From dogs to dinosaurs: Children's books of 2011

In the second of three Christmas specials, Daniel Hahn picks his books for those aged seven to 12, while our reviewers for adults choose their favourites

Magic Beans (David Fickling Books, £9.99) is an anthology of fairy-tales, some more and some less familiar, each one retold by a contemporary writer.

Each is perfect for reading aloud over a few bedtimes, and with wonderfully told stories by brilliant writers including Alan Garner, Linda Newbery, Anne Fine, Gillian Cross, Berlie Doherty and Philip Pullman, parents will love it every bit as much as their kids. Emphatically not for parents is Donut Diaries (Corgi, £5.99). At the risk of perpetuating gender stereotypes, it is for boys; full of jokes about, well, the things boys tell jokes about. It's the journal of Dermot Milligan (with help from Anthony McGowan), chronicling the rigours of being a 12-year-old donut addict in a new school. It is easy and plaintive and very funny, and if you're determined to give the young boy in your life a book in his stocking this year, well this might be one he'd actually thank you for.

While we're on the subject of Christmas stockings and the like, a few engrossing and especially wintry books are next. In Ian Beck's The Haunting of Charity Delafield (Bodley Head, £9.99), we meet a young girl who lives a quiet life, suffering from a mysterious "condition" but afflicted, too, by a strange, strange dream. It's an elegant, atmospheric tale, with frost and mystery and a bit of magic.

Lettie Peppercorn in Sam Gayton's The Snow Merchant (Andersen, £12.99) isn't allowed outdoors either, but everything changes when this odd thing called "snow" appears in her world for the first time, courtesy of a visiting alchemist. But why is this strange man here, and what does he know about Lettie's mother, who vanished 10 years earlier? A tale of self discovery, family and friendship, it's an inventive and accomplished debut.

Lost Christmas by David Logan (Quercus, £8.99) is set on Christmas Eve. Young Goose (real name Richard) lost his parents in a tragic accident, and now his dog, Mutt, the one constant in his life, has vanished. Goose isn't the only one struggling, though – everyone, it seems, has lost something that matters to them.

Sometimes dark, but with an inevitably sentimental ending, this is a vivid and touching book. Described as "It's a Wonderful Life meets modern Manchester", it has also been made into a film, starring Eddie Izzard, and will be screened on BBC 1 on 18 December.

From dogs lost to dogs found, in my children's book of the year. Before her recent death, the inimitable Eva Ibbotson had spent decades quietly producing some of our finest books for children. Her last, One Dog and His Boy (Marion Lloyd, £10.99), is one of her best. In it, 10-year-old Hal and dog Fleck face a series of challenges and adventures in order to be able to stay together despite the persistence of some distinctly ghastly grown-ups.

For anyone who hasn't discovered the effortless warmth and joy and pin-sharp wit that made Ibbotson great, this story of loyalty and friendship is a must. The light touch of the illustrator, Sharon Rentta, deserves a mention, too. Beautiful.

Some of my favourite pictures of the year are to be found in Wonderstruck, the new creation of Brian Selznick (Scholastic, £14.99), best known for his astonishing The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was the basis for the recently released Martin Scorsese movie, Hugo. Like Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruck uses both words and pictures, with parallel narratives taken up first by one, then the other. Ben, in the 1970s, gets the words, and a deaf girl called Rose, in 1927, gets the pictures. Structurally bold and visually stunning, it's every bit as good as its predecessor.

Frank Cottrell Boyce, the award-winning author of Millions and Framed, published Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again this autumn (Macmillan, £10.99), the first authorised sequel to Ian Fleming's original, but my pick is another of his books, The Unforgotten Coat (Walker, £10), a short, lovely story about two Mongolian brothers who appear at Julie's Liverpool school, entirely re-colour her life, and then disappear again overnight. Like anything by Cottrell Boyce, it is funny and full of heart.

From the Mongolian steppes to India, next, in Jamila Gavin's retellings of various "Stories of Creation and the Cosmos", Tales from India (Templar, £14.99). With detailed illustrations by Amanda Hall, these tales of Shiva, Ganesh, Krishna and Hanuman are gorgeously styled in Gavin's expert hands, and beg to be read aloud. Francesca Simon's The Sleeping Army (Faber, £9.99) uses old myths, too, but does rather wilder and more anarchic things with them. Simon is best known as the creator of the hilarious Horrid Henry series; The Sleeping Army is her first novel for older children, and it's fantastic. When 12-year-old Freya blows on an ancient horn that's on display at the British Museum, she's torn away from her own world (an alternative present in which England is a polytheistic country worshipping the Anglo-Saxon Wodan), and whisked off to Asgard where she's given a terrifying mission to save the ailing gods. It's a snappy, engaging story with good laughs along the way.

There's a quest of a quite different kind in Lissa Evans's Small Change for Stuart (Doubleday, £10.99), a small book about a small boy, and one of this year's great delights. Stuart Horten is 10, but tiny for his age. (The nickname SHorten is unfortunate.) When his mother, a doctor, and his father, a crossword compiler who uses words such as sylvan and perambulation and matutinal, decide to move to the village of Beeton, Stuart thinks the whole prospect rather grim. Until, that is, he finds himself on the hunt for the workshop that used to belong to his great-uncle, an incredible magician. It's a finely written book crammed with exciting incident and colourful characters; something quite special.

And finally, for the older end of this age group, another story of the transit between generations. A Greyhound of a Girl is the sixth and best children's book by the wonderfully talented Roddy Doyle (Marion Lloyd, £10.99). It introduces us to Mary, her mother, dying grandmother and long-dead great-grandmother, a strong foursome who finally come together for the book's culmination, an unforgettable road trip. It is lively and funny and terrifically readable, but moving and thoughtful about life and death, too; a particular treat.

One Dog and His Boy, By Eva Ibbotson (Marion Lloyd £10.99)

'Kayley woke them early and reassured the dogs who had had bad dreams, like the huge English mastiff who, quite by mistake, had bitten off her mistress's little finger when she was being fed a sausage, and never been punished. Not being punished when you feel you ought to have been is very upsetting for dogs, and the mastiff still suffered in the night...'

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

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

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones