The best children’s books of 2021 – The Guardian
Children’s books bounced back in buoyant style in 2021. As bookshops reopened in the spring, children’s books enjoyed an 11% boost in sales against the equivalent period in 2019, according to the Bookseller. Michael Rosen’s own journey of recovery from Covid was movingly documented in Sticky McStickstick (Walker), illustrated by Tony Ross.
A move towards greater diversity heralded a rich array of new and emerging talent. Hey, You! by Dapo Adeola (Puffin) took an empowering, celebratory look at growing up black, showcasing the work of 18 black illustrators. Amari and the Night Brothers by BB Alston (Farshore) is first in an outstanding fantasy series following a young black girl and her adventures in the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. Neurodivergent author Elle McNicoll’s debut, A Kind of Spark (Knights Of), winner of the Waterstones and Blue Peter awards, told the story of an autistic girl campaigning for a memorial of witch trials. The Marcus Rashford Book Club was created to give books to children who need them the most; Rashford’s You Are a Champion, written with journalist Carl Anka, is the year’s bestselling children’s nonfiction book.
Eric Carle’s innovative approach to texture and colour were ahead of his time
In September, more than 100 British authors and illustrators signed an open letter urging the UK publishing trade to reduce carbon emissions. The move reflected a trend for children’s books addressing climate change from Hannah Gold’s wonder-filled The Last Bear, illustrated by Levi Pinfold (HarperCollins), to Dara McAnulty’s Wild Child (Macmillan), a glorious journey into nature.
The children’s book world also lost two much-loved creators this year. In May, Eric Carle died. Carle’s innovative approach to texture and colour were ahead of his time, as evidenced by his 1969 debut, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and much more. Jill Murphy died in August. The Worst Witch was an instant success in 1974, inspiring seven further titles. Her prolific picture book output included the Bear and Large Family series, capturing the warmth and chaos of family life in a style that brought her millions of fans the world over. Fiona Noble
‘Heartfelt meditation about living alongside grief’: A Shelter for Sadness by Anne Booth and David Litchfield. Illustration: David Litchfield