Winter has well and truly hit Cape Town and it seems like the perfect time to post a good book stack… of kids reads. Especially now that everyone is back at home for the foreseeable future… Some of these reads get an absolute 10/10 from us… and I am sure they will make it onto our book of the year pile. When We Get Lost in Dreamland, Sky Pirates, The Magic Place and A Girl Called Joy all get full marks from myself and my team of young readers.

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Middle Grade Reads

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When we Get Lost in Dreamland

by Ross Welford

If you haven’t discovered the writing of Ross Welford, then NOW is the time. I loved this book, it looks like a great big fat novel, which is exactly what my middle grade readers want to be reading, and it is. But the chapters are short and the pace is quick. Tension… and suspense, you have to read on and on. The main protagonist, Malky is a slightly hard done by kid, his parents have split up, he is in a new school and he is battling to make friends. Malky is a delightful underdog, who you really want to stand up for himself, but the school bully appears to routinely get him into trouble. Malky is a boy of hidden depths, as is this story… which is really about loyalty and true friendship. He and his younger brother Seb, have been able to have coinciding dreams, with the help of a gadget called a dreaminator. The brothers go on the most amazing adventures together. Think: Spanish Galleons, World War II, Stone Age Times, and an ever present crocodile… it is all just incredible. Until their “safe word” to wake themselves up fails, and Seb is left behind in Dreamland. Seb lies in a coma in hospital. Malky’s parents blame him… and Malky, with the help of his best friend Susan, who is extremely good at everything, needs to figure out a plan. Did I mention fast paced: “Immediately” is just not fast enough in this book, definitely now is too late from start to finish. Look out for more from Ross Welford… his books are different, thought provoking and thoroughly good reads.

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Sky Pirates

by ALex English

illustrated by Mark Chambers

Another magical adventure series for middle graders, we loved this one and can’t wait to meet our young heroine, Echo Quickthorn, and her pet lizard, Gilbert, in the next book in the series. Echo was abandoned at birth by her “real mother” and is being raised by the King of Albion. Echo has always longed to find her mother and that is really her secret goal in life. She knows her mother is “out there somewhere.” But, the King has told his people that nothing exists beyond the town walls… and the night that is all blown away, when a nutty professor arrives at her bedroom window in his airship.
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Echo realises that there is so much more to her world than she ever imagined… and she is off on an adventurous and fantastical adventure to find her roots and more specifically to find her mum. Echo might be a ward of the King and have been raised in isolation, but she is never alone, she is extremely likeable and as well as lurking enemies, she has the knack of procuring allies wherever she goes. What’s not to love? And adventurous adventure, a really funky protagonist, the baddies are bad, terrible in fact, and the sky pirates… well there are sky pirates!!! Not to mention, now we need a clever little pet lizard called Gilbert. Thoroughly brilliant, ’nuff said.

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The Magic Place

Written and Illustrated by Chris Wormell

This book is indeed magical, we loved it from start to finish. The illustrations are exquisite and add to the whimsical tale. It looks like it is going to be a long read, turns out one has to read it in a sitting. It is the sad story of a young girl called Clementine. Clementine is an orphan who lives with her TERRIBLE aunt and uncle, she is their slave… think Cinderella. She cooks, she cleans and she endures. She has a large and an extraordinarily clever cat called Ginger… she lives in the dark, dark basement and discovers that she lies on her back and looks up through the chimney that she can see the sky. Blue sky above gives her hope… It turns out that the baddies in this book are crooks of the thieving kind, and Clementine’s optimism stands her in good stead for better days. This is a sweet almost lyrical fairytale, but may be a little scary for the much younger set… read it to them… the baddies are terrifically bad, and the heroes are delightful. The whole book is beautiful, through and through and of course she lives more happily than anyone could ever imagine… for ever and ever after. This book gets instant: Keeper status. Loved it.

First Chapter Books

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A Girl Called Joy

by Jenny Valentine

illustrated by Claire Lefevre

This book is a great read from start to finish… A homeschooling family of four, who have spent the last ten years traveling the world and carefully avoiding all that is home (which is England… and structure and rules and boredom). They are free spirits roaming the world, all over the world… until their grandpa has a fall off a ladder and they find themselves returning to a small town, and a small house and a huge adjustment: school. The family relies on Joy to find relief in every situation, but all the adjustments and all the changes have left Joy floundering. She feels like every other character is against her and her life is pretty miserable… until she decides to save an ancient Oak tree in the school grounds. She discovers she has allies in all sorts of places. This is delightful and one of our favourite reads, we really look forward to reading more books about Joy and her family.

