Booklist: Children's books about overcoming challenges

Children's books overcoming challenges

The Incredible Record Smashers is the second hilarious and heart-warming adventure from Jenny Pearson, author and primary school teacher. Her debut The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates was a Waterstones Children's Book of the Month, was shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award and is a 2021 Read for Empathy title. 

Here Jenny chooses 5 funny books with kids who overcome huge personal challenges.

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Jenny says, 'I’ve been a teacher for almost sixteen years and in that time I have seen many children who have had to go through some terribly hard times. These kids, who I have been privileged to teach, have inspired and continue to inspire the characters I write. The five funny books I have chosen are ones I truly love, for so many reasons, but mainly for how the authors show, with such authenticity, how incredible kids can be.'

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The Best Medicine
Christine Hamill

I love Christine Hamill’s writing. Her book B is for Breast Cancer is a non-fiction work for adults based on her own experiences. The Best Medicine is a middle grade fiction book about twelve-year-old Philip who writes hilarious letters to his hero, Harry Hill, looking for advice to help him achieve his goal of becoming a comedian. But Philip’s life is interrupted when his mum gets breast cancer. What follows is a story which is heart-warming, uplifting, moving and also very funny. 

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Charlie Changes into a Chicken 
Sam Copeland & Sarah Horne

This is a firm favourite in my class, and as a teacher, I have had so many parents tell me how this is the series that got their child into reading. It is incredibly funny – from the narrator teasing his readers and arguing with the publishers and his illustrator, to the footnotes and the hilarious plot – this series guarantees laughs, and lots of them. But alongside the laughter, Copeland deftly touches on childhood anxieties including illness, loss of a parent’s job and divorce. 

Frank Cottrell-Boyce & Steven Lenton

Frank Cottrell-Boyce is an absolute genius. I love all his books. All of them. But Millions is the first book of his I read and it has a special place in my heart. I adore the main character Damian who has a unique way of looking at the world that is both endearing and amusing. He and his brother get their hands on a bag of cash and set about spending it. But alongside the fun, is a story about two boys and their father grieving for the loss of their mum and wife. I laughed, I cried, and I became a lifelong fan of Frank. 

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 Who Let the Gods Out?
Maz Evans 

While Maz Evan’s writing leaps off the page and tickles you under the armpits, she also manages to expertly deal with some deep themes in this four book series. Elliot is struggling at school due to his secret life caring for his mother who is suffering from dementia. His world is turned upside down when he is paid an unexpected visit by the goddess Virgo, who shows up in spectacular style in a cowshed. I’ve read the first book to my classes and it always goes down well and so many of them go on to read the following books.

Uma and the Answer to Absolutely Everyth
Uma and the Answer to Absolutely Everything b
 Sam Copeland & Sarah Horne

I know I’ve put him in twice, but this is such a brilliantly written story about a girl who is grieving for her mother and living with a father who is struggling emotionally and has not spoken since his wife’s death. These are undoubtedly heavy themes and I don’t know how Sam Copeland manages to balance this alongside such a pacey plot, hilarious action and drunken alpacas. But he does – quite perfectly. 

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The Incredible Record Smashers
Jenny Pearson & Erica Salcedo

Jenny's own book, The Incredible Record Smashers, publishes on 29 April and it’s already gathering rave reviews, including one from legend Frank Cottrell-Boyce who calls it ‘funny and tender’ !


​ Lucy is a fixer of broken things. But there's one thing she can't fix and that's her unhappy mum. Until she comes up with an INCREDIBLE plan. Along with her best friend, Sandesh, Lucy is going to SMASH a world record. Because she's convinced that starry Paul Castellini – Record Smashers TV host and all-time crooner – is the answer to her mum's problems. But breaking a world RECORD when watermelons, kumquats, two baddies and a 30cm shatter-resistant school ruler are involved isn't quite as easy as Lucy thought. Can she learn that sometimes happiness doesn't come with a plan?

Read our full review over on our blog.

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