Winning tip: Ruby Red Shoes Goes to Paris
My six-year-old daughter Daphne and I love to say au revoir to our four walls and escape to Paris with Ruby the hare in Ruby Red Shoes Goes to Paris by Kate Knapp. Along with her grandmother Babushka, Ruby samples all the delights of Paris – the Eiffel tower, Café de Flore, markets, fountains and florists. We dream of the day when we can lie in a Parisian park eating “buttered baguettes and huge peaches” so delicious they make Ruby light-headed. Heaven!
Sarah Hamilton, Norwich
The Thief Lord
Cornelia Funke’s novel The Thief Lord is a story that I found captivating as a child and that my class (I am a primary school teacher) still loves to read. Set in the labyrinth of canals in the heart of Venice, this magical story follows two runaways who join a gang of street children. The setting is the making of many of the key plot moments, and conjures up this amazing story of adventure as the children jump aboard barges and lose villains down alleyways. The children set up camp in an abandoned cinema – the stuff of childhood dreams – with faded velvet seats. The Gothic features of historic Venice are richly described. I have never been to Venice, but I can imagine it so vividly!
Kirsty Hall, Leeds
The Faraway Tree
Our first foray into “big girl books” with our not-quite four-year-old took the form of Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree series. In it, Joe, Beth and Franny find a magical tree that transports them to a different land every time they climb it. It’s full of the things pre-schoolers find fascinating: fairies, elves, talking animals and – not least – jam sandwiches. Lockdown no doubt makes the idea of being able to run wild with your friends even more fantastical. It’s been great for sparking her imagination and has turned the daily walk into another chance to spot Moon-Face, Silky or (the massively irritating) Saucepan Man.
H McCulloch, Glasgow
The Dollmaker of Kraków
The heartwarming Dollmaker of Kraków, by RM Romeo, set in 1939 war-torn Poland, whisks the reader away for an exhilarating journey to Kraków and the Land of Dolls. It follows the gentle dollmaker, who breathes life into a doll named Karolina. Together, they face evil, but find they can transform their dark world to one full of light – Kraków becomes the place where lives are saved with magic. Poetically written, yet told in a raw way, it conveys deep emotion powerfully, interweaving magic with history. An exquisite read.
Noemi Moleda, Aberdeen
A Wizard of Earthsea
Life throws challenges at us all. What is different about the trials we endure is, often, the way we process or cope with them. In A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K Le Guin shows that, even where magic is concerned (or, perhaps, especially there), life throws its threats and difficulties. Here is a book that teaches us how to strive for good, for ourselves and others. As Ged perseveres, crafting and testing his magic as he himself is tested, we learn that resilience is a superpower we can all wield, no matter what world we inhabit and what struggles we face.
The Silver Brumby
The Silver Brumby by Elyne Mitchell transported me straight into the Australian bush. The wonderful landscape and wildlife descriptions in the book really capture the wild and remote terrain of New South Wales, while never distracting from the captivating story of Thowra, the brumby stallion whose life we follow through the pages. Important subjects such as friendship, loss, rivalry and conflict with humans are all part of the narrative and render it not only a hugely enjoyable story, but also a timeless book addressing environmental and social/emotional topics that are as relevant today as they were in 1980.
Antje Saunders, Camden, London
The wonderful Arranmore Island books by Catherine Doyle have captured my children – and me – during lockdown, and we are all waiting for the third book to be published in March. Set on an Irish island in Donegal, where the land and the sea meet on the edge of the continent, they draw on old myths but bring them bang up to date with great characters and funny dialogue, time travel by candlelight, vivid depictions of dramatic weather and a sense of freedom and exploration that we are all yearning for in current times!
Ali Percy, Ruislip
Inner-city Sydney and a remote Moroccan village couldn’t seem further apart, yet Jeannie Baker’s Mirror shows the similarities of family life and the interconnectedness of our world. The wordless book has two parallel stories, read side by side (one from the left, the other from the right): a “mirror” tale of two families. The illustrations are photo collages made from a vast array of materials, real enough to touch: it’s impossible not to reach out to feel the animals! There’s fascinating detail to spot and discuss, giving an insight into what’s different and familiar about these places. Simply wonderful.
Caroline Picking, Essex
Swallows and Amazons
This lockdown is turning into one long adventure for us thanks to Swallows and Amazons. I never read it as a child but my six-year-old and two-year-old are both in character 24/7 (though which character varies constantly!) and every outing has become “an expedition”. We’ve all learned far more nautical terminology than we need to know, done a bit of map reading and every walk with the buggy involves navigating to port and starboard round wheelie bins (rocks). Life feels utterly surreal, but the kids are loving us following them into their imaginary worlds!
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen
Alan Garner’s classic children’s tale, with children undertaking a literal journey which although grounded in the “real world” takes you off to another place altogether and a million miles from here and now. Not only is it an amazing read for children and adults alike, but it offers the opportunity later to visit the actual places named in the book around, under and on the very mystical Alderley Edge in Cheshire. The legend of Alderley is real enough, as are key locations such as The Wizard Inn, the Devil’s Grave, Stormy Point and the stunning Edge itself. A timeless tale for all ages.
Nick Hughes, Sheffield