In true staycation style this winter I’ve been busy reading my way around beautiful Britain and Ireland and it’s been absolutely joyous! I’m delighted to present you with my top 50 UK and Ireland reads, for all ages, across all genres. Or, if you’d rather jump ahead for my full UK and Ireland Booklist just click here. P.S. It is a continually working document, so if you spot a book that’s missing let us know in the comments and I’ll add it.
Black and British by David Olusoga (NF) A children’s version of Olusoga’s bestseller Black and British: A Forgotten History, this short, essential introduction into 1800 years of Black British history is packed with maps, photos and portraits. Plus a donation from every copy sold goes to The Black Curriculum.
Between Worlds: Folktales of Britain and Ireland by Kevin Crossley-Holland, illustrated by Frances Castle A magnificent and masterful collection of fifty rich and magical folktales from across Britain and Ireland. Accompanied with earthly illustrations by Frances Castle, Between Worlds makes for perfect bedtime reading.
Make More Noise! by Emma Carroll, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Ally Kennen, Catherine Johnson, Patrice Lawrence, M.G. Leonard, Sally Nicholls, Ella Risbridger, Jeanne Willis and Katherine Woodfine (MG) From 10 of the UK’s very best storytellers comes an incredible collection of short stories celebrating and commemorating the 100th anniversary (2018) of women’s suffrage in the UK. Plus £1 from the sale of every book is donated to Camfed – an international charity which tackles poverty and inequality by supporting women’s education in the developing world.
The Big Book of the UK by Imogen Russell Williams, illustrated by Louise Lockhart (NF) A charming and colourful introduction into the facts, folklore and fascinations from around the United Kingdom, jam-packed with wonder, discovery and laughter too.
National Trust: 2021 Nature Month-By-Month: A Children’s Almanac by Anna Wilson, illustrated by Elly Jahnz (NF) Explore, discover, and journey through the seasons in this fantastic, fully illustrated 2021 nature guide! Featuring nature spotter guides, indoor and outdoor crafts and activity ideas, seasonal recipes, celebrations, festivals and events. With UK references throughout.
London has a wealth of dazzling and diverse kid’s lit that it was so hard to narrow down my top choices! When I think of London my mind quickly wanders to one particular famous bear who’s warm heart and misadventures have delighted and entertained children’s and adults alike for generations… The world famous underground that has been running since the 19th century… Buckingham Palace, Shakespeare, Wimbledon, birthday parades, flower shows and carnivals. There are just so many unforgettable adventures to be had in the heart of the UK.
Paddington’s London Treasury by Michael Bond, illustrated by R. W. Alley (Picture Book) Four of Paddington’s hilarious London adventures are brought together in this treasured volume, including Paddington at the Zoo, Paddington at the Palace, Paddington and the Marmalade Maze and Paddington and the Grand Tour.
Coming to England by Floella Benjamin, illustrated by Diane Ewen (Picture Book) The inspiring true story of Baroness Floella Benjamin’s journey from Trinidad, Caribbean, to London as part of the Windrush Generation. With vibrant illustrations by Diane Ewen, Coming to England is a powerful story about the triumph of hope, love, and determination.
TfL: The Story of the London Underground by David Long, illustrated by Sarah McMenemy In this colourful and captivating book, David Long and illustrator Sarah McMenemy tells the extraordinary history of one of the world’s most famous underground railways which has changed and grown over the last 150 years.
FloodWorld by Tom Huddleston (9+)
There’s so many thrilling London adventures and investigations for middle grade readers out there. You can step back in time with Cat Royal and The Diamond of Drury Lane, battle fiery beasts at Buckingham Palace with David Walliams, or solve a murder mystery with Nik and Norva in High Rise Mystery. Then there’s FloodWorld by Tom Huddleston – an exciting, fast-paced, action-packed blockbuster must read! Set in a futuristic post-climate change London, now a perilous, sunken city, Kara and Joe find themselves in a world of trouble when they come across a mysterious map. And if that’s not enough to lure you in there’s plenty of pirates, hi-tech submarines and underwater chases. And an illustrated map! Who doesn’t love a map?!
My Name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley (YA)
For older readers My Name is Victoria is a beautiful, dramatic story of Queen Victoria’s childhood as you’ve never heard it before. Lucy Worsley is Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, the charity which looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, and other historic palaces, so expect plenty of dazzling descriptions of all things royalty, riches and romance. Other YA recommendations have got to be Sally Nicholls’s Things a Bright Girl Can Do, an empowering Suffragette drama, and Patrice Lawrence’s gripping mystery, Eight Pieces of Silva.
