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Books About Children Overcoming Challenges

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5 funny books with kids who overcome huge personal 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.

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.’

Christine Hamill
Chapter book

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.

Sam Copeland
 & Sarah Horne
Chapter book
Charlie McGuffin has an incredible secret . . . He can change into animals. All sorts of animals: a flea, a pigeon, even a rhino. Trouble is, he can’t decide when – it only happens when he gets worried. And right now, Charlie has quite a lot to worry about: * His brother (who is in hospital) * His parents (who are panicking about it) * And the school bully (who has Charlie in his sights) And even though every kid wants a superhero power, Charlie isn’t keen on changing into a chicken in the middle of the school play. So with the help of his three best friends, Charlie needs to find a way of dealing with his crazy new power – and fast!
Frank Cottrell Boyce
 & Steven Lenton
Chapter book

Millions is the humorous tale of a not-so-great train robbery. Damian and Anthony are brothers who unwittingly find themselves in possession of a large amount of money after being caught up in a train robbery. The pair have big decisions to make, needing to reconcile their wildly different ideas about what to do with the cash. You may also like Framed by the same author.

Sam Copeland
 & Sarah Horne
Chapter book

A laugh-out-loud rumpus woven through a touching story of family and friendship, from the duo behind the popular Charlie Changes into a Chicken series.

If you’ve ever heard a young child asking Siri their questions or scrolled through your family’s Alexa history (from Are you alive? to What’s the best way to get rid of earwax?), you’ll quickly understand the premise for the humour in this story.

This book tells the story of Uma, whose father has barely spoken a word since her mother passed away. Uma’s only real company is next-door neighbour Alan Alan Carrington. One day, after an unlikely alpaca-related incident, Uma comes across a strange earpiece that seems to be able to give the answer to absolutely everything. Or at least, almost everything. What follows is a laugh-out-loud adventure that sees Uma digging deep into her soul to search for answers to questions about her life that she has barely dared to ask before.

Sam Copeland’s writing is characteristically brimming with humour – from bonkers situations and slapstick to puns and witty asides in the footnotes. We loved the characters – particularly the dynamics between Uma and Alan Alan, who are a super duo, and the villainess Stella Daw who is a Cruella De Vil for modern times. The story is also deeply poignant in parts as it explores the themes of family, grief and community. The plot culminates in a riddle to solve deep within a village crypt, and Uma’s intrepid venturing in the underground tunnels beautifully mirrors her own soul-searching as she explores her emotions about her family situation.

This is an absolute winner of a story that has all the right ingredients to be an instant hit with readers in Key Stage 2.

Jenny Pearson & Erica Salcedo-Saiz
Chapter book

After the success of The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates last year, primary-teacher-turned-author Jenny Pearson is back with a new and hilarious tale of ordinary children on extra-ordinary adventures. Life isn’t easy for Lucy. Her mum has depression and is difficult to care for, often being unwell for long periods that leave Lucy needing the help of a family friend. Lucy is great at fixing broken objects, but wishes more than anything that she knew how to fix her mum. It becomes clear that mum might need some time to stay at a place that can help her, and Lucy goes to stay with Aunty Sheila for a while.

Aunty Sheila loves car boot sales and is larger than life, always treating Lucy with kindness and a sense of fun, but life there is not the same as being with mum. With the help of friendly neighbour Sandesh, Lucy comes up with a way to make things right again. It’s an ambitious plan that involves meeting an 80s pop icon who was once acquainted with Mum, appearing on a TV show and smashing a world record – but as far as Lucy is concerned, no aim is too high when it comes to making her mum happy again. What follows is a humorous romp as Lucy and Sandesh search for a world record to smash with a range of hilarious consequences.

The humour is perfect for Key Stage 2 and the story also explores the subject of parental mental health issues in an age-appropriate way. This is a smasher of a story; the author knows her audience extremely well and pitches both the comic and more serious elements at just the right level. The relationships that Lucy forms with Aunty Sheila and Sandesh are lovely, and demonstrate how – while nothing can replace the closeness that Lucy craves with her mum – the warmth and loyalty of others can make the world of difference during hard times. This strand of the plot may serve as a valuable encouragement to children affected by similar issues that reaching out for or accepting support from others is sometimes the very best course of action.

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