Great books know no age limits, so it’s always with much enthusiasm that our Children’s Book Specialists put together lists of our favourite kids’ books. Out of the many hundreds of wonderful kids’ books that grace our shelves, these are the ones that caught our eyes. Whether it’s a beautiful picture book you’re after, a fascinating non-fiction title, or just a really great story for the younger reader in your life, you can be guaranteed that the books on this list are the best of the best.
In his characteristic heartwarming and minimalistic style, Patrick McDonnell tells the story of a young Jane Goodall and her special childhood toy chimpanzee named Jubilee.
'A delightful introduction to the life of an amazing woman. For readers aged three and up.' - Review by Alexa Dretzke, Readings Hawthorn.
A Bus Called Heaven
A broken, old bus appears one morning, sad as a whale on a beach, right outside Stella's house. On the front of it, held up with packing tape, is a hand-painted sign... 'Heaven'.
A Sick Day for Amos McGee
Philip C. Stead & Erin E. Stead
'The winner of the 2011 Caldecott Medal for illustration, A Sick Day for Amos McGee is a quiet treasure. Amos McGee is an elderly zookeeper who makes time every day to visit his good friends. He plays chess with the elephant "who thought and thought before making a move" and reads stories to the owl "who was afraid of the dark" at sunset. One day he is sick and this provides the impetus for his friends to leave the zoo and visit him – led by the very shy penguin.' - Review by Marie Matteson, Readings Port Melbourne.
Floyd gets his kite stuck up a tree. He throws up his shoe to shift it, but that gets stuck too. So he throws up his other shoe and that got stuck, along with... a ladder, a pot of paint, the kitchen sink, an orang-utan and a whale, amongst other things! Will Floyd ever get his kite back? A hilarious book with a wonderful surprise ending.
'This is a wonderfully absurd book which should be read by everyone, everywhere.' - Review by Holly Harper, Readings Carlton.
I Want My Hat Back
The bear's hat is gone, and he wants it back. Patiently and politely, he asks the animals he comes across, one by one, whether they have seen it. Each animal says no, some more elaborately than others. But just as it he begins to lose hope, lying flat on his back in despair, a deer comes by and asks a rather obvious question that suddenly sparks the bear's memory and renews his search with a vengeance.
'You will laugh yourself stupid over this book; with its simple story and beautiful illustrations, it really is unlike anything else out there.' - Review by Holly Harper, Readings Carlton.
The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories
'A brand new book of Dr Seuss stories! Hasn’t the man been dead for 20 years? – I hear you ask. Well, yes, but avid Seuss scholar and collector Charles D. Cohen recently revealed these seven individual stories, which were initially published in Redbook magazine in the US during 1950 and 1951. They have finally appeared for the first time together in book format.' - Review by Angela Crocombe, Readings St Kilda
You Will Be My Friend!
Today is the day the exuberant Lucy is going to make a new friend! But she finds it's harder than she had thought--she accidentally ruins the giraffe's breakfast and is much too big for the frogs' pond. Just when she's about to give up, an unexpected friend finds, and loves her just the way she is.
Press here. That's right. Just press the yellow dot...and turn the page. This irresistible picture book is ideal for sharing with children and has created a sensation worldwide
It's nearly Cedric the dragon's bedtime - there's just time for his mum to read him his favourite book. Unfortunately for her, Cedric likes the story so much that he wants to hear it again... and again... and again... with incendiary consequences!
'There’s a lot of humour that parents will be able to relate to in this cheeky tale... A very funny picture book for three and ups, that I’m sure will be read… well, lots of times.' - Review by Holly Harper, Readings Carlton.
Pip and Posy: The Super Scooter
Pip and Posy are typical toddlers: they are best friends and they have fun ...but sometimes, just like any other toddler, they get cross and sad, so sometimes it takes friendship, sharing and understanding - and a cuddle - to make things better.
'These simple stories are simultaneously cosy and reassuring while celebrating the growing independence of the young. Perfect for one- to three-year-olds.' - Review by Kathy Kozlowski, Readings Carlton.
Junior Fiction (6-9 years)
Sophie and the Shadow Woods: The Goblin King
Linda Chapman & Lee Weatherly
Very few people ever enter the Shadow Woods, for they are like no others. Hidden deep within them is the Gateway to the Shadow Realm - a mysterious world where all kinds of mischievous creatures live. On her tenth birthday, tomboy Sophie learns she is the Guardian of the magical gateway, and that her destiny is to protect the human world from the goblins, trolls and evil sprites that inhabit the Shadow Woods.
