Best books of 2014 for children and young adults
From tickling the funny bone to portraying sympathetically the raw realities of life, there’s plenty of enjoyable reading for Christmas
From Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton
The best of the children’s and young adult books published in 2014 were distinguished by their variety, their originality, their literary and artistic excellence and their high production values.
The 30 titles listed here, chosen with particular age groups in mind, reflect all of these qualities, and should provide enjoyable reading over the Christmas holiday and well beyond.
Ages 4 - 5
The Book With No Pictures, by BJ Novak
A picture book with no pictures? Yes, really – but just look at some of the words!
The New Small Person, by Lauren Child
An only child adjusts humorously and poignantly to the arrival of a “new small person”.
Shh! We Have a Plan, by Chris Haughton
(Walker Books, £11.99)
Simple text and dynamic artwork combine in a comic story of hapless hunters and an elusive bird.
Snow, by Sam Usher
Attractively illustrated seasonal story featuring a little boy and his grandfather enjoying their snowy fun day in the park.
Tin, by Chris Judge
(Andersen Press, £11.99)
Big brother Tin, little sister Nickel and dog Zinc star in this robotic and colourful story of sky-high adventure.
Where Is Rusty? by Sieb Posthuma
(Gecko Press, £10.99)
Three dogs go shopping: one wanders off and chaos results in this whimsical combination of word and picture.
Ages 6 - 9
Balaclava Boy, by Jenny Robson
(Little Island, €6.99)
New boy Tommy arrives at school, insisting on wearing his balaclava and, entertainingly, promoting tolerance and acceptance.
Cakes in Space, by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre
(Oxford University Press, £8.99)
Mayhem ensues in nonterrestrial worlds when a spaceship comes under attack, not least from cannibalistic cakes.
Faery Tales, by Carol Ann Duffy
(Faber & Faber, £20)
Excellent compendium of old favourites from the classic fairytale repertoire as well as some poetic Duffy originals.
The Nutcracker, by ETA Hoffmann
(Hesperus Minor, £7.99)
A special gift on Christmas Eve brings Marie many magical experiences.
Once Upon an Alphabet, by Oliver Jeffers
A story – not merely a word – for each of our 26 letters makes this a stand-out alphabet book, beautifully produced and wittily illustrated.
Willy’s Stories, by Anthony Browne
(Walker Books, £12.99)
Willy the chimp makes 10 journeys into various classics of children’s literature: how many can you identify?
Ages 10 - 12
Beyond the Stars, edited by Sarah Webb
Twelve “tales of adventure, magic and wonder”, written and illustrated by major talents of the Irish children’s literature world.
City of Fate, by Nicola Pierce
(O’Brien Press, €7.99)
Six teenagers and a five-year-old boy witness the dreadful events in Stalingrad in 1942.
Evie Brooks in Central Park Showdown, by Sheila Agnew
(O’Brien Press, €7.99)
Evie lives in a New York world of returning fathers and custody battles. This is a perceptive view of young adolescence, cleverly blending the light-hearted with more serious aspects.
Fennymore and the Brumella, by Kirsten Reinhardt
(Little Island, €7.99)
A quirky novel, translated from German by Siobhán Parkinson, celebrating the colourful absurdities of humanity, of bicycles and of brumellas.
The Imaginary, by AF Harrold
Emily Gravett’s magical illustrations enhance this alternately mischievous and poignant story of imaginations and their gradual decline as adulthood approaches.
The Sleeper and the Spindle, by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell
Riddell’s magnificent gold-edged artwork beautifully complements a story challenging our assumptions about traditional fairytales.
Ages 13 - 14
Apple and Rain, by Sarah Crossan
Poetry provides an outlet for 13-year-old Apple when her absent mother returns.
The Apple Tart of Hope, by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald
Young teenager Oscar goes missing, but is he dead? His friend Meg sets out to discover the truth.
A Song for Ella Grey, by David Almond
Haunting poetic novel describing the transformation in a teenage girl’s life when a young man called Orpheus comes along.
Trouble, by Non Pratt
(Walker Books, £6.99)
Hannah, aged 15, becomes pregnant. Who is her child’s father? A witty, non-judgmental treatment of a well-worn theme.
Good Red Herring, by Susan Maxwell
(Little Island, €7.99)
Wickedly offbeat fantasy detective story: a chief inspector and his apprentice attempt to solve a murder mystery in a land of elves and werewolves, luchrapáns and vampires.
Jane, the Fox & Me, by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault
(Walker Books, £15)
A young girl finds solace in literature in this imaginatively conceived and excellently executed graphic novel.
Prometheus Unplugged, by Alan Murphy
Ancient Greek gods meet modern rock stars in this fun collection of poems and collages.
Alex as Well, by Alyssa Brugman
(Curious Fox, £6.99)
Alex, brought up a boy, comes out as the girl he considers himself to be: always thought-provoking, sometimes hilarious.
Only Ever Yours, by Louise O’Neill
A “futuristic” novel for all young women – and all young men – to make them question their individual and societal roles in the world in which they actually live.
We Were Liars, by E Lockhart
(Hot Key Books, £7.99)
Powerful, atmospheric novel detailing an American teenager’s discoveries as she disinters some of the tragic secrets of her privileged family.
When Mr Dog Bites, by Brian Conaghan
A raw, funny and courageously outspoken novel centring on a Glaswegian teenager and his Tourette’s syndrome.
Why We Took the Car , by Wolfgang Herrndorf
(Andersen Press, £6.99)
Offbeat contribution to the road trip novel as teenagers Mike and Tschich take a picturesque jaunt across Europe.