In an age of statue-toppling and author-cancelling, it is remarkable that Roald Dahl, 30 years after his death, remains relatively unscathed. The controversy is there, to put it mildly: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Oompa-Loompas were originally depicted as small black pygmies, we find; last year, the official Roald Dahl website posted an apology for his extraordinarily anti-Semitic comments, such as: “Even a stinker like Hitler didn’t pick on [the Jews] for no reason.”
Yet commercially Dahl is the gift that keeps on giving, with a huge spin-off industry in everything from duvet covers to glove puppets. Now his estate are releasing a new picture book – Never Grow Up (Puffin, £12.99) – to refocus attention on “his philosophy”: that the best adults “never grow up, always down”. “Are you a child who’s ‘good as gold’?/ Do you do everything you’re told?/ For if you are then I’m afraid…/ A terrible mistake’s been made!” So begins this anarchic tale, which cleverly captures Dahl’s magic and mayhem, with exuberant illustrations by Quentin Blake.
For the child worried about keeping up playground appearances, How to Be Cooler than Cool by Sean Taylor (£12.99, Walker) is a reminder that the coolest thing is to be yourself. “I’m not just any old cat at the playground… I’m a real cool cat who can glide backwards down the slide,” boasts Cat – who soon comes a cropper. For those wisftful for the seaside, Noah’s Seal by Layn Marlow (OUP, 11.99), does not fail to enchant. “At the edge of the wild wide sea lies a sandy beach, where Noah sits and waits,” begins this gently suspenseful story about a little boy who makes an imaginary seal out of sand.
A Sliver of Moon and a Shard of Truth by Chitra Soundar (Walker, £6.99) is a lyrical collection of stories from Indian folklore. Simply and warmly told, the narrative follows Prince Veera and his friend as they find themselves thrown into mishap at a summer festival.
And Alex T Smith’s joyous Claude series celebrates its 10th anniversary with a new adventure, Claude at the Palace (Hodder, £8.99). This time, the snappily dressed pooch bounds into “a terrible fancy building with a flag fluttering above it”, and becomes the unwitting hero of a royal birthday party.
The Three Impossibles (Pushkin, £7.99) is another enchanting fantasy by Susie Bower, author of School for Nobodies. This time, the heroine is Mim, who longs to escape from the dismal castle where her family lives under a mysterious curse. “There’s a strange, ominous silence, as if the castle’s waiting for something to happen. On Curse Day, that something isn’t likely to be good.” More mysteries await in The Secret Detectives (Nosy Crow, £7.99), an uproarious historical thriller by Ella Risbridger. With a contrary, orphaned heroine, a distant uncle, and a body thrown from a cruise ship in the middle of the night, this reads as if Agatha Christie had stumbled into The Secret Garden.