Pizazz by Sophy Henn

If you could have a superpower what would you choose? Laser eyes? Invisibility? Ice breath? Pizazz wishes she had a superpower that exciting but hers is just rubbish (or so she thinks). Sophy Henn introduces us to Pizazz and her super family in the first book in her new series.

Pizazz is a superhero in a family of superheroes. You would think that her life would be pretty awesome but, most of the time, Pizazz thinks it is super annoying. She has to wear the same outfit all the time and she has to keep dashing off to save the world, even if she’s in the middle of something important. Her friends used to understand how chaotic her life is but Pizazz has just moved house and schools. Being a superhero and trying to fit in really don’t go together. When she gets assigned as an eco monitor at school Pizazz thinks it is a bit lame until she realises this is her chance to save the world in a different way. If only horrible supervillains would stop trying to take over the world!

Pizazz is the hilarious, action-packed debut of the next superhero franchise you’ll get obsessed with. Pizazz has to deal with normal kid stuff like an annoying family, mean kids and making friends, but she also has to save the world from super-powered lasers and high-tech tank prams.

The book is jam-packed with Sophy’s fantastic black and white illustrations. There are plenty of super stares, super poses and super costumes. The thing I loved most about the illustrations are the parts where Pizazz and her family have to fight a villain. These parts look like a classic superhero comic.

I love Pizazz and all of her crazy family! They all have different superpowers, including Pizazz (although she doesn’t want us to know what it is). Her dog, Wanda, isn’t a normal dog either. She receives and transmits messages and keeps an eye on the family. My favourite character is Gramps, because he farts fireballs if he laughs too much. Sophy’s supervillains are brilliant too. There’s a giant baby called Googoo who fires toys from his tank shaped like a pram, Twerknado who uses his twerk power for destructive purposes, and pukey villain Megavom.

Pizazz is perfect for ages 7+. It’s a guaranteed great read for all kids. If you haven’t read Sophy’s previous series, Bad Nana, I highly recommend this too.

Finding Francois by Gus Gordon

Every new book by Gus Gordon is a treasure. They’re picture books that can be enjoyed by all ages, from new entrants through to Year 8. Gus tugs at your heart-strings and makes you fall in love with his characters. I loved Herman and Rosie (one of Gus’s earlier books) so much that I bought a piece of artwork from the book. Gus’s latest picture book, Finding Francois, is pure perfection and leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy.

Alice Bonnet lives with her grandmother. They’re a great team and they love spending time with each other, whether it is baking, going to the park for lunch, or strolling through the city saying hello to all their friends. There are some days, however, when Alice wishes that she had someone her own size to talk to. So, one morning Alice writes a note, puts it in a bottle and throws it into the river. She hopes that someone will reply and, one day, she receives one from Francois. Their friendship grows through their notes, but then tragedy strikes and the notes stop. As Alice discovers though, good friends are always there when you need them.

Finding Francois is a beautiful picture book that is both sad and uplifting. Gus Gordon has an extraordinary gift of making you feel like his characters are your best friends. I became emotionally invested in Alice’s life within a few pages and I wanted her to find a friend. I love how Gus gives you little details about the characters, like the things that Alice and Francois have in common.

‘Like Alice, Francois loved writing lists and reading books. And drawing mermaids too. (Alice wasn’t expecting that!)

But Francois also loved dancing. And wearing funny hats. And origami. And garlic butter. And flower arranging.’

Relationships and connection are a big part of Gus’s books too. Alice has a really strong relationship with her grandma and they build some wonderful memories together. Alice and Francois build a friendship without meeting each other, but this is a strong relationship too.

Gus’s illustrations are superb! Like Lauren Child and Oliver Jeffers, Gus’s illustrations are a mixed media delight. He uses images cut from old French homewares catalogues to stand in for furniture in the illustrations. One illustration even looks like it has been painted over an old French postcard. As well as meeting Alice, Francois and their families, Gus always makes the background characters come alive. You look at these characters and know that they have their own lives (like the bear in the cheese shop). Even the photos on the walls bring Alice’s ancestors alive.

