The extent to which re-reading Harry Potter for the millionth time this term has helped me through collections has been a reminder of just how comforting children’s books can be. Whether as a break between course reading, or a way to evade new year life crises, or just as wonderful stories in their own right, we never really grow out of children’s books.
One that perfectly illustrates this is Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Incredibly funny and warm, Framed follows the life of Dylan Hughes, a young boy living in a tiny Snowdonian village. His naivety and earnestness, as well as his love for his family and village (insignificant as it may seem to outsiders) are so endearing, and watching him begin to understand some of the tougher realities of the adult world is oddly poignant. The book is filled with genuine laugh-out-loud moments, such as when Dylan is mistaken for an art enthusiast after naming his chickens after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that make for a lovely silly read.
Where Framed offers the perfect comfort reading for when term-time workloads get too much, Michelle Paver’s Wolf Brother is a compelling, although at times heartbreaking, read for all ages. Set in an ancient hunter-gatherer civilisation, Wolf Brother follows Torak, a boy left isolated following the death of his father, who befriends a similarly vulnerable wolf cub. Throughout her quest-based narrative, Paver tackles the ideas of community and social exclusion, survival and friendship. We experience the novel through the eyes of several of the main characters, including Wolf, which offers a very unusual and fresh reading experience, as Paver imagines the consciousness of an animal. The relationships built within the extreme and challenging situations encountered in the novel, such as vast frozen seas and demonic caves, are beautiful and intense.
A different but familiar imaginary landscape is inhabited and upturned in The Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale. A novel that combines a fairytale world, complete with princesses locked in towers and evil shape-shifting princes, with realistic well-developed characters. We follow the story of lady’s maid Dashti, locked up in a tower with her mistress, who is being punished by her father for her refusal to marry as he chooses. The novel confronts the issues of gender and class that typically cement characters’ positions within fairytales, and it is satisfying to watch Dashti become far less convinced about her supposed inferiority as her illusions surrounding the aristocracy are demystifi ed. Dashti’s character-growth and increasing self-respect, as well as her pride in her native culture, support for her friend, and impressive bravery are all a delight to experience. Indeed, the novel is remarkable in general for engaging and multifaceted female characters. The usual romantic tropes of fairytales are played with, but ultimately abandoned in favour of a much more personal and rich central relationship.
Another recommendation to retreat away from the library with is Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer—fun, clever escapism, with an imaginative and colourful array of characters, varying from a child genius to a techie centaur to a kleptomaniac dwarf. Colfer’s subterranean world fi lled with technologically advanced faeries is wonderful to explore, as is his modernisation of traditional myths and fantasy tropes. The perspective fl icks between characters, giving a broad view of coexisting events, and making the reader uncertain of who to root for. Exciting, fast-paced, and ridiculous to just the right degree, Artemis Fowl is perfect for avoiding admitting that you’re an adult now another year has ended. And, since it is the fi rst in a series, you can hide from reality for that bit longer.
Continuing in that quest, The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence follows the improbable yet somehow believable events of the protagonist’s child—and teenhood—as he gets knocked unconscious by a meteorite, founds the ‘Secular Church of Kurt Vonnegut,’ and ultimately finds himself stopped at border control with 113 grams of marijuana and an urn full of ashes. For a book filled with unexpected adventures, it’s incredibly insightful and tender, handling tough ethical questions unflinchingly, yet with grace. We see Alex grow into a wonderfully principled, and at times almost uncomfortably logical, young man, and the reader can’t help but understand even his most surprising of decisions. One to remind you of the grimmer elements of teenage culture if ever you yearn for those days of lighter workloads, yet as with so many children’s books, ultimately an uplifting story.