The best children's books of 2023, chosen by top authors and illustrators
Published on: 21 December 2023
We asked authors and illustrators including BookTrust President Michael Morpurgo, BookTrust's Writer in Residence Michelle Robinson, Dapo Adeola, Candy Gourlay, Jasbinder Bilan, SF Said, Nadia Shireen and Frank Cottrell-Boyce among others the impossible question: can you pick just one favourite children's book published in 2023?
Wolves in Helicopters by Sarah Tagholm and Paddy Donnelly
Chosen by Michelle Robinson
"A cute and imaginative take on overcoming fears and coping with bad dreams."
Impossible Creatures by Katherine Rundell
Chosen by Sir Michael Morpurgo
"It's the most extraordinary fantasy book I've ever read. She's my writer of the year and that's my book of the year."
Also chosen by Lucy Farfort
"I loved this immersive, fantasy adventure. The nimble prose combined with a pacy plot and vivid characters made the book completely engrossing. The only downside was that I got through it so quickly!"
Bumble and Snug and the Shy Ghost by Mark Bradley
Chosen by Lucy Farfort's 8-year-old son
"He thought it was funny and cute and another brilliant edition to the series!"
Wally the World's Greatest Piano-Playing Wombat by Ratha Tep, illustrated by Camilla Pintonato
Chosen by Máire Zepf
"It is one of those special picture books that speaks as much to the grown-up as to the child. Dealing with those comparative, competitive inner voices we all know, it is funny, warm and wise all at once."
Drawn to Change the World by Emma Reynolds and 16 international artists
Chosen by Rashmi Sirdeshpande
"This is an eye-opening, uplifting and beautifully illustrated graphic novel collection. Covering the stories of 16 youth climate activists, it centres indigenous and intersectional voices and solutions to the climate crisis and leaves readers with a much-needed feeling of hope."
A Bird Day by Eva Lindström
Chosen by Axel Scheffler
"Everything you ever wanted to know about the everyday life of a bird family – heartwarming, with lovely artwork by one of my favourite illustrators."
The Artist by Ed Vere
Chosen by Dapo Adeola
"Not only is it a beautifully illustrated book, but the story itself unfolds at a wonderful pace, and the message it delivers is a timeless one about trusting the process. A message that works for all ages, even adults. It's a modern classic for me."
Also chosen by Matt Carr
"Annoyingly brilliant. The last thing you want to see when you are an author-illustrator! Almost made me want to give up. It's an instant classic!"
Also chosen by SF Said
"It's a glorious, joyful, multi-coloured celebration of creativity – both its power to help us see the world and its beauty anew, and the courage that's needed to bring something new and beautiful into the world. Fired by the belief that this is a power we all have, filled with dazzling colour and energy, The Artist is an enormously inspiring and empowering book for children and adults alike!"
An American Story by Kwame Alexander, with heartstopping art by Dare Coulter
Chosen by Candy Gourlay
"At first, I hesitated to suggest this title because this is a UK audience and this book is American, with 'American' in the title, and is about a very specific American festering wound. But it asks the questions so many of us struggle with when it comes to children reading. Is the truth too painful for children to know?
"When researching my last two novels, Wild Song and Bone Talk, I was shocked by how much painful history had been misrepresented or concealed from me when I was a child. I felt like I'd been lied to. An American Story says, yes, there are ways to tell the truth. It's only by knowing the past that we can build a better future."
Luna Loves Christmas by Joseph Coelho and Fiona Lumbers
Chosen by Jasbinder Bilan
"This is the latest picture book in the Luna Loves... series. And what is so great about this one is its upbeat twist on Christmas that includes so much love and so many different people. Refreshingly, it's not all about what's going to be under the tree but rather, how to celebrate in an inclusive, fun way that has sharing at its heart.
"This also has bonus content in the shape of a story within a story which young readers will adore! Touching illustrations by Fiona Lumbers and the usual magic of Joseph Coelho's words will make this a book to read over and over."
The Skull by Jon Klassen
Chosen by Frank Cottrell Boyce
"The Skull gave me one of the greatest reading experiences of my life. I help out in a community special school where the kids can be 'bouncy'. I forgot to prepare one day and just grabbed the book because of its cover (it was Halloween). Read it and they were utterly rapt. They even noticed and discussed the power of the book's single adverb ('finally').
