Sunday 26 October 2014

Top 20 MG Books of Last 10 Years

A few weeks ago, Nicolette Jones wrote a wonderful piece for the Sunday Times on 100 Modern Kids' classics - 20 each in the age groups 0-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12 and 13+. If you're a Times subscriber you can get the full article, which really is a fantastic read. Otherwise, they're got a list on their shop, so you can at least see what made it.

Of course, this got me thinking about my own top books of the last 10 years. I don't know enough about the bottom 3 age ranges, but I had a stab at 13+, and at 10-12. The 13+ came not long after the original article and can be found here, the 10-12 are here.

Quick note - age ranges are arguable here! I'd be happy to give any of these to 10-12 year olds but a couple are probably aimed at slightly older or younger children - hope no author feels I've miscategorised them TOO badly. Same notes as last time: I stuck to individual books rather than series and kept it down to one per author, to try and spread the love around a bit.

Also, the reviews/plot summaries are extracts of my longer reviews, which you can get to by clicking on the title - mainly at The Bookbag.

Kaia feels frozen after the death of her beloved older brother. With her mum not talking about it and both struggling to cope, she withdraws into a shell and stops spending time with her friends. Then a mysterious boy joins her school and she starts to spend time with him. Even though he never speaks, she slowly starts to come out of her shell. Can she ever rediscover happiness?

Well-written and moving look at grief and recovery which feels realistic in the time Kaia takes to start to come to terms with her brother’s death, but is ultimately optimistic. Kate Grove's illustrations are incredible, as well!

In a land tormented by the screams of 999 souls, victims of dreadful experiments which have taken place since the despicable coward Villius Ren betrayed a king and seized power for himself, a young boy is about to become a hero. Servant to Ren and the rest of the Craven Lodge, 14-year-old Oland Born takes a stand and is forced to flee the castle after reading a mysterious letter addressed to him, but written by a king who died before he was even born. Trying to find out more about his background and how to save the kingdom from the Lodge, Oland sets out on a quest.

I always find adult authors writing for children to be a risky proposition - sometimes it works well, others seem to talk down to their audience. Barclay definitely doesn't fall into that trap - she creates a brilliant set of characters and plunges them into fast and furious action. I can't wait for the next in the series!

Eleven-year-old Sesame Seade has been waiting all her life to be a super sleuth, so when a student journalist disappears and no-one seems all that bothered, she decides to solve the case herself. Can she track down the vanished girl before her parents work out what's going on?

Fun with a capital FUN, the Sesame Seade seris are ALL amazing so I'll go for the first book. Fab mystery, brilliant characters, beautifully written with lots of great one-liners and enough classics reference to challenge a young reader (as you'd expect from a book set at Cambridge University.) Add in Sarah Horne's gorgeous illustrations and this series is a must-read.

No plot summary as can't work out how to do it without spoilers, but this is the one book I would most want EVERY school librarian to go out and buy multiple copies of. It's a book which, as the back cover quote 'A Story To Change Hearts And Minds' suggests, will help shape the way children (and adults) look at the world. And it's a book which will completely devastate you with its brilliant voice, wonderful plot, and massively important messages - about forgiveness, family, learning from history, and doing the right thing

Fab 5-star review from Anne at The Bookbag if I somehow haven't sold you on this. 

Third in this excellent series is definitely the best; I love Briggs's portrayal of Tarzan as a 'take no prisoners' anti-hero who'll go to extreme lengths to protect those he cares about, while plucky, resourceful and generally awesome Jane is behind only Kat Stephenson (see below) as my favourite ever MG heroine.

A Most Improper Magick by Stephanie Burgis

I've only reviewed book 3 in the series and it has mild spoilers so won't link here. All three of the Kat Stephenson novels (and, indeed, the recent novella) are equally wonderful, so again this gets it as the first book. Best described as MG Jane Austen with magic, this features my absolute favourite heroine of the past decade and a truly outstanding supporting cast, with amazing writing and a brilliant plot. 

For more details, brilliant 4.5 star review from Linda at The Bookbag

Magic Marks The Spot by Caroline Carlson

Somehow haven't reviewed this one (maybe I was too busy rereading to savour the awesomeness again?) If you like magic, pirates, gargoyles, adventure, humour, great plots, brilliant characters, and superb writing, read this now. Again, much more coherent review (5 stars!) over at TheBookbag courtesy of Linda if you need a second opinion. 

