Our favourite children’s and YA books of 2016
24 children’s and young adult authors, illustrators and booksellers share their favourite stories of the year
One of my favourite picture books this year is Owl Bat Bat Owl by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick. It is a wordless story that celebrates tolerance, friendship and co-operation between these unlikely neighbours, and it will encourage thoughtful discussions between parents and young children.
Tales and Legends from the Arabian Nights by Donna Jo Napoli and illustrated by Christina Balit is the most gorgeous fairy tale collection I have seen this year.
I have been a huge fan of Brian Selznick since his breakthrough with The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and his latest book, The Marvels, uses the same winning formula of pages of lavish beautifully detailed drawings alternating with intriguing storytelling in his text.
I am always drawn to post-apocalyptic novels and in The Wordsmith, Patricia Forde creates a strong heroine and a memorable array supporting characters and asks important questions about the power of language.
Knights of the Borrowed Dark is an exciting and funny debut by Dave Rudden. This beautifully paced and thoughtful fantasy marks Rudden out as an author to watch.
One by Sarah Crossan was deserving winner of many awards this year. It is a profound and moving story of conjoined twins Grace and Tippi and their experiences of school, growing up, learning to love and coping with issues of dependency and individuality.
PJ Lynch is a children’s book illustrator and the current Laureate na nÓg, Ireland’s laureate for children’s literature
Perijee and Me by Ross Montgomery is a beautiful middle grade book about friendship and loneliness with a dyslexic narrator – full of drama and comedy, it’s a real page turner. The Ghosts of Magnificent Children by Caroline Busher is a wonderful gothic debut, with just the right amount of eeriness and beautiful writing, perfect for lovers of fairy tales and ghost stories alike. For a unique and heart warming read, Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager is a searing story about family love and finding your roots. Catching a Story Fish by Janice N Harrington is a fantastic verse novel about bravery – and the poetry glossary is fantastic. For slightly older readers, Apple Tart of Hope by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald is a heart-warming tale of friendship and hope, while Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes is a compassionate coming of age tale that tackles issues around identity written in verse. For teens, Claire Hennessey’s Nothing Tastes as Good is a sharp and witty read narrated by a snarky anorexic ghost. Spare and Found Parts by Sarah Maria Griffin is a clever, magical, feminist retelling of Frankenstein and for fantasy fans, Ruth Frances Long’s A Darkness at the End completes her Dubh Linn trilogy with a bang. Although not published in 2016, I think all readers aged 10 to adult should read My Name’s Not Friday by Jon Walter – set in the deep south during the US civil war, it’s a masterpiece.
ER Murray is an author and creative writing facilitator. Her latest book, The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2, was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards.
My top books this year include The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield, a beautifully illustrated story about the magic of music, and of friends, Owl Bat, Bat Owl by Marie Louise Fitzpatrick, a wordless picture-book that tells the story of how two different families come together and become friends, filled with beautiful, cute pictures, and You Can’t Take an Elephant on the Bus by Patricia Cleveland-Peck and David Tazzyman, a picture-book that is a fantastic collection of little stories about not doing ordinary things with extraordinary animals. The Wolves of Currumpaw by William Grill brings history to life with simple text and incredibly detailed pictures. Seb and Ivy must try and solve their family mystery and save their parents in The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell. A Darkness at the End by Ruth Frances Long takes the reader on an emotional roller coaster as she brings her stunning Dublin-based fantasy series to an end. The Bombs That Bought Us Together by Brian Conaghan shows the horrors of war, but also the power of friendship. Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan is an emotional story about a young girl trying to rebuild her life with a creative outlet.
MaryBrigid Turner is a bookseller at Hodges Figgis and occasional reviewer for Inis magazine
One of the funniest books I read this year was The Great Chocoplot by Chris Callaghan, a deliciously packaged tale about a global chocopocalypse (the end of chocolate!) for ages 7+. Can Jelly and her zany family defeat the evil Garibaldi Chocolati before all the chocolate in the world is gone? For a slightly older age group, Beetle Boy by MG Leonard is a wonderfully paced adventure full of scares and fun with a very lovable main character (Darkus) and a villain Roald Dahl would have been proud of. And as an added bonus, the book champions beetles! How cool is that?
