In 2019 I continued to alternate reading Childrens/YA fiction with “proper grown up books” partly as an act of gentle escapism and partly as my “research” for illustration projects and the pipe dream of one day adding my own work to a list like this.

I’m a strong believer in the importance of children books; their ability to provide companionship, comfort and encouragement, firing the imagination and subtly introducing big ideas in a way that can shape the future adult. As an adult reader they act like paper time machines, allowing us to retreat a little from the pressures of the everyday 

A recent article by Gwendolyn Smith in The Guardian expands on this as does the wonderful essay by Katherine Rundell, Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise (published by Bloomsbury to celebrate Independent Bookshop Week in June 2019).


This is a tiny selection from my year of daydreaming in the Sam Read Children Section.


Annet Schaap, Lampie and the Children of the Sea (Pushkin Children’s)
A watery “fairytale” with beautiful illustrations; this book tells a weird and wonderful tale of friendship, redemption and the acceptance of difference. I loved the main character Lampie who lives alone in a lighthouse with her embittered father. I felt that she would find a great friend in Yanka, a character from another favourite read of 2019 The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson (Usborne), if the two worlds were to collide.  


Melissa Castrillón, The Balcony (Simon & Schuster)
A beautiful picture book telling the story of a child reluctantly leaving her childhood home when her parents move to the city. Tiny details on each page express the emotional journey from loss of the loved familiar to the flowering of new friendship and community. I cried a bit, you could frame  every page.


Helen Kellock, The Star in the Forest (Thames and Hudson)
I met Helen on a Picture Book retreat at the wonderful Moniack Mhor writing centre in Scotland and it was only at the end of our stay that she revealed her news that her pipe dream had become a reality- to be published the week after our stay. Her illustrations in this debut picture book glow with a distinctive colour palette and the characters are full of movement and expression as they search for the source of a mysterious light in the forest.


Joanna Carey, The Illustrators: Judith Kerr (Thames and Hudson)
For anyone interested in the work of illustrators, this series of books offers a fantastic insight into the lives, working practise and sketchbooks of some of the best. Judith Kerr, who died in May 2019, was one of the icons of children writing and illustration. This book is a beautiful tribute to the importance of her work and an inspirational life story.

There are so many more! Working in a bookshop is better than being a child in a sweetshop. Other favourites in other genres include … 

Erin Morgenstern, The Starless Sea (Harvill Secker)
Michelle Paver, Wakenhyrst (Head of Zeus)
Isabel Greenberg, One Hundred Nights of Hero (Jonathan Cape)
Benjamin Myers, The Offing (Bloomsbury Circus)
Phillip Pullman, The Secret Commonwealth (Penguin/David Fickling)


— Kim Tillyer (AKA Witchmountain)