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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Anthony Hopkins in Westworld

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rock and role: Jamie Bell's character Benjamin Grimm is transformed into 'Thing' in the film adaptation of Marvel Comics' 'Fantastic Four'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Hopkins veered between sycophancy and insult in her new chat show
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
In his role as Hamlet, Benedict Cumberbatch will have to learn, and repeat night after night, around 1,480 lines

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Belgian sexologist Goedele Liekens with pupils at Hollins Technology College in Accrington
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The rapper Drake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The gaffer: Prince Philip and the future Queen in 1947
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Style icons: The Beatles on set in Austria
film
Arts and Entertainment
By Seuss! ‘What Pet Shall I Get?’ hits the bookshops this week
Books
Arts and Entertainment
The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after Enola Gray and her crew dropped the bomb
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Elliott outside his stationery store that houses a Post Office
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

Film review Tom Cruise, 50, is still like a puppy in this relentless action soap opera

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Off the wall: the cast of ‘Life in Squares’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Books And it is whizzpopping!

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future
    Berlusconi's world of sleaze: The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM

    Berlusconi's world of sleaze

    The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM
    Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

    Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

    Films and theme parks are just the beginning. Disney believes its control of the now decades-old franchise can bring in merchandise and marketing millions for years to come
    Could the golden age of the gaming arcade ever be revived in the era of the Xbox?

    Could gaming arcades be revived?

    The days when coin-ops were the only way to play the latest video games are gone. But a small band of enthusiasts are keeping the button-pushing dream alive
    Edinburgh Fringe 2015: The 'tampon tax' has inspired a new wave of female comedians to reclaim period jokes

    Heard the one about menstruation?

    Yes, if you have been at the Fringe, where period pieces are taking centre stage