In no particular order:
1) THE IRON WOMAN by Ted Hughes.
Everyone knows and loves THE IRON MAN but less well known is this 1993 sequel in which a female iron giant emerges from a marsh to warn mankind of impending ecological doom. Where the first book is a melancholy and contemplative fairytale, this second is a feverish psychedelic nightmare. One of the craziest books I have ever read.
2) STAR GIRL by Jerry Spinelli
Spinelli excels at bittersweet tales featuring angsty kid protagonists battling the problems of everyday life. Leo is one such hero whose life is turned upside down when a strange and defiantly non-conformist new girl comes to his school. Reading this is like putting your heart in a tumble drier.
3) JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH by Roald Dahl
Is this Dahl’s best book? Quite possibly. Everything about it works. The characters are unforgettable (the joyfully unrepentant pest of a centipede might be best of all) and the invention never flags. The encounter with the cloud people is as superbly creepy as anything Dahl has written.
4) THE H-BOMB GIRL by Stephen Baxter
Time-travel shenanigans in 1960s Liverpool by the modern master of science fiction. Engaging, compulsive and, at times, outright horrific. One of the very few science fiction novels to feature a cameo appearance by Cilla Black.
5) THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS by Lewis Carroll
If for no other reason than the inclusion of JABBERWOCKY – one of the greatest poems in the English language (if indeed, those odd words really count as English) – this deserves a place on this list.
6) SKELLIG by David Almond
Who or what is the strange creature lurking in Michael’s garage? An air of mystery, foreboding and death clings to this dark little tale. About as near as a children’s book can get to a David Lynch film. A modern classic.
7) THE TURBULENT TERM OF TIKE TILER by Gene Kemp
Tike Tiler is a wild kid but extremely loyal to best friend Danny. When it looks like the two are about to be separated, Tike decides upon drastic action. One of the best books ever about day-to-day life at school, TIKE TILER was also the first book I read (or more accurately, had read to me) that had a twist at the end, forcing me to revaluate the entire story.
8 ) WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams
Rabbits as heroes? Who’d have thought it? Adams’s rabbits have their own culture, words, even mythology, and are entirely believable. A masterclass in world creation.
9) HOLES by Louis Sachar
The story of Stanley Yelnats incarceration in the Camp Green Lake correctional facility, where juvenile delinquents are forced to dig holes to “build their character”. Pure fun from start to finish.
10) TIMMY THE HAMSTER by Bryson Kinsey
Sometimes dismissed as merely a prolific hack (TIMMY is his fortieth novel!) Kinsey is almost unique among writers in being able to conjure up horror out of almost nothing. In this typically twisted tale, a young boy develops almost imperceptible psychic powers following a traumatic experience. But slight powers are all he needs…