CYCLING and reading: you couldn’t get two activities more likely to get a parental approval stamp. Just by being the cycling hero he is, Chris Hoy has already triggered the cycling bug in a lot of kids. Now he is giving them an extra push with a series of comical books, part-penned by Joanna Nadin, following the adventures of Fergus, a nine-year-old kid with a fizzing imagination, convinced he is the “most brilliant boy cyclist in the world”. Hoy says he’s hoping the books open children’s eyes “to the freedom and adventures two wheels can offer.” But this is a two-way track, one that may also help bike-fanatic kids find their way to books. In the first of this entertaining series, Flying Fergus: The Best Birthday Bike (Piccadilly Press, £4.99), Fergus longs for a new bike for his birthday. Only he is given a rusty brown thing that once belonged to his absent father.
Barely a season goes past without the publication of a cat book or two, and this spring sees a string of new felines on the block. Top cat, perhaps, is the delightfully original Catlantis by the Russian novelist and scriptwriter, Anna Starobinets (Pushkin, £12). This is the tale of Baguette, a time-travelling ginger house cat who has fallen in love with a stray called Purriana and offered her his “paw and heart”. But before he may get married according to cat tradition he must complete a quest, and, as it turns out, this involves going back in time to Catlantis to bring back a special flower that will allow cats to once more live nine lives. Charmingly idiosyncratic.
Then there is the captivating Wildfire, first in the Wildwitch series by Lene Kaaberol (Pushkin, £6.99), which follows Clara, a 12-year-old so shy her mother calls her Little Mouse, who discovers through an encounter with a cat that she can communicate with animals. Or, for those who like their cats a little more real-world, there is Able Seacat Simon: The Wartime Hero of the High Seas by Lynne Barrett-Lee (Simon & Schuster, £9.99), inspired by the true story of an orphaned kitten found in the Hong Kong docks in 1948 and smuggled onto the HMS Amethyst.
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Meanwhile, for slightly older readers, we already have two heartwarming, yet educational, novels featuring a lot of physics. Funny how the world occasionally throws up two books so alike, and yet unique. With Time Travelling With A Hamster by Ross Welford (Harper Collins, £6.99) and The Many Worlds Of Albie Bright by Christopher Edge (Nosy Crow, £6.99) it’s as if someone had conducted an experiment in which the themes of grief and physics were thrown into the test tubes of two different author’s minds. Both feature characters named after Albert Einstein. In Time Travelling With A Hamster, Al travels back in time to try to save his father’s life, taking his hamster, Alan Shearer, with him – leading to plenty of time-muddling twists. Meanwhile in the other parallel universe of The Many Worlds of Albie Bright, we follow Albie, who has lost his scientist mother to cancer, and who, when he asks his father what he thinks has happened to her, receives a full quantum physics and parallel universe explanation. Moving, and exploding with scientific ideas and wonder.
If it’s a history you want, look no further than TV presenter Lucy Worsley’s Eliza Rose (Bloomsbury, £6.99). One thing that comes across is the author knows her period: that of Tudor heroine, Eliza Camperdowne, a young girl brought up in a once rich-family, who finds herself in the court of Henry VIII. Everything Eliza touches, wears or does, seems to have been dug up out of history, making for a fascinating, yet sometimes detail-heavy, portrait of a time when a girl would be married off at 12 years old. Worsley hasn’t got the literary weight or style of Hilary Mantel, but this remains a kind of Wolf Hall for teenage girls, a side of the story not often enough told.
One of the most affecting novels for older children is Gabriel Savit’s Anna And The Swallow Man (Penguin Random House Children’s). Its heroine is a young Polish jew, Anna. The story begins when she is seven years old, in Krakow during the Second World War, on the day that her father disappears. Language, as well as the horrors of the Holocaust, is partly the theme, and we see the world through Anna’s eyes and ears, those of the daughter of a professor of linguistics. A harsh tale of innocence lost, yet touched with magic.
Consent and rape are two of the biggest, most politicised issues around young sexuality these day, so it should be no surprise that YA novels are tackling it. All The Rage by Courtney Summers (Macmillan, £7.99) is a rape survivor novel that pulls no punches as it describes the messy cocktail that is teenage relations, drunken parties and communities that collude to protect their boys. Louise O’Neill’s Asking For It last year covered similar territory and was arguably an even more gruelling read. Here Summers follows Romy a teenager who wakes up on a dirt road, scratched, bruised, unable to remember what happened the night before. Scrawled across her abdomen are the words “rape me”.
When Alice Oseman’s Solitaire came out in 2014, the author then 19 years old, and her heroine was talked of as “Holden Caulfield for the internet age”. Now she follows up with a second smart, witty and enthralling novel, Radio Silence (Harper Collins ). This a tale of friendship in the steam-cooker world of high-achieving school students, online fan culture, and the fluidity of gender and sexuality. As central character, Aled, puts it, “I think everyone’s bored with boy-girl romances. I think the world’s had enough of those to be honest.”