Star League: Lights, Camera, Action Hero!
When Jay is invited to audition for his favourite director, he is overjoyed. But things are not as they seem. Could director Ben Beaumont really be asking Jay to lead a team of kids in a battle against evil? Jay has his doubts, but when someone close to him is kidnapped, Jay knows he has no choice. He must step up to head the team.
'It is all the stuff of popular culture, computer games, anime and movies, but unlike much of the usual spin-off merchandise this has a strong narrative and deliciously unexpected plot.' - Review by Kathy Kozlowski, Readings Carlton.
Claude in the City
Alex T. Smith
Claude is no ordinary dog - he leads an extraordinary life! When Mr and Mrs Shinyshoes set off for work, Claude decides what adventure he wants to have that day. Today he and Sir Bobblysock go to the city for the very first time. The have tea in a cafe, go shopping and visit a museum. It is all very normal until... Claude accidentally foils a robbery and becomes the local hero!
Precious And The Monkeys
Alexander McCall Smith
Well before Precious Ramotswe founded her Number One Ladies' Detective Agency, as an eight-year-old girl she was already solving mysteries. Here, in this delightful, enchanting tale for children, we find out just who has been stealing her schoolfriends snacks and how the young Precious became the crafty and intuitive private investigator we all know and love.
Super Diaper Baby #2: Invasion of the Potty
George and Harold (the co-stars of the enormously popular Captain Underpants series) are in big trouble-again! Their mean principal, Mr Krupp, has demanded that they stop making comics about poop. Always resourceful, the boys decide to create an all-new graphic novel about a totally different subject-pee!
It's crunch time in Bungawitta. The land's as dry as a dead galah, there's no rain in sight, and only twelve people left in town. Nobody can make it rain. But a shower of money would help keep Bungawitta alive. And a festival would attract city tourists with money to spend, Jay's sure of it. But can twelve people, two dogs and a Shetland pony put on a proper festival?
'This stand-alone junior reader from the phenomenally successful author of the Deltora Quest, Rowan of Rin and Rondo series is a real treat. You’ll laugh out loud at some of the antics of the Bungawitta locals, and fret along with them when things don’t go exactly as planned.' - Review by Holly Harper, Readings Carlton.
Thea Stilton and the Secret City
In this amazing adventure, Thea's friends the Thea Sisters head to Peru, where a good friend of Paulina's is in danger. There, the five mice climb the Andes in search of a mysterious treasure that's hidden in the Secret City of the Incas. Readers will love following the clues to help the Thea Sisters solve the mystery!
Meet Boris! He lives with his Mum and Dad in Hogg Bay. Their home is a bus that once travelled all over the world but now stays put in their garden. Boris wishes the bus would travel again . . . Then, one morning, Boris feels a jolt while he is eating his breakfast. Could it be? Is the bus really moving? Is Boris on an adventure at last?
'The full-colour illustrations from Andrew Joyner, illustrator of The Terrible Plop by Ursula Dubosarsky, speak volumes. So a very simple text, never more than two to five lines per page, tells a subtly funny and satisfying tale. It’s great!' - Review by Kathy Kozlowski, Readings Carlton.
Elephant and Piggie: We Are in a Book!
Stalwart friends Piggie and Gerald the elephant push the metafictive envelope in a big way when they realise that 'someone is looking at us'. 'Is it a monster?' worries Gerald. 'No,' replies the squinting Piggie. 'It is... / a reader! / A reader is reading us!' 'How?' wonders Gerald. Piggie drapes herself on a word bubble to demonstrate: 'We are in a book!'/ 'THAT IS SO COOL!'
Earwig and the Witch
Diana Wynne Jones
Earwig was left at St Morwald′s as a baby. Unlike the other children, she loves it there, mostly because she has the run of the place and seems to be able to persuade people to do as she wants. Then one day Earwig is chosen to live with a very strange couple: Bella Yaga, her new ′mother′, is actually a horrible witch. Earwig will need all her ingenuity (and some help from a talking cat) to survive...
Middle Fiction (9-12 years)
Our Australian Girl: Meet Grace
It's 1808 . . . and Grace is living with her uncle in London. They have no money, and Grace is always lonely and often hungry. The best part of her day is going to Fleet Street to talk to the horses that she loves so much. One afternoon Grace can't resist taking a shiny red apple from a grocer's cart - and then another... Before she knows it, Grace is being chased through the streets! Will she be caught and sent to prison - or worse?
