It’s World Book Day 2016, which means a) cute children in adorable literary costumes and b) kids up and down the country being given a book of their choice for free. Their options range from a 1984 Roald Dahl story to original tales from Juno Dawson, Rainbow Rowell, David Baddiel and more.
Despite being well over double the age of their intended audiences, I read all the books on offer for children over five (which are £1, or can be exchanged for a World Book Day token).
Daisy and the Trouble with Jack, by Kes Gray
“There’s only one thing worse than sitting next to a boy in class, and that’s sitting next to a boy in class called Jack Beechwhistle.”
A sweet story that switches between the perspectives of Daisy and Jack, two children who see themselves as total opposites, but have more in common than they realise, trying their very hardest to get each other in trouble at school. Extra points for some very good facts about giraffes (they give birth standing up, so baby giraffes fall two metres to the ground when they are born).
“I liked the book because it was funny. There was nothing I didn’t like about the book. The characters were good and I liked them. The story made me laugh. I read the book all in one go as I enjoyed it so much. I would recommend the book to my friends my age.” (Edward, age 6; all children’s reviews from World Book Day/Toppsta)
The Great Mouse Plot, by Roald Dahl
“By far the most loathsome thing about Mrs Pratchett was the filth that clung around her.”
Excerpted and adapted from Boy, this chapter in Roald Dahl’s childhood is as nostalgic and sensory as any of his fiction. The boy and his friends try to overcome the grim and terrifying sweet-shop owner Mrs Pratchett to get to her Sherbert Suckers and Liquorice Bootlaces using a dead mouse. It’s as enjoyable for mum and dad as any primary school age child, but, viewed objectively and without Dahl’s whimsy, the plot is really “Young boys terrorise and steal from a female shop owner because she does not conform to their ideals of femininity.”
“The book was amazing. The plot was very interesting. The mouse in the gobstopper jar was scary. My favourite part was when Roald Dahl put the mouse in the jar. I read this with my Dad.” (Ben, age 6)
Welcome to the World of Norm, by Jonathan Meres
“In Norm’s world pretty much everything was unfair – and had been for as long as he could remember.”
Norm feels the injustices of the world deeply: from waking up with a half-Polish Cockapoo on his head, to having to wait home all day for a delivery for his parents, to his best friend Mikey getting a new bike when his is broken. I really hope ten-year-old’s in 2016 swear using phrases like “Gordon flipping Bennett!” but somehow I doubt it.
“My mum read this book to me I really liked it it was funny and had some funny words in like numpty. I liked the pictures on the pages it stopped you getting bored because books don’t have many pictures in when you get older.” (Sam, age 8)
Harper and the Sea of Secrets, by Cerrie Burnell
“Once there was a girl called Harper who had a rare musical gift. She heard songs on the wind, rhythms in the rain and hope in the beat of a butterfly’s wing.”
Children’s TV presenter Cerrie Burnell’s story follows Harper’s search for stolen instruments ahead of The Songs of the Sea festival. Set in the City of Gulls (“everything was slightly crooked”) it’s cutesy in the extreme (Harper is basically Friends’s Rain: “I have my own kiln, and my dress is made out of wheat”), but has a nice little plot.
“I liked the magic instruments in this book because it was a very lovely story that I haven’t read anywhere else. I liked the character Nate because he had a pet wolf and I like wolves a lot. The plot was good because its adventurous and I like adventure stories. It made me feel very happy and excited.” (Emily, age 10)
Star Wars: Adventures in Wild Space: The Escape, by Cavan Scott
“His base had been a probe droid, and it still had four manipulator arms that twitched as CR-8R hovered out of the landspeeder.”
Siblings Milo and Lina Graff find themselves alone and afraid when their parents are abducted by Stormtroopers, and undertake a pilgrimage across “Wild Space” to rescue them. That’s about all I got from this book. I, an adult woman who has never seen even five minutes of a Star Wars film, was left boggled by atmosphere-filtration turbines, sensor pulses, and holo-recordings, but a seven-year-old will probably do much better.
“This book made me greedy for words. It had loads of cliffhangers and suspense-ended chapters. I liked the robot CR-8R or Crater, as his friends call him. I got a bit nervous when the Graf children reached the deserted camp. I also got a bit nervous when they were in the cave. This book was mainly brilliant and I would recommend it for the Star Wars fans.” (Edie May, age 8)
The Boy Who Could Do What He Liked, by David Baddiel
“Does Alfie learn a valuable lesson? Nah. This isn’t that kind of story.”
Boring Alfie’s boring life is dictated by routine (and the two wristwatches he wears every day) until one day, his babysitter is unavailable. Enter Mrs Stokes: a sort of anarchic Mary Poppins, she encourages him to go outside of his comfort zone and just do what he likes. It gets bonus points for self-consciously rejecting a moral narrative.
“This is a story about a boy who relied on rountines after his mum died. One night he had a new babysitter who changed everything. (With a bit of magic). This story is exciting and full of what a boy would imagine.” (Phoebe, age 8)
Spot the Difference, by Juno Dawson
“I hate them but they are all I think about. The A List.”
Spot the Difference asks the eternally teenage question: how much would you change to be popular? Avery is embarrassed by her acne, fed up of being called Pizzaface by the coolest kids in school: The A List. When new medication clears up her skin, her bullies reach out a hand of friendship. Juno Dawson’s first publication under her new name after coming out as trans in October, this is Mean Girls with a more earnest message (and fewer jokes).
“This book was a very realistic and accurate representation of the trials a teenager might face. I particularly enjoyed the description and the fact that there were inspiring speeches given by less popular pupils in the school that Avery went to. I enjoy reading school stories and if you like Jacqueline Wilson then you will love this tale of teenage problems!” (Amelie, age 11)
Kindred Spirits, by Rainbow Rowell
“However Elena changed or grew, Star Wars seemed to be there for her in a new way.”
Rainbow Rowell sticks with the theme of fandom with this story about three fans waiting in line for the new Star Wars movie, tackling popularity, “fake geek girls” and how to spend four days living on the street (without a Portaloo). Charming, funny and a must for fangirls everywhere.
“I found this book quite funny, as the characters had only just met, but are quick to have banter-y conversations. I enjoyed the characters and the themes of friendship…” (Alice, age 13)