Everyone needs some Gus Gordon in their life. Grab a copy of Finding Francois from your library or bookshop now.

Brilliant new books from Barrington Stoke

Barrington Stoke are one of the best publishers around. Not only do they publish dyslexia friendly books for kids and teens, they also ensure that these stories are written by some of the best authors for young people. Authors like Lisa Thompson, Laura James, Anthony McGowan and Meg Rosoff write short, engaging stories that are perfect for reluctant readers and readers with dyslexia. I’m a huge fan of their books and I read and recommended as many of them as I can. Anthony McGowan’s Lark, which won the 2020 Carnegie Medal is published by Barrington Stoke so they’re also an award winning publisher.

Barrington Stoke have an amazing line up of books coming in August and September. Their books are distributed here in NZ and Australia through Allen and Unwin so are available through bookshops and library suppliers. You can read about the upcoming releases below.

AFTER THE WAR: FROM AUSCHWITZ TO AMBLESIDE. By Tom Palmer, cover art by Violet Tobacco. Publishing: 6th August. For: 9 years+


Summer 1945. The Second World War is finally over and Yossi, Leo and Mordecai are among three hundred children who arrive in the English Lake District. Having survived the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, they’ve finally reached a place of safety and peace, where they can hopefully begin to recover. But Yossi is haunted by thoughts of his missing father and disturbed by terrible nightmares. As he waits desperately for news from home, he fears that Mordecai and Leo – the closest thing to family he has left – will move on without him. Will life by the beautiful Lake Windermere be enough to bring hope back into all their lives?
A deeply moving and beautifully told novel of friendship and belonging, inspired by the incredible true story of the Windermere Boys.

SEQUIN AND STITCH.
Laura Dockrill, illustrations by Sara Ogilvie.
For: 8 years+.
Publishing: 6th August

Acclaimed creator Laura Dockrill sews together family, imagination and heart in this lyrical and completely unique Barrington Stoke debut.
Sequin’s mum is a talented seamstress and their little flat is overflowing with beautiful silks, fabrics, buttons and beads. It’s a sparkling sanctuary, like a princess’s wardrobe. While Mum works at her sewing machine late into the night, Sequin takes care of her baby brother, Stitch, and dreams of a place in the spotlight for her brilliant mum. But when tragedy strikes, their shimmering world disintegrates and Sequin is forced to confront the biggest loss of all …

JUST ANOTHER LITTLE LIE. Eve Ainsworth. For: 12 years+. Publishing: 6th August


It’s just a little blip. Violet’s mum hasn’t been herself for a while. A few too many glasses of wine in the evening. Mornings when she can’t get out of bed. Now Violet’s the one looking after her little brother and looking out for empty bottles in Mum’s bag. But it’s just another little blip. Mum will be fine again soon. She has to be … How long do blips last for?
Award-winning author Eve Ainsworth returns with a stark, honest and deeply moving novella exploring the difficult subject of alcohol addiction.

WUTHERING HEIGHTS: A RETELLING. Tanya Landman, cover art by Helen Crawford-White. For: 12 years+. Publishing: 6th August


Carnegie Medal-winning author Tanya Landman reignites another beloved Brontë classic in a phenomenal retelling, accessible to all readers.
The night that Heathcliff, an unkempt orphan, arrives at the Heights, Cathy’s life will change for ever … but theirs will not be a happy love story. From a harsh childhood to a foolish marriage, a troubled path of pain and punishment lies ahead. Yet no matter how they suffer, they cannot stay apart – for whatever souls are made of, Cathy’s and Heathcliff’s are the same. After all these years, will Cathy’s ghost find the peace that life denied her?

