The Waterstones Children's Autumn Reading Round-Up
From the exploits of a super-chomping Unicorn to magical libraries, daring circus acts, deadly assassins and tales for the fireside: welcome to our favourite children’s books this autumn.
We start with the welcome return of everyone’s favourite bossy frog, facing a brand new (and fiendishly taxing) rhyming challenge in Oi Duck Billed Platypus!
Delivering perfect seasonal reading, Usborne’s new board book, The Four Seasons, is a typically brilliant riot of sensory stimulation. Introducing the cycles of the year through bold, bright colours and dye-cut layers, the text is accompanied by specially arranged musical phrases from Vivaldi’s concerti. There’s a similar seasonal flavour to Storm, the latest picture book from author Sam Usher. The next in the loosely connected series that already includes Sun, Wind and Snow, Storm combines Usher’s beautiful watercolour-style illustrations - redolent of Edward Ardizzone - with a classic story of a boy and his grandfather, swept off to fly a kite. There’s another classic adventure in store with The Storm Whale author Benji Davies’ latest brilliant creation, Grandma Bird. It’s impossible not to be moved by the sensitive way Davies tells stories through words and pictures, and this latest is no exception, drawing readers into the wild and wind-swept circle of Grandma Bird’s tiny island home.
For parents who look on bedtime with as much anticipation as they would an appointment for a root canal, then help is thankfully at hand from Ten Minutes to Bed Little Unicorn. Like its madly popular predecessor, Ten Minutes to Bed Little Monster, this softly coloured and shimmering story of a little unicorn who absolutely, definitely is ‘not tired at all’, counts down from ten to ease excited little ones into the land of nod. And there’s more unicorn fun to be had in the pages of the extremely funny tale of Oscar the Hungry Unicorn: think The Very Hungry Caterpillar with added sass and sparkle. Oscar isn’t just hungry, he’s ravenous, and before long, he’s eaten his way through everything from an entire gingerbread house to some disgruntled disco dragons’ pizza. We defy anyone not to chuckle at this one.
Books for Younger Readers
Newly released and already amassing an army of ardent fans, Matt Haig’s The Truth Pixie is an innovative and characteristically profound story in verse that addresses children’s fears, worries and anxiety. Written, in part, as a response to a clamour of reader requests for a child-friendly equivalent of his bestselling Reasons to Stay Alive, it’s both a landmark lesson in talking to children creatively about mental health and a winning piece of fiction in its own right.
A new story from Waterstones Children’s Laureate, Lauren Child, is always a cause for celebration. Returning to one of her most popular characters, Hubert Horatio: How to Raise Your Grown-Ups is inspired by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle’s classic Molesworth books. Tellling the early life of an extraordinary millionaire genius, Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent is a boy with everything under control - apart from his mum and dad. The first in a new series, the story is quintessential Child: quirky, unexpected and lots of fun.
With Halloween on the horizon, we’ve a trio of frightful fiction, packed full of ghostly giggles, spooky-surprises and slightly sinister sightings to keep young readers spell-struck. A writer who needs little introduction, Jill Murphy has been charming readers with her witty, wise and wonderfully entertaining Worst Witch stories, ever since disaster-courting heroine Mildred Hubble first made her debut in 1974. Mildred has (somewhat miraculously!) made it to Year Four unscathed, and now in First Prize for the Worst Witch she’s out to prove that she’s Head Girl material - hold on to your (witches') hats. Meanwhile, there are mysteries to solve in two new brilliant series instalments. One of our favourite new characters - back in her third outing - brilliant junior vampire Amelia Fang is on a mission to search down a malevolent memory thief, with the aid of her friends (and adorable pet pumpkin squashy). Packed with humour and brought to life by Laura Ellen Anderson’s brilliant illustrations, the result is a total scream. And there are more screams in the offing for amateur adventurer Izzy and her gang, but then, that’s probably to be expected since There’s A Yeti in the Playground. Part of the popular Baby Aliens series, this story is full of twists and giggles and is also ideal for encouraging reluctant readers.
Books for Older Readers
2018 is an exceptionally rich year for older children’s fiction, with all the biggest names coming out in force. Leading the pack is J.K. Rowling’s latest screenplay, published to accompany the blockbuster release of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, and there are more than a few revelations lurking in its pages. Elsewhere, David Walliams delivers his most daring adventure yet in the stampeding Victorian-era escapade The Ice Monster, and Jaqueline Wilson returns to the story that started it all, as she puts her original star, Tracy Beaker, through her paces as a new mum. My Mum Tracy Beaker is a story that’s both a touching reunion and a fresh new take on mothers and daughters.
Amongst the bestselling series returns are new outings for Tom Gates - back with biscuits, bands and beastly plans in What Monster? - and hapless hero Greg Heffley, as the Wimpy Kid prepares for The Meltdown. From spats in snow-bound playgrounds to Death in the Spotlight and the latest case for Murder Most Unladylike’s exceptional detective duo Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells, who find themselves faced with a devilish whodunit amidst the glamour of London’s West End. Pin-sharp writing, creative casting and plentiful mentions of cake ensure this series goes from strength to strength. Meanwhile, How to Train Your Dragon author Cressida Cowell’s newest pairing, Wish and Xar, are hoping that it’s Twice Magic for the Wizards of Once, as they face a breakneck race against the clock to reunite before the newly-wakened Kingwitch strikes…
Recent years have also witnessed a burgeoning of new talent - talent we’re proud to champion through our Children’s Book of the Month choices and the annual Waterstones Children’s Books Prize. Shortlisted for the award in 2018, Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor has been one of the year’s biggest word-of-mouth hits. Now its Wundrous lead, Morrigan Crow, makes a welcome second entrance in the electrifying sequel, Wundersmith, as she finds that her new-found powers put her in danger as the evil might of Ezra Squall looms ever larger. Readers thrilled by our popular, bookseller-championed Children’s Book of the Month for September, The Murderer’s Ape, will welcome being back in the splendid, simian company of Sally Jones for her rip-roaring, tempest-tossed origins story, The Legend of Sally Jones.
