Don’t Call Me Ishmael by Michael Gerard Bauer. Templar. Age 11+
Hounded by the school bully and struck dumb in the presence of girls, the year doesn’t get off to a good start for Ishmael when he is asked to take misfit James Scobie under his wing. However, life takes some unexpected turns for Ishmael and his friends as they embark on the most embarrassingly awful…and best year of their lives.
This is an incredibly well structured and intelligent book by the author of The Running Man. The language is clever, cheeky and humorous. The characters are original and convincing and the tone is light-hearted throughout. The story has strong themes; coping with bullying is an important issue for today’s youth and is addressed with reality and truth.
In the Sea There Are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda. David Fickling Books. Age 12+
One night before putting him to bed, Enaiatollah’s mother tells him three things: don’t use drugs or weapons, don’t cheat, don’t steal. The next day he wakes up to find she isn’t there. Ten-year-old Enaiatollah is left alone at the border of Pakistan to fend for himself. In a book that takes a true story and shapes it into a beautiful piece of fiction, Italian novelist Fabio Geda describes Enaiatollah’s remarkable five-year journey from Afghanistan to Italy where he finally managed to claim political asylum aged fifteen. His ordeal took him through Iran, Turkey and Greece, working on building sites in order to pay people-traffickers, and enduring the physical misery of dangerous border crossings squeezed into the false bottoms of lorries or trekking across inhospitable mountains. A series of almost implausible strokes of fortune enabled him to get to Turin, find help from an Italian family and meet Fabio Geda, with whom he became friends.
Fly by Night byFrances Hardinge. Macmillan. Age 11+
Combines a very well-thought-out alternate 18th century with plenty of twisty intrigue, complicated and multilayered supporting cast, vivid description, witty and memorable dialogue, a powerful discussion of freedom of thought and a splendidly tough and sympathetic heroine. Orphaned Mosca leaves her uncle’s home with only her aggressive gander for company. On her way she rescues smooth-talking swindler Eponymous Clent from the stocks, and together the three set off for a new life in the Fractured Kingdom. The dangers of fanaticism are central to the themes in this strange world with its untrustworthy characters from the Stationers’ Company and the Company of Locksmiths. Hardinge’s imagination is breathtaking.
12 year old Mary O’Hara’s beloved, joke-cracking grandmother is near the end of her life. Letting go is hard – until a mysterious young woman appears at Mary’s door. She is the ghost of Granny’s long-dead mammy and her mission is to help her dying daughter say goodbye to the ones she loves. But first she needs someone to drive them all to the old family farm for a visit to the past. This deceptively simple story is a study of the effects of death and loss on four generations and the way in which the dead keep their place in the family. Anyone familiar with Doyle’s novels for adults will be aware of his ability to draw convincing characters, male and female, and his subtle humour, which prevents a difficult subject become over-sentimental.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. Walker. Age 11+
The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… The monster in his back garden, though, this monster is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth. Costa Award winner Patrick Ness spins a tale from the final idea of much-loved Carnegie Medal winner Siobhan Dowd, whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself. Darkly mischievous and painfully funny, A Monster Calls is an extraordinarily moving novel of coming to terms with loss.
Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace. Andersen. Age 12+
This novel is set in Zimbabwe in the early years of the Mugabe government after a long, bitter bush war and struggle for black independence. The story takes place at a prestigious boys private boarding school with traditions steeped in the past (the house names at the school are all former colonial heroes). In an era of peace, freedom and hope for the new Zimbabwe the school is struggling to adapt to the changed environment and the admission of black teachers and students. However, a significant number of its pupils are the sons of white farmers who were at the frontline of the ‘lost’ bush war and the beginning of the possible confiscation of white farms. For them the new Zimbabwe serves only to breed resentment, reinforce their deep racial prejudices and fears for their livelihood. Add in the traditional boarding school elements of bullying, deference, loneliness and the struggle to make friends and alliances, and there are all the ingredients to craft an interesting novel.
Gone by Michael Grant. Egmont Books. Age 12+
Suddenly there are no adults, no answers. What would you do? In the blink of an eye, the world changes. The adults vanish without a trace, and those left must do all they can to survive. But everyone’s idea of survival is different. Some look after themselves, some look after others, and some will do anything for power…Even kill. For Sam and Astrid, it is a race against time as they try to solve the questions that now dominate their lives…What is the mysterious wall that has encircled the town of Perdido Beach and trapped everyone within? Why have some kids developed strange powers? And can they defeat Caine and his gang of bullies before they turn fifteen and disappear too? It isn’t until the world collapses around you that you find out what kind of person you really are. This book offers a chilling portrayal of a world with no rules. When life as you know it ends at 15, everything changes.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Bloomsbury. Age 11+
Imagine Rudyard Kipling’s “Jungle Book”… but replace the animals with ghosts, ghouls, werewolves and other such supernatural creatures. Such is the concept of “The Graveyard Book,” which cleverly turns Kipling’s classic story into an exquisitely-written, darkly witty fantasy. While it starts as the assorted supernatural adventures of a young boy raised by ghosts, the story slowly evolves into a beautifully ghastly confrontation between Nobody Owens and the people who want to do him harm.
With the approval of the Lady on the Grey, the Owens ghosts adopt the boy, whom they name Nobody (or “Bod” for short), and the mysterious not-dead-or-alive Silas is appointed his guardian. Bod slowly grows up, but his upbringing is hardly ordinary — he is taught by a Hound of God, wanders into the horrific realm of Ghulheim, watches a danse macabre, and befriends a witch’s spirit from the Potter’s Field. The world of Neil Gaiman is never a safe place — it’s always painted in shadows and shades of grey, and something horrible may be lurking around the corner. And the world of “The Graveyard Book” is no exception to this — it’s filled with strange supernatural creatures, hellish red cities with decayed moons overhead, and midnight parades where ghosts dance with the living.
One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson (illust. Sharon Renta). Marion Lloyd Books. Age 11+
Hal really longs for a dog of his own, but a dog would damage the expensive carpets in his glamorous home, and his wealthy parents refuse to consider one. Then they discover Easy Pets, a convenient dog-rental agency. Terrier Fleck arrives on Hal’s birthday, but when Hal discovers that his dog must be returned, he runs away. Hal and Fleck are joined by a group of pedigree breeds joyfully escaping from Easy Pets. Among them is Otto, the wise and sombre St Bernard, and the fierce and exctable Pekinese Li-Chee. A large reward is offered for the missing boy, and soon Hal and his dogs are being chased across the counry by ruthless pursuers. Helped by a travelling circus, and the sympathetic children from an orphanage, they race for their freedom in a classic adventure in the tradition of 101 Dalmations.
Momentum by Sacci Lloyd. Hodder. Age 12+
London, the near future. Energy wars are flaring across the globe – oil prices have gone crazy, regular power cuts are a daily occurrence. The cruel Kossak soldiers prowl the streets, keeping the Outsiders – the poor, the disenfranchised – in check. Hunter is a Citizen: one of the privileged of society, but with his passion for free running and his rebel friend Leo he cannot help but be fascinated by the Outsiders. So when he meets Outsider Uma, he is quickly drawn into their world – and into an electrifying and dangerous race to protect everything they hold dear. From its breathtaking opening, this is an action-packed thriller with a warm heart and a disturbing message about a broken society.
Eleven-year-old Martha is used to being the one who has to keep their head. Tug, her little brother, is too small. Dad is too strange. And Mum’s not here any more. So when Dad falls off the roof, it’s Martha who ices his knee and takes him to the doctor. And when Dad doesn’t come home, it’s Martha who cooks Tug’s favourite pie and reads him his bedtime story. And when Dad passes out, it’s Martha who cleans him up and keeps his secret. But eventually Dad’s problems become too big for even Martha to solve. There is only one person who can sort things out now – Dad. How love is tested, challenged and threatened, but can ultimately hold people together, is at the heart of the story.
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. Penguin.Age 12+
We have all read many books telling the horrific story of the suffering inflicted on the Jewish population during World War 2, but I wonder how many of us know anything about the millions of innocents murdered on the orders of Stalin. This brilliant new book follows the life of a 15 year old Lithuanian girl, who, along with the rest of her family, is arrested and sent to Siberia following the Russian occupation of her country. They are taken from their warm, comfortable home, transported huge distances in lorries and railway trucks and then made to work on the land in freezing conditions, while receiving little food and sheltering in poorly contructed hovels. It is a bleak and tragic tale, but in the midst of such suffering there are astonishing acts of human kindness, friendships are born and even love manages to blossom.
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher. Orion. Age 11+
Ten-year-old Jamie Matthews has just moved to the Lake District with his Dad and his teenage sister, Jasmine for a ‘Fresh New Start’. Five years ago his sister’s twin, Rose, was blown up by a terrorist bomb. While his parents are wrecked by their grief, Jasmine turns to piercing, pink hair and stops eating. The family falls apart. But Jamie hasn’t cried in all that time. To him Rose is just a distant memory. Jamie is far more interested in his cat, Roger, his birthday Spiderman T-shirt, and in keeping his new friend Sunya a secret from his dad. And in his deep longing and unshakeable belief that his Mum will come back to the family she walked out on months ago. When he sees a TV advert for a talent show, he feels certain that this will change everything and bring them all back together once and for all.
Hidden by Miriam Halahmy. Meadowside.Age 12+
Hidden is a brave debut novel, tackling the complex issues of immigration and human-rights laws, a literary, coming-of-age novel dealing with prejudice, judgement, courage, preconceptions and the difficulty of sorting right from wrong. Fourteen year old Alix lives at the bottom of Hayling Island near the beach. It is a quiet backwater, far removed from world events such as war, terror and refugees. Alix has never even given a thought to asylum seekers, she has enough problems of her own: Dad has a new life that doesn’t include her, Grandpa is dead and Mum is helpless and needy. Then one day on the beach Alix and Samir pull a drowning man out of the incoming tide: Mohammed has been tortured by rebels in Iraq for helping the allied forces and has spent all his money to escape. Alone, helpless, and desperate not to be deported, Mohammed’s destiny lies in Alix’s hands. However, hiding an injured immigrant is fraught with difficulties. Faced with the biggest moral dilemma of her life, what will Alix do, and who can she trust?
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Scholastic. Age 12+
Katniss Everdeen is a survivor. She has to be; she’s representing her District, number 12, in the 74th Hunger Games in the Capitol, the heart of Panem, a new land that rose from the ruins of a post-apocalyptic North America. To punish citizens for an early rebellion, the rulers require each district to provide one girl and one boy, 24 in all, to fight like gladiators in a futuristic arena. The event is broadcast like reality TV, and the winner returns with wealth for his or her district. Collins has created a brilliantly imagined dystopia, where the Capitol is rich and the rest of the country is kept in abject poverty, where the poor battle to the death for the amusement of the rich. The Hunger Games is a searing novel set in a future with unsettling parallels to our present. Welcome to the deadliest reality TV show ever.
It is seven a.m. on a spring morning in Jerusalem. Eighteen-year-old Dima trudges through the mud to college and reflects on many things, including her forthcoming marriage to her cousin Faris. Seventeen-year-old Myriam skips school to sit on the tree-lined hill overlooking the city and think about her friend Michael, whose death she still mourns. And Dima’s and Myriam’s families – one Palestinian, one Israeli – go about their ordinary, separate lives; for today is like every other day. Yet in seven hours’ time, everything will have changed. For ever. Based on a true story, Ambrosio’s novella eloquently evokes the human consequences of this long-running conflict.
The Maze Runner by James Dashner. Chicken House. Age 12+
When the doors of the lift crank open, the only thing Thomas remembers is his first name. But he’s not alone. He’s surrounded by boys who welcome him to the Glade – a walled encampment at the centre of a bizarre and terrible stone maze. Like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they came to be there – or what’s happened to the world outside. All they know is that every morning when the walls slide back, they will risk everything – even the Grievers, half-machine, half-animal horror that patrols its corridors – to find out. The story moves at a lightning pace as Thomas aspires to become a maze runner, whose task it is to map the vast and dangerous maze and try to find a way out.
Flood and Fire by Emily Diamand. Chicken House. Age 10+
Flooded England, 2216 – Lilly Melkun has outwitted the bloodthirsty Reavers, who prowl the waters that cover most of England – and escaped to Cambridge. But Lilly is far from safe, because stil in her keeping is PSAI, the last hand-held computer in existence – a now malfunctioning treasure from the past. Inside the jewel-like computer, is a sinister looking chip with an unknown purpose. Worse follows, when the professors of Cambridge plug it into an ancient mainframe computer, setting in motion a fiery chain of events leading back to London. A false, anti-terrorist alert has been activated. Strange, out-of-control robots from a long-ago technological time, threaten to use ‘maximum force’ to control everything in their way. Once again, it’s up to Lilly, Zeph and friends to save the world from burning. It isn’t all doom and gloom however, as the author balances the catastrophic with a healthy dose of humour.
Shadow by Michael Morpurgo. Harper Collins. Age 10+
This is the story of Aman, as told in his own words – a boy from Afghanistan fleeing the horror of the Afghan war. When a western dog shows up outside the caves where Aman lives with his mother, Aman is initially repulsed – it is not customary for people to keep dogs as pets in his part of the world. But when Aman and his mother finally decide to make a bid for freedom, the dog Aman has called Shadow will not leave their side. Soon it becomes clear: the destinies of boy and dog are linked, and always will be. Morpurgo has meshed the true story of a Springer spaniel trained by the British Army to sniff out roadside bombs, and that of Aman, a member of the persecuted Hazara people living in fear of the Taliban to talk about the empathy between children and animals, the universal language of football and a passion for justice.
A man with no eyes. No eyes at all. Two tunnels in his head …It’s not easy being a witch, and it’s certainly not all whizzing about on broomsticks, but Tiffany Aching – teen witch – is doing her best. Until something evil wakes up, something that stirs up all the old stories about nasty old witches, so that just wearing a pointy hat suddenly seems a very bad idea. Worse still, this evil ghost from the past is hunting down one witch in particular. He’s hunting for Tiffany. And he’s found her. As Tiffany tackles domestic drudgery and the monstrous villain, Pratchett brings us reflections on the role of women, the dangers of religion and the follies of society, as well as making us laugh. This is the fourth Discworld title to feature Tiffany and her tiny, fightin’, boozin’ pictsie friends, the Nac Mac Feegle (aka The Wee Free Men).
The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking Trilogy Part One) by Patrick Ness. Walker. Age 13+
Todd Hewitt is twelve, the last boy in Prentisstown, a town of only men. He lives in a world full of “noise” in which the private thoughts of every man and animal are audible. In one month he will be thirteen and a man. But the town is keeping secrets from him, secrets that will force him to go on the run from the mayor and the men of Prentisstown along with his dog and the first girl he has ever met. It is furiously paced with terrifying, exhilarating and heartbreaking moments, with fantastic cliff-hangers interspersed with philosophical pauses. It is one of those gems that are sometimes found in children’s literature; a genuinely original novel that is also well written, grabs hold of the imagination and will not allow you to put it down.
MySecret War Diary by Marcia Williams. Walker. Age 8-13
A fascinating diary account of the Second World War, as seen through the eyes of a young girl.
Flossie is just nine years old when, in 1939, Britain declares war on Germany and her father leaves the family home to join the army. Flossie is left to bring up her baby brother and to face a whole host of new experiences on her own. Her diary becomes an outlet for relaying all the news from at home and abroad. From the first evacuees arriving to her sweetheart being killed in Normandy in 1944, Flossie has to endure much hardship. But her own special blend of courage, humour and fighting spirit see her through to the Armistice, when she can welcome her dad home at last.
The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams. HarperCollins. Age 10+
More recognisable as half of the Little Britain team, David Walliam has written an unprecedented book: a story about cross-dressing for children. Walliams’ hero is a football-loving boy whose mother has left and who is surrounded by males. His mother’s dresses remind him of her fun and warmth. When he meets a fashion-loving girl and takes a fancy to her he is persuaded to dress up in orange sequins. A quirky, slightly zany book and a celebration of tolerance. Illustrations by Quentin Blake.
Billionaire Boy by David Walliams. HarperCollins. Age 10+
Joe has a lot of reasons to be happy. About a billion of them, in fact. You see, Joe’s rich. Really, really rich. Joe’s got his own bowling alley, his own cinema, even his own butler who is also an orangutan. He’s the wealthiest twelve-year-old in the land. But Joe isn’t happy. Why not? Because he’s got a billion pounds… and not a single friend. But then someone comes along, someone who likes Joe for Joe, not for his money. The problem is, Joe’s about to learn that when money is involved, nothing is what it seems. The best things in life are free, they say – and if Joe’s not careful, he’s going to lose them all. It is a simple enough story about a family whose life changes thanks to his father’s breakthrough product – wet and dry loo paper which brings in the pennies. Sadly the huge increase in family cash results in his parents’ divorce and Joe becoming a very spoilt but singularly unhappy 12 year old. Yes, he has everything except friends.
