The main problem I had compiling this post was one of space. I’ve often said it before, and I’ll say it again: for fans of children’s literature, this is a golden age. There are so many excellent books to choose from this year that any round up of ‘the best’, besides being entirely subjective, will have to be far too short. The following list is a good one to look over if you have someone to buy books for as a Christmas gift (or a birthday gift, or just because you love ’em), but it’s by no means comprehensive.
So. Here is my list of top choices, ranging from picture books to YA, published within the last couple of years:
Shh! We Have a Plan (Chris Haughton)
Chris Haughton has a wonderful, unique visual style, and his books are immediately recognisable. Like my other favourite of his, Oh, No George!, this lovely little story (about a bunch of unscrupulous hat-wearing hunters who plot to capture a beautiful bird) has eyecatching font and art and a pleasing colour palette – and it’s huge fun.
I’m A Girl! (Yasmeen Ismail)
An Irish picture book maker of renown, Yasmeen Ismail is another of my ‘reliable’ authors. I love recommending her work. I’m a Girl! is a story about being yourself, no matter what the world tells you you should or should not like, and I just love that message.
The Day the Crayons Came Home (words: Drew Daywalt; art: Oliver Jeffers)
The sequel to The Day the Crayons Quit, I just love this book. The idea of crayons having personalities and leaving messages for their owner – and, in this case, getting lost and describing their adventures under the sofa and in the dryer, among other places – is so cute and heartwarming. Plus, anything drawn by Oliver Jeffers is worth checking out.
Irelandopedia (words: John Burke; art: Kathi (Fatti) Burke)
It is what is sounds like: an encyclopedia of Ireland! Packed full of interesting and unusual facts and dotted liberally with lovely illustrations, this book is a gorgeous gift for readers of any age.
Shackleton’s Journey (William Grill)
A stunning depiction of Ernest Shackleton’s journey to Antarctica, this book’s beauty is matched only by the depth of its research. I’m fascinated by polar exploration anyway, but for any adventure-loving young reader, this lovely book is sure to be a hit.
Thing Explainer (Randall Munroe)
A book about how things work, and why, in simple language and with a humorous twist (Randall Munroe also writes the very funny comic xkcd), this is a great gift for an older reader.
Middle Grade/Older Readers
Once Upon a Place (various authors; compiled by Eoin Colfer; art by P.J. Lynch)
A beautiful and lavishly-illustrated collection of stories and poems, all based around locations in Ireland, this is truly beautiful.
Darkmouth: Worlds Explode (Shane Hegarty)
The sequel to Darkmouth, this book sees Finn entering the realm of the Legends and hoping – just hoping – to get out of it alive and in relatively few pieces. Fun and fast-paced, this is an appealing book.
The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow (Katherine Woodfine)
Edwardian, elegant, gripping, and lavishly presented in beautiful covers (and with line drawings by the cover artist, Julia Salda) this is a fantastic mystery with a well-drawn cast of characters. Its sequel, The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth, has just been released, and I’m looking forward to reading it.
The Wolf Wilder (Katherine Rundell)
Katherine Rundell’s writing is always gorgeous, and this book is no exception. Her swooping, beautiful prose tells the story of a young girl and her mother who live in the Russian wilderness, teaching wolves to be wild, and who come under threat from the forces of the Tsar. And it looks gorgeous too.
The Lie Tree (Frances Hardinge)
It’s Frances Hardinge. What more do you need? If you have never read her, start. (Though I counsel beginning not at the ‘beginning’, with her first published novels, but with this book or Cuckoo Song or A Face Like Glass, all of which are works of genius).
Phoenix (S.F. Said; art by Dave McKean)
A beautiful, epic journey through space illustrated wonderfully by Dave McKean, Phoenix is a memorable and monumental book. Gripping to the end, and wide in imaginative scope, it’s a definite favourite of mine.
The Black Lotus (Kieran Fanning)
Ninjas! Death-defying stunts! Time travel! Superpowers! This book has it all, and a kick-ass cover, too. I loved this debut from Irish author Kieran Fanning.
The Book of Learning (E.R. Murray)
Ebony Smart is a girl unlike any other – and it’s up to her to save not only her family but their entire way of life before it’s too late. Set in Dublin and Cork, its evocative places are as much a character in this story as any of its (memorable) human players.
One (Sarah Crossan)
I read One while in hospital, just beginning the process of labour as I gave birth to my child. For that reason, it will always be special, but it is a wonderful book besides that. Telling the story of a pair of very special twins, it is deeply moving and uniquely written, and I love it.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here (Patrick Ness)
One of the best, funniest, smartest and most moving books I read this year, The Rest of Us Just Live Here is just what you’d expect from Patrick Ness: epic greatness. Following the ‘ordinary’ kids through a near-miss with the apocalypse, it’s clever and full of flawed characters, and it’s fabulous.
The Dead House (Dawn Kurtagich)
Written in a ‘found’ style – pieces of diaries, transcriptions of video and audio footage, newspaper reports, and suchlike – this book tells the story of Carly Johnson, a pupil at Elmbridge High, which burned down twenty-five years before the story opens. Among the papers found in the school’s ruins is a diary belonging to Kaitlyn, Carly’s twin sister – but did she exist at all? Creepy and psychologically unsettling, this is a great read from my fellow Greenhouser, Dawn Kurtagich. Great for dark nights!
The Accident Season (Moira Fowley-Doyle)
A lyrical, unique and memorable book about a family which seems cursed to suffer accidents and injuries every October – some of them fatal – and their journey to uncover why they are burdened in this way. Coupled with a search for a girl whom nobody but this family seems to remember, and Cara’s feelings for her sort-of-ex-stepbrother, it is one of the best books I read this year.
Alors, mes anges. There you have it. A semi-cobbled-together-on-no-sleep list of great books which you might consider purchasing for the readers in your life – though, really, you can’t beat walking into a good bookshop and asking the advice of a knowledgeable bookseller. So, that’s my real recommendation. Ask an expert. And try to buy offline, if you can at all. Let’s keep our bookshops the way they should be – open, and solvent.
And happy Bookmas!