Friday, December 7, 2018

My Best Books of 2018 - Part One


This has been another fantastic year for the publication of childrens' books; so many great titles, new authors and even a few new publishers have presented themselves. It is a very difficult task to decide which of these new books are 'the best'. I've toiled over my stacks (many, many stacks) and looked back over the reviews and I think I've come up with quite a satisfactory list. I'm sure when I finish this I will want to add more, but you have to stop somewhere....
You may be wondering how I decide what makes a book a 'Best Book'. What do I look for?  After many years as a childrens' book specialist, selling, reading and talking about books to children of all ages, raising readers of my own and spoiling grandchildren with books, I do have some criteria in mind. And yes, I do read them myself, from beginning to end. I look for those books that really pull me into the story, well-written and with well-drawn characters that elicit an emotional response. It needs a good pace, appropriate for the type of story it is telling. The book may not be one that appeals to me on a personal level, but I have to be convinced of the story and understand why it will appeal to its' audience.
I would like to say here that I don't like the 'age-ranging' thing...the standard method for categorising books for young people. I feel that a good book is a good book and the age shouldn't matter. However, it is a handy way for judging which books are suitable for which child. All that in mind, I'm going to start with the 'middle-grade' books, generally for ages 9-12 years.

Middle Grade Fiction
I have to start with my number one choice; Begone the Raggedy Witches by Celine Kiernan (Walker Books ISBN: 9781406366020) This is the story of Mup, whose family is pursued by the 'Raggedy Witches' on the way home from the hospital where her Auntie is dying. With Auntie out of the way, the Witches intend on taking Mups' mother back to Witches Burrow to their evil Queen, who happens to be Mups' grandmother. This book has everything I could ask for and more; great story, enthralling characters, action, adventure, magic, humour and a really exciting ending. There is so much in the tale that makes it appealing; family drama, questions of loyalty, political and social issues all wrapped up in a crackin' story. You will love it. The first in the Wild Magic Trilogy.
Moving along in no particular order (they are all so wonderful, I just couldn't rank them.)
The House With Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson (Usborne Publishin ISBN: 9781474940665) builds on old Eastern European folktales and brings it forward in a new way. Marinka lives with her grandmother in a house with chicken legs which has the habit of wandering off in the night to wherever it feels it needs to be. Her grandmother is the witch, Baba Yaga, whose job it is to help spirits cross from one world to the next. Marinka is bound to the house and the life her grandmother has built for her. But Marinka longs for a normal life, with school and friends and games. Imaginative, thought-provoking and quietly humourous, this is simply magnificent.
Knights and Bikes by Gabrielle Kent is the first offering from Knights Of... publishers (ISBN: 9781999642501) and what a brilliant book to start with! Demelza spends her days daydreaming in the derelict miniature golf course of sleeping little Penfurzy Island. Nothing ever happens there, in spite of its' legends of ghostly knights and hidden treasure. But the sudden appearance of new-best-friend Nessa, a girl of many talents, kicks more excitement into her Demelzas' life than the island has seen in a long, long time. Off they go on a treasure hunt to save her home in this action-packed mystery; just the two of them and their faithful goose sidekick, Captain Honkers. Action, adventure, mystery and yes...there are ghosts.

The Storm Keepers Island by Catherine Doyle (Bloomsbury ISBN: 9781408896884) is a book that absolutely sings with magic, history and expert story-telling. Young Fionn travels to Arranmore Island with his sister to spend time with their grandfather. Though he's never been to his ancestral home before, the island seems to awaken the moment Fionn sets foot on its' shores. Every generation, the island chooses a new 'Stormkeeper' and it seems its' choice is Fionn. But an ancient danger is awakening threatening to claim the island as its' own. This is a story that will live on in your dreams long after you've turned the final page.

