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The Best Books of 2023: Children's Fiction

Posted on 18th October 2023 by Mark Skinner

Young readers have been spolit for choice for terrific chapter books in 2023, with plenty of superb fantasy, funny, historical and real-world novels enjoying acclaim and success. So if you are looking for the perfect gift for children aged (very roughly) between 5 and 12 years of age, explore our spectacular selection of the year's best below.  

 

Author's imaginations have taken children to the Archipelago of Katherine Rundell's Waterstones Book of the Year-winning Impossible Creatures, the eyrie of A.F. Steadman's Skandar and the Phantom Rider and the titular city of Jamie Littler's Arkspire, amongst many other magical locations. Soar into another realm of reading with our selection of the very best below.    

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The former Waterstones Children's Book Prize winner and author of The Explorer and The Golden Mole delivers the first instalment of a thoroughly immersive epic fantasy series which finds an ordinary boy and a flying girl enmeshed in an adventure with a host of magical creatures.
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The spectacular sequel to the mega-selling Skandar and the Unicorn Thief finds our young hero and his friends embarking on their second year at the Eyrie amidst the terrifying slaughter of immortal unicorns by sinister, unknown forces.
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Reunited with Grover and Annabeth, Percy must fulfil three quests to obtain letters of recommendation for college from the mighty and unpredictable inhabitants of Mount Olympus in this deliciously pacey sixth instalment in Rick Riordan’s bestselling series.
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The author of former Waterstones Children's Gift of the Year Julia and the Shark delivers the first part of a bewitching epic fantasy series that pitches a resourceful recluse into a thrilling rescue mission.
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A boarding-school runaway, a botanical genius and a seriously feisty cat must join forces to protect an enchanted verdant paradise from dark magic in Thomson's immersive fantasy.

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Following on from the gently spooky goings-on in The Double Trouble Society, this second instalment in the spellbinding series finds Ivy and Maggie faced with more mischief and mayhem.
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Revelling in the dark comedy, action set-pieces and unforgettable characters that are a hallmark of the Skulduggery Pleasant series, this standalone novel transports readers to early eighteenth-century Italy where our heroes are forced to save the Lord of the Dark Sorcerers to prevent an even greater evil being unleashed.

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The author of former Children’s Book of the Month Frostheart leads the reader on a mesmerising adventure, as a big-hearted thief and her mysterious companion are plunged into in a world of magic, power and prestige.
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A new generation prepare to preserve the peace between humans and dragons in the first instalment of Katie and Kevin Tsang's electrifying Dragon Realm spin-off series.

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The electrifying debut novel for younger readers from former Waterstones Children's Book Prize winner Angie Thomas revolves around a girl with magical powers on a mission to find a mysterious tool and clear her father's name.
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The perfect read for the winter months, this magical fantasy from the author of Twitch and the Adventures on Trains series sees children transformed into ice statues by sinister forces.

