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Ten Essential Children’s Books 10


In Louis Sachar’s Holes, the desert setting of the juvenile correction facility is vivid and oppressive. Feel the heat, feel the desolation, and rage inwardly against the injustice, past and present, that have beset Stanley Yelnats’ family. Stanley’s rescue of his friend Zero has the reader exulting in the triumph of innocence over evil. The spare, perfect text makes every word count, and it grips the reader so tight, they too are incarcerated until The End releases them.


William Nicholson’s Wind on Fire trilogy is right up there with Philip Reeve’s comparable Mortal Engines but Reeves’ Hungry City Chronicles may have more characters for children to identify with, more twists, turns and offshoots to keep them coming back for more. Wheeled cities, large and small, roam the futuristic landscape, eating up lesser towns. The heroes Hester and Tom are pitted against big adversaries: callous self-interest, pitiless slaughter, impossible odds, scars physical and mental... A juggernaut of an endeavour.


In Janet & Allan Ahlberg’s Jeremiah in the Dark Woods, Jeremiah sets off to catch the thief who stole Grandma’s tarts, and meets a string of oddities along the way. My daughter and I enjoyed it so much that I was moved to write this. Many years on, I can’t remember precise reasons, but it clearly shone for us.


Given paper’s origins, in felled and pulped arborial things, I always found an irony in paper books concerning trees. But hauled by an insistent child clear from the margins deep into the wild heart of this one book, we stood and trembled both, as the story shook, and we snatched at the tilting, turning leaves that curled around us from the book-spine’s eaves. We looked around and found, like birds, on every branching sentence, singing words! Such perfect spacing perfect placing perfect pacing, root to crown, that we lay and gasped beneath a spire of sounds as the spinning seeds of Story tumbled down.


One last extra, long gone: The Voyages of the Limping Flamingo written and illustrated by Neil Jones – my brother – and published when he was 14. Submitted bound using a cornflakes box, it was accepted on the grounds that the Harraps Editor’s children had fallen off the bed laughing as they read it. Children still would. It was brilliant. I became a writer out of envy and hero-worship.


Books mentioned:


The Silver Branch, Rosemary Sutcliff, OUP, 978-0192755056, £8.99 pbk


Saffy’s Angel, Hilary McKay, Hodder Children’s Books, 978-0340989043, £6.99 pbk


Love That Dog, Sharon Creech, Bloomsbury, 978-0747557494, £6.99 pbk


Where the Sidewalk Ends, Shel Silverstein, Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd, 978-0714530956, £9.99


Framed, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Macmillan Children’s Books, 978-1529008784, £7.99 pbk


Millions, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Macmillan Children’s Books, 978-1529008760, £7.99 pbk


The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Egmont, 978-1405216340, £12.99 hbk


Danny the Champion of the World, Roald Dahl, Puffin, 978-0141365411, £6.99 pbk


Holes, Louis Sachar, Bloomsbury, 978-1408865231, £6.99 pbk


The Wind Singer, William Nicholson, Egmont, 978-1405239691, £6.99 pbk Mortal Engines, Philip Reeve, Scholastic, 978-1407189147, £7.99 pbk


Jeremiah in the Dark Woods, Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Puffin, 978-0141304960, £6.99 pbk


Geraldine McCaughrean has won the Carnegie Medal (twice), the Whitbread Children’s Book Award (three times), the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, the Smarties Bronze Award (four times) and the Blue Peter Book of the Year Award. The Supreme Lie, a timely new novel set in a world paralysed by natural disaster and dangerous politics, will be published by Usborne Publishing in April 2021.


Books for Keeps No.244 September 2020 5


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