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The Best Children’s Books of 2011

At the end of last year Books for Keeps invited a range of distinguished children’s book writers, illustrators, critics, librarians, booksellers and other specialists to choose their best book of 2011. Their choices include fiction, picture books, poetry and non-fiction from a year notable for the quality and diversity of its output, despite the difficulties faced by the booktrade and the decimation of library services. Inevitably given such riches to choose from, some titles that I hoped would be selected have not been and to my mind Anne Fine’s The Devil Walks (Doubleday), Fabio Gerda’s In the sea there are crocodiles (David Fickling Books) and Moira Young’s Blood Red Road (Scholastic) are as noteworthy as the many excellent titles discussed here. BfK Editor Rosemary Stones

Gregory Rogers, Kate Greenaway Medal winner

Press Here Hervé Tullet, Chronicle Books, 56pp, 978 0 8118 7954 5, £9.99 hbk

For anyone who thinks an iPad is the ultimate in kids entertainment, you haven’t seen this book in the hands of children. In a world that is driven by all things wiz-bang and techno, Hervé Tullet’s Press Here proves that the imagination is way more powerful than anything Mr Jobs could offer.

But beware! This book contains serious fun and you will be forced to surrender yourself to the power of the dot. The true genius of Press Here, apart from being the ultimate ‘less is more’ book, is that the reader can’t help but fall, hook line and sinker, for the game that Tullet wants us to play. And the game is simple – playing with dots.

I was totally absorbed and obeyed the book’s every command as the game unfolded. I jiggled, shook, tilted, pressed and blew my way through the pages, oblivious

to the onlookers’ stares of amusement as this adult happily made an idiot of himself. I won’t buy into this argument that eBooks and iPad-type technology will see the death of traditional books. Just watch the kids go dotty over this one. Thanks, Mr Tullet, for your simple magic. (Under 5s)

Alexis Deacon, illustrator

I Want my Hat Back Jon Klassen, Walker, 40pp, 978 1 4063 3683 2, £11.99 hbk

I first encountered Jon Klassen’s work in his animation, ‘An Eye for Annai’. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend seeking it out. I Want my Hat Back is his first picture book as both author and illustrator. It is a brilliant book and one of very few to understand that sometimes less is more when you are trying to tell a story. The main character neither changes position one inch nor looks at anybody else until the book is half way done. When he does move, to collapse prostrate in despair, it is all the more significant. The dialogue is as sparse as the pictures. It is also hilarious. The minimal approach works with children too. Those I have read this book with laughed even harder than I did. There is a great feeling of power that comes from knowing what has happened even though neither the words nor the pictures will admit to it. Of course you don’t have to buy it for a child. I got it for myself! (Under 5s)

Peter Hunt, Professor of Children’s Literature, Newcastle University

Little Red Hood Marjolaine Leray, trans. Sarah Ardizzone, Phoenix Yard Books, 40pp, 978 1 9079 1200 9, £7.99 hbk

If there’s anyone out there who is worried about the future of children’s publishing, here’s a book to cheer them. It’s all frighteningly good: author, translator, publishing house - all young, fresh, independent, and talented. A book that made an old hack academic sigh with pleasure at the minimalist originality, and small readers on the knee turn the pages with rapt attention, and then turn back for a rerun. What else could you ask for? (5+)

Rosemary Stones, Editor Books for Keeps

No! David McPhail, Frances Lincoln, 32pp, 978 1 8478 0120 3, £12.99 hbk

Walking down a residential street to the post box with a letter addressed to the President, a small boy witnesses warplanes passing overhead about to release their cargo of bombs, a house demolished by a tank, soldiers kicking in a door and a man beaten up for defacing a political poster. When a bigger boy lounging by the post box tries to bully him, the small boy at last retaliates by shouting ‘No!’ His ‘No!’ reverberates and events rewind, this time with different outcomes – the house rebuilt, the soldiers

Books for Keeps No.192 January 2012 3

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