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The former Waterstones Children's Laureate’s exciting new fantasy adventure series continues, as the four O'Hero-Smith children set out to return a Magical Creature back to its natural habitat.
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When Tilly and her friends seek out Merlin in Arthurian legend, they discover that everything they thought they knew about bookwandering might be wrong in the spectacular final instalment of Anna James' bestselling series.
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Marcus' attempts to get thrown out of Merlin's magical school go rather awry when he accidentally summons a mighty giant in this engaging fantasy yarn from the author of The Day I Fell Into a Fairytale.
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Hugely imaginative and genuinely thrilling, Nabi's debut fantasy sends a young girl across the sea to an enchanted land of alchemists and sorcerers where an evil sultan is bent on outlawing magic.
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A breathtakingly evocative period mystery steeped in magical lore, Pathak's debut travels from rural India to Victorian London as Chompa undertakes a quest to rescue her mother from the clutches of the sinister Company.
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More classic storytelling from the acclaimed author of Sky Hawk and Song of the River, as a shy rat is forced to undergo a perilous quest to return a diamond to its rightful owners.
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Tasked with challenging the monster that is slowly draining the life from the land, Charlie and friends embark on a dangerous and exciting adventure in the realm of Fargone in this charming sequel to The Last Firefox.
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When a doorway opens up to the fae realm from a children's home for mixed race children, Heather calls on a Black Arthurian knight for help in this bewitching combination of fantasy adventure and folklore.
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The author of Artemis Fowl delivers an enchanting Christmas tale set in a world where Santa is merely a memory, as Juniper enlists a mysterious stranger to help him save the local park.
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The magical adventures of Rainbow Grey continue in the third instalment of Lara Ellen Anderson’s charming series, as she is faced with the ultimate challenge to save the world from the most evil villain of them all: Tornadia Twist.
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Elsbeth's ability to steal objects from parallel worlds is thrown into jeopardy by freak storms and the appearance of a strange boy in Ross' rollercoaster ride of a fantasy debut.
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The captivating sequel to Wilder than Midnight finds three resourceful girls brave the dangers of the Faraway Wood to track down a missing prince and unite the realm.
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From the beloved chef and author of ONE and Jamie's 30-Minute Meals comes an enthralling adventure featuring a group of children desperate to explore the mysterious Waterfall Woods.
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Spookily funny, this first instalment in a rip-roaring new series sees werewolf Bram arrive at the titular institution, determined to find his inner badness and become the villain of his dreams.
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A moving, courageous and ultimately uplifting novel about mental health and the bonds of family, this engaging story from the author of The Hunt for the Nightingale revolves around young Nora and the rainbow-shimmering ghost animals that help to guide her through difficult times.
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A rip-roaring fantasy novel about a boy who wakes with no memory in an enchanted elf world, Leeds' captivating debut is packed with magical incident and unforgettable characters.
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The second instalment of Lenny Henry's rollicking children's series finds Tunde exposing sinister goings-on at a top-secret testing facility for kids with super powers.
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The entrancing follow-up to Magicborn finds the four Belle siblings immersed in another wildly imaginative historical fantasy adventure, as Acton is recruited by Fairyland for a dastardly mission on behalf of the realm's queen.
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The celebrated author of our former Children’s Book of the Month The House With Chicken Legs delivers the mesmerising tale of a girl who, feeling lonely, makes friends with winter herself.
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When Ailsa discovers that an additional hour to every day can be accessed through a parallel Edinburgh, dangerous adventures ensue in this breathless, unputdownable children's fantasy.
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A celebration of both the immersive activity of mudlarking and the vibrancy of London itself, the first instalment in the Thames and Tide Club series finds Ash and Zara making a magical discovery on the shoreline.
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This warm-hearted and absolutely thrilling fairytale caper from the bestselling author of The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club finds a girl with an important mission embark on a mysterious train bound for the Land of Halloween Sweets.
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The enchanting second instalment of the acclaimed Stolen Dreams Adventures finds Rachel called upon to use the powerful eponymous key in order to rescue a young girl who has been illegally smuggled into the Hinterland.
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The second instalment of Katie and Kevin Tsang's exhilarating Space Blasters series sends inventive Suzie Wen on more imaginative intergalactic adventures aboard the vessel from her favourite TV show.
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A gentle fantasy story with just the right amount of spooky adventure, The Wrath of the Woolington Wyrm introduces inquisitive Mary-Kate on the trail of a mythical beast residing in an ancient well.
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Written by the beloved author of Witch Wars and Bad Mermaids and based on the screenplay of the Hollywood movie, Wonka tells the captivating origin story of the iconic confectionery magnate featured in Roald Dahl's classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
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The author of Cinderella is Dead switches gears in this rollicking vampire romp for younger readers, as Malika and her friends are forced to take on the mantle of the vanquishers of old when one of their number goes missing.
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Boasting spooky stories from Joseph Coelho, Elle McNicoll, Sharna Jackson and more, Read, Scream, Repeat is the awesome anthology perfect for dark and stormy nights.
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Belly-laughs, chuckles and guffaws have come thick and fast this year with fresh instalments in ever dependable series from Jeff Kinney, Liz Pichon, Jamie Smart and Dav Pilkey amongst others. 

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Filled with laugh-out-loud incidents and riotous mishaps, The Blunders follows the hilarious escapades of the titular upper-class family in their crumbling stately home.
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The Wimpy Kid is feeling the strain in the 18th side-splitting instalment of Kinney's popular series as homework, schoolmates and revision threaten to get the better of him.
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Liz Pichon’s schoolboy hero returns in the uproarious tale of what happens when Tom Gates decides to create a five star-masterpiece for Oakfield School's story book.
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The madcap graphic novel series for younger readers returns with the woods thrown into chaos at the mysterious disappearance of pig and the arrival of an unusual bearded stranger.
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Andy, Terry, Jill and the irrepressible Mr. Big Nose return in another smorgasbord of silliness as the treehouse gains thirteen more levels and a distinctly troublesome Hall of Mirrors.
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Once more boasting a host of mini-comics and a variety of illustrating styles, the Cat Kid Comic Club return for more freewheeling graphic novel fun.
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Still stranded in the body of a schoolboy, trickster god Loki must resist the temptation of the cursed ring of Andvari in the third side-splitting instalment of Louie Stowell's acclaimed series.
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The bestselling powerhouse that is David Walliams joins forces once more with talented illustrator Adam Stower for the latest hilarious and horrifying addition to the World's Worst series.
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The third instalment of Shireen's gleefully anarchic series finds our woodland chums faced with their most dangerous - and whiffy - adversary yet.
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Swapping Ancient Greece for Ancient Mesoamerica, Evans' hilarious Who Let the Gods Out? series continues with a brand-new set of deities set to cause some serious chaos.
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Two diminutive magicians set out to retrieve the vanished Blackpool Tower and wind up in Las Vegas with a world-famous illusionist in this hilarious and heartwarming story from the author of Millions and Noah's Gold.
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Superbly silly and highly endearing, the first book in Reeve and McIntyre's series of rodent adventures sees plucky young Pedro determined to prove he can join the titular band of mighty mice.
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In another riotously funny and original Dog Man adventure, our canine crusader confronts the dastardly Piggy and his latest plot to sabotage the Supa Buddies and the city.
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Packed full of hilariously grotesque characters and side-splitting set pieces, this freewheeling comedy from actor and Escape the Rooms author Stephen Mangan revolves around a chaotic contest to pick the heir to King Chisel's royal realm.
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The graphic novel genius behind Bunny vs. Monkey follows up The Maddest Cat in the World with the further adventures of the loopy Looshkin, featuring rocket-powered nuclear burps, firecracker cheese and more.
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From the bomb-blasted wartime London of Robin Stevens' The Body in the Blitz to the turbulent Edwardian ocean of A.M. Howell's Peril on the Atlantic, and from the treacherous Ice Age of Alice Roberts' Wolf Road to the inter-war football pitches of Leah Williamson's The Wonder Team and the Forgotten Footballers; travel back in time with 2023's finest historical novels for children.   

