Wednesday 19 December 2018

Something for every bookworm: Top 50 children's books of the year

It's been a cracker of a year for children's publishing and with Christmas on its way, Sarah Webb picks her favourite titles of 2018 for young bookworms of all ages

Illustration from 'Granuaile' by John Burke and Illustrated by Fatti Burke (Gill Books)
Illustration from 'Granuaile' by John Burke and Illustrated by Fatti Burke (Gill Books)
Illustration from 'The President's Cat' by Peter Donnelly (Gill Books)
From The Pooka Party by Shona Shirley Macdonald

Sarah Webb

It's been a cracker of a year for children's books. From a colourful Irish picturebook celebrating a certain President that's sure to bring a smile to any face, to the funny and sweet charmer for teenagers, Flying Lessons for Flightless Birds from Belfast writer Kelly McCaughrain, there really is something for everyone this Christmas.

From all the books for children and teenagers I've read this year, I've selected my 50 favourites, titles I think will capture the imagination of any young reader.

If you're looking for a personal recommendation, do look out for #bookelves18 on social media, a promotion run by a team of Irish children's book experts dedicated to matching children and teens with the right book.

Happy reading this Christmas!

Illustration from 'Granuaile' by John Burke and Illustrated by Fatti Burke (Gill Books)
Illustration from 'Granuaile' by John Burke and Illustrated by Fatti Burke (Gill Books)

1 I Say Ooh You Say Aah by John Kane (Templar Books)

Created by Dubliner John Kane to hold his lively son's attention, this interactive picturebook is a clever blend of words and pictures that will cause hoots of laughter in any household. It opens 'When I say OOH you say AAH as loudly as you can. Are you ready? OOH!' Simply brilliant. (Picturebooks, age 0-5)

2 Oi Duck-Billed Platypus by Kes Gray and Jim Field (Hodder Children's Books)

A clever picturebook full of ridiculous rhymes involving animals, perfect for reading out loud. What rhymes with duck-billed platypus? Why truck-filled flappy goose of course! The jaunty, brightly coloured illustrations make this a joy to share with both toddlers and older children. (Age 3+)

3 Anseo Atá Muid by Oliver Jeffers, translated by Máire Zepf (Futa Fata)

The Irish-language version of Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth, a book written by Jeffers to explain the world to his son, Harland has been beautifully translated by Zepf. Each double page spread is carefully designed and majestically coloured. Stunning. (Age 0-5)

From The Pooka Party by Shona Shirley Macdonald
From The Pooka Party by Shona Shirley Macdonald

4 Grandma Bird by Benji Davies (Simon and Schuster)

The creator of The Storm Whale is back with another story about Noi, this time featuring his rather wild and wonderful grandma. Noi is not at all sure about staying with her, but he soon changes his mind when he realises how strong and wonderful she is. With stylish illustrations, this is the perfect book to share with grandchildren. (Age 0-5)

5 The Pooka Party by Shona Shirley Macdonald (O'Brien Press)

Pooka is feeling lonely so it decides to hold a party and invites all the ghosts, goblins and magical creatures to its house. But when the goblins start stealing the cake, a mighty battle ensues. The simple story is brought to life by Macdonald's exquisite illustrations which are packed full of details and are so enchanting they practically dance off the page. (Age 0-5)

6 Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (Walker Books)

This joyful picturebook with outstanding illustrations has stayed with me all year. Julián is a young boy who dreams of being a mermaid, and with the support of his wonderful Nana, he joins the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, showing off the costume he created himself. A celebration of being yourself. (Age 0-5)

7 The President's Cat by Peter Donnelly (Gill Books)

The President is back for a brand new adventure, this time with his glasses but without his cat, accidentally left behind after the summer holidays. But the clever cat decides to find his own way back to the Áras. Simple text and attractive, warmly coloured illustrations with a retro feel. (Age 0-5)

8 A First Book of the Sea by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton (Walker Books)

Full of poems, lists and songs about the sea, covering all kinds of sea-themed topics, from puffins to pearl divers, this is a celebration of our blue planet in all its glory. It's packed full of facts, too - so not only will children enjoy the poetry, they will learn something new along the way. The illustrations by Sutton are stylish and deliciously colourful. (Age 0-5)

