Three years ago I put together a list of 28 books or series my kids love and two years ago, I added more to bring it up to 50. This year, due to an edits deadline, I asked my twelve-year-old if she would help out with adding more reviews. She said no. So I bribed her – would she write some reviews if I paid her? Would it be cash, she asked, not Revolut? Cash money it is then. So thanks to Nia, there are an additional eight books suitable for kids aged roughly eleven upwards, and I’ve added some that my youngest enjoyed this year too.
For reference, when I first put this post together, my youngest was 6 and now my eldest is 14. In most cases, I haven’t given a suggested age range for the book(s) because I think it varies so much from child to child. If in doubt about suitability, have a look inside the book and/ or ask your local bookseller or librarian. Generally speaking, I think it’s okay to let kids read what they want to read (backed up by people who know what they’re talking about here! ) except perhaps for anything that might give them nightmares.
If you’ve read this list in the past, skip towards the end for the new additions. If you’re new to it or your kids are young, start here, as the list goes (very roughly) by age, starting with books for younger readers.
Daisy and the trouble with… – Kes Gray
Daisy is always causing trouble but my kids always thought she was brilliant. Easy to read for early-readers, they’re laugh-out-loud funny, and more relatable than they should be (except maybe for the one about the hamsters and the chocolate factory).
Bubble Street Gang series – Erica McGann
I really, really like these books by Irish author Erica McGann – the Bubble Street Gang is made up of Cass, Lex and Nicholas, who build a den and solve mysteries. I found when I was reading them to my youngest, I was genuinely intrigued and wondering what was happening. Like Daisy, these are great for early-readers and bedtime stories.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Jeff Kinney
I don’t know if there’s a house in the country that doesn’t have at least a few of these – they’re fantastic for early or reluctant readers because there’s not an overwhelming amount of text, and there are lots of illustrations. They’re also genuinely funny, and have a grown-up feel to them that appeals to kids who don’t like to read “babyish” books. Jeff Kinney has a new Wimpy Kid out for Christmas every year, and this year’s is called Big Shot.
Dogman, Captain Underpants, Super Diaper Baby – Dav Pilkey
Lots of these are graphic novels, some aren’t, there are tonnes and tonnes of them, and like Wimpy Kid, they’re great for early and reluctant readers who want a bit of fun. The only downside – they’re very quick reads. A €14.99 hardback that’s finished on the car journey home isn’t ideal.
Tom Gates series – Liz Pichon
When my youngest finished all the Wimpy Kid books a few years ago, I asked his big sisters what to go for next and they recommended the Tom Gates series. Very similar to Wimpy Kid, not a huge amount of text, plenty of pictures. The newest in the series is Random Acts of Fun (out now) or if you’d like to start with the first one, it’s The Brilliant World of Tom Gates. The good news: if your child likes them, you’re in luck – there are “millions” of them according to mine.
Big Nate – Lincoln Peirce
Once he’d finished all the Tom Gates books, the girls said to go for Big Nate, keeping things in a similar vein, and the small guy loved them.
Barry Loser – Jim Smith
I love the Barry Loser covers. Matthew loves the pages inside. We’re both happy. For fans of Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, Tom Gates.
Timmy Failure – Stephan Pastis
I think Timmy is my favourite of all the above-mentioned characters, he makes me laugh sometimes, and he makes Matthew laugh all the time.
Marvin Redpost – Louis Sachar
A friend recommended Holes by Louis Sachar – Matthew didn’t get into it but Nia loved it. However Louis Sachar also has a series for younger readers about a character called Marvin Redpost, and Matthew liked those.
The Middle School series – various authors co-writing with James Patterson
Both of my girls liked these when they are younger, and Matthew loves them. I remember reading a James Patterson book aloud to him a few years ago (a “Treasure Hunters” one) and finding the plotline baffling, but the kids don’t seem to have any problem with it. For fans of Wimpy Kid.
Demon Dinnerlaides – Pamela Butchart
In the library, my youngest has two sections he goes to every time – P for Pichon, Pastis, Patterson, Peirce, Pilkey, and S for Smith and Sachar. He’s now added B – for Pamela Butchart; she’s in the gang.
The Thirteen-storey Treehouse – Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton
This is manic, mad-cap fun and probably Matthew’s favourite series ever. It’s about Andy and Terry who live in a 13-storey treehouse and face all sorts of obstacles – it sounds like the kind of book that would drive me crazy but my son loves it. The most recent book is the 143-Storey-Treehouse, out now.
The Parent Agency – David Baddiel
David Baddiel’s books are a step up from the series mentioned above – more text, fewer pictures, but fun reads, and my two girls like them a lot back when they were younger. The last one all three of mine read was Head Kid – according to them it’s funny, but their favourite is The Parent Agency.
Goosebumps (New addition, 2021)
During lockdown, when Matthew had re-read all of his Wimpy Kids and Barry Losers a hundred times over, we struck gold when he tried and liked a Goosebumps book by R.L. Stine. These are creepy, clever horror books for kids (with great twists in the endings) and the good news is, there are over two hundred books in the series and most of them are stand-alone.
Percy Jackson – Rick Riordan (New addition, 2021)
Whenever I ask for recommendations for Matthew, Percy Jackson and Alex Rider come up. He tried Alex Rider recently and wasn’t a fan, but during a visit to Raven Books Blackrock, he was encouraged to take a look at the first Percy Jackson book, and he was immediately smitten. He’s on the third one now, and is keeping me posted on what’s going on in the story – a sure sign of a good book. The books are about an American boy who discovers he is a demigod; the son of Poseidon. Think Greek mythology meets modern day, with a hint of Harry Potter. Suitable from age ten.
Goth Girl series – Chris Riddell
“The Goth Girl books are about Ada who lives in a huge house filled with lots of surprises, and in each book she has problems to solve and catastrophes to prevent,” is what my eldest said about Goth Girl, when I first put this post together. Smart, funny, gothic, magical realism books that are easy to read from about eight on, with no upper age limit according to my kids who still love them.
Lilac Series – Christine Doran
My daughters were lucky enough to get advance copies of all of the Lilac books by Christine Doran, in return for pre-publication feedback. Their feedback was always the same: “I loved it!” Lilac is ten and lives in Dublin, and as she’s ten, everything is embarrassing. The books are very funny and very relatable and very well-written –suitable for children age 9 to 12. I’ve recommended these many times over the last few years and the feedback is always that kids love them. You can buy online in ebook or print format here.
The Mr Lemoncello Library Books – Chris Grabenstein
Funny, with a “strong hint of crazy” say my kids – think banana shoes, smell technology, drone slippers. In the first one, a dozen twelve-year-olds get to be the first people to see a new library, built by Mr Lemoncello, and then realise they’re locked in. A competition ensues – the characters must follow clues to find their way out, and whoever wins gets to be in an ad. It has elements of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and my daughters adored it – there are three more books in the series, too.
Murder Most Unladylike Series – Robin Stevens
There are nine books in this murder mystery series so if your child likes one, you’re set for at while (is there anything like discovering a whole series when they find a book they like?) Nia read her first one of these when she was ten and inhaled all the rest of them in quick succession. The final book in the series, Death Sets Sail, was published last year but there is a spin-off series coming in 2022. They books don’t have to be read in order but if you’d like to start at the start, go for Murder Most Unladylike.
Poppy Fields Murder series – Tanya Landman
More murder mystery, and according to the fan in my house, more grown-up than other children’s mystery series. She flew through the whole set in record time. (You will find them in the library if you can’t get them in bookshops, they’re out a few years now.)
The Sinclairs Mysteries – Katherine Woodfine
My eldest started this series when she was nine, and they were some of her favourite books at the time – mysteries set in London the early 1900s. For fans of mysteries and the odd (not gruesome) murder.
Rose Raventhorpe Mysteries – Janine Beacham
My daughter discovered the first book in this series (Black Cats and Butlers) a when she was ten and raved about it – it’s about a girl called Rose who has to solve a case when her butlers are being killed. There are two others in the series – Rubies and Runaways, and Hounds and Hauntings. Highly recommended for mystery fans.
