What do you get if you cross a polar bear and grizzly bear? An innovative answer to the problem of extinction, if Patricia Hegarty's charming story Two Bears (Caterpillar Books, £11.99, 3+) is anything to go by.
The two bears of the title live in “very different worlds”; one in the “frozen lands of the Arctic”, the other in lush northern forests. Melting ice-caps and forest fires send them wandering far from home, craving “food and shelter and to live in peace and harmony.” They find each other and start a family, “despite the different colours of their fur.”
Hegarty’s story is full of hope, and children will love Rotem Teplow’s delicately rendered images, especially her expressive bears, as they move from states of excitement to despair. As for their hybrid progeny, you would be hard to find a more adorable ursine character. For the realist reader, meanwhile, Hegarty also supplies a factual epilogue that suggests ways in which readers of all ages can do their small piece in helping to preserve the planet.
There is a very real crisis in Dawn McNiff's Love From Alfie McPoonst The Best Dog Ever (Walker, £12.99, 3+). Izzy's dog Alfie has died, and she misses him terribly. McNiff structures the book as a series of letters from Alfie in his new home in the sky where "no cats bully me, I get to scare big wolves and chase postmen...and snooze on sofas, chew shoes, wee down slides and poo on lawns." Where McNiff's imagined Doggy Heaven is full of joy, Patricia Metola's gorgeous hazy watercolour illustrations do not shy away from Izzy's sadness. Wordless double-page spreads lend a pace to the story that encourages stillness and meditation on the emotional images, which would be particularly beneficial for any young readers contemplating the death of a much-loved pet.
It is a pet that enables Safiya to create a home from the tent she shares with her father, brother and uncle in A House Without Walls (Macmillan, £6.99, 10+). Safiya is a Syrian who has taken refuge in Jordan, when the war that was once backdrop to her everyday life of middle-class Muslim privilege forces her family to go on the run. Stripped of all comfort, including the schooling she prizes so dearly, Safiya must conform to more traditional ways, and learn to cook and "keep house" for her depressed lawyer father and her hardworking brother. Laird integrates the cultural and political backdrop to the story gracefully in this first-person narrative, which grips on both a personal and a political level, while a scattering of black and white illustrations from Lucy Eldridge capture both the starkness of Safiya's new circumstances and the warmth of her family life.
In Ele Fountain's Lost (Pushkin Children's Books, £7.99, 10+) another young girl is forced to deal with a revolution in her standard of living when a monsoon leaves her and her brother homeless. The unnamed Indian city where it is set is a foreign place for Lola, who has grown up in the affluent suburbs and whose only experience of the slums has been from the backseat of her father's car. If she is to survive, she must learn the ways of the "street rats", who, she discovers, are not quite as savage as they seem. Short chapters and dramatic events give Fountain's story a page-turning edge, while the details in her characterisation – from the Bollywood poses of Amit and the prized shoes of Rafi to the significance of Lola cutting her hair – ensure the reader finds the characters relatable, even if they cannot identify with their predicament.
Annabelle Sami's Agent Zaiba Investigates (Stripes, £6.99, 8+) is led by a Pakistani protagonist. Zaiba loves a mystery so much she goes looking for them everywhere, even at the Mehndi party of her cousin Samirah. The culturally-specific context of celebration provides rich opportunity for Sami to present us with characters not often represented in children's literature. Zaiba's habit of recording details on her phone allow Sami to integrate the cultural details without exoticising them, as does the presence of Zaiba's sidekick and best friend Poppy, who is from a different background, but who is embraced into the celebrations regardless. A fun addendum for budding detectives enriches the cultural context with factual detail.
Demelza Clock, the heroine of Demelza and the Spectre Detectors (Chicken House, £6.99, 8+), loves facts. She fancies herself as a scientist and spends her days (and nights) inventing such life-changing devices as Robotic Hands for Homework Haters and Magnificent Belly Button Cleaning Machines. Demelza finds it hard to accept, then, that she is one in a long line of spectre detectors, with the ability to summon spirits from the afterlife. Demelza doesn't believe in ghosts! She doesn't even believe in the afterlife. This inner conflict enlivens Rivers' humorous fantasy, as Demelza is forced to apply her logical mind to problem-solve the strangest occurrences and defeat the most ephemeral of nemeses. This gives the book a broad appeal, which both STEM and sci-fi lovers will warm to.