If your middle grade kids (ages 8-12) haven’t discovered Emma Carroll yet, then they’re missing out. Having read the brilliant In Darkling Wood last year, I was keen to get my hands on her latest release, Strange Star. It didn’t disappoint. Inspired by the story, Frankenstein, Carroll constructs an original Gothic narrative, full of rich historical detail and atmosphere. It will also whet its readers’ appetites for Mary Shelly’s classic. Though not released until 2017, one of my favourite reads this year was the Irish author Sinéad O’ Hart’s debut, The Eye of the North. Beautifully written, and fuelled by fantastic inventiveness and pace, this white-knuckled race for the frozen North is a tale of magical creatures and brilliant characters in a steampunk world. One to watch out for!
Again, this year was a treasure trove of delights in Young Adult literature. I really enjoyed ER Murray’s Caramel Hearts – the story of Liv Bloom’s struggle to survive in a broken home. Never shying from exposing the harsh realities of Liv’s troubled neighbourhood, the book also has plenty of warmth and humanity. I especially loved the way the narrative was structured around a cook book. It even contains real recipes! Claire Hennessy’s Nothing Tastes as Good has the most original narrator you’re likely to find anywhere. The snarky Annabel is sent back to Earth as a ghost to guide Julia through the pressures of her final year in school. But it turns out that Annabel has troubles of her own. A brave and tender exploration of teenage eating disorders. Tommy Wallach’s Thanks for the Trouble is less ambitious in scope than his 2015 hit We All Looked Up but possibly more intelligent and witty. The voices of Zelda and Parker are as real and unique as Holden Caulfield’s. This beautiful love story, written in a style that is both contemporary and literary, won’t be easily forgotten.
Kieran Fanning writes for young people. His first novel, The Black Lotus, is published by Chicken House
I’ve spent much of this year talking about brand-new titles, but some of my favourites read in 2016 are from a year or two ago. Alex Gino’s George is a heart-warming tale of identity and friendship, while Jacqueline Wilson’s Opal Plumstead – about a teenage girl who goes to work in a chocolate factory and ends up getting drawn into the suffragette movement – is one of her best ever. I’m a huge fan of American YA author AS King, who just seems completely fearless in how she writes. Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future is about a teenage girl on the verge of graduation who drinks the liquefied remains of a bat (as you do) and ends up being capable of seeing flashes of the ancestors and descendants of those around her. It sounds a bit trippy but it’s also completely believable and grounded, and Glory’s own history and future is woven in neatly. A smart coming-of-age magical realism novel as well as the sort of book you read and promptly get envious of the author’s brain.
Claire Hennessy is a writer, editor and creative writing facilitator from Dublin. Her next book, Like Other Girls, will be published in May 2017
The Spinster Club series is one of my all-time favourite book series. There are three books and a novella in the Spinster Club series, three of which were published in 2016 and I’d highly recommend all of them. Holly Bourne doesn’t just set out to entertain with her writing – she’s here to change the world, and she’s doing a damn fine job of it. Holly is one of the funniest and most accessible writers for teens out there – her books are warm, honest and hilarious without shying away from challenging and interesting topics while keeping friendship and personal empowerment as key themes.
Two very different books dealing with the theme of school shootings were published this year, with the topic explored in a refreshingly honest manner. No Heroes by Anna Seidl (translated from the German original) was published by Little Island, while Macmillan brought us Underwater by Marisa Reichardt. But my number one most adored for this year has to be Deirdre Sullivan’s Needlework. This is the beautifully haunting story of Ces, a girl trying to navigate the waters of a life marked by neglect and abuse. For older teens and adults, this is one not to miss.
Jacqueline Murphy is book range planner and member of Team DeptCon at Eason’s
The Ministry of S.U.I.T.S. by Paul Gamble is a cavalcade of utter nonsense (much like me). Unlike me, it manages to be clever and funny as well. The Maloney’s Magical Weatherbox has personality, humour and panache crammed into every molecule. For older readers, you can get a copy of the as-yet unreleased over here Spare & Found Parts by Sarah Maria Griffin in Dubray or the Gutter Bookshop because if you’re not reading a feminist retelling of Frankenstein set in post-post-apocalyptic Dublin set to a Daft Punk soundtrack then I don’t know what to say to you.
