Children's Books of the Year 2017: The Book I Wish I'd Published
02 January, 2018
We asked a host of top children’s books editors, literary agents and publicists which books - published by a publishing house other than their own - had really grabbed their attention in 2017. Here are the books they told us they most admired:
Linas Alsenas, Scholastic:
The book that sent me over the moon (ha!) last year is Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover by Markus Motum (Walker Studio). To me, this is non-fiction at its very best, wearing its complexity lightly and making the most of its picture-book format to spark awe in readers. Walker was very smart, I think, to set up a dedicated imprint for books that have extra appeal for crossover, design-oriented book buyers, and each of the titles on that list is just phenomenal; in time I can totally see them building a dedicated following just of that list. I’m excited to see what’s in store for next year!
Chloe Seager, Diane Banks Associates:
Noah Can't Even by Simon James Green (Scholastic) - this book is fun & funny, whilst talking about some important stuff at the same time. I also love the way it's published - the cover is pitch perfect and who could miss the giant blow-up bananas at YALC? The possibilities for banana merch are endless!
Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans (David Fickling) this was one of the most unique books I read all year - I loved the blend of humour and emotion. It's a perfect cover, too.
Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky - Wren & Rook have published some amazing books this year but I particularly loved this one. It's beautiful, fascinating, inspiring and emphasises to young girls that STEM subjects are not just for boys.
Rachel Leyshon, Chicken House:
A number of books have caught my eye this year: Usborne’s Kick by Mitch Johnson, which was much enjoyed in my house
of boys; The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Walker), a justifiably global phenomenon; and Laura Ellen Anderson’s fabulous Amelia Fang (Egmont). But I remain really impressed by Lisa Thompson’s Goldfish Boy (Scholastic), edited by Lauren Fortune – immaculately well done in every aspect, inside and out, and published (seemingly!) with lots of time to spare, including early proofs and a successful build to publication and then beyond. It’s great news for us all when quality fiction like this sells so well throughout the year. And more recently I think Faber has done a lovely job on The Polar Bear Explorer's Club by Alex Bell, making it look so magical and Christmassy – irresistible!
Clare Whitston, Oxford University Press:
I would select Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo (Penguin) because it is a really clever piece of publishing, responding swiftly to a specific gap in the market, but with an authentic feel as its heart. I loved the high production values and the colour insides: the project feels like a labour of love – the illustrations from sixty female artists are beautiful and the length of each story perfect for bedtime reading. The book seemed to hit at exactly the right time and is absolutely everywhere which is no mean feat for a book without an established author or illustrator behind it. It is indicative of a trend in Children’s Publishing for books celebrating the lives of women and in a
world where the word feminism is still treated with some suspicion and confusion I think this book is a particular cause for celebration. So hooray for rebel girls (and also bookish, slightly nerdy, law abiding ones too of course…)
Rosi Crawley, Walker Books:
It will probably be in every list but I can’t help but be hugely jealous of The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris – not only is it absolutely stunning, but it’s had astonishing coverage – I was green with envy at a big double page spread in The Guardian on publication – a very
publicist way of admiring a book! I think Walker has a pretty fabulous line in gorgeous books but it’s always a pleasant surprise when something truly beautiful, but potentially quite niche captures the imagination of the book buying public. Who could have said a giant £20 hardback non-fiction about words would take off to such a degree? Much like our beautiful edition of Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley Holland with illustrations from Jeffrey Alan Love, I think it shows how much people want to invest in a level of dramatic production when they’re shelling out for a physical book. These are things to keep on the shelf for years and show off to your friends when they come to visit. Although in the case of The Lost Words I’m not sure what shelf we’re ever going to fit it on, because it’s flippin massive.
I think that The Explorer is Katherine’s best book yet: beautiful writing, wonderful, hugely evocative atmosphere, and a really exciting, gripping story. Comparisons to Journey to The River Sea are as obvious as they are overdone, but for me it really is a worthy successor - in fact I enjoyed it more. And I admired Bloomsbury’s publishing of the book: stunning cover artwork, hugely impressive press coverage, and lots of clever pieces of pre-release marketing (I thought the trailer was a very good example of simple but effective video content). I’d put money on the book winning the Costa.
