Katherine Rundell Recommends Her Top 5 Children's Reads
2019 has been a fantastic year for Katherine Rundell. Not only has she produced yet another piece of spellbinding children's fiction in the form of The Good Thieves but her brilliant extended essay, Why You Should Read Children's Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise, has been flying off bookshelves. If those two triumphs were not enough her festive modern classic One Christmas Wish is freshly available in paperback! Below are the children's and YA books that mean the most to Katherine as Christmas approaches.
I wrote One Christmas Wish in the months after my brother had his first child – a wrinkly December baby, who looked, when he was born, like a marble carving of an ancient saint on a cathedral door. One of the great joys of being a writer is that you can put the people you love into your stories, and set them off on wild adventures; so both that tiny baby (no longer so tiny) and the boy in the book are called Theo. I knew I wanted to write about a little boy who makes a wish, and whose wish sets of raucous, joyful havoc, of the kind that only happens once in a lifetime. And I knew I wanted the story to be set at Christmas, because Christmas has such magic and transformation in it; both for those who do and don’t celebrate a religion, the day has love shot through it. These are five of my top recommendations for children’s books to read this Christmas, whatever your age.
One of the book series I loved most as a child was Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge books – stories of tiny mice who live in exquisitely detailed homes inside the hedges. One, Winter Story, is about the mice planning a grand ice ball for Christmas, and remains, I think, one of the most glorious Christmas stories ever written.
Another wonderful snowy book is Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s The Way Past Winter; Mila and her sisters live with their brother Oskar in a snow-capped cabin in the woods; strangers arrive asking shelter, only to vanish in the night, taking Oskar with them. It has all the wonder of a fairy tale, and all the pace and sweep and action of a thriller.
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A book I have admired hugely, just out this summer, is Crossfire, by Malorie Blackman. This is the fifth instalment in the Noughts and Crosses series by one of the most brilliant writers for young people. The books are set in Zafrica, where the white Noughts were once enslaved by the Crosses; Sephy, the star of the first book, is now past 60, and a new cast of young people are now negotiating false murder accusations and intrigue. I saw a woman reading it on the tube this morning, and she didn’t glance up even when a child stepped on her toe.
For people who love to be just-exactly-the-right-amount of terrified at Christmas, there’s the wonderful Ross Montgomery’s Christmas Dinner of Souls; at once hilarious and spooky, it’s the story of a secret club for those who despise children, warmth, happiness, and above all Christmas. Each member has to outdo the others by telling the most terrible, disgusting tale they know: as the reviews said, ‘A gory and gruesome antidote to Christmas cheer’.
My newest book, The Good Thieves, is a heist set in winter-swept New York City; a group of four children with unusual skills band together to go up against a conman. I’ve always loved New York, both in the stone-and-brick-and-flesh and on the page, and one of the best New York stories, for any age, is Eloise, written by Kay Thompson and illustrated by Hilary Knight. Irreverent, devil-may-care six year old Eloise lives in the ‘room on the tippy-top floor’ of the Plaza Hotel, where she pours champagne down the mail chute and roller skates through the hallways: exactly the things you long to do at Christmas.
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