Dave Rudden is an award-winning author; his debut Knights of the Borrowed Dark is the 2017 Dublin Unesco Citywide Read for Children
The Book of Shadows by ER Murray is a beautifully written book with compelling characters. It is a fast-paced, spellbinding follow up to The Book of Learning, which was the Dublin Unesco City of Literature Citywide Read 2016. The exhilarating storyline makes it the perfect book for children aged 8-12. The Book of Shadows can be read alone or as part of the incredible nine lives trilogy and it has all the hallmarks of being a classic novel for children. The Call by Peadar Ó’Guilín is a captivating and highly imaginative novel with a unique take on Irish mythology that grips you from the start. The Sídhe are magical creature who were banished from Ireland. They seek revenge by capturing teenagers and taking them to a dark underworld that is full of monsters. The Call is a stunning YA book and is perfect for fans of fantasy. Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan is a poetic and exquisite novel for older teenagers and adults. It has a dark subject matter which Sullivan explores sensitively and eloquently. This is a powerful novel that haunts you long after you have read the final page.
Caroline Busher is the author of The Ghosts of Magnificent Children (Poolbeg Press) and the Reader in Residence with Wexford County Council Library Services
Pigín of Howth (Gill Books) is a beautiful picture book and the winner of the Specsaver’s Children’s Book of the Year Junior category in 2016. Kathleen Watkins tells three stories, based on the stories she’d tell her grandchildren, about Pigín – a lovely, friendly (and charming) little pig – who goes on to have adventures with his friends. Illustrated to perfection by Margaret Anne Suggs, it is certain to become a classic in Irish homes for years to come. We Found A Hat (Candlewick Press) is yet another great picturebook written and illustrated by Jon Klassen. It tells the story of two turtles that find a hat together and then struggle to decide who will own it. Touching on the subjects of respect and ownership, just like in his previous books – I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat – We Found a Hat differs in that it has a much softer ending and it is the perfect close for Klassen’s Hat Trilogy. Last but not least is the compilation All Through the Night: Night Poem and Lullabies (Poetry Ireland) edited by Marie Heaney. Created for older readers, it is a collection of night poems that celebrate the different stages of life, from the magical early years to some of the preoccupations (and fun-times) of adult life. Accompanied by the very detailed work of illustrator and surface pattern designer Paula McGloin, it is a great book for both grown-ups and children.
Tarsila Krüse is a children’s book illustrator. Her latest book, Ná Gabh ar Scoil! was published by Futa Futa
Frances Hardinge’s disturbing and atmospheric novel The Lie Tree stuck with me. Months after reading it, I have only to see the cover to be transported to the dreary and somewhat creepy island where I still imagine the Lie Tree growing. Readers who love history, mystery, magic and mulling over “what is it all about” will love this. In The Thing about Jellyfish, Ali Benjamin perfectly captures that time when everything changes and it feels like life will never be right again. Thirteen-year-old Suzy has suffered a terrible loss – one that, by the end of the book, will feel very familiar to many readers around Suzy’s age. Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan tackles the dark subject of abuse head on, but her writing is so beautiful that you won’t want to put it down, even as your heart is breaking for Ces.
Kim Hood is the author of YA novels Plain Jane and Finding a Voice
Brian Conaghan’s The Bombs That Brought Us Together is as good as his previous novel, the phenomenal When Mr Dog Bites. It’s a frighteningly relevant tale dealing with war and nationalism that is (thankfully, given the subject matter) full of warmth, humour and characters you grow to love. Ace of Spiders by Stefan Mohamed is the second book in his Bitter Sixteen trilogy and is the very definition of a page turner. It continues the adventures of Stanly Bird, who is discovering that having super-powers is a lot less super than he had hoped. The book is packed with wit, action and more pop culture references than you can shake a light sabre at. Oh, and a talking beagle called Darryl!
Five, Six, Seven, Nate is the second book by Tim Federle featuring the titular Broadway-obsessed 13-year-old. Nate has nabbed his first role – understudying ET in the stage adaptation – but things aren’t likely to go smoothly in the world of cut-throat child stars. This is a life-affirming and hilarious book for all ages 10 up, but will go over especially well with musical fans. Ebony Smart is drawn back into a world of magic and mystery in ER Murray’s fantastic The Book of Shadows. Like the first book in the Nine Lives Trilogy, the thrills come fast and thick, but this time those thrills include pirate ships and shadow creatures! It will have you racing to the end and wishing that the third book was out already.