Ruby Redford: Look Into My Eyes
Here′s the low-down on Ruby Redfort: she′s a genius code-cracker, a daring detective, and a gadget-laden special agent who just happens to be a thirteen-year-old girl. She and her slick side-kick butler, Hitch, foil crimes and get into loads of scrapes with evil villains, but they′re always ice-cool in a crisis.
'Lauren Child’s eponymous hero of the popular Clarice Bean series is a fan of the literary character, superspy Ruby Redfort. As the story goes, Lauren Child received so many letters from keen fans wanting to know how they could get hold of the Ruby Redfort books, she decided to write them. The result is a delightful story about a genius code-cracker and undercover agent who happens to be a 12-year-old schoolgirl.' - Review by Angela Crocombe, Readings St Kilda
Cecilia Undergarment likes a challenge. So when she discovers a sad and neglected dog, she is determined to rescue him. No matter what. But her daring dog rescue lands her in deep trouble. Trouble in the form of being lost in the dark forest of Northwood. A forest where ferocious black lions roam. A forest that hides a secret castle, an unlikely king and many a mystery. A forest where those who enter never return. But Cecilia is determined to find her way home. No matter what.
The Accidental Princess
When the pixies and fairies of the lilac hedge mistake Matilda for royalty, she is drawn into a wondrous world. But evil forces threaten the hedge and its folk, and Matilda must fight to save her new friends. She can't do it alone, but could it mean losing her sister forever?
It’s 1952 and the Scott family has moved unexpectedly from Los Angeles to London. Janie feels uncomfortable in her strange new school, until the local apothecary promises her a remedy for homesickness. But the real cure is meeting the apothecary’s son Benjamin, a curiously defiant boy who dreams of becoming a spy.
'A fantasy adventure firmly rooted in the real world, it’s set in 1950s Cold War London, and will hugely appeal to readers aged 12 and up.' - Review by Jo Case, Readings Monthly editor.
Liesl and Po
We meet Liesl the night after the day her young father has died. That same day she is visited by a ghost, Po, an eight year old boy who lives on the other side, the territory between life and death that runs parallel to the living world. Po has come to tell her that her father is stuck on the other side, and that she is the only one who can help him cross over.
Ben's story takes place in 1977. Rose's story takes place in 1927. Ever since his mother died, Ben feels lost. At home with her father, Rose feels alone. When Ben finds a mysterious clue hidden in his mother's room, and when a tempting opportunity presents itself to Rose, both children risk everything to find what's missing.
Darth Paper Strikes Back
The hilarious, clever, and much-anticipated follow-up to the breakout hit, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda! It is a dark time at Ralph McQuarrie Middle School. After suffering several Origami Yoda–related humiliations, Harvey manages to get Dwight suspended from school for being a 'troublemaker'. Origami Yoda pleads with Tommy and Kellen to save Dwight by making a new case file - one that will show how Dwight’s presence benefits McQuarrie.
'I really think this may be one of my favourite books of the year... Darth Paper Strikes Back is perfect for readers aged eight and up who might be struggling with finding a book that captivates them. - Review by Holly Harper, Readings Carlton
One Dog and His Boy
From the incomparable Eva Ibbotson comes a doggy tale that will make dog lovers bark with delight! All Hal has ever wanted is a dog of his own, but his parents have always resisted... until they discover the pet rental agency Easy Pet. Soon terrier Fleck joins the family, but when it's time to send him back Hal and Fleck go on the run.
'This is a heart-warming book that young dog lovers will find particularly satisfying.' - Review by Angela Crocombe, Readings St Kilda.
The Truth About Verity Sparks
When Verity is wrongly accused of theft and dismissed from her job, she goes to live with the Plushes - a slightly Bohemian family who run a Confidential Inquiry Agency. Verity helps them solve cases and slowly becomes one of the family. But patches of the truth about her past begin to surface, along with the special talent that Professor Plush is helping her explore.
'Middle readers interested in the paranormal, along with those who like a good mystery story, will love this book.' - Review by Angela Crocombe, Readings St Kilda.
My Little World
Julia Cooke & Marjorie Crosby Fairall
'Sssh, be very still. It helps if you are small (if tall, bend down quietly) – look closely and carefully and you will see a world of insects and plants that most people miss. For budding young naturalists, this book is a delightful introduction to Australian creatures and plants not normally featured in children’s nature books. The enchanting rhyme and exquisite illustrations invite children to explore the beauty and variety of their environment.' - Review by Alexa Dretzke, Readings Hawthorn
Mark Kurlansky, beloved author of the award-winning bestseller Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, offers a riveting new book for kids about what’s happening to fish, the oceans, and our environment, and what, armed with knowledge, kids can do about it.
