Book review: Children’s books selection for Christmas 2012

Christmas is coming and Santa has more than a few surprises up his very wide sleeves this year... including a sackful of sparkling books.

Wednesday, 12th December 2012, 9:00 am

From those early years of discovery to the more discerning teenage readers, there is a winter wonderland of reading out there just waiting to be wrapped and delivered. Here is a selection of some of the best Christmas crackers.

2 plus:

When It Snows by Richard Collingridge

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Get in the festive mood with this beautiful story of one small boy’s magical snowy adventure. When everything grinds to a halt because of the snow, a little boy and his teddy bear refuse to allow the weather to spoil their fun. They embark on an amazing journey in which they ride a polar bear and meet huge snowmen, an ice queen, elves, a giant reindeer and Father Christmas. And at the very end of the story, there’s a clever twist... he has simply become immersed in the magical scenes of his favourite book! A winter wonderland of atmospheric pictures, blazing fires and the spirit of Christmas, and an inspiring story about the imaginative power of books.

(David Fickling Books, hardback, £10.99)

Snow Bunny’s Christmas Wish by Rebecca Harry

Endearing illustrations, a warm, cosy story and silver foiled illustrations make this a truly sparkling gift. One snowy Christmas Eve, a small bunny goes in search of Santa to ask him to make her Christmas wish come true. She packs everything she might need for the journey, leaves her warm burrow and sets out through the snow. On the way she meets other animals, all in need of a little help, which she gladly offers – and by offering makes her own wish come true! All’s well that ends well in this heart-melting story. Baby animals and Christmas cheer abound, and all depicted through Rebecca Harry’s appealing, broad stroke pictures, including foil on every page for that extra special something.

(Nosy Crow, hardback, £12.99)

Big Book of Nursery Rhymes by Kali Stileman

Old and well-loved nursery rhymes are brought to life with stunning illustrations in this light and bright nursery book which will capture the hearts of toddlers. Kali Stileman brings the action rhymes, songs and lullabies to life with her characteristically quirky illustrations. These traditional staples of early childhood are an essential part of developing a love of words and books, and this is a fun, fresh way of introducing them. The stunning anthology is a wonderful way to share nursery rhymes with babies and toddlers, and the luxury, padded cover makes it an extra special gift.

(Doubleday, hardback, £9.99)

Tamara Small and the Monsters’ Ball by Giles Paley-Phillips and Gabriele Antonini

Monsters don’t have to be scary, particularly if you are a toddler who is easily spooked! This clever and colourful picture book, full of reason and rhyme, will help little ones get their fears into perspective as well as delivering a monster feast of fun. On a windy night Tamara lies awake in bed when she hears a noise outside her room. Suddenly she is whisked away by a hairy arm and taken to the village hall. Luckily it’s just the neighbourhood monsters inviting her to their ball and after a night of dancing, she is sent back home with a lovely slice of slime cake! With big, bold pictures, a truly delightful rhyming text and a message that is the perfect remedy for night time fears, this book has all the makings of a bedtime classic.

(Maverick Arts Publishing, paperback, £6.99)

3 plus:

Playbook Farm by Corina Fletcher and Britta Teckentrup

Keep the children entertained this Christmas with an ingenious pop-up book and play mat that combines a fun game with an entertaining story. This is the perfect novelty package for all pre-school children. Bright, vibrant and sturdy, the fold-out mat and figures provide hours of play before being stored safely away in their own carry case. Created by a paper engineer, the robust package comprises a pop-up story book which unfolds and transforms into a 3D farmyard landscape, with cardboard animals and vehicles to use on the farm. The simple story is full of animal noises and actions, perfect for sharing as a book as well as awakening imaginations. Easily portable, this is just the job for journeys and play dates.

(Nosy Crow, boardbook, £14.99)

Grandma Bendy by Izy Penguin

Children are never too young to learn the difference between right and wrong. A case in point in Grandma Bendy; she might once have been ‘bent’ but she’s going straight now. Grandma Bendy is incredibly bendy and used her skills to burgle houses until the long arm of the law locked her up in a bendy-proof prison. Now she uses her bendiness to help other people and has found that making other people happy makes her happy too! Morality tales don’t come better than in this funny and creative picture book which features brilliant illustrations and an engaging story.

