The long road to a better place

The latest titles selected by Elaine Williams

In The Colour of Home (Frances Lincoln pound;10.99), Mary Hoffman, best-selling author and creator of Amazing Grace, has again raised a race-related issue in a way young children can understand. Hassan, a refugee from Somalia, feels lost in his new, cold, grey home in England. To recount his family's harrowing flight from Mogadishu, he paints a red, black and purple picture. But with help from his teachers, he gets used to his new surroundings and turns to brighter, sunnier hues. Illustrator Karin Littlewood's fluid, rich watercolours shimmer with warmth and empathy, matching Hoffman's sensitive text.

Polly Greenberg's Oh Lord, I Wish I Was a Buzzard (SeaStar Books pound;9.99, distributed by Ragged Bears) is a sad poetic tale set in the days before child labour was outlawed in the US in 1935. In a simple, strong, rhythmic text, Greenberg describes the week of a girl cotton-picker who spends every day in the fields with her father and young brother. The highlight of her week is when her daddy gives her a "sucker" (lollipop). Aliki's evocative illustrations, limited to reds and browns, conjure the heat and the harshness of the life.

In Freedom Song, the latest in the illustrated Historical Storybooks series (Hodder Children's Books pound;4.99 each), we are presented afresh with the dramatic life of Nelson Mandela. His youth and long imprisonment, and the dismantling of apartheid, are seen through the eyes of Syabonga, a young black labourer from Johannesburg. This is a series in which real events are related by fictional children in a way that is accessible and exciting to young readers, and enhanced by glossaries and tables of events.

Huevos Rancheros by Stefan Czernecki is a gloriously uplifting picture book (Tradewind Books pound;9.95) which turns a Mexican trickster tale on its head. Marcelina, a caged hen who longs for freedom, answers an ad placed by Padre Tomas. He needs an egg-layer for his huevos rancheros (a traditional Mexican egg and salsa dish, recipe supplied) because all the hens have been devoured by the Coyote, lured by its soulful songs. Czernecki's highly decorative illustrations, informed by Mexican folk art, match the bold, joyous flavour of the story, in which Marcelina sets out to reform Coyote. Mouth-wateringly good.

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