Ghoulish goodies abound for picture-book fans this Halloween, including I Want to Be in a Scary Story by Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien (Walker). Asked what sort of story heâd like to be in, Little Monster demands a scary one. But a spooky forest and haunted house prove too perturbing â and he wants to be the one doing the scaring â¦ This is beautifully structured for reading aloud; a vibrant, viewpoint-flipping picture book that should lessen small readersâ fairytale fears.
Also from Walker, The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen is a subversive delight. When a wolf meets and instantly devours a mouse, a happy ending seems unlikely; but the wolf already contains another resident: a duck, who enjoys the cosiest of creature comforts in his windowless abode. âI may have been swallowed,â declares the defiant bird, âbut I have no intention of being eaten.â The earthy darkness of the wolfâs interior contrasts with soft shades of moonlit forest in this unexpected, hilarious collaboration.
Benji Daviesâs The Grotlyn (HarperCollins) also examines the terrors of the unknown, via rhyming text and a dark Victorian landscape full of aproned maids and silhouetted chimney pots. Rubi is afraid of the Grotlyn after she hears a noise on her way up to bed; when she discovers the soundâs true source, though, her anxiety is allayed. An unusual, thought-provoking story of unfounded fears and a joyous flight to freedom.
Addressing courage in a very different way, Malalaâs Magic Pencil (Puffin) tells the beguiling tale of Malala Yousafzaiâs dream of a magic pencil and her discovery of educationâs transformative power, in a beautiful paean to children and their potential for heroic change. Husband-and-wife duo KerascoÃ«tâs watercolour illustrations, with their golden flourishes and bursts of pink, perfectly complement the text â the black page detailing the Talibanâs attack on Malala (âMy voice became so powerful that dangerous men tried to silence me. But they failedâ) is a clear and resonant call to arms.
Sleuths aged five and above will rejoice in Hiro Kamigakiâs Pierre the Maze Detective: The Mystery of the Empire Maze Tower (Laurence King), a follow-up to the bestselling original story about Pierre. Seductively intricate, with the narrative guiding the reader via ballrooms, sweetshops and fairgrounds to the pinnacle of the titular tower, this gorgeous combination of search-and-find and maze is seeded with exciting hidden extras â mini-mazes, trophies and stars to spot. Too fascinating for bedtime, itâs the perfect rainy-day companion.
Alex T Smith provides more mysterious high-jinks in Mr Penguin and the Lost Treasure (Hodder), featuring a seabird-turned-private detective, his silent spider sidekick Colin and missing treasure concealed in a museum. Full of fish-finger sandwiches, secret jungles, nefarious plots and cryptic codes, itâs addictive slapstick, with Smithâs appealingly arch black, white and orange illustrations.
Tom Fletcherâs The Creakers (Puffin), meanwhile, is a stonkingly good novel for the over sevens. One morning, Lucy Dungston wakes to discover that the townâs adults have vanished. How will the children â glamourpuss Ella, geeky Norman, and conscientious Lucy herself â manage without them, and can they be brought back? Laced with direct addresses to the reader and gleeful descriptions of malodorous underworld creatures, itâs both a compelling adventure and a nuanced celebration of friendship and family love, to which Shane Devriesâs vigorous illustrations add inclusive richness.
Readers aged eight and over are in for a treat in Kate Saundersâs new fantasy The Land of Neverendings (Faber). Emily is mourning her sister, Holly, with whom she once shared stories of Smockeroon, an imaginary idyll; her motherâs friend Ruth is mourning her lost son Danny. When Dannyâs old toys begin to appear, bickering and picnicking, in the âhard worldâ of reality, Emily realises that Smockeroon may not be so imaginary after all. But the door between worlds is not supposed to open â¦ A delicate, funny, poignant exploration of grief, love and memory that has the welcoming warmth of an instant classic.
In The Midnight Peacock (Egmont) Katherine Woodfine brings her tautly plotted Edwardian series The Sinclairâs Mysteries to a stylish conclusion, in a book filled with deft characterisation and delectable period detail. Sophie and Lil, now transformed from shop-girls to detectives, must first join a fashionable house party at snowy Winter Hall, then foil a fiendish plot at the Midnight Peacock New Yearâs Ball if they are to discover the truth about the Baron and, at last, defeat him.
Fantasy fans will devour Jessica Townsendâs striking debut Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crowe (Orion). Morrigan has always known that, as a cursed child, she will not live past her 11th birthday. When she is saved by magical traveller Jupiter North, however, she does not expect the impossible challenges that await her in the fascinating world of Nevermoor. Detailed, inventive world-building, a strong heroine and a rousing refrain (âStep boldly!â) all make for a splendidly involving read.
For teenagers, Juno Dawsonâs Grave Matter (Barrington Stoke) is a super-readable illustrated novella of lost love and dangerous yearning. When Eliza is killed in a car accident, Samuel is willing to do anything to get her back â even to enter the world of hoodoo and accept the Milk Manâs dangerous assistance. A deliciously succinct, creepy chiller, interspersed with Alex T Smithâs shadowy, atmospheric images.
Amy Reedâs The Nowhere Girls (Atom) follows Grace, Erin and Rosina, outsiders in a small-town community in Oregon, as they take up arms on behalf of a girl raped by three members of the high-school football team, challenging the apathetic complicity of the powers that be. Told from multiple perspectives, at once harrowing and heart-lifting, itâs both an indictment of entrenched victim-blaming and a demonstration of what can happen when girls lay aside their differences to demand better treatment.
There is more clear-sighted feminist analysis (and many more belly laughs) in Holly Bourneâs latest young adult novel, It Only Happens in the Movies (Usborne). Audrey, weathering the aftermath of a big break-up, declares war on the cliches of romantic comedy while simultaneously trying to hold notorious charmer Harry at armâs length. It doesnât help, however, that they are co-workers at an indie cinema, or that film-mad Harry is attempting to shoot his first zombie feature. Boasting emotional depth and believable heartbreak alongside such memorable lines as âfrostbite of the bumholeâ, this is Bourne at her outrageous, courageous, necessary best.
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