Five great summer reads for kids

Off on your summer holidays and wondering what books to pack for the kids? Look no further than this brilliant list by school librarian and Chic Little List’s very own books editor Ruth Horsman

See more recommendations from Ruth at Libraries Unlocked

Swimming Against The Storm by Jess Butterworth

Swimming Against the Storm

A fabulous book with strong message about the effects of climate change – particularly rising sea levels. An exciting adventure set in the swamplands of Louisiana, the characters are strong and both boys and girls will see themselves reflected here. There's a part of the story about growing up and not being a 'little kid' anymore and the ramifications of that with siblings and friends.

I learnt lots about the culture of this tiny community in the southern United States through this book. As with all of Jess Butterworth's books the chapters are short and punchy. Unputdownable!

Kat Wolfe Takes the Case by Lauren St John

Kat Wolfe Takes the Case

For animal lovers who love a good mystery/crime book, you can't go wrong with the Kat Wolfe series by Lauren St John. Kat Wolfe is the daughter of a vet who has recently relocated to Bluebell Bay in Dorset (loosely based on Lulworth Cove). Kat runs a pet-sitting business and has teamed up with her best friend, the tech whizz Harper Lamb, to form a detective agency on the side. When a rare dinosaur fossil is uncovered during a landslide, Hollywood stars and scientists flock to the area. Strange happenings and a suspicious death place Wolfe and Lamb at the heart of the mystery. Can they solve the crime?

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Ghost is probably for the older end of this age group - 11+. It is a story about overcoming tragedy and discovering who you are. There are themes you might want to discuss with your children after reading this book including alcoholism, bullying (and how to stand up to bullies in a non-violent way) and pursuing your dreams. The main character, Castle Crenshaw, or 'Ghost' as he is otherwise known, learns he has a talent for sprinting after running away from a violent episode at home, and the story develops into how he finds the right path to follow. I see all books as non gender-specific, but all the boys I have lent this to have particularly loved this. A great protagonist.

The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Rauf

The Boy at the Back of the class

If you haven't heard about this book yet, where have you been?! Hugely popular, this is the sort of book you will want to read and pass on. I have bought so many copies and they have all disappeared as I keep handing them over to people. It's a story told through the eyes of a nine year-old about a 'refugee kid' who arrives at school. I laughed, I cried, I got angry at society and the bullies. It's brilliantly funny and heart wrenching at the same time – an huge injection of empathy at a time when the world needs it most. Read the book and encourage your children to discuss the issues – there are facts and more info about what you can do about the refugee crisis at the back of the book explained in a simple way for them to understand.

Boy Under Water by Adam Baron

Boy Under Water

Another heartbreaking, heartwarming story told from the viewpoint of the child, about family, friends and secrets. Cymbeline Igloo (yes that is his name) challenges another boy at school to a swimming race. The problem is...he can't swim. What happens after that leads Cymbeline to solve the mystery of why his mother has never taken him near to water. This story covers adult mental health in a child-friendly, beautiful way and will probably make you cry and laugh. My 11 year old is off to secondary school in September and his holiday homework is to choose a book to read and review and he's gone for this one, so it's in the suitcase.


School librarian and regular Chic Little List contributor, Ruth Horsman, selects five wonderful wintry reads that make the perfect Christmas gift or stocking filler for kids age eight to 12. Don’t do you Christmas shopping without a quick read.

The Way Past Winter by

Kiran Millwood Hargrave

She's done it again! One of THE best young authors around at the moment and only on her third publication, The Way Past Winter is a magical Nordic treat of a book. Three sisters on a mission to rescue their brother, who mysteriously vanishes overnight, this book is very reminiscent of scandi folklore and is a fabulous adventure with some wonderful (and genuinely terrifying) characters throughout. More for the 10-12 age range, although I have recommended to some adults too.

Harry Potter: A Pop-Up Guide to Hogwarts by

Matthew Reinhart

A 3D masterpiece celebrating Harry Potter's Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from New York Times best-selling pop-up engineer Matthew Reinhart. I don't think you can ever be too old to enjoy an intricate pop-up book like this, I could spend hours looking at it. Definitely one for the Potter-head in your life - the detail is incredible. Age? Any. Although you'll want to look after this one so maybe not for the younger children.

A Girl Called Owl by

Amy Wilson

Thirteen-year old Owl has never met her father, and her mum is very mysterious when she asks about him. When Owl discovers strange frost patterns on her skin, she decides it's time to find out who he is. A strong female lead character who struggles with identity, friendships and an absent father - this is another book that borrows from old folklore and fairytales, bringing it to a modern setting. Again probably more towards the older age, so I'd say 10-12.

