Wednesday 21 February 2018

Wimpy kids, druids a skeleton detective and a teen rocker

Sarah Webb on the best books for children and teens this Christmas

Perfect gifts: 'Milo and One Angry Dead Druid'
Perfect gifts: 'Milo and One Angry Dead Druid'
Derek Landy alongside his creation 'Skulduggery Pleasant'

Sarah Webb

Another year, another crop of brilliant children's books. Condensing a whole 12 months into a round-up that is useful for parents and other Christmas gift buyers is no easy matter. There is nothing better than reading a brilliant book aloud and I've included lots of great novels to share for that very reason. Happy reading!

Picture Books

My picture book of the year is The Day the Crayons Quit, written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by the unstoppable Oliver Jeffers (HarperCollins, £12.99). When Duncan goes to take out his crayons he finds a bundle of letters instead – letters to him from each colour. They are not happy – Orange complains that he is the real colour of the sun, not Yellow; Beige is tired of playing second fiddle to Brown. A clever, inventive story illustrated with charm and wit by Jeffers, with the help of some of his young friends, using all the crayons in the pack. A brilliant book for sharing.

I also loved Aunt Amelia by Rebecca Cobb (Macmillan, £10.99), a charming tale about a very special aunt, with wonderfully expressive mixed media illustrations; and That is Not a Good Idea by Mo Willems (Walker, £11.99), which pits a dastardly fox against a wide-eyed goose and is illustrated in show-stopping cartoon style, with a nod to silent movies.

I must also mention the reissue of the much-loved The Sleeping Giant by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick (Wolfhound, €9.99); and Oscar Wilde's Stories for Children (O'Brien Press, €14.99), a new edition featuring Charles Robinson's stunning watercolour and line drawings and beautifully designed by Emma Byrne.

Confident Readers

My favourite novel of the year for readers of 11+ has to be Geek Girl by Holly Smale (HarperCollins, £6.99), shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize. Harriet Manners is a super-smart girl who loves literature and science. When she's accidentally talent-spotted by a model agency, can she transform herself from geek to chic? A wonderful book about discovering who you are and overcoming bullying, based on the author's own experiences.

I also adored Darcy Burdock by the irrepressible Laura Dockrill (Red Fox, £5.99), which I found even funnier than Demon Dentist by David Walliams (HarperCollins, £9.99). Darcy is a girl who sees the "extraordinary in the everyday and the wonder in the world". She's a true original and this book is hilarious, anarchic and also brilliant for reading out loud.

Readers of nine plus will adore Judi Curtin's new book, Eva and the Hidden Diary (O'Brien, €7.99), a charming story about Eva Gordon, who is good at solving problems. When she finds an old diary, written by a girl her own age, she and her friend Kate are determined to fix old wrongs. They will also love Coco Carmel by Cathy Cassidy (Puffin, €12.99), a beautifully crafted story about family hardships and the power of friendship.

John Boyne's new novel for children, Stay Where You Are and Then Leave (Doubleday, £12.99), is set in London during World War I and is a moving and uplifting read; and Rebecca Stead won the Guardian Award for Liar and Spy (Andersen Press, £6.99), a clever mystery cum family drama. George has to move into a new apartment block where he meets an unusual boy called Safer. But how far should he go for his new friend? (Both age 11+)

Derek Landy has two new Skulduggery Pleasant books out this year – Tanith Low in The Maleficent Seven (HarperCollins, £10.99) and Last Stand of Dead Men (HarperCollins, £14.99) (Age 9+).

There's a new Wimpy Kid adventure, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck (Puffin, £12.99); and WARP Book 1: The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer (Puffin, £12.99) is a clever time-travel adventure. (Age 11+)

And finally for this age group, The Keeper (Little Island, €10.99) is Darragh Martin's debut novel and it's a cracking fantasy adventure novel with an Irish flavour; and Alan Early's Arthur Quinn and the Hell's Keeper (Mercier, €8.99) is perfect for readers who love myths and legends with a modern twist. (Both age 9+)

YA (young adult) novels

My favourite YA novel of the year is a tie between The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Penguin, £7.99) which has already been widely reviewed, and Patrick Ness's More Than This (Walker, £12.99), one of the most original books I've read in years, part science-fiction, part exploration of love and family, and so much more. In the opening chapter, Seth drowns and wakes up in the suburban English town where he grew up. As he begins to explore his surroundings, slowly things start to make sense. Wickedly clever, utterly convincing, this book is outstanding – don't miss it.

And look out for John Green's story in the seasonal collection Let It Snow (Puffin, €7.99).

Green fans will also love David Levithan's Every Day (Egmont, €7.99) and Severed Heads, Broken Hearts by Robyn Schneider (Simon and Schuster, £6.99), both well written, involving novels for readers who like stories about real, contemporary teenagers.

And Hunger Games fans will enjoy Allegiant by Veronica Roth (HarperCollins, £10.99), the final instalment of her dystopian trilogy.

Back to Blackbrick by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald (Orion, £9.99) is a compelling time-shift drama about love and loss featuring Cosmo and his grandad, Kevin, who has Alzheimer's. Published in January, it's a book that has stayed with me all year.

Inspired by Anna Carey's time as a singer in the band El Diablo, her new book Rebecca Rocks (O'Brien Press €7.99) is a charming, uplifting story for young teenagers dealing with bullying, friendship and teen sexuality.

And finally to Russian Roulette by Anthony Horowitz (Walker Books, £14.99), which features a young assassin Yassen Gregorovich who has been dispatched to kill Alex Rider. If you've ever wondered how a killer is created, read Yassen's story. It's quite simply one of the best teen spy thrillers I've ever read.

Sarah Webb is the editor of Mad About Books: The Dubray Guide to Children's Books (e2) – available in all Dubray Bookshops or from www.dubraybooks.ie

Irish Independent

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