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15 Cornish kid’s books for a virtual summer holiday

Local Cornish authors and stories about Cornwall that your kids will love - packed with pirates, mermaids, fishermen, singing cats and selkies.

With the summer holidays looming large on the horizon (eeek! haven’t they just gone back?) I’m told that the single best thing we can keep doing over the holidays is reading – and what better subject than Cornwall?

Hot on the heels of the grown up literary escape to Cornwall, we’ve raided the Muddy Cornwall archives for some Cornwall based family favourites, celebrating some local Cornish authors and stories and added some more to the library too. I’ve listed from youngest readers first.

The Mermaid of Zennor by Charles Causley

A favourite Cornish folk-tale retold by poet Charles Causley for readers aged 3-6 years – my kids loved visiting the church at Zennor and imagining the story for themselves after reading this. Legend has it that the mermaid captured the heart of a local churchgoer and disappeared into the sea with him.

The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber 

This beautifully illustrated tale tells the story of fisherman Tom Bawcock and his cat Mowser, who brave the stormy seas to save the people of Mousehole from starving, one especially ferocious winter. It’s adapted for the stage several times and is celebrated every year in Mousehole’s famous Christmas lights and lantern parade, on Tom Bawcock’s Eve.

Percy Pengelly and The Wibble-Wobble by Jenney Steele Scolding & Andy McPherson

Another charming picture book set by the sea and peppered with fun Cornish dialect. Percy Pengelly is a tightrope walker, who leaves the circus and goes looking for a new job in Cornwall that will use his special skills. From wibble-wobbles on the high wire to an exciting sea rescue, it has a lovely rhythm to read aloud and a strong sense of place.

Five Minutes Peace by Jill Murphy

Mrs Large’s endeavours to find five minutes peace will resonate with parents across the country in this lovely book by Cornish author Jill Murphy. Most famous for her Worst Witch series, Jill has also written a lovely series of picture books for younger readers.

Soggy the Bear by Michael Foreman and Philip Moran

Largely set in St Ives this beautifully illustrated story is full of images your kids will recognise – and they’ll love the story of the bear, cheering when he is finally reunited. This is the first in the series of stories about Soggy from local St Ives writer Philip Moran. If you visit St Ives, be sure to walk past the Lifeboat House and along Pedn Olva Walk where you can see Phil’s white balcony and your kids may even spy Soggy himself!

Words and Your Heart by Kate Jane Neal

Words and Your Heart is a lovely kind book about being nice, written by Cornish author Kate Jane Neal. We did a workshop with Kate at the North Cornwall Book Festival a couple of years ago and loved this book – which explains beautifully to children how the words they use can impact on others. It features adorable illustrations that parents will love too and such an important anti-bullying message for younger children as they navigate their early school years.

Captured! The Incredible True Story of Thomas Pellow by Craig Green

A picture book for slightly older readers — this one’s a proper swash-buckling adventure. It retells the incredible true story of Thomas Pellow (previously told for adults in Giles Milton’s White Gold), a boy from Cornwall who was kidnapped by pirates, off the coast of Spain, escaping 23 years later to make the gruelling journey back to his home and family. Oliver Hurst’s gorgeous illustrations capture the haunting seascapes, foreign lands and characters Thomas meets along the way.

The White Horse of Zennor, and other stories by Michael Morpurgo

Children’s Laureate from 2003-2005, renowned novelist Michael Morpurgo is best known forWar Horse and Why the Whales Came, but these five short stories that make up The White Horse of Zennor will appeal to readers who love myths, magic and fantasy stories, set against the wild shore of West Cornwall. “At the furthest edge of Britain where the sea gently washes over the land and myths brush against reality, lies Zennor. Set in a churchtown where men become beasts and ghosts roam freely, are haunting and unforgettable tales where magic lies around every corner”.

Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper

The sort of thrilling summer adventure 10-years-olds dream of, this is the first of Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising quintet (and the most child-friendly, they get progressively darker). Think Famous Five with a sense of foreboding! Simon, Jane and Barney Drew arrive in Cornwall to spend the summer at the home of their enigmatic uncle Merry, where they discover an Arthurian treasure map that sends them on a seat-of-your-pants quest. The children must find the Grail with the help of their uncle before the agents of the Dark beat them to it!

The Emily Windsnap Series by Liz Kessler

Cornish author Liz Kessler’s series about Emily Windsnap started life as a poem about a girl who lived on a boat and made a startling discovery about her hidden talents as a mermaid – which evolved into a series of books – there are nine so far, with the latest released in 2020. Perfect for readers aged 8 – 12, the story will appeal to any mermaid-mad little ones, my daughter included.

The Ingo Series by Helen Dunmore (10+)

Another fantasy series featuring mermaids, this time inspired by the aforementioned Mermaid of Zennor, written by award winning novelist Helen Dunmore. This is the story of Sapphire and her brother Conor, and their discovery of INGO, a powerful and exciting world under the sea.

One Silver Summer by Rachel Hickman (11 +)

One on the list for mine when they’re a little older – this coming of age and first love novel is set in the dramatic landscape of wild Cornwall. Starring a prince, a grief-stricken girl, beautiful, brave horses and a desperate pack of journalists who will stop at nothing to get their story, this is a contemporary but timeless romantic tale featuring family break-ups, bereavement, adventure and two compelling characters who happen to fall in love.

Deep Water by Lu Hersey  (12 +)

Published in 2015, Deep Water is Lu Hersey’s critically acclaimed debut novel. It tells the story of Danni, a modern girl going through the usual rites of passage but who is also living with something deep and mysterious. One day, salt water starts pouring from her palms, her mother goes missing and she discovers she has a grandmother in Cornwall she knew nothing about. This modern retelling of a selkie myth is a magical coming of age story that brings Cornish landscapes and legends vividly to life.

The Skylarks’ War by Hilary McKay

A beautiful story of a family growing up as the shadow of World War One looms, The Skylarks’ War was the winner of the Costa Children’s Book Award 2018.

“Clarry and her older brother Peter live for their summers in Cornwall, staying with their grandparents and running free with their charismatic cousin, Rupert. But normal life resumes each September – boarding school for Peter and Rupert, and a boring life for Clarry at home with her absent father.

When Rupert goes off to fight at the front, Clarry feels their skylark summers are finally slipping away from them. Can their family survive this fearful war?”

Cornish Folk Tales of Place by Anna Chorlton

Bodmin Moor folklore writer Anna Chorlton retells tales of North and East Cornwall, illustrated by local artists and members of the community in this lovely book – not solely written for children, but full of stories that they’ll love.

Organised by location, this collection of stories will take you along the rugged coast and up on to the moors, full of powerful mermaids, spiteful witches, crafty smugglers and woeful ghosts. Up on the moors are mischievous creatures, huge giants and elusive beasts. Let the piskeys lead you astray across the windy tors and sandy shorelines to experience wonder, miracles, secrets and magic.

Have you any other favourites? Share them in the comments.

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