More than most, 2017 has felt like a year of hellos and goodbyes, hellos to new publishers, to a welcome new focus on BAME authors, to a new Children’s Laureate, and to positive new initiatives such as Empathy Day; goodbyes to authors Babette Cole, Dahlov Ipcar, Dick Bruna, Pat Hutchins and Michael Bond. In the midst of this, we asked a panel of contributors to choose the books they think we’ll be reading after 2017 has been and gone.
Pam Dix, Chair Ibby UK
Under Water, Under Earth by Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinska has delighted me in many ways. Its size and shape are exciting and the sense of excitement continues with the realisation that the book works in both directions; one opening takes the reader under the earth and the reverse is under the sea. It delivers all that a brilliant information book can. It is graphically exciting, links the visual and the text in a variety of ways and uses an astonishing array of techniques to do this including graphs, arrows, diagrams and other visual clues. Each new page has a different visual format so there are constant surprises about the presentation of information, and challenges to look ever more closely. Best of all is its truly worldwide perspective. Every page of information will make comparisons between all parts of the world so that the learning is broad and relevant to children wherever they are.
Daniel Hahn, writer, editor, translator
Even amid what feels like a particularly spoilt-for-choice sort of season, my ‘Book of the Year’ stands out for me as an unusual and special one. It’s always folly to try and predict which contemporary books posterity will consider ‘classics’, but today I’m going to do it anyway: The Murderer’s Ape, by Swedish writer Jakob Wegelius, is built to last. It has everything my favourite children’s books have: an unforgettable central character (Sally Jones, ship’s engineer) on an exciting adventure (she’s travelling the high seas, trying to solve a murder); it has beautiful illustrations, an immersive and perfectly-constructed plot, and atmosphere galore; and a colourful cast of loyal friends and kind strangers and shadowy enemies… All these familiar components, and yet I’ve never read anything quite like it. An absolute treat. (Oh, and did I mention that our hero, Sally Jones, is a gorilla?)
SF Said, author and library campaigner
The children’s book I’ve enjoyed most in 2017 is The Lost Words, by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris. It’s a mesmerising celebration of the natural world and the language we use to describe it. Macfarlane conjures a series of spells to evoke flora and fauna, from acorn to wren, while Morris’s art creates a visual and tactile object so immersive, it feels like a living thing in itself. Described by Macfarlane as ‘a book for children aged 3 to 100’, it should delight readers of all ages, and would make an ideal gift for Christmas, or any time of year!
Andrea Reece, managing editor Books for Keeps, director Oxford Literary Festival children’s programme
Jonathan Stroud’s ghost-hunting Lockwood & Co series reached its thoroughly satisfying conclusion this year with book five, The Empty Grave. Intelligent, well-written, full of action and starring characters readers have come to love, I feel almost bereft knowing there won’t be a new episode in 2018. Children’s poetry is booming and Joseph Coelho’s Overheard in a Tower Block skilfully describes deeply felt experiences and personal observations so that we can all share the emotions. And Hilary McKay’s Fairy Tales is unmissable too, stories we have known since childhood freshly told and given new life and extra magic.
Jake Hope, consultant, reading development and children’s books
Night Shift by Debi Gliori is an impressive, well considered articulation of what it means and how it feels to be depressed. A sophisticated picture book forged from fog, shaped from shadows and drawn out of darkness, it gives voice to that which often remains voiceless and can isolate. Listlessness and lack of colour is captured by the black and white illustrations, punctuated occasionally by volatile red. There’s a looming, oppressive mood as muscular, hollow-eyed dragons – almost parasitic in nature – become metaphors for the condition. The triumph of the book is the way it uses verbal and visual language to shine a light onto the condition, enabling this to be better explained, shared and to contribute an endpoint to some of the loneliness and stigma that often accompanies it, offering some hope without losing power or falling into platitudes.
Margaret Pemberton, school library consultant
For younger readers, I’ve chosen Fergal is Fuming, about a young dragon who cannot control his fire when he gets angry. This amusing story shows how he learns to keep calm and keep his friends. Brilliantly simple illustrations with a lot of humour make this a future classic. Ban this Book by Alan Gratz is a book that reflects some of the issues surrounding political correctness and whether people should be free to read what they want to. It is very readable and yet extremely thought provoking with echoes of The Day They Came to Arrest the Book by Nat Hentoff. For teenagers I’ve chosen Being Miss Nobody, the story of Rosalind who has selective mutism and finds she is being bullied at her new school because of this. She fights back by setting up a blog, but finds that this has its own dangers. The story really does make you think and brings home some of the problems with social media.
Jon Biddle, Moorlands Primary Academy, Patron of Reading, EmpathyLab
There have been some wonderful graphic novels featuring female protagonists published over the past couple of years, including Smile and Sisters by Raina Telgemier, Nimona by Noelle Stevenson and Tamsin & The Deep by the Phoenix Comic. Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson is definitely another to add to the list.
