Don’t Ask the Dragon by Lemn Sissay and Greg Stobbs (Canongate, £12.99)
In poet Lemn Sissay’s debut picture book, little Alem, alone on his birthday, wonders where he can call home – but bears, foxes and assorted wildlife all tell him just one thing: not to ask the dragon. A warm-hearted, richly coloured, peril-spiced quest, culminating in the poignant realisation that “home was always inside him”.
Can Bears Ski? by Raymond Antrobus and Polly Dunbar (Walker, £7.99)
Another first picture book from an acclaimed poet, in which a small bear is baffled by people asking “Can bears ski?” until he visits an audiologist, and discovers they were really saying: “Can you hear me?” Drawing vividly on Antrobus’s childhood experience with undiagnosed deafness, this new paperback edition comes with a BSL alphabet, as well as Polly Dunbar’s inimitably cuddly illustrations.
Mayor Bunny’s Chocolate Town by Elys Dolan (OUP, £11.99)
Dolan’s rascally rabbit is back, with political ambitions. He claims chocolate will act as a fox repellant and can be used to build delicious new homes – but what will happen when his words are put to the test? A hilarious, all-too-relevant satire of dirty tricks and comeuppance, with engaging comic-style details.
It Fell from the Sky by the Fan Brothers (Quarto, £12.99)
When a curious object falls from the sky, the garden insects all have theories about it, while unscrupulous Spider detects a business opportunity and begins charging his neighbours to view it. With its few words and gorgeous illustration – intricate monochrome enlivened by acid-bright touches of colour – this sophisticated picture book will prompt lively discussion among readers of 5-plus.
Luma and the Pet Dragon by Leah Mohammed, illustrated by Loretta Schauer (Welbeck Flame, £6.99)
Luma is thrilled to be getting a puppy on her birthday – but after a muddle at the shelter, she welcomes Timir, a mischievous dragon, instead. Though Timir can disguise himself as a little dog, Luma will need her Nani’s help to keep the big secret. Warm, sweet wish-fulfilment, with cute illustrations perfectly pitched for 6-plus.
Elisabeth and the Box of Colours by Katherine Woodfine, illustrated by Rebecca Cobb (Barrington Stoke, £6.99)
Élisabeth Louise Vigée le Brun was the portrait painter to Marie Antoinette. Beautifully told in spare, resonant words, this account of her life is full of Cobb’s delightful images, contrasting the shadowy grey of boarding-school routine and crushing grief with the riotous colours of artistic expression. A transporting little tale for 7-plus.
The Boy Whose Wishes Came True by Helen Rutter (Scholastic, £6.99)
Archie’s mum is too sad to take care of him; his dad, focused on his new family, doesn’t seem to care; at school, he’s picked on by everyone except his friend Mouse. But when Archie bumps his head and his favourite footballer appears to grant him nine wishes, everything is about to change … A funny, sad and inspiring story for 8-plus, with an enormously likable and convincing young protagonist.
Loki: A Bad God’s Guide to Being Good by Louie Stowell (Walker, £7.99)
Ideal for 9-plus, this outrageously funny illustrated diary chronicles the complaints of the Trickster God, exiled to Earth in a schoolboy’s body and given a month to redeem himself by showing “moral improvement”. That won’t be easy for a cunning and incredibly snarky Norse deity, who is thousands of years old and clearly shouldn’t have a bedtime. Sharp wit, ethical dilemmas, sly mythological references and oodles of doodles are a recipe for the purest reading pleasure.
Like a Charm by Elle McNicoll (Knights Of, £6.99)
Ramya is one of the few who can see the magical creatures filling Edinburgh’s streets. When her beloved grandfather dies, however, he leaves her a book with a brief, cryptic warning: Beware the Sirens. Another fiercely gripping, superbly original story from McNicoll, asking again why neurodivergent people (Ramya is dyspraxic) should be judged by the rigid standards of a neurotypical world.
Mark My Words by Muhammad Khan (Macmillan, £7.99)
When her school merges with affluent Minerva College, ambitious Dua Iqbal is furious to be denied a place on the prestigious Minerva Chronicle. When she starts a rival paper, though, she and her student journalists uncover alarming stories about drugs that those in authority would prefer to remain buried. Khan’s writing is occasionally overemphatic, but his dynamic heroine’s determination to speak truth to power at whatever cost makes for a compelling YA thriller.
Kemosha of the Caribbean by Alex Wheatle (Andersen, £7.99)
Kemosha was born into slavery – but when she is sold away from her brother to work in Port Royal, a lucky chance changes her fate. Learning swordfighting from the charismatic Ravenhide, she signs on as a ship’s cook with the notorious Captain Morgan. Will she ever earn enough to buy her brother’s freedom? A thrilling YA pirate adventure, filled with the grimmest details of history and a joyous sense of what happens when the oppressed are empowered.
The Cats We Meet Along the Way by Nadia Mikail (Guppy, £7.99)
Until the Announcement, 17-year-old Aisha thought she had a lifetime ahead of her. Now, knowing the world will end in a few months, she and her mother set out on a road trip across Malaysia, accompanied by her boyfriend, his parents and a newly acquired cat, looking for Aisha’s estranged sister. This moving, unique, incredibly assured YA debut is full of life’s slow richness, the lagging toll of grief and the brightness of unconditional love.