Ruby Redfort – Lauren Child
This is a series about a thirteen-year-old code-breaker and spy called Ruby. She lives in a normal town and is a normal girl with normal flaws, but she just happens to work for a secret agency. The books are suitable from about eight upwards, and especially good for fans of Robin Stevens.
Agatha Oddly – Lena Jones
“Agatha Oddly is an amateur detective – not only are the plots good and interesting, you find that you want to know a lot more about Agatha the character, who has her own personal mystery to resolve,” says my reviewer, who was ten at the time. In the realm of Ruby Redfort and Robin Stevens series but set in present day.
Murder at Twilight – Fleur Hitchcock
According to my daughter, then aged ten: “This a very easy read, perfect for most ages. When Viv has a fight with Noah she doesn’t think that will be the last time she sees him, but when she gets home Noah is nowhere to be found and there are police cars everywhere. Viv sets out to find him when things take a strange turn.” Fleur Hitchcock writes stand-alone crime and mystery books for kids and her most recent one is Waiting for Murder.
Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie
Nostalgic for my own happy years spent reading every book Agatha Christie wrote, I borrowed some from the library for my daughter. She started with Murder on the Orient Express, which meant the bar was set very high. She loved it, especially the ending, but as a result of this high bar, she found some subsequent Agatha Christie books less captivating. Nonetheless, we are continuing to pick up the best Poirot stories when they’re on the shelves.
The School for Good and Evil – Soman Chainani
When they were eight and ten, both girls said these books were their favourite of all time. The books are about a school for good people, a school for bad people, two main characters called Sophie and Agatha (I won’t spoil it by telling you who is good and who is evil) and they reference the (fictional) truth behind existing fairy-tales. A million stars from my two girls for these books – five in the series , and hat tip to Lorraine Levis, formerly of Dubray, for recommending them in the first place.
The Star Spun Web – Sinéad Ó Hart
My eldest picked up The Eye of the North at her school book fair a few year ago and I was delighted, because it’s by an Irish author (Sinéad Ó Hart) who was kind of enough to give me some great kids’ books recommendations on Twitter the previous year. So the book was on my radar anyway but even better that my daughter picked it up herself without my prompting. It’s an adventure about a girl called Emmeline and a boy called Thing who have to save the world, and it’s very, very good.
My younger daughter read it subsequently, along with Sinéad’s new book, The Star Spun Web, which she absolutely loved. “It’s about a girl called Tess who is an orphan, adopted by a stranger who says he’s related to her. She soon realises there’s something more going on,” says Nia. For fans of The Train to Impossible Places according to her.
Cogheart – Peter Bunzl
Cogheart is set in the Victorian era but it has a fantasy element – it’s about a girl who has to try to find her father who supposedly died in a Zepplin crash. Secrets are revealed at the end concerning her mother’s untimely death. Cogheart was one of my eldest’s daughter’s favourite books when she read it (she was eleven), and happily the sequel, Moonlocket, was every bit as good.
Running on the Roof of the World – Jess Butterworth
In Nia’s words: “This is an adventure story about Tash, whose parents have disappeared during political upheaval – she travels with her friend Sam from Tibet to India to find the Dalai Lama to ask for help.” She loved this, one of her three favourite reads the year she was ten. She went on to read more Jess Butterworth books and loved them all (When The Mountains Roared, Swimming Against the Storm.)
Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend
Nevermoor is about Morrigan Crow who is cursed and due to die on her 11th birthday, until Jupiter North turns up. It’s fantasy, fun, funny, exciting and not scary except for one scary bit, according to my kids. Wundersmith, the follow up to Nevermoor, continues the adventures of Morrigan Crow and is just as good as the first book – I can attest to the unputdownableness of it from what I witnessed.
The Land of Stories – Chris Colfer
Nia picked u the first in this six-part series in her school library when she was in fourth class, and she was very, very taken with it – she rushed through and really enjoyed the whole series. It’s about twins, Alex and Conner, who go through a magic book into a land of stories – they meet familiar characters like Cinderella and Snow White during their adventures there as they try to find a way to get back home. Funny and entertaining and not at all scary, according to Nia.
