30 treats to put around the tree


CHILDREN'S BOOKS OF THE YEAR:It has been a cheeringly diverse year for young adult and children’s books, as these titles show

From angels to zombies, and just about everything in between: it has been a rich year for children’s and young-adult literature. Here are my nominations for the best titles of 2012, any or all of which would make good reading over Christmas, or beyond:

The Abominables

By Eva Ibbotson, illustrated by Sharon Rentta

Marion Lloyd, £10.99

A young aristocrat finds herself among the Himalayan yetis, the prelude to a sequence of lively and life-enhancing episodes. (Best age for this book: 8)

All Fall Down

By Sally Nicholls

Marion Lloyd, £7.99

A 14th-century Yorkshire family confronts the Black Death in this graphic, vivid historical novel. (14)

Arthur Quinn and the Fenris Wolf

By Alan Early

Mercier, €8.99

Norse myth, Irish history and contemporary Dublin combine convincingly as young Arthur and friends challenge the megalomaniac Loki. (10)

Bartolomé, the Infanta’s Pet

By Rachel van Kooij, translated by Siobhán Parkinson

Little Island, €7.99

Velázquez’s Las Meninas comes colourfully to life in an engaging story of a court dwarf’s adventures. (10)

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat

By Dave Shelton

David Fickling, £10.99

A journey across life’s ocean, involving encounters with mist and monsters – but how will it end? (10)

The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas

By David Almond, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

Walker, £9

An orphan enjoys the fun of a travelling circus, but his real destiny lies with Pancho Pirelli and his piranhas. (8)

The Brides of Rollrock Island

By Margo Lanagan

David Fickling, £12.99

The sea works its magic on humans and nonhumans alike in a poetic narrative redolent of folk tale and fairy story. (16)

Dark Warning

By Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

Orion, £8.99

Georgian Dublin serves as the setting for an atmospheric story of a young girl’s “gift” of second sight. (12)

The Demon Notebook

By Erika McGann

O’Brien Press, €7.99

Five young girls discover that playing around with ouija boards can turn out to be creepier than expected. A spookily bewitching story. (12)


By Terry Pratchett

Doubleday, £18.99

A marvellous blend of historical fiction and historical fantasy, set in the dark underbelly of Victorian London, resonant with Dickensian echoes. (14)

Dying to Know You

By Aidan Chambers

Bodley Head, £12.99

A boy and a girl in their late teens, a writer in his 70s: the triangle of interrelationships provides an extraordinarily touching narrative. (16)

The Fault in our Stars

By John Green

Puffin, £12.99

In a story of two American teenagers confronting terminal illness, themes of death and dying are handled with empathy, candour and humour. (16)

The Frank Show

By David Mackintosh

HarperCollins, £10.99

A great boost for grandads everywhere, and for grandsons who come to appreciate their eccentricities. Stunning, vibrant and mischievous artwork. (6)


By Philip Reeve

Marion Lloyd, £6.99

Goblins of all sorts, shapes and sizes strive to outdo one another in a highly diverting sequence of mischievous escapades. (8)

The Great Explorer

By Chris Judge

Andersen, £5.99

A boy searches for his missing father, the quest taking him to the Arctic, involving numerous adventures en route. Superb comic-style illustrations. (6)


By Sheena Wilkinson

Little Island, €9.99

A contemporary Ulster love story, largely set in the showjumping world, excellently capturing the dramas of adolescence. (14)

How to Save a Life

By Sara Zarr

Usborne, £6.99

Two teenage girls, both at critical moments in their lives, relate their experiences in alternate chapters, leading to growing mutual understanding. (16)

Jasper and the Green Marvel

By Deirdre Madden

Faber, £6.99

An ex-prisoner, his pet rats, an emerald necklace and much more: all the ingredients for a wackily entertaining story. (8)

Liar Spy

By Rebecca Stead

Andersen, £9.99

A wonderfully imaginative story, set in New York, dealing with the games we play, especially with words, their truths and their fictions. (10)


By Sally Gardner

Hot Key, £10.99

A dyslexic boy, his grandfather and his friend confront the totalitarian forces of their “Motherland” world: a chilling dystopian novel. (14)

Mister Whistler

By Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Gavin Bishop

Gecko Press, £10.99

Where, oh where, is Mister Whistler’s train ticket? A madcap effort to find it creates an uproarious story line, magically illustrated. (6)

The New Jumper

By Oliver Jeffers

HarperCollins Children’s Books, £10.99

The egg-like Hueys question their own conformist attitudes when one of them appears in an orange jumper. Quirky story, quirky illustrations. (4)

The Ninnies

By Paul Magrs, illustrated by Bret M Herholz

Obverse, £12.95

Can a teenage boy rescue a father kidnapped by the sinister Ninnies? An eerie novel in which the odd and the grotesque flourish. (12)

Oh No, George!

By Chris Houghton

Walker, £11.99

It is difficult for the dog George to resist doggy temptations: will his master’s efforts to restrain him have any effect? (4)

Rebecca’s Rules

By Anna Carey

O’Brien, €7.99

A witty and perceptive snapshot of contemporary Dublin teenagers (the Drumcondra branch) and their preoccupations: family, friends, school, first romance. (14)


By Russell Hoban, illustrated by Alexis Deacon

Walker, £9.99

A central character called Sixteen-Face John, about to become a father, embarks on a magical mystical quest: atmospheric, poetic, beautiful. (14)

This Is Not My Hat

By Jon Klassen

Walker, £11.99

A small fish, a big fish and a hat: from these elements, Klassen creates a picture book that lends itself to many rereadings. (4)

Trouble in Toadpool

By Anne Fine, illustrated by Kate Aldous

Doubleday, £10.99

The weird Mountfield family are embroiled in a hilarious series of madcap escapades at the annual summer fete. (8)

The Weight of Water

By Sarah Crossan

Bloomsbury, £8.99

A sparely written verse novel, dealing with a Polish teenager and her mother who arrive in England to search for a missing father. Exquisitely and touchingly written. (12)

Who Could That Be at This Hour?

By Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Seth Egmont, £8.99

The fictional autobiography of 12-year-old Snicket: a dazzlingly clever, funny and literary concoction. (10)

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