9 On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna (Thames and Hudson)

A young girl is stuck in a holiday cabin while her mum works so she is sent outside to play. At first reluctant to explore the "boring, wet place", she discovers so many wonders outside that she feels changed by the time she returns. The illustrations are glorious, they swim with colour and texture. If you like picturebooks that are a bit different, this one's for you! (Age 0-5)

10 Don't Go To School by Máire Zepf and Tarsila Krüse (Futa Fata)

Usually in a "first day at school" book it's the child who is anxious, but in this clever book it's Mummy, not little Benno the bear, who is scared of school. "Don't worry, Mummy," he tells her. "You'll get to know the other parents in no time. They seem really nice." The stylish illustrations in rich shades of brown, green and blue are perfect for very young children. (Age 0-5)

11 Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles by Patricia Valdez, Illustrated by Felicita Sala (Andersen Press)

The true story of the Curator of Reptiles at the Natural History Museum in London who designed the world-renowned Reptile House at London Zoo in the 1920s, a remarkable feat for a woman at the time. This book, written in simple yet lyrical prose tells Joan's inspiring story. The illustrations are full of unusual colours and telling details. (Age 5-8)

12 Hubert Horatio: How to Raise Your Grown-Ups by Lauren Child (HarperCollins)

Hubert Horatio's parents love him very much but they are a little forgetful and irresponsible, so he's well used to sorting out problems. This is a delightfully bonkers story which is made for reading out loud. It's one of the most beautifully designed books for this age-group I've ever seen, Child's illustrations sing, and hats off to David Mackintosh, the book's Belfast-born designer. Magnificent! (Age 6+)

13 The Dam by David Almond, illustrated by Levi Pinfold (Walker Studio)

Based on the true story of Kielder Valley in Northumberland which was flooded to create a lake in the early 1980s, this is a haunting, lyrical picturebook for older children with mesmerising illustrations. Before the valley is flooded, Kathryn and her father visit every empty house and fill each with music. The artwork is remarkable - each page full of atmosphere and deep emotion. A triumph. (Age 5-8)

14 The Dog Who Lost His Bark by Eoin Colfer, illustrated by PJ Lynch (Walker Books)

This story of a boy and Oz, the small dog he adopts, cleverly examines the boy's fractured family as well as his relationship with Oz, who has problems of his own. Black and white illustrations full of expression by ex-Laureate na nÓg, PJ Lynch. (Age 5-8)

15 I Am the Seed That Grew the Tree: A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Nosy Crow)

One of the best children's poetry collections I've come across in recent years. Full of outstanding verse and stunning illustrations, it includes work by Yeats, Dickinson and celebrated American children's writer Lilian Moore. (Age 5-8)

16 The Girls by Lauren Ace, illustrated by Jenny Løvlie (Caterpillar Books)

The four girls in this book are all different - Lottie loves adventure, Leela is super smart, Sasha is practical and caring, and Alice enjoys making people laugh - and although they fight at times, they are the best of friends. With gently coloured illustrations by Norwegian artist, Løvlie, this is a powerful, inspiring book to share with any child. (Age 5-8)

17 Dr Hibernica Finch's Compelling Compendium to Irish Animals by Rob Maguire and Aga Grandowicz (Little Island)

Little Island's first non-fiction title is this stunning ode to Irish animals. The text, narrated by a fictional Irish naturalist, is perfectly pitched for young readers and the illustrations are eye-wateringly good. (Age 5-8)

18 The Legend of Kevin: Roly-Poly Flying Pony by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre (Oxford University Press)

One stormy night, Kevin the magical flying pony bumps into Max's life and his world is forever changed. Storm waters are rising and strange creatures are threatening the peace, can Max and Kevin save the day? Charming and funny with attractive, comic-like illustrations, this is a great choice for newly independent readers. (Age 5-8)

19 Mary and Frankenstein by Linda Bailey and Júlia Sardà (Andersen Press)

A fascinating biography of Mary Shelley with luscious illustrations. Bailey explains how Mary's tough childhood and teenage years helped fuel her imagination. She describes the fateful stormy night when Lord Byron first suggests a contest to write the most chilling ghost story. (Age 5-8)

20 The Great Big Book of Irish Wildlife by Juanita Browne, illustrated by Barry Reynolds (O'Brien Press)

A fun, accessible guide to Irish animals, with a focus on the different seasons. Browne is an accomplished naturalist and her carefully researched text is complimented by photographs and brightly coloured illustrations. (Age 5-8)

21 Granuaile by John Burke, illustrated by Fatti Burke (Gill Books)

The team behind Irelandopedia are back with a handsome hardback that tells the story of Mayo clan leader and 'Pirate Queen', Granuaile. The text is simply written and ideal for young children to tackle themselves and Fatti's distinctive, vibrantly coloured illustrations breathe new life and energy into the well-known story.