The Trouble with Perfect – Helena Duggan
This is the follow-up to A Place Called Perfect, it’s a real page-turner about a girl called Violet and her friend Boy living in the newly freed town of Perfect. But is everything as it seems? Fantasy, some tension, and lots of adventure. For fans of Chris Riddell’s Goth Girl books and Chris Grabenstein’s Mr Lemoncello’s Library series.
A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle
According to my reviewer: “A Wrinkle in Time is one of the best books ever written. It follows the story of Meg who travels to a new universe in a quest to save the world and her dad and brother. If you have seen the movie you should know that it did not do the story justice. Do yourself and your child a favour and buy a copy for Christmas, you will not be disappointed.” (According to my other reviewer: “I did not like it one bit”)
Kingdom of the Golden Dragon – Isabel Allende
My daughter picked this up in her school library – I remember reading Isabel Allende books in the past but didn’t know she also wrote books for kids. There are just three I believe, the second of which is Kingdom of the Golden Dragon. My daughter was absolutely enthralled by this book. It’s incredibly well-written she says, with an intricate plot but it’s very much about the amazing setting, which had her captivated. Based in a fictional version of Bhutan, this setting was one of the most interesting she’s ever read.
The Girl who Drank the Moon – Kelly Barnhill
Set in a magical world, this is an adventure story about a girl called Luna who is taken from her family and saved by a witch. A strong female protagonist with positive messages according to Common Sense Media, and a brilliant read according to my kids.
The Girl Who Ate the Stars – Caroline Busher
My daughter read this when she was eleven – she was worried at first that it would be scary (there are wolves) but she was soon sucked in and really, really enjoyed it. Written by Wexford-based Caroline Busher, and set during World War II, it’s about evacuees from England, a German bomb, and a portal to another world called Wolf Land.
The Book of Learning – E.R. Murray
Ebony Smart has just lost her grandad and must move to live with her aunt in Dublin – that’s according to the Judge of the Order of the Nine Lives, though she has no idea what that means, or what her grandad has been protecting her from all these years. My daughter loved it when she read it (she was nine and the time) and happily for fans, there are two more in the series (called The Nine Lives Trilogy).
The Lotterys Plus One – Emma Donnoghue
Sumac is adopted – she has four parents (two same-sex couples) and there are seven kids in the house with a diverse range of issues. A grandad with dementia moves in, and Sumac isn’t happy – she tries to convince everyone that a retirement home would be better. Of course there’s a happy ending (and happily a second book in the series). My daughter loved this and the follow-up. (Written by Emma Donnoghue of Room fame.)
Wonder – R.J. Palacio
One for grown-ups and kids – the story of Auggie, who is born looking different to everyone else, and about to start mainstream school for the first time. It’s a wonderful, moving, sad, and ultimately uplifting story. A book for confident readers more so than those still getting used to reading independently.
The Boy at the Back of the Class – Onjali Q Raúf
This is about real life friendships, bullying and school-life, and a boy called Ahmet who is a Syrian refugee. It’s sad in places, but also uplifting and relatable says my reviewer and the ending is brilliant. For anyone who enjoyed Wonder.
The Making of Mollie – Anna Carey
Set in 1912, and written by Irish author Anna Carey, this is about Mollie and her friend Nora who get involved in the Suffragette movement. Loads of positive messages for girls in this and a great read.
We Are The Beaker Girls – Jacqueline Wilson
Jacqueline Wilson has written over a hundred books, and there are some to suit all ages. The books are about families and relationships, often dealing with divorce and blended families. The stories and settings vary, and I’ve found my daughters loved most of them, but have their favourites. They started reading them when they were about seven, though some are definitely for older readers (usually clear from the blurb on the back). Nia lists Opal Plumstead and My Mum Tracy Beaker as her favourites, along with Clover Moon and Rose Rivers.
Time After Time series – Judi Curtin
Two friends figure out how to time travel, and go back in time to fix things – in the first book, we find out that Beth’s mum died two days after she was born, so she and her friend Molly go back in time to meet her mum. For fans of Jacqueline Wilson, very popular in our house.