Justin Thyme by Panama Oxridge. Inside Pocket. Age 10+
Justin Thyme is a self-made billionaire living in a castle overlooking Loch Ness. The day he turns thirteen, he receives an anonymous gift: a fabulous watch with a puzzling message hidden on it. When he tells his father of his plans to build a time machine, the Laird of Thyme reveals tantalising fragments of past espionage and warns his son of a ruthless enemy keeping him under constant surveillance. At first, Justin fails to take Sir Willoughby seriously, but when a stranger arrives claiming to be his long-lost grandfather, Justin is wary – especially after his beloved Nanny insists the old man is an impostor. Justin’s TV celebrity mother departs on a Congo expedition with her eccentric film crew and Eliza, a computer-literate gorilla. Whilst returning, Lady Henny is abducted, and clues prove that the kidnapper has inside information. Can Justin convert his vintage motorbike into a time machine, rescue his mum and discover the identity of their resident spy in less than a week…or will the dreaded Thyme Curse claim another life?
Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd. David Fickling. Age 12+
Memories of Mum are the only thing that make Holly Hogan happy. She hates her foster family with their too-nice ways and their false sympathy. And she hates her life, her stupid school and the way everyone is always on at her. Then she finds the wig, and everything changes. Wearing the long, flowing blonde locks she feels transformed. She’s not Holly any more, she’s Solace: the girl with the slinkster walk and the super-sharp talk. She’s older, more confident – the kind of girl who can walk right out of her humdrum life, hitch to Ireland and find her mum. So begins a bittersweet, and sometimes hilarious journey as Solace swaggers and Holly tiptoes across England and through memory, discovering her true self, and unlocking the secrets of her past.
A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd. David Fickling Books. Age 14+
Life is difficult. Shell is teased at school and skips out as much as possible. She attempts to look to the church for support, and a new young priest seems to offer a shoulder to lean on. Eventually, Shell seeks emotional release in a relationship with an older boy. They begin a secret relationship spent mostly hidden in the barley field where Declan takes advantage of Shell’s need for tenderness. The inevitable happens – Shell becomes pregnant. Without her mother to confide in, Shell hides her condition, using a stolen library book to help her understand what is about to happen.
When Paul stands up to school bully Roth, Roth encourages him to join his gang, giving him a knife as a sweetener to the deal. At the same time, Paul becomes friendly with the school freaks – geeks, goths and nerds, led by the charismatic Shane – and is attracted to Maddy, a bright girl in the group who seems to like him. Torn between the violent Roth and too-cool Shane, Paul also finds himself sucked into the rivalry between Roth and Goddo, gang leader at a rival school, which eventually erupts in violence and his own death.
Rowan the Strange by Julie Hearn. OUP. Age 11+
How does a doctor examine a person’s brain? They won’t use any knives on me, will they? Rowan knows he is strange. But dangerous? He didn’t mean to scare his sister. In his right mind, he wouldn’t hurt a fly. But there’s a place he can go where they say they can fix his mind . . . Beyond the bars on the window, England is at war. Behind them, Rowan’s own battle is only just beginning. This amazing story gives a thought-provoking look at life in an asylum and the experimental treatments practised at the start of the Second World War. For Rowan, nobody could ever have predicted the effect these treatments would have . .
What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell. Scholastic. Age 13+
Summer’s ending, Evie’s stepfather is finally home from the Second World War, and Evie is tired of her glamorous mother treating her like a little girl. Then a mysterious stranger appears; a handsome ex-GI who served with Evie’s stepfather. Slowly, Evie realizes that she is falling in love with him – but he has dark secrets, and a strange control over her parents. Set in 1947 and steeped in period detail and language, this is a memorable and compelling story, ingeniously constructed.
The Thornthwaite Inheritance by Gareth P Jones. Bloomsbury. Age 10+
Ovid and Lorelli Thornthwaite have been trying to kill each other for so long that neither twin can remember which act of attempted murder came first. But whoever struck first, trying to take each other’s lives is simply what they do. Until one day a lawyer arrives at their house to take stock of its contents, and his accompanying son attracts their attention. Soon a new battle evolves – one in which the twins have to work together to solve the mystery of their parents’ deaths. Can Lorelli and Ovid overcome their old animosities, and will they ever get to finish that game of chess?
Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko. Bloomsbury. Age 10+
Moose’s sister has got a place in the perfect school on the mainland, one that will help her deal with her autism. But there is one hitch. She got the place with the help of Al Capone and now it’s payback time. Soon Moose is caught up in a terrible cycle of secrets and favours that threatens to destabilise his entire family in this nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat novel. The terrific storytelling, which adds suspense and dread to the humour and poignancy of the first book (Al Capone Does My Shirts), is underpinned by the author’s own memories of her autistic sister and by her diligent research into the history of the inhabitants of Alcatraz.
Eating Things on Sticks by Anne Fine. Doubleday. Age 10+
Harry is in trouble. He’s burned down the family kitchen so now has to spend a week of his summer hols with his uncle Tristram – who’s heading off to stay with a new girlfriend – Morning Glory – on a tiny British island. Harry doesn’t expect it to be a lot of fun – with just a wacky competition at the end of the week to look forward to. He certainly didn’t expect to discover all the beards. Or the angel on the mountain. Or the helicopters circling overhead all week. And he definitely didn’t think it would be so wet.
Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve. Scholastic. Age 10+
The author of the best-selling and critically beloved Mortal Engines quartet has written a stunning, stand-alone prequel. FEVER CRUMB is set many generations before the events of Mortal Engines, whose brilliantly-imagined world massive, predatory Traction Cities chase and devour each other. Now London is a static, overcrowded, riot-torn powerhouse that hides an explosive secret. Is Fever, adopted daughter of Dr Crumb, the strange key that will unlock its dangerous mysteries?
My Name is Mina by David Almond. Hodder. Age 10+
‘There’s an empty notebook lying on the table in the moonlight. It’s been there for an age. I keep on saying that I’ll write a journal. So I’ll start right here, right now. I open the book and write the very first words: My name is Mina and I love the night. Then what shall I write? I can’t just write that this happened then this happened then this happened to boring infinitum. I’ll let my journal grow just like the mind does, just like a tree or a beast does, just like life does. Why should a book tell a tale in a dull straight line?’
And so Mina writes and writes in her notebook, and through her stories, thoughts, lessons and dreams, Mina’s journal and mind grow into something extraordinary. In this stunning book, David Almond revisits Mina before she has met Michael, before she has met Skellig, in what is a thought-provoking and extraordinary prequel to his best-selling debut novel, Skellig – winner of the Carnegie Medal and the Whitbread Children’s Book Award. David Almond is also winner of the 2010 Hans Christian Andersen award.
Jackdaw Summer by David Almond. Hodder. Age 10+
This book sees conflict between friends falling out, between people with different views, between governments and soldiers in Iraq and Liberia. All this in the back drop of beautiful Northumbria in a glorious summer. But it is more than just conflict. Liam, the son of an artist mother and writer father, discovers an abandoned baby that he is led to by a Jackdaw. With the baby is a jar of money. This mystery sets in train other events which lead inexorably to the novel’s conclusion.
Skellig by David Almond. Hodder. Age 10+
When a move to a new house coincides with his baby sister’s illness, Michael’s world seems suddenly lonely and uncertain. Then, one Sunday afternoon, he stumbles into the old, ramshackle garage of his new home, and finds something magical. A strange creature – part owl, part angel, a being who needs Michael’s help if he is to survive. With his new friend Mina, Michael nourishes Skellig back to health, while his baby sister languishes in the hospital. But Skellig is far more than he at first appears, and as he helps Michael breathe life into his tiny sister, Michael’s world changes forever . . .
Sovay by Celia Rees. Bloomsbury. Age 12+
Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution and its impact on British politics, this action-driven novel shows tells the story of Sovay, who finds that her cosseted upbringing in rural England has not prepared her for life as a highway robber, for defending the honour of her family or for trying to save herself from corruption and evil. As Sovay becomes more and more embroiled in adventures she could never have imagined, a story of dark intrigue, thwarted passions and sinister intentions is revealed to her. Will she be able to survive, and if she does so, at what cost?
Just Henry by Michelle Magorian. Egmont. Age 11+
A gripping mystery-thriller and an insightful snapshot of time, set in post-war Britain. It’s 1949 and life is bleak for Henry. He misses his father who died a war hero, and he escapes from his annoying stepfather and stepsister whenever he can and goes to the cinema – his passion.One day in the cinema queue he meets Mrs Beaumont who also loves films, and lends Henry a camera for his school project. Henry is disgusted that he’s been put in a group with Jeffries, the son of a man who went AWOL, and Pip, who was born illegitimate; but he’s about to learn that tolerance and friendship are more important than social stigmas.Henry will need his new friends when he processes the film and makes an alarming discovery.Like a bomb waiting to explode, Henry’s world is about to unravel. From the author of “Goodnight Mister Tom”.
The Robber Baron’s Daughter by Jamila Gavin. Egmont. Age 10+
From the dark of the Bulgarian underworld to the grandeur of central London, what you don’t know can’t harm you. Or so Nettie believes. Nettie lives a privileged life in a mansion and she is adored by her parents. But her world shatters when her beloved tutor, Miss Kovachev, mysteriously disappears from the Round Tower. Does the ghost in the shadows of Nettie’s house have something to do with it? Will spooky Great-Aunt Laetitia help her piece together the fragments? And why won’t her parents tell her anything? Everyone has a facade. Everyone has a secret.