(Ages 5-8)

22 The Restless Girls by Jessie Burton, illustrated by Angela Barrett (Bloomsbury)

A modern retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, in this version the royal sisters save themselves, ably led by their firecracker of an eldest sister, Princess Frida. Barrett's illustrations are sumptuous, bringing a magical glowing quality to the pages. (Age 9-12)

23 Bright Sparks: Amazing Discoveries, Inventions and Designs by Women by Owen O'Doherty (O'Brien Press)

From the lines in the middle of the road, an idea pioneered by Jane McCarroll in 1908, to present-day inventor Elif Bilfin, who in 2013 discovered a way of making biodegradable plastic from banana skins, this book is packed with fascinating facts. Each of the 50 inventions are carefully explained and illustrated by the author. (Age 9-12)

24 The Great Irish Weather Book by Joanna Donnelly, illustrated by Fuchsia MacAree (Gill Books)

Joanna Donnelly is a meteorologist and weather forecaster, and uses her knowledge to make the weather come alive for young readers. She explains the science behind the weather in a very clear and accessible way - and the stylish illustrations are outstanding. (Age 9-12)

25 You've Got a Friend by Judi Curtin (O'Brien Press)

Curtin's books are heart-warming but they also deal with some thought-provoking subjects, such as Direct Provision and elder care. In this book, Molly's dad seems lonely so she and her friend Beth travel back in time to the 1970s to see if they can right some wrongs. (Age 9-12)

26 Tin by Pádraig Kenny (Chicken House)

Christopher is a 'proper' boy in a house of mechanicals, who are his best friends. But all is not as it seems and Christopher heads off on a journey to find out who or what he truly is. Set in an alternate 1930s England, Tin is a remarkably assured debut novel, full of imagination. (Age 9-12)

27 The Eye of the North by Sinéad O'Hart (Stripes)

Emmeline Widget receives a letter from her mum telling her she is now an orphan and that she must travel to Paris to find a mysterious woman. So begins this epic adventure featuring a new best friend, dastardly villains and mythical creatures. A highly original fantasy with some cracking world building. (Age 9-12)

28 Begone the Raggedy Witches by Celine Kiernan (Walker Books)

Mup's father has been kidnapped by witches - a lure to get her witch mam back to the enchanted world in order to fulfil her destiny - and Mup, along with her mam, brother Tipper and dog Badger must travel to the dark and dangerous Witches Borough to save him. Children will identify with Mup, who is small but also bold and brave. Kiernan's writing swells with colour, magic and passion. (Age 9-12)

29 The Skylark's War by Hilary McKay (Macmillan Children's Books)

Set during World War I, this powerful novel combines lyrical writing with incredibly realistic characters. Clary and her older brother, Peter live with a distant father but are lucky enough to spend their summers in Cornwall with their cousin, the sunny, enigmatic Rupert. Clary adores Rupert and when he joins the British army, her life is thrown into turmoil. (Age 9-12)

30 Secrets of a Sun King by Emma Carroll (Faber Children's Books)

For fans of historic fiction, Emma Carroll is a must. Set in England in 1922, Lil finds a mysterious package on her grandfather's doorstep. Inside is an Egyptian artefact, sent to him by a newly dead professor. The artefact is cursed and Lil and her friends must race to the Valley of the Kings to return it to its owner before it's too late. (Age 9-12)

31 Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend (Hodder Children's Books)

A whip-smart fantasy adventure, the second in a series. Morrigan Crow is now the member of the Wundrous Society - a group of young people with special powers - but instead of celebrating their magical abilities, they are learning that their talents are evil and wrong. The perfect series for young Harry Potter fans. (Age 9-12)