In My Secret Dragon by Debbie Thomas (Little Island ISBN: 9781912417063), we meet Aidan Mooney who has spent his entire life hiding a deep secret; so much so that he has never been to school, never had friends over. His mother is part dragon and if it ever got out, his world would change drastically, and not for the better. Aidan is now 12. He is going to school for the first time. When he arrives home one day to discover his mother missing, he realises the secret is out. He and new friend, Charlotte track her  to a remote location in county Galway. What they find when they get there is astounding! Incredible adventure, packed with drama and humour, mixed with a warm-hearted tale of family and friendship make this book simply unforgettable.

Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo (Walker Books ISBN: 9781406384208) builds a story around a character we first met in Raymie Nightingale. When Louisiana's grandmother wakes her in the middle of the night and says 'the day of reckoning has arrived', Louisiana finds herself driven away from her home, her cat and the only real friends she's ever had. Louisiana struggles to make sense of her grandmothers' demand that they run and to find a way back home. But her life becomes entangled in the lives of those in the small town they land in, her grandmother takes off, leaving her behind and she wonders if 'goodbyes' are all she ever destined for. Thoughtful, compassionate, beautiful wrapped up in a pitch-perfect story.

I have a real thing for steam-punk novels, so when Tin by Pádraig Kenny (Chicken House Books ISBN: 9781911077657) appeared in front of me, it immediately had my attention. Christopher was orphaned in a fire and now lives and works with Mr Absalom. He is the only 'real' boy in amongst a collection of mechanical children. He is pretty happy with his loyal, eccentric metal friends, even though Mr Absalom isn't a very good engineer and is a rather nasty conman. But one day, a near-tragic accident in the snow reveals a horrific truth about Christophers' life and leads the friends on an epic adventure. A bit Pinocchio, a bit Wizard of Oz and a whole lot more. A gripping, brilliant read.

The List of Real Things by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald (Orion Childrens Books ISBN: 9781444014815)  combines exquisite touches of magical realism and a poignant look at the world of the heart to create a truly extraordinary book. Grace knows what's real and what's not real. It's much more difficult to make little sister Bee understand that. Mum and Dad died...that is very real. Her sisters' nightmares, the storms that Bee thinks are angry ghosts and the magical Hotel Magnificent that sits on the cliff nearby...those are definitely not real. But one night, when Grace and Bee are trapped in a storm, they seek shelter in a most unusual place and the lines between real and not real get blurred. Gentle, understanding with bits of humour and chaos, this is simply a beautiful book.
The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher (Firefly Press ISBN: 9781910080849) weaves a truly magical tale filled with imagination. This is a perfect winters' story with a sinister twist that is really chilling. Orphan Seren Rhys is journeying to the first real home she's had. In a freezing, isolated train station, she is given a mysterious package before arriving at a home she imagines will be filled with warmth, luxury and welcoming faces. What she discovers is a missing boy, a dark mystery and a house in mourning and filled with eerie, unearthly happenings. But armed with an enchanted snowglobe and a clockwork crow who may or may not be telling the truth, Seren undertakes a perilous underground journey to find the truth. Incredible world-building, lyrical writing and an intriguing plot.


Pages & Co: Tilly and the Book Wanderers by Anna Jones (HaperCollinsChildrensBooks ISBN: 9780008229863) This book is a real treat, taking the reader into a world of infinite possibility and imagination...the world of books. Since her mothers' disappearance, Tilly has sought comfort and adventure from the books in Pages & Co., her grandparents bookshop. But when characters from her favourite books begin to appear right in front of her and take her away into their books, Tilly discovers something truly unique about herself. She is a book wanderer and enter stories whenever she likes. Tilly is being followed, however, by a strange man who visited the shop to speak with her grandfather. It seems this new-found talent is not unique toTilly and it may also be fraught with danger. This is a real book-lovers book. And if you weren't a bookworm before, you will be after reading it.

There's 10 of my Best Books in the Middle-Grade range. Watch this space for more Best Books 2018 coming soon...Teen/YA and Picture Books.

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