THE HOUSE OF CLOUDS. Lisa Thompson, illustrations by Alice McKinley. For: 8 years+. Publishing: 3rd September


Tabby’s fed up. Fed up with losing her best friend and fed up that Grandad has come to stay. Grandad’s always telling the same old silly, made-up stories. And now Tabby has to walk his smelly dog Buster every day after school. When one of Tabby’s walks takes her to a lonely hilltop house she spots something strange going on. So strange she can’t help but mention it to Grandad. Of course he tells her another fantastical story but when tragedy strikes, Tabby’s left wondering if Grandad’s impossible tale could be true?
From the Blue Peter shortlisted author of Owen and the Soldier.

THE INVASION OF CROOKED OAK. Dan Smith, illustrations by Chris King. For: 8 years+. Publishing: 3rd September


Stranger Things meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers in this thrilling sci-fi adventure with an environmental twist.
Nancy’s parents are acting weird. Their eyes are blank, they won’t eat – it’s like they’re no longer themselves. Pete and Krish are obsessed with unexplained phenomena and when they offer to help Nancy investigate, they’re sure they can crack the case. But the deeper the trio dig, the darker the mystery gets … Crooked Oak is under attack from a dangerous foe, and they’re the only ones who can stop it.

THE PECULIAR THING WITH THE PEA. Kaye Umansky, illustrations by Claire Powell. For: 8 years+. Publishing: 3rd September


Prince Pete isn’t ready for marriage – he’s only eleven! And this peculiar business with the pea is the daftest thing he’s ever heard. Mother reckons she can find him the perfect royal bride and thinks the pea is the one true test. But when scruffy-looking Patsy comes along, claiming to be a princess, Mother’s careful scheming quickly turns to soup.
A laugh-out-loud retelling of The Princess and the Pea like you’ve never heard it before!

NOODLE THE DOODLE. Jonathan Meres, illustrations by Katy Halford. For: 8 years+. Publishing: 3rd September


Noodle the Doodle, an adorable rescue pup, is joining class and he even gets to come on the school trip! But while Noodle’s settled into being a class helper, and really loves being around all the pupils, taking on a school trip to the beach is a whole different ball game … Can noodle stay on his best behaviour or is this school trip about to take a turn for the chaotic?

Nothing Ever Happens Here by Sarah Hagger-Holt

Nothing Ever Happens Here is a fantastic story that focuses on a family coming to terms with the dad announcing that he is transitioning. It’s an important story not just for kids but teachers and parents.

Izzy’s life in her small town is pretty non-eventful until the day that her dad comes out as Danielle, a trans woman. Izzy worries how this will affect her family. Will she lose her dad? Will her parents split up? What will her friends and the other kids at school say? Izzy is someone who has never liked the limelight but now a spotlight is shining on her family.

The story is told from 12 year old Izzy’s perspective so you get the conflict from her point of view – wanting to support her Dad (or Dee as they come to call her) while wanting things to be the same they’ve always been and being afraid of what others will think. As part of an LGBT charity the author, Sarah Hagger-Holt, brings her experience to the story without it ever feeling preachy. It’s a story that shows you the situation from many points of view, from the father who has never felt herself, to the wife and children and close friends.

This is an important book to have in all school libraries as I’m sure there will be kids in our schools that are in similar situations. It also makes kids aware of these issues. Suitable for anyone 10+.

The Ghosts on the Hill by Bill Nagelkerke

The Ghosts on the Hill by Bill Nagelkerke is a spooky, historical tale that is perfectly formed. At just 75 pages readers can gobble it up in one bite and it is ideal for reluctant readers who need a short but engaging story. It would also make a great read aloud for Years 5-8.

Elsie lives in the port town of Lyttelton in 1884. She spends her days fishing and exploring. It is one day while she is fishing that she meets brothers Davie and Archie. They have come to Lyttelton on the train from Christchurch but have no money to take the train back again. They decide to walk back over the hill on the Bridle Path, the path carved over the hill by the early settlers. However, the weather closes in and the boys both die on the hill. One year later Elsie is haunted by the memory of the brothers and a feeling of guilt because she didn’t stop the boys from leaving. When Elsie misses the train to Christchurch and a chance to meet her new cousin, she decides to face her fears and make the trek over the Bridle Path. Do the brothers haunt the hills? Elsie will find out when she faces her own challenge on the hills.