The Traitor Game by B R Collins. Boomsbury. Age 13+
A rites of passage novel of unusual power and skill. A history of bullying means that Michael is wary of some of the mean boys at his new school. However, he has found a friend in Francis with whom he shares a secret: Evgard, a fantasy world they have invented together in comprehensive detail. Interweaving chapters concern the events in Michael’s own life and the unfolding conflict in Evgard between the indigenous population and the ruling occupiers.
The Silver Blade by Sally Gardner. Orion. Age 11+
With Sido safely in England and the Terror at it’s height, Yann returns to France to smuggle out aristocratic refugees who will otherwise face the guillotine. But when Sido is kidnapped, he must use all his strength and courage to outwit the evil Count Kalliovski, and rescue her for a second time. Set against a vivid historical background, prize winning author Sally Gardner brings to life the horrors of the French Revolution in this breath-taking adventure, complete with intrepid heroism and a touching love story. Perfect for 9+ readers and fans of The Red Necklace and I, Coriander.
The Enemy by Charlie Higson. Puffin. Age 11+
They’ll chase you. They’ll rip you open. They’ll feed on you…When the sickness came, every parent, policeman, politician – every adult – fell ill. The lucky ones died. The others are crazed, confused and hungry. Only children under fourteen remain, and they’re fighting to survive. Now there are rumours of a safe place to hide. And so a gang of children begin their quest across London, where all through the city – down alleyways, in deserted houses, underground – the grown-ups lie in wait. But can they make it there – alive?
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Andersen. Age 13+
Sherman Alexie is a Spokane Indian who grew up on a reservation, and this is an autobiographical fiction about being born hydrocephalic (with water on the brain), defying expectations by leaving the reservation and going to a privileged white school, and suffering the hostilities of his own people. Central to the story is the shifting relationship between Arnold and his best friend Rowdy, who likes to beat people up, and who becomes Arnold’s worst enemy when he leaves. Yet even their enmity is always a kind of love. Interspersed with Arnold’s own cartoons.
If a Tree Falls at Lunch Break by Gennifer Choldenko. Bloomsbury. Age 13+
Kirsten’s world is crumbling. Her parents are barely speaking to each other and her ‘best-friend’ has fallen under the spell of queen bee, Brianna. For Walker the goal is simply to survive in the private school his mother has moved him to because she doesn’t want him to mess up with most of the kids in his old school. Then Kirsten discovers something that has a big impact on both her and Walker’s lives.
Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd. Definitions. Age 13+
Digging for peat in the mountain with his Uncle Tally, Fergus finds the body of a child, and it looks like she’s been murdered. As Fergus tries to make sense of the mad world around him – his brother on hunger-strike in prison, his growing feelings for Cora, his parents arguing over the Troubles, and him in it up to the neck, blackmailed into acting as courier to God knows what, a little voice comes to him in his dreams, and the mystery of the bog child unfurls. “Bog Child” is an astonishing novel exploring the sacrifices made in the name of peace, and the unflinching strength of the human spirit
Once & Then by Morris Gleitzman. Penguin. Age 11+
That’s the good thing with stories. There’s always a chance they can come true. Felix is lucky. Unlike the other children in the orphanage, he’s certain his parents will come back for him one day. And whatever the Nazis do and however many books they burn, Felix’s imagination provides him and his companions with an endless supply of stories – stories that protect them when they’re on the run, shield them from the violent madness all around, give them hope when all seems lost, and one day may even save Felix’s life. Once & Then is a spellbinding story of hope and imagination in the most terrible circumstances.
Runemarks by Joanne Harris. Doubleday. Age 11+
Maddy Smith is a girl who has got it bad. Born with the runemark of the title on her hand, she is an oddball in her village, befriended only by a mysterious old man called One-Eye, who teaches her all she knows of magic. Unlike ordinary humans, Maddy can see goblins, and knows that where her friend’s glam (magic) is weak, hers is strong, though quite how strong she only discovers when she goes underground and meets a young man who calls himself Lucky. Before long Maddy is coping with the reawakened Sleepers, formerly Norse gods. Together with a pleasingly cynical oracular head called The Whisperer, who has plans of his own, she has to prevent the Nine Worlds from descending into Chaos.
Wilderness by Roddy Doyle. Scholastic. Age 10+
A novel of mothers lost and found, Wilderness is part roaring adventure, part family drama – with a charm that’s all Roddy Doyle’s. While Tom and Johnny are on a husky safari in Finland, their half-sister Grainne stays behind to face the mother who abandoned her. But Tom and Johnny are too caught up in their adventure to think of home – until they find themselves lost in the snow, in a desperate struggle for survival…
George’s Secret Key to the Universe by Stephen Hawking. Doubleday. Age 10+
Take a rollercoaster ride through the vastness of space and, in the midst of an exciting adventure, discover the mysteries of physics, science and the universe with George, his new friends next door – the scientist Eric and his daughter, Annie – and a super-intelligent computer called Cosmos, which can take them to the edge of a black hole and back again. Or can it? And who else would like to get their hands on Cosmos? This title is a funny and hugely informative romp through space, time and the universe.
Iron Hand by Charlie Fletcher. Hodder. Age 10+
‘Edie,’ said George, ‘we’re going to do this together. I’ll be right there with you. Anything, anyone trying to get you is going to have to come past me first.’ But when George makes his promise he is not aware that high on the rooftops an unseen gargoyle is watching them hungrily, quivering with anticipation for the moment when it will unfold its stone wings and pounce. The thing on the roof knows that nothing is over; nothing is finished. Ironhand takes us deeper into the layers of un-London, the place where the good and the bad statues, the spits and the taints, walk and war. George and Edie must repay the debt which they owe the Gunner for his sacrifice. They must face unspeakable danger and doubt if they are to save him.
What I Was by Meg Rosoff. Penguin. Age 12+
The narrator is a 16-year old boy who has been expelled from two boarding schools and finds himself dumped in a third, near the Suffolk coast in England. The school is ruled by tradition and bullying is commonplace but on the beach nearby he finds a fisherman’s hut occupied by the beautiful Finn, whom is everything he wishes he could be himself.: athletic, self-sufficient, able and free. The relationship that follows becomes an escape and an obsession. A neatly constructed tale with a compelling sense of doom, an implied but restrained theme of suppressed homosexuality and a genuinely surprising twist.
The Geek, The Greek and the Pimpernel by Will Gattie. Orchard. Age 10+
The Geek, the Greek and the Pimpernel is an exciting, pacey and satirical children’s book enjoyable for under 13s and also for adults who know only too well the lengths headteachers will go to to get the best exam results. The tale is firmly rooted in the 21st century, by being set in a school, narrated by a teenage protagonist and exploring the themes of bullying and corruption. It’s a common thing to have a female sidekick but because of the Greek-narrator’s more slow, thoughtful nature and reluctance to get involved in anything it’s really the girl Geek who (unlike Hermoine Granger) is the real hero of this story.
Incantation by Alice Hoffman. Egmont. Age 12+
This is a chilling story of friendship, first love and family secrets. Estrella lives in Spain, next door to her best friend Catalina. They used to be inseparable, but then Andres, Catalina’s cousin and the boy she’s planning to marry, starts to gaze at Estrella instead. And Catalina starts to plot…Estrella’s family have always done things slightly differently. Lighting candles on a Friday, for example. But these tiny things that Estrella has done all her life suddenly add up to something huge. She discovers that she and her family are Marranos – Spanish Jews living double lives as Catholics. And soon the outside world starts to intrude on her life – the world of the Spanish Inquisition, of neighbours accusing each other, of looting and riots. It is a world where new love burns and where friendship ends in flame and ash.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Black Swan. Age 12+
Nine-year-old Liesel lives with her foster family on Himmel Street during the dark days of the Third Reich. Her Communist parents have been transported to a concentration camp, and during the funeral for her brother, she manages to steal a macabre book: it is, in fact, a gravediggers’ instruction manual. This is the first of many books which will pass through her hands as the carnage of the Second World War begins to hungrily claim lives. Both Liesel and her fellow inhabitants of Himmel Street will find themselves changed by both words on the printed page and the horrendous events happening around them. Despite its grim narrator, The Book Thief is, in fact, a life-affirming book, celebrating the power of words and their ability to provide sustenance to the soul.
The Falconer’s Knot by Alice Hoffman. Bloomsbury. Age 12+
Silvano and Chiara are two teenagers with a difference. Silvano has been accused of a murder he did not commit. Chiara has been ousted from her family as a young woman with no marriage prospects. For these two very different reasons they are forced to seek refuge in a neighbouring convent and friary. And when they meet they are instantly aware that they are both outsiders, ill at ease with monastic life. Then a grisly murder – followed by another, and then another – strikes fear into the close-knit community.