I absolutely loved The Murderer’s Ape - I’m not sure if any of Wegelius’ other books have been translated yet, but this
was the most exciting new discovery of the year for me. And I take my hat off to Pushkin Press for having the courage of their convictions and publishing a 600 page middle grade novel in translation by a relatively unknown author in hardback.
Nina Douglas, Nina Douglas PR:
The book I wish I’d had a hand in publishing/ promoting in 2017 was Things A Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls (Andersen). I’ve long been an admirer of Sally’s writing, and I think in this story of love of many different kinds power, struggle and sacrifice, she truly excels. A stunning PR campaign has seen reviews across the board, and with the centenary of the first British women to get the vote coming up in 2018, and calls for deeper equality (including movements such as #metoo) ongoing and highly placed in the media, it takes an important scene setting part in the conversation; it feels like just the start of a journey. I sit this alongside the equally excellent contemporary novel, Moxie by Jen Mathieu (Hachette) in my favourite feminist takes in YA this year.
And if I’m allowed an honourable mention for a second, I’m also going to pick the entirely magical and imaginative
Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend (Hachette) - there is just so
much fun to be had with a creative campaign for the wundrous
world she has imagined (I’m envious of that publicist); I can’t wait for book two.
Lauren Ace, Little Tiger:
I have been a fan of Sally Nicholls’ writing since reading a proof of her first book, Ways to Live Forever, when I was a bookseller. It would go on to win the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and secure Sally’s position as an exciting new talent. As an industry we are a little obsessed with debuts and bright young things, which is why I am so delighted to see the wonderful reaction Sally has had to her sixth novel, Things A Bright Girl Can Do. The book itself is a masterclass in historical fiction which feels relevant to our modern times, with brilliantly realised characters and genuine heart.
And how clever of Andersen to publish in hardback in September to hit the Christmas gifting period and scoop up all those marvellous Books of the Year accolades, boldly positioning themselves to publish the paperback just five months later to coincide with the centenary of the Representation of the People Act. I’m sure this won’t be the last you hear of this book.
Felicity Johnson, Bonnier:
It’s been a brilliant year for middle grade. One middle-grade debut I’ve particularly admired is A Girl Called Owl, by Amy Wilson (Macmillan). I loved the design of the book proof and also thought the finished package was stunning – really
striking and atmospheric. (And the cover for Amy’s next book
looks pretty gorgeous too.)
Stevie Hopwood, Usborne:
Oliver Jeffers, Here We Are – Notes for Living on Planet Earth (HarperCollins). Everything about this book is beyond beautiful. For me it sums up exactly what a children’s book can do so well (and often better than an adult book!) and that is to make you curious about the world. The artwork speaks for itself – I’ve spent hours just staring at one spread (the underwater one is a personal favourite) – so it was lovely to see this lead the campaign alongside the climate change angle seen through a father’s eyes. It felt personal, and that made the book and the message mean even more to me as a reader. I was gutted to miss the Brian Cox talk – that must have been fascinating!
Campaign-wise I have to mention the proof of The Rosewood Chronicles Undercover Princess by Connie Glynn (Penguin)! Oh my, the most magical of proofs – I HAD TO HAVE IT. I also had to have one of the house badges, and notebooks... I’m a sucker for merch.
Emma Bradshaw, Bloomsbury Children's Books:
Letters From the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll (Faber). I adore Emma’s books. They are exactly what I wanted to read as a ten year old and still thoroughly enjoy now. This is a brilliant adventure story, full of mystery and surprises, with the added bonus of a Devon setting. The main characters share my surname, which I rather enjoyed too. It’s also a book to make you think – about war and immigration and how we treat our local community. I think Emma is a wonderful writer and I’m keen to get my hands on her next book, Sky Chasers, which has just published.
Thanks to all our contributors for telling us about the books that most impressed them in 2017! Take a look at The Book I Wish I'd Published from 2016.