I loved this story as an adult and I know I would have loved it as a kid. Growing up in Christchurch I studied the early settlers in primary school and even had a field trip walking over the Bridle Path to Lyttelton. The places in the story are so familiar to me yet quite different, given the time that the story is set. You don’t need to be familiar with the setting though to appreciate the story. The fact that the story is inspired by real events makes a chill go down my spine and loads of kids love spooky stories. Bill includes newspaper clippings from 1883 in the story and details of the real events in his author’s note.

Bill incorporates te ao Maori in to the story too. Through Elsie’s father, who is Maori and living at Rapaki (just around the bay from Lyttelton), we learn about the Maori stories of the area, including the stories of the patupaiarehe, the wicked fairies that live in the clouds on the hills.

I found myself comparing the events of the story with how it would be different if the story was set today. The children in the story have a lot more freedom than children today. Elsie’s Mum is happy for her to walk over the hills by herself, and Davie and Archie walk from the centre of town and catch a train through to Lyttelton with no adult with them. Getting from one place to another easily is something we take for granted these days too. I couldn’t imagine walking from Lyttelton, over the Bridle Path, and all the way to the middle of Christchurch city, but that’s what Davie and Archie were going to do. If you were stuck in bad weather on the hills today you would just get out your cell phone and call for help but in 1884 you were on your own. You had to stay where you were or carry on. These would be some great talking points to discuss if you were sharing the story with a class.

The Ghost on the Hill is a fantastic addition to a school library or as a class set of books. The Cuba Press have even created some wonderful teacher’s notes to go with the book that you can find here.

Worse Things by Sally Murphy

The thing I love about verse novels is that they pack so much emotion and imagery in to so few words. Each chapter or poem is like a snapshot of the character’s life. Worse Things is Sally Murphy’s fourth illustrated verse novel and this story is proof of her mastery of this form of storytelling. Sally takes us inside the lives and minds of three very different kids whose stories intertwine.

Jolene is the daughter of two doctors. Her mother is always busy but lives her life vicariously through her daughter. Her mum’s dreams of hockey stardom were shattered when she was younger and she just wants her daughter to excel in the sport. Jolene hates hockey. She also hates that her father is saving lives on the other side of the world rather than being at home with her. Blake is footy-mad but his season is over when he fractures his arm. He doesn’t feel included with his footy mates and doesn’t know who he is without footy. Amed is a refugee who has spent most of his life in a refugee camp. He now lives in Australia with his Aunty but he knows very little English. This leaves him feeling left out and struggling to make friends. There are always worse things than a nagging mum, missing out on footy or not having friends.

I loved each of the characters because they are all dealing with their own issues. My favourite character was Amed because he had been through a lot in his life and he was able to put things in to perspective more than Jolene and Blake. I especially loved this thought from Amed:

‘If I could talk to you
I might explain
just what it’s like
to be an outsider since birth
to be so outside
you wonder if you will ever be safe.

And then
when you finally are
to find yourself kept separate again
by the invisible fence of language.’

Sally’s writing is just so beautiful and her imagery so rich. This is a story that works so well in verse form, and like many stories told in verse, it probably wouldn’t have the same impact as a novel. Sarah Davis’ bright, graffiti-style cover will make the book jump off the shelf too.

Grab yourself a comfy spot and an hour or two to savour this wonderful book.

Bad Cat by Nicola O’Byrne

Bad Cat is the most hilarious picture book of 2020! This book is an absolute winner for kids and adults alike. The cover made me crack up and I could not stop laughing the whole way through. My daughter was rolling around on the bed laughing her head off too. We then read it 3 more times. This is one of those picture books that any age can appreciate. I know that preschoolers will love it but I also know that the Year 8 kids at school will love it too. I’d love to read it in a whole school assembly but I don’t think they would hear me through the laughter.

