Updated: Jan 3, 2019
The first few months of 2019 promise a host of delightfully imaginative new fiction for children.
Here I review seven upcoming children's stories publishing in the Spring term to watch out for.
1. A Pinch of Magic
Spellbinding from start to finish, this is an enchanting tale of sisterhood, dark magic and a thrilling meeting of past and present worlds.
The story follows the three Widdershins sisters - Betty, Fliss and Charlie - who live with their overprotective grandmother on the isle of Crowstone. Their island is surrounded by unpredictable marshes and is set in the shadow of an inescapable prison tower. As if that’s not enough to make the girls feel caged in, they discover an ancient family curse meaning that any Widdershins girl who dares to leave Crowstone will die by the following sunset.
Middle sister Betty is a feisty protagonist who has always longed for adventure. Not the type to allow anything (be it grandmother’s strict rules or a seemingly unbreakable ancient curse) get in her way of exploring the wider world, Betty uses her steely determination and strength of mind to try to figure out a way to break the hold of the dark magic that grips her family history. Along the way, the sisters encounter magical objects, mysterious prisoners and perilous boat rides as they embark upon a spellbinding adventure that will change their lives forever.
I loved the strong female characters, the convincing magical realism and the thrilling sense of danger that kept me hooked until the end of the story. With some dark themes and hints of romance, this is most suitable for upper primary and lower secondary year groups. If you are looking for an original story that is bound to enchant and thrill its readers, this is the one for you.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's
Publication date: 7th February 2019
2. Our Castle By the Sea
Schools are spoilt for choice when it comes to stories set in World War 2, but this new book by Lucy Strange absolutely deserves its place as a worthy addition to the list.
Set in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II, the story follows 12-year-old Pet (short for Petra Zimmerman Smith - a name that feels like it’s too big to fit into). Pet lives in a lighthouse on the south coast of England and grew up hearing stories of ancient sea monsters, legends of ’Daughters of Stone’ and whisperings of secret tunnels.
Now, as the war breaks out, childhood stories give way to terrifying real life battles as German war machines lurk in the skies above and the sea below. Fear is in the air and it is not long before the people of the nearby village turn on Pet’s mother, who is German. What’s more, Pet’s older sister is acting suspiciously and Pet discovers a set of mysterious documents and photographs hidden away in the lighthouse.
As the war progresses, everyone is affected in different ways and Pet’s old lifestyle seems to slip away. In the background to it all though, Pet has never forgotten the ancient legends about the Daughters of Stone and feels certain that she is somehow a part of the ancient story.
Bringing together an evocative wartime setting, relatable themes and a sprinkling of ancient legend, this is a riveting read that I’m certain will delight teachers and children alike in KS2 classrooms.
Publisher: Chicken House
Publication date: 3rd January 2019
3. The Boy Who Flew
Quirky, chilling and atmospheric, ‘The Boy Who Flew’ is a brand new offering from Fleur Hitchcock, author of the popular Murder in Midwinter. This is a gem of a story - with its roller-coaster adventure plot that will have readers gripped from start to finish and wide-eyed with curiosity to the very last page.
Athan Wilde befriends an inventor called Mr Chen, who shares with Athan his madcap ideas for flying machines. Athan has always dreamed of being able to fly and now, with a competition to build the first flying machine on the horizon, flight seems to be on everybody’s mind. As a result, there are people lurking around who will stop at nothing to get their hands on the competition prize.
But when Mr Chen is unexpectedly murdered, it falls to Athan to rescue the flying machine blueprints before they fall into the wrong hands. What follows is a fast-unfolding mystery with exciting and unexpected twists, played out with a curious cast of characters (including a very dark villain) and an enjoyably pacey narrative.
This is highly recommendable to KS2 readers who enjoy stories with plenty of intrigue, thrilling plot lines and cleverly imagined worlds.
Publisher: Nosy Crow
Publication date: 7th March 2019
4. The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods
Samuel J. Halpin
I always love a story with a twisted fairy tale element and Samuel J Halpin’s The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods, with its intricately imaged magical realism, is 100% my kind of book. Atmospheric and wholly imaginative, Halpin’s superb storytelling had me charmed from start to finish.
When Poppy visits her grandmother in the town of Suds, she quickly realises that something peculiar is going on - from stories of disappearing children, to old wives’ tales about never dusting the window sills, to the dark and spooky Riddling Woods on the edge of the town.
Together with her new friend Erasmus, Poppy sets about to get to the heart to the town’s secrets. Along the way, the pair (whose friendship is charming and brings a real warmth to the story) have to navigate gritty real-life issues such as Grandmother's poor health, Poppy’s own grief at the death of her mother and an unpleasant experience of school bullying. On top of everything else, Poppy can't seem to shake from her mind the old local legends about the witch-like Peculiar Peggs that reside in an old mill near the town, preying on unsuspecting children.
Brilliantly told, this is an enjoyable story with the perfect balance of darkness and light to make it thrilling without being too scary for children in KS2. In a setting where nothing is at it seems, readers will relish the intrigue and find themselves deeply immersed in this world of dark magic and mystery.
Publication date: 10th January 2019
5. Storm Hound
Storm Hound is a hugely entertaining and highly original fantasy adventure from Claire Fayers, author of Mirror Magic and The Accidental Pirates.
Everybody knows that dogs are man’s best friend, except for Storm Hound, the youngest hound in Odin’s sky hunt. Storm believes himself to be fierce, mighty and far above the ways of the domestic dogs living down on Earth. So when he accidentally falls from the skies during his first official hunt and lands on the A40 just outside Abergavenny, Storm is surprised to find that nobody on Earth seems to take seriously his important role of Storm of the Wild Hunt.
Worse still, people seem to treat Storm as if he is some kind of adorable domestic puppy. Twelve-year-old Jessica adopts Storm from a rescue centre and a tender relationship develops between the pair. Jessica, who is facing a life upheaval as she moves from London to a new home and school in Wales, relishes the comfort and companionship that Storm brings her and, as time goes by, Storm begins to feel loyal and protective towards Jessica too (although he is categorically NOT her pet - he is Storm of Odin from the Wild Hunt).
Some humans are aware of Storm’s legendary powers though, and suddenly a number of adults become unusually interested in Jessica and her new pet. What follows is a fast-paced and very witty adventure that leaves Storm with a life-changing decision to make.
Storm Hound is a genuinely funny narrative that is also poignant in parts and I know so many young readers who will thoroughly enjoy everything about this story.
Publisher: Macmillan Children's
Publication date: 21st February 2019
6. The Girl with the Shark's Teeth
Young fans of stories set in fantasy worlds are in for a treat with The Girl with the Shark’s Teeth, a middle grade debut from former CBeebies presenter Cerrie Burnell. The cover alone (illustrated by Sandra Dieckmann) is enough to make you want to dive right in, but if you are anything like me you’ll be hooked from the first paragraph of this magical adventure that leaps straight into action.
Minnow knows that she is different from most of the other children in town. She lives on a boat called The Seafarer and has always found herself drawn to the water, as if she belongs deep below the surface. Her body is intuitive and dextrous when it comes to swimming, almost as if it is better adapted to moving through the water than running on land, where she often feels lost.
One evening, three strangers appear near Minnow’s boat and kidnap her mum, Mercy. With her mum in trouble, Minnow sets sail alone to find her grandmother in Reykjavik. Not content until she has uncovered the truth about her family history and found a way to rescue her mother, Minnow demonstrates courage and determination as she embarks upon a journey that will lead her to discover the magical underwater world of the Wild Deep.
Minnow is a strong-minded and courageous protagonist who is not afraid to follow her heart. A major theme in the book is identity, as Minnow works through questions about what her dual heritage means in a way that will feel relatable to a lot of young readers.
In The Girl with The Shark’s Teeth, Cerrie Burnell has created an exciting and richly-imagined fantasy world that is sure to hold a high appeal to readers in Upper KS2.
Publisher: OUP Children's
Publication date: 3rd January 2019
7. The Dog Who Saved the World
Fans of Ross Welford’s other children’s books have no doubt come to expect from his stories a good dose of time travel, technology-gone-wrong or an otherwise thrilling sci-fi twist, and his new book The Dog Who Saved the World follows suit perfectly.
Georgie Santos loves dogs more than anything in the world. When Dad’s new girlfriend Jessica moves in, Georgie’s beloved dog Mr Mash is forced to move out because of Jessica’s pet allergies. Unimpressed, Georgie volunteers to help out at the dog shelter where Mr Mash is rehoused, but is soon no longer allowed to see him after a deadly and highly contagious disease threatens the life of every dog in the country and to her horror, Mr Mash himself becomes sick.
The only thing distracting Georgie from the pain of not being able to see Mr Mash is her new friendship with Dr Pretorius, an eccentric old scientist who is developing a curious virtual reality project inside a domed room. Georgie knows that trusting Dr Pretorius is a huge risk (in fact I hope that all young readers would know better than to befriend a strange adult in the way that Georgie does), but she is intrigued by the impressive technology and allows herself to become a test subject. As time goes on and the deadly disease becomes even more serious, Georgie begins to wonder whether Dr Pretorius might hold the key to changing the future and, together with her beloved Mr Mash, embarks on a hair-raising adventure to save the world.
Well-pitched for the crossover between Upper KS2 and Lower KS3, The Dog Who Saved The World is an intelligent and absorbing story that raises thought-provoking questions about responsible use of new or under-tested technologies. As well as the thrilling sci-fi concept and impending sense of global disaster, there is also humour and a great deal of tenderness, especially in Georgie's relationships with her family and friends.
A highly-recommended story for readers who love to expect the unexpected.
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication date: 10th January 2018
Thank you to the publishers for kindly sending me advanced copies of these books.