It’s all too easy to head straight for the tried-and-trusted classics when picking books for your children to read. But the diverse range of new work in 2022 confirms that looking back doesn’t always best serve children; the excitement of the new is just as important to them.
The books we’re looking forward to reading alongside our children in 2022, then, not only tell us something about the world they are growing up in, but about their hopes and fears, dreams and aspirations, too.
There’s much-loved, and then there’s Julia Donaldson, The Gruffalo author whose work is surely in every child’s home. This year, she teams up with The Gruffalo illustrator Axel Scheffler once more for the delightful Mole’s Spectacles and Badger’s Band (February and May, Macmillan), the latest in the multimillion-selling Tales from Acorn Wood lift-the-flap series that made stars of a fox who lost his socks, a tired rabbit wanting a nap and a postman bear.
Donaldson also has a “magical and lyrical” picture book with Helen Oxenbury out in April (Puffin Books). There are no advance images of this yet but Welcome to the World celebrates babies' first experiences. It’s Julia Donaldson – it’ll be great.
Fellow children’s author superstar David Walliams also returns with a second picture book illustrated by Adam Stower. Marmalade (February, HarperCollins Children's Books) follows the delightful adventures of a baby panda with orange fur who meets all sorts of animals on his quest to understand where he belongs in the forest.
Less high-profile but equally deserving of attention is Don’t Ask the Dragon by Lemn Sissay and Greg Stobbs (February, Canongate Books). The first children’s book from British-Ethiopian poet, writer and broadcaster Sissay, it tells the story of a little boy called Alem who’s not sure where to celebrate his birthday. As the title suggests, it might not be wise to consult the hungry dragon. Or is it?
Another lovely journey through the animal kingdom comes from former Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo. A Song of Gladness: A Story of Hope for Us and Our Planet (April, Two Hoots) was inspired by a blackbird the author enjoyed in his own back garden, and the stunning illustrations from Emily Gravett will remind children and adults of the beauty of the natural world and how we can preserve it.
Finally, we’re looking forward to One Camel Called Doug by Lu Fraser and Sarah Warburton (February, Simon & Schuster). A rhyming story with an educational counting element, Doug is all alone until he comes across loads more camels. He loves the company but also likes the peace of some alone time. Don’t we all…
Books for ages 5 to 8
Anyone who has a child aged 5 to 8 will know they devour facts in non-fiction books. And the fascinating, sometimes gory, stories about plant life in David Attenborough’s spectacular new television series The Green Planet – which had its UAE premiere last week – are definitely worth closer exploration in Leisa Stewart-Sharpe’s book of the same name, accompanying the show (out now, Penguin Books).
On a similarly exploratory note, Sam Sedgman’s Epic Adventures (February, MacMillan) is a really neat way to understand the world, its history and peoples via 12 interesting railway journeys. From cherry blossoms and temples seen from Japanese bullet trains to the woolly mammoths buried beside the Trans-Siberian Express, Sam Brewster’s brilliant illustrations perfectly complement Sedgman’s engrossing tales.
But when it comes to traditional storytelling, it doesn’t get much more classic than The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth’s Grahame’s enduring tale of mole, rat, badger and toad. Interestingly, Rashmi Sirdeshpande, one of the chosen authors for World Book Day 2022, has been asked to update and modernise the world of Toad Hall for a new, age 5-plus audience in a fully illustrated version by Jojo Clinch (April, Puffin). Probably about time, too, given how the original doesn’t exactly celebrate equality.
Bringing matters right up to date, we’re really excited by this month’s debut from Lucy Brandt, Leonora Bolt: Secret Inventor (January, Puffin). The titular Leonora is a brilliant creation, a young girl who spends her days fashioning fantastical inventions in her secret island lab, only to find that her uncle has been selling them for profit on the mainland. So begins a fun, mildly perilous and brilliantly madcap adventure taking in a talented otter and singing sea captain.
Lastly, it’s great to see the emergence of some Arabic-language children’s books in English translation. Thunderbird by Sonia Nimr (March, University Of Texas Press) is probably for the upper end of this age bracket, a time-travelling adventure featuring young orphaned Palestinian girl Noor, who must go back in time to find magical bird feathers and save the world. The great champion of Arab literature, M Lynx Qualey, is on translation duties, which is a seal of approval in itself.
Books for ages 9 to 12
Publishing for the 9 to 12 age group can often seem like an obsessive quest for the next Harry Potter. Still, new fantasy series Skandar and the Unicorn Thief (April, Simon & Schuster) comes with huge buzz: author AF Steadman received the world’s largest book advance for a debut children’s writer for her series about unicorns, which, rather than being fluffy and clad in rainbows, are magical, dangerous and bloodthirsty.
Step up young Skandar, but just as his dream of racing one to glory is about to come true, a mysterious figure steals the island’s most powerful unicorn. With magic, battles, races and secrets aplenty, it’s no surprise Skandar and The Unicorn Thief has already been optioned by Sony Pictures.
A girl called Amari will also be battling for children’s affections in April when BB Alston follows up his bestselling, award-winning Amari and the Night Brothers with Amari and the Great Game (HarperCollins). Amari is a refreshingly different hero; Alston couldn’t find any fantasy stories featuring black children when he was growing up, so wrote one himself. After Amari found her brother and saved the supernatural world in book one, she finds the pressure of being the leader of magiciankind too much, but someone more dangerous fills the void. So begins the mysterious Great Game, a competition to decide who will actually determine the future of magic.
Confirmation that everyone can be a hero also comes with Ellie McNicoll’s Like A Charm (February, Knights Of Media). Where McNicoll’s award-winning debut, A Kind of Spark, celebrated an autistic girl who fights against injustice and oppression, here her neurodivergent protagonist has actual magical powers; Ramya is able to see the creatures that populate Edinburgh where others can’t. And as she sets out to discover the truth behind the “Hidden Folk”, she finds out that her powers can change everything.
Finally, England and Manchester United star Marcus Rashford has done so much for children’s reading over the past year that it’s about time he featured in his own novel. The Breakfast Club Adventures (May, Macmillan) pulls together a group of unlikely friends who need to solve the mystery of a missing football. Written with author Alex Falase-Koya and illustrated by Marta Kissi, Rashford says breakfast clubs were “about forming friendships, about togetherness, about escape”.
His book, like so many of 2022’s crop, is all of those things and more.