Fluffykins is a bad cat. A REALLY bad cat! He may look cute and use his cuteness to make you forgive him, but then he’s back to his old tricks. Oh, what a lovely vase of flowers! No…now it’s smashed on the floor. That nice jumper you’ve been knitting is now just a bunch of wool on the floor with Fluffykins in the middle. The reader becomes the owner of Fluffykins and tries to get him to change his ways.

I have loved all of Nicola O’Byrne’s picture books but this one is her best yet. In Bad Cat she uses sparse text and hilarious illustrations to entertain readers. Nicola gives Fluffykins so much personality in her illustrations. Most of the time he is cranky and mean but Nicola also shows us his cute, fluffy side too. I can’t even choose a favourite illustrations because they’re all so fantastic!

You need to buy or borrow Bad Cat. I guarantee you won’t regret it. It will be a picture book that you will glad to read again and again.

Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk

Lauren Wolk’s previous book, Beyond the Bright Sea, is one of my absolute favourite books. When I heard Lauren had a new book coming out I was very eager to get my hands on it and see where she would take me next. The cover alone is one of the best covers of 2020 and would draw any reader in! In Echo Mountain, Lauren Wolk transports readers back to a time that is both simpler and harder. There is no technology so distractions are few and it’s quiet, but the doctor is far away and you must trade for food or grow it yourself. Lauren introduces us to Ellie and her family, making a home on Echo Mountain.

It is 1934 and Ellie’s family have been hit hard by the stock market crash. Her father was a tailor and her mother was a teacher but business for them both had dried up, so the family must move from the city to the wilds of Echo Mountain. They survive by growing food and trading what they can. When Ellie’s father slips in to a coma after an accident on the farm their lives are changed forever. While Ellie’s mother and sister use lullabies to soothe him, Ellie sees that this is doing nothing to help him get better. Ellie determines to do anything she can to wake her father, from pouring ice cold water on him, putting a snake in his bedroom to make her sister scream, and making her own medicine. When Ellie is out collecting ingredients for her medicine a mysterious dog leads her to a hut the top of the mountain, where she discovers a sick, old woman called Cate. As Ellie helps Cate to heal she starts to heal her family. The more that Ellie learns about those around her, the more connections she uncovers

Echo Mountain is an engaging, character-driven story that leaves you feeling like you have just lived Ellie’s life right beside her. Ellie is a person who has strong emotional connection to things around her. She feels the pain of tree roots as she walks through the woods, she feels great sadness when honeybees die trying to sting her. As you read you feel Ellie’s determination to wake her father and the frustration that her sister and mother won’t break out of their slump. Adults in the story keep mentioning that she is ‘only 12’ but she is the one using her commonsense and is willing to do anything she can to help the ones she loves, whether that is her puppy, her father or Cate. She realises that to save her family she is the one to do it. If she doesn’t know how to do something ‘the best way to learn is to do it,’ something she has learnt from her father.

It’s a story about identity. It’s about Ellie trying to figure out who she is, but also realising that people aren’t just the person you see on the outside. Ellie says “For a long time, I’d thought that people simply were who they were and became who they became. But I didn’t think that anymore.” Ellie learns that Cate is not simply ‘the hag’ that everyone believes she is, but a kind, caring person who has been affected by the events in her life. Ellie also realises that her mother isn’t just the sad woman whose husband is sick, that she was a different person before she moved to the mountain and a different person again before she met Ellie’s father.

If you haven’t yet read one of Lauren Wolk’s books read Echo Mountain and fall in love with her writing.

The Inkberg Enigma by Jonathan King

The Inkberg Enigma is a brilliant graphic novel from New Zealand comic creator and film maker, Jonathan King. Reading this made me feel like I was 10 years old again, devouring Tintin and wanting to be him.

Miro is a book-obsessed boy living an adventurous life through the stories of Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Real-life adventure finds him though when Zia, a girl from his school, drags him in to a town mystery. Miro is reluctant to get involved but, as Mira says, ‘this is how you have adventures. You find cool things and you do them…you don’t just read books about them!’ Their town of Aurora has been built on the prosperous fishing in their harbour. When Miro and Zia see something that they are not supposed to, they set out to discover the truth behind the legacy of Aurora and the shady characters who run the town.

