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20 March 2024

The best children’s books for spring 2024

Find cinematic joy and heroes seeking comradeship in new books for young readers.

By Amanda Craig

We tend to think of children’s books being hero tales, but most of the best ones are about how to survive and cooperate within a group of family, friends or rivals. Ratty, Mole, Toad and Badger; the Fellowship of the Ring; the Fossil sisters; Harry, Ron and Hermione at Hogwarts all face problems that children recognise.

My picks for Easter are all about this. Once Upon a Storytime by Gareth Peter (Bloomsbury, £7.99, 3-5) is about Nia, fearful of being “lost, like the children in that book”. Her mother reassures her that she would “ride to the rescue”, which encourages Nia to imagine saving her mum in turn. A gorgeously imaginative, immersive book, illustrated by Natelle Quek. The dad in Mariesa Dulak’s There’s a Tiger on the Train (Faber & Faber, £7.99, 3-5) is so absorbed in his phone that he fails to notice all kinds of animals playing rumbustious games with each other on their way to the seaside… until the tiger swallows Dad’s mobile. Pointedly satirical and highly enjoyable, it’s illustrated by the wonderful Rebecca Cobb.

Grandmas are the Greatest by Ben Faulks (Bloomsbury, £7.99) celebrates every type of grandmother, from cooks to astronauts, though the narrator’s own is adored for being “the kind of grandma with a twinkle in her eye”. Nia Tudor’s warm, lively illustrations will bring a glow to all hearts. Meanwhile, What Rosa Brought by Jacob Sager Weinstein and Eliza Wheeler (HarperCollins, £12.99) honours a grandmother who stays behind in Nazi Vienna so her Jewish family can escape to America. Heartbreaking and timely, its tale of exile applies to families the world over. All of these are for 3-5s.

Three Tasks for a Dragon is Eoin Colfer’s new fairy tale, written with Ireland’s greatest illustrator, PJ Lynch (Walker £14,99). Prince Lir is tricked by his wicked stepmother and brother into a quest to rescue a maiden from a dragon – but neither the maiden nor the dragon are what he expects. Fabulously imaginative, quietly feminist, fiercely dragonist, this would make a brilliant present for boys or girls of 5-8.

It’s claws out at Hotel for Cats, by Marie Pavlenko and Marie Voyelle (Chicken House, £7.99). Timid Wolfgang is deposited in a Parisian palace heaving with other felines. Describing how they all become pals takes plenty of catastrophic puns that children of 5-7 will lap up.

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The fear of strangers is dramatised in Benjamin Dean’s dystopian The Boy Who Fell from the Sky (Simon & Schuster, £7.99). Zed is fascinated by the Demons who fall from above, whom his father hunts and kills. But when Spark appears one night, it’s clear he’s a terrified boy “just like” Zed. A thrilling, moving and life-affirming story for 7-11s.

Also for this age is Piu DasGupta’s Zelie, lonely and bullied by her employers and searching for her lost father in belle époque Paris. When a boy gives her a gold locket, they are plunged into the Secrets of the Snakestone (Nosy Crow £7.99 ), pursued by a sinister covert society. Elegant, exciting and evocative, this delightful debut has a terrific Indian heroine and is as twisty as a giant snake. Goddess Crown (Walker, £8.99), Shade Lapite’s West African-inspired fantasy, is about Kalothia, a warrior raised in secret, who discovers at 16 that she’s the heir to the throne of Galla; at court, patriarchy and treachery are her enemies. An exciting story for girls of 9-13 about self-discovery, first love and responsibility, it needs tighter prose but has a gorgeous new black heroine.

Christopher Edge will captivate children interested in philosophical adventures of the kind that may later make Christopher Nolan their favourite film director. Black Hole Cinema Club (Nosy Crow, £7.99) has friends Finn, Ash, Maya and Caitlin enter the club to enjoy a movie. But they discover they have “a last chance to change the end of everything” before a black hole destroys the universe. Mind-bending and suspenseful for 9-13s, it evokes the joy of sitting in a real cinema.

Kate Saunders, who won the Costa Prize with Five Children on the Western Front, left an enchanting posthumous novel about making a film. A Drop of Golden Sun (Faber & Faber £7.99) is a riff on The Sound of Music, as “ordinary” Jenny gets a part as one of four siblings in a Hollywood blockbuster. Friendless in real life, she must bond with her screen siblings, including the conceited Belinda, and demanding adult actors. Saunders, who began as an actor herself, channels Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes in this gloriously funny, touching new classic about fame and families for 8-12s. It will make sure your child enters summer with a spring in their step.

[See also: The best children’s books for Christmas 2023]

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This article appears in the 20 Mar 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Easter Special 2024