From sea-crossings to sinister goings on: we take a welcome journey back into the weird and wonderful worlds of Peter Bunzl’s Cogheart and Helena Duggan’s comically misnamed Perfect. As the children of Cogheart find themselves caught in the daring and danger of the big top in Skycircus, meanwhile Duggan’s Violet and Boy are finding that Perfect is about to become anything but, all over again, in The Trouble with Perfect. Both Bunzl and Duggan have a flare for mixing touches of macabre humour with extraordinary flights of fancy and readers drawn to the work of Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl or Lemony Snicket should certainly add these series to their to-read piles.
Everyone (of course) knows that bookshops and libraries are the doorways to imagination but in two exceptional new stories, that's just the very beginning. Described by the Times as ‘the new master of books for children who like magic and modernity with their lust for adventure’, author Piers Torday has a talent for bringing together the known and the strange. Echoing C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Torday’s The Lost Magician tumbles four children into a fantasy world where characters from fairy tale and literature do battle with a date-churning, robot queen. Packed with resonance for a modern, digital age, it’s a story full of heart and a truly enchanting one at that. Torday’s evident love of stories and storytelling is beautifully echoed in Anna James’s debut novel, Pages and Co. Here 11 year-old book-lover Tilly discovers that her grandparent’s bookshop unlocks an inner power to walk into her favourite books, but danger as well as truth waits between the pages. It’s a book that any junior (not to mention plenty of more senior) bookworms will devour in one sitting.
Teenage and YA Fiction
We start our teen round-up with a book that is heralded by a clamorous wave of pre-release excitement. The inspiration for a phenomenally popular Broadway musical, Dear Evan Hansen is the moving but ultimately uplifting story of an ordinary teenage boy whose life spirals out of control in the grip of an escalating lie. Arriving in advance of the hit show’s London West End, it’s the chance to get a first glimpse at the story that has gripped America. There’s equal anticipation surrounding the release of the first novel from podcast star (and brother of author John Green) Hank Green. Earning effusive reviews across the pond, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is a novel aimed arrow-like at the digital age; a story that tackles fame, online celebrity culture and the power of social media, asking us to question what we see and what we believe. If, however, an antidote to the stresses of a world of tech seems in order, then What If It’s Us might be just the reading ticket. The latest novel from the acclaimed authors of bestsellers Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and They Both Die at the End, this unashamedly romantic novel of lost love and second chances for two boys in New York City is a sure-fire hit.
From modern love to monstrous imaginings, autumn holds a clutch of chilling new fantasy fiction, headed up by the epic series finale: Kingdom of Ash. The stunning completion of Sarah J Maas’s epic Throne of Glass sequence, there are more than a few surprises in store as Maas unwinds the final fate of queen and assassin Aelin Galathynius. As an added bonus for fans, our edition contains exclusive fan art. There’s more dark magic at work in April Genevieve Tucholke’s bewitching debut, The Boneless Mercies, a story of destiny and hard-bought clemency. Loosely based on Beowulf, it is a story of risk and reward, and the tussle between the lure of glory and freedom. Meanwhile, readers looking for a touch of haunting for Halloween, should turn to the pages of Victoria Schwab’s Edinburgh set novel, City of Ghosts. Moving between the worlds of the living and the dead, this is a blackly funny and very modern take on the classic ghost story that’s also a celebration of friendship – albeit one that’s more than a little out of the ordinary.
Elsewhere fairy tale influences abound as we celebrate two winter-draped offerings, each well-versed in the language of magic. We at Waterstones have been championing Kiran Millwood Hargrave since her astounding first novel, The Girl of Ink and Stars, won our Children’s Book Prize in 2017. Arguably her most poignant, bittersweet and captivating novel to date, The Way Past Winter is steeped in the landscape and literature of Scandinavia, and sings as much with the author’s belief in the power of storytelling as it does with the strong themes of family and homecoming. Gloriously designed, with decorated endpapers and inlaid cover, it’s a beautiful book, inside and out. A runaway success in France - and already a huge hit with our booksellers - A Winter’s Promise is the first novel in Christelle Dabos’ The Mirror Visitor quartet, set in in the mysterious world of Anima. Following headstrong princess Ophelia - a woman with extraordinary powers to read the past in objects - as she attempts to navigate the political machinations of court and country, it’s reminiscent of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials in its scope and artistry.
We end with timely stories, dark futures and new beginnings. The Winner of the Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2018, Angie Thomas's outstanding debut, THUG, reaches new audiences this month with an eagerly awaited cinema release. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, it's a novel that's deservedly being hailed as an immediate 21st century classic. Long considered a cult favourite, Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines is gaining a second life with the release of Peter Jackson’s budget-breaking blockbuster. Much of what Reeve envisaged in his futuristic, tech-fused future in 2001 now seems frighteningly prescient, but the stories remain startling for their ingenuity and sparkling storytelling power. Michael Grant proved himself adept at inventing frightening dystopian visions in his wildly popular GONE series. Now he’s back with Villain, a wickedly dark and funny story of a so-called loser-turned-mutant that asks probing questions about the nature of strength and heroism. But the last word, of course, has to go to Philip Pullman’s masterful origins story, La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust. Waterstones Book of the Year for 2017, La Belle Sauvage is peerless in its creative range, characterisation and scope. Our newly published paperback edition contains additional illustrations from Chris Wormell, and is a must for any fans collector’s library.