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Benjamin Dean on His Favourite Feel-Good Reads

Posted on 31st January 2021 by Mark Skinner

Waterstones Children's Book of the Month for February, Benjamin Dean's Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow is a joyous depiction of love, difference and the power of family. In this exclusive piece, Benjamin discusses five children's books that warm his heart and put a smile on his face.   

When I first started writing Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow, I really just wanted to feel happy. I wanted to capture that feeling of pure and endless joy that all the best books and movies give you when things actually turn out okay in the end, despite all the odds. You know what I mean, right? Like when the good guys finally overcome the baddies, or when someone’s world gets tipped upside down but eventually rights itself, with everything that was up in the air now floating back down to rest in its safe space. The anthemic music starts to play (over the speakers or in your head) and you leave the cinema or close the book feeling triumphant. You’ve whooped and hollered, laughed and cried, and even though it wasn’t your story being told, you can’t fight that feeling of magic tingling away inside you. There’s nothing else to do but smile.

Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow was finished and edited during 2020 and we all know how that year went. But, although everything seemed bleak and dark, writing about a kid who just wanted to make things right again, no matter the cost or whatever disastrous obstacles stood in his way, made me hopeful for the future. Archie’s story is one with love, family and friendship at its core, but it also touches on loneliness, frustration and the yearning for things to go back to ‘normal’. I think that’s something we can all relate to right now.

I envisioned a book that could bring an explosion of colour into people’s lives, a book that could make people smile, even if the world around them didn’t look so great. Below are five other books that definitely made me smile for one reason or another and who knows – they might make you smile too.

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

Okay, look, I know a book that has ‘murder’ in the title doesn’t exactly scream smiles all round, but hear me out! Yes, there’s a murder to solve, and, yes, it’s a fantastically clever whodunnit, but the voices of Hazel and Daisy (who form the top-secret Detective Society) are so witty and endearing, it’s impossible not to smile as they go about investigating their first ever (serious) case. I laughed out loud too many times to count.

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The first instalment of the hugely popular Wells and Wong detective stories for children, Stevens’s note-perfect pastiche of Golden Age crime mysteries is a brilliantly realised and compelling boarding school adventure.
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The Star Outside my Window by Onjali Q. Raúf

This was one of the books I read while in a rough patch with writing and Onjali’s incredible storytelling motivated me to keep going. Although the book highlights serious issues, there’s such a heart-warming friendship between the main characters at its centre, and the relationship between Aniyah and her little brother Noah made my heart sing. You can’t help but root for them and it keeps you hooked until the very end.

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A writer unafraid to tackle sensitive and emotive issues, Waterstones Children’s Book of the Year winner Onjali Q. Rauf turns her attention to the repercussions of domestic violence in this poignant story of adventure and discovery.
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Wonder by R. J. Palacio

I think this book was my reintroduction to children’s stories back when it first came out and I just completely fell in love with it. The friendships that August creates while attending school for the first time make for a touching and uplifting read, even if at times you want to cry. But that kind of emotional rollercoaster is when a book is at its best, and the pay-off when you reach the end of such a book makes for the biggest smile possible.

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A landmark Young Adult novel that captured the hearts and minds of millions of readers, Palacio’s tender examination of physical difference and its emotional consequences is undeniably powerful.
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Hair Love by Matthew Cherry; illustrated by Vashti Harrison

This picture book is based on the Oscar-winning short animation by Matthew Cherry and it’s quite possibly the most wholesome thing I’ve ever watched and read. Representation is so important, especially in giving children the chance to see themselves in the pages of a book, and I couldn’t recommend this one more. The audiobook is even narrated by Beyoncé’s daughter Blue Ivy – what’s not to love?!

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Both a tender account of the loving relationship between a father and daughter and a celebration of Afro-Caribbean hair, Cherry’s picture book adaptation of his Oscar-winning short film is a feelgood treat from start to finish.
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Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem

One of the first books I ever remember reading was this super cute illustrated series all about a community of mice that live in a hedgerow. I would spend hours curled up with a gorgeous little hardback book and just read and read and read. My version even came with this silky red bookmark – I felt so fancy every time I used it to mark my page! It’s odd that I should still think fondly of this book when I’m absolutely terrified of mice now, but I guess that’s testament to how happy and content it made me feel.

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With their delicate, evocative illustrations and wry, charming text, the Brambly Hedge stories have enthralled generations of young readers, and this sumptuous treasury brings the adventures of a very enterprising set of mice to glorious life.
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