Children's Book Recommendations for Middle Grade March & International Children's Book Day
By Zoe Doyle, Amy Wright and Lauren Jones
To celebrate Middle Grade March and International Children's Book Day, with the latter taking place on 2 April, this issue we’re recommending some of our favourite children’s books that we’ve read recently. With controversial topics like book bans and censorship, literature for children and young adults becoming more prevalent, we thought that marking Middle Grade March and International Children’s Book Day was an excellent way to highlight some of the positive aspects of children’s literature like championing diversity, helping children feel less alone, improving literacy and encouraging children to use their imaginations. Children’s literature is such a diverse category that it was tough to narrow our picks down to just four. We’ve chosen to highlight some must-read books that we truly think deserve a place in every library, school or bookshelf.
Wash Day Diaries by Jamila Rowser and Robyn Smith
There has been an increased interest in and appreciation for graphic novels within the publishing industry recently and it’s not hard to see why. With vibrant colours and stylised illustrations to suit the mood of the story, graphic novels can transport readers into a world in a way normal books can’t. Wash Day Diaries is a love letter to Black hair and sisterhood. Through five interconnected short stories featuring four best friends – Kim, Tanisha, Davene and Cookie – we explore the ups and downs of daily life in the Bronx. There is joy and love and, of course, hair care in each story as the hair routines of these women allow the reader an intimate insight into their lives. A nominee for the Goodreads Choice Awards, this graphic novel is a great slice of life and stands out from the crowd in a victorious exploration of the daily lived experiences of young Black women, something that is so lacking in mainstream publishing.
Starring Kitty by Keris Stainton
Starring Kitty is a charming and important LGBTQIA+ children’s book that explores friendship, first love and chronic illness. The novel tells the story of Kitty, who is secretly struggling to cope with her mother's recent diagnosis of a chronic disease. Kitty is also hiding Dylan from her friends, her first crush who she is starting to fall for. When Dylan makes it clear that she is not happy to be kept as Kitty’s secret, Kitty must make a decision in order to avoid losing Dylan. Kitty is a brave protagonist who you can’t help but root for as she experiences falling in love for the first time, alongside the huge amount of pressure and worry that comes with her mother’s illness. Stainton explores how the family come to terms with the diagnosis, and the novel raises awareness of children who have a parent with a serious chronic illness. Kitty’s friends are also just as endearing and we meet the likeable characters again in Spotlight on Sunny, the second book in this heart-warming series.
The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson
Children’s books have proven to be an excellent platform to embrace diversity and celebrate our differences. The wide variety of representation in these books is vitally important for helping children to understand more about themselves as their awareness of the world around them grows. The Goldfish Boy is a great example of a book that refuses to shy away from complex topics, instead approaching them in a way that is comprehensible for younger audiences.
Living with severe OCD as a result of previous trauma, twelve-year-old protagonist Matthew’s life is ruled by his compulsive cleaning to avoid germs. His OCD means that he has been out of school and spends most of his time watching his neighbours through his bedroom window. One day, a toddler disappears. As the last person who saw the toddler, Matthew resolves to work out what really happened and along the way, finds himself empowered to try and live more fully.
Keep Dancing, Lizzie Chu by Maisie Chan
For any nine-to-twelve year old who loves to watch Strictly Come Dancing and is currently missing having it on their screens, Keep Dancing, Lizzie Chu makes a great substitute. Written by Maisie Chan, a Blue Peter Book Award shortlisted author, the book tells the story of twelve-year-old Lizzie Chu, a young carer who lives with her grandad Wai Gong, whose increasing forgetfulness and odd behaviour is starting to cause concern. Lizzie is worried and hopes that taking him to the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, somewhere her grandad has always longed to visit, will help him get better. This is an uplifting story where we are taken on Lizzie’s challenging journey as she does everything, she can to make the trip happen, whilst also caring for Wai Gong and mourning her grandmother’s death. An unforgettable book that will make you laugh and cry, Keep Dancing, Lizzie Chu is a heart-breaking yet heart-warming read about family, love, friendship, responsibility and so much more.