Xanthe & the Ruby Crown by Jasbinder Bilan

Xanthe & the Ruby Crown – at a glance

The School Reading Lists’ five word review: Adventure, history, friendship, magic, family.
Children’s book title: Xanthe & the Ruby Crown.
Children’s author: Jasbinder Bilan.
Genre: Family adventure.
Published by: Chicken House.
ISBN: 9781913322601.
Recommended for children aged: 9+
First published: Paperback March 2023.
This children’s book is ideal for: Upper KS2 and lower KS3.

Xanthe & the Ruby Crown by Jasbinder Bilan

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Our review:

11-year-old Xanthe adores spending time with her Nani. As well as their shared love of history, Nani’s top floor flat has access to an amazing roof-top garden that Xanthe and Nani love spending time together in.

Excitement fizzes in my belly, like it does every time I come up here. Our family’s been tending this garden forever and the plants are magical and gigantic.

When Xanthe and her mum come to stay for the summer before Xanthe starts secondary school, it soon becomes clear that all isn’t well with Nani. The normally neat flat is a mess, with washing up piled in the sink and objects in strange places. Nani muddles up names and places and – worst of all – the roof-top garden has been solely neglected.

Xanthe & the Ruby Crown by Jasbinder Bilan extract

Xanthe’s mum suspects Nani is suffering from the early signs of dementia and reluctantly looks into residential care. However, Xanthe is determined to help her Nani remain at home and recover her lost memories.

When I was little, Nani taught me to study things carefully. She said that behind everything there is usually a hidden story and it’s up to us to discover it.

The problem seems to lie with Nani’s buried past when she was forced to flee from Uganda as a young child as a result of the Idi Amin uprising. Nani won’t – or can’t – talk about that time and prefers to focus on her previous career as an archaeologist.

When a mysterious silver tabby cat leads Xanthe to Nani’s hidden treasures, she recruits next-door neighbour Romeo and new friend Pria to help her (literally) dig into her Grandmother’s past and try to save her future independence.

I feel a ripple pass through my body and I’m in that other world again. Uganda. My Nani’s childhood.

Xanthe & the Ruby Crown is the fourth book from the Costa Award-winning Jasminder Bilan. It’s a touching family-focused story with a strong thread of magical realism. Real-life issues of family illness, friendship struggles and anxiety over starting a new school are dealt with sensitively, and the fantasy elements are seamlessly woven into the everyday aspects of the story. The inner-city Nottingham setting is lovingly described, and the visions that Xanthe has from Nani’s treasures give insight into the vivid Ugandan culture and countryside.

Xanthe & the Ruby Crown is a charming story that will appeal to fans of Eva Ibbotson and Kiran Millwood Hargrave.

Many thanks to Chicken House Books for the review copy.

If you like Xanthe & the Ruby Crown by Jasbinder Bilan you might also like: our reviews of Stone by Finbar Hawkins, Once Upon a Fever by Angharad Walker, By Rowan and Yew by Melissa Harrison, Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly and Another Twist in the Tale by Catherine Bruton.

Browse our list of books for year 6

About Melanie Dillon

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Melanie has a Master’s degree in Information and Library Management; a Post Graduate Certificate in Children’s Literature focusing on the Reading Agency’s Reading Well scheme & LGBT YA fiction, and extensive experience working in school and public libraries. Linkedin | Reviews by Melanie Dillon