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22 diverse and entertaining children’s and YA books to read this summer

22 diverse and entertaining children’s and YA books to read this summer

School’s officially out for summer! And as the weekday routine goes out the window for the next month or so, there’s even more time for reading. Here’s our round-up of diverse, inclusive and engaging middle grade, teen and YA reads to keep the youngsters occupied during the holidays (there’s plenty to keep adults entertained too!).

Children’s and Middle Grade:

The Case of the Smuggler’s Curse by Mark Dawson

The first book in crime author Mark Dawson’s The After School Detective Club series, co-written with Allan Boroughs and illustrated by Ben Mantle, has a touch of the Enid Blytons about it. The story follows Lucy, Max, Joe, Charlie and faithful dog Sherlock as they find themselves caught up with a dangerous gang of smugglers on the Suffolk coast. The Case of the Smuggler’s Curse might begin one winter’s night, but this is a hugely entertaining adventure that can be enjoyed at any time of year. (Welbeck Flame)

Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms by Jamar J. Perry

Cameron Battle grew up on the stories of Chidani, a fabled kingdom that cut itself off from the world to save the Igbo people from danger. When his parents die, Cameron’s grandmother locks The Book of Chidani away in the attic, cutting off his connection to the magic and African mythology. Two years later, Cameron and his friends, Zion and Aliyah, rediscover the book, opening up a magical portal that transports them to Chidani, where the Igbo people have been waiting for a hero to save them. Billed as ‘Percy Jackson meets Black Panther’, this is a gripping fantasy story of friendship, family, love, identity and acceptance. (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

The Secret of the Treasure Keepers by A. M. Howell

The new middle grade historical adventure from the award-winning author of The Garden of Lost Secrets is set in the windswept Fens in the aftermath of the Second World War. Whisked off to isolated Rook Farm with her archaeologist mother to investigate long-buried treasure, 12-year-old Ruth soon discovers that that there are more mysteries to the landscape than just ancient artefacts. Inspired by real-life Roman and Bronze Age archaeological finds in East Anglia, this is an evocative and atmospheric story that combines history, family secrets and a treasure trail mystery. (Usborne Publishing)

The Light In Everything by Katya Balen

Forced to share a home when their parents fall in love and move in together, Tom and Zofia have nothing in common except their lack of control over their lives. Tom is quiet and timid, whilst Zofia is loud and raging at the world. They both dislike each other equally but then Tom’s mum gets ill, and they slowly start to realise that perhaps they’re not so different after all. The Light In Everything is a heart-felt and poetic book about fear, change and learning to let hope into your heart. There’s also a lovely thread that weaves in the art and philosophy of origami – something that’s about much more than just folding paper. (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief by A. F. Steadman

If you’re seeking a truly immersive and transportive novel that can be read by both children and adults, then you’ll find it with A. F. Steadman’s debut fantasy. Evoking the spirit and magical adventure of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, the story follows 13-year-old Skander Smith, who’s always dreamt of being a heroic unicorn rider. But just as his dream is in reach, the Island’s most powerful unicorn is stolen and Skander uncovers a secret that threatens to change his world forever. This book has everything you can ask for – magic, secrets, adventure, cinematic battles, dark enemies and ferocious unicorns as you’ve never seen them before. (Simon & Schuster Children’s)

The Wondrous Prune by Ellie Clements

After being uprooted by her single mum along with her troublesome older brother, 11-year-old Prune Robinson is trying to settle into her new life. She doesn’t want to burden her mum with the fact that she’s being bullied. Or the fact that she seems to have developed a unique superpower that allows her drawings to come to life. When her brother gets into trouble, Prune realises that her special power might just be the one thing that can bring her family back together. The Wondrous Prune is a heartening and relatable novel about a budding superhero navigating life’s challenges whilst using her powers to bring happiness to those around her. (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

Our Sister, Again by Sophie Cameron

On a small island off the Scottish coast, Isla and her family are grieving the loss of her older sister Flora. When they’re offered the chance to be part of a secret trial that revives loved ones as AI robots, Isla is initially dubious. Yet all her doubts disappear when the ‘new’ Flora arrives and she’s a perfect replica of Isla’s sister. But not everyone on the island feels the same… Against the backdrop of a fascinating sci-fi premise, Sophie Cameron explores grief, loss and the things that make us human. A beautifully life-affirming story. (Stripes Publishing)

