Tall tales for tots or teens: The year's best books for young readers


Nicholas Tucker
Friday 23 December 2011 01:00 GMT

My Day: Bathtime (Orchard, £4.99) is a board book that looks tough enough to survive even in the bath itself. Illustrated by Alex Ayliffe, its final page includes a small mirror, perfect for all self-admiring babies. Yawn (Walker, £9.99) follows on nicely, with a text by Sally Symes and pictures by Nick Sharratt concentrating on one massive yawn, pictured on each page by a large hole. Read in the evening, it will surely drop a none too subtle hint that sleep is the next logical stage. But perhaps not before a few shared nursery rhymes from The Cat and the Fiddle (Frances Lincoln, £12.99). Illustrated by Jackie Morris, this is the latest in a line of beautifully produced anthologies stretching back to the days of Kate Greenaway.

Hide and Seek (Meadowside, (£10.99) is a charming picture story by the brilliant young Korean illustrator Il Sung Na that also introduces infants to simple counting. Equally striking, Peter Schössow's My First Car was Red (Gecko, £10.99) translated from the German by Sally-Ann Spencer, describes two children taking a hair-raising journey in an ancient pedal car. Deeply atmospheric, this picture book is something different.

So too is Lost and Found (Oliver Jeffers, paper-engineering by Corina Fletcher; HarperCollins, £14.99). Pop-ups, fold-down flaps and pull-out tabs combine to make this story about returning a lost penguin to the South Pole truly memorable as well as great fun. Library Lill by Gillian Shields, illustrated by Francesca Chessa (Gullane, £10.99), is a timely story about a child who uses her local library as a personal treasure trove, converting her best friend to the cause. Let's hope the doors always stay open for them. For a touch of genuine class, The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, illustrated by Helen Ward (Templar, £12.99), is proof positive that old stories are still the best once in the charge of an artist of genius.

Magic Beans (David Fickling Books, £9.99) offers fantastic value in its collection of re-told fairy stories by 14 top children's authors, from Malorie Blackman to Jacqueline Wilson. Nice big print makes this an excellent book for early perusal as well as for reading aloud. Just as irresistible, The Misadventures of Winnie the Witch (Oxford, £10.99) contains eight new stories by Laura Owen about Britain's most anarchic hell-hag, illustrated as before by the inimitable Korky Paul. Mr Gum in 'The Hound of Lamonic Bibber' (Egmont, £9.99) contains 100 stickers in addition to Andy Stanton's joke-a-line text.

David Tazzyman's manic illustrations make up what must be one of the oddest self-proclaimed Bumper Books yet. The Brilliant World of Tom Gates (Scholastic, £6.99) continues with the popular junior diary format, with Liz Pichon's text and line pictures working together to comic effect. Rachel Renée Russell's Dork Diaries (Simon & Schuster, £5.99) is also highly entertaining, ending with a nice wodge of blank, ruled pages for readers to try their own journal. For quieter but no less effective humour, Jasper Fforde's The Song of the Quarkbeast (Hodder, £12.99), about a party of sorcerers trying to make it in a competitive world, proves yet again that he is one of the funniest writers for children we have.

Not many laughs came from teenage fiction, but that has been the rule now for some years. Paula Rawsthorne's debut novel The Truth about Celia Frosit (Usborne, £6.99) is an electrifying story about a 14-year-old girl possessing what she has always been assured is a dangerous illness. Preposterously plotted, this still manages to be a gripping read as Celia struggles her way to ever more outlandish home truths. Lili Garcia, another young heroine, also has a torrid time in Kevin Brooks's explosive Naked (Penguin, £7.99). Being chosen as the only female member of a punk rock band in 1976 might seem once to have been some teenagers' most cherished ambition. But Lili has problems first with the group's charismatic but pill-popping lead singer and then with Billy the Kid, a guitarist from Belfast with his own dark secrets. Brooks is at his best here, providing powerful writing and a strong story.

The same could be said of A Monster Calls (Walker, £12.99). Written by Patrick Ness from an idea left behind by the much-missed Siobhan Dowd, this story of a 13-year-old boy fighting his mother's disease - which in his imagination has taken on the shape of a monster - blends fantasy and reality into an unforgettable whole. Illustrated by Jim Kay in appropriately black line drawings making use of "everything from beetles to breadboards", this is teenage fiction at its most ambitious, well worth any reader's time and attention. So too is Marcus Sedgwick's Midwinterblood (Orion, £9.99). Ingeniously working backwards from a futuristic ritual sacrifice to its root cause, seven linked stories tell a tale of intrigue, power and resolution in a plot that goes from something like The Wicker Man to an ending the great Alan Garner might be proud of. Sedgwick has written fine teenage novels in the past but this must be his best yet. Finally, try not to miss HM Castor's VIII (Templar, £10.99). Told as if from the lips of Britain's much-married monarch, history comes alive from first page to last.

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