32 The Train to Impossible Places by P G Bell (Usborne)

When a mysterious train track appears in Suzy's hall, her world is turned upside down. But Suzy is no ordinary girl - she's brave and smart, with a deep love of physics. She stows away on the 'Impossible Train' for some incredible adventures. Compelling characters and terrific world building make this a winning tale for children who like fantasy full of warmth, humour and a little bit of peril. (Age 9-12)

33 My Mum Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson (Penguin Random House)

Wilson's most popular character, Tracy Beaker is back - but this time she's a mum and this book is narrated by her daughter, Jess. When rich ex-footballer Sean Godfrey proposed to Tracy, Jess has mixed feelings. When it comes to honest, funny contemporary realism, Wilson is in a league of her own. This may very well start a new trend in children's books. My Dad, the Wimpy Kid anyone? (Age 9-12)

34 The Storm keeper's Island by Catherine Doyle (Bloomsbury)

Fionn Boyle's grandfather, Malachy is the Storm Keeper on Arranmore Island, dedicated to keep the island's secrets safe. But a sinister force is starting to awaken and the island needs a new keeper. Who will the island pick? Could it possibly be the rather reluctant Fionn? Beautifully written, with a cracking plot, a pulsing sense of place, and characters you truly care about. (Age 9-12)

35 The Holidays by Blexbolex (Geko Press)

A wordless picturebook, or 'silent' book, about missed opportunities and regret. One summer a girl is spending time at her grandfather's house. When they collect a small elephant from the train station, everything changes. But is he really an elephant - and has she missed the chance to make a friend? Strong, stylish illustrations. Perfect for thoughtful children who like unusual books. (Age 9-12)

36 She is Fierce: Brave, Bold and Beautiful Poems by Women edited by Ana Sampson (Macmillan)

An outstanding collection of poetry for teenagers by a host of women writers, from Maya Angelou to Elizabeth Bishop. Lots of teen friendly topics are included - from growing up to friendship and courage. Ideal for the young feminist in your family. (For teenagers)

37 And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Rovina Cai (Walker Books)

A lyrical retelling of Moby Dick from the point of view of a female warrior-whale called Bathsheba. From the opening line: "Call me Bathsheba", you are in Ness's spell. His compelling fable of fear, power and obsession pulls you along like a Nantucket sleigh ride. Clever, clever stuff. (Age 10-16)

38 Mollie on the March by Anna Carey (O'Brien Press)

When Mollie hears there are protests planned during the visit of Prime Minister Asquith, she knows she has to take part. Unfortunately, she has her best-friend Nora's terrible cousin, her awful brother and her neighbour's very annoying dog to contend with! Historical fiction written with a light touch, Carey knows how to make the past come alive for young readers. (Age 10-14)

39 Flying Tips for Flightless Birds by Kelly McCaughrain (Walker Books)

Trapezing twins Finch and Birdie Franconi are outsiders at school, but at the Belfast circus school run by their parents, they are stars. When Birdie falls in a trapezing accident and ends up in a coma, it's up to the twin's new friend, Hector to help Finch get through the days alone. With dialogue so raw and authentic it sends sparks off the page, don't miss it! A warm hug of a book. (Young Adult)

40 Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli (Penguin Books)

Leah is an American teenager who is struggling to come to terms with her feelings for one of her female friends. A standalone sequel to Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda (made into the film Love Simon), Albertalli captures Leah's witty, breezy yet sincere teen voice perfectly. With whip-smart dialogue and lots of humour, this is one for John Green fans. (Young Adult)

41 Spare and Found Parts by Sarah Maria Griffin (Titan Books)

If you're looking for originality and lyrical writing, this is for you. Nell finds a mannequin's hand on the beach and decides to build a companion. With a nod to Frankenstein, this post-apocalyptic Dublin tale is full of twists and secrets. (Young Adult)

42 Tuesdays are Just as Bad by Cethan Leahy (Mercier Press)

Adam has just started back at school after trying to take his own life and is finding it difficult. Things start to pick up when he meets Douglas, who introduces him to a new circle of friends. But Adam has a secret - he's being haunted by his own personal ghost. Carefully crafted, with lots of humour to relieve the darkness. (Young Adult)

43 The Surface Breaks by Louise O'Neill (Scholastic)

In this retelling of The Little Mermaid, teen mermaid Gaia desperately wants to find her mother who left her family for the 'surface' many years ago. But instead, Gaia finds Oliver, a boy unworthy of her love and great sacrifice. Fierce feminist writing. (Young Adult)

