The best kids' books of 2018, chosen by top authors and illustrators

Published on: 03 December 2018 Author: Emily Drabble

In a truly incredible year for children's books, Emily Drabble asked authors and illustrators including Michael Morpurgo, Cressida Cowell, Patrice Lawrence, Julia Donaldson, Alex T Smith, Nick Sharratt and Jim Kay the impossible question: pick just one out of all the jewels published in 2018.

Some of the best books of the year as chosen by top authors and illustrators

Alex T Smith chooses The Way Home for Wolf

I'm choosing The Way Home for Wolf by Rachel Bright, illustrated by Jim Field. Rachel's gentle but powerful rhyming text combined with Jim's magical, incredibly cinematic and utterly charming illustrations create a beautiful book celebrating the power of friendship, the kindness of strangers, and how wonderful things can happen when you ask for help if you need it. Absolutely lovely!


Smriti Prasadam Halls chooses The Day War Came

The Day War Came by Nicola Davies and illustrator Rebecca Cobb moved me deeply and is my Book of the Year. It's so important that we talk about big things with little people and I love books that help to open up those challenging conversations. Nicola and Rebecca's book is beautiful, disarmingly simple, unflinchingly truthful and cuts through the horror of war to find a shared humanity. Bravo!


Jacqueline Wilson chooses The Restless Girls

The Restless Girls by Jessie Burton and illustrator Angela Barrett is a brilliant re-working of the traditional fairytale The Twelve Dancing Princesses. These Princesses are talented, spirited girls, each carefully characterised and beautifully illustrated by Angela.


Cressida Cowell chooses The Skylarks' War

The Skylarks' War by Hilary McKay - cover by Dawn Cooper

The cover of The Skylarks' War - illustration by Dawn Cooper

My children's book of the year would be The Skylarks' War by Hilary McKay. Exquisitely written, funny, emotional, warm and wise, this book is an absolute joy to read. You know you are in the hands of a master storyteller from the very first sentences: 'More than one hundred years ago, in the time of gas and candlelight, when shops had wooden counters and the streets were full of horses, a baby girl was born. Nobody was pleased about this except the baby's mother. The baby's father did not like children...'


Marta Altes chooses The Forest

I think one of my favourite books from this year is The Forest, published by Enchanted Lion Books, written by Ricardo Bozzi and illustrated by Violeta Lopiz and Valerio Vidali. It's such a special book!

When I saw it for the first time I couldn't believe how beautiful it was.

Every page is rich in details, with vibrant, beautiful colours and the book is full of fold-out pages, embossing, cut-out shapes and more. This creates a very immersive experience as it makes you want to reach out and touch the book, explore it and uncover its secrets. I was lucky enough to see an exhibition of the stunning artwork in Bologna last March. Now I have the book and it feels like I have a little treasure.


Will Mabbitt chooses The Survival Game

My favourite book of 2018 was The Survival Game by Nicky Singer. Serious stuff, handled expertly. I am still in a state of shock from reading this book.


Laura Ellen Anderson chooses Sam Wu Is Not Afraid of Ghosts

Sam Wu Is Not Afraid of Ghosts by Katie and Kevin Tsang, illustrated by Nathan Reed

Sam Wu Is Not Afraid of Ghosts by Katie and Kevin Tsang, illustrated by Nathan Reed

My favourite book published this year was Sam Wu Is Not Afraid of Ghosts by Katie and Kevin Tsang, illustrated by Nathan Reed. It was such a wonderfully witty story, with endearing characters and a real feeling of nostalgia for me. When I opened the book to read it, I felt like a kid hanging out with my best friends again. Nathan's wonderful illustrations portray the characters perfectly and add so much to the brilliant fun-filled adventure.


Mini Grey chooses I Was Made For You

My choice is I Was Made For You by David Lucas. Falling apart goes with the territory when you're a toy. From The Velveteen Rabbit to Tatty Ratty to That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown, toys have wrestled with this existential problem.

In I Was Made For You, a home-made knitted cat is destined to be a Christmas present but wakes up with the need to discover the answer to the biggest questions - not just what he is, but why he is. The little toy goes in search of an answer to the big Why, but snags his wool on a rusty nail and unravels before our eyes until he is 'just a long loose thread shivering in the wind'. Recommended for anyone who can identify with a protagonist utterly unravelling and wants to ponder on big questions.


David Mackintosh chooses The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse

The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

It's The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse by Mac Barnett and John Klassen for me. I found this book very satisfying on account of the restrained humour and visceral absurdity of the Duck and Mouse making the best of their bad situation. The words feel like they've been translated from an unknown language - kind of stilted - which give it a timeless, folkloric feel, and the pictures play to that remarkably well. It's like it's been passed down for generations, and it's beautiful.


