IoS Books of the Year 2012: Children's books aged under 9

Over five pages, our critics select more of the year's best books, beginning with Inbali Iserles on stories for the under-nines

Inter-galactic domination could be yours: simply snap up a copy of Chris Riddell's Alienography 2: Tips for Tiny Tyrants (Macmillan, £14.99). First you'll need a gigantic head. Then find a grotesque sidekick, such as "Manga Mog" or "Dr Peculiar". And no extraterrestrial despot is complete without an "unmentionable" beastie beneath the bed. Riddell's flamboyant illustrations and satirical wit – sharpened from years as a political cartoonist – explode across every page, and are sure to thrill tiny tyrants everywhere.

It is almost time to bid farewell to 2012, the year that brought us the summer of sport and drew all eyes to London. Revisit the tourist spots with Katie in London by James Mayhew (Orchard, £5.99). Katie and her brother Jack are off for a day of sightseeing. When their grandmother dozes off, a friendly stone lion volunteers to be their guide. Katie and Jack ride on his back as he prances off his plinth at Trafalgar Square. And from St Paul's to Buckingham Palace, London comes to life in this magical adventure.

Jo Empson, the author-illustrator behind Rabbityness (Child's Play, £5.99) has produced one of the most original picture books of the year. Rabbit likes rabbity pursuits, such as twirling his whiskers and washing his ears. He also enjoys unrabbity things, such as painting and making music. When Rabbit disappears, the bunnies are bereft and the woods are silent and grey. But all is not lost ... rabbit has left them gifts: his paints, his instruments and songs. Soon the woods are alive again, as his friends indulge in unrabbity fun. They remember Rabbit and are happy once more. A poignant book full of joy, compassion and hope.

Ganesha's Sweet Tooth by Sanjay Patel and Emily Haynes (Chronicle Books, £10.99) is a vibrant retelling of how the god Ganesha broke his tusk and came to write the Mahabarata, the epic poem of Hindu literature. The Mahabarata itself is not retold – to do so in the confines of a picture book would surely be an insurmountable challenge – but the story provides an original and engaging entry point to Hindu legend.

The world of children's books lost one of its most exuberant stars this year, in the shape of New Zealand's Margaret Mahy. Now get ye a rum, and hold on to your hats, me hearties, as Mahy's The Great Piratical Rumbustification (Orion, £4.99) has been reissued. Siblings Alpha, Oliver and Omega are thrilled when a curious man arrives at their door: with his wooden leg, tin arm and eye-patch, Orpheus Clinker is hardly a typical babysitter. He is, in fact, a pirate! So begins the pirate party – a colourful, clamorous rumbustification! Bursting with Quentin Blake's raucous illustrations, this is a wild and wicked read.

Another pirate, this time of the canine variety, features in Liz Kessler's Poppy the Pirate Dog (Orion, £4.99). A trip to the coast with her family and a scull and crossbones scarf make Poppy feel like a real seadog. The Dalmatian basks in her new-found status until she's faced with the prospect of boarding a boat. Then her sea legs vanish. With colourful illustrations by Mike Phillips, this heart-warming story will please both boys and girls.

In a world where celebrity counts, pretty young starlet Ellie May is destined for adulation. Ellie's an expert when it comes to accessorising, and surely knows her Puccis from her Pradas. But when rival Cassie Craven receives plaudits for saving dolphins, being famous for shopping is no longer enough especially when the prestigious SAUSAGE awards are up for grabs. That's the premise of Marianne Levy's first novel, Ellie May Would Like to be Taken Seriously for a Change (Egmont, £5.99), a playful poke at the fame game that's packed with wit and has lively illustrations by Ali Pye.

As winter closes in and we entertain hopes of a white Christmas, reach for Holly Webb's The Snow Bear (Stripes, £7.99). Sara goes to stay with her granddad while her parents prepare for the birth of their second child. When the snow starts to fall, the road home becomes blocked and Sara grows restless. Grandfather distracts her with a tale of his youthful adventures in the Canadian Arctic, where he once helped rescue a polar bear cub. Sara builds a bear from snow, a presence so fragile and lifelike it seems to move ... Webb weaves a snowy enchantment, where magic and memory meet.

Everything's Amazing (sort of) (Scholastic, £6.99), according to schoolboy Tom Gates. Penned by L Pichon, the winner of the 2011 Roald Dahl Funny Prize, Tom's comic ramblings have had boys in stitches. It's easy to see why. This isn't so much a novel as an annotated exercise book, complete with wish lists, school work and madcap illustrations. Parting its pages is like leaping into the mind of an eight-year-old. (If you're squeamish, look away now!)

Finally, the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, has selected poems to delight your child. Not only does 101 Poems for Children (Macmillan, £9.99) include a cornucopia of rhyme, it features illustrations by the legendary Emily Gravett. But children, be warned: this is a book that adults will try to purloin to read it themselves.

For humour, look out for "Rat it Up" by Adrian Mitchell, which starts with: "C'mon everybody, Slap some grease on those paws, Get some yellow on your teeth, And, uh, sharpen up your claws." For thought-provoking verses, see Emily Dickinson's "A Bird Came Down" or Alice Oswald's "River". Then enjoy classics such as "There Was an Old Lady", which explores the folly of dining on insects – all back from the days before political correctness turned drunken sailors into grumpy pirates.

Inbali Iserles is the award-winning author of 'The Tygrine Cat' (Walker, £5.99) and 'The Tygrine Cat: On the Run' (Walker, £5.99)

The Great Piratical Rumbustification, By Margaret Mahy

Orion £4.99

"'Oh, for a pirate party!' the pirates grumbled ominously, trying their swords for sharpness. All the pirates – Roving Tom, Wild Jack Clegg, Dick Rover, Orpheus Clinker and Old, Old Oldest-of-all, Terrible Crabmeat – were restless with longing for a great Rumbustification. The whole city was churning with restless pirates. The difficulty was that a pirate party must be a STOLEN one."

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