Big names abound this September for five- to eight-year-olds Ã¢Â€Â“ including Chris RiddellÃ¢Â€Â™s final Goth Girl book, Goth Girl and the Sinister Symphony (Macmillan), in which Ada, daughter of the brooding poet Lord Goth, must steer clear of unwanted stepmothers while helping ensure the smooth running of the Gothstock festival. Like its predecessors, itÃ¢Â€Â™s seeded with elegantly illustrated, punning allusions to everything from canonical literature (Jane Ear) to pop heroines (Tailor Extremely Swift). Handsomely turned out as ever, this silver-foiled hardback feels instantly welcoming and accessible Ã¢Â€Â“ the jokes here are always for RiddellÃ¢Â€Â™s young readers, never on them.
Meanwhile, Michael Morpurgo revisits The Wizard of Oz from an intriguing new perspective; charmingly illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark, Toto (HarperCollins) features DorothyÃ¢Â€Â™s canine pal telling his pups the story of his post-cyclone adventures. With an appealing folksy swagger and a diverting catchphrase (Ã¢Â€ÂœYouÃ¢Â€Â™re too doggone rightÃ¢Â€Â), TotoÃ¢Â€Â™s jaunty, down-to-earth rendition, full of understated emotion and humour, conjures an Oz ideal for bedtime reading.
Elsewhere, Orlando Weeks, former lead singer of the Maccabees, turns hisÂ hand to author-illustration in The Gritterman (Penguin). As he faces forced retirement, the last gritterman, salter of icy roads in winter darkness, muses on his work and its meaning in a laconic, reflective manner reminiscent of Raymond Briggs. WeeksÃ¢Â€Â™s delicate, assured drawings evoke chill-reddened skin, old, trusted machinery, deep shadows, blazing cold and solitude inÂ this superbly atmospheric story.
For eight and above, thereÃ¢Â€Â™s a fascinating Swedish fantasy from Pushkin: The MurdererÃ¢Â€Â™s Ape by Jakob Wegelius, translated by Peter Graves. Sally Jones Ã¢Â€Â“ always given her full name Ã¢Â€Â“ is a silent but multitalented gorilla; engineer, chess-player and cargo-boat companion of the Chief, a Finnish seaman and her greatest friend. But when the Chief is framed for murder, she falls in with fado singer Ana Molini and Luigi Fidardo, a repairer of musical instruments, and begins the arduous, far-flung process of clearing his name. Sally JonesÃ¢Â€Â™s dispassionate, delightfully old-fashioned diction is a perfect match for WegeliusÃ¢Â€Â™s nostalgic monochrome illustrations.
There are more fantastical animals to be found in Mira BartÃƒÂ³kÃ¢Â€Â™s The Wonderling (Walker), a dreamy Dickensian tale of a fox-like, one-eared Ã¢Â€ÂœgroundlingÃ¢Â€Â, or despised human-animal hybrid. We follow his flight from Miss CarbuncleÃ¢Â€Â™s Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures, and his narrow escape from a life of crime, saved by music and a groundling bird called Trinket. Though prone to occasional overlong descriptions, the bookÃ¢Â€Â™s imagined worlds, from hovels to mansions, are imbued with the wonder of the title; and its innocent hero, no match for the Faginesque creatures he encounters, should resonate especially with gentle, guileless readers.
For lovers of stark, intense landscapes, Gill LewisÃ¢Â€Â™s Sky Dancer (Oxford) is essential. Joe and his elder brother Ryan are mourning their gamekeeper father, who died after serving time for shooting an endangered bird of prey: a hen harrier, scourge of the young birds he reared on the grouse moor. Now the community is bitterly divided between tradition and conservation.
What with RyanÃ¢Â€Â™s fury, JoeÃ¢Â€Â™s own friendship with the land-ownerÃ¢Â€Â™s daughter, an unexpected new acquaintance and the mingled shame and pride of his fatherÃ¢Â€Â™s memory, JoeÃ¢Â€Â™s certainties have been annihilated. What will he do when he finds an orphaned hen harrier chick? Vivid, difficult and satisfying, this is magnificent storytelling.
