Forget chocolate – why not try a book this Easter?

Susan Elkin reviews the best children's and young-adult fiction to help keep your darlings entertained over the spring holidays

Among quirky new books for the over-fours is The Frank Show (Harper Collins, £6.99), in which David Mackintosh's lovely people-filled drawings and witty text introduce us to Grandpa Frank, who lives with the boy narrator's family in New York. He doesn't like fancy food or modern music but (eventually) makes a good subject for a talk at school about a family member.

William Steig's Shrek (Particular, £12.99), the delightfully simple book which inspired the films and the musical, is fun too. Steig's drawings of the world's favourite ogre decorate his crisp prose, which sends up traditional tales of valour. It reads like Hemingway for children. "Wherever Shrek went, every living creature fled" and "The knight, red-hot, dove into the stagnant moat."

Shahnameh (Frances Lincoln, £16.99) is a collection of 10th-century stories and myths full of kings, heroes, princesses, magical animals, and demons. Master storyteller Elizabeth Laird has retold this Persian classic with elegant simplicity and Shirin Adl's lively art work makes for a very pretty book.

In May, for independent readers in the later primary and early secondary years, comes the compelling and moving Butterfly Summer by Anne-Marie Conway (Usborne, £5.99). Becky is haunted – in every sense – by her family's past, and especially by her father, whom her mother refuses to discuss with her. Who is the demanding girl in the butterfly garden on the edge of the village whom nobody sees except Becky? And what really happened to her father? Lovely characters include Mum's supportive friend Stella, her common-sensible son Mack and Mr and Mrs Jackson who run the village shop.

Rachel Billington's Poppy's Hero (Frances Lincoln, £6.99) is a well observed story inspired by the author's 20 years of prison work, about a child whose dad, Big Frank, is a jailed Irish drug smuggler. Nothing in it is black and white. The charismatic, likeable Angel, whom Poppy meets while visiting prison, will probably end up in prison like his father. Then there's Poppy's Polish piano-teacher mother and her friend Will, who has heart problems, both counterpointed with her "normal" friend Jude.

Elizabeth Laird's The Prince Who Walked With Lions (Macmillan, £12.99) is a poignant historical novel about orphaned Prince Alamayu. The unfortunate boy was brought from Ethiopia to school in Britain, with Queen Victoria's support, in 1868 after his father was killed by the British. It taught me a great deal about a "campaign" – actually a vicious war against the indigenous people – in Ethiopia that I knew nothing about, and Laird fills out the period details convincingly.

And so to books for over-12s. Brigid Lowry's Triple Ripple (Allen & Unwin, £6.99) is a clever and original fairy story with interjections by the New Zealand-based writer and a modern reader – the former discussing authorial quandaries and decisions, and the latter responding to them while she deals with trauma in her own life. The main story gives us Princess Mirabella and her maid Glory, who are both teenagers, and they're all linked by common themes such as boyfriends, bullying and absent fathers.

There is yet another father quest in No Use Crying by Zannah Kearns (Frances Lincoln, £6.99). It's an impressive first novel with striking imagery, such as of a character carrying knowledge like a kicking foetus. There is a cast of splendid characters, including the ailing Professor Munroe and his friendly, helpful wife. The daughter of a troubled single mother, Niki eventually finds her reformed father and his new family, which leads to a messy but hopeful conclusion.

There's no father at all in Maya Brown's life. She is the feisty, sometimes foolhardy 15-year-old Kosovan daughter of Pam, who is something senior and hush-hush in international intelligence. Breaking the Circle (Frances Lincoln, £6.99) is Maya's second outing, and finds her uncovering a drugs and sex-trafficking ring. It's implausible, but also a fast-paced and readable thriller which manages obliquely to pack a strong and realistic message about the horrors of drugs.

In a quite different mood is Dee Shulman's Fever (Razorbill, £6.99), the first part of a trilogy which links Sethos, a 2nd-century Londinium gladiator, with Eva, a super-bright but troubled sixth-former in a rather unlikely London boarding school for high fliers. Both stories fly along, and then comes the link: suddenly we're in a world of metaphysics and virology. Full of twists, immaculately researched, it is very exciting and unpredictable.

A Midsummer Tights Dream by Louise Rennison (HarperCollins, £10.99) and The Intern by Dillon Khan (Puffin, £6.99) are both about the performing arts. Rennison's Tallulah is back, with her strange idiolect, at her performing arts school in Yorkshire, and working her way painfully and humorously through adolescence. Khan's novel is different. Jay is older. He is an intern on a TV pop show. He makes mistakes and compromises his relationship with his girlfriend. Khan gives us a pretty ruthless, off-putting picture of the less-than-glamorous industry and Jay does a lot of growing up.

And finally, the teenage thieves Ash and Benjamin return in their latest escapist excursion, The Hit List, by Jack Heath (Usborne, £6.99). Their quest to break into the world's largest intelligence agency begins with a raid on a drift mine, followed by an underground shoot-out in which they are ranged against 12 snipers who kill everyone in sight. It's fast paced stuff for those who like this sort of thing.

Suggested Topics
Arts & Entertainment
TV

Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit