The Best Kids & YA books of 2015

Cover of The princess and the ponyAs a librarian with a passion for children’s literature I read nothing but books for kids and teens all year long. I visit schools around the city to promote great new reads for kids so I always have to keep up-to-date with the new and exciting books we get in at the library.

I have read a lot of great books for kids and teens this year, from picture books to novels and nonfiction. As always, I borrow more than I can read, but there are so many books that I want to read. Picture books, at least, are easy to read and you can read them again and again.

Each year we put together our Holiday Reading Guide, which includes the best books of the year selected by librarians across all our libraries. Our 2015 Holiday Reading Guide is out now. It includes:

If you’re looking for some great books to read over the summer, make sure you check out the 2015 Holiday Reading Guide.

Here are some of my favourite books of 2015 from the Holiday Reading Guide:

Picture Books

  • Cover of Piranhas don't eat bananasPiranhas Don’t Eat Bananas by Aaron Blabey – Aaron Blabey is my top author/illustrator of the year. He has published 6 books in 2015 and they’re all brilliant. Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas is the story of Brian, a Piranha who should like meat but much prefers fruit and veges. His friends aren’t happy and try to put him on the right track. He tries to persuade them that ‘fruit is the best’ but they would rather eat feet, knees and bums. This is a hilarious read that has kids and adults cracking up.
  • The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton –  Princess Pinecone wants to be a warrior and she needs a big, strong, fast horse to help her. Her parents don’t get her wishes quite right and she ends up with a short, fat little pony that farts a lot. This little pony might not be what she asked for but together they become a great team, and help the meanest warriors show their cuddly sides.

Younger Fiction

  • Cover of Mango and Bambang: The Not-a-PigThe Shark-Headed Bear-Thing by Barry Hutchison – Ben just wants to have an adventure and be a hero. When a girl called Paradise turns up in his village seeking a hero to save her village from a rampaging monster, Ben knows he’s the hero for the job. A very funny adventure story, featuring the greatest game ever invented – Burp or Death!
  • Mango and Bambang: The Not-a-Pig by Polly Faber and Clare Vulliamy –  A charming collection of four beautifully illustrated stories about the unlikely friendship between Mango, a little girl, and Bambang, a Malaysian tapir. Mango Allsorts is good at all sorts of things, not just karate and chess. Bambang is most definitely not-a-pig and is now lost in a very busy city. When the two unexpectedly meet, a friendship begins, filled with adventures, and of course, plenty of banana pancakes.

Older Fiction

  • Cover of Olive of GrovesOlive of Groves by Katrina Nannestad – an enchanting, entertaining and incredibly funny book, packed with imagination. Olive is sent to Mrs Groves Boarding School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers, where the headmistress is bonkers, the school bully is a pig, boys blow up broccoli with dynamite, and she meets plenty of colourful characters. This is my book of the year.
  • The Marvels by Brian Selznick – The latest amazing book from the very talented Brian Selznick, told partly through illustration and partly through text. The first 400 or so pages of the story are told just through illustration and introduce us to the Marvels. The second part of the book tells the story of Joseph and his search for the truth of his family and his connection to the Marvels. A true masterpiece.

Young Adult Fiction

  • Cover of Because You'll never meet meThe Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness – This beautiful, funny, moving novel looks at those who aren’t the ‘chosen ones.’  Mikey and his friends are the chosen ones. They just want to go to prom and graduate without their school being blown up again. They are navigating everyday life in their town, while the Indie kids are battling the Court of the Immortals.
  • Because You’ll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas – Ollie and Moritz are best friends, but they can never meet. Ollie has a life-threatening allergy to electricity, and Moritz’s weak heart requires a pacemaker. If they ever did meet, they could both die. Living as recluses from society, the boys develop a fierce bond through letters that become a lifeline during dark times. The story is original and intriguing and the characters are two of the most interesting teenage guys you’ll ever meet.

Best fiction of the Year and otherwise – fiction selector Philip Tew

Cover of The girl on the trainYou’d think that the only novel published this year was The girl on the train and next year, when Emily Blunt has taken the train into town, it should continue dominating bestseller lists everywhere. There is, however, some murmurings in the publishing trade that “domestic no bliss at all” is starting to slow down.

