I’ve spontaneously started a little series on this book lately. I’ve discussed funny MG books and recently released MG books that I love, and today I thought I’d do a ‘classics’ edition. Classic middle grade books, like Roald Dahl’s MATILDA or the HARRY POTTER series, are stories that seem to be beloved by SO many of us.
For me, there’s a sense of wonder when I read a book that I just *KNOW* is going to remain in the hearts of so many readers forever. There is a timelessness about classic books, a magic element that has absolutely nothing to do with whether there is actual magic in the story.
1. THE ISLAND AT THE END OF EVERYTHING BY KIRAN MILLWOOD HARGRAVE
Shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards and the Blue Peter Book Awards 2017
From the author of the bestselling tale The Girl of Ink & Starscomes a beautiful new adventure about finding your way home.
There are some places you would not want to go. Even if I told you that we have oceans filled with sea turtles and dolphins, or forests lush with parrots that call through air thick with warmth… Nobody comes here because they want to.
The island of no return.
Ami lives with her mother on an island where the sea is as blue as the sky. It’s all she knows and loves, but the arrival of malicious government official Mr Zamora changes her world forever: her island is to be made into a colony for lepers. Taken from her mother and banished across the sea, Ami faces an uncertain future in an orphanage. There she meets a honey-eyed girl named for butterflies, and together they discover a secret that will lead her on an adventure home. Ami must go back to the island of no return, but will she make it in time?
Kiran’s debut novel, THE GIRL OF INK AND STARS, blew into the middle grade book like a storm. It won SO MANY AWARDS, and is an utterly excellent story. But it was this tale that really struck. me. Kiran’s signature writing style is gorgeously poetic prose that is filled with whimsy and magic.
The core of this story is endlessly compelling, and unique in it’s premise. However, it’s the characters and their relationships to each other that really gripped my heartstrings and refused to let go. This is a novel chock full of hope, and friendship and girls. At its heart, this is an adventure. As a disabled person (although, I need to make clear that I do not have leprosy), it is just utterly rewarding to see a disability captured in such a sensitive and well researched way.
IMO, Kiran is a superstar amongst MG writers. She writes beautifully, and honestly, and with integrity. If I’m really honest, all of her books are gonna become classics (and I say that after being utterly blown away by her latest, THE WAY PAST WINTER, which I luckily received an ARC for).
2. COGHEART (THE COGHEART ADVENTURES) BY PETER BUNZL
Some secrets change the world in a heartbeat. . . .
Lily’s life is in mortal peril. Her father is missing and now silver-eyed men stalk her through the shadows. What could they want from her?
With her friends—Robert, the clockmaker’s son, and Malkin, her mechanical fox—Lily is plunged into a murky and menacing world. Too soon Lily realizes that those she holds dear may be the very ones to break her heart. . . .
Murder, mayhem and mystery meet in this gripping Victorian adventure.
This is a rip-rolling Steampunk adventure set in an alternate Victorian London. Jam-packed with compelling characters and a plot that twists-and-turns and is completely captivating, COGHEART has that old-style book feeling with, ya know, the casual sexism and racism that is sometimes present in such books (*COUGH* I’m looking at you Enid Blyton). I sped through this book like my life depended on it when I first read it, I just couldn’t put it down, and that’s the mark of really good read.
The world-building in this book is seamlessly done–it feels natural and slots into the story without feeling info-dumpy, which is remarkable (I say that as a MG writer–world-building is hard!) Our heroine, Lily, is feisty and powerful and is an active participant in her story, and I loved both her development over the book AND her friendship with Robert.
Luckily (for me and you!), COGHEART is but the first book in a series. The second book, MOONLOCKET, is equally fantastic. Peter Bunzl’s world and writing is fabulous, and one of the best MG adventure story’s I’ve read in a long time.
3. THE EXPLORER BY KATHERINE RUNDELL
Award-winning author Katherine Rundell returns with a new story of adventure, survival and bravery. The Explorer is inspired by her expedition to the Amazon and Eva Ibbotson’s beloved Journey to the River Sea.
Fred awoke to find that a snake was watching him and that there was an aeroplane in the trees. It was on fire. Being on fire was a quality it shared with much of the surrounding jungle.
After crashing hundreds of miles from civilisation in the Amazon rainforest, Fred, Con, Lila and Max are utterly alone and in grave danger. They have no food, no water and no chance of being rescued. But they are alive and they have hope. As they negotiate the wild jungle they begin to find signs that something – someone – has been there before them. Could there possibly be a way out after all?
This was my all time favourite book of 2017. It is everything I love in a story–adventure, characters that are flawed but fabulous, and an examination of beliefs. Add to that mixture Katherine Rundell’s TO DIE FOR writing style, and you’ve got yourself a bestseller. At the time of reading, I wrote this:
“I would give this a billion stars if I could. It’s lushly imagined, beautifully written–an adventure that’ll make your heart sing. This is a classic in the making. Spectacular. The best book I’ve read this year.”
Every one of those words is still true. In fact, I would only add one more thing to it: I want to re-read it ASAP. For me, the mark of a favourite book for me is that yearning to re-read it. THE EXPLORER is a master-craft in kid lit, a witty and warm story of daring and danger, of friendship and working together, of what is right and wrong. I was (and still am) completely absorbed in the adventure of it all.