Children will be swept along by the pacy plot and empathise with 12-year-old Astrid as she signs up for her local roller derby summer camp. During her time there, she learns about how friendships can develop and evolve, and sometimes wither, in a short space of time, about the importance of accepting new challenges, and about the difficulties involved in trying to find your place within your family.
Wonderfully illustrated, full of energy and highly recommended for Year 6 upwards.
Fen Coles, Letterbox Library
Coming at the end of 2016, I was delighted to see the return of a queer classic, soon followed by a new, distinctly modern, no less ‘queering’ fairy tale. Carol Ann Duffy’s 2004 Queen Munch and Queen Nibble finally arrived back on our shelves courtesy of the bright, fresh imprint, Two Hoots. With additional artwork by Lydia Monk and a new, finely finished, cover design, the 2016 edition has the weight and feel of a satisfying bedtime read, ideal for newly independent readers. And then, brother and sister team, Lynn and David Roberts, brought us a mid century fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty (released in paperback this year). Starting out in a 1950s seeped in futuristic pop culture and ending up in a distant utopia, this is a superbly crafted retelling of an old tale. Magical, visionary and manifestly feminist storytelling imagines a world populated entirely by women in which girls are raised by their ‘aunts’ and are rescued by other girls. Sublime love stories or romantic friendships, like all great fairy tales, these texts are rich with metaphors and a playfulness which allows them to be read every which way.
Nicholas Tucker, honorary senior lecturer in Cultural and Community Studies at Sussex University
Helen Cooper’s The Hippo at the End of the Hall is her first novel, but you would never guess that from the ease and poise of her writing. Immediately young Ben finds his way to the ageing, generally shambolic Gee Museum he finds things there that help him piece together the mystery of his missing father plus the existence of a family he never knew he had. All this is gripping enough but the addition of the author’s numerous illustrations, many taken from actual small and remote museums visited in the past, make this truly stunning book a pleasure to look at as well as to read.
Philip Womack, author and critic
Sebastian de Castell’s Spellslinger is a roister-doistering tale of a magical world navigated by a boy who, alas, has no magic; full of memorable characters (including a red-haired lady card sharp), this is one of the year’s standouts. I’d also thoroughly recommend Jacob Sager Weinstein’s brilliantly funny The City of Secret Rivers, in which a young American must navigate the madness of London’s water systems (try it, honestly); and Scarlett Thomas’s lovely fantasy Dragon’s Green, which manages to be both unusual and traditional simultaneously, as well as entirely gripping and beautifully written; any book that can casually refer to Antigone and Beckett gets my vote.
Under Water, Under Earth, Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinska, Templar / Big Picture Press, 9781783703647
The Murderer’s Ape, Jakob Wegelius, translated by Peter Graves, Pushkin Children’s Books, 978-1-7826-9161-7, £16.99 hbk
The Lost Words, by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris, Hamish Hamilton, 978-0-2412-5358-8, £20.00hbk
Night Shift, Debi Gliori, Hot Key Books, 978-1471406232, £9.99 hbk
Spellslinger, Sebastian de Castell, Hot Key Books, 978-1-7857-6132-4, £7.99 pbk
The City of Secret Rivers, Jacob Sager Weinstein, Walker Books, 978-1-4063-6885-7, £9.99 hbk
Dragon’s Green, Scarlett Thomas, Canongate Books, 978-1-7821-1702-5, £9.99 hbk
Roller Girl, Victoria Jamieson, Puffin, 978-0-1413-7899-2, £7.99 pbk
The Hippo at the End of the Hall, Helen Cooper, David Fickling Books, 978-1910989753, £10.99 hbk
Queen Munch and Queen Nibble, Carol Ann Duffy, illus Lydia Monks, Two Hoots, 978-1509829262, £12.99 hbk
Sleeping Beauty, Lynn Roberts and David Roberts, Pavilion Children’s Books, 978-1-8436-5339-4, £6.99 pbk
Fergal is Fuming, Robert Starling, Andersen Press, 978-1-7834-4533-2, £11.99 hbk
Ban this Book, Alan Gratz, Starscape Books, 978-0-7653-8556-7, £12.19 hbk
Being Miss Nobody, Tamsin Winter, Usborne, 978-1-4749-2727-7, £6.99 pbk
Lockwood & Co, The Empty Grave, Jonathan Stroud, Corgi Children’s Books, 978-0-5525-7579-9, £7.99 pbk
Overheard in a Tower Block, Joseph Coelho, Otter-Barry Books, 978-1-9109-5958-9, £6.99 pbk
Hilary Mckay’s Fairy Tales, Hilary McKay, Macmillan Children’s Books, 978-1447292296, £12.99 hbk