The Inkberg Enigma is filled with adventure, mystery, and secrets. It’s also just the right amount of spooky and sinister that keeps you turning the pages. I flew through the story the first time and have since read it again to fully appreciate the story and the artwork.

I love all the characters, from the book-loving Miro and the ever-curious Zia to the sinister mayor of Aurora, Mr Hunter. Miro reminds me a lot of myself because he sells artefacts that he finds in his attic just so he can buy more books. His habit gets so bad that he has a whole spare room full of books! He’d also rather read about adventures than have them in real life.

Jonathan’s illustrations are fantastic, from his characters to the images of the town of Aurora. As a Christchurch local I immediately recognised Lyttelton as Aurora, from the town streets to the museum and the harbour. I really like the flow of the illustrations, with the scene on the boat being my favourite. Jonathan doesn’t let the panels limit the story either, with some really clever sections where the illustrations move out of the panels.

The Inkberg Enigma is one of my favourite kids graphic novels of 2020 and I’ll be recommending it to everyone. I really hope there will be more stories with Miro and Zia.

The Inkberg Enigma is released in August from the wonderful Gecko Press. Stay tuned for my interview with Jonathan King.

Illustrated fiction for newly independent readers

Illustrated fiction is perfect for newly independent readers because there are still pictures that help to bring the characters alive and show what is happening in the story. There are so many wonderful illustrated stories out there that are perfect for young readers to read themselves or to read aloud. Friendship, magic and animals are all common themes for books for this age group (roughly ages 5-7).

The books below are all ones that I have read for my own enjoyment or read aloud to my 5 year old daughter so they come highly recommended.

From the bright, sparkly cover to the story of a magical colouring book transporting Maya to another world, The Magical Kingdom of Birds series (written by Anne Booth and illustrated by Rosie Butcher) is sure to be a winner with young readers. It’s perfect for fans of Zanna Davidson’s Fairy Ponies series or readers who have loved the Rainbow Magic books and want something meatier to read.

Maya receives a magic colouring book that once belonged to her mother and it transports her to the Magical Kingdom of the Birds. Here she meets a fairy named Willow and a Magpie named Patch, who tell her she is destined to save the kingdom. This first book in the series focuses on the hummingbirds and a spell that has been placed on them. It is up to Maya, Willow and Patch to find an antidote and stop the villainous Lord Astor.

One of the things I loved about this book is the way that the author adds extra special details at the end of the story. There is a Bird Fact File with lots of hummingbird facts, and instructions for making a bird feeder and bird biscuits.

The Pearl the Unicorn series by Sally Odgers and illustrated by Adele K Thomas is a series that I will gladly read over and over again. They are super fun stories with perfectly matched illustrations. I’ve read all the books in the series so far with my daughter and they’re all great. Essentially, Pearl is a unicorn whose magic always goes wrong. A ‘toss, toss, wiggle, flick’ can end with hilarious results like yogurt falling from the sky. Pearl spends the days with her friends Tweet the fire bird and Olive the troll, getting up to all sorts of adventures. The nasty gobble-uns are never far away but Pearl’s misfiring magic saves the day.

What isn’t to like about the Kitty series by Paula Harrison and illustrated by Jenny Lovlie? It’s about a girl called Kitty who turns into a cat superhero at night, with cat superpowers like super hearing. Kitty and her feline friends, Pumpkin and Pixie, go on daring missions at night, like saving a secret Sky Garden from being ruined by bad cats. This is the perfect series for kids who have loved watching PJ Masks and are interested in superheroes. Jenny Lovlie’s illustrations are super cute, especially Kitty’s feline friends.

The Evie and Pog series by Tania McCartney has been one of my favourites to read aloud with my daughter. They’re funny and silly with characters that kids will want to keep coming back to.

Evie is six years old. She likes reading and baking and rolling on the daisy-spot grass. Pog is a pug. He is two and likes to drink tea and read the newspaper.

