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21st Century Classics: Children's and Young Adult

Posted on 23rd January 2020 by Mark Skinner

The phenomenal surge in children's and young adult publishing kick-started in the late 1990s by Philip Pullman and J.K. Rowling has only continued to grow in the twenty-first century. The last twenty years have seen the creation of some now beloved franchises and breakout literary stars. In this blog we pick one title for every year of the century so far to reflect the extraordinary breadth and diversity of contemporary children's publishing.      

2000

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The book that introduced teen super-spy Alex Rider to millions of enthralled fans, Stormbreaker is an unstoppable juggernaut of high-octane thrills, action set-pieces and wire-taut narrative tension. Investigating a shadowy individual who is supplying suspicious computers to schools, our young hero embarks on his first top secret mission.
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2001

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A dystopian Romeo and Juliet that makes eloquent statements about race relations and the burning passions of the teenage heart, Noughts and Crosses is absolutely pivotal in the evolution of the Young Adult novel.
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2002

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Twinkling with gothic menace and dark subtext, Gaiman’s deliciously creepy fantasy mines childhood displacement and sinister new environments to create a startlingly original and unnerving novel. Ominous prophecies in the tea leaves and alternate parents with black button eyes infuse this strange, poignant work with a singular literary aura.
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2003

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A mix of old-fashioned adventure and delightfully quirky comedy, How to Train Your Dragon kick-starts Cowell’s remarkable fantasy series featuring hapless Vikings and their flying reptilian steeds.
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2004

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Evoking ancient superstition and folk myth, the first of Paver’s atmospheric fantasy saga pits an adolescent boy against a malevolent spirit cast in the form of a giant bear. An immersive melding of prehistory and dark magic, Wolf Brother is scintillating world-building of the highest order.
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2005

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With his quirky, distinctive artistic style and unerring ability to pull on the heart-strings to just the right extent, Oliver Jeffers has forged a reputation as one of the twenty-first century’s picture book maestros. Lost and Found, an understated story of friendship and loneliness, is one of his most enduring masterpieces.
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2006

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Intensely haunting and emotionally devastating, Boyne’s delicate fable takes a child’s eye view of twentieth century history and finds resonances lacking from many adult accounts. Written in clear, subtle prose The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a stunningly realised work with real narrative power.
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2007

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The late, great Siobhan Dowd’s ingenious ‘howdunit’ combines a meticulously constructed plot with a brilliantly memorable juvenile sleuth to create one of the standout children’s books of the twenty-first century. Engaging and rewarding, The London Eye Mystery is a junior crime novel par excellence.
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2008

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With stark, profound things to say about media exploitation and teen disaffection, Suzanne Collins’ now-iconic YA work is a hard-edged, relentlessly thrilling triumph that continues to hold readers entranced.
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2009

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Walliams’ second children’s novel and the one that really put him on the map, Mr Stink is a wickedly subversive and mischievous romp that, crucially, has just as much heart as grotesquery. Channeling the anarchic spirit of Roald Dahl and accompanied by vibrant illustrations from the legendary Quentin Blake, this is richly comic writing of deceptive depth and subtlety.
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2010

Zog
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An inspiring story of self-belief and perseverance with an empowering message about following your dreams, Zog has become one of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s most beloved works. Boasting some of the former Waterstones Children’s Laureate’s greatest verse as well as characters of immense charm and chutzpah, Zog is a feel-good winner for all the family.
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2011

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A seminal YA novel with an illustrious literary pedigree behind it, A Monster Calls was the brainchild of Siobhan Dowd who tragically died before she could write it. In the hands of Patrick Ness, Dowd’s vision becomes a haunting, elegiac work about terminal illness, hope and desperation. Dark, moving and packed with electrifying imagery, A Monster Calls is simply unforgettable reading.
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2012

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A sumptuous gift book that really brings geography to life for younger readers, Maps illuminates the topography of 52 countries with exquisite illustrations of cultural figures, national landmarks and wildlife. An aesthetic marvel as well as a hugely enlightening resource, Maps transforms the way we look at the world.
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2013

2014

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Built on a genius concept and carried off with precision and skill, The Book with No Pictures unfailingly provokes gales of laughter from young children. As the text gets sillier, the hysteria increases, making this anti-picture book a fail-safe crowd-pleaser like no other.
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2015

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Ultimately uplifting despite its dark subject matter, The War That Saved My Life focuses on the story of Ada, a sheltered girl abused by her mother for her clubfoot, on the eve of the Second World War. With a firm grasp of memorable characterisation and a gift for emotionally resonant prose, Bradley delivers a highly impressive slice of wartime drama.
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2016

£25.00
Hardback
5+ in stock
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An inspiring collection of potted lives of strong women, from iconic world leaders to little-known pioneers, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls presents an alternate history of progress and achievement. Adorned with vibrant, imaginative illustrations from a range of female artists, this is required reading for all those keen to make a difference.
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2017

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The 2018 Waterstones Children's Book Prize winner is an incendiary piece of work, which tackles race, violence and poverty with such raw honesty and fearlessness as to mark a new page in the evolution of the YA novel. Unflinching and immensely powerful, The Hate U Give speaks to twenty-first century society as few other books can hope to.
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2018

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Beautifully illustrated and joyously inclusive, Julian is a Mermaid has a good claim to being the most progressive picture book of the decade. But even aside from the positive messages of tolerance and identity, Love’s future classic is a riot of colour, wit and glorious humanity.
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2019

£12.99
Hardback
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A magisterial maritime fantasy from the Costa Award-winning Frances Hardinge, Deeplight probes the treacherous undertow of obsession and greed. Wrapped tight in evocative prose and sinuous, slithering atmosphere, this is a marvel of construction and technique.

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