HomeBook reviewsChildren’s books I’ve read in 2014
My favourite Children's book of the year

October

the tulip touch

The Tulip Touch by Anne Fine. This book surprised and disturbed me. The last Anne Fine book I read was the light hearted book Notso Hotso about a dog that scratches so much it needs a full body shave.

This book also contains lots of humour but is for older children and has a much darker theme. Natalie tells the story about her relationship with Tulip. You can’t quite see in the picture but the dark book cover has the words “no one is born evil” embossed in several places across it. I don’t won’t to give too much away so won’t say a great deal about the story. There’s some great titles for games the two girls play, such as Guest-stalk, All the Grey People and Wild Nights. Perhaps these give you some idea of what they got up to.

But, in the end, I’m left worrying about Tulip, worrying about all the people who let her down and worrying about all the Tulip’s that live in my neighbourhood. I think perhaps that’s Anne Fine’s intention – which is probably why this book won the Whitbread Children’s book of the year in 1996.

Frog_and_toadFrog and Toad by Arnold Lobel. I’ve recently been re-reading these with my daughter and am reminded how much I love them. There are four books from the 1970s :

  • Frog and Toad are Friends (1970)
  • Frog and Toad Together (1972)
  • Frog and Toad All Year (1976)
  • Days with Frog and Toad (1979)

My favourite story is Alone, where Toad discovers that Frog has gone off on his own to be alone. Toad immediately assumes Frog must be sad – why else would he want to be alone. Toad goes on to self-doubt and speculates that Frog must not want to be friends any more. In the end Toad finds a happy Frog contemplating how much he enjoys being friends with Toad. It’s great to see the two realistic but different characters drawn with so much empathy and depth, despite the simple language that is easy to read.

September

Mister MondayMister Monday by Garth Nix. I think I made a mistake with this book. I read it and enjoyed it. Now I want to know what happens during the rest of the week.

This book starts on a different world, in a different time, but soon comes down to focus on  everyday life for Arthur – a boy with severe asthma. But that doesn’t last long. Pretty soon Arthur’s ordinary life is completely upended as he enters “The House” and meets the Denizens living there.

If you’re into adventure and fantasy you’ll find it hard to put this book down.

Bog child  by Siobhan Dowd is set in Ireland during the troubles. You get a great sense of the place, with vivid characters and a clear view of the intense politics that exert pressure on Fergus, the sixteen year old central character.

 

Tulsa and the frog by Tony Ross. Would you kiss a frog so that it could turn into a handsome prince?

 

 

Tigers & spies by Kes Gray.

 

 

I am inventing an invention by Jullian Powell – based on Lauren Child’s Charlie and Lola characters

 

 

Purr-fect Pete Samantha Hay. When the cat circus needs a new member they think they’ve found the perfect cat. But is he a little too perfect to be true?

 

 


Tilly and the trouble in the night
Tilly and the trouble in the nigh
t by Hilary McKay. Tilly’s little brother Timmy has an imaginary friend. The problem is that Naughty Morgan causes Timmy to get in so much trouble that everyone apart from Tilly wants to get rid of him.

August

Hamilton’s hats by Martine Oborne,

The boy with the pudding touch by Laura North

The well between the worlds sam Llewellyn

July

Astrosaurs (The Terror-Bird Trap) by Steve Cole. Imagine if dinosaurs were so clever that they escaped the impact of the meteor, avoided extinction and conquered space. A simple idea that has spawned a series of 24 books with many other spin-offs. The Terror-Bird Trap is the only Astrosaurs book I’ve read. I was impressed (and surprised) by how well the book worked. It’s a clear story, with strong characters. I can imagine kids getting to know the Astrosaurs, having their favourites, and anticipating the story line with great excitement.

The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams. David Walliams is often compared to Roald Dahl and with Quentin Blake illustrating this book those comparisons become even more likely. I’ve read several of David Walliams other children’s books and there are plenty of Dahl-like revolting characters, gruesome happenings, amazing stories and wonderful poignant moments. This book is surprising in that not much happens. A boy who likes football also discovers that he likes wearing a dress. People question how well children’s literature reflects diversity – this book brilliantly puts a diverse view centre stage as the driving point of the whole story.

