Despite all the challenges facing our writers and our publishing industry, this has been an exceptional year for children’s books from Wales. Children’s writing has traditionally been overlooked in Wales, but luckily this has changed recently, and it’s a part of our industry that’s going from strength to strength. This year for the first time Literature Wales included a children and young people category in the prestigious Wales Book of the Year Award, and the winner of the Wales Arts Review People’s Choice Award went to the children category winner, Sophie Anderson, for her magical and very funny book The Girl Who Speaks Bear.
In the Welsh language there has been significant and important investment in recent years, with Literature Wales and the Books Council of Wales teaming up on joint courses at Tŷ Newydd for writers and illustrators, and this investment has paid off dividends as no fewer than 10 books have been published so far as a result of these courses.
Although we couldn’t possibly predict who would win the children and young people category at next year’s Wales Book of the Year (and if a book for children might soon win the overall prize), here’s our list of the books which created an impact on us this year. Our number one Welsh Book for Young People will be announced on Monday 21st of December.
Support your local independent bookshops and buy them for yourself, or for your little people, this Christmas!
Harrow Lake (Penguin) by Kat Ellis
Lola Nox is the daughter of a celebrated horror filmmaker – she thinks nothing can scare her. But when her father is brutally attacked in their New York apartment, she’s swiftly packed off to live with a grandmother she’s never met in Harrow Lake, the eerie town where her father’s most iconic horror movie was shot.
If a YA horror novel sounds like your scary cup of tea, then you should settle down with Welsh author Kat Ellis’s latest book. Described as ‘Scream meets The Babadook’ this is a must-read for fright fans everywhere.
Sw Sara Mai (Y Lolfa) by Casia Wiliam
Welcome to the world of Sara Mai, where cleaning up elephant poo is much more appealing than going to school, and it’s easier to understand the behaviour of a bear from the Andes than other Year 5 girls.
This latest book by former Bardd Plant Cymru is a charming story for younger readers and is one of the few Welsh-language books for children to feature a main character of mixed heritage. We hope to see many more in the near future.
Wilde (Firefly Press) by Eloise Williams
Being different can be dangerous. Wilde is afraid strange things are happening around her. Moving to live with her aunt seems to make it all worse. Wilde is desperate to fit in at her new school, but things keep getting stranger. In rehearsals for a school play a mysterious ‘witch’ starts leaving frightening to the children. Can Wilde find out what’s happening before everyone blames her? Or will she always be the outcast?
The latest book by the Children’s Laureate of Wales is a heady mix of wry humour, warmth, and a genuinely frightening build-up towards the ending. This is our top pick in a year of outstanding books for children and young people from Wales.
The New Girl (Graffeg) by Nicola Davies (author) and Cathy Fisher (illustrator)
In this beautifully illustrated and delicately written story, an unseen narrator describes what happens when a new girl joins their school. The children laugh and shout at her, as she doesn’t look like them and speaks a different language. The girl’s response is to make exquisite origami flowers for her classmates, which bring them joy.
A book to remind children of the importance of being kind and inclusive, and to celebrate difference, by the highly prolific and award-winning author.
Submarine Spies and the Unspeakable Thing (Gomer) by Dan Anthony
When Caitlin discovers a dog stuck in a bush down by the river her world is turned upside down. As Christmas approaches, parrots, cats, pigeons, chinchillas and submarine spies transform Caitlin’s life into an unspeakably thrilling, funny and heart-warming adventure.
A new book by popular children’s author Dan Anthony is always something to look forward to and will bring a smile to every reader’s face.
The Castle of Tangled Magic (Usborne Publishing) by Sophie Anderson
An enchanting fairy-tale adventure about the power of love and courage. When thirteen-year-old Olia steps through a magical doorway, she discovers another land. A land tangled by magic, where hope is lost, and a scheming wizard holds all the power.
This is the latest book by the winner of the inaugural Wales Book of the Year children and young people’s category and the Wales Arts Review People’s Choice Award in 2020.
Too Small Tola (Walker Books) by Atinuke
Three delightful stories about Too Small Tola, a young girl who, though small, is very determined. Tola lives in a flat in Lagos with her sister, Moji, who is very clever; her brother, Dapo, who is very fast; and Grandmummy, who is very bossy.
Too Small Tola is a wonderful new character in the world of children’s books by multi-award-winning children’s writer and storyteller Atinuke.
Michewa a’r Mynydd (Atebol) by Sean Chambers (translated by Manon Steffan Ros)
An original picture story book, following 7-year-old girl Michewa, as she decides to prove herself to her father, who is a successful mountain guide. She sets out to climb the ‘Lonely Mountain’ by her home in a forest village in Tibet. But this mountain is enveloped in mystery and danger.
This is a stunningly illustrated book by an exciting new author which will delight readers of all ages.
The Midnight Swan (Firefly Press) by Catherine Fisher
With an invisible girl, a parliament of owls and a pen that writes by itself, the journey to the Garden of the Midnight Swan might be Seren’s most dangerous adventure yet. But why is Captain Jones enquiring about Seren’s past? How have the sinister Fair Family gate-crashed the Midsummer Ball, and what is the one desire of the mysterious Midnight Swan?
This is the third book of the award-winning Clockwork Crow series by one of our greatest children’s writers, and a must-have for all her fans.
The Infinite (Canongate Books) by Patience Agbabi
Leaplings, children born on the 29th of February, are very rare. Rarer still are Leaplings with The Gift – the ability to leap through time. Elle Bibi-Imbele Ifie has The Gift, but she’s never used it. Until now. Elle’s adventure becomes more than a race through time. It’s a race against time. She must fight to save the world as she knows it – before it ceases to exist…
A fun, energetic and gripping read by the award-winning poet and novelist Patience Agbabi.
Previous number ones include:
2019: The Comet and the Thief (Gomer) by Ruth Morgan
2018: The Clockwork Crow (Firefly) by Catherine Fisher
2017: Gaslight (Firefly) by Eloise Williams
Wales Arts Review works to bring our readers the best critical writing from Wales, and the best critical writing about Wales. It is a place where passionate and informed arts critics, from Wales and beyond, can find expression. Our writers are neither drum-beaters nor axe-grinders but simply knowledgeable and dedicated people who care deeply about culture and society.
Founded in March 2012, Wales Arts Review is a media platform where a new generation of critics and arts lovers can meet to engage in a robust and inclusive discussion about books, theatre, film, music, the visual arts, politics, and the media.
Wales Arts Review commissions and publishes content in the English language, yet it proudly acknowledges that Wales is a bilingual nation with a richly diverse bilingual culture. We therefore do not restrict our focus to arts and literature delivered only in the medium of English. We have published reviews and articles examining works by Welsh language artists and companies; from the work of Theatre Genedlaethol Cymru to TV hit crime-thriller Y Gwyll. We have also covered the National Eisteddfod and were proud to announce that the winner of our 2014 ‘Greatest Welsh Novel’ prize was Caradog Prichard’s Un Nos Ola Leaud. Wales Arts Review looks forward to working with partner organisations on future projects that critically evaluate and celebrate all the languages of Wales.
We believe that a vibrant arts scene is the expression of a confident, healthy and creative society. We further assert that a flourishing and vigorous critical culture is vital to its sustenance and development. As such, we regard Wales Arts Review as an important building-block in the new outward-looking, forward-thinking Wales.