The best kids' books of 2019, chosen by top authors and illustrators
Published on: 05 December 2019 Author: Emily Drabble
2019 has been another amazing year for children's books!
BookTrust's Emily Drabble asked authors and illustrators including Waterstones Children's Laureate Cressida Cowell, BookTrust President Michael Morpurgo, Patrice Lawrence, Julia Donaldson, SF Said, Catherine Johnson and current BookTrust Writer in Residence Cerrie Burnell the impossible question: pick just one favourite published in 2019...
BookTrust's Writer in Residence Cerrie Burnell
In a year of many glorious stories, the book that absolutely stole my heart was The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell. I adored the setting of long-ago New York and the wilful courageous joy of the characters, especially Vita.
The way a normal morning in the city can suddenly be made magical by the arrival of a circus horse or a boy who can seemingly fly. The way wit, friendship, tenacity and adventure, and spectacular triumphs, made the entire book feel golden and aglow with possibilities, infused with childhood determination.
Hilary McKay writes with a wry wit, warmth and just the right amount of now-characteristic whimsy. In The Time of Green Magic, two boys and a girl find themselves in a new set-up when their parents get together. With McKay's usual insight, the book explores moving home and life in a step-family, and also touches on the love of books and reading.
Kick the Moon is a well-written and exhilarating second novel by Muhammad Khan. It chronicles the coming of age of Ilyas, a British-Pakistani lad with a flair for graphic art.
This high school drama deals with serious matters - fraud, betrayal, bullying and sexting - but is also a celebration of friendship. It features a heroic mother and teacher and a charismatic baddie - all of them Muslim - and manages to portray Islam in a positive but unsentimental way.
My book of of the year is HUNDRED: What You Learn in a Lifetime by Heike Faller and Valerio Vidali. A journey through a lifetime of years, year by year. Cradle to grave - well, almost. 1 to 99.
I looked my own year up. 76. A lovely and telling illustration of a man and his dogs walking through a snowy wood. The caption reads, '76: Being in nature is the best'. True. And it is the truth-telling in this unique book that is wonderful. For all the family to ponder over, chortle over; the old looking back, the young looking forward, those in the middle looking both ways in the same book. Sheer delight.
Cressida Cowell, Waterstones Children's Laureate 2019-21
Neal Layton is a wonderful author and illustrator, and A Planet Full of Plastic presents a great message about the plastic problem and what we can do in a hugely imaginative and skilled way. Neal's mix of illustration techniques really makes the topic accessible, even for very young children.
Sometimes the climate emergency seems like such an impossible problem that we adults feel paralysed, but in my experience, children are more eager to get stuck into a challenge and do what they can. Point 10 on my Laureate Charter is 'Have a planet to read on', and A Planet Full of Plastic gives us all a place to start.
There have been many wonderful picture books this year. My favourite is Chris Haughton's Don't Worry Little Crab - a masterpiece of design, a riot of colour and as always, a lesson in the art of simplicity.
My best book of the year is The Boy Who Loved Everyone by Jane Porter and Maisie Paradise Shearring. It's a story about love and its many forms that we all need to read in these strange times.
Sarah Crossan, Ireland's Laureate na nÓg
This year my 7-year-old daughter and I have really been enjoying the Bad Nana books by Sophie Henn. The latest in the series, That's Snow Business, follows the adventures of Jeanie and her very sassy grandmother as Bad Nana goes off the rails when they find themselves involved with the Winter Wonderland Variety Show.
The stories are sweet and funny and the illustrations bright and completely fresh. The hardbacks make them irresistible when it comes to buying as gifts!
Alex T Smith
I'm going for Lampie and the Children of the Sea by Annet Schaap, an exciting and magical book that is part fairytale and part adventure story. Fantastically written and beautifully illustrated with Ardizonne-esque pictures, this was a stop-up-all-night-and-read-with-a-torch book for me. Utterly wonderful!
Unflinchingly honest and unforgettably poignant, The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson is undoubtedly the most powerful book I've read this year. This is a love song to a people that is for ALL of us; a story of our shared world that must never go untold. It is beautiful both in its voice... and in its silence. Necessary, bold and utterly inspiring, picture books don't get more powerful than this.
Rob Hodgson, author and illustrator of The Cave, BookTrust's Time to Read 2019 book
My choice is Mum's Jumper by Jayde Perkin. It's a beautiful book about something heavy, told with an amazing lightness. It's honest and real and brave and you will probably cry, but it will be okay because Jayde's words and pictures are reassuring, much like the jumper in the book.
I'd like to recommend that everyone (children and adults!) read Sydney Smith's Small In The City. I've been a fan of Smith's expressive artwork for a while, so it's brilliant to see it paired with his own storytelling in his first author/illustrated book.
The pictures sent me on a journey through the city and the simple but powerful story had me immediately going back for another read. I love how it encourages exploration of the characters' perspectives while also allowing the reader to explore the city through the beautifully atmospheric illustrations.
It's been another incredible year for children's books in the UK, with something for everyone. I'm going to recommend Abi Elphinstone's Rumblestar as my children's book of the year. The world-building in this book is to die for.
