20 December 2012

Stephanie Thwaites’ Christmas children’s books round-up

Stephanie Thwaites agentStephanie Thwaites
by Rufus Purdy From the Agents, Opinion

When Curtis Brown agent Stephanie Thwaites talks about the books she’s enjoyed this year, and some of the titles she’s planning to read over Christmas, it’s worth taking notice. Stephanie has not only looked after junior titles for the agency for the past eight years, but she also teaches the Curtis Brown Creative Writing for Children course with author Tony Bradman. In short, she knows what she’s talking about. Are you sitting comfortably? Then she’ll begin:


The Dinosaur That Pooped Christmas by Tom Fletcher and Dougie Poynter has been the number-one bestselling picture book in the UK for the last three weeks and it is THE ultimate stocking filler. We’ve had a lot of fun working on this book and several serious meetings have dissolved into laughter and silliness – it’s impossible, of course, to be too serious when the subject matter is pooping dinosaurs. Random House has done a fantastic job producing and promoting the book, and it must win a prize for staging the earliest Christmas party ever. Tinsel and mince pies in October was a little surreal.

A picture book series I’ve admired from afar (as I don’t represent the author/ illustrator), is Hugless Douglas by David Melling. It’s another idea that sells itself with a title, and combines a gorgeous character with a simple but compelling idea. I also adore Fiona Roberton‘s Cuckoo  a picture book I’m handling translation rights for, which is about a baby cuckoo who feels different and goes off searching for someone who will understand him. It’s simple and beautifully told with delicately drawn, touching illustrations. Hodder‘s picture-book list is an impressive one. And having had a sneak preview of what lies ahead, I know the publisher has some treats in store for 2013.

On the young fiction side it has been a pleasure to see Guy Bass’ Stitch Head go from strength to strength, and Stripes has done a fantastic job with translation rights – selling him in to nine territories. I’ve also been pleased to see Australian author Anna Branford‘s Violet Mackerel series launch this year; it’s a quirky, thoughtful and smart series aimed at young girls. Walker paired her with illustrator Sam Wilson and the result is a dazzling and delightful package. Ones to watch (even though they aren’t my clients) are Jamie Thomson, whose Dark Lord: The Teenage Years won this year’s Roald Dahl Funny Prize and Joanna Nadin‘s hilarious Penny Dreadful series. I think being called Joanna makes you more qualified to write funny young fiction as we have our own bonkers series launching next Spring from Joanna SimmonsScholastic will publish the first title, Pip Street: a Whiskery Mystery, in March and we can’t wait to see it on the shelves.

This year saw the posthumous – and, as a result, rather bittersweet – publication of Eva Ibbotson‘s The Abominables, which has received wonderful reviews and was shortlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. For readers aged 8+ it is just a dream to read, and Marion Lloyd and her team have worked wonders with this warm, witty and heartbreaking adventure about yetis and their search for somewhere they belong.

I was fortunate to teach with Tony Bradman on our Creative Writing for Children weekend and six-week course, and one of the most fascinating tutorials was on editing. The session involved comparing two different openings for his new book, Viking Boy, before and after he revised and edited it. The impact was remarkable and Tony is a true craftsman. You can feel this in Viking Boy as he takes the reader on a journey with all sorts of twists and turns throughout which he is always in complete control. The story has real depth, some fantastic characters and, although it may seem geared more towards boys, I can see both genders enjoying it.

Usborne published the first in Chris Ould’s YA crime series, Street Duty: Knock Down, in October and Chris’ experience writing for TV on The Bill and Casualty definitely gives a real authenticity to the setting. He asks the questions Lee Child insists you need to pose to create a truly compelling read. Someone has been knocked over but why did she run into the road and how come she’s not wearing any shoes?

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick is a startling, moving and ultimately uplifting story based on the true story of Arn Chorn-Pond, one of the first Cambodian child soldiers to speak out against the Khmer Rouge. This YA novel was selected as a National Book Award Finalist in the US and published by Random House UK this year. Another excellent YA novel I came across and which stood out for me this year was Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. This also sheds a light on a lesser known period of history and while it’s not an easy read it’s certainly a rewarding one.

Over the Christmas break, I’m looking forward to getting into Delirium by Lauren Oliver and Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor – both sent through by Hodder and wrapped appealingly for Christmas. I’m desperate to dive into Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales and I’m also keen to start Maggie Stiefvater‘s The Raven Boys. But first I need to finish a couple of adult titles I have on the go. I also feel I should read Hot Key‘s The Vincent Boys by Abbi Glines as there’s been a lot of discussion about this and ‘new adult’ titles generally.

Next year there’s a lot to look forward to with FE Higgins’ new series The PhenomenalsCatherine Johnson‘s SawbonesMM Vaughan‘s debut The AbilityJaney Louise Jones’ Princess Poppy’s CookbookGareth Edwards’ new picture book The Disgusting SandwichLucy Courtenay’s Space Penguins seriesand Lauren Miller‘s Parallel amongst many others.

I’ll also be looking for new authors for the Curtis Brown list and new books to add to next year’s round-up, so let me know if there’s anything I should be reading!

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