A boom in poetry, a plethora of books about bold girls and boys, the continuing resurgence of illustrated non-fiction and the arrival of a host of exciting new authors for junior readers, 2018 has been another vibrant year for children’s books. We asked those in the know to choose their books of the year.
The children’s book I’ve enjoyed most in 2018 is Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer. Set in the Lake District in 2018, it opens a window on war-torn France a hundred years before. The lives of Lily and her great-great granddad Ernest are connected in layered ways – their youthful pleasure in running and competing is evidenced through her life and his diaries, and the page motif of Lily and Ernest respectively running across the fells and the battlefields serves to underscore this. Pacing is strong as the two narratives unfold and the sensitivity with which grandma’s Alzheimer’s is handled is frankly superb. I read it at one sitting, and then devoured it again. Children will too.
Teresa Cremin, Professor of Literacy, Open University
My choice is Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm. A Memoir of Childhood Reading. This is a wonderfully honest, insightful and occasionally poignant record of her life-time experience with children’s authors past and present, some still famous others now largely forgotten. Young readers as well as older ones will find so much here that is wise as well as continuously witty – when was the last time a book about children’s literature, including the footnotes, made you laugh aloud quite so often? Very well informed as well as infectiously enthusiastic, this truly is a book to treasure.
Nicholas Tucker is honorary senior lecturer in Cultural and Community Studies at Sussex University.
Concern about guns and the appalling death rate amongst young black males in the States has been explored in several recent books, but I have been haunted by images from Long Way Down. The concept behind the book is extraordinary (a spoiler alert to share) and works extremely well with the verse novel structure. Reynolds’s evocation of grief engages the reader viscerally and his writing is fresh and original. It’s a brilliant book. A quick mention too of Ghost Boys, on the same subject, by Jewell Parker Rhodes. She develops a historical context with the very powerful image of all the dead African-American boys from Emmett Till in 1955 onwards coming back to ‘bear witness’. I am thrilled to see one of her books published in the UK, she deserves to be better known.
On a lighter and brighter note, Candy Gourlay’s first picture book Is it a Mermaid? has been a highlight this year and has had many joyous readings as we have shared it endlessly with a new baby in the family. The story is set in the Philippines and is beautifully illustrated by Francesca Chessa who captures the light and joy of beach life so perfectly. The story is full of humorous touches and has two captivating children whose personalities shine through the very simple language.
Pam Dix, Chair Ibby UK
2018 has brought us fantastic new characters who leapfrog over gender stereotypes with panache. First we had the blazing, swishy parade of colour that is Julian Is a Mermaid. Then, toddler boardbook heroes, Child’s Play, had Clive play out different jobs for size (Clive Is… A Nurse/Teacher/Librarian/Waiter) and he is now joined by Rosa, a bold and highly self-sufficient girl (Rosa Plays Ball/Loves Cars/Loves Dinosaurs/Rides Her Scooter). On the fiction side, we had an absolute comic tour-de-force in ‘our’ Little Rebels Award winner, The Muslims. Perfectly pitched to ‘middle grade’ readers and a bestseller for us this year. Expect to see Omar in his own series soon… Finally, our other summer bestseller came from the queen of middle grade historical fiction in the UK- Catherine Johnson. In Freedom, she gifts us, yet again, a story full of pace, pulse, excitement and rich characterisations. It’s been a very fine year!
Fen Coles, Letterbox Library
I have two books of the year, very different but both share a theme; a journey both literal and metaphorical. Moth by Isabel Thomas illustrated by Daniel Egnéus is a stunning visual experience. The narrative is simple – the life and evolution of the Peppered Moth. It is not a fictional story but it is shows that facts can also inspire the imagination. This is how information can really excite. Magical. As magical is The Colour of the Sun by the great David Almond. Here perfect prose creates atmosphere and the reader follows Davie as he journeys through the community moving from boyhood to the threshold of adulthood. There may be magic in the air, but it is rooted in a real landscape – the reader can feel the heat of the sun, smell the gorse hear the popping of the seed pods.
Ferelith Hordon, editor Books for Keeps
For anyone over three, How to be a Lion by Ed Vere is a wonderful picture book about a gentle poetic lion criticised for his lack of ferocity. With a feathered friend he stands up to his critics choosing powerful words rather than blows. A modern fable challenging conformity and suggesting alternative views of masculinity beautifully illustrated with the vibrant colours of the African Savanna.
A novel which has stayed with me this year is Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone. Set in the imaginary world of Erkenwald with appealing characters this is an exciting quest story about belonging, collaboration, magic and the wonders of the natural world.
Finally The Dam by David Almond and Levi Pinfold is a mesmerising picturebook telling a true story. Text and illustration evoke the Northumberland landscape, its people and musical traditions beautifully and show the power of music, song and storytelling to commemorate and celebrate nature past, present and future.
Sue McGonigle, Lovemybooks
A standout new voice this year is Onjali Q Rauf with The Boy at the Back of the Class. Ideas of different cultures and experiences are contrasted against similar outlooks on life and feelings of care and nurture. The story is satisfying and the child perspective achieves warmth and wit in equal measure whilst telling a timely tale about conflict and refuge.
Lita Judge’s Mary’s Monster is a deeply impressive story that captures and conveys creation on multiple levels. Told seamlessly through spare verse and powerful, atmospheric illustration, it perfectly evokes the Gothic origins of Mary Shelley and Frankenstein and is a book that leaves a lasting impression.
Jake Hope, reading development and children’s book consultant.
I have to go for two! The first is Kwame Alexander’s Rebound. This prequel to his masterpiece The Crossover is everything you could ever want from a book, it’s funny, moving and full of great ideas on how to live your life. The poetry grabs you and just won’t let you go, everyone must read this book. Another book I want to shout from the rooftops about is The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson. It kept me thrilled and delighted as I read it from cover to cover in one sitting. I had no idea where it was going to go and I’ve never read anything like it before. It totally blew me away. An utterly incredible debut.
Emily Drabble, Head of Children’s Books Promotion and Prizes BookTrust
Rebel Voices. The Rise of Votes for Women by Eve Lloyd Knight and Louise Kay Stewart really stands out among the many marking this year’s UK women’s suffrage centenary. The artwork is stunning with a carefully chosen palette being employed for each spread which fits into a distinctive overall design. Rebel Voices contextualises the British experience in a global context, dealing chronologically with women getting the vote from New Zealand in 1893 to Saudi Arabia in 2015. The situation in a selection of countries is described concisely, highlighting individual women who struggled for the vote and relating interesting incidents and events distinguishing their campaigns. The tremendous amount of research that has gone into this book will inspire young readers to try and find out more about these women.
Ann Lazim, Library and Literature Development Manager CLPE
The first of my two best books of 2018 is Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls. It tells the story of three young women fighting for suffrage before, during and immediately after World War I. The historical scholarship and period detail are exemplary. The stories of the three protagonists are woven together in a coherent whole. My second book is The Key to Flambards by Linda Newbery, chosen for an excellent and three-dimensional portrayal of a young amputee. In relation to the injury Newbery depicts her protagonist experiencing a convincing and rarely depicted range of sentiments, both positive and negative.
Dr Rebecca Butler lecturer on children’s literature.
Armistice RunnerTom Palmer, Barrington Stoke, 978-1781128251, £6.99 pbk
Bookworm. A Memoir of Childhood Reading Lucy Mangan, Square Peg, 978-0224098854, £14.99
Long Way Down, Jason Reynolds illus Chris Priestley, Faber and Faber, 978-0571335121, £7.99pbk
Ghost Boys, Jewell Parker Rhodes, Orion Children’s Books 978-1510104396, £6.99 pbk
Is it a Mermaid?, Candy Gourlay illus Francesca Chessa, Otter-Barry Books, 978-1910959121, £11.99
Julian Is a Mermaid, Jessica Love, Walker Books, 978-1406380637, £11.99
The Muslims, Zanib Mian, Sweet Apple Publishing, 978-0993564420, £8.99
Freedom, Catherine Johnson, Scholastic, 978-1407185484, £4.99
Moth, Isabel Thomas illus Daniel Egnéus, Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 978-1408889756, £12.99
The Colour of the Sun, David Almond, Hodder Children’s Books, 978-1444919554, £12.99
Sky Song, Abi Elphinstone, Simon and Schuster, 978-1471146077, £6.99 pbk
The Dam, David Almond illus Levi Pinfold, Walker Studio, 978-1406304879, £12.99
The Boy at the Back of the Class, Onjali Q Rauf, Orion Children’s Books, 978-1510105010, £6.99 pbk
Mary’s Monster, Lita Judge, Wren & Rook, 978-1526360410, £12.99
Rebound, Kwame Alexander, Andersen Press, 978-1783447206, £7.99
The House with Chicken Legs, Sophie Anderson, Usborne, 978-1474940665, £6.99
Rebel Voices. The Rise of Votes for Women by Eve Lloyd Knight & Louise Kay Stewart, Wren and Rook, 978-1526300232, £12.99
Things a Bright Girl Can Do, Sally Nicholls, Andersen Press, 978-1783446735, £7.99
The Key to Flambards, Linda Newbery, David Fickling Books, 978-1788450041, £12.99