Berserk by Ally Kennen. Marion Lloyd Books. Age 12+
You’d have to be crazy to make friends with a murderer. When 15-year-old Chas finds a website asking people to write to prisoners on Death Row, he decides it would be funny to get letters from a murderer. He writes to an inmate, pretending to be his mum, but the chilling replies are not at all what he expects. Chas’s own wild escapades eventually land him in a young offender’s institute, where he learns that his scary penpal has been released. And is heading for England to find him…
Burn My Heart by Beverley Naidoo. Puffin. Age 11+
The Mau Mau – the name of a secret society that once struck terror into the hearts of British settlers in Kenya. An episode in history that ended in a State of Emergency, with violent and brutal acts dividing a nation. This is an intensely personal and vivid story of two boys: one black, one white. Once they were friends even though their circumstances are very different. But in a country riven by fear and prejudice, even the best of friends can betray one another . . . Internationally acclaimed and award-winning author Beverley Naidoo explores new territory in this beautifully realized and moving story set in Britain’s colonial past.
Blood Red, Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick. Orion. Age 11+
A gripping novel based on Arthur Ransome’s eyewitness accounts of the early days of the Russian Revolution and his meetings with its leading figures, Trotsky and Lenin. Marcus Sedgwick spins a faction fairy tale from all this including Robert Bruce Lockhart’s spying and the love story of Arthur Ransome and Trotsky’s secretary. The author has mixed gothic fairy tales, history, a biography, espionage and romance in a brilliantly seamless manner, which has blended together to make a spellbinding love story.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne. Black Swan. Age 10+
Nine year old Bruno knows nothing of the Final Solution and the Holocaust. He is oblivious to the appalling cruelties being inflicted on the people of Europe by his country. All he knows is that he has been moved from a comfortable home in Berlin to a house in a desolate area where there is nothing to do and no-one to play with. Until he meets Shmuel, a boy who lives a strange parallel existence on the other side of the adjoining wire fence and who, like the other people there, wears a uniform of striped pyjamas. Bruno’s friendship with Shmuel will take him from innocence to revelation. And in exploring what he is unwittingly a part of, he will inevitably become subsumed by the terrible process.
Jack Flint and the Redthorn Sword by Joe Donnelly. Orion. Age 10+
Jack Flint has never really felt like he belonged. Kerry Malone is Jack’s best friend and a very bad swimmer. Corriwen Redthorn, dangerous with her twin daggers, is the orphaned daughter of a Temair chieftain. Her wicked Uncle Mandrake has seized the redthorn sword and plans to use it to raise the deadly Morrigan from her spellbound slumber. Together their evil will have no end. Jack, Kerry and Corrie must save the kingdom and themselves. The Book of Ways will lead them.
The Witness by James Jauncey. Young Picador. Age 12+
From the shelter of the pine trees, through the falling snow, John watched as the men kicked down doors, shattered windows and fired their first shot. It was a long time before he stopped trembling, before he dared to return and see if anyone needed his help. Among the ruins he found a small boy, too terrified to tell John his name. Now the only witness and the sole survivor are running for their lives. John knows how to look after himself, how to live off the land and his wits. But now he’s looking after someone else and every choice he makes could mean the difference between life and death. Set in the Scottish Highlands in the near future, when the disastrous nationalization of the land has led to a violent uprising.
The Reckoning by James Jauncey. Young Picador. Age 12+
Standing on the beach watching the early morning-mist roll in off the sea, Fin is thinking about the day when he can escape to the mainland. His sister got away, but no one has heard from her in two years. Fin’s thoughts are interrupted by the sound of a car on the bridge above him. He hears doors slam, voices, a scream and then, for a brief moment, he glimpses a figure falling through the fog. It’s a young girl and she dies in Fin’s arms. Did the dead girl jump or was she pushed? Sceptical of the official suicide verdict, Fin is determined to find the truth, a hunt that will lead him closer to his missing sister and to a shocking secret at the heart of his island community.
Crash by J A Henderson. OUP. Age 12+
A day out with his dad Gordon turns into a nightmare for Bobby Berlin when something shocking happens that leaves Dad thinking it’s 1977 and he’s really 14. The only people Bobby can turn to for help are his best friend Mary and her gypsy grandmother. The problem is, they don’t have a clue what to do either. Gordon is irrationally convinced that if he can just get to Dundee, everything will be OK – but he couldn’t be more wrong. The east coast of Scotland is about to be hit by a tsunami. As the population flees, Gordon journeys towards the heart of danger, followed by Bobby and Mary, hell-bent on trying to stop him.
Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray. Definitions. Age 12+
Ostrich Boys is a brilliant, fast-paced and moving boys book with a special appeal to boys. Kenny, Sim and Blake steal their best friend’s ashes to give him a proper send-off in a place he would have wanted to be. The three young men are not only chased by police, but also by memories of their dead best friend, all while being typical teenage boys. It’s probably the funniest book about death ever and all without being disrespectful.
When Pepper Roux was born his aunt foretold that he would not live past 14 years of age. Throughout his childhood his parents haven’t bothered with him much, knowing that his life would be short-lived. So when Pepper wakes up on his 14th birthday he knows this will be the day that he’ll die. But as the day wears on, and Pepper finds himself still alive, he decides to set off to sea in an attempt to try and avoid death for as long as possible. As time goes on Pepper steps into many roles and personas and has numerous outrageous adventures. But can he stay one step ahead of death? Or will fate catch up with him? And, if he does live, which of his many lives will he choose to adopt? This is a funny, uplifting and thought-provoking book.
Wolven by Di Toft. Chicken House. Age 10+
Wolven is a fantasy firmly rooted in the mysterious present. A boy and his eccentric grandparents live near a strange wood – apparently cursed. He longs for a dog – but the dirty ungainly farm creature finally found by his grandfather hardly fits his image of the perfect pet. And it howls in the night. But it’s only when his dog starts to grow human ears that he realises that something is seriously wrong. Both the boy and the dog are in serious trouble as they become aware that some seriously sinister scientists are after them. The novel moves along at a ripping speed and Nat, the central character, is a convincing hero.
Ansel’s new master slays dragons for a living. He says he’s hunted the monstrous worms all over Christendom and has the scars to prove it. But is Brock just a clever trickster in shining armour? Ansel is sure there are no such things as dragons. So what is the man-eating creature that makes its lair in the crags of Dragon Mountain? Ansel and Brock must climb the ice face to discover the terrifying truth. In this modern take on the stuff of legends, the dragon turns out to be more like a lonely, endangered species than a man-eating monster.
The Battle of the Sun by Jeanette Winterson. Bloomsbury. Age 10+
Jack is a thirteen year old boy living in 17th Century London. He doesn’t know it yet but an evil alchemist calling himself the Magus is planning to overthrow the Queen of England and take control of the kingdom for himself. To do this he will turn the entire capital, including the inhabitants, into gold. The final ingredient is the Radiant Boy, who is the key to finally turning base objects into solid gold. Jack is that boy and so finds himself kidnapped, taken to the disturbing home of the Magus who seeks to unlock his magic and bend Jack to his will. The young boy is by no means a willing captive and soon discovers another prisoner who was once the Magus’ master. This prisoner promises to give him the key to escaping if he will free him in return. What follows is whirlwind of events where Jack meets a dragon and gains his own powers and superhuman strength. But the boy has no control over his new magic and is no match for the cunning Magus. Forced to obey him they set events in motion that will lead to the city being turned to gold in just a few days.
Meet the Rat: A dancing, football-playing gangster-baiting ten-year-old. When she foresaw her father’s death, she picked up her football and decided to head for New York. Meet her older brother Bob: Protector of the Rat, but more often her follower, he is determined to find their uncle in America and discover a new life for them both. On their adventures across the flatlands of Winnipeg and through the exciting streets of New York, Bob and the Rat make friends with a hilarious con man and a famous rap star, and escape numerous dangers. But is their Uncle a rich business man, or is the word on the street, that he something more sinister, true? And will they ever find him? Hughes has created a funny, warm, unique world that lives and breathes. A brave, zany and touching story.
For a millionth of a second the car grazed the drenched moorland. If it had come down on any other patch of ground Finn would simply have been another statistic. Death by dangerous driving. But the car hit the surface of the Earth at Exit 43. It slid through the membrane like a hot knife through butter, plunging into the darkness and catapulting Finn from its shattered windscreen as it fell. Finn Oliver knows he’ll never come to terms with his father’s death, but joy-riding over the moors in his mum’s beat-up old car is a quick fix of freedom and forgetting. Until the accident happens – and Finn finds himself hurtling through the wafer-thin divide between the worlds of the living and the dead. Adventurous, charming and poignant by turns, “The Boy Who Fell Down Exit 43″ is a quirky debut novel laced with humour and a dollop of magic.
