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Children's books: Secrets, lies and steam

Stories this week range from facts to lies

    We hear a lot about Stem subjects, but Science Squad by Robert Winston (DK, £10.99) is “an introduction to STEAM” – the A being art. And steam is something this madcap book never runs out of, as it dashes through topics from the Big Bang to the science of floating and sinking. For under-sevens, there are bright quirky pictures and sections using short words and large type. Dotted between these are sections in a medium-sized font for medium-age readers and, no space wasted, interspersed with these are more complex explanations in smaller print for ages nine to 11.

    From facts to lies the theme of What Lexie Did by Emma Shevah (Chicken House, £6.99). If you know who threw Dad’s keys in the sea, should you tell on them? If your Grandma’s parting message will upset your mother, should you pretend you did not hear it? Or will that break apart your close-knit family? Shevah’s novel raises issues of friendship, loyalty and truthfulness but does not offer simplistic solutions. The book is energised by Lexie’s inventive wordplay, as well as by Helen Crawford-White’s doodle-style decorations and a food-rich depiction of Greek-Cypriot family life. Ages seven to 11.

    The nine children in The Family With Two Front Doors by Anna Ciddor (Kar-Ben, £6.99), live with their mother and rabbi father in 1920s Lublin. They have two doors because they need two apartments to accommodate them all. Ciddor bases the story on the childhood of her Nana Nomi, whose initiation into making gefilte fish is memorable. Readers age seven up would be charmed by the cholent-making, challah-baking and 15-year-old Adina’s arranged marriage, but some darker moments are more suited to over-10s.

    No spoilers, but an unexpected Jewish moment awaits readers of Scythe by Neal Shusterman (Walker, £7.99). In a world where science has vanquished death, the only way to die is if one is gleaned by a professional “scythe”. Young adults Citra and Rowan are falling in love when they are chosen for scythe training. Only one can graduate with honours and their first task will be to glean the other. The story is Hunger Gamesy and violent, but the world-building, characterisation, plot twists and dialogue are all brilliantly polished and sharp. Age 14 up.

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