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The second compelling World War II espionage thriller in the Ministry of Unladylike Activity series finds the freshly recruited child spies uncover a mysterious corpse in a bombed-out London home.
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The debut children's novel from the historian, broadcaster and author of Ancestors weaves an irresistible story about a prehistoric girl and neanderthal boy embarking on an adventure that changes the course of human history.
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Perfect reading for fans of Katherine Rundell and Emma Carroll, Safiyyah's War is a riveting, deeply poignant period novel set in occupied Paris which finds the titular girl engaged in dangerous Resistance work after her father is arrested by the Nazis.
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The debut children's novel from the legendary Lioness takes inspiration from the pioneering Dick Kerr Ladies football team as Leah unearths a time capsule in her local park and travels back a century to protest the real-life ban on women's football.
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The legendary Jacqueline Wilson delivers a characteristically accomplished time-slip story featuring a girl obsessed with all things Victorian who finds herself in the nineteenth century after she is given a notebook from the era.

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A heartbreaking story of love and devotion in the midst of war from the author of the acclaimed When the Sky Falls, as heroic dog Beau begins an epic journey to reunite with his owner.
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Perfect reading for fans of Emma Carroll and Natasha Farrant, the rollicking first instalment of Howell's maritime adventure series finds young Alice enmeshed in sabotage, espionage and dangerous secrets aboard the Queen Mary.
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Vivid, exciting and beautifully realised, Noakes' page-turning period romp focuses on a group of resourceful disabled children and their daring heist to steal a priceless gem.
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The author of The Valley of Lost Secrets returns with an engrossing, character-driven tale of urban legends and personal discovery set during the era of the three-day week of 1974.
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The hugely popular presenter and author of the Toto the Ninja Cat series delivers a heartwarming and hilarious historical romp about a plucky swift determined to help the British war effort.
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The rip-roaring series inspired by real Black British historical figures returns as our two resourceful amateur sleuths become embroiled in a deadly conspiracy stalking the streets of eighteenth-century London.
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Whether it's the dark comedy of Beth Lincoln's The Swifts or the captivating ecological adventure of Hannah Gold's Finding Bear, this year has seen many topical and engaging novels set in the real world. Explore our pick of the best below. 

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The stunning sequel to Waterstones Children's Book Prize winner The Last Bear, Gold's exquisitely written and enthralling novel follows April's journey to Svalbard amidst rumours that her friend Bear has been shot.
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Expertly combining the gothic eccentricity of Lemony Snicket with the murder mystery chops of Robin Stevens, Lincoln's page-turning debut centres on a spate of slayings in a very unusual family home and the diminutive detective determined to crack the case.
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One of the most accomplished children's writers around triumphs again with this engrossing and empowering story of fighting for what you believe in, as a group of children set out to save the incredible titular house from demolition.
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The electrifying opening instalment of the Di Island Crew series finds budding detective Fayson and her friends investigate a mysterious shadow appearing in the island's lighthouse.
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The third rollicking instalment in the Twitchers series finds the birdwatching detectives on a dangerous stakeout to prevent wild birds' eggs being stolen.

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Both a heartwarming story about grief and family connection and a rip-roaring detective yarn, Finding Wonder sets Roo Thorn and her aunt on a mad dash around the country to prevent a spate of horse thefts.
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Flaky friends, pernickety pen-pals and scary school showcases abound in this gently comic and thoroughly endearing debut, which introduces a central character who readers will instantly fall in love with.
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Haunting, compelling and full of heart, this stunning novel from the author of the highly acclaimed October, October sees two twins follow a fox into the wilderness in an attempt to find their mother.
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Exploring themes of friendship, rivalry and family bonds, this heartwarming sequel to Jacqueline Wilson's classic novel Sleepovers sees Daisy try and organise a party her non-verbal sister will never forget.
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Marcus and his friends investigate the mysterious curse which has been put on the school basketball team in the second fast-paced and fun instalment of the footballer's Breakfast Club Adventures series.
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Christmas at Waterstones

Best Books of 2023

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