Katherine Rundell Recommends her Favourite Children's Books of 2017
Former Waterstones Children's Book Prize winner Katherine Rundell has had a busy year, publishing not one but two brilliant new novels: the Costa Book Awards shortlisted The Explorer, a heart-stopping adventure in the wilds of the Amazon, and One Christmas Wish, a modern classic brimming over with festive cheer. If that weren't enough, she's even found time to gather together her favourite books from the year for us here at Waterstones. Here is her selection of just some of the remarkable stories she's come across in 2017.
2017 hasn’t been a strong year if you prefer your world politics not on fire, but it has been a good, even a great year, for books. There have been some truly remarkable stories fashioned this year, many of them full of frost and snow, which it would be a joy to find under the Christmas tree. These are a few of them:
Hortense and the Shadow by Natalia and Lauren O’Hara
Hortense, living in a fairy tale world of snow and wolves and full moons, decides to rid herself of her shadow - only to discover that your shadow might be the thing that saves you. This debut picture book from sister act Natalia and Lauren O’Hara can be read as a beautifully rendered fairy tale, but also as a story about not cutting off the darker, wilder parts of ourselves.
The Story Orchestra: The Nutcracker by Jessica Courtney-Tickle
Gimmicky books usually make me wince a little, but this book isn’t a gimmick; buttons, when pressed, play snippets from The Nutcracker, but instead of the usual tinny hell that emerges from press-a-button books, this is sharp and clear and true to Tchaikovsky. This book would make an ideal gift for a small dancer or musician, and is a perfect way into the story of the ballet.
The Lost Words, text by Robert Macfarlane, illustrated by Jackie Morris.
Oh how I love this book; it should be at the top of every shopping list this Christmas. As the words that name that natural world slip out of a child’s every day vocabulary, Robert Macfarlane’s verse text – incantations more than poems - and Jackie Morris’s artwork seek to restore them. Morris’s artwork is, as ever, the stuff that dreams are made of; warm, richly coloured and intricately imagined. A proportion of the profits from the sales of the book goes to Action of Conservation, a charity that seeks to connect ‘disadvantaged and socially excluded children’ to the natural word.
The Snow Angel by Lauren St John, illustrated by Catherine Hyde
The story of this remarkable book follows one fiercely resilient Kenyan child from her happy home near Mount Kenya, through tragedy, Ebola and city slums, to the highlands of Scotland. There Makena struggles to believe herself at home, until a barely-glimpsed white fox, rendered beautifully by illustrator Catherine Hyde, offers her hope and faith. It’s a fable as much as it is a fast-paced adventure, and its huge heart pulses at the centre of the action, meaning that however hard Makena’s life becomes, there’s always hope. There’s also a glorious sideways tribute to the Sierra Leonean-American ballerina Michaela DePrince, and to the inspiration her story gives thousands of children every year.
Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend
This debut by Australian writer Jessica Townsend arrived with a lot of hype – a seven-figure film deal with Fox, translations in more than 25 languages. It absolutely lives up to it. The story of a girl who is transported out of one, bleak world into another of magic and colour and adventure, it’s warm and paced at break-neck speed. It’s not perfect – there are places where it feels as if it leans too heavily on the tropes of Rowling and Pullman – but it shines with a wit and excitement all its own.
The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman
In truth, I haven’t finished it yet; as I write this, The Book of Dust, an ‘equel’ to the His Dark Materials trilogy, has only just been released. But Pullman is the closest thing we have to a wizard; he endows his books with texture, grit, courage, love and passion like nobody else currently writing, for children or adults. This is the book I have most looked forward to all year; in fact, for the last five years, ever since I knew he was writing it. I know it will be a book to wear close to the heart.