Thursday, May 26

Reviews of Fiction for Older Children: Forces of Nature and Gorilla Warfare | Children and adolescents

OROnce an author has reached a certain degree of shelf space, it seems only fair to direct the oxygen of advertising to lesser-known peers. But a couple of successful authors deserve a second fanfare. Onjali Q Rauf caused a sensation with the timely and compassionate The boy in the back of the class in 2018. Three books later arrives The lion over the door (Orion, £ 7.99), in which intrepid four year olds unravel the riddles behind a war memorial in Rochester Cathedral.

Being the two different looking kids in their Kent town is routine for Leo, whose family hails from Singapore, and Sangeeta (India). But when Leo discovers a plaque to an airman who shares his name, friends join the battle against limited internet access, bullies, and the historic minimization of the roles of people around the world in WWII. Rauf keeps it light but digs deep, delving into how Leo feels about a torturer’s apparent appeasement of his own father.

The killer’s monkey (2017) remains one of the most fascinating contemporary children’s stories. Its sequel proper has finally arrived. At Jakob Wegelius’s The fake rose (translated by Peter Graves, Pushkin, £ 16.99) We join Sally Jones, the very human ape engineer featured at The killer’s monkey and his boss as they restore their damaged boat in 1920s Lisbon.

However, strange events soon take place when they discover a dazzling pearl necklace. In an effort to reunite the troubled gem with its owner, the two friends become entangled in the Glasgow mob. Wegelius leans toward the upper end of the age range and some characters, for example a mob boss, would be stereotyped were it not for a gender change. But this is a justly old-fashioned story with courage, compassion and decency at its heart.

Ever since there have been rumors of a climate crisis, children’s authors have responded: Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax came out in 1971. At the close of Cop26, this season’s notable books combine the love for the familiar nature of children’s stories with the environmental dystopias that seep in from the older age ranges.

The Girl Who Talked to the Trees by Natasha Farrant, in which
The Girl Who Talked to the Trees by Natasha Farrant, in which “various species reveal their secrets” to a young girl. Illustration: Lydia Corry

At the younger end, two fables hug the tree trunks. At award-winning Natasha Farrant’s The girl who talked to the trees (Zephyr, £ 12.99, illustrated by Lydia Corry), quirky young Olive sets out to save her favorite oak tree, destined for logging. What follows is a magical realistic sequence of linked tales in which various species give their secrets to Olive, so that she emerges strong enough to defend them all.

On Each leaf a hallelujah (Head of Zeus, £ 14.99), Ben Okri sets up a similar quest with all the authority of an established folk tale. This time the scene is African and the young Mangoshi has a more urgent mission: she must harvest a specific flower to save her mother’s life. But the forest has been devastated and the task seems impossible until she too passes out and runs into some talkative trees. Diana Ejaita’s saturated illustrations echo both Mangoshi’s fear and the varied personalities of the trees.

By Richard Lambert The way of the wolf won YA awards last year; Shadow Town (Everything with Words, £ 7.99) is a first for younger readers. There is a murder at the beginning of this dystopia whose callousness remains in mind, but it is nothing that Marvel fans should resist.

Toby, whose parents have recently separated, ventures into this strange burning realm by chasing a cat through a tunnel. Everything is collapsing in this autocracy plagued by floods and earthquakes as well as fires. But who is this ghostly girl he meets and how can she get home?

Latest from zoologist Nicola Davies, The song that sings to us (Firefly, £ 14.99), also takes place in a world not unknown, where a corrupt regime seeks to defeat nature. Three brothers are snowboarding down a mountain to save their own lives: They don’t understand why the Automators have come for them and their mother, but they know that young Xeno’s ability to talk to animals will seal their fate.

Gradually, the answers are revealed in this epic environmental insurrection that spans the frozen north and a confrontation on a tropical island where the Automators’ deadliest weapon will be unleashed. If the rebellious plots are familiar to you, Davies’s is dizzying, lyrical and completely convinced of an electromagnetic unity that cuts through all living beings.

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