From Bloomsbury, thereÃ¢Â€Â™s complex emotional fare for teenagers in Carnegie-winner Sarah CrossanÃ¢Â€Â™s latest verse novel Moonrise, told from the perspective of another Joe: a 17-year-old who has not seen his older brother Ed for 10 years, becasue he is on death row. Joe now has only a few visiting hours to spend with him as the calendar moves inexorably towards EdÃ¢Â€Â™s execution date. Mistrust, forgiveness and the premeditated stripping away of a future, distorting many other lives in unfathomable ways, are communicated through CrossanÃ¢Â€Â™s spare, expressive free verse, with understated, heart-breaking clarity.
Sally NichollsÃ¢Â€Â™s Things a Bright Girl Can Do (Andersen) is a captivating suffragette novel told from three perspectives: that of Evelyn, a well-bred young woman with an untapped gift for scholarship; May, the Ã¢Â€ÂœSapphistÃ¢Â€Â daughter of a broad-minded Quaker; and cross-dressing Nell, a working-class Poplar girl enraged by the realisation that her talents will never be appreciated like her brothersÃ¢Â€Â™. Each voice is distinct, resonant and authentic; and the ideas that run through the book Ã¢Â€Â“ the thrill of first love, the effect of real conflict on idealistic doctrine, the impossibility of the happy ever after Ã¢Â€Â“ add up to something uniquely special.
From suffragettes to feminist fairytales: Deirdre SullivanÃ¢Â€Â™s Tangleweed and Brine (Little Island) is a tapestry of retellings and reimaginings, some told in a beguiling second person, that foreground women Ã¢Â€Â“ their desires, powers, fearsomeness and vulnerability. SullivanÃ¢Â€Â™s prose is laced with flowing lines in pentameter; and her remade Grimm and Perrault stories are enriched by Karen VaughanÃ¢Â€Â™s sharp, intricate, Beardsleyesque illustrations.
Finally, for the smallest readers, thereÃ¢Â€Â™s less sinister illustrated magic Ã¢Â€Â“ aÂ new picture book, The Ugly Five (Alison Green), from Gruffalo giants Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. AfricaÃ¢Â€Â™s Big Five, including the lion and the leopard, are much sought after on safari. But what about the Ugly Five Ã¢Â€Â“ the warthog, wildebeest, hyena, vulture and marabou stork? DonaldsonÃ¢Â€Â™s exuberant verse and SchefflerÃ¢Â€Â™s strong, inimitable style are splendidly suited to these underrated, cheerful grotesques, and evoke the love between parents and children of every species.
ThereÃ¢Â€Â™s a lyrical collaboration from Faber in the enticing Come All You Little Persons, a John Agard poem well served by Jessica Courtney-TickleÃ¢Â€Â™s numinous illustrations. Little bird person, little wave person, little tree person; all spring forth from dappled, blazing or sparkling environments to join hands in a joyful, tender dance, celebrating people, places and the glory of existence.
Rather more down-to-earth is OiÂ Cat! by Kes Gray and Jim Field (Hodder), the third in the series that began with Oi Frog! The previous instalmentÃ¢Â€Â™s diktat that cats must sit on gnats resulted in an irate feline withÂ a bite-pimpled posterior. Now theÂ well-meaning dog suggests that Ã¢Â€ÂœkittyÃ¢Â€Â or Ã¢Â€ÂœmoggyÃ¢Â€Â mightÂ achieve aÂ more comfortable seatÂ Ã¢Â€Â¦ Boasting aÂ final fold-out surprise, and the immortal line Ã¢Â€ÂœMy bottom is none of your business!Ã¢Â€Â, thisÂ animal-rhyming silliness goes from strength toÂ strength.
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