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Ways to Make Sunshine

by Reneé Watson

This book is sweet, and is perfect for the young reader who is just launching into their reading career. As an adult reader it felt a little like “This is a book teaching young kids about empathy,” because it is that, but absolutely not in a twee way. Now is the time for children to be reading stories they can relate to and stories that encourage thinking about what “the other person” is thinking about. This story is about an African American family who is downsizing… their dad has to take a new job, he works nights and they are moving to a smaller home because they can no longer afford the rent. The main character is a girl called Ryan, who has ALL the struggles, and whose parents have very high expectations of her. There is so much real life in this book: her parents try to sweeten the downsizing blow by having ice cream before dinner, they try to make it look like a great move because she will have her own bedroom… and for all their trying, Ryan sees right through them. She knows times are tough, but she has her own struggles… standing up to do a presentation in front of her friends, a big brother who doesn’t want her hanging about, trying new recipes and burning dinner by mistake, not to mention a best friend who invites her to a sleepover… her mum has said “No swimming,” because her grandma has just straightened her hair. Of course when she gets to the party everyone is swimming and she doesn’t want to look like a loser, so swim she does… there are consequences. And Ryan takes them well… she is a feisty little character… and definitely lives up to her parents expectations, but maybe not in the way they intend her too. So many first chapter books are a somewhat wishy washy and the characters are all the same sweet sameness… nothing like that here. Ryan battles and overcomes, she is feisty and sweet at the same time. She makes some terrible decisions, like all kids do, and she lives with the consequences. Perhaps her parents should have called her “Persistence” because that about sums up her character, not one to accept what other folk think, not one to accept failure, she keeps on trying. she will go on to prove that she is great… Look out for this little girl called Ryan… she is delightful.

Beginner Chapter Books

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Real Pigeons Fight Crime

by Andrew McDonald and Ben Wood

This is only slightly more reading than an easy reader… loads and loads of illustrations and comic pages to enjoy. It is a cluster of pigeons who set out to solve mysteries and fight crimes. For instance, “Why are there no people in the park anymore?” The pigeons are more concerned about the fact that there are no more crumbs in the park. But they do solve the mystery!!! The book is in three parts: The Great Breadcrumb Mystery, The Bat Trapper and Danger at the Food Truck Fair… notice that where pigeons are involved, there is food involved. The stories are full of puns, jokes and just jolly good fun… definitely the kind of material to strew around near a “reluctant” reader. When I asked my kids what they thought of this one, it got a resounding: Fantastic.

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written and illustrated by Sophie Henn

This is a great book for an emerging reading, packed with cartoons and vavavoom!!! Pizzzaz is a super hero, from a family of super heroes… and she desperately wants to be “normal.” She finds herself in all sorts of scrapes and misadventures and she is just the most deligthful character… If nothing else your young reader will come away from this book knowing that life as a super hero is not nearly as easy as they might have expected… meanwhile Pizazz discovers that even super heroes need friends and team work is indeed the dream work. Picture rich, fun read… great book for potential super heroes.

Picture Books

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Peasant Pig and the Terrible Dragon

written and illustrated by Richard Scarry

Because every stack of children’s books deserves a classic, this is Richard Scarry classic extraordinaire. This book was first published in 1980, but they are bringing it back… because let’s be honest, Richard Scarry is timeless. The illustrations are as busy as ever, Lowly Worm is on every page. In this story a group of thieves dressed up as a dragon capture Princess Lily, and only Peasant Pig can save the day. This is set in the time of knights and Castles, and little history buffs will love all the facts strewn within it. Not just knights and castles, of course there is a dragon… and did I mention facts, hidden in plain site. Just pure fun from start to finish. The best thing about this edition is the inside covers, where you get all sorts of commentary from other children’s authors. And a short, and lovely biography from Richard Scarry’s son, Huck Scarry.

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Listen to your Diddalum

by Emily Child

illustrated by Maria Lebedava

The following two books are from Imagnary House Publishers, one of our favourite local publishers. Listen to my Diddalum is a story about feelings… and emotions. This is a story that takes you on a little journey and is a strong reminder to follow your heart… you are so much more than just the bones that you are made up of. A child will get this book and love it and their adult reader will love the return to their own heart. This is a sweet read… no matter who you are or what you do, you have an inner voice, a hidden depth… happier when you are happy, feels stronger than you look, your inner voice – listen to it and follow it. Sweet, peaceful bedtime story.

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What a Wonderful World This Can Be

written and illustrated by Mary An

Oh what a terrifically happy book, from Imagnary House Publishers and what a wonderful world… and the end papers are indeed the most beautiful map of the world, filled with incredible animals from all over the globe. This story is written in very jolly rhythm and rhyme… I love that this book is so terrifically positive, when things get you down and don’t feel great, do one thing… one thing at a time is exactly how we can fix this hurting world. If you are looking for an extremely positive book for little people with big concerns then you have come to the right place. The illustrations are fabulous… wild enthusiasm leaps from the pages, as do the children in the illustrations. Children that represent the rainbow nation of South Africa beautifully… this book is extremely gift-able and just generally lovely in every way!!!

Amazon Affiliate Links for Books found in this Post.

Thank you to Jonathan Ball Publishers for supplying this fabulous collection of books for review purposes. This is not a sponsored post and all the opinions are as usual my own.

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