This year is already off to a splendid start for childrenâ€™s literature, with stories of dogs, DJing, running, mystery and memory. Picture book fans with a yen for crazy canines will be charmed by Nikki Dysonâ€™s Flip Flap Dogs (Nosy Crow). With descriptive rhymes for every breed, energetic pictures and bisected pages enabling whimsical crosses â€“ will you create a dachshoodle, a labradeepdog, or a whippihuaha? â€“ this simple, brilliant idea is beautifully executed.
Thereâ€™s a playful look at plot mechanics in Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Benji Daviesâ€™ Also an Octopus (Walker), which first asks what a story needs, then supplies it â€“ in the shape of an eight-legged protagonist, a space-travel dream and a ukulele. With dynamic, polychromatic illustrations and finely judged text, this paean to the â€œlittle bit of nothingâ€ with which a book begins should be a sure-fire hit for aspiring writers of any age.
Everything about Thereâ€™s a Pig Up My Nose! (Egmont) is entrancing, from the title onwards; it also features the best PE excuse note ever (â€œDear Miss Daffodil, Please may Natalie be excused games this afternoon, as she has a pig up her noseâ€). John Doughteryâ€™s splendidly surreal story is brought to life by Laura Hughesâ€™ down to earth, gently dishevelled pictures â€“ itâ€™s a joy to read aloud, especially with a classful of children.
For inventive, hands on, five- to eight-year-olds, thereâ€™s a place waiting at Engineer Academy (Ivy Kids), where, with the help of press-out models, experiments and stickers, they can qualify in mechanical, aeronautical, alternative energy and materials engineering. Former teacher Steve Martinâ€™s straightforward, absorbing text pairs perfectly with Nastia Sleptsovaâ€™s welcoming images â€“ itâ€™s a great introduction to some basic physics principles, too.
The Angela Nicely series concludes with Starstruck! (Stripes), in which Angela goes to a concert, helps her motherâ€™s Best Kept Garden entry, and becomes an agony aunt â€“ with mixed results. From coiffured boybands to bosomy matriarchs, David Robertsâ€™ illustrations are a satirical triumph, transporting Alan MacDonaldâ€™s humorous, pitfall-strewn stories well beyond the formulaic.
Meanwhile, the Rabbit and Bear series by Julian Gough and Jim Field goes from strength to strength with The Pest in the Nest (Hodder), in which spring has sprung and Rabbit is out of sorts with everyone, whether theyâ€™re loud and happy or sad and slow. His belligerence (â€œIâ€™m angry! And I want to be calm! So Iâ€™m angry that Iâ€™m angry!â€) and Bearâ€™s wry, gentle responses are illuminated by Fieldâ€™s radiant palette of yellow-greens and greys, creating an utterly seductive book.
For 8 and up, thereâ€™s a debut novel from DJ Christian Oâ€™Connell, chronicling Spike Hughesâ€™ rise to subversive fame as Radio Boy (HarperCollins), the presenter of a secret online radio show calling for homework strikes and celebrations of failure. While occasionally overwritten, the story boasts both heart and hilarity, and should definitely inspire budding broadcasters, especially with Rob Biddulphâ€™s images showing the layout of the shed-built studio.
In Lisa Thompsonâ€™s Goldfish Boy (Scholastic), meanwhile, Matthew is trapped in his room by encroaching OCD, making meticulous notes of his neighboursâ€™ movements. Will his minute observations help solve the case of a missing child? With clear echoes of Mark Haddonâ€™s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, this carefully judged, poignant story should help those with OCD feel less alone â€“ and help others understand the impulses behind painful acts of repetition. Itâ€™s an intriguing, involving mystery, too.
Set in Syria and beyond, Elizabeth Lairdâ€™s Welcome to Nowhere (Macmillan) features the immensely likable Omar, a 12-year-old would-be entrepreneur, and his family â€“ his activist brother Musa, undeterred by cerebral palsy, and his hard working, academic sister Eman. When civil war breaks out, the fleeing family find themselves refugees. What will their future hold? A muscular, moving, thought-provoking book from an award-winning writer, with Lucy Eldridgeâ€™s transporting illustrations.
For teenage readers, seasoned thriller writer Emily Barrâ€™s YA debut, The One Memory of Flora Banks (Penguin), is an icily atmospheric story with a captivating hook. Seventeen-year-old Flora, who suffers from a form of amnesia, remembers only one thing â€“ that she has kissed someone she shouldnâ€™t. Now he has left, apparently for the Arctic. With â€œFlora be braveâ€ written on one hand, she follows him into a landscape full of cold, confusion and danger in a pacy page-turner that packs a significant emotional punch.
On a similar theme, Lara Averyâ€™s The Memory Book (Quercus) is a deeply affecting novel full of straight talking, sardonic humour. Ambitious, high achieving, socially awkward Sammie has been diagnosed with Niemann-Pick, a disease that will gradually rob her of her memory before killing her. But Sammie is determined to fight â€“ to win the national debating championship, go to college and chronicle her life as she does so. With assured character development and a clear eye for realistic detail, Avery steers around the cliches of â€œsicklitâ€ to create an original, memorable YA heartbreaker, with a complex interwoven romance.
Thereâ€™s another high achieving heroine â€“ with a happier prognosis â€“ in Katherine Webberâ€™s debut Wing Jones (Walker). Chinese-Ghanaian Wing is a misfit at school, but one day, driven by family tragedy, she takes to her heels and discovers she can run. What will her newfound talent mean for her family â€“ and herself? A splendidly diverse domestic setup with vivid, evocative details ensures that the bookâ€™s big issues never feel unbalanced; and many readers will yearn for Wingâ€™s guardian lion and dragon spirits (touches of magical realism here) to guide them through times of crisis.
Lastly, Sara Barnardâ€™s second novel, A Quiet Kind of Thunder (Macmillan), is a romance with a difference â€“ between Steffi, who doesnâ€™t talk, and Rhys, who canâ€™t hear. Through Steffi, Barnard conveys the painful uncertainty of being marginalised by anxiety or selective mutism â€“ and explicitly rejects the lazy option of allowing one character to â€œfixâ€ another. Anyone who enjoyed her debut, Beautiful Broken Things, will not be disappointed by this thoughtful, tender love story.