But perhaps the book which left the biggest impact on me this year is one every grown-up should read. A short essay by Katherine Rundell, Why You Should Read Children's Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise, should be in everyone's stocking this year, especially the old and wise!
It's Sita Brahmachari's Where the River Runs Gold. I loved this book as an adult and you would have had to fight me to get it out of my hands if I'd been given it when I was ten. A beautiful sibling relationship with an inspirational older sister, powerful world-building and an environmental and economic message that resonates, all wrapped inside a compelling tale.
I'm choosing Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian and illustrated by Nasaya Mafaridik. It's a fast-paced and hilarious tale of Omar, his family, his classmates and his rather unfriendly neighbour Mrs Rogers: 'John, The Muslims are frying smelly onions again!'
Omar loves bike-racing and biryani and is the kind of frenetic, curious child to whom all children can relate; he survives and thrives in a world where anti-Muslim racism exists. I can't wait to see what Omar gets up to next! (An earlier version of this book, self-published as The Muslims, won The Little Rebels Award 2018.)
I would like to recommend Emma Carroll's The Somerset Tsunami. Such entertaining storytelling - it really raced along, and the setting and history were absolutely fascinating.
My best book of the year was That Asian Kid by Savita Kalhan. It surprised me, made me laugh, and excited me to find out Jeevan's journey after the story ended.
It's a story not just about bullying or racism, but also family values, friendships and mental health for teens. It made me root for Jeevan who wanted to do the right thing even when circumstances were getting out of hand.
A book I loved this year was Catherine Doyle's The Lost Tide Warriors; it's the second in a series (the first is The Storm Keeper's Island) and is even better than the last. It's about old magic that lies in the heart of an island, and is awaking; it's about love and how love sparks adventures, and about the relationship between a boy and his grandfather; it's pacy and bold and often extremely funny and just a delight.
The Family Tree by Mal Peet, illustrated by Emma Shoard. This is concise, rich, strange, true and beautifully written. Great illustrations by Emma Shoard.
I'm choosing The Boy Who Loved Everyone by Jane Porter and illustrated by Maisie Paradise Shearring.
The glorious illustrations are what first caught my eye, and they are the ideal, tender, touching accompaniment to Porter's thoughtful and inspiring tale of how kindness touches the lives of others around us, and the ways that love is shared. A beautiful book.
I'm choosing Billy and the Dragon by Nadia Shireen. I love Nadia's big, bold illustrations and gorgeous colour palettes, and her earnest little knight girl, Billy, with her grumpy-looking monobrow cat friend, Fatcat.
Fatcat wears a little dragon onesie, and Billy must save him when he's kidnapped by a dragon, who has mistaken the costumed cat for her baby. Don't miss the little worm who appears throughout the book but only gets to deliver some lines right at the end.
I'd choose Jörg Mühle's Two For Me, One For You. A hungry bear, a hungry weasel and three mushrooms - life can get very complicated. A wonderful book about the difficulties of sharing and how things can get sorted in a very unexpected way (at least for a while).
I'd like to recommend The Little Island by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Robert Starling. A massively moving picture book about animals who find that the things which connect them are greater than those that divide them, it's a story to help children through these troubled times - but it's also a book for all ages and all times, with universal relevance and power.
I'm choosing The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros: an elegantly told and illustrated story that says all you need to know about migration and what welcome really means.
Catherine Johnson, winner of the Little Rebels prize 2019
Look Up! by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola is my picture book of the year, because I LOVE Rocket and want to live in her family. I have bought this book multiple times to give to small readers and I think it should be on everyone's shelf.
I'm picking Migrations by Otter Barry Books, endorsed by Amnesty, with contributions of art and writing on postcards from incredible international contributors. It does what it says on the cover ... no small task ... 'opens hearts and borders' and is a book to return to over and over.
The foreword from Shaun Tan will make your imagination soar. It's a precious book to keep returning to and a perfect gift to inspire and give hope; a reminder of the universal power of art and storytelling. A book with beautiful wings to help us fly through turbulent skies.
Onjali Q Rauf, winner of the Blue Peter Best Story prize and Waterstone's Children's Book Prize 2019
I'd like to recommend Bloom by Nicola Skinner. It's a blooming marvellous read (#SorryNotSorry: had to be done!)
From start to finish, Bloom is a timely, funny and warm-hearted warning against the concretisation of our natural worlds, and feels as if it was written specifically for a generation of future or aspiring Greta Thunbergs. I defy anyone to not be 'infected' by it, or to end the last page without fervently searching the top of their own heads for signs of a leaf or three!
Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Sophie Anderson tells stories in a way that feels as natural and vital as breath. The follow-up to her beautiful, hugely successful debut The House with Chicken Legs, The Girl Who Speaks Bear is even more wild and full of tender lessons about belonging, family, and finding our place in the world. In another stand-out year for children's fiction, it is possibly my favourite story of 2019.
What is your favourite book of the year? Let us know in the comments below or by tweeting us @BookTrust!