June

Goblns Vs Dwarves by Philip Reeve. This is the middle book of three but it’s the only one I’ve read. It is quite self contained although having read this one I really want to know what happened before and after. There are some great characters, my favourite is Skarper, who is a clever Goblin and Etty who is a friendly dwarf.

The Girl who circumnavigated Fairyland in a ship of her own making by Catherynne M. Valente, Is this book brilliant or boring? I loved it and wasn’t surprised that Neil Gaiman called it Glorious. Right from the title there’s so much imagination packed in. It feels like each sentence, paragraph and chapter is a tightly wound spring, loaded with story upon story. The author has created a world full of myth, magic and incredible detail. There are many places where the side-characters could take centre stage because you just know there’s much more to them than you have read.

So how can I ask if the book is boring? For me it certainly wasn’t, but that’s how my daughter described it. She’s an avid reader but this one didn’t catch her attention. I’ve come to realise that she doesn’t like the same complex, riot of inexplicable action as me. I’m not sure she’d get on with Neil Gaiman either. The magic of Harry Potter, myth of Percy Jackson and incredible detail from Chris Riddell all work well – because they are all wrapped around a simple fairly linear tale of friendship.

She is not invisible by Marcus Sedgwick. After the first chapter I was so concerned about Laureth and her brother Benjamin that I was thinking about them while working. A soon as I could I returned to their story and finished the book in one sitting. It’s a great book – a page turner that also keeps you guessing and makes you think.

Room on the broom by Julia Donaldson

Hunches in bunches Dr Seuss

Unusual day Sandi Toksvig

Tiny Tim by Rose Impey

Chocolate porridge Margaret Mahy

May

Shrek by William Steig. When my kids ask me what’s my favorite kids film I say Shrek. I’ve watched it umpteen times and I wouldn’t hate watching it again. I was therefore very interested to read the original book. It’s a very different story – yes there is an ogre, there is a donkey and a princess but that’s it. Basically stinky, smelly, horrible Shrek stinks and smells his way to the stinky smelly princess and marries her. I think it’s amazing to see how this very simple plot turned into such a creative and humorous the film.

 

Just Like You – by Jan Fearnley. I was looking for a present for a one year old who has been adopted. I wanted to get So Much by Trish Cooke, which is a lovely simple story about a child who is well-loved by his extended family. Unfortunately that wasn’t available but I was very pleased to discover Just Like You which focuses on a baby mouse who notices how children are so special to their mothers.

Sleepovers – by Jacqueline Wilson. Full of friendships, fallouts and feelings. Great for girls exploring their independence and identity.

Worried Arthur – by Joan Stimson | Illustrated by Jan Lewis. This picture book usually lives in our Christmas box that only comes out of the attic in December. Somehow it managed to escape and found its way into the books-for-reading-at-bedtime pile. Poor Arthur is looking forward to Christmas but worries that things will go wrong. Poor dad gets woken in the night and has to reassure Arthur.

April


Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse – by Chris Riddell. You could recognise this as a Chris Riddle book even if the cover was missing! But the hardback cover, purple page edges, cloth bookmark ribbon and snug size all add to the pleasure that just isn’t there with an e-reader. Goth Girl is full of intricate pen and ink drawings, fantastical characters and amazingly complex buildings. The book is actually surprisingly short, which together with all the wonderful visuals makes it a brilliant self-reader for children getting confident to read on their own. Find our more here: http://www.panmacmillan.com/gobstoppers/chrisriddell

I seem to have been more grown up in April and read adult books instead of children’s ones.

March

The Dragonsitter’s Island – by Josh Lacey. This is actually book four of the Dragonsitters series. It’s a simple fun story with Dragon’s, monsters, disputes with neighbours. it’s told through a series of emails sent from Eddie to his uncle Morton (with the occasional reply). This would make a good early reader from a child who is starting to read independently.

The Incredible Book Eating Boy – by Oliver Jeffers. Another delightful and thoughtful book by Oliver Jeffers who is fast becoming my favourite picture book author/illustrator.