BJ Novak is probably best known as a writer and actor of the US Office but with his The Book With No Pictures, he proves that he can write for all ages. There really are no pictures in this picture book; nothing but white pages with well-designed typography. But, as it states early on, “Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say. No matter what.” So everyone will get a kick out of Daddy or Mummy calling themselves a robot monkey come reading time!
Alan Early is the author of the critically acclaimed Arthur Quinn series, chosen as the first Unesco Dublin City of Literature read for kids
The first in a trilogy, Broken Sky by LA Weatherly, is an epic, terrifying tale of an apparently “perfect” world – maybe it’s in the far future, maybe it’s an alternate 1940s – where war has been eliminated and your astrological sign marks your destiny. The Central States is presided over by the charismatic Gunnison, the very embodiment of a post-truth leader. Amity, our heroine, is a peacefighter, helping to maintain the no more war status quo by engaging in one-on-one air battles, pilot to pilot, to sort out disputes between states. She believes in the right of what she’s doing – until she realises things are not as they seem, and she can no longer trust even those closest to her. Amity is a great heroine – nuanced and brave. LA Weatherly has an extraordinary imagination, and this book is on an epic scale, but at its heart it’s a story about truth. Important and dazzling.
Sheena Wilkinson writes contemporary and historical YA, for which she has won many awards including the CBI Book of the Year
My first pick is Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. Set in the same world as her Grisha series, this rollercoaster read combines epic fantasy with a heist along the lines of Oceans 11 or The Italian Job. The diverse characters are complex and fascinating with lives on the line right from the beginning. With elements of romance, adventure, magic and intrigue there is something in here for everyone, but the tension doesn’t let up and the core plot barrells along, to a thrilling climax and a desperate need for the next one.
My second pick is Caramel Hearts by ER Murray, a contemporary coming of age story, where neglect, poverty and sacrifice are thrown into stark relief by the sumptuous recipes interspersed with the story. When so much of our contemporary YA deals with middle- or upper-class kids, seeing a protagonist dealing with far more than which boy to fancy is gut wrenching. While it is a quick read, and easy to read, it is not an easy read. Liv’s life, worries and fears are palpable and heart rending. The changes she goes through, her growth as a character and her effect on those around her are very moving. There is such hope here, but it’s not a saccharine everything-will-be-fine ending. At the end everything is earned and yet precarious and all the more precious for that.
Ruth Frances Long is the author of the European award winning Dubh Linn trilogy from O’Brien Press and other young adult books about scary fairies
There are four novels that have stayed with me all year. Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan is a searing, beautifully written tale for older teens about child abuse and its aftermath, a brave, necessary book that burned into my heart. I also loved Claire Hennessy’s Nothing Tastes as Good. Hard to take a tough subject matter – eating disorders – and make it darkly humorous but Claire is an exceptional writer.
Knights of the Borrowed Dark by Dave Rudden blew me away, a fantastically gothic fantasy adventure novel; and finally I adored Raymie Nightingale by one of my all-time favourite writers, Kate Di Camillo, a gift of a book about friendship, love and baton twirling.In a rather dark year two picture books have shone out for me as laughter beacons: King Baby by Kate Beaton, the wonderfully bonkers tale of a baby who takes over the household, with magical illustrations; and the gloriously colourful Oi Dog by Kes and Claire Gray and Jim Field. Anyone who rhymes cheetahs with fajitas, and crabs with kebabs wins my heart!
Sarah Webb’s latest book for children is The Songbird Café Club: Aurora and the Popcorn Dolphin. She is Writer in Residence for Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown
Footpath Flowers by JonArno Lawson & Sydney Smith is a silent gem. One sunny day a child walks the streets with her dad, she keenly observing all the beauty and detail around her, her Dad distracted. The little girl gathers a bouquet of flowers and occasionally gifts them to the people and animals they pass. The images appear almost black and white with vibrant splashes of red. The story is delightful and told in easy-to-read graphic novel style.