The House of One Hundred Clocks by A. M. Howell (9+) Be swept off to Cambridge in this stunning, historical mystery of time, courage and a charming parrot called Orbit. But in a house of one hundred clocks there’s only one important rule, the clocks must never stop…
The Haunting of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes (9+)
One of my favourite reads of 2020, The Haunting of Aveline Jones is one exceptionally eerie adventure set in a dreary and desolate little Cornish coastal town where its weather is as menacing as its legends. Debut author Phil Hickes writes with a flair and fervour that is worthy of recognition. He hypnotises every sight, sound and smell to construct a narrative that is brilliantly fleshed out and completely immersive. It’s a heart-racing, palm-sweating, deliciously-terrifying 5-star read for sure.
Wolf Light by Yaba Badoe (YA) In this enthralling tale of sisterhood, heritage and environmentalism, all magically rooted in elemental myth, Yaba Badeo tells the story of three girls and their duty to protect and preserve their ancestral lands. Set between Cornwall, Mongolia and Ghana, Wolf Light is as breathtaking as it is empowering.
Chinglish by Sue Cheng (YA)
Sue Cheng’s award-winning debut, Chinglish, tells the story of teen Jo Kwan growing up in 1980s Coventry with her family above their Chinese takeaway. Told in hilarious diary entries and wonderful doodles, Jo’s brilliantly blunt observations about life, family and char siu make for a searingly honest portrayal of life on the other side of the takeaway counter.
Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll (9+) When it comes to middle grade historical fiction Emma Carroll is the queen! In Letters from the Lighthouse, twelve-year-old Olive Bradshaw and her little brother Cliff are evacuated from London to the Devon coast to stay with the formidable lighthouse keeper. What follows is a stunningly evocative wartime adventure that will keep you gripped until the very end.
Lightning Mary by Anthea Simmons (9+) Set against the backdrop of the iconic cliffs of the Jurassic Coast, Anthea Simmons skilfully unravels the childhood of one of history’s most fascinating figures, Mary Anning – the 19th century fossil finder who defied convention and gender roles to pursue her dreams and talents of becoming a pioneering palaeontologist. Excuse me while I go and book a fossil-hunting trip to Lyme Regis!
Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange (9+) Bestselling author Lucy Strange takes a seafaring myth and grounds it in the stark reality of World War II in this mesmerising tale bubbling with heart, adventure and atmosphere.
Boy Queen by George Lester (YA) Life’s a drag until you try…! Fall wig first into a world of big hair, high heels and even higher stakes in George Lester’s dazzling debut, Boy Queen. A joyful celebration of inclusivity, community and self-discovery, Boy Queen is a hilarious, sparkling, heartfelt tale that’s full of glamour, glitter and a glorious dose of sass.
Blazing a Trail: Irish Women Who Changed the World by Sarah Webb, illustrated by Lauren O’Neill (7+) From fearless aviator, Lady Mary Heath, the first woman in the world to parachute from an aeroplane, to Margaret Bulkley, the 18th-century surgeon who lived as a man, meet 28 remarkable Irish women who have taken the world by storm. Blazing a Trail is perfect for every rebel girl, curious adventurer, dreamer, reader and world changer. See also Siobhán Parkinson’s Rocking the System: Fearless and Amazing Irish Women Who Made History, illustrated by Bren Luke.
Dr Hibernica Finch’s Compelling Compendium of Irish Animals by Rob Maguire, illustrated by Aga Grandowicz (8+) A stunning ode to Irish animals! Brimming with fascinating facts, glorious illustrations, hilarious jokes, and enchanting details, this beautiful book complied by the fictional Irish professor Dr Hibernica is a true treasure. Perfect for anyone, young and old, passionate and curious about animals and nature.
Savage Her Reply by Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Karen Vaughan (YA) A dark, fierce feminist retelling of the favourite Irish fairytale, The Children of Lir, told in Deirdre Sullivan’s hypnotic and lyrical prose through the voice of Aife. Sharp, compelling and hauntingly beautiful, Savage Her Reply is storytelling in its finest.
To the Island by Patricia Forde, illustrated by Nicola Bernardelli (Picture Book) Dreamy, dazzling and utterly delightful, Fia’s magical adventure will whisk you away to the mythical Irish island of Hy Brasil. It’s like Neverland but with an enchanting folkloric twist! Glimmering with magic and imagination, Forde’s tale reads like poetry and Bernardelli’s beautiful illustrations perfectly balance this.
