Children’s Books Of The Year 2018

By Katherine Woodfine | 22 December, 2018

We’ve shared with you our favourite books of the year on our Christmas Special, but what caught the eye of others in the book world this year?

We asked a host of top children’s books editors, literary agents and publicists which books - other than their own - had really grabbed their attention in 2018. Here are the books they told us they most admired:

Molly Ker Hawn, The Bent Agency
I can’t think of a more arresting picture book than Shaun Tan’s Cicada (Hachette). I read it in a bookshop and cried. I bought it, brought it to the office and showed it to my colleague Amelia and she cried. I brought it home and showed it to my children; one of them cried and the other clearly felt a sort of vengeful delight at the end, which made me proud and also unnerved. I bought several more copies for friends, clients, anyone with a heart, really. The art is exquisite and the text is strange and funny and sad. It ought to win every prize it’s eligible for.


Paul Black, Andersen Press
The Way Past Winter, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. Not only is this a brilliant page-turner - a rip-roaring car chase of a book, set in the Scandinavian deep north, with magic and mystery – but the package of it is simply gorgeous - and no doubt will be a treat under Christmas trees around the country. It seems that every detail was carefully thought through - the design, the printing and then the campaign around the book - sumptuous! I can’t wait to see what they do on paperback!


Jodie Hodges, United Agents
I think How Winston Delivered Christmas is genius. I’m so glad to see publishing really embracing Christmas books again, despite the short shelf life. I just adore the clever advent idea here – it’s something that’s ready-made to become part of a family’s Christmas traditions. Of course, Alex’s work is as gorgeous as ever, but I also think it’s a beautiful package and something Macmillan will be able to promote to new readers every year. And if I’m allowed two, I think Scholastic’s swift and nimble publishing of The Wonky Donkey is worth mentioning – it was very impressive.


Lucy Pearse, Macmillan
The book I wish I'd published this year is Laura Wood's A Sky Painted Gold, published by Scholastic.  It has a stunning cover, drawing you instantly into that art deco, Gatsby world, and what a world Laura created. It is a homage to so many of my favourite books - I Capture the Castle, A Little Love Song, A Song for Summer and Elizabeth Jane Howard's Cazalets, but has a freshness to the characters and their love story that feels entirely individual. I read it in one sitting and the gorgeous parties, beautiful Cornish setting and hopelessly romantic ending were like catnip. The presence on the BAMB beautiful books shortlist was fully deserved and the campaign appealed so strongly to book lovers that it was instantly clear who this was for - and I will be including it in lots of people's stockings this Christmas!


James Catchpole, The Catchpole Agency
Sally Nicholls’ Things A Bright Girl Can Do springs to mind. Charlie Sheppard at Andersen was very canny to think of her for a suffragette book, and goodness was Sally ever the right author for it! It’s a beautifully written, beautifully published story that caught a wave and deserves its success.

 

Chloe Sackur, Andersen Press
A book I admired was The Night of the Party by Tracey Mathias. To me it’s the YA novel that’s most relevant to the ongoing political situation in the UK: a romance set against the backdrop of a post-Brexit Britain in which anyone who isn’t ‘British Born’ is being forcibly deported. Over the last ten years we’ve seen a tonne of dystopian fiction, but this stood out to me as a novel that’s engaging with current UK politics and issues (for example, there’s a stunningly realistic depiction of a Yarl’s Wood-style detention centre where the main character is placed.) Scholastic gave it a striking cover with a strapline that plays on the idea that the personal is political, and published in May during the local elections. They even did press releases to look like voting slips.

 

Anna Barnes Robinson, Penguin Random House
Along with, I suspect, most of the publishing industry, I’ve been looking on with wonder and more than a little jealousy at the Nosy Crow and National Trust collaboration, I Am The Seed That Grew The Tree. It’s a bold statement of a book – a large-format gift poetry collection compiled by Fiona Waters and stunningly, breathtakingly, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon – that has quite clearly been a labour of love for everyone involved. It’s a commercial and clever piece of publishing and I suspect it will be found under a fair
few trees on Christmas morning.


Eishar Brar, Scholastic
The book I was most struck by in 2018 is For Every One by Jason Reynolds, published by Knights Of. Knights Of have done astonishing work this year: from publishing their first middle-grade, acquiring another middle-grade featuring the UK’s first young black detective duo, opening an inclusive pop-up bookshop in Brixton, bringing Jason Reynolds to the UK for an inspiring tour, and now crowd-funding for more diversely stocked bookshops across the UK. And all in their first year!
A lot of the industry was horrified by the stats released earlier this year, revealing the dearth of diverse children’s book characters in the UK market. For Every One is an inspiring book that encapsulates hope and the potential for change, and Knights Of, with their accessible, refreshing and commercial publishing, are equally as inspirational.


Bea Cross, Bloomsbury
Is it a coincidence that the Spice Girls announced that they were reforming for a global tour mere months after Lauren Ace and Jenny Lovlie’s glorious picture book The Girls published? The Spice Girls may bring the original Girl Power™ but 2018 was all about Lottie (Adventurous Spice), Sasha (Practical Spice), Leela (Clever Spice) and Alice (Funny Spice) and their beautiful blossoming friendship. It was a joy to hear little girls at events and festivals talking earnestly about which Girl they would be and why (I’m a Lottie but also a little Sasha) and, in what has been quite frankly a tricky ol’ year for the girls, it has been a joy to celebrate The Girls message of sisterhood, solidarity and supporting each other through it all.

 

Lizz Skelly, Hachette
Julian is a Mermaid was a book that I fell totally in love with and shared with so many friends and family. The colours, textures and patterns of the book are so gorgeous and the message so simple but full of hope, light and positivity. I think all of publishing collectively lost their minds when they saw Julian get the stamp of approval from Ru Paul himself. There was such a natural buzz that grew around this title which really reminded me just how powerful word of mouth recommendations are – everywhere I went people were talking about Julian. And rightly so!

 

Fiona Kennedy, Zephyr
Children of Castle Rock by Natasha Farrant for me - the great content aside, I love the look of this book. It speaks of adventure and also has a wonderful classic feel - picking up on the Lauren St John (White Giraffe and Laura Marlin) vibe and everything that is 'modern day ' Blyton. It's pure entertainment.  Timely publishing in the spring gave it the advantage of the whole year and it
was effectively publicised - I saw it popping up everywhere!

 

Claire Wilson, RCW
The book that I can’t stop talking about is How Winston Delivered Christmas by Alex T. Smith. I get a physical pang of longing to buy it every time I see it, even though I already own it. It’s a completely stunning package, with an incredibly endearing hero, a brilliant format, and the most appealing illustrations. The doll’s house cut-away is irresistible; my inner child (and indeed my actual child) fell head over heels in love with on first sight. Beautifully designed, perfectly Christmassy, with a stunning use of colour – and a very intriguing story, although I am of course not yet up to chapter 24 and a half…