Zo and the Forest of Secrets by Alake Pilgrim

When Zo runs away from home, she’s not scared because she knows the island like she knows herself. But as she journeys through the forest, terrifying mutant creatures and warped visions emerge. Working together with fellow island child Adri, Zo must battle the monsters and unravel the secrets of the forest before she’s lost in them forever. Inspired by Pilgrim’s home country of Trinidad and featuring a brave young protagonist, Zo and the Forest of Secrets is a tale of friendship and legends, with a thought-provoking eco-conscious message at its heart. (Knights Of)

Three Girls by Katie Clapham

Minnie, Lena and Alice are not friends, despite their school making them pose together for prospectus photos. Minnie is the athlete, but what if she wants a different future for herself? Lena is the princess, but her dream of ruling the school might not be all she hoped it would be. Then there’s Alice, who’s holding onto a secret that will bind the girls’ lives together forever. Three Girls is a funny and genuine celebration of teen friendship and what it’s like to be young, complete with all the complications, difficult decisions and first-time experiences that entails. (UCLan Publishing)

The Fire Cats of London by Anna Fargher

Set during the summer of 1666, Anna Fargher’s new children’s book centres around two young and courageous wildcats on a treacherous adventure through historic London. Caught up in the Great Fire, Asta and Ash face a dangerous journey as they escape their captors and flee across a burning city in a bid to return to their forest home. Beautifully illustrated by Sam Usher, and with a wonderful cast of quirky animal characters, The Fire Cats of London tells the story of the most infamous fire in British history. It’s perfect for fans of Fargher’s previous daring hero Umbrella Mouse. (Macmillan Children’s Books)

Nura and the Immortal Palace by M. T. Khan

Nura has worked in the mica mines of Pakistan all her life. It’s a struggle to keep her family afloat but she dreams of one day finding the Demon’s Tongue, a legendary treasure buried deep in the mines. When an accident buries her best friend, Nura is desperate to save him. She digs too deep and passes into a magical world of trickster jinn. It is a land that promises riches and wonders, but Nura soon discovers that this world is as unfair and unforgiving as the real one. Khan’s magical middle grade debut is full of vivid descriptions and rich imagery, making it an easy book to get lost in. (Walker Books)

Teen and YA:

The Ivory Key by Akshaya Raman

Vira is desperate to step out of her mother’s shadow and establish her royal legacy. But with the country’s only quarry running out of magic, a precious resource that keeps their country safe, war is looming. Her only hope is to find the ivory key, a mysterious object of legend rumoured to unlock magic. But in order to retrieve it, Vira must reunite with her estranged siblings, each of whom have their own secrets and agendas. The first instalment in Raman’s Indian-inspired fantasy duology is an impressive and expansive read from an exciting new voice in YA fiction. (Hot Key Books)

Castles In Their Bones by Laura Sebastian

From the author of the Ash Princess trilogy comes this first instalment in a dazzling new series where danger lurks around every corner, loyalties are tested and nobody can be trusted. Princesses Daphne, Sophronia and Beatriz have been trained in the arts of deception, seduction and violence. They share a single goal – to bring down kingdoms and ensure their mother’s reign over the entire continent. Now that they’re sixteen, each princess is ready to leave her homeland and marry a prince. But venturing to new lands will test their perseverance, not to mention their allegiances. This is a thrilling novel packed with political intrigue, ruthless twists and scheming sisters – the very best elements of YA fantasy. (Hodder & Stoughton)

The Balloon Thief by Aneesa Marufu

Khadija is destined for a life of marriage and boredom. When her father arranges a match, she escapes in a hot air balloon, taking off into the sky and flying over the desert sands of a world torn between those who rule and those who are oppressed. Finding an unlikely friend in glassmaker’s apprentice Jacob, the two embark on an adventure of black magic, jinn and revolution. Aneesa Marufu’s YA fantasy debut is, in the author’s own words, “a battle of two things: identity and loneliness”. Against the backdrop of one girl’s journey to find a safe place in the world, The Balloon Thief is an imaginative and highly original exploration of prejudice, extremism, intolerance and finding your place in the world. (Chicken House)