ISLES OF SCILLY
The Wreck of the Zanzibar by Michael Morpurgo (10+) Life on the Scilly Isles in 1907 is bleak and full of hardship. Laura’s twin brother, Billy, disappears, and then a storm devastates everything. It seems there’s little hope. But then the Zanzibar is wrecked on the island’s rocks, and everything changes…
Anna at War by Helen Peters (9+) A captivating, classic wartime adventure of bravery and hope, set across a beautiful Kent landscape. When Anna flees on the Kindertransport from Germany to England to escape the war she quickly finds herself caught up in a web of betrayal and secrets when she makes a threatening discovery. Beautifully written and full of heart, honesty and humanity.
The Ghost of Gosswater by Lucy Strange (9+) Stunningly addictive and chillingly atmospheric, Lucy Strange’s Gothic tale will root you to your seat, capture your imagination and win your heart. It’s 1899 in the Lake District, The Earl is dead and cruel cousin Clarence has inherited everything. When twelve-year-old Aggie is cast out of Gosswater Hall she becomes determined to uncover her real identity, but she’s not alone on her quest for the truth… A mysterious girl of light will not rest until the dark, terrible secret of the past has been revealed… Spooky, delicious and worthy of 5 stars.
No Ballet Shoes in Syria by Catherine Bruton (9+) and Boy, Everywhere by A. M. Dassu (9+) Both Catherine Bruton and A. M. Dassu powerfully explore the struggles and hardships faced by refugees seeking asylum in the UK in their groundbreaking middle grade novels, and for both Aya (No Ballet Shoes in Syria) and Sami (Boy, Everywhere) their final destinations end in the heart of Manchester. But readers will travel much further than the harsh, confined detention centres in Manchester and from it will read with greater empathy, sensitivity and understanding. Both are important stories of our time and I implore you all to read them, share them, and never forget them.
And the Stars Were Burning Brightly by Danielle Jawando (YA) When fifteen-year-old Nathan discovers that his older brother Al has taken his own life, his whole world is torn apart. Convinced that his brother was in trouble, Nathan decides to retrace Al’s footsteps across Manchester in search for the truth. An extraordinary, page-turning novel about loss, understanding and the importance of speaking up when all you want to do is shut down, from a storming new talent.
She Wolf by Dan Smith (9+) Northumbria, AD 866. Washed ashore on a frozen English beach, Ylva's survived. She will not cry. She's meant to be strong. She's a Viking. Adventure, revenge, wolves… She Wolf is an atmospheric, action packed story set against the wintery landscape of Northumbria. I loved it.
Bone Music by David Almond (YA) Publishing April 2021, Bone Music transports you from the city of Newcastle to the wild forests and fells of Northumberland where under a boundless starry sky, the unforgettable Sylvia Carr reconnects with the ancient past and discovers what it really means to be young in the world today. Unique, mesmerising and written with a distinct elegance that David Almond always masters.
The Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn Green (9+) Robin Hood, champion of the poor and the oppressed, is one of the world’s best loved folk tales and Nottinghamshire is the proud motherland of this spirited outlaw. Set in the beautiful woodland of Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood and his band of merry men hilariously outwit and stand against the cruel power of Prince John and the brutal Sheriff of Nottingham. A wonderful, timeless classic.
Lyra’s Oxford (His Dark Materials) by Philip Pullman (12+) Within this beautifully produced hardback contains a thrilling short story, exquisite illustrations by John Lawrence, a map of the streets of Oxford and other missives that seem to have slipped from Lyra’s world into our own.
A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll (9+) Elle McNicoll’s 5 star debut tells the story of 11-year-old Addie as she campaigns for a memorial in memory of the witch trials that took place in her Scottish hometown. Addie knows there's more to the story of these 'witches', just like there is more to hers. Can Addie challenge how the people in her town see her, and her autism, and make her voice heard?
Guardians of the Wild Unicorns by Lindsay Littleson (9+) Dark forces, wild highlands, ancient magic and mythical unicorns… Guardians of the Wild Unicorns has everything you want in a middle grade story. Lindsay Littleson beautifully melds the real and the magic to create an enchanting, fast-paced adventure that you’ll instantly fall in love with.
The House of Hidden Wonders by Sharon Gosling (9+) – Edinburgh Zinnie and her sisters live in the murky tunnels beneath Edinburgh's Old Town. They keep out of the way of the authorities and remain undetected. Until, that is, rumours of a ghost bring unwanted visitors into the caverns they call home. Among them, a young Arthur Conan Doyle, keen to investigate, and MacDuff, the shady owner of Edinburgh's newest attraction, the House of Wonders.
City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab (12+) – Edinburgh A glorious, atmospheric ghost story set in Edinburgh where its graveyards, castles, and secret passageways teem with restless phantoms, featuring teen Cass who can see them all.
