As 2008 draws to a close, our fabulous Readings children’s buyers reflect on their favourite books of the year. Anyone looking for Christmas tips should find plenty of inspiration on these pages, for kids of all ages and interests.
Kathy Kozlowski raves about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie). ‘Based on Sherman Alexie’s own life this story of a boy who leaves the reservation to go to the all-white school, thereby alienating his rez friends too, is a fascinating read. Tough, funny, honest and ultimately uplifting, it’s my must-read of the year!’ Marie Matteson loved it, too. She also loved The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (E. Lockhart). ‘How to become a feminist, infiltrate the boys club, get the coolest boy in school and bring down the establishment when you are 16.’
Leanne Hall says the best book she read this year was Allegra Goodman’s The Other Side of the Island, ‘an effortless and completely convincing account of a young girl’s struggles in a dystopian society where climate instability is the justification for a totalitarian regime’.
Callie Martin loved the ‘brilliant and challenging’ Red Necklace by Sally Gardner. ‘A fantastical book set in the dark, dangerous days of the French revolution. Sequels to come!’ And Simmone Howell’s second book, Everything Beautiful ‘continues to amaze. How does she describe the indescribable?’
Holly Harper says The Knife of Never Letting Go (Patrick Ness) is ‘the funniest, saddest, most gripping thing I’ve read all year’. Todd lives in a world where no thought is private, where animals have voices, and his town is hiding a terrible secret. This ‘futuristic action thriller’ is Alexa Dretze’s pick, too, along with The Declaration (Gemma Malley).
Kathy Kozlowski says that The Wish Pony (Catherine Bateson) ‘sounds heavy, but it’s not’. It’s a contemporary Australian story about a family coping with a difficult pregnancy and the neighbour who is there for them. ‘With its touch of mystery, it’s a sort of Mary Poppins of the suburbs.’ Alexa Dretze concurs: ‘the power of being understood is magical’. Alexa also loved The Rules of Cool: Mac Slater, Coolhunter (Tristan Bancks). ‘When uncool is surprisingly cool.’
The OK Team (Nick Place), starring Hazy Retina and his team of misfit novice superheroes, made Leanne Hall ‘laugh constantly with their Melbourne-based misadventures’.
She also loved the ‘gentle, whimsical’ Kenny and the Dragon (Tony Ditzerlizzi): ‘ Kenny is the cutest, bravest and most honourable rabbit to ever wear a rubbish bin lid as armour.’
Holly Harper highly recommends The Incredibly Boring Monotonous Family (Phil Barry) for fans of Roald Dahl. ‘This boring family collects twigs and only eats foods that aren’t too colourful, until Ann finds a magic key and shows them the meaning of excitement. This book had me laughing out loud on the tram.’ The first in Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom Series, Mister Monday is another winner. ‘Arthur Penhaligon must win seven keys from seven guardians to save Earth and the mysterious realm of the House: a place of powerful, winged Denizens, Pied Piper’s children and pirate rats. Nix is a master of creating amazing fantasy worlds.’
Callie Martin’s pick is Sunny Side Up (Marion Roberts). ‘Set in our very own St Kilda, in one of our very own heat waves, this is a delightful, funny story about growing up.
Marie Matteson loved The London Eye Mystery (Siobhan Dowd). ‘How do you disappear from a sealed pod on the London eye? Ted and Kat work together to find their missing cousin before time runs out.’
Holly Harper says that ‘everybody: young, old, lovers of fantasy, haters of fantasy, should read the His Dark Materials trilogy, starting with Northern Lights (Philip Pullman). One day this will be thought of in the same way as Lord of the Rings and Narnia, and hopefully the Nicole Kidman film will be long-forgotten.’
Kathy Kozlowski loved both Audrey of the Outback and Audrey Goes to Town (Christine Harris). ‘Probably Audrey Goes to Town, when our indomitable heroine finds herself staying with a very proper elderly lady, is my favourite. It was a steep and quite touching learning curve for both of them!’
‘I think if I wasn’t me I’d like to be Henrietta,’ says Callie Martin. Alexa Dretzke also has a soft spot for the ‘quirky and delightful’ heroine of Henrietta Gets a Letter (Martine Murray).
