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Children’s Books of the Year 2016: The Book I Wish I'd Published

Broadcast 22 December, 2016

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We asked a host of top children’s books editors which books - published by a publishing house other than their own - had really grabbed their attention this year. Here are the books they told us they most admired.

We asked a host of top children’s books editors which books - published by a publishing house other than their own - had really grabbed their attention this year. Here are the books they told us they most admired:


Deirdre McDermott, Picture Book Publisher/Creative Director Walker Books

One great book this year was Jean Jullien’s This is Not a Book (Phaidon) – we love everything that Jean does, and this clever concept book is no exception. Jean always looks at things in a completely unique way, and we love how he reimagines the book form … it’s full of wonderful surprises.

We also love Yasmeen Ismail’s I’m a Girl! (Bloomsbury) – there’s so much joy and movement and energy in Yasmeen’s art, and you can’t help but feel empowered and uplifted by her wonderful read-aloud text… here’s to the girls in 2017!  

Jenny Broom, Editorial Director Frances Lincoln Children's Books and Wide Eyed Editions

The book that I would have loved to have published would be The Liszts by Kyo MacLear and Júlia Sardà (Andersen Press – kudos Libby Hamilton). I've been a fan of Julia's for ages and I absolutely love everything about this book, from the fantastic Art Deco-inspired cover to the Liszts's eclectic, kooky lists. As a compulsive list maker, I instantly recognised myself in the characters who blend Adams Family gothic charm with an eccentricity straight out of Cold Comfort Farm.

Ruth Bennett, Commissioning Editor Stripes

Unboxed by Non Pratt, published by Barrington Stoke. Non's writing immediately draws the reader into the lives of a group of teens on the cusp of adulthood and perfectly captures the dynamics of their friendship in this intense and beautifully formed short novel. Barrington Stoke are experts at publishing books for reluctant readers and readers with dyslexia and this is a book that balances sophisticated themes and accessible writing and features a diverse cast that feels true to life. It's wrapped up in an incredibly attractive cover, too! All in all, this is a Young Adult novel anyone should be proud to be seen reading, showing that really special books comes in all shapes and sizes, just like us.

Liz Cross, Head of Children’s Publishing OUP

I will go for… Cogheart, by Peter Bunzl, published by Usborne. The reason being: as an editor, when you miss out on acquiring a book you really love, you always worry about whether the publisher that beat you (blast them!!) will do a good enough job for the book and the author. I can be VERY critical of other publishers’ covers and marketing campaigns in cases like that. (Sour grapes? Me? Never!) But in the cases of the wonderful Cogheart, I have to say that I think Usborne have done a really great job. The cover is gorgeous and distinctive, and really sets the atmosphere for the book – and the buzz they created about the book from the start through social media was very powerful. Their sales material made it crystal clear how special they all thought the book was, and it’s all added up to a really successful and impactful launch for this fabulous book.

Lauren Fortune, Senior Commissioning Editor, Scholastic

My standout publication of the year is Stripes’ I’ll be Home for Christmas anthology. I love everything about this – the gorgeous Cath Kidston-esque cover perfect for gift purchases, the amazing line-up of contributors, the stories themselves, the support for Crisis. The marketing has been spot-on, from turning the Stripes stand at hot and stuffy YALC into an eye-catching winter grotto in July, to engaging with retailers, reviewers AND teenagers so effectively on social media, to the way it linked with so many high-profile authors and established events in the YA space, including YALC and the Bookseller YA Book Prize, to achieve coverage and cachet. It is a shining, heart-warming piece of publishing in a rotten year for the world, and I salute everyone involved and hope it sells brilliantly.

Tom Bonnick, Business Development Manager and Commissioning Editor, Nosy Crow

I have been hugely impressed with Chicken House’s list this year. They’ve found some incredible debut voices - I loved the warmth, wit, and great characters in M.G. Leonard’s Beetle Boy, and Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s The Girl of Ink and Stars felt like the discovery of a new talent with immense promise.

They’ve had a fantastic hit-rate for the Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month slot, no doubt helped by the fact that their cover design in 2016 has been truly stand-out - with some lovely production finishes, too, like Beetle Boy’s multi-coloured sprayed edges. And I absolutely adored Natasha Farrant’s Pride and Prejudice-inspired Lydia - a very astute piece of publishing that was beautifully executed.

Looking ahead, I’ve observed Bloomsbury’s clever, imaginative commissioning for 2017 with admiration and not a little envy: I can’t wait to read Katherine Rundell’s first picture book and Jessie Burton’s feminist fairytales next year.

Venetia Gosling, Publisher 6+, Macmillan Children’s Books

There are two books that stand out for me - One by Sarah Crossan, published by Bloomsbury, which was just a brilliant and moving read, and pulled poetry and the verse novel back into the spotlight in a very modern way.

And I loved Brian Selsnick's The Marvels (Scholastic), which felt both innovative and traditional at the same time, cleverly marrying text and illustration with two separate but interconnected storylines - utterly transfixing and impressive. I realise it published in Autumn 2015, but I only read it this year (does that count?!)...

If not, can I have Time-Travelling with a Hamster (HarperCollins)? I really enjoyed this, it has a great title, the author is dry and funny, the story is poignant and silly in equal measure and the cover is simple and impactful. It works. And I was really pleased to see a funny middle grade debut on the Costa shortlist!

Chloe Sackur, Fiction Editor, Andersen Press

I’ve chosen Crongton Knights by Alex Wheatle (Atom). This book really touched me. Although it’s a story about teens with some very sobering worries – bereavement, family debt, gangs, stop and search – it balances all this with the language and worldview of its narrator, McKay. At 14, he still has some of the idealism and fantasies of a child. There’s some great invented teen slang which shares literary DNA with Nadsat in A Clockwork Orange, but a deeper metaphor runs through it too: McKay’s estate is a place of danger and adventure, where his flat is a castle, complete with drawbridge front door, and his mates are his fellow knights, setting out on a chivalrous quest to seek a girl’s stolen iPhone. It’s an inspired way of demonstrating the push and pull of adolescence and growing up. There are some nice touches about the book itself, too – this series’ covers are bright and eye-catching and stylish, ideal for today’s design-savvy teens (they’re by Jack Smyth). At the back, Atom have thoughtfully included a list of helplines for organisations that deal with some of the issues raised in the story, and, best of all, a couple of McKay’s favourite recipes.

Ali Dougal, Publishing Director, Egmont UK

I’ve admired Nosy Crow’s publishing of Pamela Butchart this year. Pamela was already a fast-rising star, but with the publication of two books in the Baby Aliens series, three books in the Pugly series and a new Wigglesbottom Primary installment, her position is cemented as one of the most dominant new writers for young readers. Strong momentum and packaging, presence on the events scene and, of course, a fresh and genuinely funny voice have made this a terrific year for her.

Tune into Down the Rabbit Hole's hour-long Christmas Special on 25 December at 4.00pm on Resonance 104.4FM to hear more books of the year!