-rationalist. But a weird doll – a daemon-like poppet – soon leads him into a shadow realm. There, Benjamiah becomes enmeshed in a quest to find a missing boy, dodging the Hanged Men police force and solving riddles that will take him to the heart of Wreathenwold’s labyrinth.

Piu DasGupta’s debut, Secrets of the Snakestone (Nosy Crow), by contrast, doesn’t need much hocus-pocus to be spellbinding – just vivid storytelling and an excellent cover illustration by Helen Crawford-White. In Paris in 1895, Zélie is a mystified maidservant. Her father sent her over from Kolkata for reasons unexplained; now he has gone missing.

Making friends with Jules, who knows the sewer network, Zélie turns sleuth. Of course, there is a circus in town; naturally, a stolen, powerful object – the Snakestone – figures. Is there a secret society at work in the maze-like underworld? There is! All of this is made fresh by DasGupta’s brio and her subtle postcolonial side-eye, one that also celebrates the work of female scientists, so often unsung.

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Translated from Dutch by Laura Watkinson, Yorick Goldewijk’s Movies Showing Nowhere (Pushkin) won awards in the Netherlands. Strikingly original, it finds wry, motherless tween Cate being invited to a disused cinema to learn the ropes from the mysterious Mrs Kano. But (spoiler!) these screenings are something else altogether: vignettes from people’s own pasts that viewers can step into.

So many kid-lit tropes are present in this sensational book (grief-stricken father, semi-wicked sort-of stepmother, time travel) but Goldewijk’s magic-cineaste fable makes everything new again, even the video game Mortal Kombat. The final, emotional twist is like a kick in the solar plexus from a pixelated goon – but in a good way.

Source: theguardian.com