Lost and Found series – Cathy Cassidy
The first book in the series is told from the point of view of Lexie – she has moved to a new home, and is missing her mum who left for a job interview one day and never came back. Cathy Cassidy’s books are about friendships, relationships, families, and the odd crush too. Arguably for slightly older kids – her books are often listed as teen or young adult – but mine started reading them at about eight or nine, and I don’t think there’s anything unsuitable for younger readers. Cathy Cassidy has written about 30 books, so there are plenty to choose from.
The Songbird Café Girls series – Sarah Webb
Mollie Cinnamon is Not a Cupcake is the first book in this series, and I know it well, having read it for my middle-child when she was still getting bed-time stories. It’s about Mollie who’s living on a boring island with her grandmother, until she starts to make friends and life gets more interesting – perfect for younger readers, and set in Ireland. Extra mention for Sarah Webb’s fabulous book Blazing a Trail, illustrated by Lauren O’Neill, about 28 Irish women who have taken the world by storm. Santa brought a couple of years ago and my kids loved it.
Liar and Spy – Rebecca Stead
Things are not going well for Georges – he has to move into a new apartment when his dad loses his job, and he’s also being bullied at school. He makes friends with a boy in the apartment block (called Safer) and Safer tells him they need to spy on another neighbour, the mysterious Mr X. But is all as it seems? My eldest daughter read this when she was ten and absolutely loved it – great twists, and a great story.
Bloom – Nicola Skinner (new addition, 2021)
Nia says: “Bloom is a book about a girl called Sorrow Fallowfield who finds a packet of ‘surprising seeds’ and her life changes forever. Bloom is Nicola Skinner’s third book and is by far one of my favourite reads this year. Great for fans of Wildspark.” I can add that it got her out of a reading slump; she absolutely loved it.
The New Girl – Sinéad Moriarty (new addition, 2021)
Nia says: “The New Girl is a wholesome story about a Syrian refugee called Safa who joins and Irish class and quickly befriends a girl named Rub, who, throughout the book, helps Safe adapt to life in Ireland and to reunite with her father.” This was definitely one of Nia’s favourite books of 2021, and got her out of another reading slump.
Pages and Co – Anna James (new addition, 2021)
Nia says: “Pages and Co is a thrilling novel about a girl called Tilly who lives in a bookshop with her grandparents, since her mother’s mysterious disappearance. But then, one day, she finds that she can travel in and out of books, and her whole world flips upside down.” There are four books in this series, the latest of which is The Book Smugglers.
The Boldness of Betty – Anna Carey (new addition, 2021)
Nia says: “The Boldness of Betty is about a girl named Betty Rafferty who lives in 1913 Dublin. She must leave school to go to work in a cake shop, but when her employer takes their pay away, she and coworkers go on strike to protest how unfairly they’re being treated.” This is a book she absolutely loved when she read it we are all waiting impatiently for more Anna Carey books.
The Good Thieves – Katherine Rundell (new addition, 2021)
Nia says: “The Good Thieves is about a girl called Vita whose grandad has been cheated out of everything he owns, by a conman name Victor. The story follows Vita and her newfound friends as they try to outwit Victor and his mafia connections.” Set in 1920s Manhattan, this is a book about adventure, friendship and loyalty.
Good Girl, Bad Blood – Holly Jackson (new addition, 2021)
Nia says: “An equally thrilling and adventurous sequel to ‘A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder’, Good Girl, Bad Blood follows Pippa Fitz-Amobis in her search for Jamie, the brother of her good friend Connor. Although she swore she’d never investigate again after what happened last time, she finds herself once again in a dangerous situation trying to find Jamie before it’s too late.” Nia absolutely loved both Holly Jackson books and is waiting patiently for the newly published As Good As Dead. Note this is a YA book, suitable for twelve and upwards.
Homecoming – Cynthia Voigt (new addition, 2021)
Nia says: “Homecoming is the first book in the highly acclaimed Tillerman Cycle series of books. It’s about four children who are left by themselves in a parking lot by their mother. They have to get to their Great Aunt Cilla’s house in Bridgeport while spending as little money as possible on food and shelter.” This YA book was first published in 1981 and seems to have stood the test of time, with a very memorable protagonist in 13-year-old Dicey.
