The Best Children's and Teens' Books We've Read this Winter

It's time once again to share what we've been reading for the last three months, and this time round we've got an eclectic mix of old and new, fantastical and gritty, wintry and sunny. Make sure you subscribe to our Schools e-newsletter to be kept up to date with our recommendations blogs and Book of the Month competitions!

Cover of Wolf Wilder
The Wolf Wilder
, Katherine Rundell (Bloomsbury, 8-11)

Deep in a snow-muffled Russian forest live Feo and her mother. Feo is wild in spirit and fiercely independent. No wonder, since she was raised in the company of wolves. Feo and her mother are wolf wilders, teaching wolves which were once kept as aristocratic pets to fend for themselves and survive in the wild. Their isolated but happy existence is shattered when they cross paths with General Rakov of the Russian Army, a brutal tyrant who wants to cull the wolves and arrests Feo’s mother for treason. Feo sets out to rescue her mother and reluctantly becomes the face of a revolution, stirring the villagers who she meets along the way to fight against the oppression of St Petersburg aristocrats.

The Wolf Wilder is a fierce and magical story with all the makings of children’s classic – a wild landscape, a feisty heroine, a budding revolution and, of course, wolves!

Emma Lamont, Schools Outreach Co-ordinator, @emma_sbt

Cover of I'll Be Home For Christmas
I’ll be Home for Christmas,
various authors (Stripes, 12-16)

If you can’t fit in a full-length novel between chocolate selection boxes and Christmas TV, this short story collection might just be the thing for you. It features 14 stories by some of the best writers for teenagers today, including Marcus Sedgwick, Melvin Burgess, Kevin Brooks and Non Pratt. The stories all revolve around the theme of Home and contains stories highlighting teenage homelessness, new step-families, terrorism and coming out, amongst many other entertaining and worthy things. It’s the perfect Christmas present, and to top it all off, £1 from every sale goes to Crisis, the national charity for homeless people.

Jasmine Fassl, Head of Schools

The Hypnotist, Laurence Anholt (Penguin, 12-16)
Cover of The Hypnotist

A beautifully written story set in the 1960s American south, this follows two characters who are finding their feet in a new place and end up having a huge effect on each other's lives. When Pip, a thirteen-year-old black orphan, is whisked from the orphanage to become a carer for a farmer's wife, his future as a young black boy in the south looks limited. But surprises lie in store in the form of Jack, the next-door neighbour, who is a Professor of Neurology and a practitioner of some decidedly esoteric skills. It's hard to believe this is Anholt's first full-length novel, and I can't wait to check out his next offering!

Chris Leslie, Schools Resource Developer, @ChrisLeslie2

Cover of The Snow Merchant
The Snow Merchant, Sam Gayton (Andersen, 9-11)

When a stranger arrives at Lettie’s home one wintery evening, nothing seems out of the ordinary at first. Lettie acts as the landlady at The White Horse Inn while her Dad is away, so she’s used to people coming and going, but this customer is stranger than most. He calls himself the Snow Merchant, and his mahogany suitcase holds an invention which will change Lettie’s world forever. Before she knows it, she’s swept into an exciting adventure set to take her across the world. The only problem is, she’s never left the house before…

This is an imaginative read combining fairytale characters with an exhilarating quest. It’s the perfect story for a cold wintery night, and the fantastic illustrations from Chris Riddell will really bring it to life for young readers.

Sarah Mallon, Schools Programme Administrator, @sarahmallonxo

Cover of Looking for JJ
Looking for JJ, Anne Cassidy (Scholastic, 12-16)

Looking for JJ is hardly hot off the press - it assumed a position in the canon of essential teen reading upon its publication in 2004. But it took me this long to read it, so I'm assuming there are others out there who'll be new to it as well, and it's a touching and gripping story well worth checking out. Seventeen-year-old Alice Tully is trying to forge a fresh start in life after a troubled and traumatic past, with one defining moment looming large in every step she takes. But the past isn't ready to let her get on with life, and the novel challenged me to think about whether she'd done enough to deserve a clean break, and where we draw the line in terms of penance and contrition. It's a great read with a character on ambiguous moral ground, and I found it entirely believable and absorbing. I'd try and avoid the blurb on most websites - they kind of spoil things just a tad, although you will work out what's going on quickly enough.

Chris Leslie, Schools Resource Developer, @ChrisLeslie2

Want to browse some more recommendations? Check out our fantastic book lists for all ages.

We also have a huge stock of teaching resources for contemporary novels - check out our resources section to find out more.