The Book of Bees by Piotr Socha, translated from the original Polish, is one of several great over-size books appearing in shops this year. A honey-coloured feast for the eyes, it is beautifully designed, witty, informative and timely – given the plight of bees worldwide. Packed with interesting and fun facts about how bees communicate (waggle dance, anyone?), how long they have existed (they “walked” with dinosaurs), the book is also a great overview of our long and complex relationship with the bee. Big on images and humour, tight on text, this is one for every library and classroom.
Let it Snow (Penguin Books) isn’t one of this year’s crop of books – in fact it’s been around a while now – but it is very sweet and totally seasonal, a fun YA read for a wintry evening. Three intertwining love stories bloom one Christmas Eve in Gracetown when a train gets stuck in a snow storm and disgorges its passengers into the local Waffle House. The stories are from the pens of Maureen Johnson, John Green and Lauren Myracle, and are full of whip-smart characters, broken hearts, first kisses and mocha lattes. Oh, and there be cheerleaders.
Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick is an award-winning children’s writer/illustrator. Her most recent book is Owl Bat Bat Owl
Most of the new children’s books I read this year were picture books as my small nephews are connoisseurs of the genre. I loved the always brilliant Chris Haughton’s Goodnight Everyone – maybe it’s because I was a baby in the ’70s, but I find his palette of purples, oranges and browns incredibly soothing and this is a lovely book.
I’ve been a huge Kate Beaton fan for a long time and I adore her children’s books – King Baby is wonderful and very funny (and a very accurate picture of a tiny tyrant). For older readers, I loved Julian Clary’s and David Roberts’s second book, The Bolds To The Rescue. It’s as laugh-out-loud funny as its predecessor and Roberts’s illustrations are an absolute joy. As is Chris Judge’s artwork in Danger Really Is Everywhere: School of Danger, his third collaboration with David O’Doherty and of course Docter [sic] Noel Zone.
I was lucky enough to shortlisted with some brilliant young adult books in the Irish Book Awards this year, all of which I’d recommend, but my favourite was probably Claire Hennessy’s brilliant Nothing Tastes As Good, a darkly comic, humane book about ghosts, food and growing up.
Anna Carey’s novel The Making of Mollie is published by the O’Brien Press
For younger readers The Moon Spun Round is a collection of Yeats poetry, folktales and childhood writing stunningly illustrated by Shona Shirley MacDonald and collected by Noreen Doody while Kate Pankhurst’s Fantastically Great Women who Changed the World is fabulous fun and full of facts, a great introduction to women in history. Fans of history aged 9 and upwards will adore the moving and wonderfully written Kings of the Boyne by Nicola Pierce and Arrivals by Brian Gallagher about Irish emigrants in Canada may be his best book yet while Caroline Busher’s debut The Ghosts of Magnificent Children is an assured blend of history and the gothic.
Young adult fantasy fans should track down Emily June Street’s The Velocipede Races, a steampunk adventure set in an alternate 19th century, and Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, a time travel fantasy, while Catherine Johnson’s Blade and Bone pits a young black doctor against racial prejudice and the danger of the French Revolution.
Lisa Redmond is senior bookseller at Waterstone’s
Peadar O’Guilin’s The Call is a brilliantly savage and nasty story set in Ireland cut off from the rest of the world by the Sidhe, and all children sooner or later getting snatched away to survive a day being hunted in their hellish world. Dave Rudden’s Knights of The Borrowed Dark is about a young orphan taken away to join an order of knights battling evil shadows, which sounds like standard fantasy fare, except Rudden brings great writing, sharp wits and real emotion to the set-up making it pack a rare wallop. The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge is a powerful, brooding, Victorian gothic drama about science corrupted by lies. Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens is a touch lighter, but still deliciously murderous, fourth in a series of cunning whodunnits about 1930s boarding-school sleuths Daisy and Hazel and their Detective Club, searching for clues surrounding the death of a horrible Head Girl. There’s a fifth book in this series out just in time for Christmas, Mistletoe and Murder, but I’m saving that for the holidays.
The Creeping Shadow by Jonathan Stroud is the latest in the Lockwood & Co series about teenage ghost-hunters in a world plagued by supernatural outbreaks – very clever, very spooky and very exciting. Lumberjanes (BOOM!) by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis is a series of graphic novels about the titular Girl Guide types and their madcap adventures in the woods around their camp. Three-eyed foxes and rampaging dinosaurs and wide games and ancient gods and friendship to the max! Hilarious and delightful. Another graphic novel series is Bad Machinery by John Allison, about competing gangs of young sleuths investigating mysteries in the very weird and very British town of Tackleford – more X-Files than Sherlock Holmes. The latest is The Case Of The Unwelcome Visitor – always warm, funny, with gorgeous art and a great cast of lovable characters.
