All righty, you’ve noted what others are reading this Christmas. You are possibly getting a little woozy from a department store diet of flashy titles and quick fixes but you still haven’t managed to locate that special literary treasure for the younger person or young at heart person in your life.
The following list is by no means definitive or complete but it includes some of the past year’s most inspiring, evocative and memorable reads for me. It’s a composition of glorious, emotion packed picture books, laugh-out-loud midgrade readers, and heart stopping YA thrillers. In short, a real mixed bag of goodies, mostly Australian, many of which I’ve been fortunate enough to review this year. Use it as a reminder of some of the more notable releases of 2014 (and beyond) and a springboard into the vast, ever expanding reservoir of Kids’ Lit. Here we go:
Top 25 Cracking Reads (in no particular order)
- The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein – An extraordinary uniquely told story of good versus evil, the essence of power and knowledge and the meaning of true conviction. It’s ultimately also a tale about the strength of love at every level; portrayed through the eyes and thoughts of Enzo, the family dog, with exceptional reality and heart. Written with uncompromising warmth and wit, this is a novel I could easily pick up and start all over again for the sheer sense of freedom it stirred up and the wonderful realities it forced me, as a mere human, to take stock of.
- Figgy in the World by Tamsin Janu – Gorgeous tale of courage, tenacity and humility and an outstanding example of simplicity that truly impacts, set in Africa’s heartland. Ideal for idealistic 7 + year olds.
- The Duck and the Darklings by Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King – A whimsical journey of despair, discovery, renewal and hope that is indeed a little bit strange, a little bit dark and a little bit different. It is also a lot of wonderful. Click on the title for full review of this devastatingly brilliant picture book.
- Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth – Utterly utterly utterly deserving of the investment of your time and heart. Searingly beautiful and funny and sad and real. Like life itself.
- Smooch and Rose by Samantha Wheeler – A tale of one girl’s courageous and staunch attempt to stand up to the big guns of development in hope of keeping at least part of a local koalas’ habitat intact told with moving conviction.
- Weir Do series by Anh Do – A heavily illustrated cartoon-like, side-splittingly humorous series of novels that will cause kids to smash open their piggy banks. A real rib tickling and surprisingly tender look at today’s social diversity, family make-up, and how little kids with unfortunate names fit into the mix.
- Oliver by Judith Rossell – Superb. Clear, clever clarity. Oliver is everyone’s younger brother, kid next door, beguiling 6 year old, and he is perfect. I wanna go jet packing with him for ever. Because every one wants to fly.
- Word Hunters Trilogy by Nick Earls and Terry Whidborne – Ingenious, action packed trilogy oddly but most effectively centering on the etymology of English. A tour of history clothed in modern day witticism. Loved it. Exhilarating and gripping. Lovers of words, history and adventure will revere this series.
- Eric Vale Series by Michael Gerard Bauer – Mr Bauer’s books are never ever short on style, wit or substance. A definite epic WIN for Eric. Kids can prolong their enjoyment with the spinoff series, Derek Danger Dale.
- Once a Creepy Crocodile by Peter Taylor and Nina Rycroft – An entertaining Aussie mash-up of The Gruffalo meets the best of billabong bush lore. Absolutely adored this easy to sing-a-long with picture book rendition of Walting Matilda.
- The Croc and the Platypus by Jackie Hosking and Marjorie Crosby-Fairall – An ingenious retelling of a childhood classic, The Owl and the Pussycat however, much more loose and flowing and bizarrely, even easier to read than the original. A great picture book to include on your classics shelf with heavy accent on Australiana.
- My Mum Says the Strangest Things by Katrina Germein – The Katrina Germein and Tom Jellet team that gave us My Dad Thinks he’s Funny and My Dad Still Thinks he’s Funny, train their humorous cross-hairs on mum’s idiosyncratic refrains this time, with deadly accuracy. For adult readers, the sweet irony of mum’s idiomatic expressions is difficult to ignore and impossible not to relate to. This books cracks me up every single time.
