Christmas is one of those challenging times when kids ask for the things they’ve been waiting for all year long, and the weight of expectation can fall a little heavy when what they want is expensive technology and the newest toys. But with any luck, we’ll also get a few letters heading north that include a booklist, asking for the latest and greatest in children’s books. The thing is, children’s sections of bookshops are now so jammed with colourful covers and dodgy illustrations that it can be hard to tell the difference between the cheese and the chaff. So here are our top books to wrap up 2013.
The Powers by Kevin Stevens, illustrated by Sheena Dempsey
This superpowered book from Kevin Stevens tells the tale of a family of Irish superheroes who can fly, fight and summon fire and rain at the click of their fingers. Unfortunately, they are also completely incapable of controlling these powers and run into absurd amounts of trouble at every turn. The Powers follows their attempt to have a quiet family holiday in West Cork and the inevitable saving-the-world fiasco that follows. Illustrated by the wonderful Sheena Dempsey, who brings even more humour to this light-hearted and engaging book, this story is a sure winner with young readers.
You may think that picturebooks are just for the toddlers, but in fact children of all ages are such visual readers that a huge number of them enjoy this format of storytelling. This new title from Becker tells the tale of a young girl who spends her time in the brown and grey world of her bedroom in the city, living with a family too busy to spend time with her. Using pictures alone, we follow her adventure as she discovers a red crayon, draws a red door on her bedroom wall, and escapes into the great and magical journey of her imagination.
12-15 year olds
The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan?This tale of 12-year-old Kasienka and her journey from Poland to London, from isolation to finding a place within her new world, displays an original and fresh voice in young fiction. Written in the form of poetry, composed by Kasienka, each poem acts as a separate chapter in Kasienka’s story – her disrupted home, her school, her friends and enemies. It is carefully and elegantly written, reflecting the worries and emotions often experienced by many young immigrants as well as the bordering adolescent. A superb book that will be read again and again.
Improper Order by Deirdre Sullivan
Following on from Deirdre’s first book, Prim Improper, this further adventure of Primrose Leary is a brilliant and funny diary-style novel that will appeal to any teen girl. Our heroine is sassy and witty, with sharp insights into the world around her and the constant adventure that is her family and friends.? Prim leads us with a brilliant hand through tough themes such as coming out and grief, to the light-hearted embarrassment at a dad who tries too hard and uncontrollable crushes. Set in Dublin and featuring a strong Irish voice with dashes of Hiberno-English, this book is also unique in its particular appeal to an Irish teen audience.
More Than This by Patrick Ness
This new thriller from the king of YA follows 17-year-old Seth, whom we first meet in the last moments of his life as he drowns in the sea. Rather than the tale ending here, however, we continue with him into a strange afterlife, one that seems more real than anything he has experienced before. What is this new place? Where is he and how did he come to be here? There is no generous dramatic irony from Ness, no insight into the story that Seth is not privy to. Instead, we wander the deserted English streets, forage for food and think over every moment of Seth’s past life along with him, and know as little as he does about what might happen next. This is a rare mix of thriller, dystopian fiction and a close look at real relationships between family and lovers.
Dark Satanic Mills by Marcus and Julian Sedgwick
This graphic novel from multi-award winning author Marcus Sedgwick is a forage into new territory, but one which I think will be a hit with many teen readers. With echoes of the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, this book explores a world where an evil church has taken over and the powerful enforcers of belief stamp out any who disagree. Set in a futuristic London, we follow a strong heroine in her journey through this strange and unsafe terrain as she is wrongly accused of murder and has to fight her way to justice. Sedgwick bases his tale around quotations from the marvellous Romantic poet, William Blake, bringing a depth that you often miss in teen books. The artwork is by John Higgins, famed for his work on Watchmen, and he provides stunning black and white panels that echo the themes of this gripping story.