1956. Freddy and Polly have always known their father is a genius. So they’ve never minded helping him with his experiments. Even when that means being put into cryonic suspension-having their hearts frozen until their father wakes them up again. They know it will only be for an hour or two, so there’s nothing to worry about… 2009. Ben and Rachel have resigned themselves to a long, boring summer. Then they find the hidden underground vault in the garden-and inside it two frozen figures, a boy and a girl. And as if that isn’t spooky enough, when Rachel accidentally presses a button, something unbelievable happens… Can Polly and Freddy adapt to the twenty-first century? Will their bodies survive having been in suspension for so long? And most important of all, what happened to their father-and why did he leave them frozen in time?
When Mrs Starch, the most feared biology teacher in Florida, goes missing during a school trip to the Black Vine Swamp, her class is secretly relieved. The school principal tries to cover it up as a ‘family emergency’, but Nick and Marta just aren’t convinced. They think it’s much more likely to have something to do with Smoke, the local troublemaker – whose run-ins with Mrs Starch are infamous – and decide to do some investigating of their own. But there’s more going on in Black Vine Swamp than either one of them could guess. And Nick and Marta must see off an eccentric eco-avenger, a stuffed rat named Chelsea, a crooked oil prospector, a singing substitute teacher, and an angry Florida panther before they really begin to see the big picture.
Five kids at an exclusive private school hatch a daring plan to fake a kidnap and raise money for charity. There’s brainy scholarship boy, Wiki, super-glam Jade, too-cool-for-school Mark, everyone’s best friend Holly – and then there’s Trix. It was her brilliant idea in the first place. A kidnap, a rural hideaway, a load of money . . . and all for the very best of motives. What could possibly go wrong? Entertaining and cleverly constructed, it’s enjoyable for the way the narratives of the five distinct characters are interwoven, and for its subtly mounting tension.
Zach and his sister Annis have been uprooted by their parents from their comfortable home to a remote and half-built barn in France. Zach is being removed from his ‘bad-influence’ friends, their parents are trying to salvage their marriage and still remain on speaking terms whilst the bitterness of their father’s affair bubbles underneath the surface. And Annis – Annis just keeps going, keeping her head down, trying to keep it together. So far so normal. And then Zach, uncommunicative and contrary as ever these days, defies everything their parents have said and makes his way to the unsafe ruined building at the edge of their new garden, and leans up against the wall. The wall bulges, totters – and suddenly collapses on top of him…
In a nice small German town, young girls start disappearing. We experience the growing unease in town through the eyes of 11 year old Pia who is determined to unravel the mystery of Bad Munstereifel. It is this ancient town, with its rich background of traditions and folk-tales, which provide much of the delightful colour and texture of the story. It is the frequent reference to the old folk-tales which lead both narrator and reader to look for supernatural explanations as the plot unfolds, as schoolgirls vanish, one after another.
The story builds to a dark, shocking and satisfying conclusion. The dialogue is plausible and colourful. Grant is clearly not only an excellent interpreter of the behaviour of children, but an acute observer of the colour and customs of a small and conservative German community.
Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T S Eliot. Faber and Faber. Age 10+
Although easily outselling The Wasteland, and probably all of Eliot’s other works put together, this richly worded collection is frequently dismissed by critics as frivolous. The poems are rarely included in Eliot anthologies and are probably much more frequently read by children than by adults. However, there is much in Old Possum to intrigue the literary critic – as well as his/her child. Mungojerrie, Magical Mr Mistoffelees and the elusive Macavity are all here. Read aloud for maximum effect!
When best friends Nonie, Edie and Jenny meet a young African refugee girl wearing a pair of pink fairy-wings and sketching a dress in the Victoria and Albert Museum, they get the chance to do something truly wonderful – and make all their fashion dreams come true. Subtitled “a fashion fairytale”, this rags -t0-haute couture tale moves at a cracking pace, with many star-studded twists. Its witty narrative will keep readers hooked till the sparkling finale. But Threads also raises serious concerns about the plight of children such as Crow and her missing brother, who have been displaced by war. An enjoyable story with a powerful humanitarian message.
The Wild Things is the tale of Max and an adventure he has after he runs away from home. His parents have divorced in the not too distant past and now he lives with his mother, his sister Claire and his mother’s boyfriend Gary. His mother is very busy with her career, two children and a new partner. His sister is very busy ignoring him and becoming a woman, no longer with so much time for Max. His Dad doesn’t really figure very much as he lives in the city. So this young boy is going through quite a bag of emotions culminating in a huge rebellion where he ends up running away to the land where the Wild Things are. This is a novel based on the script of Maurice Sendack’s Where the Wild Things Are.
When a Hag, an orphan boy and a troll called Ulf get sent to rescue a princess from an ogre, they expect it to be a fairly standard magical mission. But the ogre is depressed, the princess doesn’t want to be rescued – and the ogre’s dead wife is turning in her grave. The Norns who rule their fates decide to take things in hand – will the Ogre meet a bloody end, or will he get a happy ending? With a terrific cast of characters including a talking gnu, hippo and aye-aye, fearsome aunts, rubbish princes and the vilest collection of ghosts ever described, this is a very funny, imaginative and clever story from an author whose tales are observant and humorous without being moralising or didactic.
Long Reach by Peter Cocks. Walker. Age 14+
Seventeen-year-old Eddie Savage is shocked to learn that the body of his brother, Steve, has just been washed up in the Thames. But he soon discovers something even more disturbing: that Steve had actually been working undercover for the police – and was probably murdered in the line of duty. Determined to avenge his brother’s death, Eddie relinquishes his old life and identity to take up where Steve left off, throwing himself headlong into his first mission – to infiltrate a tough south London gang. But as he becomes caught up in the world of crime, Eddie begins to question where his loyalties lie. Then he makes a terrible discovery…
Useful Idiots by Jan Mark. David Fickling Books. Age 14+
The mass of land previously known as the United Kingdom has been eroded by climate change, and the east of the Islands possessed by the sea. And it is not only physical history that is vanishing: the cultural past is also being erased from human consciousness. Archaeology has become the ‘lost; science – it is blamed for stirring up cultural differences and provoking nationalism – and the authorities believe the study of history and the past can only be safe as long as it is controlled by themselves. So when a violent storm across the North Sea unveils an undated human skull on Parizo beach in the east of the Islands, a profoundly delicate moral dilemma is also revealed. And it is into this politically explosive environment that the unassuming Merrick, a young graduate, finds himself thrown.
The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Orion. Age 11+
Max Carver’s father – a watchmaker and inventor – decides to move his family to a small town on the coast, to an old house that once belonged to a prestigious surgeon, Dr Richard Fleischmann. But the house holds many secrets and stories of its own. As the family settles in they grow increasingly uneasy: they discover a box of old films belonging to the Fleischmanns; his sister has disturbing dreams and his other sister hears voices whispering to her from an old wardrobe. They also discover the wreck of a boat that sank many years ago in a terrible storm. Everyone on board perished except for one man – an engineer who built the lighthouse at the end of the beach. During the dive, Max sees something that leaves him cold – on the old mast floats a tattered flag with the symbol of the six-pointed star. As they learn more about the wreck, the chilling story of the Prince of the Mists begins to emerge.
Miku Takeshita and her family have moved from Japan to live in the UK, but unfortunately the family’s enemy demons have followed them… Miku knows she’s in trouble when her new supply teacher turns out to be a Nukekubi – a bloodthirsty demon who can turn into a flying head and whose favourite snack is children. That night, in a raging snowstorm, Miku’s little brother Kazu is kidnapped by the demons, and then it’s up to Miku and her friend Cait to get him back. The girls break into their snow-locked school, confronting the dragon-like Woman of the Wet, and outwitting the faceless Nopera-bo. At last they come face to face with the Nukekubi itself – but will they be in time to save Kazu? A fast-paced horror adventure illustrated in Manga style by Siku.
Young Sherlock Holmes: Death Cloud by Andrew Lane. Macmillan. Age 12+
The year is 1868, and Sherlock Holmes is fourteen. His life is that of a perfectly ordinary army officer’s son: boarding school, good manners, a classical education – the backbone of the British Empire. But all that is about to change. With his father suddenly posted to India, and his mother mysteriously ‘unwell’, Sherlock is sent to stay with his eccentric uncle and aunt in their vast house in Hampshire. So begins a summer that leads Sherlock to uncover his first murder, a kidnap, corruption and a brilliantly sinister villain of exquisitely malign intent . . .The Death Cloud is the first in a series of novels in which the iconic detective is reimagined as a brilliant, troubled and engaging teenager – creating unputdownable detective adventures that remain true to the spirit of the original books.
Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick. Orion. Age 12+
1910. A cabin north of the Arctic Circle. Fifteen-year-old Sig Andersson is alone. Alone, except for the corpse of his father, who died earlier that day after falling through a weak spot on the ice-covered lake. His sister, Anna, and step-mother, Nadya, have gone to the local town for help. Then comes a knock at the door. It’s a man, the flash of a revolver’s butt at his hip, and a mean glare in his eyes. Sig has never seen him before but Wolff claims to have unfinished business with his father. As Sig gradually learns the awful truth about Wolff’s connection to his father, his thoughts are drawn to a certain box hidden on a shelf in the storeroom, in which lies his father’s prized possession – a revolver. When Anna returns alone, and Wolff begins to close in, Sig’s choice is pulled into sharp focus. Should he use the gun, or not? A tense, evocative and haunting tale.
Flour Babies by Anne Fine. Puffin. Age 13+
Flour Babies can easily be read as a book about a class of boys who have to look after little bags of flour for 3 weeks as if they were babies. The story goes much deeper than that. This book deals with issues that these adolescents would be preparing to face in later life as well as being a cathartic process of self discovery for the main character. It explores the responsibilities of parenthood both in their presence and absence. Anne Fine has written numerous highly acclaimed and prize-winning books for children and adults. The Tulip Touch won the Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year Award; Goggle-Eyeswon the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award and the Carnegie Medal; Flour Babies won the Carnegie Medal and the Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year; and Bill’s New Frock won a Smarties Prize.
Tall Story by Candy Gourlay. David Fickling. Age 12+
Be careful what you wish for …Andi is short. And she has lots of wishes. She wishes she could play on the school basketball team, she wishes for her own bedroom, but most of all she wishes that her long lost half brother, Bernardo, could come and live in London, where he belongs. Then Andi’s biggest wish comes true and she’s minutes away from becoming someone’s little sister. As she waits anxiously for Bernardo to arrive from the Philippines, she hopes he’ll turn out to be tall and just as mad as she is about basketball. When he finally arrives, he’s tall all right. But he’s not just tall …he’s a GIANT. In a novel packed with humour and quirkiness, Gourlay explores a touching sibling relationship and the clash of two very different cultures.
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. Puffin. Age 13+
Rosoff’s story begins in modern day London, slightly in the future, and as its heroine has a 15-year-old Manhattanite called Daisy. She’s picked up at the airport by Edmond, her English cousin, a boy in whose life she is destined to become intricately entwined. Daisy is staying for the summer in her Aunt Penn’s country farmhouse with Edmond and her other cousins. They spend some idyllic weeks together–often alone with Aunt Penn away travelling in Norway. Daisy’s cousins seem to have an almost telepathic bond, and Daisy is mesmerised by Edmond and soon falls in love with him.
But their world changes forever when an unnamed aggressor invades England and begins a years-long occupation. Daisy is parted from Edmond when soldiers take over their home, and Daisy and Piper, her younger cousin, must travel to another place to work. Their experiences of occupation are never kind and always hard. Daisy’s pain, living without Edmond, is tangible.
Grass by Cathy MacPhail. Bloomsbury. Age 13+
It would have been hard to miss what was written on the wall. Painted in giant whitewashed letters: ‘SHARKEY IS A GRASS’. Leo knows the value of never grassing and that you never grass on your friends. Everybody, too, knows the gang leaders in town. And you don’t grass on them. Not unless you don’t value your life – like Sharkey. And then Leo is unlucky enough to witness the murder of one gang leader by another, a man called Armour. Leo is petrified as he realises what he is witnessing and even more petrified when he realises that Armour has seen him. Sure that he is drawing his own last breath, Leo silently says goodbye to his family and everybody he knows. But all Armour does is wink at Leo, very slowly, and leave the scene of the crime. Leo draws a long breath of relief. He has got away with it. Or has he?
Johnny Swanson by Eleanor Updale. David Fickling Books. Age 10+
When Johnny, the small but charming central character, discovers that the advert he answered promising the secret of instant height is a scam, he decides to earn back the money he ‘borrowed’ from his mum by setting up an advertising scam of his own -with hilarious consequences. It isn’t all funny business however, as his mother finds herself accused of murdering a local doctor and Johnny has to use all his wits to find a way to save her from the gallows, as this is Britain in 1929 and the death penalty is still a possibility. The author has worked on radio and television, mainly on news programmes, as well as having a PhD in history, all of which serves to make the period detail credible.
Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to centre stage of her own life – and, despite her non-existent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey’s boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie’s own. Joe is the new boy in town, with a nearly magical grin. One boy takes Lennie out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But the two can’t collide without Lennie’s world exploding…Jandy Nelson’s first novel deals movingly with bereavement and the guilt often felt by survivors as they struggle to get on with their own lives.
iBoy by Kevin Brooks. Puffin. Age 14+
When 16-year-old Tom is hit by an iPhone thrown from a tower block, parts of it become embedded in his brain, giving him superpowers which allow him not only to access everything on the internet, but to read others’ text messages, break through solid metal doors and zap people with electric shocks. With power comes knowledge and responsibility. Should he take revenge on the gangs which roam his estate and commit the most awful assault on his friend Lucy or should he keep quiet? The novel explores disturbing themes such as gang rape, but not in a graphic way, choosing to deal instead with the aftermath and the effect on the victims. It also examines the part new technology is playing in our lives, and reminds us that ordinary human powers are more important than anything a gadget can do.
When Pancho arrives at St. Anthony’s Home, he knows his time there will be short. If his plans succeed, he’ll soon be arrested for the murder of his sister’s killer. But then he’s assigned to help DQ, whose brain cancer has slowed neither his spirit nor his mouth. DQ tells Pancho all about his “Death Warrior’s Manifesto”, which will help him to live out his last days fully – ideally, he says with the love of the beautiful Marisol. As Pancho tracks down his sister’s murderer, he finds himself falling under the influence of DQ and Marisol, and beginning to understand that there’s more to life than revenge and more to death than sadness. There will be people who will find the novel sentimental but Stork avoids schmaltz for the most part and presents us instead with moments of genuine pathos, tenderness and friendship.
Vamoose by Meg Rosoff. Puffin. Age 12+
A very funny, tongue-in-cheek story for older readers all about what happens when a sweet and innocent young couple give birth to a happy, bouncing, and utterly adorable little . . . moose! Although published for teenage readers, this cleverly observed fable deals with contemporary themes like motherhood, snobbery and prejudice, as well as the modern-day obsession with perfect, high-achieving children. When a teenager has a baby, nobody wants to know: her own mother wants rid of it, the social worker assumes that a girl with piercings and a tattoo must be useless, and the parents of the posh boyfriend don’t get a look in. When the baby turns out to be a moose, things go from bad to worse.
White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick. Orion. Age 12+
It’s summer. Rebecca is an unwilling visitor to Winterfold – taken from the buzz of London and her friends and what she thinks is the start of a promising romance. Ferelith already lives in Winterfold – it’s a place that doesn’t like to let you go, and she knows it inside out – the beach, the crumbling cliff paths, the village streets, the woods, the deserted churches and ruined graveyards, year by year being swallowed by the sea. Against her better judgement, Rebecca and Ferelith become friends, and during that long, hot, claustrophobic summer they discover more about each other and about Winterfold than either of them really want to, uncovering frightening secrets that would be best left long forgotten. Interwoven with Rebecca and Ferelith’s stories is that of the seventeenth century Rector and Dr Barrieux, master of Winterfold Hall, whose bizarre and bloody experiments into the after-life might make angels weep, and the devil crow.
The Bower Bird (Gussie) by Ann Kelley. Luath. Age 11+
There isn’t really a storyline, it’s more a snapshot of a few months in a short lifetime and Gussie flits from subject to subject, sometimes veering off at a tangent, but she comes back to her point in the end. This all adds to the feeling that you are sitting listening to Gussie chattering, rather than reading a book. Winner of the 2007 Costa Childrens Book Award, it continues the story of Gussie, a precocious young girl diagnosed with a rare heart condition. Despite this, she is determined to live life to the fullest, experiencing typical adolescent problems such as love and parent troubles. While never complaining, she offers a direct and honest insight about herself and the world around her, in a story which is poignant, charming, and oddly optimistic.
The Double Life of Cassiel Roadnight is the story of a boy who assumes the identity of a missing teenager and in so-doing unearths a series of shattering family secrets – and the truth about who he really is. This story, based on identity fraud, also asks us to re-evaluate crime: which crimes are irredeemably bad, and which can be forgiven? With all the classic hallmarks of a Jenny Valentine novel – a fantastically strong, sensitive and memorable first person narration; themes of loss and betrayal, family secrets and personal identity; truly quality writing that is ‘literary’ but never inaccessbile or pretentious.