Simultaneously a love letter to Enid Blyton and stories like hers, and an insightful critique as to the issues with reading books from her era today. But of course, more than any of those things, it’s a charming, wonderful, and beautifully written story of adventure, friendship and family. The best of an absolutely tremendous series. (Disclaimer: I'm thanked in the author's note, but I'd written this reaction before seeing that!)

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo (author) and KG Campbell (illustrator)

When an unremarkable squirrel is hoovered up by an out of control vacuum cleaner, Flora Belle Buckman steps in to save him. But the mysterious accident has given him a new life, with super-strength, flight, and the ability to write poetry. As the duo start to make friends, Flora discovers happiness - but every superhero needs a nemesis. Will the pair be cruelly separated?

Told partly in prose and partly as a comic strip, this is completely and utterly wonderful. To quote comic-book fan Flora herself, ‘Holy Bagumba!’, this is a heck of a read.

Flora herself, cynical, jaded, and upset with her parents, is a really sympathetic main character, while the superhero squirrel is absolutely adorable, as is his poetry. I thought all of the characters here were excellent, though – perhaps especially the ‘villain’ here, who on the one hand is a formidable antagonist but on the other hand clearly has good intentions deep down. It’s an utterly and completely heart-warming read which completely deserves all of the praise it’s getting.

Julian Twerski did something bad. So bad, that it got him suspended from school. When he returns, his English teacher asks him to write a journal about it, in exchange for getting out of doing a report on Shakespeare. Julian reluctantly accepts - but would rather be writing about sending love letters for a friend, blowing up fireworks, or pretty much anything else except telling Mr Selkirk about what he wants to hear.

Bullying, peer pressure, power, responsibility and growing up are all handled perfectly here, while Goldblatt's writing style captures 12-year-old Julian's voice superbly. Will appeal to children and adults thanks to the great writing, funny and touching story, and the nostalgia for the sixties.

Luke is obsessed with records. He's so busy planning on breaking world records when he grows up, and playing world records DVD games, that he doesn't take much of an interest in what's going on around him. But that's about to change, because when the village of Port Bren is chosen to host a waste-incinerator plant his house will be demolished and the graveyard where his dad's buried will be destroyed – unless the village is too historically important for this to happen. How can they put themselves on the map in one week? Luke comes up with the idea to break 50 world records… but why won't his mum let him take part?

Completely and utterly charming with an outstanding setting. Irving's next book, Billie Templar's War, was also absolutely superb but this is the one I keep coming back to because it's so much fun and the eccentric characters never fail to raise a smile.

On moving to middle school, eleven year old Elise's life takes a turn for the worse. She's bullied by her cool and popular locker-buddy Amanda, and embarrassed by her best friend Franklin – who's decidedly uncool and certainly not popular – she's also struggling to cope with the new arrivals at her home, Aunt Bessie's younger sister Annie and her baby daughter Ava. Just when she doesn't know how she can cope with everything, help arrives in the form of a strange key with her name on it. As she opens a door to find out about her past, Elise starts to realise that she can take control of her future.

Fresh, clear, and moving writing style, and really captures adults and the children perfectly. An absolutely wonderful read.

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

I've still only read the first in the series (although rereading it now and planning on reading the entire series before my friend Caitlin disowns me.) Rereading it, I'm hugely confused as to how I stopped after one because the voice is utterly amazing and it is so much fun! (I know nearly everyone reading this blog is well ahead of me here.)

Raised as a monster and sent to a freak show because of the hair that covers his body, Wild Boy is loathed and feared by nearly everyone, but has an incredible power of observation. When he's accused of murder, he's forced to run from the freak show and team up with circus acrobat Clarissa to try and clear his name.

Action-packed adventure with a great central pairing and excellent villains with convincing motives.

Thirteen-year-old Edie knows that she doesn't need a nanny. She's old enough to look after herself, and her six-year-old brother Stan. Between them, they've managed to scare off nearly everyone who their parents have hired to take care of them. So when a girl of just sixteen starts looking after them after school, Edie is less than impressed. But then the girl, Alice B. Lovely, with her captivating dress sense and strange way of looking at the world, starts to win over Stan... could she be the person to fix Edie's problems?

With any of McCombie's books, you know that you'll get a heart-warming story, with believable characters, fabulous dialogue, and a plot with enough twists to keep you guessing as to exactly how everything will turn out alright in the end. I love everything I've read by her, but this is the best.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling

I don't need a plot summary, right? I LOVE this as a series-ender - JKR did a phenomenal job of tying up so many loose ends while also providing a truly satisfying read.

