While I have five homegrown pumpkins still waiting to be pulped into chutney or jam, several of the neighbourhood properties are jack o’lantern decorated for Halloween. Mr Bookwagon and I talked about including scary stories within a blog or newsletter, but at the risk of being seen a little ‘Bah humbug’ feel it would compromise our ethos, i.e., ‘to bring good books to you.‘ Halloween is compelling to retail businesses because it is the second most commercially successful festival after Christmas. It’s a remarkable fact for an event that is an amalgamation of so many celebrations and traditions as to be rather confused (and costly).

It was not until coming to live in Britain that I realised that New Zealand is one of the few countries that commemorates Bonfire Night, better known there as Guy Fawkes Night. We watched the initial episode of the BBC’s ‘Gunpowder‘ recently. It has been criticised as being overly brutal. Oddly, despite being mocked for my oversensitivity, I stayed the course (albeit behind a cushion) throughout the scenes of torture. 

Recent Canadian research offers that children demonstrate greater empathy with human than animal characters- Children connect more strongly with human characters. Titles such as Julia Donaldson’s masterpiece, ‘The Gruffalo‘ are said to resonate less than titles with other boys or girls.

It has made me think; particularly after a long, recent period of reading strongly emotive books with human protagonists. My mother told me that I was inclined to become ‘overly impressed’ by what I’d been reading; I think she had a point. Currently, I’m haunted by Coco, the main character from Hospital High by Mimi Thebo, who is based on the author’s real life survival after death.

Unlike Frankie, I cannot see Jessica, the titular character of Jessica’s Ghost by Andrew Norriss. This author’s Bookwagon titles, including I Don’t Believe it Archie have been longstanding favourites, amongst our best sellers. ‘Jessica’s Ghost‘ is a completely different shape, subject and approach, and essential for an older reading audience, particularly those who feel isolated or different. It is magnificent.

Also for older readers, with a sympathetic and endearing main character, is Word Nerd by Canada’s award-winning Susin Nielsen. Ambrose is a delight, and the reader feels such sympathy for his plight. I’d suggest that Susin Nielsen is one of those special authors who can really get inside her characters so that we know them and believe in them. I was wary of reading her UKLA winning title The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen for the subject matter- the younger brother of a young murderer attempting to find meaning in a new life- is heavy and difficult to contemplate. However, Henry and his supporting cast have stayed with me, gently and lovingly. 

Younger Junior school readers after an undiscovered, brave heroine will love Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard, who confronts the unexpected and seemingly mystical in a practical, considered way in Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy, I predict great things for this title! The language and setting are lyrical, yet almost tangible- I could feel the Snow Queen cold and hear the counting down of the Wintertide clock.

I have to mention Budi again, when thinking of brave, unexpected heroes, for this boy, working in an Indonesian sweatshop, is one of the strongest characters whom I’ve encountered this year. Mitch Johnson’s wonderful book Kick is so truthful, poignant and inspiring. I hope families with committed readers aged from 10 years old, will choose this title.

I think it’s the ‘under the radar’ heroes/ heroines who grab the reader the most. Like the boy who turns up in The Boy on the Porch, a gorgeous title for Junior readers, from about 8 years old, with such joy, fear and love. Sharon Creech draws wonderfully sympathetic characters, but none more so than the protagonist of her multi award winning narrative poem, Love that Dog. Every reader, aged from 8 or 9 deserves to know and love this wonderful book. 

Joy, fear and love pulsate through the picture books of the masterly Bob Graham, a longtime favourite.  His gentle pen and ink characters may appear insignificant within the scope of the pages and the big landscapes, yet these little people may be selected by the might of the sun on a snowy day, as in How the Sun Got to Coco’s House. They may be awaiting momentous change, alone with their mummy on a perilous rainstorm journey, brave, sympathetic and loved, as in Home in the Rain. 

In Bob Graham’s footsteps follows Gaia Cornwall. Her debut picture book holds us captive, as we travel the course of Jabari’s excitement, anticipation and fear about diving and so much more in Jabari Jumps.

Come to think of it, it makes sense that the books seen to be more meaningful to children are those with a human protagonist. Those children who grow up from earliest infancy sharing books, and hearing stories, having books about them, and seeing their parents and greater family read,  and recognise their parents and families are reading parents and families. They in turn will be readers.

Halloween and Bonfire Night will have passed by the time I write again. I did a little of my first Christmas shopping today, but refuse to launch into recommendations for this season until I’ve baked the cake and we’ve constructed a helpful tag in the Bookwagon tag cloud. I’ve more books to read before that as I continue to aim to bring you the best children’s books. Happy reading! .

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