Piers Torday chooses Art Matters

A small and perfectly formed book I loved this year - which will fit in any stocking and can be read in an hour, but linger for days, is Art Matters - Because Your Imagination Can Change the World, a series of posts, articles and essays by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by the prodigious Chris Riddell. Arts education has never been more threatened in this country, at a time when the challenges of the future have never needed our children's imaginations more, and this rallying cry for the power of art to change hearts and minds should electrify us all.


Michael Morpurgo chooses Eye Can Write

Eye Can Write by Jonathan Bryan

I'm choosing Eye Can Write by Jonathan Bryan. It's a unique insight into the life and times of a young writer, still only 15, who has cerebral palsy, and had suffered all his life from locked-in syndrome until he and his family and his teachers unlocked him, and he learnt to communicate through the blinking of an eye.

He has since become a terrific writer of prose and poetry, and become a spokesperson for others like him, young people apparently locked-in, so often left unstimulated, untaught, patronised and abandoned to hopelessness.

He has a formidable determination that all children should be given the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

He has a wonderful sense of humour, and an extraordinary intellect. A unique writer, a unique book, a life-changing book, for him, for us. Read it and you meet him. Quite an experience, I promise you. You won't forget it or regret it!


Fleur Hitchcock chooses Julian is a Mermaid

My pick of this year's picture books is the superb Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love. The story is simple: Julian wants to be a mermaid, and with his granny he explores the ways in which he can be one. Beautiful illustrations lead us through this joyous tale. A future classic.


Hilary McKay chooses Will You Catch Me?

Will You Catch Me by Jane Elson

The book that I would like to choose is Will You Catch Me? by Jane Elson. I loved it for the heroine, Nell, who tells her story as 'the only naturalist on the Beckham Estate'. Nell has many problems, but also many friends. Her voice is perfect; you can hear her speak beside you as you read, wise, hilarious, brave and stubborn. A North London Anne of Green Gables: less poetry, more minibeasts, identical charm!


Chitra Soundar chooses There's Room for Everyone

The book I want to recommend is There's Room for Everyone, published by Tiny Owl Books and written and illustrated by Anahita Teymorian. I recommend this book because whether as children or as adults, we find sharing harder, be it space or toys, and this book would help us understand that there's room for everyone.


Katherine Rundell chooses The Skylarks' War

My book of the year is Hilary McKay's The Skylarks' War; I love it for its scope and pace and wit, for the delicious photo-album pleasure of following characters across years and cities, but most of all, for its bone-deep kindness. It's so difficult to write kindness without shading ever into cute: Philip Pullman can do it, Frank Cottrell-Boyce can do it, and, my God, Hilary McKay can do it.


Chris Haughton chooses Two Kings

Two Kings by Emma Lewis

My book of the year is Two Kings by Emma Lewis, a beautifully illustrated and beautifully told tale based on the the Bayeaux Tapestry. It is a stunning and wonderful message of peace.


David Almond chooses The Family Tree

The Family Tree by Mal Peet, illustrated by Emma Shoard, is my choice: it is concise, rich, strange, true and beautifully written. Great illustrations by Emma Shoard, too.


Julia Green chooses The Skylarks' War

My recommendation is for The Skylarks' War by Hilary McKay. I've loved all of Hilary's novels for her wonderful, funny, moving depictions of family life, the apparent simplicity of her style - which in fact is hugely skilful and original and marvellous - and her deep understanding of children. I read The Skylarks' War on one very long train journey and adored it. The characters are deeply engaging, the story is powerful, I laughed and I cried, and I didn't want it ever to end!


Liz Pichon chooses Triangle

Triangle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

My book is Triangle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, followed by Square. It's deceptively simple with every word, space and illustration carefully considered.
I'm a huge fan of Jon Klassen's work: I love his humour, dark palate of colours and the textures that all feature in this book as well. Being someone who finds it almost impossible not to CRAM every page full of stuff , I admire a book that can tell a story in such a beautiful but minimalist way.


Julia Donaldson chooses I Am the Seed that Grew the Tree

I'm picking I Am the Seed that Grew the Tree curated by Fiona Waters, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon and published by Nosy Crow. This is an absolutely beautiful (if rather heavy!) book. What I particularly love about it is that each illustration covers a double-page spread, picturing the theme of the poems concerned but without being too prescriptive, so that the reader's imagination can still roam. The poem-a-day approach means the book can be digested slowly, and I'm sure it will help to create very many young poetry and nature enthusiasts.


Sita Brahmachari chooses Tales from the Inner City

Tales from the Inner City by Shaun Tan

As soon as I saw the extraordinarily beautiful cover of Tales from The Inner City by Shaun Tan, I was excited. We're living in topsy-turvy times. Having worked on Shaun Tan's Arrival in the theatre I have long been a great admirer of his work for humanity and the natural world.

For me, these short stories, poems, arresting, beautiful and troubling images of how we live on this planet earth and how we relate to each other and the animal kingdom, offer me a book to return to again and again.

It's a book with golden threads and glimmering scales. The art is music to the soul and the stories and poems interrogate our hearts and minds and question personal as well as global responsibility. More and more I dislike categorisations about who stories are for. This book is for sharing across generations and landscapes. A book to warm the story hearth of any home whether you live in the city, countryside or hold a city in your mind's eye.


Anna James chooses The Skylarks' War

My book of the year is The Skylarks' War by Hilary McKay, which made me feel like I was a child again. Following the fortunes of one family, particularly focused on daughter Clarry, against the backdrop of the First World War, this is heart-warming, moving and life-affirming. Clarry is a wonderful heroine; brave, kind and resourceful and I fell head over heels for her and her family. A future classic, if there is any justice.


Jim Kay chooses The Silk Roads

The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan, illustrated by Neil Packer

The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan, illustrated by Neil Packer

The book I was most excited about this year was Neil Packer's sumptuously illustrated version of The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan, published by Bloomsbury. The visuals are a superb symbiosis of modern, striking graphics with classical styles and symbolism. Any spare time I get is spent poring over art and artefacts in museums or reading about history, and this book combines those two passions beautifully.


James Mayhew chooses The Skies Above My Eyes

I'm choosing a non-fiction picture book: The Skies Above My Eyes by author Charlotte Gullain and illustrator Yuval Zommer. Friendly, approachable words combine with astonishing, dazzling art in this spectacular, inspirational concertina book that grows and grows in every sense. Should be in every school and every home. A fabulous achievement.


Sarah McIntyre chooses Be Prepared

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

I was completely hooked by Be Prepared, a graphic novel by Vera Brosgol. Her drawing style is fluid and wonderfully expressive, and I loved following the adventures of two children of a single Russian immigrant mum in the USA, as they try (and fail) to fit in with their wealthier classmates at an infamous slumber party and go to a Russian Orthodox summer camp that doesn't turn out exactly as they'd expected.


Axel Scheffler chooses Poor Little Rabbit

I choose a book for the very young 'readers' which is part of a whole series of 'interactive' stories for toddlers by the German illustrator Jörg Mühle: the latest one is Poor Little Rabbit, published by Gecko Press. Mühle's charming drawings deal with everyday events in a most entertaining and heart-warming fashion.


Rebecca Cobb chooses Suffragette: The Battle for Equality

Suffragette by David Roberts

I always love David Roberts' work and this year my favourite book is his utterly beautiful account of the incredible women and men who fought for women's right to vote in the UK. Alongside this inspiring and fascinating true story, Suffragette: The Battle For Equality has 128 pages of the most stunning illustrations, each one an absolute work of art. Perfection.


Patrice Lawrence chooses The Muslims

The Muslims by Zanib Mian. It was clever and funny with a geeky empathetic hero. What's not to like?


SF Said chooses I Am Thunder

My book of 2018 is I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan, a contemporary YA novel with the most vibrant, vivid voice I've encountered in a long time. Anyone who's interested in what it's like to be young, British or Muslim in the world today should read it, because it brings all those things to life with terrific power and emotion.


Taran Matharu chooses Artemis Fowl

With the Artemis Fowl film coming in August 2019, this beloved book series by Eoin Colfer has made its way back onto shelves with brand new covers so I'm going to be a bit cheeky and choose this for my book of the year! This action-packed eight-book saga begins when a millionaire boy genius and his erstwhile bodyguard kidnap a police officer from an advanced, secret race of fairies for ransom. It only gets better from there! Intricately plotted with an antihero protagonist that you can't help rooting for, this series is a must-read.


AF Harrold chooses A Kid in My Class

A Kid In My Class by Rachel Rooney and Chris Riddell

A Kid in My Class by Rachel Rooney and Chris Riddell, published by Otter Barry, is my choice. Rooney shares with us 30-odd diverse characters, the kids in the class, who all have a story to tell, or a secret to keep. Illuminated further by Riddell's blue wash illustrations.