When The World Was Ours – Liz Kessler (new addition, 2021)
Nia says: “When the World Was Ours starts in Vienna in 1936 and is a heartbreaking story about three friends named Leo, Elsa, and Max who have been best friends for years. However, when the Nazis arrive they must part ways and each takes a very different path. For fans of Anne Frank’s Diary.” A very moving and poignant novel, this is inspired by real events, and I remember Nia telling me the whole story when she read it – a sure sign of a memorable read.
Harry Potter – J.K. Rowling
My eldest tried Harry Potter a good few years ago, but inadvertently started with book 4 and soon put it down. Influenced by chatter in school she decided to try again some time later, and this time started with book 1 – a copy we borrowed from my sister (one my dad bought for her when it first came out). This time, she was immediately hooked, and raced through the series. Then my youngest picked up the first book and decided he was going to read it. I was worried he was a bit young (he was six) and might be put off or scared but I couldn’t bear to take it off him, and he absolutely loved it. He got to half-way through book 4 before deciding to take what has turned out to be an extended break. My middle child followed suit and read all the books three times We went from 0 to 60 in Harry Potterishness in a very short space of time. Now, nobody here is reading them but the level of joy this series brought at the time remains unsurpassed.
Now, I’m conscious that at least some of the books in the second half of the above list won’t appeal to boys, so I asked around for some recommendations and was given a list of the following series: Artemis Fowl, Skullduggery Pleasant, Alex Rider, Knights of the Borrowed Dark, Percy Jackson. As mentioned above, my son loves Percy, but not into Alex Rider. He has also tried Skullduggery Pleasant but says he’ll tried again when he’s older. Please feel free to add more suggestions in the comments!
Young Adult Books
When my daughter turned twelve, she asked for an upgrade to her library card, so she could take out YA books unfettered, instead of having them put on my card. It was at this point that I pretty much let go the reins. Based on lots of googling, and speaking to children’s writers and librarians, I figure it mostly makes sense to let kids read what they want to read. And with YA, that can mean anything from a bit of light kidnap to altogether darker themes. When my daughter is reading something new, I usually say, “You’ll tell me if there’s anything that’s not age-appropriate, right?” And she grins and nods, and says, “Sure, Mum, of course I will. Of course.” So, the books below come recommended by my two daughters, and that’s about all I can say – there may be some darker themes, though they sear they’re “totally fine.”
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder – Holly Jackson
Pippa is working on a graduation project at school, for which she has to give an oral report on a topic. She chooses the case of a missing teenage girl – Andie Bell – who went missing from her home five years earlier. Everyone thinks Sal Singh did it, but Pippa has her doubts. In the course of her project, she unearths new secrets that could throw the case wide open. Note, there are sexual and drug references!
Girl Missing – Sophie McKenzie
“This trilogy follows the story of Lauren, who always wondered where she came from, because she’s adopted. When she does some research she finds something that could change her world forever and wonders if a trip to America could help answer her questions. But when she arrives danger lurks around every corner. The third book in this series is a bit more graphic and violent,” says my reviewer.
All the Bad Apples – Moira Fowley Doyle
BIG WARNING My 12-year-old read this and really enjoyed it but says it’s not suitable for 12-year-olds. Obviously, she only told me this after she’d finished it. “It follows the tale of a family through generations and has Irish folklore and banshees – suitable for fourteen and upwards,” she says now.
My final recommendation is an anomaly as it’s for picture books, and as my kids are mostly beyond picture books now, I haven’t included them in this post. But my lovely friend Sadhbh Devlin has written two Irish books and they’re absolutely gorgeous. My kids are ambivalent about Irish at school but really enjoyed reading these. The first, illustrated by Tarsila Krüse, is Bí ag Spraoi Liom, about a child whose mother doesn’t have enough time to play with her (yes, all of us) and the second, Beag Bídeach (illustrated by Roisín Hahessy) is about a little girl who wishes to be small enough to play inside her own doll’s house. Don’t we all sometimes.
Lastly, if you’re looking for a specific recommendation to suit your child’s taste and age, try asking a question to #BookElves21 on Twitter – a group of children’s authors, illustrators, and booksellers organised by Sarah Webb to give advice on children’s books.
Happy book buying!