As applications for our spring creative writing courses come in, it’s always good for us to have a sense of what the agents at Curtis Brown and C&W are reading and getting excited about. We at Curtis Brown Creative would love to help nurture the next generation of great children’s writers, and with applications for our next Online Children’s Writing course closing on Sunday night, I caught up with some of the team to find out some of their favourite children’s and YA literature.
Rufus Purdy, editor at Curtis Brown Creative
Catherine Johnson, who’s the tutor on the forthcoming Curtis Brown Creative Writing for Children course, recommended a few books to me to read to my seven-year-old daughter. Martha’s given them all a thumbs-up so far. She’s currently loving Siobhan Dowd’s The London Eye Mystery – and Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas was very well-received in the run-up to Santa’s visit – but the book that’s made the biggest impression on us both is Susie Day’s Pea’s Book of Best Friends.
The title doesn’t do it justice. In this bittersweet tale of Prudence Llewellyn and her two sisters being uprooted from Wales to London following the success of their mum’s mermaid novels, Susie Day taps right into what preoccupies children – schoolyard politics, loneliness, standing out, family dynamics. Yet she never patronises them. It’s genuinely funny and the cast of characters sticks in your head like an Abba melody. Vitoria the uncompromising Brazilian au pair is a creation of genius.
It’s tricky since the only exposure to children’s books I have is from reading to my children (or picking up from what they are reading) but I’d say in that age range my favourite has been Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver. This is the first in the ‘Chronicles of Ancient Darkness’ series set in the Stone Age.
Our family listened to Ian McKellen read Wolf Brother as we drove around France on holiday with our children last summer, and we were all instantly captivated. Driven by twelve year old Torak and his feisty female sidekick Renn, Wolf Brother is packed with great energy, drama, imagination and real feeling for the natural world.
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith is not only my favourite children’s book, but probably my favourite book ever. From its iconic opening line (‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink’) to its brilliantly oddball cast of characters – an eccentric writer struggling with writer’s block, a bohemian stepmother who communes with nature and a delightfully guileless protagonist – coupled with a crumbling castle and an impossible teenage romance, it’s whimsical and charming and I defy you not to be captured by it.
So, my favourite YA novel of the last few years is Tape by Steven Camden (full disclosure, he IS an author of mine). What Tape does so brilliantly is neatly weave together a very real love story and a very real story of grief and loss, with a magical story of ghostly voices communicating with each other through an old tape recorder, decades apart.
Steven works with children, running workshops, to try to get them to tell their own stories – and what he does better than so many writers I’ve read in this area, is capture the way they speak, their turns of phrase, the things unsaid because it’s just not cool. He’s not trying to be edgy, he’s just trying to be real and give older kids something to read that they can really relate to. His second book It’s About Love ain’t half bad either… (but I AM biased).
Abbie Greaves, assistant to Sheila Crowley
Exodus by Julie Bertagna is the ultimate unsettling dystopia, envisaging a future so plausible that it’s impossible to put down. It’s story of what would happen if the ice-caps melted and rising sea levels forced whole cities to relocate. I read this when I was 12, but I suppose there’s never been a better time for a re-read, what with climate change itself disappearing from the White House website….
Emma Bailey, assistant to children’s writers agent Stephanie Thwaites
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher: gorgeous and moving middle grade about grief and its effects on the people around you at such a young age.
Malorie Blackman’s ‘Noughts and Crosses’ series. Malorie Blackman is a genius and anything she writes is pure joy. She never ever limits the scope and tone of her stories for her audience and that’s what makes her so well respected with her teenage readers. These books changed my life at 11 years of age.
Jack Hadley, assistant at CBC
I recently read Ross Welford’s wonderful debut Time Travelling with a Hamster, which riffs off a number of time travel tropes (Doctor Who, Back to the Future) while managing to bring a freshness and warmth to familiar material.
It tells the story of Al Chaudhury, who finds out on his twelfth birthday that, before he died, his father had built a time machine. Al is given a mission; he needs to go on a dangerous journey back to the 1980s to stop his father’s death from ever taking place. Brilliantly paced and full of great characters, it is proof, if it’s ever needed, that the best children’s literature can be as exciting, funny and emotionally satisfying as any adult fiction.
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