It’s 1893 and for Cissy and her family, a new life beckons on the prairies of Oklahoma. Along with other settlers, they travel to Florence – a town yet to be built – and prepare for business alongside the Red Rock Railroad track. But the railroad company has other ideas. It wants to buy the land for itself – and when the settlers refuse to sell, the railroad boss swears his trains will never stop in Florence again. Without the train, there is no way the town can survive. So Cissy, her friends, family, and neighbours resolve to stop that train, come what may – by fair means or foul. A book that can be enjoyed as much by adults.
At the beginning of Revolution we’re introduced to cool, incredibly talented Andi, a teenage girl living in present day New York. Andi goes to a prestigious private school for talented students and her talent is music. It would seem that Andi has the world at her feet but that is before her younger brother Truman dies in an accident that Andi believes is her fault. It’s in Paris that Andi stumbles upon a lost diary belonging to Alex, a girl of her age who worked in the palace looking after Louis-Charles during the French revolution. Captivated by Alex’s story and confessions, instead of turning the diary in Andi reads on intrigued by the similarities between herself and Alex, Louis-Charles and her brother Truman, and what follows is a page turning historical mystery merging the lives of the two girls.
Twilight Robbery by Frances Hardinge. Macmillan. Age 11+
Mosca Mye and Eponymous Clent are in trouble again. Escaping disaster by the skin of their teeth, they find refuge in Toll, the strange gateway town where visitors may neither enter nor leave without paying a price. By day, the city is well-mannered and orderly; by night, it’s the haunt of rogues and villains. Wherever there’s a plot, there’s sure to be treachery, and wherever there’s treachery, there’s sure to be trouble – and where there’s trouble, Clent, Mosca and the web-footed apocalypse Saracen can’t be far behind. But as past deeds catch up with them and old enemies appear, it looks as if this time there’s no way out . . How they spring their prison and release the whole city is a triumph of vividly imagined invention.
The lives of two teenage girls become literally connected after 14-year-old Amanda unexpectedly dies during a gymnastics meet and Dani receives Amanda’s heart. However, things do not always go according to plan, and not all organ recipients are necessarily worthy, despite the common stereotype. Amanda’s parents initially distance themselves from knowing who has benefited from the donation of her organs, until her brother seeks out Dani, the recipient of her heart. They find common ground when Dani’s sense of isolation at her homecoming party mirrors Tyler’s feelings while the family are mourning his sister’s death. A keenly observed tale of love and loss.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. David Fickling Books. Age 12+
Christopher is an intelligent youth who lives in the functional hinterland of autism–every day is an investigation for him because of all the aspects of human life that he does not quite get. When the dog next door is killed with a garden fork, Christopher becomes quietly persistent in his desire to find out what has happened and tugs away at the world around him until a lot of secrets unravel messily. Haddon makes an intelligent stab at how it feels to, for example, not know how to read the faces of the people around you, to be perpetually spooked by certain colours and certain levels of noise, to hate being touched to the point of violent reaction. Life is difficult for the difficult and prickly Christopher in ways that he only partly understands; this avoids most of the obvious pitfalls of novels about disability because it demands that we respect–perhaps admire–him rather than pity him.
Zarita, only daughter of the town magistrate, lives a life of wealth and privilege. Indulged by her parents, she is free to spend her days as she pleases, enjoying herself in the company of an eligible young nobleman, horse riding, or leisurely studying the arts. Saulo, son of a family reduced by circumstances to begging, witnesses his father wrongfully arrested and dealt with in the most horrifying way. Hauled off to be a slave at sea and pursued by pirates he encounters the ambitious mariner explorer, Christopher Columbus. Throughout his hardships Saulo is determined to survive – for he has sworn vengeance on the magistrate and his family. As Zarita’s life also undergoes harsh changes the formidable and frightening Inquisition arrives in the area, bringing menacing shadows of suspicion with acts of cruel brutality.
Finding Violet Park by Jenny Valentine. Harper Collins. age 13+
Teenager, Lucas is intrigued by the urn containing ashes of Violet Park that rests on a shelf in a taxi office and he is convinced that she is trying to communicate with him. He steals the urn and finding out more about her life becomes his obsession and a quest which reveals much more about his own life. Violet’s secrets gradually become clear until he is surprised to discover her connection to his missing father. Part mystery, part romance, and written with a compellingly spare clarity, this is an account of one teenager’s giant stride from childhood introspection to adult awareness.
Before I Die by Jenny Downham. Definitions. age 13+
An intense story narrated by Tessa, who is 16 and has only a few months left to live. She has a list of `to do before I die’ wishes and is working her way through them. Along the way the reader hears about Tessa’s observations on life, how she faces what fate has dealt her with grace but also with rebelliousness and anger. She thinks about what it will be like for her family once she is dead and whether she will be able to haunt them. We also learn what her family think, and how they are trying to come to terms with the knowledge that they are going to lose their daughter. This book could have been unbearably painful to read, but Downham has allowed Tessa to retain a sense of humour about her situation, along with meeting her first (and only) true love.
The Radleys by Matt Haig. Walker. Age 13+
Life with the Radleys: Radio 4, dinner parties with the Bishopthorpe neighbours and self-denial. Loads of self-denial. But all hell is about to break loose. When teenage daughter Clara gets attacked on the way home from a party, she and her brother Rowan finally discover why they can’t sleep, can’t eat a Thai salad without fear of asphyxiation and can’t go outside unless they’re smothered in Factor 50. With a visit from their lethally louche uncle Will and an increasingly suspicious police force, life in Bishopthorpe is about to change. The daughter is a bit low on haemoglobin having recently turned vegan, she has a confrontation and erm…’sees red’ literally and figuratively. As you would expect, having a confrontation with a vampire is typically short lived and terminal, as it proves in this case. Cue some angst, self discovery, rejection and acceptance.
Wasted by Nicola Morgan. Walker. Age 13+
Jack worships luck and decides his actions by the flip of a coin. No risk is too great if the coin demands it.
Luck brings him Jess, a beautiful singer who will change his life. But Jack’s luck is running out, and soon the stakes are high. As chance and choice unravel, the risks of Jack’s game become terrifyingly clear. An evening of heady recklessness, and suddenly a life hangs in the balance, decided by the toss of a coin. In the end, it is the reader who must choose whether to spin that coin and determine: life or death.
The Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgwick. Orion. Age 11+
The days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve are dead days, where spirits roam and magic shifts restlessly just below the surface of our lives. A lot can happen in the dead days. There is a magician called Valerian who must save his own life, or pay the price for the pact he made with evil so many years ago. But will alchemy and sorcery be any match against the demonic power pursuing him? Helping him is his servant, Boy, a child with no name and no past, and the quick-witted Willow, his new female companion. Set in a dark, dangerous city and in the frozen countryside of a distant time and place, this is a story of power, corruption and desperate magic.
Eleven Eleven by Paul Dowswell. Bloomsbury Childrens. Age 12+
The plot is taut as a thriller, and Dowswell brilliantly captures the atmospheric detail that brings exhausted troops in the battle-churned Belgian countryside alive off the page: the wary camaraderie, grinding Army procedure, flashes of humanity, gallows humour and above all the dull misery of damp and cold and inadequate rations, spiked with fear when shells rain in or snipers strike. It’s so hard for us to comprehend the First World War at this distance – so long ago, so enormous, so many lives lost for such unfathomable causes and apparently insignificant gains. Dowswell makes it possible to live and feel the conflict through his three protagonists – and to realise that they had not much more idea of the causes and grand ideas than we do, and are much closer and more like us than we would imagine. A powerful, wise and brillliantly readable book.
As lady-in-waiting to Mary, Queen of Scots, the beautiful Ginette – known as Jenny – is the young queen’s closest childhood friend. Growing up in the elegant but ruthless French court, surrounded by enemies and traitors – not least the jealous, manipulative Catherine de Medici, and Mary’s own scheming half-brother, James – Jenny has always been fiercely loyal to her mistress. But when she overhears a mysterious whispered plot, closely followed by several unexplained deaths at court, she puts her own life in danger and turns spy for Mary. Jenny quickly realises not a soul at court can be trusted, and when she and Mary return to their Scottish homeland for Mary to claim her throne, they face even greater peril. Desperate to protect her friend from those who would slit her throat to steal her crown, while battling her feelings for the charismatic nobleman Duncan Alexander, Jenny becomes embroiled in a dangerous web of secrets, betrayals and lies.
Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick. Corgi Childrens. Age 11+
Eleven-year-old Arn is walking through the countryside in Cambodia. His whole town is walking with him. They’re walking into one of the most tragic moments of history: the Killing Fields.
As the story unfolds from atrocity to anguish it gains momentum until, in its final chapters, it becomes a gripping account of the inner turmoil of a child soldier. (New York Times )