Sophy Henn chooses The Murderer's Ape

I'm choosing The Murderer's Ape. It's told through the eyes of Sally Jones, a quiet, contemplative and highly skilled ape who is buffeted along through the adventures of the story, calmly having to prove herself at every chance. There is so much to say about this unique and absorbing tale, but it would probably be better if you just read it yourself.


Francesca Simon chooses You Ain't Seen Nothing Yeti

You Ain't Seen Nothing Yeti

I'd recommend You Ain't Seen Nothing Yeti, written by Steven Butler and illustrated by Steven Lenton, because wild, imaginative and genuinely funny books are rare, and this one - about a secret hotel for magical creatures - is a true original. How could anyone resist a mad, grumpy leprechaun named Maudlin Maloney? Or a feast where shrunken heads devour the guests?


Vivian French chooses Mud

My book of the year is Mud by Emily Thomas. It's the semi-autobiographical story of a teenage girl who ends up living on a boat with her father, stepmother and assorted children... and it's touching, warm, heart breaking and hilarious. I loved it; I'd put in on a shelf next to I Capture the Castle. It's that good.


Robin Stevens chooses Wundersmith 

Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend, illustrated by Beatriz Castro

Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend, illustrated by Beatriz Castro

Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend was the book I waited most eagerly for - I was swept off my feet by the magic and imagination of her debut Nevermoor - and it lived up to my expectations. The world Jessica has created is the richest and most marvellous I've discovered in years, and I think this series is something very special. My book of the year, for sure!


Joseph Coelho chooses The Dam

I think I'll have to go with The Dam by David Almond and Levi Pinfold. It's one of those special books that speaks in tones that your soul recognises. A touching, important picture book about loss, about memory, about history and about the magic of music.


Nicola Davies chooses The Skylarks' War

I'm choosing The Skylarks' War by Hilary McKay. From the first page, you know you are in the hands of a storyteller of the highest calibre; characters whose living breath you feel at once, vivid, exciting and loveable. A beautifully told, completely engaging story that will leave you with a deeper understanding of what it was like to live through The Great War. Deep reading joy!


Gill Lewis chooses Corey's Rock

I'm choosing Corey's Rock: Sita Brahmachari's words and Jane Ray's illustrations weave a tale of longing and belonging, threaded with the magic of a selkie story. Set against the blue-green seas of Orkney, Corey's Rock is a story of grief and loss, but also one of light and hope, and ultimately love.


Catherine Johnson chooses The Muslims

The Muslims by Zanib Mian

My favourite book of the year has to be Little Rebels Prize winner The Muslims by Zainab Mian. This is an accessible and thoroughly laugh out loud book that introduces the wonderful Omar and his family to the world.


Nick Sharratt chooses Anna and Otis

The talented Maisie Paradise Shearring has an utterly delightful illustration style, and with Anna and Otis, published by Two Hoots, it's wonderful to discover that she writes with as much charm and verve as she draws. Plus - was there ever a better name for a snake than Otis?


Ross Montgomery chooses Dave the Lonely Monster

My favourite picture book this year was Dave the Lonely Monster by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie. Ogilvie is always brilliant and this is such a gorgeous-looking book - those pinks and purples! - but the highlight is Kemp's writing. I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a rhyming book this much! She makes it so fun and seemingly effortless - it reminds you of how comforting a perfectly phrased couplet can be.


Onjali Rauf chooses A Cat's Guide to the Night Sky

A Cat's Guide to the Night Sky

My picture-and-facts-book of the year has to be Stuart Atkinson's A Cat's Guide to the Night Sky. As someone who loves astronomy but whose brain can't quite compute even the simplest facts of this field of science, this is a beautiful, informative and stunning introduction to heaven's maps and the world that lies above us. Between Felicity the cat's wisdoms and Brendan Kearney's illuminating drawings, it's an absolute must-have for every would-be stargazer, and will have them dipping back into it in a state of fascination, time and time again.


Tony Bradman chooses And the Ocean Was Our Sky

My book of the year is And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness - a rich, gripping and lyrical re-imagining of Moby Dick told from the viewpoint of the whale...


Kiran Millwood Hargrave chooses Snowglobe

In a stellar year for debuts and established writers, my heart was torn between several stories from new authors like Sophie Anderson, and old favourites like Hilary McKay. But it's a third novel I want to highlight: Snowglobe by Amy Wilson, who is consistently writing contemporary stories that feel like classics. This hugely imaginative, big hearted, snow-tinged adventure is my pick of the year, in a very golden year for kids' books.


What is your favourite book of the year? Let us know in the comments below or by tweeting us @BookTrust!


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