Sophie is shipwrecked in the English Channel on her 1st birthday, with her mother presumed dead, but she's lucky enough to be found by scholar Charles. He raises her as his ward and they have a happy, if seriously unconventional, existence until the authorities intervene on her 12th birthday.  With the orphanage beckoning, Sophie and Charles run away to France in the hope that her mother may be alive after all.

Incredibly lyrical, with Rundell's breathtaking language married to a clever plot, lots of excitement, and one of the most wonderful climaxes for a long, long time. It's also one that I think could open older readers' eyes to the amount of amazing books out there today. This feels, in so many ways, reminiscent of classics like Noel Streatfeild and Joan Aiken that I'd put it towards the top of my list of books to hand to readers who haven't read recent YA. 

Nearly ten years after Squirrel, Panther, Bobs and Puss last saw the Psammead, the sand fairy returns. But the world is in a state of upheaval, and with the now grown-up children contributing to the war effort, it's left to The Lamb, a teenager, and new arrival 9-year-old Edie to look after their visitor and save him from prying eyes. In addition to the horrors of the war, there are revelations for the six siblings about their old companion's past - why has he returned, and is there a reason he can't grant wishes any longer?

A stunning story that holds its own against Nesbit's wonderful original books about the Psammead. Warning - MAJOR need for tissues, I was in tears before the prologue finished!

Kitty is falling for someone she's just met - but that someone is a girl. Will her friends Sunny and Hannah ever understand her feelings for Dylan? And can she open up to any of them about her mother's illness? Kitty is keeping a lot of secrets, does she come out into the open, or risk losing Dylan forever?

This is, in a word, adorable. In two words, absolutely adorable. In three words... you get the picture, yeah? Love love love it!

Rose’s grandfather Brian takes her to Ypres to pay their respects to his dead brother, but while there she notices the grave of a 15-year-old boy, Valentine Joe. Tormented by thoughts of such a young lad dying so tragically, she wakes up that night and looks out of the window to see the strange sight of a 1910s town, and a soldier marching. Slipping back in time, she meets Valentine Joe himself – but why has this happened, and what will the future be for these two children?

Small in terms of number of pages, this is decidedly big in terms of themes and emotional weight. It also has one of my favourite endings of the year, managing to be simultaneously heartbreaking in many respects and surprisingly uplifting in others. It's a hugely powerful novel. Massively recommended, a really stunning read.

PLEASE NOTE: The below book was in there originally but (while it's AMAZING) it's been suggested via Twitter that 10-12 year olds may find it too bleak; my memory's terrible and I thought it was originally marketed towards this age range but Google suggests not. Thanks Darren from Book Zone 4 Boys for the discussion! 

Avoiding plot summary as possible spoilers for books 1 and 2 in this series, but this third volume is an epic horror-fantasy which took my breath away. Fabulous action, vivid descriptions of the nineteenth century, but best of all is the breathtaking, blissful, wonderful language that narrator Will Henry uses looking back on his childhood.

What are your favourites from the last 10 years for this age group? Tweet them to me or comment below!


  1. Thank you so much, Jim. I feel v honoured by your review for 'Girl with a White Dog' and now want to read ALL of the others, so thanks for the recommendations.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Anne! Hope you enjoy the others. :)

  2. I have, sadly, only read two of the books in this list! I'm sure this must be rectified, no?

    1. You should def change that! I'm trying to think which ones I actually own... I think I've got physical copies of about half of them. Next time you're looking for something to read shout me if you want to borrow any.

      Thanks for commenting! :)

  3. Thanks for the fabulous lists... so many more books for the TBR list :)

    1. Hope you enjoy them all! Thanks for leaving a comment. :)

  4. WOW - I was just browsing through & stumbled upon your lovely blog - It looks gorgeous and it has interesting posts that I can relate to! - Def. checking out these new reads! I'm now following you via gfc, Hope you check out my blog? keep in touch love x

    Benish | Feminist Reflections
    A Thousand Pieces of You Hardcover Giveaway

  5. YAY! *so* great to see our Sesame on this list! Totes agree with Skulduggery Pleasant (even if you have only read the first one!) and HP of course. I would have to add the Percy Jackson series to this list (most of them are last ten years I think) and also Murder Most Unladylike!

  6. Thanks Cait! I thought you'd agree with SP (Starting book two soon!) and HP. Percy Jackson has been on my 'should read' list for ages, and MMU came close. :)