"We ended up reading the whole book right through three times. I've been trying to unpick the reasons it has such a power to enchant ever since and have finally come to the conclusion that the only explanation is that Jon Klassen is a powerful enchanter."
Also chosen by Nadia Shireen
"It is as beautifully illustrated as you would expect. But every word is so carefully chosen, every page turn so well considered. He's a master of economy. It's moody, evocative and quietly creepy and funny at the same time. Genius!"
Peace on Earth by Smriti Halls and David Litchfield
Chosen by Gill Lewis
"A deep message, simply and beautifully told – powerful text and sublime illustrations about the power of love, friendship and peace on earth."
The Star Whale by Nicola Davies and Petr Horáček
Chosen by Anne Fine
"The Star Whale is a lyrical and thought-provoking collection of poetry which celebrates the wonder and majesty of the natural world. Nicola Davies is herself a zoologist, and Petr Horáček has illustrated her work with extraordinary luminosity. So much of the current poetry for children is pedestrian, so a collection that fuels the imagination as this one does is very welcome."
In the Shadow of the Wolf Queen by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Chosen by Piers Torday
"This year Kiran Millwood Hargrave's majestic, sweeping fantasy for older readers, In the Shadow of The Wolf Queen, shook me like a storm wind that wouldn't let go. I also loved Lauren St. John's racehorse thriller Finding Wonder, illustrated by Levi Pinfold - it saw her at the top of her game with the most ingeniously plotted book of the year."
Gina Kaminski Saves the Wolf by Craig Barr Green and Frances Martin
Chosen by Piers Torday
"My choice for younger readers, Craig Barr Green's debut picture book, illustrated by Frances Martin, was a joyful and unexpected storytelling delight."
Chosen by Karl Newson
"The stories in this collection are wonderfully told and beautifully illustrated. Jarvis has created a series that's full of heart and friendship, and that explores situations we all encounter at one time or another - these two characters are so relatable and adorable!"
The Quickest Bedtime Story Ever! by Louise Fitzgerald and Kate Hindley
Chosen by Charlotte Guillain
"I wish my kids were still young enough for a bedtime story as I would have loved reading this to them so much - I can imagine the giggles! It's properly funny and I love the interactivity - and the illustrations are brilliant. Read it at bedtime while you can as your offspring will be adults before you know it!"
To The Other Side by Erika Meza and Someone Just Like You by Helen Docherty and David Roberts
Chosen by Smriti Halls
"To The Other Side is a deeply moving portrayal of a journey full of jeopardy taken by two siblings trying to reach safety across the border, and Someone Just Like You encourages us to think about what life might be for them once they have reached that supposed safety.
"In a blaze of dazzling flouro oranges and pinks, both books demand us to imagine a world where children have challenging journeys to make and where, once arrived, they might not be welcomed with open arms – children, just like the ones we know and love; children just like the ones we once were. I can't think of anything more important to be thinking of and holding in our hearts at the end of 2023."
A Zoo In My Shoe by Jason Korsner, illustrated by Max Low
Chosen by Thomas Docherty
"Younger children will love this clever, funny and ultimately subversive juggling of the word order in sentences to create delightfully absurd mini-stories. Max Low's bold, colourful illustrations are full of warmth and understated humour that perfectly matches the text. A brilliant book to encourage children to turn the world on its head and maybe start to create their own hilarious stories."
City of Stolen Magic by Nazneen Ahmed Pathak
Chosen by Patrice Lawrence
"City of Stolen Magic is everything that makes me excited about books - magical alternative London, steampunk Victoriana, fabulous friendships and a heroine who finds her courage. It also harnesses the power of fiction to question colonial histories - something I am SO here for!"
The Swifts by Beth Lincoln and Claire Powell
Chosen by Harry Woodgate
"It's a brilliantly plotted mystery inspired by nominative determinism, with a wonderful mix of humour, crafty clues, LGBT representation, and of course Claire's sumptuous and characterful pen and ink illustrations, which help bring everything to life. It felt reminiscent of Knives Out, honouring the classic mysteries whilst bringing a fun modern twist."
We'd love to hear about your favourite children's book of 2023! Has it been mentioned above, or do you think something's been missed out? Get in touch on social @BookTrust and let us know!