The best children's books for this summer: Outstanding tall stories for short people

As the schools break up, Nicholas Tucker picks the best books around for youngsters

This is a happy book" trumpets the title page of Clara Vulliamy's I ♥ Holidays (Harpercollins, £6.99 paperback), and indeed it is. Three cheerful rabbit siblings take a seaside holiday with Mum and Dad and have a good time doing the usual beach things including putting up with rain. Bright colours and lots of detail make all this very pleasing.

Younger readers should also enjoy a different seaside experience in Maudie Smith's Milly and the Mermaids (Orion, £12.99, £6.99 paperback). Luminously illustrated by Antonia Woodward, the promise of "extra sparkle inside" is amply born out when Milly discovers the secret world of mermaids. This she does after entering a shell brought back from the beach that afternoon which has now swollen to giant-size. Is she dreaming? Ask any child lucky enough to possess this beautiful book.

Simon Puttock's Mouse's First Night at Moonlight School (Nosy Crow, £10.99) takes a reassuring look at feeling shy on the first day in the classroom. Initially mouse conceals herself behind the curtains but after winning a game of hide-and-seek she decides that school and her new animal friends are a good thing after all. Ali Pye's dreamy illustrations are as appealing as the child-head teacher Miss Moon, who sports a witch's hat but is otherwise a model of affectionate understanding.

A different level of patience is required by the invisible dog-owners in Catherine Rayner's Smelly Louie (Macmillan, £11.99). Wild-haired Louie, a hound of indeterminate extraction, hates his new roses and apple bloom fragrance following an unwanted bath. A series of swirling, impressionistic full page water colour illustrations show him setting about cultivating a smell as revolting as his last. An over-flowing dustbin and some sticky sludge are put to good use, but when he returns home there is already another bath running for him. His artist-illustrator won the prestigious Kate Greenaway medal in 2009. But if Giles Andreae's Sir Scallywag and the Deadly Dragon Poo (Puffin, £6.99 paperback) were to be next year's winner, the gentle Victorian artist who gave her name to this prize would surely be revolving in her grave. When Andreae, master of the comic rhyming couplet, gets together with top anarchic illustrator Korky Paul, the two naughtiest boys in the current picture book class really let fly. Their story begins with King Colin bombarded with dragon poo by the evil Baron Greedyguts, who is intent on stealing a giant sweet machine. The bespattered monarch turns to six-year-old Sir Scallywag for rescue and the young hero is finally successful, but not before a lot of dragon poo has hit rather more than a fan. Young readers will not believe their luck if they get their hands on this rudely hilarious picture book.

James Campbell's Boyface and the Quantum Chromatic Disruption Machine (Hodder, £5.99 paperback) is an engagingly eccentric story set in the seaside village of Stoddenage-on-Sea. It features a husband and wife pair of stripemongers who have the ability to remove stripes of any description and then sell them on. Their 10-year-old son, Boyface, is put in charge of the shop and battles to get through his first day. Mark Weighton's line drawings are an added pleasure.

Caryl Hart's Foxy Tales: The Road to Fame and Fortune (Hodder, £4.99 paperback) also contains ingenious black and white illustrations provided by Alex T Smith. The continuing saga of ambitious Foxy Dubois and her regular nemesis the monstrously greedy Alphonso the Alligator now takes them to the film studios of Jollywood, home of the glamorous film star Ebenezer Jones. As always nothing ever works out with a lot of fun along the way.

And, for the Daddy of all jokey books for junior readers, go to Jeremy Strong and his 100th title, Kidnapped! (Puffin, £5.99, paperback). Streaker, the talking dog whose favourite occupation is running at great speed, finds herself in France for a fortnight's camping. Illustrated by Rowan Clifford, what follows lives up to its predecessors.

For older readers, Angie Sage always offers good value, and her latest Araminta Spook novel Gargoyle Hall (Bloomsbury, £5.99 paperback) is well up to speed as the fearless child detective solves another mystery, this time set in an exclusive girls' boarding school.

A different secret becomes evident in Ross Montgomery's The Tornado Chasers (Faber, £6.99 paperback), which combines comic writing with gathering menace. It follows the fortunes of 11-year old hero Owen Underwood, who is unwillingly relocated to the decidedly strange town of Barrow. This bleak habitation has been founded by parents with an obsessive dread of anything bad ever happening to their children. Resenting the six o'clock curfews and constant warnings about mythical killer bears, Owen joins a gang of children determined to break away from this stifling over-protection. What happens after that is fast, often furious and, finally, surprising.

Jon Walter's assured debut novel Close to the Wind (David Fickling, £10.99) is the tautly written story of Malik, a 10-year old boy trying to escape with his grandfather from devastating civil war to a better life overseas. No country is named, with Malik standing in for all child asylum seekers. Threatened at every stage, he finally makes it but at severe cost, although there is a happy ending of sorts. This is a gripping and frequently moving story that's highly topical and not to be missed.

Also recommended is E Lockhart's We Were Liars (Hot Key books, £7.99 paperback). It's a sometimes over-wrought but ultimately compelling story of a rich American family in meltdown. King Lear beckons as old man Harris Sinclair decides who gets what from his holiday island, with all three grown-up daughters squabbling for his possessions with not a Cordelia in sight. But it is the grandchildren who suffer most, with the narrator, 15-year-old Cadence, only gradually recovering her memory of the terrible events that left her part-amnesiac.

British readers may sometimes wonder how so much opulence can still leave characters feeling so permanently adrift, but in these angst-ridden literary times any novel or play showing wealthy American extended family members actually enjoying their vacation now seems well past.

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

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

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'