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Sophie Kirtley on Wild Books for Children

Posted on 25th June 2020 by Mark Skinner

Sophie Kirtley's The Wild Way Home, Waterstones Children's Book of the Month for July, is an enchanting time-slip story about family, friendship and the wilds of nature. In this exclusive piece, Sophie reveals the wild reads that she enjoys the most. 

I love nothing more than getting out and about and exploring our wide, wild natural world; it feeds my imagination and gives me fuel for my stories – I get a sense of wonder from being outside in nature that makes me feel like adventures are possible!

Maybe being outside gives you that same feeling? No matter where you live – in the heart of a bustling city or in the wide open countryside – wildness is waiting… if you know where to look… Look up! Watch the flying things – a perching pigeon or a buzzing bee. Look down! Watch the crawling things – a slow old snail or a lost ladybird.

And we can bring the outside inside too because words can be the wildest things of all! Here are some of my all-time-favourite wild reads for children.

Where the World Turns Wild by Nicola Penfold

Set in an alternative reality, not too far removed from our own, this wonderful book follows Juniper and her little brother, Bear, as they journey from the sterile, nature-purged city… to where the world turns wild. The story celebrates all the things that we can sometimes take for granted in our natural world – the animals, trees and flowers that surround us – and it makes us imagine what life would be like if all these were lost… and forbidden… and seen as dangerous. Reading it makes me want to be as brave as Juniper and Bear and to do what I can to protect our own wild world.

£6.99
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A gripping adventure with a subtly delivered ecological message, Penfold’s beautifully judged novel pits a pair of resourceful siblings against ruthless human forces and the awesome dangers of an unknowable wilderness.
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The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I read this book as a girl and I also read it with my own daughter this spring. Sometimes books are like time capsules; they lie there unchanging while all around them everything moves on – although there are definitely some wrong-thinking attitudes in this book which my daughter and I had long and important chats about, overall what struck me most strongly was how this story still gave me the same sense of wonder it had done when I first read it, about thirty years ago. The very idea of unlocking a hidden garden, a secret place, and witnessing the wild world awaken still fills me with a tingle of pure joy and excitement.

£6.99
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A pastoral classic of the Edwardian Golden Age, The Secret Garden continues to enchant and entertain over a century after its original publication. Spoilt children, an oppressive country pile and the most wondrous playground of flora and fauna combine perfectly to create a truly iconic children’s novel.
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The Girl Who Stole an Elephant by Nizrana Farook

One thing I love about reading is how books can transport you to places you’ve never been before. In The Girl who Stole an Elephant we accompany runaway hero Chaya on her adventures deep into the very heart of the wild green jungle. Nizrana Farook describes what, to me, is unfamiliar:  breadfruit and waterfalls; leopards and leeches, but as I read the book I could smell and taste and feel all these new things so vividly. In lots of ways I felt like the character of Nour; she too is exploring Serendib for the first time. Nour says, “The world is full of amazing things. Plants that can feel, elephants that can swim, squirrels that can fly. I wish I knew all this stuff.” I know how Nour feels!

£7.99
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Pitching readers into the heart of a vibrantly evoked landscape that lives and breathes from the page, The Girl Who Stole an Elephant is an adventure full of heart and courage from a dazzling new voice.
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The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

Now, it may be a bit odd, but I love reading chilly, snowy books in the heart of summer and I love reading balmy, sun-kissed books in the dead of winter; so, in my topsy-turvy opinion, this is the perfect wild summer holiday read! The Wolf Wilder transported me utterly, in place and time, to the snowy forest wilderness of Tsarist Russia. Here in a tiny wooden cottage lives courageous, heart-strong Feo and her mother; they are wolf wilders – tasked with re-wilding wolves that pampered aristocrats have tried (and failed) to tame and train. What I love most about all of Katherine Rundell’s books is how sensory they are, and this is no exception: you can see the drops of blood on snow, smell the wood smoke… hear the howls – wildly wonderful!

I Am the Seed That Grew the Tree - A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year, selected by Fiona Waters; illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon

I love poetry and this is a very special poetry anthology. It contains just about every flavour of wildness you can imagine: from stormy seas to a yellow wood; from a laughing limpet to a big grizzly bear; from “showery, flowery, bowery” Spring to “slippy, drippy, nippy” Winter. There are poems from all around the world. There are old poems, comfortingly familiar. There are new poems, delightfully fresh. And to top it all off Frann Preston-Gannon’s illustrations bring all the wildness to life. Why I especially love reading poetry books is because they let you break the rules – you can open at a random page and not begin at the beginning, you can sing a poem if you like, you can read one line over and over and over, just because it tastes good in your mouth. You can go wild!

£25.00
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A dazzling, soaring compendium of illustration and verse, I Am the Seed That Grew the Tree presents a poem for every day of the year – including those that leap.Capturing themes of the natural world, this sumptuous volume gathers together an exciting sweep of names, including works from Ted Hughes, William Carlos Williams, Emily Brontë, Carol Ann Duffy, John Updike, Grace Nichols and William Blake
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