Heroes and Heroines
Heroes and Heroines was first published in 1933, and features the same style of witty and lyrical poems as Kings and Queens of England. It tells of the deeds of heroes and heroines from all round the world including Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Robin Hood, Christopher Columbus, Sir Francis Drake, George Washington, Napoleon, Florence Nightingale and Buffalo Bill, among others. Both books present a fun and original way for children to learn history.
Magic of Reality
Richard Dawkins & Dave McKean
The Magic of Reality presents the real story of the world around us, taking us on an enthralling journey through scientific reality, and showing that it has an awe-inspiring beauty and thrilling magic which far exceed those of the ancient myths.
Surrealism For Kids
Queensland Art Gallery
Developed and written especially for children, and based on a selection of the word and image games once played by the surrealists, Surrealism for Kids is a beautiful 60-page publication exploring the ideas and approaches behind Surrealism in a series of activities for kids to do at home or in the classroom.
The Dragon Creativity Book
Watch out! Dragons are everywhere! This activity book has the lot: pictures to colour in, stickers to stick, games to play, ideas for things to make and do. A rich and colourful illustration style also sets it apart as a truly magical book that will delight. The Dragon Creativity Book includes two sticker sheets plus a large gatefold sticker scene, stencils for drawing, a press-out model and beautiful decorated craft paper.
LEGO Star Wars Character Encyclopedia
Get to know 'the LEGO Star Wars' minifigures in this fact-filled character encyclopedia. LEGO Star Wars Character Encyclopedia is one of the few, and highly sort after, LEGO Star Wars books on the market. This book features more than 300 minifigures and over 400 captivating images including many unseen elements. Organised in order of their appearance in the movies, each 'LEGO Star Wars' minifigure has a full-page character profile with lots of fascinating facts.
Sticker Design Studio
The book is packed with over 500 cute die-cut designs you mix, match, color, and layer to create your own unique stickers. Glittery accents provide that all-important sparkle, while light gray linework gives just the right amount of artistic help. Once they are inked over, the lines become nearly invisible - so only your creative genius shows.
Pom Pom Monster Salon
Pom poms get a monster makeover! With Pom Pom Monster Salon, anyone can create homemade pom-poms that have real personality. Our pom-pom maker is marked with a simple number code that makes it easy to make custom pom poms in endless colour combinations.
1000 Fairy Stickers
Children cannot fail to love this fantastic book filled with 1000 fairy-themed stickers. There are colourful pictures to fill with which ever stickers the reader chooses - to create delightful scenes of their own. The scenes include a spring meadow filled with flowers and butterflies, a strawberry patch with bugs and bees, a fantasy fairy castle, and a pond with water lilies and fluttering dragonflies. The extra stickers can be used on postcards, letters and envelopes, too.
Other 'best of 2011' lists:
- the best young adult fiction of 2011
- the best crime fiction of 2011
- the best foreign/translated fiction of 2011
- the best classical music of 2011
- the best short story collections of 2011
- the best overlooked books of 2011
- the best titles of 2011
- the best covers of 2011
- the best DVDs of 2011
Holly Harper is a children’s bookseller at Readings Carlton where she organises the kids and Young Adult e-newsletters. She also writes books for younger readers under the name H.J. Harper. Find out more about her Star League series and other books here and follow her on twitter - @hj_harper.
Leanne Hall is a children’s bookseller at Readings Carlton, and a writer of young adult fiction. Her novel This Is Shyness won the Text Prize for Children’s and Young Adult Writing. She blogs at the longblinks.com and you can follow her on twitter - @lilymandarin.
Jo Case is the editor of Readings Monthly and associate editor of Kill Your Darlings journal. You can follow her on Twiiter - @jocaseau
Angela Crocombe is the Children’s Book Buyer at Readings St Kilda, mother to a precocious two year-old, and the author of two books on sustainable living, A Lighter Footprint: A Practical Guide to Minimising your Impact on the Planet and Ethical Eating.
Marie Matteson is the childrens book specialist at readings Port Melbourne. As a child Marie liked to read and talk. She dreamt of being surrounded by books. That dream has come true and now Marie gets to talk about what she reads as a job.
Alexa Dretzke is a children's book specialist at Readings Hawthorn.
Kathy Kozlowski is a children's book specialist at Readings Carlton.