A Boy Called Christmas by

Matt Haig

An original take on the Father Christmas story, the tale of Father Christmas as a boy, and how he came to be the big guy himself. A good book to pack away with your decorations and read a chapter or two every night in the run up to Christmas. Like a lot of Matt Haig's books, this story handles bad times and sad times, mixing it up with lots of heartwarming humour. If you want a book that will give you that warm fuzzy Christmas feeling, this is it. Best for ages eight to 12 (although I will definitely be reading this to my seven year-old this Christmas)

There's A Yeti In The Playground by

Pamela Butchart

The latest from this wonderful author who wrote Attack of The Demon Dinner Ladies (a very popular book in our school). Laugh out loud fun, this tale follows Izzy and her friends who are excited when it snows at school as it means going home early. But then they hear strange noises coming from the playground and find a large, yeti-sized footprint in the snow. Funny, fast-paced and a little bit bonkers, like all Pamela Butchart books (and we love her for it). Great for ages eight to 12.

READER'S CORNER: six classic kids' books

Ruth Horsman is a librarian at a junior school in south west London and is passionate about the importance of primary school libraries. She is launching a pilot project for shared resources between primary schools and community libraries across Lewisham in September 2018. For more information follow Ruth at Stillness_Library or Mrs_Horse

Ruth says: "It's a huge boom time for children’s literature at the moment, and with all the bright, colourful doodle-filled books, or latest offering by a celebrity children's author, it’s easy to overlook the classics. Here are six kids' classics that I've read recently that have stood the test of time. Enjoy.”

Swallows and Amazons

By Arthur Ransome

This is the ultimate summer holiday adventure. I was listening to the radio the other day and this came very high in a poll of favourite books from childhood. It’s a wonderfully descriptive story of children being left to roam outdoors in the Lake District in the 1920’s. The Swallows and Amazons battle it out over a summer of adventure and discovery. I read this recently and it’s so addictive – it’s the perfect book to read on a camping trip – just be prepared for your kids begging you to catch them fresh fish for their supper!

The Secret Garden

By Frances Hodgson Burnett

Another early 20th century children's classic – this was first published in 1910. A lonely, unhappy, spoilt child gets sent back from India to live in a Yorkshire manor house and garden, which is full of secrets. I like fact the protagonist in this book is so unlikeable to start with, it really helps you on the journey of self-discovery with her.

White Fang

By Jack London

My 10 year old son went straight for this in our local book shop Moon Lane the other day and has barely put it down since. Published in 1906, it is tale of survival written from the viewpoint of the books eponymous character. White Fang is part-dog and part-wolf, and the lone survivor of his family. He has a hard life and learns how to survive, but can he ever be nurtured into a life of domesticity with the love of a gentle owner? I am surprised my son is enjoying a book as old as this as I thought the language might put him off but he is really loving it.

The Silver Sword by Ian Serralier

The Silver Sword

By Ian Serraillier

A war-time adventure – another one my son couldn't put down, and when his nana saw him reading it, remarked: "Ooh I loved that when I was your age". Four children made homeless by the second world war, on a dangerous journey to find their family. A very moving story about hope, and overcoming adversity, probably a very realistic account of what it was like in Europe in the 1940's and also what it is like for families fleeing war in modern times. As relevant now as it was then, sadly.

A Bear Called Paddington

By Michael Bond

2018 marks 60 years of one of children's literature's favourite bears (another one features below), Paddington Bear is enjoying a new generation of fans thanks to the excellent recent film releases. This is the first of many Paddington books by author Michael Bond, and is such a comfort to re-read. We had the full set of these donated by a parent to our school library recently, and they flew out. A great classic to tuck into with your child at bedtime – my daughter and I are perfecting our 'hard stare'.

Winnie the Pooh

By AA Milne

This is one of the best books about friendship. I use quotes from this all the time when creating 'friendship' book displays in the school library. This is the first book in the world-famous series, and follows Winnie The Pooh on his adventures with his friends Piglet, Eeyore and of course Christopher Robin. I hope this quote perfectly sums up the summer hols for you all: “We didn’t realise we were making memories. We just knew we were having fun.”

TOP FIVE: London summer exhibitions

Five CAN't-miss exhibitions that will inspire you and your kids this summer, says Maggie Davis

Pablo Picasso The Mirror (Le Miroir) 1932 Private Collection © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2018

Pablo Picasso The Mirror (Le Miroir) 1932 Private Collection © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2018

Picasso at Tate Modern

Picasso 1932 - Love, Fame, Tragedy The Spanish master's first solo exhibition at Tate Modern showcases over 100 pieces of work created during one pivotal year. Three paintings of Picasso's lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter, are brought together for the first time since he painted them in March, 1932. Captivating.

What's in it for kids? Bold colour, childlike curvy shapes and fun activities. And when you are done, an obligatory run around Tate Modern's Turbine Hall is necessity for kids of all ages. We recommend eating at nearby child-friendly Leon Bankside.



Until 9 Sept 2018;


Guatemalan cotton coat worn with Mazatec huipil and plain floor-length skirt. Museo Frida Kahlo. © Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums

Frida Kahlo at the V&A

Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up will be an intensely personal insight into this world of the acclaimed Mexican artist. Exhibits include items of makeup, clothing and even her amazingly decorative prosthetic leg, complete with wooden shoe. 


