Children’s fiction round-up

New books by the Sears, Soundar, Shurety, Grant, Vry and Gauld

Robert Grant’s The Philosophy Resistance Squad is a dramatic adventure, with an engaging helping of philosophy on the side.

Robert Grant’s The Philosophy Resistance Squad is a dramatic adventure, with an engaging helping of philosophy on the side.

Thu, Aug 26, 2021, 00:00

   
 

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Who does that footprint on the cover of Rob and Tom Sears’s The Biggest Footprint (Canongate, £14.99, 6+) belong to? A Yeti? A Big Foot? A BFG? No. It belongs to a human being, or rather the “smooshed up” eight billion of us, whose collective actions are potentially just as monstrous as any of those beasts. In this creatively presented book about climate change, the Sears effectively personalise the issue for young readers. The scale of their giant human throws into sharp relief the vulnerability of endangered species, and the visually engaging interplay between image and fact makes the message of this unique book extremely digestible. Many readers will be drawn into its story by the illustrations and comic narrative diversions, but they will soon discover that they are reading a book with historical and contemporary depth.

Chitra Soundar

For early readers looking to explore how they can make a difference to the environment, Sona Sharma has loads of great ideas. In Chitra Soundar’s Sona Sharma Looking After Planet Earth (Walker Books, £6.99, 6+), the Indian heroine is doing a school project about climate change and she is so inspired by the classroom challenges that she tries to persuade her family to follow her example. However, turning off Appa’s computer when he is working or throwing out her baby sister’s nappies might not be the best way of getting her point across. Soundar weaves elements of Indian traditional customs seamlessly into the story, which is well-paced in short chapters, illustrated by Jen Khatunthat, that readers new to chapter books will appreciate.

Wenda Shurety

The Last Seaweed Pie by Wenda Shurety (Storyhouse Publishing, £6.99, 3+) presents similar themes to even younger readers in a fabular tale which pits two different communities – the Treeple and the Seaple – against each other in a battle for resources. The Treeple can’t stop building. They “make and mould, sew and saw and bang and tap”. However, the more they create the more they want, and as they discard old things for new, the ocean home of the Seaple becomes “a mass of old things. Sea creatures and plants begin to disappear.” The Seaple flee the ocean for the land, but they do not receive a warm welcome. Paddy Donnelly’s imaginative illustrations are a huge part of the success of this tale, and the blobby form of the Seaple and their coral-coloured home must compete with the nut- and seed-shaped Treeple on the level of cuteness too. Still, with cooperation, both communities can find a way to live harmoniously. Yes, there is a gentle environmental lesson there as well.

Robert Grant

Milo, the inquisitive scholar at the centre of Robert Grant’s The Philosophy Resistance Squad (Little Island, £7.99, 10+) knows all about lessons. He has been admitted to Ireland’s prestigious Secondary Training Institute for Lifelong Employment,where students are units, classrooms are information transfer centres, and questioning is punished. When he meets the school gardener by chance, however, he gets an opportunity to explore his discomfort with the school’s modus operandi: to practise philosophy. Grant presents the conversations between Milo and his unlikely friend as a series of Socratic dialogues, and the accessible filters through which serious issues like freedom and technology are explored is very effective. The sinister Disciplods and the school principal Finnegus Pummelcrush are sufficiently creepy to anchor the book as a dramatic adventure, with an engaging helping of philosophy on the side. 

Silke Vry

There are philosophical undertones to The Book of Labyrinths and Mazes by Silke Vry, with illustrations from Finn Dean (Prestel, £14.99, 8+). An exploration of the history of labyrinths and mazes from ancient times to the present day, it probes deeper resonances through a series of Mind Trips. What does it mean to “lose one’s way”? How does commitment to a labyrinth exemplify the characteristics we need to do well in life? Vry includes a selection of famous stories involving labyrinths and mazes, a guide to creating your own, and practical tips for finding your way through both. 

Tom Gauld

Tom Gauld’s The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess (Templar Books, £12.99, 3+) uses a journey as a metaphor too. This original fairytale explores kinship between the most unlikely siblings. Although they were created by two different advisers to the Kingdom, the Wooden Robot and the Log Princess have more in common than their sylvan origins, and when the Log Princess is accidentally thrust out into the dangerous world, her brother embarks upon a journey to find her. When he does, she is happy to repay his loyalty by demonstrating her own. The narrative is full of surprises despite its traditional influences, but it is Gauld’s detailed, textured illustrations that will draw a young reader’s attention back to this wonderful book again and again.