The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle by Victoria Williamson (10+) – Glasgow Under the grey Glasgow skies two girls form a friendship, sparked by a love of running. Reema runs to remember the life she left behind in Syria. Caylin runs to find what she's lost. It’s a heartfelt, uplifting story about the power of friendship and the meaning of belonging.
Daisy on the Outer Line by Ross Sayer (YA) – Glasgow Life, Death and Time Travel on the Glasgow Subway... If this tagline doesn’t lure you in will me saying, read this book!, do it? Written in Scots with a main character who feels like a friend, Daisy on the Outer Line is unique, heartfelt and utterly hilarious. I can’t wait to listen to this on audio book too!
Child of St Kilda by Beth Waters (Picture Book) – St Kilda Based on the accounts of Norman John Gillies, one of the last children ever born on St Kilda, comes a beautiful, fascinating picture book about the resilient, delicate lifestyle and community of St Kilda before it was evacuated in the 1930s.
To the Edge of the World by Julia Green (9+) – St Kilda Imagine a tiny island far out in the Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of Scotland. On some days, you can hardly see where the sea ends and the land begins, everything merged in a blue-grey mist of sea spray and wind-blown sand. There is nothing between here and America. I say nothing, but what I mean, of course, is nothing but ocean. And about sixty-five kilometres out to sea, one last remote outcrop of islands and sea stacks, with the highest sea cliffs anywhere in the UK. Distant, desolate, and difficult to reach. The islands at the edge of the world… Geraldine McCaughrean’s Where the World Ends (10+) is another thrilling survival story set ashore the rocky, remote sea stacks of St Kilda.
The Somerset Tsunami by Emma Carroll (9+) A fight for survival against torrential flooding and local superstition from the Queen of Historical Fiction.
Asking for a Friend by Kate Mallinder (YA) – Weston-super-Mare A week at the seaside turns into a week of their lives in Kate Mallinder’s feel-good YA story of friendship and secrets. I was laughing and crying at the same time! It’s the perfect escape read come rain or shine.
Witch by Finbar Hawkins (YA) – Mendips Set in the beautiful Mendip Hills in the 17th century comes a breathtaking story about the power of women, witchcraft, fury and revenge. Atmospheric, sharp and beautifully told, Hawkins’ magic and storytelling just glides off the page.
The Rose Muddle Mysteries: The Rose Pendant by Imogen White (9+) –Brighton and Hove Murder, mystery and mayhem in Edwardian Hove! When Rose Muddle stumbles across secret plans involving a strange amber pendant with extraordinary powers she quickly finds herself tangled up with some fearsome enemies. Irresistibly captivating.
TYNE AND WEAR
The Colour of the Sun by David Almond (12+) – Tyneside One hot summer morning, Davie steps boldly out of his front door. The world he enters is very familiar - the little Tyneside town that has always been his home - but as the day passes, the real and the imaginary start to merge, and Davie knows that neither he nor his world will ever be the same again.
Sweet Pizza by G. R. Gemin (9+) Joe loves his Italian heritage: the language, the opera, the lasagne! But it's hard to celebrate his Italian roots in Bryn Mawr, South Wales. A heart-warming story about bringing a diverse community together and the amazing history of Italian immigrants in Wales.
The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates by Jenny Pearson (9+) A big-hearted and super-hilarious adventure across Wales featuring three friends, a not-so-secret plan, and a miraculously well-timed seagull. I absolutely adored it.
The Valley of Lost Secrets by Lesley Parr (9+) From an outstanding new voice in children’s literature, Lesley Parr’s dazzling debut The Valley of Lost Secrets takes us to Wales, 1939, for a mesmerising mystery about bravery and brotherhood.
Where the Wilderness Lives by Jess Butterworth (9+) An epic race for survival that follows four children and their dog through treacherous waterways, dense forests and the deep, dark wilderness of Wales.. uh yes please! Jess Butterworth has written another glorious adventure with a wow-winning setting.
Lark by Anthony McGowan (YA) Winner of the 2020 Carnegie Medal, Lark tells the story of brothers Nicky and Kenny and their trek across the Yorkshire moors, but what follows is a series of unforeseen circumstances that leave the brothers in a vulnerable and very dangerous position. I raced to the end with my heart in my mouth. Utterly gripping, utterly heartbreaking.
Sofa Surfer by Malcolm Duffy (YA)
A sharp, unflinching yet heartfelt story about homelessness and friendship set in Ilkley, Yorkshire. Malcolm Duffy has an undeniable talent for writing timely and topical narratives whilst never losing humour and heart.