Books of the Year 2012: Children's books

From art to sport, poetry to nature, travel to food, history to music: our writers select the best of the year’s books in a comprehensive guide to the highlights in every shade of the literary spectrum – except grey

Kali Stileman's Big Book of Nursery Rhymes (Doubleday, £9.99) brings a bright new eye to illustrating the best children's poems ever. But for favourite stories, Brothers Grimm Folk Tales (Templar, £16.99) remain unsurpassable. Translated by Brian Alderson and illustrated by the peerless Michael Foreman, this 1978 edition fully deserves another outing. The Oxford Treasury of Fairy Tales (Oxford, £16.99) is another welcome re-issue, re-told by the great Geraldine McCaughrean and luminously illustrated by Sophy Williams. For something different, try Spellbound: Tales of Enchantment from Ancient Ireland (Frances Lincoln, £14.99), narrated by Siobhan Parkinson and illustrated by Olwyn Whelan.

Rose Lagercrantz's My Happy Life (Gecko, £7.99) was first published in Sweden. Unusually for most children's literature these days, Dani does indeed have plenty to be happy about, but still has to work at it when her best friend moves away. With accompanying pictures by Eva Eriksson, this tale is a winner. Another import, Christine Nöstlinger's The Factory Made Boy (Andersen, £4.99) features an eccentric middle-aged lady unexpectedly presented with a seven year-old boy who arrives in a tin. Translated from the German by the great Anthea Bell, this story is both funny and wise. For slightly older readers, Lauren Oliver's The Spindlers (Hodder, £10.99) is an intensely imagined mini-epic. Young Liza has to journey through a fantasy underworld to reclaim the soul of her brother Patrick. Accompanied by a rat wearing a wig, she sees off various outlandish creatures before a final show-down with the utterly villainous Spindler Queen.

Curtains swish again in Helen Peters's excellent debut novel The Secret Hen House Theatre (Nosy Crow, £6.99). A stage-struck 11-year-old girl living on a tumbledown farm, her best friend who is a talented designer, a mean rival with her own theatre group also entering the local competition, a pet ram who butts away unwelcome visitors: what's not to like? Linda Newbery's The Treasure House (Orion, £8.99) also features a girl of 11, miserable after her normally loving mother goes missing. From clues left behind, things eventually become clearer before a nice old-fashioned happy ending swims into view.

Georges, the lonely American 12-year-old in Rebecca Stead's Liar & Spy (Andersen, £9.99) also has problems when he joins a Spy Club. This is organised by Safer, a gnomic child of the same age living in the top floor of their apartment. Put on permanent look-out for a mysterious man in black, Georges begins to smell a rat. This intelligent novel is a joy to read. So too is Andy Mulligan's Ribblestrop Forever! (Simon & Schuster, £6.99). The third of an inspired trilogy, it features a school run like a benign Lord of the Flies. Pupils live out a Tarzan-like existence in the trees while learning about the ancient history surrounding them below.

Niall Leonard leaves no nails unbitten in his taut thriller Crusher (Doubleday, £12.99). Dyslexic 17-year-old Finn returns one night to find his amiable but feckless father bludgeoned to death. Tension continues to rise, only slightly dissipated by a Lee Child-type orgy of violence.

Just as strong, Daniel Finn's Call Down Thunder (Macmillan, £12.99) tells how Reve, a young Mexican fisherman, struggles against corruption within and outside his small community. At a time in Young Adult publishing where concept is sometimes held to be more important than literary execution, this exciting story is also beautifully written. Reve's sister has the power of foresight, making her a prime suspect for witchcraft – one more problem for her likeable brother to solve along the way.

Further reading

Books of the year 2012: Fiction

Books of the year 2012: Crime and thrillers

Books of the year 2012: Music

Books of the year 2012: Celebrity

Books of the year 2012: Natural history

Books of the year 2012: Food

Books of the year 2012: Travel and place

Books of the year 2012: Sport

Books of the year 2012: Art

Books of the year 2012: Memoirs

Books of the year 2012: History

Books of the year 2012: Poetry

Arts and Entertainment

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Metallica are heading for the Main Stage at Reading and Leeds Festivals next summer

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain's daughter Frances Bean Cobain is making a new documentary about his life

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp

TV Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' near to camp

Arts and Entertainment
TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches