Ten Essential Children’s Books

As part of the celebrations for our 40th anniversary, we are revising the long-running Ten of the Best feature, and asking six authors to choose the children’s books they consider essential reading. Our thanks to Patrice Lawrence for this selection.


I have an odd relationship with reading. I absolutely love it and have done since I could read. Before I could read, I’m sure stories were read to me. However, I grew up in a time where there were no black fictional heroes in books and no black writers. So the more I read, the more I didn’t see myself and, consequently, the stronger the message that people like me didn’t belong in books or write books. However, what I did learn was that books can reflect back our fears, our challenges and our deepest secrets. Here are some of my favourites.

If All the World Were Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Allison Colpoys, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 978-1786036513, £6.99 pbk

The temptation is to protect children from the tougher side of life. As adults, we can look back and recall how adults often underestimated the intensity of our childhood feelings. They are trying to protect us while stopping us from finding

ways to articulate feelings that we may not understand. If All the World Were is a picture book that explores family relationships and bereavement through gorgeous lyrical language and beautiful illustrations. It made me cry.

The Knife of Never Letting Go

Patrick Ness, Walker Books, 978-1406379167, £7.99 pbk

The first novel in the Chaos Walking trilogy.

Like many books I’ve come to

love, I bought it purely by reading the blurb on the back in a book shop then heading straight to the till.

book that confused me. How could this book be considered just for teenagers? The trilogy addresses tough subjects such

as colonisation, propaganda, misogyny, family and gender-violence through a flawed hero, Todd. He lives in a world where men’s

4 Books for Keeps No.241 March 2020 It’s also the

thoughts are loud. It is normal. But where have all the women gone? And what happens if once they are found, the women’s thoughts are secret and silent? It is utterly compelling.

Planet Omar: Trouble Magnet Zanib Mian, illus Nasaya Mafaridik, Hodder Children’s Books, 978-1444951226, £6.99 pbk

I saw this in its first incarnation, The Muslims. The author is a Londoner who set up her own publishing


because the only books she could find about Muslim children were usually about Islam. Oddly enough, her own children already knew about that…Where were the Tom Gates and Wimpy Kids with Muslim

characters? Zanib wrote them. Omar is endearing, empathetic and hilarious, navigating dragons, bullies, annoying siblings, Regents Park Outer Circle and a racist neighbour. A wonderful book that also challenges stereotypes.

You Against Me Jenny Downham, Definitions, 978-1909531123, £7.99 pbk

I love all of Jenny’s books, but this is the one I can’t stop thinking about. Mikey lives with his alcoholic mother and two sisters. He is the glue that holds the family together but he can barely raise enough money to buy a pint of milk. Ellie’s family are well off, recent arrivals. Mikey’s older sister, Karyn believes that Ellie’s brother, Tom, raped her.

Mikey plans revenge but what happens when he and Ellie fall for each other? It’s thought-provoking and tender asking questions about class, power, consent and so much more..

The Graveyard Book Neil Gaiman, illus Chris Riddell, Bloomsbury, 978-0747594802, £7.99 pbk

I read this to my daughter, long before I was a published author. The beginning, well… I had no idea that books marketed for children could be so, well, full on! It’s a repurposing of The Jungle Book

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