Martyn Pig – by Kevin Brooks. I picked this one up in a charity shop. Sometimes it’s good to choose something you’ve never heard of. Martyn Pig has a difficult life with a father who is in need of care rather than providing it. Martyn get’s himself in all sorts of difficulties following an accident and relies on his best friend Alex to help him out – but their relationship is complex and confused.

Wonder – by R.J. Palacio. This is a book that will stick with me and I’m almost certain I’ll come back and read it again. August the main character has massive facial disfigurement that defines how people react to him. The book explores his interactions as he starts school and is written from several different people’s perspective. I loved the way that each character was unique and how each relationship developed. This book was great to read with my eleven-year old as she understood the way people are treated differently and I hope she was inspired to look under the skin to see the character of those around her.

The Medusa Project – by Sophie McKenzies. This is actually a series of books. I’ve read number 1 and 3: The Set Up and The Rescue. The series is about a group of teenagers who have been infected with the Medusa Gene that means they develop psychic powers. From what I’ve read, each book is written from one characters point of view. The Set Up – is very much setting the scene, introducing the characters and getting things started – but having said that it is still an action packed adventure that leaves you wanting to know what happened next. The Rescue is a darker book and I was surprised when the villain showed no restraint and killed in  a manner that would certainly lead to disturbed sleep in some younger/sensitive readers.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth – by Jeff Kinney. This is such a contrast to the Medusa book. There’s no super powers, no super heroes and no real action. What you do get is a perfectly realised  picture of life from a teenagers point of view with scenarios that will feel familiar to parents and kids. Jeff Kinney toppled J. K. Rowling off the podium as the most borrowed kids author from the library. I think it is great to see such interest in an ordinary life. Diary of a Wimpy Kid has become so universally known that phrases from it crop up in class-room conversations and it appears as part of the background culture in other books such as Wonder (see above).

February

Eddie and Dog by Alison Brown. I loved this story. There’s very little text as most of the action is clear from the illustrations. Dog is great – I wish I had one like him and then the adventures really would begin.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen – another very simple story with a limited palette and a surprising storyline. There’s something very pleasing for the adult about the way Jon Klassen’s stories develop.

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke. I read a review of this book where the reviewing said she loved it more and more as she read the book. I’ve got to agree. The characters in the book deepen and broaden as the chapters roll past making it a pleasure to see how their difficulties can be resolved. Prosper and Bo have run away to avoid being separated following the death of their parents. They head for Venice in search of the magical place as described in their mothers stories. They find the magic in their new lives with a gang of homeless children headed by the Thief Lord. But their Aunt is still seeking them and very soon their happy existence unravels to such an extent that only something extraordinary can sort things out.

Echo McCool: Outlaw Through Time by Roger K. Driscoll. This self published book is out in Kindle format for as little as 77p. It’s worth much more. Echo is a dryad who’s life is preserved inside a hollow tree trunk until centuries later in modern times she is revived by Jason who needs her help to rescue his sister. It’s an action-packed adventure with added fun coming from Echo’s otherworldly perspective. Well worth downloading if you have a Kindle.

January

This is not my hat – by Jon Klassen. A beautiful, sumptuous book. I was in the library and challenged my daughter to find picture books whose illustrations she liked. The two of us searched through mountains of books that looked the same. This one stood out. The subtle shades and sparse words were unlike anything else in the section we were looking at. And the story itself was such a surprisingly naughty tale.

Fortunately the milk – by Neil Gaiman. A quick read full of wonderful wackiness with illustration to match from Chris Riddell.

More Than This – by Patrick Ness. Not such a quick read. 480 pages. Without spoiling things it’s hard to say much. This is a pretty intense book with Seth, the main character, running almost solo for the first 170 pages. As usual with Patrick Ness’ books, there are plenty of profound themes – friendship, love, betrayal and the central theme that in life there is always much more going on than we are aware of.

The Snow Merchant – by Sam Gayton. I think this is Sam’s first published book and it’s a great start. He’s created a  world where things happen quickly and characters are quirky. Lettie, the main character, can’t touch the ground so lives in a house on stilts, Noah her friend has a tree growing out of his shoulder, Da turns into something you won’t believe and Ma has disappeared. Also watch out for a tea-pot head and someone who floats.

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