A Best Books List (For Kids and Grown-Ups) That’s Not the Same as Everyone Else’s!

Untitled designI’ve been reading through all the lists of best books of 2013 and they are all very same-y. The Christmas book catalogues are also astonishingly alike. I’m sure the books featured are all terrific but you could be forgiven for thinking there are no other books in the world. So, my challenge in compiling my list has been to avoid the books that are already on everyone’s lists. If you’re still looking for Christmas gifts for friends and family, and would like some book suggestions that extend beyond Tim Winton and Christos Tsolkias, here are my choices. They are all books I’ve read in 2013, not necessarily books published in 2013.

Best Book For Keeping You Up Past Midnight

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – (I feel like I can include this because it was all the lists of best books last year, rather than this year! Cheeky, I know.) What can I say other than, the holidays are the perfect time to read this book as you won’t be able to put it down. And then you will look at your husband or wife and think, hmmm, how well do I really know you?!

Honourable Mention: Fractured by Dawn Barker

Best Historical Fiction

A well-fought tie between Elemental by Amanda Curtin and In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl. Anyone who loves an intricate story set in a beautifully evoked past will devour either of these.

Honourable Mention: Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears

Best Book For A Laugh

Anna Goldsworthy’s Welcome To Your New Life is laugh out loud hilarious, but best appreciated by those who have had a child, and are far enough removed from the event of its birth and first year to be able to appreciate the humour of the way they probably behaved as a mother.

Best Genre Fiction

God, I love Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher mysteries. The ABC series adaptation on TV isn’t so bad either. I rarely read crime but Phryne brings a much-needed does of wit and style to the genre. All the books are rompingly good fun and easy to read.

Best Non-Fiction

Goodbye to All That, edited by Sari Botton is a book I picked up as research for my next book, as possibly giving me alternate perspectives on New York City. I became so absorbed in it that I forgot to take any notes! It’s a series of intelligent, humorous and intimate essays by 28 superb female writers about loving and leaving New York City.

Untitled design-2Best Book For Girls Aged 7-9

My daughter has devoured the Katy series by Susan Coolidge. I read all of them as a girl–What Katy Did, What Katy Did at School and What Katy Did Next –but I think I was probably at the older end of this scale as I read them all myself. My daughter has had me read them aloud to her which has been gorgeous; a lovely way to relive books I adored and to see my daughter’s appreciation of these timeless stories.

Honourable Mention: Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner

Best Beginning Reader Book for Kids Aged 4-6.

Beginning reader books are generally dull. The kind of books I’m talking about here are at the level before the child gets to early chapter books. But we found one that is funny, great for introducing just the right amount of new words mixed with just the right amount of retained words. It’s The Cat, the Rat and the Baseball Bat by Andy Griffiths.

Best Picture Book For Kids

The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson was the stand-out picture book for us this year. The kids so loved the book that they each made their own string of paper dolls, and many lines from the book are still being recited months after we borrowed it from the library.

Honourable Mention: Probably much better suited to girls than boys, any of the Eloise books by Kay Thompson. They feature such a nutty and utterly out-of-the-ordinary heroine that your child will want to read them over and over again.

Best Picture Book For Boys

If I have to sing Wombat Stew, Wombat Stew, crunchy munchy for my lunchy, one more time I may well ask to be chopped up for said stew. What child can resist a story about a wombat being saved from his fate as chief ingredient in a naughty dingo’s stew because the other animals combine to flavour the stew with mud and bugs and creepy-crawlies? Wombat Stew is by Marcia K Vaughn.

Honourable Mention: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems. The greatest book for audience participation, and we all know kids love a bit of that.


  1. Oh yes I did enjoy Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (the first 20 times). Lots of fun. Am making note to come back here when I need not-horribly-boring beginner reader books too.

  2. Thanks, Natasha 🙂 I have had the Phryne Fisher novels on my list for ages; the TV series is excellent, so I KNOW the books are going to be brilliant (and no doubt better)!

    • I bought one at a second hand book sale a few years ago and it sat on my shelf for a while, then I took it up on a rare day when I was sick in bed. I loved it – the voice is so well realised. I’ve read a few now and they never cease to entertain me. I think you’d like them too – and yes, the TV series is sorely missed now that it’s finished. It was one of my very few appointment viewing programs.

  3. Mel

    Fractured was my favourite out of this list (I hated Gone Girl, I felt like it dragged on & I really hated both characters).
    Great ideas for the children’s books, my 6yr old niece is always inundated with dolls & toys so I always try to get her books, but always struggle with doing that. I have no idea what 6 years olds like!

    • My husband is reading Gone Girl now – I’ll be interested to hear a male perspective on it. Another great one for a 6 year old girl is Usborne’s Illustrated Classics for Girls. It has abridged and illustrated versions of Little Women, Heidi, Black Beauty, The Secret Garden etc. My daughter loved that when she was about 6. A great way to introduce them to the classics.

  4. Mel

    Oh great! The Secret Garden was (actually probably still is) one of my all time favourite books. I’d also be interested in what your husband thinks of Gone Girl – report back 🙂

  5. Thanks for the honourable mention for Fractured, Natasha! And thanks too for the kids books recommendations. The illustrated classics sounds like something my kids would love. They’re growing out of picture books but struggle with long chapter books so it sounds perfect!

  6. Thanks for the recommendations. The problem for me is that the books keep coming faster than I can read them. I am determined to make 2014 my year of reading and writing. I have asked for book vouchers for Christmas and am on a mission to finish the two books I have on the go before the New Year. That way I can start my resolution a-fresh. I’m going to keep a record of all the books I’ve read this year to monitor my success. Perhaps I should keep a record of how many books I write this year too…to keep the scales balanced. Merriment and mirth to all. x

  7. Pingback: Australian Women Writers Challenge Round-Up | While the kids are sleeping

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