Otherwise with fiction it was business as usual as Lee Child was way up there, along with all the old faithfuls from James Patterson who has cleverly cornered the adult, YA and children’s markets and must now have a houseful of writers turning his ideas into bestsellers.

Cover of The golden age of murderOne interesting trend is the republishing of old mysteries. It began with the British Library reprinting old Golden Age British mysteries. It would not have worked so well if they hadn’t been so well produced. English writer Martin Edwards provided interesting forewords and, if you are interested in the genre, we have his book The golden age of murder in the collection. Collins have now jumped into the market and are reprinting old mysteries from the likes of Edgar Wallace and Francis Durbridge (once a radio and television favourite).

Best reads of 2015

Widows and orphans Michael Arditti
A man who is trying to be good in a venal world is the main focus of this tale of the editor of a local newspaper in a seaside town and his nemesis, a greedy and coarse developer. Moral issues in a world where they are seen as irrelevant makes for a thoughtful and readable novel.

Cover of the real JustineThe real Justine Stephen Amidon
This American author is pretty good on the how we live now novel and this one combines this with a mystery plot involving a strange girl whose life is all over the place. Good social observation and a gripping plot.

Cover of Two acrossTwo across Jeffrey Bartsch
Two teenagers meet at a spelling bee in this first novel which is a likeable and droll tale about difficult parents, adolescent angst and creating crossword puzzles.

Cover of The year of fallingThe year of falling Janis Freegard
If you have lived in Wellington, you’ll love the atmosphere and background of this excellent novel. The story moves from Wellington to Iceland and the characterisation of two sisters, a child and an elderly neighbour is very well done and makes for an interesting and satisfying read.

Cover of GorskyGorsky Vesna Goldsworthy
The world of the obscenely rich Russian oligarchs in London and the story of a young bookseller who comes into this world when he has to assemble a library for one of them is the theme for this unusual and highly readable novel.

Cover of ChappyChappy Patricia Grace
This is a fascinating and touching novel where a young man learns the story of his Maori grandmother and Chappy, his Japanese grandfather. Beautifully written and my pick for the best New Zealand novel of the year.

Cover of High DiveHigh dive Jonathan Lee
Taking Irish terrorism and mixing it in with the Brighton bombing in the Margaret Thatcher era makes for a historical novel from the very recent past. The careful recreation of the time and place is beautifully handled. Especially good is the portrayal of the hotel staff, ordinary people who become caught up in big events.

Cover of Children of the masterChildren of the master Andrew Marr
The journalist and political commentator with his second satirical slap in the face for British politics. It’s set in 2018 where the Labour Party is in power and there are two candidates for the top job. Machiavellian in the extreme, this is an often funny and way over the top political black comedy. Of course we don’t believe ruthless opponents would use murder to get to the top but it makes for a good story. The Master, incidentally, has to be someone not a mile from Tony Blair.

Cover of The IlluminationsThe illuminations Andrew O’Hagan
Why this one didn’t get on the Man Booker Prize shortlist is a real puzzle. It’s a superb novel about Britain. Part of it is set in Ayrshire with an elderly lady who was once a leading documentary photographer in the 1960s. Her story is intercut with that of her grandson who has returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. A strong, forceful and moving book.

Cover of The Party LineThe party line Sue Orr
The author of some very good short stories made her novel debut with this story, set in the Hauraki Plains, where the arrival of a sharemilker and his outspoken (for this community) daughter question the assumptions of the place. The title is a clever one as it is the chief means of communication and also the way the community thinks.

Cover of I saw a manI saw a man Owen Sheers
A reporter whose wife has been killed returns to London and befriends the people next door. Through a misunderstanding something terrible happens, Moving from the affluent lives of the upper middle class to what happens when a tragedy occurs, this is a timely and gripping novel.

Cover of Mobile LibraryMobile library David Whitehouse
This excellent and underrated British author is remembered for Bed, his story of an obese man. The new novel is about a woman who cleans the mobile library and what happens when she takes to the road with her disabled daughter and a lonely boy. It is a bit far fetched but quite engaging.

Cover of My sunshine awayMy sunshine away M.O. Walsh
Down the Deep South tale in which a thirtyish man remembers his younger days and the whole suburban network of secrets and lies around the rape of a teenage girl. It’s a convincing portrait of a time and place and a very promising debut novel.

Visit our Best Reads 2015 page for more picks, and the chance to have your say.