Eight children's books tackling big themes

Published on: 02 May 2021 Author: Kirsty Applebaum

There are so many wonderful children's books that introduce young readers to important topics in interesting and imaginative ways. The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke author Kirsty Applebaum shares eight of her favourite middle-grade books which look at the big issues. 

Kirsty Applebaum and the cover of her book, The Life and Time of Lonny QuickeKirsty Applebaum and the cover of her book, The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke

Bloom by Nicola Skinner (Harper Collins)

This is the tale of Sorrel Fallowfield, who finds herself in possession of a packet of Surprising Seeds - and flowers begin to bloom in the most unexpected of places. A blend of contemporary fiction and outrageous fantasy, Bloom is a wonderfully entertaining take on the pressing theme of caring for our green spaces. 

Read our review of Bloom

Boy, Everywhere by A.M.Dassu (Old Barn Books)

This gripping work of contemporary fiction tells the story of 13-year-old Sami, forced out of his comfortable Damascus life into the nightmarish existence of a refugee. Boy, Everywhere doesn’t shy away from the terrible realities of people-smuggling, detention centres and prejudice, but A.M. Dassu always keeps the text age-appropriate for its upper middle grade audience.

Read our review of Boy, Everywhere

Illustration from Boy, EverywhereIllustration from Boy, Everywhere

Emmy Levels Up by Helen Harvey (Oxford University Press)

Emmy Levels Up is an authentic portrayal of bullying which is also very readable, relatable and empowering. Helen Harvey handles this difficult subject in a fresh and original way by weaving parallels between Emmy’s real life and her computer-gaming life throughout the book.

Read Helen Harvey's blog: The secret power of gaming

How I Saved the World in a Week by Polly Ho-Yen (Simon & Schuster)

How I Saved the World in a Week is about a boy in the midst of a complex family situation. It explores parental separation and mental health – but all against the backdrop of an exciting apocalyptic adventure. It also has lots of really interesting apocalypse survival tips! (How I Saved the World in a Week publishes in July 2021)

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson (Puffin)

Roller Girl is a graphic novel about a girl who discovers a love for the sport of roller derby. At its heart, this book is about growing up and dealing with change; and it proves without a doubt that graphic novels can pack an emotional punch just as powerfully as traditional books.

Read our review of Roller Girl

Illustration from Roller GirlIllustration from Roller Girl

How to Bee by Bren MacDibble (Old Barn Books)

How to Bee is a dystopian novel set in a future Australia, in which bees have become extinct and children are employed to pollinate plants in their place. It engages with a number of weighty issues including materialism, domestic abuse and climate change, but due to its ever-positive protagonist – the utterly brilliant Peony – the story is ultimately joyous and uplifting.

The Bigwoof Conspiracy by Dashe Roberts (Nosy Crow)

The Bigwoof Conspiracy is the first of the Sticky Pines mysteries – a spooky sci-fi series with a great Stranger Things meets Scooby-Doo vibe. As well as being enormously fun, it raises some important issues that young people face today, in particular the problem of discerning truth in a world full of manipulated information.

Read our review of The Bigwoof Conspiracy

The Shark Caller by Zillah Bethell (Usborne)

On first glance, The Shark Caller is the story of a burgeoning friendship between two girls from very different backgrounds, beautifully and skilfully set in the author’s childhood country of Papua New Guinea. But it’s also a deeply mystical tale about grief, guilt and forgiveness, set in a location undergoing seismic change.

Read our review of The Shark Caller

Read Zillah Bethell's blog: The hunt for words

Illustration from The Shark CallerIllustration from The Shark Caller

Kirsty Applebaum is the author of TrooFriend and The Middler. Her latest book is The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke. Follow her on Twitter for updates.

Topics: Features


Use the Bookfinder to find the perfect book for you, your family and friends.

You can use our special tools to search hundreds of children's book reviews by age, category and theme.

Try the Bookfinder now