There are three books in the series so far – Party Perfect, Take Off and Puppy Playtime. Each book has three stories, that take about ten minutes to read aloud, making them perfect for bedtime. Pog reminds me of Gromit (from Wallace and Gromit) because he doesn’t talk but has very human-like qualities, like reading the newspaper or entering an art competition.

I’m a huge fan of the Miniwings series by Sally Sutton and illustrated by Kirsten Richards. Every single book in the series is totally fabo, from the silly antics of the Clara, Sophia and the Miniwings to Kirsten Richards hilarious illustrations. The Miniwings are small horse toys that come alive when adults aren’t around. They are always getting sisters Clara and Sophia in to trouble and getting up to lots of mischief, including destroying a delicious high-tea that the sisters get invited to.

The latest book in the series, Moonlight the Unicorn’s High Tea Hiccup is a finalist in the junior fiction category of 2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. It’s one of the best junior fiction series for young readers in New Zealand so it’s great to see it get that recognition.

Donovan Bixley’s Flying Furballs series is another brilliant junior fiction series from NZ that has just come to an end with the ninth book in the series. Flying Furballs is pussycats in planes in Paris. Donovan reimagines the First World War, with the CATS as the good guys and the DOGZ as the bad guys. There are daring missions, dramatic rescues, and action and laughs galore. They are such fun books to read and you can tell that Donovan had a lot of fun creating them. The Flying Furballs series is sure to hook young readers who are just starting on their reading journey.

Stripes Publishing

In my opinion Stripes Publishing are publishing the best illustrated fiction for newly independent readers. Their authors are some of the best children’s authors around, their illustrators are superb and they are gorgeous books to hold and enjoy. Here are some of the best from Stripes.

I love this adorable odd couple. Jasper is a cat who is neat and tidy and a snappy dresser and Scruff is a scruffy dog who’s a little messy. They’re complete opposites but the best of friends.

In the first book, Jasper is desperate to join the Sophisticats and he does all he can to gain their favour. They finally accept his dinner invitation when Scruff comes in to his life and throws it in to disarray. In The Treasure Hunt (the second book) they open a bookshop together and find a treasure map in one of the books which leads them on a treasure hunt.

Both of the stories in the series are perfect for reading aloud or for newly independent readers to read themselves. There are illustrations on every page that make the story come alive. Nicola Colton writes and illustrates the stories and she really knows her audience. I hope to read more adventures of Jasper and Scruff.

Midge & Mo by Lara Williamson and illustrated by Becky Cameron is the perfect book about friendship for newly independent readers. Midge is starting at a new school. His parents have split up so he has moved. He misses his old school and his friends. A girl in his new class, Mo, becomes his buddy and tries everything she can think of to cheer him up and become his friend, but it takes a special present to bring Midge out of his shell.

The story is engaging and attractive, with sparse text and colour illustrations on every page. As well as being perfect for newly independent readers to read themselves Midge and Mo would make a great read aloud for 6-8 year olds.

I picked up Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise by Swapna Haddow and illustrated by Alison Friend from the library to read to my daughter (who was 4 at the time). She loved this adorable story so much that we read it all in one go and read it 3 more times in the next few days. That, for me, is the sign of a great book! I’ve recommended it to lots of kids since and they’ve all enjoyed it.

Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise tells the story of a little rabbit who joins her grandfather on an outing one day and ends up helping out the animals that they meet. Alison Friend’s illustrations to Swapna Haddow’s story make this a super cute read. Like all of the Stripes junior fiction with colour illustrations there are no chapters so the story reads like a picture book in a chapter book format.

A Sea of Stories by Sylvia Bishop and illustrated by Paddy Donnelly is a story about Roo and her grandfather. Roo loves exploring the cove by her grandfather’s house but when he can’t get down the steep path any more Roo asks him about the treasures in his house. Each treasure has a story attached to it and through these stories Roo learns more about her grandfather. This is a lovely story about family and the stories our elders have to tell.

I hope you’ve found some new books to read or share in this post. If you’ve got favourite books for young readers I’d love to hear about them.