Cinder & Glass by Melissa de la Cruz

See Also

Fans of fairytale retellings will find plenty to enjoy with Melissa De La Cruz’s take on Cinderella. Putting a historical French spin on the classic tale, Cinder & Glass is set in Versailles, 1682, and follows Cendrillon de Louvois as she attends the ball and catches the attention of handsome Prince Louis and his younger brother Auguste. In order to escape the clutches of her stepmother, Cendrillon must compete with the other women at court for the affections of a prince she doesn’t even like, all the while growing ever closer to his brother. An enchanting, romantic and incredibly fun tale. (Penguin Young Readers)

When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill

When hundreds of thousands of ordinary women sprout wings, scales and talons, taking to the skies in a blaze of fire and fury, 8-year-old Alex Green is one of those left behind. Alex has so many questions and nobody wants to answer them, least of all her over-protective mother. As she grows into a fiercely independent teenager, Alex must face the consequences of The Mass Dragoning of 1955, as well as her own personal connection to it. Set in mid-19th century Wisconsin, When Women Were Dragons is a fierce and timely speculative coming-of-age novel that explores what happens when women and girls rise up. (Hot Key Books)

I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston

A month before graduating from Willowgrove Christian Academy, the principal’s perfect and popular daughter, Shara Wheeler, kisses Chloe Green. Then she vanishes, leaving only a trail of clues. On the hunt for answers, Chloe discovers that she’s not on the only one that Shara kissed, and there’s much more to this story – and indeed their small town – than she first realised. Readers who’ve already devoured and adored Casey McQuiston’s Red, White and Royal Blue will find the author’s new rom-com just as witty and romantic. It’s a pitch-perfect YA summer read. (Macmillan)

Spin Me Right Round by David Valdes

If the idea of an intersectional Own Voices twist on Back to the Future starring a gay latinx protagonist sounds exactly your kind of book, then you’ll want to grab a copy of David Valdes’ Spin Me Right Round. It centres on high school student Luis Gonzalez who receives a hit on the head that knocks him back in time to 1985. But a Christian school in the 80’s isn’t the safest place for an openly gay teen and Luis must figure out a way to get home to his own time, whilst trying to save closeted student Chaz from a tragic end. Inspired by Valdes’ own experiences, this is an uplifting queer time-slip adventure with both humour and heart. (Bloomsbury YA)

The Butterfly Assassin by Finn Longman

Left traumatised by a secret assassin programme for minors, Isabel Ryans wants nothing more than a normal life. After running away from home, things are finally starting to look up. But it’s not long until Isabel blows her cover, drawing the attention of the guilds, the two rival organisations who control the city. An unaffiliated assassin can be one of two things: a potential asset or a threat that needs to be eliminated. Gritty and fast-paced, The Butterfly Assassin is the kind of YA thriller that you could easily see being adapted for screen. (Simon & Schuster Children’s)

Toxic by Natasha Devon

Llewella is a straight-A student with a prefect badge, a lead role in the school play and a successful blog. But as a girl of mixed racial heritage, she doesn’t feel as if she fits in. When glamorous new student Aretha arrives at her sixth form, the two quickly become close friends. In order to be the perfect best friend, Llewella starts changing – abandoning her passions and agreeing with everything Aretha says and does, even when it doesn’t feel right. Written by activist, writer and presenter Natasha Devon in response to the struggles of young people trying to navigate damaging behaviour and controlling friendships, Toxic is a very real and relatable novel that deals with issues of race, privilege and female solidarity. (UCLan Publishing)

Hurricane Summer by Asha Bromfield

Like Elizabeth Acevedo’s Clap When You Land before it, this is a powerful and emotional coming-of-age story that explores the complicated relationship between a father and daughter, and the pull of a Caribbean island that’s an integral part of their heritage. But Hurricane Summer, written by Riverdale and Locke and Key star Asha Bromfield, is also about young love, classism, ugly truths and discovering your own voice – all in the midst of an impending storm. Going by this debut, we should be very excited about what Bromfield writes next. (Faber & Faber)

The King Is Dead by Benjamin Dean

Benjamin Dean’s YA debut sees seventeen-year-old prince James thrust into the spotlight when he becomes the first Black king to take the throne. But when James’ boyfriend suddenly goes missing, threatening envelopes appear at the palace and an anonymous informant begins to expose the scandalous skeletons in the royal closet. As an author, Dean enjoys  “placing Black and queer characters into positions of power and authority, places where they might’ve been historically isolated from in the past.” This book does that in a delightfully Gossip Girl-esque way, with plenty of romance and mystery to keep readers glued to each page. (Simon & Schuster Children’s)

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