Brilliant books for kids and teens
We picked the bountiful brains of Anne Buxton, Librarian at Northampton High School, to find out which books are currently getting under the skin of her teen and pre-teen charges.
One of the silver linings of lockdown has been the extra time we’ve had to read. It’s one of the few ways that we can get outside of ourselves and it’s good for our mental health, which is so important for kids, especially given the strange circumstances they’ve found themselves flung into recently. As Librarian at Northampton High School it has been rewarding to see how our pupils have enjoyed reading this year, both in lessons and book clubs. These recommendations are all books I’ve seen the students grow to love first hand, some are newly published and others may be new to you.
Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk, Age 9+
Caught in the jaws of The Great Depression, Ellie and her family face tough times as they move from the city to the mountains in order to build a new life. Ellie and her Dad love their new outdoorsy, self-sufficient lifestyle, whilst her Mum and sister are struggling. This is all about a young girl who finds her inner strength and sense of self and will have masses of appeal for children of a similar sort of age. Lauren’s writing is beautifully lyrical, taking you to a different time and place with a story that you won’t want to end.
The Restless Girls by Jessie Burton, Age 9+
From the bestselling author of The Miniaturist, this feminist retelling of the Brothers Grimm’s The Twelve Dancing Princesses is uplifting and infused with joy. The captivating illustrations by Angela Barrett add an extra layer of depth to a story which reads well out loud. When the Queen dies in a car accident, King Alberto hides his daughters away from the world in a panic. But he hasn’t counted on the power of sisterhood and the determination of his irreverent eldest daughter Frida to take back her freedom.
The Night Bus Hero by Onjali Q. Rauf, Age 9+
Hector is the school bully and apparently a lost cause, terrorising fellow pupils, exasperating teachers and generally alienating everyone around him. Not your typical hero then. But when he encounters Thomas, who is homeless and living in the local park, a sequence of events are triggered which lead Hector on a path to prove everyone wrong about who he is. A gripping and moving story that explores repercussions and redemption.
TrooFriend by Kirsty Applebaum, Age 11+
Here’s one that’s scarily current, examining the AI phenomenon and our increasingly complicated dependence on tech. Sarah’s new robot was supposed to bring friendship and stability into her world but, when it starts to develop human characteristics and feelings, all of that is called into question. A thought-provoking science fiction story, easily read in one sitting for keen book worms.
The Cousins by Karen M. McManus, Age 12+
She’s known as the queen of teen crime, and the latest offering from bestselling author Karen M. McManus, writer of the hugely popular One of Us is Lying books, doesn’t disappoint. The Story family’s lives appear to be perfect until, one day, their mother disappears leaving just a note. The Cousins follows her grandchildren, many years down the line, as they set out to solve the mystery that has hung over their family. Dramatic twists and heartwarming friendships abound.
Burn by Patrick Ness, Age 13+
Burn is set in a world similar to ours but starkly different. There be dragons, for a start. Fire-breathing Kazimir arrives on 16 year-old Sarah’s family farm because of a prophecy. There are deadly assassins, a cult of dragon worshippers, FBI agents and plenty of dramatic tension in this sometimes violent but absorbing read, with themes of racism, sexism and homophobia providing young readers with lots to think about.
The Enigma Game by Elizabeth Wein, Age 13+
A WWII drama with a young, orphaned Jamaican Briton as the protagonist makes for a refreshing change to a well-thumbed trope. The Enigma Game is a gripping historical thriller in which bravery, determination and fighting injustice make for a classic page-turner, but the underlying themes of race, loss and friendship stir up plenty of gritty sediment and female characters take centre stage.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, Age 13+
Often hilarious, Such a Fun Age also examines some difficult subject matter including issues of class, privilege and racism in its multiple and often less obvious forms. A young black girl is arrested on suspicion of kidnapping the child she is actually babysitting and a story unfolds that isn’t afraid to tackle power dynamics and pass a scathing eye over many aspects of contemporary culture.
Green Lights by Matthew McConaughey, Age 13+
Talking to the students during lockdown, it has been interesting to discover that they have been reading a range of non-fiction titles as well, from The Diary of Anne Frank and I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai to the Women In series (art, science and sport). Two recently published autobiographies for older students which will no doubt prove popular are Limitless by Tim Peake and Green Lights by Matthew McConaughey. The latter is not your usual Hollywood autobiography, more a guide for life, how to become the best version of yourself based on 35 years worth of diaries.
Anne Buxton is Librarian at Northampton High School, Newport Pagnell Road, Hardingstone, Northampton NN4 6UU, Tel: 01604 765765 www.northamptonhigh.co.uk.
If you fancy finding out more about Northampton High School you can read our review here and book a space for their whole school open day on Friday 7 May 2021.