The UK is home to some serious talent in the field of children’s writing. We round up some of the best that are bucking publishing’s trend towards the celebrity author.
That might well be the case. And yet we cannot help but rankle at the idea that, had they been starting out now, the beloved and best-selling likes of Roald Dahl, Michelle Magorian, A.A Milne, Eric Carle, Julia Donaldson, Philip Pullman and JK Rowling (amongst scores of stellar names) might have found it more difficult to get published prior to having millions of followers to their names (no matter that the books themselves, places in the canon duly taken, might just do the job: cross reference the 13.9 million followers JK Rowling has on Twitter on the basis of her Harry Potter series alone).
This, we suggest, would have been a travesty, depriving children of transporting worlds that have ignited imaginations everywhere – often providing a necessary sanctuary in bleak times. There are, of course, celebrities with genuine flair, wit and talent (we’re looking at you, David Baddiel). But we’re here for the children’s writers who do this for their primary living and just so happen to be really, really good at it.
In the name, then, of supporting those who do not have a sideline as a radio DJ/ footballer/ pop star/ erstwhile royal, these are a few of our favourites kids’ book by non-celebrity writers to read with or buy for your children in 2022.
The Baddies (Age 3+)
Julia Donaldson/ Axel Scheffler
It’s been a while since the dynamic duo behind The Gruffalo, Stickman and Zog et al last collaborated on a book – and how we have missed them. The Baddies is coming in September and, as usual, will feature Donaldson’s impeccable rhyming couplets and Scheffler’s inimitable and characterful illustrations. This tale centres around a trio of dastardly villains who try and fail to frighten a plucky young girl. Pre-order it here.
Weirdo (Age 3+)
Zadie Smith/ Nick Laird/ Magenta Fox
Who doesn’t love a guinea pig in an unaccountable judo suit – especially when she’s named Maud? Readers journey with her as she is flung into a new situation and right out of her comfort zone, until she ultimately embraces her individuality. Superbly written (it is husband-and-wife and mega novelists Zadie Smith and Nick Laird, after all) and beautifully illustrated by Magenta Fox. Buy it here.
The Midnight Fair (Age 3+)
Gideon Sterer/ Mariachiara Di Giorgio
This enchanting tale tells the story of a fairground far from the city which springs into life each night and comes alive for the woodland creatures. The very stuff we lived for as children. Magical. Buy it here.
The Boy Who Sailed The World (Age 3+)
Julia Green/ Alex Latimer
A wonder-filled story of a boy who takes himself off around the world in a boat, navigating by the light of the moon – until, that is, he is pulled back by a voice from home. They say, ‘Bolstered by his realised dreams, he returns to the embrace of his family - until his journeys start again. Filled with the wonder of the natural world and the joy of adventure, this is a story about dreaming big - and about the qualities you need to achieve your dreams: resilience, self-reliance, perseverance, preparation, curiosity, and joy. This picture book is inspired by the amazing true story of Julia's son's voyage around the world.’ Buy it here.
Bloom (Age 3+)
This story of a jellyfish who undertakes to discover why her friends are disappearing explores how every creature has a role in maintaining the balance of the ocean. An excellent segue into conversations with little ones about how to look after our planet – and a very good read too. Buy it here.
Wild Beings (Age 3+)
Dorien Brouwers’ follow up to her debut, Sail, makes a beautifully illustrated examination of children, animals and their kindred, precious spirits. Buy it here.
Five Bears (Age 3+)
The great Catherine Rayner is back, this time with a book about bears, proving that children’s books are usually all the better for an ursine presence. This tale explores the bears’ differences – before they learn that they may not be so very different after all. Buy it here.
The Marvellous Doctors For Magical Creatures
Jodie Lycet-Grant/ Lydia Corry
Does your little one have a particular penchant for unicorns, mermaids, dragons and the whole spectrum of magical creatures? Jodie Lycet-Grant’s protagonist Ava does too, and we meet her as she’s learning the magical medical ropes. As they say, ‘In this magical story about being true to yourself, Ava discovers there's more than one way to be a unicorn!’ Buy it here.
Leila And The Blue Fox (Age 9+)
Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom De Freston
From the duo behind the enchanting and award-winning Julia and The Shark comes this new tale of friendship and adventure, as a girl and a young fox journey across the Arctic in search of the former’s mother. Based on the real story of an Arctic fox which made its way from Norway to Canada, this promises to be a beautiful ode to resilience. More awards seem likely. Coming in September. Pre-order it here.
Victoria Stitch, Free And Famous (Age 9+)
When Victoria Stitch breaks out of the confines of Wiskling Wood, she smashes a cardinal rule to pieces by talking to a human. Where she is feared in her own world, she is feted in theirs – but can her twin Celeste warn her in time to stave off those who would try and stop her? Buy it here.
The Royal Rebel (Age 9+)
Bali Rai/ Rachael Dean
This excellent book tells the incredible true story of a forgotten heroine Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, the daughter of the last Sikh ruler of the Punjab, and goddaughter of Queen Victoria. When her father loses his empire, the family is exiled to Britain, testing her sense of belonging. But her sense of injustice is strong, and duly Sophia joins the suffragettes and fights to secure the vote for women. An enthralling and inspiring read. Buy it here.
Sofia Acosta Makes A Scene (Age 9+)
Sofia Acosta is a Cuban-American girl whose parents were once prima ballerinas. She hasn’t inherited their gifts, but in this coming-of-age tale that examines immigration, she discovers other talents – as well where she truly belongs (but only by first making a scene). Buy it here.
The Good Turn (Age 10+)
Sharna Jackson, the author of the High Rise Mystery, is one of the very best, funniest and thrilling writers of middle grade fiction right now. Her latest, The Good Turn, features an eleven-year-old girl who is desperate to explore the world beyond her cul-de-sac. Through her burgeoning interest in activism, she and her friends found a group inspired by the original American Girl Scout Troop for Black girls when they stumble across an old photograph – and a mystery to be solved. Buy it here.
The First To Die In The End (Young Adult)
Expectations are high for this prequel to the award-winning They Both Die At The End, of which Patrick Ness wrote, 'There isn't a teenager alive who won't find their heart described perfectly on these pages.' As the blurb goes, ‘Orion and Valentino cross paths in Times Square and immediately feel a deep connection. But when the first End Day calls go out, their lives are changed for ever – one of them receives a call... the other doesn’t.’ We can’t wait. Dropping in October. Pre-order it here.
Twin Crowns (Young Adult)
Katherine Webber/ Catherine Doyle
Two bestselling novelists. One YA romantic fantasy. It could almost be a plot in itself. But it wouldn’t quite be as compelling as the fruits of the shared labours of Katherine Webber and Catherine Doyle. As the blurb goes: ‘Two sisters. One throne. Who will ultimately rise to power and wear the crown? Wren Greenrock has always known that one day she would steal her sister's place in the palace. Trained from birth to avenge her parents' murder and usurp the princess, she will do anything to rise to power and protect the community of witches she loves. Princess Rose Valhart knows that with power comes responsibility including marriage into a brutal kingdom. Life outside the palace walls is a place to be feared and she is soon to discover that it's wilder than she ever imagined.’ The great Katherine Rundell calls it ‘one of the funniest sexiest YA romantic comedies in years.’ And she always knows. Buy it here.
Medusa (Young Adult)
Jessie Burton/ Olivia Lomenech Gill
Retellings of classical myths have surged in popularity since Madeleine Miller wrote the peerless The Song of Achilles in 2011. Some are, of course, more successful than others, although in general we are thrilled to see these extraordinary stories come alive again for new readerships. One of the very best examples is undoubtedly Jessie Burton’s Medusa. Who wouldn’t want the writer of the extraordinary The Miniaturist to reframe the exiled Medusa, so long mired in her snake-headed monstrousness, for them? It’s enthralling. Madeleine Miller calls it ‘a beautiful and profound retelling,’ and we hard agree. Buy it here.
By Nancy Alsop