Nigel Quinlan is the author of The Maloney’s Magical Weatherbox, from Orion Children’s, and the forthcoming The Cloak Of Feathers, to be published by Hachette
There’s an embarrassment of riches in kidlit at the moment, but highlights of the past year for me have included Peter Bunzl’s imaginative tour-de-force Cogheart, featuring mechanical foxes and dastardly secrets; James E Nicol’s The Apprentice Witch, about a trainee witch who learns her power’s true extent; Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s The Girl of Ink and Stars, telling of maps and myth, and Abi Elphinstone’s The Shadow Keeper, thrilling sequel to her debut The Dreamsnatcher. Also, I adored every word of Dave Rudden’s incredible Knights of the Borrowed Dark; it should be required reading! In YA I loved Heidi Heilig’s The Girl From Everywhere and Patrick Ness’s exceptionally clever The Rest of Us Just Live Here, as well as Garth Nix’s Goldenhand. In terms of picturebooks for the smallies, Yu-hsuan Huang’s interactive fairytales and nursery rhymes have gone down a treat with our toddler.
Sinéad O’Hart’s debut novel for children, The Eye of the North, is forthcoming from Knopf BFYR in August 2017
Although 2016 may not be a year many remember fondly, for me, as a children’s bookseller there have never been so many amazing books to recommend! This year, my stand-out story was undoubtedly One by Sarah Crossan. An award-winner both here and abroad, the story of conjoined twins Tippi and Grace’s ventures into high school made me laugh and sob hysterically in equal measure. Written in free-verse, this is a story which, when completed, leaves you sitting silently in shock wondering how to take on the real world once more.
Another favourite came from my author to watch, Katherine Rundell’s The Wolf Wilder. Sculpted by Rundell’s almost lyrical power of description in her world building, this is an immersive and beautiful book. This is a favourite in particular due to Rundell’s heroine Feodora, a fiercely independent wild-child, making for an inspiring feminist role model for middle-grade readers.
Finally, Laure Eve’s The Graces kept me turning pages at a rapid rate. A story which “reveals different levels of truths”, this is an eloquently woven tale of witchcraft and the power of perception. Certain to satisfy fans of Emily Lockhart’s We Were Liars, or anyone who is, like me, eagerly anticipating Moira Fowley-Doyle’s follow up to The Accident Season.
Ruth Concannon is children’s section manager at Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop
Once Upon a Place (ages 9-12), edited by Eoin Colfer and illustrated by PJ Lynch, features short stories and poems by Irish writers. It was published last year, but as new residents of Ireland, my 11-year-old daughter and I found it the perfect book to introduce us to local writers and an Irish sense of place. (My daughter read it in one sitting). Botanicum (ages 8+) by Kathy Willis and Katie Scott features stunning illustrations and careful descriptions of plant life in the style of a natural history museum. It also includes detailed cross-sections of how plants work.
Worm Loves Worm (ages 3-8) by JJ Austrian and Mike Curato celebrates the marriage of two worms. Guests worry: Who will wear the wedding dress? Who will wear the tux? It doesn’t matter because worm loves worm and love is love. The Journey (ages 6-10) by Francesca Sanna, told through sensitive text and striking illustrations, is the timely story of a refugee family’s flight from a war-torn country. In A Child of Books (ages 5+) by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston, a girl brings a boy along on a fantastical journey of the imagination through books.
Michelle Cusolito moved to Dublin from the US in August. Her debut children’s book, Flying Deep, publishes with Charlesbridge, summer 2018
This year’s recipient of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize Winner, Crongton Knights by Alex Wheatle, follows McKay as he tries to navigate life on the South Crongton council estate in the wake of his mother’s death. Facing struggles at home and with his peers, McKay finds himself caught up in escalating trouble. This makes for a moving story about friendship and loyalty, hard lessons, and ultimately, the light that can be found even in the darkest times. Like its predecessor, Liccle Bit, Crongton Knights is a must-read for anyone in search of fresh, exciting YA.
Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan is a heart-breaking and unflinching look at abuse, and how society becomes complicit in the silencing of its victims. The writing is visceral, the story is gut-wrenching, and Ces is a character that is impossible to forget. Beautiful and poetic.
Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard tells the story of Rosie and Caddy, best friends, who are pushed apart by the arrival of the enigmatic Suzanne, who is both dangerous and exciting. With the flare of new friendship and dark secrets comes adventure, exploration, excitement... and trouble. Building to a riveting crescendo that had me on the edge of my seat, Beautiful Broken Things explores the passion of female friendships, and the power, both good and bad, it can wield.
Catherine Doyle is the author of the Blood for Blood series; Mafiosa (book 3) will be published in January
2016 has been an outstanding year for picture books that make a visual impact and tickle the imagination. Du Iz Tak by Caron Ellis proves the brain’s ability to understand new languages. This story, written in an insect language, depicts how different bugs react when a new plant grows in their garden. Silly words to read, and fun to interpret. This is not a Book by Jean Jullien is a wordless board book that isn’t truly a book. Instead, it’s a laptop, dinosaur and many more exciting things. This book is a treat for toddlers, encouraging creative play from Julien’s brightly coloured and heavy outlined illustrations. We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen Is the third in John Klassen’s Hat trilogy, and sees two turtles find one hat. They both look good in the hat, so who should wear it? A delightful story, told to a greater degree in the turtles’ shifty side-eyes, and has a more unusual ending than previous Hat stories, but still leaves the reader wondering. The Journey by Francesca Sanna brings us through an ordinary family’s travels as they escape their country when war breaks out. An especially poignant moment is when the narrator notices migrating birds can travel freely, while they face obstacles and difficult decisions. Moving, hopeful and simply illustrated, this is a story for the world in 2016
Olivia Hope is a children’s writer from Co Kerry. Her picture book Be Wild will be published by Bloomsbury in spring 2018
For small babies, Nosy Crow and Campbell have really stepped up to make some of the best baby books, such as the Listen to the… range, and Busy Books range. You can’t go wrong with simple illustrations, vibrant colours and tiny-hands-friendly books. For toddlers, The Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen, Dogs Don’t Do Ballet by Anna Kemp, Oi Frog and Oi Dog by Kes Gray and Jim Field are perfect additions to any library, after you’ve done the standard Gruffalo and the rest of his team. It’s always good to get a favourite title like The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr in a more durable format, in board book, because you will read it again and again. For children just beginning to read, some of my favourites are Mango and Bambang by Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy; Rabbit and Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits by Julian Gough; and Jim Field, King Flashypants and the Evil Emperor by Andy Riley.
In the middle grade range, ER Murray just brought out the second of an amazing new series called The Nine Lives Trilogy, the first of which is called The Book of Learning,the main character of which is Ebony Smart, a really inspiring female character. Two real winners in the realism category for me were Confessions of an Imaginary Friend by Michelle Cuevas, and Perijee and Me by Ross Montgomery, two absolute gems of 2016. For funny book readers, try Nigel Smith’s Nathalia Buttface series: they are a great follow-on from the Dork Diaries series, and smart too. Also try Lauren Child’s Ruby Redfort series, such great books!
For teenage and YA readers, Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard is a twisted but truthful take on how cruel girls can be to each other, and to remain true to yourself in the face of this. Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom, about a blind girl with Rules, which sadly get broken. For fans of The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner series, I recommend The Call by Peadar O’Guilin, which is Ireland’s answer to these series and just as fast-paced, and Ruth Long’s Dubh Linn titles, a chilling and awesome series. And an oldie but goldie: the Gone series by Michael Grant. These books are real page-turners, I loved them. For realist readers, there’s lots out there for girls, not enough for boys, though of course there’s nothing to say boys can’t read the books about girls. That being said, Brian Conaghan’s The Bombs That Brought Us Together and When Mr Dog Bites are brilliant examples of stories about lads being mates and what happens during friendships. If your son likes fantasy, I recommend Michael Scott’s The Alchemyst and Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows.
Lisa Corr, children’s bookseller and buyer for Dubray Books, has 11 years of children’s bookselling experience and a Master’s in Children’s Literature