Last year I put together a list of 28 books or series my kids love. This year, I’m adding their favourite books of 2019, along with the original 28, so if you’re buying books for kids, this list of 50 may be of use.
For reference, at time of posting, my kids are 12, 10 and almost 8. 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.
This year, the kids got involved in dictating or directly typing out reviews, so here’s the credit I promised them: Book Recommendations by Elissa Mara, age 12, Nia Mara, age 10, Matthew Mara, age almost 8, with some input from the typist, Andrea Mara.
Daisy and the trouble with… – Kes Gray
Daisy is always causing trouble but my kids think she’s brilliant. I used to read these to my youngest when he was five, and his big sisters have read all of them too. Matthew is almost eight now, and still likes taking Daisy books out of the library.
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. The girls read these too. (Admittedly, they’d read anything and aren’t worried about books being too young for them.)
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 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 (Wrecking Ball) out for Christmas, and I know if Santa brings it here, all three kids will gobble it up.
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 this year I think Dav Pilkey has been hands down Matthew’s favourite author. The only downside – they’re very quick reads.
Tom Gates series – Liz Pichon
When my youngest finished all the Wimpy Kid books last year, I asked his big sisters what to go for next and they recommended the Tom Gates series. Very similar to Wimpy Kid, not an overwhelming amount of text, plenty of pictures. The newest in the series is Spectacular School Trip 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. “They’re amazing” – that’s a direct quote from two seconds ago, he’s looking over my shoulder.
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 is enjoying those.
The Middle School series – various authors co-writing with James Patterson
Both of my girls like these, and now Matthew is reading them too. 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 kids love it. We are waiting very (im)patiently for the next instalment.
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. The last one my gang read was Head Kid – according to them it’s funny, but their favourite is The Parent Agency.
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,” says Elissa. 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.
The Mr Lemoncello Library Books – Chris Grabenstein
Funny, with a “strong hint of crazy” says my eldest – 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 daughter adored it – there are three books so far, and she’s impatiently waiting for a fourth.
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 last year and inhaled all the rest of them in quick succession. Robin Stevens’ most recent book, Top Marks for Murder, is out now and the author is working on her final instalment for the series. They 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’re some of her favourite books – mysteries set in London the early 1900s. She says, “they’re enthralling, and there’s always a good plot twist.” For fans of mysteries and the odd (not gruesome) murder.
Rose Raventhorpe Mysteries – Janine Beacham
My eldest discovered the first book in this series (Black Cats and Butlers) a couple of years ago 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, according to Elissa, and especially 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 Elissa. In the realm of Ruby Redfort and Robin Stevens series but set in present day.
Murder at Twilight – Fleur Hitchcock
Elissa says: “This a very easy and flowing 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 having recently discovered her, we are looking forward to trying the rest of them.
Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie
Nostalgic for my own happy years spent reading every book Agatha Christie wrote, this year 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
Last year, 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
Elissa picked up The Eye of the North at her school book fair last year 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.
Nia read it this year, 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 Elissa’s favourite books of the year, 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 this year.
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 and 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, but not scary, 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 Elissa: “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.”
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 eldest read this last year – 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 ten-year-old absolutely loved this when she read it last year, and happily for her 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 eldest 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 eldest 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 love most of them, but have their favourites. They’ve been reading them since they were about seven, and still get each new one as it comes out, arguing over who gets to read it first. Both listed Opal Plumstead and My Mum Tracy Beaker as their favourites, along with Clover Moon and Rose Rivers. This year’s new book is We Are The Beaker Girls.
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 have been reading them since they were 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 this last year 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 she says.
The Boy in Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne
My ten-year-old’s class were learning about the Holocaust in school and she asked me if she could read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – I was worried it would be too sad for her, but kids are resilient and unlike me, she didn’t bawl her eyes out in public reading it. She said it was very sad, but very good. This, along with Running on the Roof of the World, and The Star Spun Web, was her joint favourite book of the year.
Harry Potter – J.K. Rowling
My eldest tried Harry Potter a few years ago, but inadvertently started with book 4 and soon put it down. Influenced by chatter in school she decided to try again last year, 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 has read all of the books in the last year and then again, and was almost in tears when she finished so started over a third time. We’ve gone from 0 to 60 in Harry Potterishness in a very short space of time.
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. Please feel free to add more suggestions in the comments!
Young Adult Books
My eldest turned 12 this year, and soon as she did, 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 12-year-old, and that’s about all I can say – there may be some darker themes, though she swears 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 Elissa.
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,” says Elissa.
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 #BookElves19 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!