What's in it for the kids? Colour, creativity and activities aplenty at the museum's Imagination Station and drop-in design sessions.



Opens 16 June - 4 Nov 2018






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Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition

The Royal Academy celebrates its 250th anniversary this year and the Summer Exhibition showcases the work of new and emerging artists with all of its 1,200 pieces selected by Royal Academicians. A vast variety of work awaits.

What's in it for the kids? A riot of colour and styles to stimulate their senses. The Royal Academy provide art trays especially for kids during the summer exhibition so they can create their own masterpieces.  


12 June - 19 August 2018;

Tomma Abts, Jeels, 2012, arcylic and oil on canvas 48cm x 38 cm, photo: Marcus Leith. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne

Tomma Abts at The Serpentine Sackler Gallery

The German-born, London-based artist (b. 1967) and 2006 Turner Prize winner (the first female winner) brings her well-considered graphic paintings to the Serpentine Sackler gallery this summer. Each piece is perfectly formed and elegantly constructed on a canvas measuring 48cm x 38cm.


What's in it for the kids? The Serpentine is an airy, light-filled gallery set in Hyde Park and not at all far from the Diana Memorial Fountain (and a fifteen minute walk from the Diana Memorial Playground). In other words, the perfect summer backdrop for children.





7 June - 9 Sept 2018;


Edward Bawden at Dulwich Picture Gallery

Edward Bawden at Dulwich Picture Gallery

Edward Bawden (1903-89) was a prolific illustrator and designer whose work was commissioned by Twinings and Fortnum & Mason. Many of the 160 pieces will be on display to the public for the first time. Don't miss his beautifully stylised linocuts.


What's in it for the kids? On 7, 8, 9 August, kids will be able to create their own fantastic beast in a range of media at the gallery during special three-day workshop.








23 May - 9 Sept 2018;

READER'S CORNER: five holiday reads for 8-10 year olds

Ruth Horsman, a voluntary primary school librarian, selects five books that have been capturing the imagination of her year 4-6 readers this year. "I read a lot of children’s fiction as you can imagine and these have stood out for me recently," she says. Follow RUTH On INSTAgram @MRS_HORSE FOR MORE KIDS' BOOK REVIEWS 

The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Beautiful book by one of my favourite new authors (you MUST also read her first book The Girl Of Ink And Stars if you haven’t already) – this is book covers leprosy, predjudice, grief, lepidoptery (!) and friendship. It’s heart-wrenching with a feisty, adventurous protagonist.

Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans


Dark, original, and very funny. Ever imagined what it would be like to be stuck in an imaginary world with your sister’s cuddly toys brought to life?  An adventure in a strange world with even stranger characters and impossible tasks.  The villain in the tale, Wed Wabbit, is absolute genius.

The Explorer by Katherine Russell

A classic adventure story, by one of the most exciting young children’s authors around.  A plane crash lands in the Amazon and you are taken on a fast-paced, wild journey with a not-so predictable ending.  Who is the explorer?  I couldn't stop thinking about this book and the characters after I finished it - always a sign of a great book.

The Last Wild by Piers Torday

I love a good trilogy and this doesn’t disappoint – this is a wonderful, sprawling, post-apocalyptic tale, slightly depressing to start with but with a healthy dose of optimism.  Perfect for children who are eco-conscious as highlights the damage (and good) that humans and science can do to our natural world.

Wonder by RJ Palacio

Wonder – RJ Palacio

Feels like every child I meet aged 8-10 has read this book and if you haven’t why not?! A story about triumph over adversity, namely the main characters extreme facial disfigurement.  Encourages children to see through differences and be kind, always.  Bit of a weepy too (be warned – I wept buckets)

HOW TO: survive London museums with kids

Evie enjoying Matisse's 'The Snail' at the Tate Modern

The city’s museums can be hugely inspiring and a lot of fun for children but they can also be overwhelming, so I always take a less is more approach and try not to cram too much in. Here a my top tips for getting the best out of your visit:

1. Spend twenty minutes the day before working out your route. Look at what exhibit you most want to aim for and then chat about the options with the kids.

2. Take note of where the kids’ room/activities centre is and make a note of it. It will save you time and stress.

3. Get the packed lunch, snacks, water bottles and rucksacks ready the night before.

4. Get an early night! Trust me, you’ll need the energy.

5. Get up early and if you are feeling super energetic go when the museum opens or shortly afterwards. That way you beat the crowds.

6. Locate the loos and food areas before you do anything. Be prepared to gravitate back to these areas several times.

7. Rather than rush around the museum in a flap, choose one big thing to do properly, whether it’s the aeroplanes on the third floor of the Science Museum, the Egyptians at the British Museum or the Roman section of the Museum of London. Make that your focal point.

8. Most museums have plenty of interactive elements to keep the children entertained so make sure you let them explore. 

9. If a meltdown is imminent, there’s almost always somewhere to buy ice-cream or cake. 

10. Quit while you are ahead. In other words, leave just before you want to. Kids get tired by museums and you’ll have to get them home without falling asleep on the tube.