- Awesome Aussie Things to Do with Mum by Ed Allen and Simon Williams – A lovely little (hardcover) book full of lovely little things to share with mum, especially if you are in need of a creative, recreational past-time other than looming. Some old fashioned fun favourites to share with your kids (like Knuckle Bones!) with the underlying message that the most awesome thing of all that you can do for mum is…’to let her do absolutely nothing at all.’ There’s a Dads’ version too.
- PS Who Stole Santa’s Mail? by Dimity Powell (How did that get in here?) Quite possibly the dinkiest little Christmas mystery you’ll find this side of the Christmas tree packed with more laughs than you’ll find raisons in your fruit mince pies. A must for your stockings!
- Jake in Space Series by Candice Lemon-Scott and Celeste Hulme – Galaxies of intergalactic fun. Space-aged adventures mid-primary school kids can really get carried away with – providing they have their space suits on. And there’s six in the series which gives young readers plenty of time and incentive to explore the entire universe! The covers are truly out of this world.
- Monster Chef by Nick Bland – Nick Bland has moved on from bears to monsters in this spicy little offering about challenging ones fears and striving to stand out with delicious rhyming verse and illustrations. A kind of Master Chef meets master storyteller.
- The Nights before Christmas illustrated by Tony Ross – The penultimate Advent Calendar for bibliophiles and true lovers of Christmas. Click on title for full review. My Christmas pick of the season.
- Edward and the Great Discovery by Rebecca McRitchie and Celeste Hulme – A picture book tale about hope and daring gently exposing young readers to the wonders of natural history. Both exciting and touching and a wondrous introduction to scientific discovery whilst fostering a deeper understanding of true friendship.
- Vanilla Icecream by Bob Graham – Any list would be incomplete without a Bob Graham offering. Click on title for full review. You will be hard pressed to find a better way to introduce the complex ideals of human rights, fate, and immigration to young ones where a lightness of touch is more readily comprehended than harsh dry facts than with this beautiful picture book.
- Violet Mackerel Series by Anna Branford and Sarah Davis Impossibly brilliant seven book series, exquisitely illustrated and divinely humorous and touching. My primary schooler soaks up Violets’ stories with infinite delight. Highly recommended.
- Bully on the Bus by Kathryn Apel / Roses are Blue by Sally Murphy Simply must include two in this verse novel listing. Both incredibly poignant and beautifully crafted novels dealing with bullying and loss respectively from two of the best verse authors in the biz. Sustained, moving storytelling that will leave you with wet eyes and an overflowing heart.
- Little Chef Big Curse by Tilney Cotton – Possibly one of the most exuberant reads I’ve enjoyed in ages. I’m not sure if it’s because of the foodie in me or the zealous, ribaldry with which Cotton writes but Little Chef, BIG Curse is utterly delectable and insanely moreish. Click on title for full review.
- The Boy on the Page by Peter Carnavas – An exceptionally good picture book about a small boy’s life journey as he attempts to fathom that most ponderous of human dilemmas: the meaning of life. Existentialism stripped bare and very beautiful.
- Midnight by Mark Greenwood and Frane Lessac / The Horses Didn’t Come Home by Pamela Rushby – Again I must include two titles, one a picture book, one a YA novel, that each focus on the the great First World War campaigns involving the Australian light horse regiments. Each of these books deals with the campaign in the Sinai desert in a way that young readers will resonate with even though the story is over 90 years old. Heart-wrenchingly evocative with strong patriotic and historic appeal.
- The Simple Things by Bill Condon In a world that I find increasingly more and more complicated, The Simple Things is a refreshing and realistic breath of fresh air. Click on title for full review. Easy to read and easy to like, it’s ‘smiley face perfect’.
There you have it. Agree or disagree, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the beauty these words and sounds and images create for our children’s worlds. Nurture their imaginations, enrich their knowledge, and embolden their dreams with as many books as you can get your hands on for them this Christmas!