44 Tales from the Inner City by Shaun Tan (Walker Studio)

When it comes to originality and genius, Tan is in a league of his own. This collection of stories and poems with an animal-in-the-city theme are intriguing, though-provoking and at times baffling, asking as many questions as they answer, and the illustrations are sublime. One for quirky teens (or adults) who love art. (Age 10-16)

45 Adventures in Philosophy by Brendan O'Donoghue, illustrated by Paula McGloin (Gill Books)

Through a series of stories and myths such as Theseus and the Minotaur, O'Donoghue examines different topics and gives a range of answers from the great philosophers. With an emphasis on the importance of wonder, curiosity and asking questions, this book is written with clarity and panache, ideal for thoughtful children. (Age 11+)

46 Twelve Angels Weeping by David Rudden (Penguin Random House)

Even if you're not a Dr Who expert, these clever, chilling tales will keep you gripped. Rudden takes 12 iconic Dr Who villains and breathes terrifying new life into them. His writing is crisp and confident - a must for Dr Who fans. (Age 9+)

47 A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi (Electric Monkey)

Set in America a year after 9/11, this compelling novel is about Shirin, a Muslim 16-year-old who is trying to navigate a society that views her wearing of a hijab with suspicion and hostility. Understandably this makes her spiky and prone to pushing people away. But when she meets a boy called Ocean Jones, things slowly start to change. (Young Adult)

48 The Weight of a Thousand Feathers by Brian Conaghan (Bloomsbury)

Bobby Seed is a young carer, looking after his mum who has MS and his younger brother. It's a lot to take on for a 17-year-old, and when his mum asks him to do something unthinkable, it sets his whole world spinning. An emotional rollercoaster of a book, written with so much heart it bounces off the page. (Young Adult)

49 Oliver Jeffers: The Working Mind and Drawing Hand (Rizzoli)

I bought this as an early Christmas present to myself and spent many happy hours wallowing in Jeffers' extraordinary picturebook art and fine art, including his iconic dipped paintings. With personal notes and essays by collaborators like Bono (a well-written piece), this book is a must for art fans of all ages.

50 Helen Oxenbury: A Life in Illustration by Leonard S Marcus (Walker Books)

A thoughtful account of the life and work of one of the picturebook greats, best known for We're Going on a Bear Hunt, written by Michael Rosen. It winds its way through her life, from 1938 to the present day and includes essays by some of her best-known authors. Classy and fascinating.

Sarah Webb is an award-winning children's writer. Her latest book, 'Blazing a Trail: Irish Women Who Changed the World', illustrated by Lauren O'Neill, this week won the Children's Book of the Year (Senior) at the An Post Irish Book Awards.

 

5 festive gift ideas

1 Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht, illustrated by Jarvis (Walker Books)

‘Pick a pine tree from the lot, slim and tall or short and squat.’ A rhyming picturebook with glowing illustrations that celebrates the Christmas ritual of selecting and decorating the perfect tree. Age 2+

2 The Most-Loved Bear by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Sam Usher (Macmillan Children’s Books)

Mary Rose loves Growly Bear, but one day she leaves him on a train. Can they ever be reunited? A charming picturebook by the author of Guess How Much I Love You which has a classy, traditional feel. Age 3+

3 The First Christmas Jumper by Ryan Tubridy, illustrated by Chris Judge (Walker Books)

When Santa announces he’s looking for a sheep to provide the wool for a jumper to keep him warm on his sleigh rides, could rainbow-coated Hillary possibly be the one he’s looking for? Full of puns and jokes and with Judge’s distinctive illustrations, this is a sweet Christmassy stocking filler.  Age 4+

4  The Adventures of Onion O’Brien by Jason Byrne, illustrated by Oisín McGann (Gill Books)

A funny story for younger readers about a boy and his friends who try to save a baby ape from an evil ringmaster. McGann’s lively black and white illustrations are sparky and full of detail. Age 7+

5 The Magic Moment by Niall Breslin, Illustrated by Sheena Dempsey (Gill Books)

Freddie is excited about going swimming for the first time, but when he gets to the pool, his nerves start to kick in. But his clever Nana teaches him a special trick to help him when he’s scared. A book with an important message. The lively, fresh illustrations make each page shine. Age 5+

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