Angela McAllister’s Top Ten Favourite Children’s Books

Angela McAllister is the author of A Year Full of Stories and the recently published A World Full of Stories. Two wonderful books which my girls are really enjoying at the moment. Angela’s ability in collecting such wonderfully rich stories and comprising them into these two beautifully illustrated books is a gift and I’m so happy she agreed to share her top ten children’s books with us. You’ll agree it’s a fabulous list and I’m rather inspired to look up a few from her list for my girls. Enjoy and thank you Angela!

1. Next Stop Grand Central by Maira Kalman  – This book is a masterpiece. On my first trip to New York I had to get an extra suitcase to carry all the books I bought and this one is my favourite. It tells of the extraordinary variety of people who work in Grand Central Station and the life that goes on there from dawn to dusk; the maintenance, the services, the restaurants, the greetings and partings, the hints of exotic destinations, all of life is here, full of colour and quirkiness. Even minor characters are so fascinating that you want to follow them out of the book into whatever life they came from. Maira Kalman’s vivacity is expressed not only in her compelling illustrations but also in the way she paints pictures with words. It’s a great book to inspire young writers.

2. Over and Under by Kate Messner –  Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal. In contrast to the more zany books on this list, here is something as gentle and full of wonder as snow itself. A girl and her father ski through the snowy woods, while we are simultaneously shown the secret world under the snow where the smallest forest animals stay safe and warm. This is a wonderful example of the exciting growth of non-fiction picture books and has become an instant favourite. I particularly like the pages at the end with extra information, further reading and links.

3. A Near Thing For Captain Najork by Russell Hoban – Illustrated by Quentin Blake. This sequel to the equally wonderful How Tom Beat Captain Najork And His Hired Sportsmen is a riot of a story about a boy who invents anti-sticky while fooling around with his chemistry set. When he uses this amazing new technology to create a mechanical jam-powered frog, his adversary, Captain Najork, pursues him in a five-man undulating snake, to settle an old score. The climax is an arm-wrestling match between two of the most extraordinary female characters in children’s literature. I love this for its exuberant nonsense. It’s the perfect pairing of two masterful picture book creators.

4. The Man Whose Mother Was A Pirate by Margaret Mahy – Illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain – I can’t possibly have a top ten without pirates in it, or either of these brilliant Margarets! An ‘ordinary little man’ who works in a drab office is persuaded by his mother, an old retired pirate, to take her to visit the sea. In a liberating journey of discovery, the man comes to understand his true nature and becomes a pirate himself. This is the book to read if you ever need reminding how good it is to be alive, but beware, you may feel an irresistible urge to go the sea afterwards.

5. The Green Ship by Quentin Blake – This is a magical book that tells the story of a summer holiday in which two children, staying with their aunt, discover a topiary ship in the neighbour’s garden. A beautiful relationship grows between the old neighbour, her gardener and the children. Together they make imaginary voyages around the world, cross the equator and brave a storm. Quentin Blake’s sketchy, atmospheric illustrations here have quite a different feel to those in the first book on this list. It’s a lovely evocation of how age and youth can make believe together. Perfect for anyone who would love to play in an old, overgrown garden.

6. The Two Admirals by David McKee – When a famous retired Admiral moves into a quiet village the locals are proud to have him there. They don’t complain about his powerful presence. They tolerate him boasting that he can do everything better than anyone else. However, when a second self-important admiral moves in and the two start to compete with each other in absurd ways, life becomes intolerable for the villagers. If only all larger than life, boastful characters could be dealt with by offering a prize to the one who could keep the peace longest! David McKee also gave us the wonderful Mr Ben and King Rollo books along with many others. Most of all, I love the tremendous wit and warmth with which he observes people. Pure joy!

7. The Witch’s Children by Ursula Jones – Illustrated by Russell Ayto. How I wish I’d written this book! It’s a fairy tale fizzing with energy and invention. I love the great design and characterisation in the illustrations and there is so much content that you find something new with each reading. The story is packed with drama – it’s almost like watching a play.

8. In The Attic by Hiawyn Oram – Illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura. Another fabulous exploration of the imagination, showing how creative the state of boredom can be. With so much constant stimulation around children now it’s more important than ever to allow the quiet time needed to develop imagination. It takes tremendous skill to write such a spare, evocative text as this and Satoshi is a genius with astonishing poetic energy and inventiveness in all his work.

9. Time To Get Out Of The Bath, Shirley by John Burningham – This is a great example of how a picture book can offer a distinct visual narrative alongside the text. While Mum busies about in the bathroom, the reader shares Shirley’s imaginary adventure as she shrinks to be very small and rides her toy duck away through the waste pipe, to a land of witches, knights and an eccentric royal joust. At once familiar and strange, there’s plenty of delicious detail to discover and lots to discuss when sharing this. The world of fantasy plumbing on the endpapers inspired hours of inventive drawing in our house.

10. Bijan and Manije by Ali Seidabadi – Illustrated by Marjan Vafaian. This ancient Persian story, rewritten by Nicolette Jones is one of several books from Tiny Owl who are bringing wonderful Iranian writers and artists to our bookshelves. When I went to the Sharjah Book Fair in the UAE last year I was particularly moved by some of the illustration from Iran and this rich, colourful book is a great example of the exciting work from that region. Folk tales and legends have universal appeal and never age. How wonderful that we can tell our children a story that began in the 10th century!

Vanessa x


Comments (3)

January 31, 2018

One thing I miss is the suitable kids age for all these wonderful books. I have 3 boys in different phases of life…

Annie from Brimful
January 31, 2018

Ooo, but I love a good book post! Now to see how many of these are available at the library 😉.

February 1, 2018

Oh the Green Ship is our very best story ever… So thrilled to see it featured!!!

Leave a Comment