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Certainly, Anne Fine and Geraldine McCaughrean earn their places on this list without my needing to give the matter much thought – to my mind they’re perhaps the most consistent children’s writers of the last three decades or so. Each has produced many dozens of books of incredible variety (neither follows a groove, book after formulaic book, perhaps explaining why they aren’t the zillion-selling superstars they deserve to be), but the consistency of the quality is astonishing. But faced with this embarrassment of riches, what to choose?

For these two, where I feel the writers’ work has earned its place here overall, rather than for one outstanding title, I’m simply allowing myself entirely personal choices. My favourite McCaughrean (of many favourites) is A Little Lower than the Angels, which takes us back – vividly with atmosphere and excitement – to a medieval world of apprentices and travelling players, as young Gabriel runs away to join the performing troupe led by God (played by Master Garvey), and goes on the road with them and their Mysteries. And for Anne Fine, the book that’s stayed with me since I read it ten years ago is Up on Cloud Nine; in which Ian sits by the hospital bedside of his best friend, Stolly, who’s fallen out of a window. It’s funny, moving, warm, brilliantly observed – a magical combination that Anne Fine pulls off, book after book, better than any writer I know.

In 2012, A Monster Calls became the first book ever to win both the Carnegie Medal and the Greenaway Medal. The feat was hardly a surprise – A Monster Calls is about as good as they come. Written by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay, it takes an idea by the late Siobhan Dowd, woven into a potent, brave and painfully honest story, and then overlaid with a powerful web of detailed black artwork that’s at once entrancing and disturbing; and together they tell a story that seems so vast, and yet is really only small and personal: a boy, Conor, who has to say goodbye to his mother, because she is ill and going to die.

Finally, what’s to make up the ten? My final choice would be something amazing, of which you’ve never heard. A truly great, bold, enduring work for children, one of those generational books, those landmarks. Breath-taking, ingenious, endearing, original. You know the kind of book I mean. But I won’t tell you what it is, because you probably can’t read it anyway. Frustrating, isn’t it? But I’m not just being perverse. Most writing in the world is happening in languages that are not English. (There are 6.7 billion of them; maybe 0.4 billion of us.) A recent estimate claimed that in the UK one children’s book in fifty is translated from another language – I suspect it’s even lower. We’ve had extraordinary riches in our children’s publishing in the last three decades, that’s hard to dispute; but there’s a big gap, too. A brilliant generation of publishers who were – as I was – brought up on Asterix and the Moomins, Tintin and Grimm and Emil and the Detectives, have for the most part stopped looking


outwards for new talent. Yes, Cornelia Funke is one of those 6.7 billion, but there are others. In the next thirty years, I’d like the chance to read some of them, too, please.

But for now, the above is my selection, for what it’s worth; and for all the lack of foreign work we must be doing something right if we can compile a list that can’t even find room for the likes of Philip Reeve, for Hilary McKay (another particular favourite), for the glorious Eva Ibbotson, for Helen Oxenbury, Polly Dunbar, Marcus Sedgwick, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Neil Gaiman, Mal Peet, Catherine Rayner, Mini Grey, Gillian Cross, Kevin Crossley-Holland, Tony Ross and on and on…

But I’ve got my ten, and I can stop now…oh Lord, but I really should have included Michael Foreman, shouldn’t I? And everybody loves We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, don’t they? And all those giants like Joan Aiken, Susan Cooper and Philippa Pearce were still writing well into this period. Leon Garfield, too. And where’s Diana Wynne Jones, for goodness’ sake?! I’m just finishing work on the new Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature, and I thought cramming everything into 450,000 words was a struggle, but really, this is something else. (Oh – Something Else! I love Chris Riddell. He should definitely be in.)

No, it’s done now. Stop. It is what it is. No – wait…

Oh God, I’ve completely forgotten Allan Ahlberg! Better start again… n

The Books

The BFG Roald Dahl, illus Quentin Blake, Puffin, 978-0141346427 £6.pp pbk

Harry Potter Boxed set J.K. Rowling, Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 978-1408812525 £59.99

The Gruffalo Julia Donaldson, illus Axel Scheffler, Macmillan Children’s Books 978-0333710937 £6.99 pbk

Orange Pear Apple Bear Emily Gravett Macmillan Children’s Books 978-1405090223 £4.99 pbk

Kit’s Wilderness David Almond, Hodder Children’s Books, 978-0340944967 £5.99

His Dark Materials trilogy Philip Pullman, Scholastic, 978-1407135595 £16.99

A Little Lower than the Angels Geraldine McCaughrean, Oxford, 978-0192752901 £5.99 pbk

Up on Cloud Nine Anne Fine, Corgi Children’s Books, 978-0552554657 £5.99pbk

A Monster Calls Patrick Ness, illus Jim Kay, Walker Books, 978-1406311525 £12.99 hbk

Daniel Hahn is a writer and award-winning editor and translator.

Books for Keeps No.200 May 2013 5

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