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8 Great Books With Extraordinary Characters For Key Stage 1 And 2 Readers

From superheroes to the brave and the bold to kids with unique talents, these stories can engage and entertain, and get children to consider what makes them special

  • 8 Great Books With Extraordinary Characters For Key Stage 1 And 2 Readers
  • 8 Great Books With Extraordinary Characters For Key Stage 1 And 2 Readers

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It’s easy to get swept away with fantastic heroes and amazing lives. How many children in your school have Marvel or DC characters like Iron Man, Captain America and Batman on their bags and stationary? How many dress up as characters from Harry Potter for World Book Day?

But while Hollywood blockbusters like The Avengers have little interest in exploring what happens to the regular people caught in the crossfire of collapsing buildings and crumbling cities, children’s fiction has a duty to promote good values and hopefully help kids to develop and grow.

So, much as we all wish we could have super strength, or shoot webs or make sparkly disco lights it’s more important to realise that everyday heroism is just as laudable, and much more achievable.

As such, here are eight books that might help spark these discussions in your classroom.

1. Electrigirl

Jo Cotterill and Cathy Brett (OUP, paperback, £6.99, ages 9+ years)

It’s Holly Sparkes’ younger brother Joe who has the superhero obsession, not her. However, following a bizarre accident involving a confusing row with her best friend, a lightning ball and a phone mast, Holly is eventually forced to concede that she has been transformed into what Joe gleefully describes as a ‘human Electro-Magnetic Pulse’.

Original, clever and smartly written, this is a book that will appeal to a broad range of readers, especially as after every few chapters the first person narrative drops out and the story switches to fast-forward with the inclusion of graphic novel frames while Electrigirl does her stuff.

2. Freddie Mole, Lion Tamer

Alexander McCall Smith (Bloomsbury, hardback, £9.99, ages 5-7 years)

In this gentle adventure that’s perfect for newly independent readers – as well as for reading aloud – we are introduced to Freddie Mole, an ordinary boy who takes a holiday job with a travelling circus to earn some extra money for his struggling family and ends up with a starring role in the show, alongside some surprisingly friendly lions.

There’s plenty of showbiz sparkle and razzmatazz and a dash or two of thrilling danger as the tale unfolds, but what shines most brightly is the message that runs through all of McCall Smith’s books: choose kindness.

Freddie isn’t especially strong, brave or clever – but he is immensely likeable, and it’s his friendly personality and consideration for others that ultimately earns rewards for him and his loved ones.

3. Fox Investigates – A Brush With Danger

Adam Frost (Stripes, paperback, £5.99, 7-9 years)

Confident KS1 readers looking for chapter books that are a little different from the standard fare of pixies and pirates so often offered to their age group will surely relish this funny, clever story of dastardly deeds and international detection, featuring a memorable cast of creatures and starring the effortlessly cool Wily Fox.

Generously – and wittily – illustrated by Emily Fox, this is a classy piece of storytelling, with plenty of naughty wordplay (a mysterious Russian villain called Dimitri Gottabottomitch, for example) and slapstick humour.

The plot bounces along at an impressive pace, and there are cunning plans, last-minute escapes and groovy gadgets galore.

Adam Frost writes with both flair and restraint, leaving plenty of room for the imaginations of his audience to add colour and fine detail.

4. The No 1 Car Spotter and the Broken Road

Atinuke (Walker, paperback, £5.99, ages 7-9 years)

Oluwalase Babatunde Benson is the Number 1 car spotter in his village – and quite possibly, the world.

As well as being able to identify any vehicle he happens to see, No 1 is also excellent at solving problems; but when the only road that runs through the place where he lives becomes so full of holes that cars can no longer drive on it, his ingenuity is stretched to its limits.

Author Atinuke was born in Nigeria and spent her childhood in both Africa and the UK. She works as a traditional oral storyteller; and her narrative voice comes through as distinctively on the page as it does in person, vibrant with warmth and humour.

It’s still astonishingly rare to find contemporary, lighthearted stories for seven to nine year olds that are set on the continent of Africa, so to have something as engaging, accessible and well-told as this is extremely pleasing.

5. The League of Unexceptional Children
Get Smart-ish

Gitty Daneshvari (lbkids.co.uk, paperback, £5.99, ages 8-11 years)

The protagonists in this junior spy series – 12-year-olds Jonathan Murray and Shelley Brown – have been recruited by their government precisely because they are so thoroughly ordinary and lacking in talent that they are able to move through the world without ever being noticed.

The idea of being invisible through mediocrity is one that will resonate with plenty of young readers, however, Jonathan and Shelley, despite a complete absence of competence in any of the skills usually deemed obligatory for success in espionage, have a lot going for them: spirit, resilience and likeability.

Ultimately, satisfyingly, they muddle through and save the day – proving that it’s what we do, not who we are, that can make any of us a hero.

6. Hilo – The Boy Who Crashed to Earth

Judd Winick (Penguin, paperback, £7.99, ages 8+ years)

DJ is a very, very ordinary boy; at least, that’s how he sees himself. He has four siblings who are all ‘awesome’ at something, but the only thing he has ever been good at was being friends with Gina. And after she moved away, he didn’t even have that.

Hilo, on the other hand, is about as far from average as you can get – a boy who falls out of the sky one day wearing only silver underpants, shoots lasers from his hands, and is, it turns out, being chased by a monster set on destroying the planet.

Presented in graphic novel form, this is an exceptional piece of storytelling, with fantastic artwork and superb dialogue. It’s frequently genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, but there are also profoundly touching moments, as DJ struggles to overcome his loneliness, find a sense of self, and reconnect with his lost soulmate.

7. The Ministry of Strange, Unusual
and Impossible Things

Paul Gamble (Little Island, paperback, £7.99, ages 9+ years)

What does it mean if you see a single shoe lying abandoned on the street? Who on earth loses just one item of footwear? If you’re the sort of person to whom such questions occur on a regular basis – and if you are quite prepared to believe that the answer might involve escaped pirates – then it could be that, like the unlikely hero of this smart, original and enormously entertaining novel, you are a candidate for joining the Ministry of Strange, Unusual and Impossible Things (or SUITs).

The Ministry exists to deal with all those things that, as ‘ordinary’ people, we don’t want to have to think about – and as it turns out, there are plenty of them, from terrifying wild and fantastic creatures (you don’t think that horn on a unicorn’s forehead is for decoration, do you?) to aliens, supervillains and the scariest Tooth Fairy imaginable.

As a celebration of curiosity, a feast of footnotes and an invitation to imagine, this book is an absolute triumph – not to mention rib-achingly funny for all ages throughout.

8. Just Call Me Spaghetti-Hoop Boy

Laura Williamson (Usborne, paperback, £6.99, ages 9+ years)

Learning about all the different shapes that families can come in is hugely important as children start to work out the world around them; as is developing a strong sense of their own identity and uniqueness.

Lara Williamson has a real knack for writing original, memorable stories that feature youngsters doing exactly that – and this touching, funny tale is no exception.

Adam Butters was adopted as a baby, and while he is happy with his life, he has always felt that something is missing. When he reads a document revealing his original name – Ace – and details of his birth mother, he decides that the time has come for him to become a superhero.

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