Holly Harper chooses adventure. ‘Tashi is brave, clever and goes on the coolest adventures, like the time he tricked a dragon or escaped getting eaten by giants.’ His adventures are collected in The Big Big Book of Tashi (Anna Fienberg & Kim Gamble). ‘Top secret missions, high-tech gadgets and evil villains are all in a day’s work for 12-year-old super spy Zac Power. These are so exciting - I think Zac has the best job in the world!’ The Zac Pack (HI Larry) has a backpack and four recent titles in the series.
Leanne Hall was a fan of Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie series. 'Elephant and Piggie are excitable, melodramatic and full of energy; their stories are hilarious and simple enough for beginner readers.’
Kathy Kozlowski has two favourite picture books for the year. The Pencil (Allan Ahlberg, illus by Bruce Ingman) about a pencil who draws his own world, has a wonderfully dramatic climax (when the eraser he draws gets out of control), and a comfortably happy ending. Nyuntu Ninti: What You Should Know (Bob Randall & Melanie Hogan) is a photographic picture book about Aboriginal life and values which brings to life both the simple freedoms and commonsense respect for the land innate in this world so different from ours. ‘It’s probably the children’s book I think about most, of all I have ‘read’ this year.’
Leanne Hall raves about Little Seed (Gav Barbey). ‘I love the colourful ink-spattered pictures that illustrate this gorgeous story about the travels of a little seed as it visits trees all over the world.’ Ditto for The Very Cranky Bear (Nick Bland). ‘I can’t help but laugh every time I look at the page where the very cranky bear emerges from the cave with a huge and ridiculous pair of moose antlers strapped to his head.’
Holly Harper can’t resist Dexter Bexley and the Big Blue Beastie. ‘Who can resist a Big Blue Beastie in a waistcoat and a bowler hat, even if he is trying to eat you?’ And she says that Duck, Death and the Tulip (Wolf Erlbruch) is ‘a beautifully simple book about life and death, for kids, adults and ducks alike’.
Callie Martin has two picks. She says that the ‘beautifully illustrated’ Sunday Chutney by Aaron Blabey ‘ celebrates the wonderful effervescence of the individual’. And on There are Cats in this Book by Viviane Schwarz: ‘Finally, a book with enough cats in it!’
Marie Matteson loved Nobody Owns The Moon (Tohby Riddle). ‘Life is hard in the big city for a fox and a donkey but one wonderful night can reaffirm the warmth of friendship and the wonder of shared experience.’ And Edwina: The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct. ‘Reginald knows that dinosaurs are extinct but no one will listen to him except Edwina – the dinosaur who didn’t know she was extinct.’
Board Books and First Books
Kathy Kozlowski from Readings Carlton loved Alison Jay’s Nursery Collection. She says, ‘I have always loved the modern fresco type art work in Alison Jay’s board books and now they are together: Alphabet and Numbers in a box.’ There is also a matching ABC wall frieze.
Her second pick, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes (Mem Fox), was also the pick for Readings Hawthorn’s Alexa Dretzke: ‘A perfect gift for every new baby’. Alexa also loved Happy Hector (Polly Dunbar): ‘A very cute Hector is happy, but then he’s sad. A colourful, charming look at friendship.’
Readings Malvern’s Holly Harper had two favourites. Mix Up World (Herve Tullet) enables young readers to mix and match to create an elephant on a house, a man lifting a mountain or a camel balanced on a fingertip. In This Dinosaur is So Big, the dinosaurs are big enough to eat a tree, a house or a plane for breakfast.
Callie Martin from Readings St Kilda chose Froggy Green by Anna Walker, ‘a darling little charmer about all the colours we love, especially when those colours involve ice cream’. And Charley Harper’s ABC's, ‘a unique artistic animal A to Z’.
Marie Matteson from Readings Port Melbourne picked the new version of an enduring favourite: the novelty playhouse Maisy’s House and Garden (Lucy Cousins). ‘You can play outside and inside and even the toilet opens!’