The Serial Garden by Joan Aiken

Whenever I’m asked to recommend an author, Joan Aiken is at the top of my list. She was, quite simply, a genius – prolific, mercurial, everything written of the highest quality.

The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories collects a large set of stories, testament to Aiken’s compendious imagination. It’s a great place to start and you’ll soon get a taste for the unique flavour of her writing, at once brazenly assured, wildly funny, edge-of-the-seat exciting and, yes, quite bonkers at times! The individual story called The Serial Garden, however, whilst still touching on all these characteristics, has an elegiac quality that haunts the memory, long after the tale has been read. It’s one of the most beautiful things I know.

The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tyler by Gene Kemp

This book, the first in a loosely linked series about the staff and pupils at Cricklepit Combined School, has a degree of notoriety about it and you’ll see why when you read it. There is something virtuosic about this book, unique in children’s literature. But that’s not only why I’m recommending it. Gene Kemp’s brilliance as a writer emerges from her characters and the telling of their stories, so real that they could have stepped out of any school.

In reading this book, one observes the fragility and sensitivity of even the most outwardly tough child, their individual preoccupations, their worries...even their terrible jokes are in there. For children lucky enough to read it, Tyke Tyler will undoubtedly dazzle and entertain; and grown-ups – if they choose to listen carefully – will be reminded of the ‘turbulence’ that is growing up, all school life, friends and family

The Ha Ha Bonk Book by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Ostensibly a straightforward joke book but at the same time so much more, The Ha Ha Bonk Book is an example of the stunning artistry of the husband-and-wife team behind the classics, Peepo, Each Peach Pear Plum, and Burglar Bill.

A first look through regales you with all the classic jokes, word play and puns that you’ll ever need at primary school. But weaving their way through all of this humour, both subtle and slapstick, are the delightful and ever-charming illustrations. Just as in the Ahlbergs’ more well-known picture books, the pictures and words, Janet and Allan, are inextricably linked in ways playful, subversive, ironic, referential. There is wit and wisdom on every page of this book. Even the cover, which introduces the burgeoning kaleidoscope of fun characters, messes around with the Puffin Books logo to have the iconic bird rudely poking its tongue out at a jaunty toad!

The Ha Ha Bonk Book is the best of its kind and not to be missed.

About this month's reviewer

Ben Harris is a primary school teacher and English Lead. He is a passionate champion of children’s literature of the 60s, 70s and 80s and most weekends you can find him crawling around in dusty second-hand shops to add more of these books to the tottering piles littering his house. You can follow his (endless) reading journey and book-passions on Twitter @one_to_read.