Children's column - crowded January

Nicolette Jones
Opinion - Children Friday, 2nd January 2009

January used to be a quiet month for children's books. The conventional deluge, as in all genres, was in the autumn, in the hope of grabbing a share of the Christmas market. High-selling paperbacks, humour books and light reads came out in the early summer, for holiday reading. Non-fiction was big in August/September for back-to-school. And the spring was busy, with an eye to the Easter-round-ups. But increasingly in recent years January has come in like a lion. It is perceived to be a time of year that gives significant new titles a chance, and takes advantage of Book Token business, while big names are no longer held back. This year, for instance, the month is graced by some of our finest children's writers.

Frances Hardinge, who crafts every phrase with unusual care, and won the Branford Boase award for Fly by Night (which did not get the critical attention it deserved when originally published in a crowded autumn), had her second book, Verdigris Deep, out in May, and it was more widely noticed. Now her inventive new fantasy, Gullstruck Island (Macmillan), gets the January boost. Jonathan Stroud, whose intelligent Bartimaeus Trilogy was one of the best fantasy series of recent years, turns his talent for satire and adventure to Heroes of the Valley (Doubleday). Ally Kennen, acclaimed for Beast (shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal, the Branford Boase, the Booktrust Teenage prize and a host of regional prizes) and for her ingenious thriller Berserk, has her third, Bedlam, out this month. 2004 Booktrust Teenage Prize winner and doyenne of missing children Anne Cassidy has her eighth novel, Just Jealous (Scholastic), out this week. Puffin is running with the success of teen-craze-in-the-making The Luxe by publishing Anna Godbersen's sequel, Rumours, this month. And Morris Gleitzman revisits the Holocaust in time for Holocaust Memorial Day on 27th January (the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz) with Then, the sequel to Once.
Meanwhile, it is the month for the first volume of new fantasy series: note Alison Goodman's Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye (David Fickling) set in Ancient China; Maya Snow's Sisters of the Sword Book 1: The Warrior's Path (OUP), set in 13th-century Japan, and Nadia Aguiar's The Lost Island of Tamarind (Puffin), for readers of 9-plus, set on a tropical island.
Two newcomers are aiming for the Stephenie Meyer market: Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games (Scholastic), about a deadly reality show, is complete with black and red jacket and Meyer quote; and the first House of Night novel, set in a Vampire Finishing School, Marked by P C and Kirstin Cast, comes from Meyer's publisher, Atom, with lookalike covers.
Finally, the following debuts come laden with publishers high hopes: former bookseller Michelle Harrison's The 13 Treasures (Simon & Schuster), a fantasy adventure with a heroine who can see fairies; Bath Writing MA graduate Elen Caldicott's splendidly named story of a girl fighting to save her late grandfather's allotment: How Kirsty Jenkins Stole the Elephant (Bloomsbury); human rights lawyer Benjamin J Myers futuristic fantasy Twisted Symmetry the first of six books in The Bad Tuesdays series signed up by Orion after its first slush pile discovery in seven years; Rachel Ward's teen debut Numbers, about a girl who can see the dates of people's deaths in their eyes (Chicken House); Zelah Green, Queen of Clean (Egmont) by Vanessa Curtis, whose bereaved heroine is obsessed with cleaning; and a fairy tale with an edge: Knife by R J Anderson (Orchard Books) . . .
It's going to be a jostle for elbow room.