(Maverick Arts Publishing, paperback, £6.99)

Albert the Pug and the Haunted Castle by Garry Cook

Albert, the pugnacious pug who can’t seem to keep out of trouble, is back for another madcap adventure! When our doggedly brave hero is disturbed by a strange sound while on holiday in Scotland, he decides to make a search and find out what’s going on. But he will have to overcome his fears and imagination first if he is going to solve the mystery. Lancashire journalist Garry Cook’s quirky, rhyming stories with their large, colourful hand-painted illustrations and positive themes are aimed at children who are developing their reading skills. An ideal book for bedtime.

(Createspace, paperback, £8.75)

Friends in the Snow by Daniel Postgate and Sam Childs

The mind is a canvas on which to paint your dreams and that’s just what one little girl does is this colourful and clever picture book that lets young imaginations take flight. When Lucy’s dad paints her bedroom wall white, Lucy knows that it isn’t JUST white – it’s a white monster, standing in the white snow and the monster wants an adventure! An endearing tale about the magic of invention and the importance of friendship is brought to life with superbly evocative illustrations. As the cold winter nights approach, what better book could there be to cuddle up with on the sofa, and share with mum and dad?

(Scholastic, paperback, £6.99)

Age 4 plus:

Lost in the Woods by Claire Harrison and Elinor Geller

Who can resist these two adorable dogs and their exciting adventures? Peggylicious, a beautiful black cocker spaniel, and Archie, a Tibetan terrier, are the creation of author Claire Harrison and illustrator Elinor Geller and the story of their mission to help a group of children who are lost in the woods certainly has the ‘aaah’ factor! In their excitement at the end of term, the children run off on an adventure without telling their parent s where they are going. Fortunately, Peggylicious and Archie bring the three children back home safe and sound. With its rhyming text, charismatic canines, heart-warming message and big, bold illustrations, this endearing story has real child-appeal.

(Vision Marketing, paperback, £5.99)

Age 6 plus:

The Great Race by Nathan Kumar Scott and Jagdish Chitara

A fabulously exotic mix of cultures makes this an extra special Christmas gift. The Great Race is an exciting retelling of an Indonesian folktale, featuring the popular trickster Kanchil, a mouse deer. Illustrated using the exquisite Mata Ni Pachedi style of ritual textile painting from Gujarat, this is the first time that this rare form of traditional art has been used to illustrate a children’s book. ‘I’m the fastest animal in the forest!’ boasts Kanchil, ‘and I challenge any animal to race me!’ Who will step forward to accept this challenge? Vivid illustrations give a wonderful eastern flavour to a fascinating folk story.

(Tara Books, hardback, £10.99)

Genie in Trouble by Ciaran Murtagh

There’s fun and laughter all the way with Ciaran Murtagh’s adventure-loving schoolboy and his ingenious genie. When Jamie’s genie friend Balthazar pops up in the middle of a really tricky spelling test at school, Jamie knows there’s an adventure in store. Bad genies have taken over Lampville and Balthazar wants Jamie to leave his classroom immediately and help. Evil wishes, undercover missions and death-defying magic carpet races face Jamie in his most dangerous challenge yet. Still, it’s got to beat a spelling test! Jamie’s hilarious escapades are ideal for young boys who are reluctant readers and need plenty of laughs to keep the pages turning.

(Piccadilly, paperback, £5.99)

Christmas Carols Sticker Book by Jane Chisholm and Marie-Eve Tremblay

For children who love sticker books, here’s one that’s a real cut above! As well as the fun of matching the stickers with the pictures, youngsters can explore the wonderful world of art with fantastic paintings from the National Gallery in London. Featuring 11 of the most popular carols and their musical accompaniment, this amazingly different book is illustrated with Christmas and Nativity scenes from famous paintings from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance to Victorian Christmas cards and posters. Children can have fun matching stickers of the paintings to their labelled frames, as well as learning interesting facts about painting. There’s an art to buying the perfect Christmas present and this is it!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Where’s The Meerkat? Journey Through Time by Paul Moran and Jen Wainwright

The meerkats are making it a real family get-together this Christmas with a book that offers pages of fun for every age group. Find the adorable meerkat family as they go on a voyage through the ages, from the Ancient Greeks to King Henry’s court through the Battle of Waterloo to a 1920s New York ballroom. Spot them as they feast at a Tudor banquet, swash and buckle aboard Blackbeard’s ship, spend a day in the Forbidden City and much, much more. And make sure to watch out for their arch-nemesis, the crafty hawk, and their annoying next door neighbour, the greedy squirrel! Combining meerkat madness with the challenge of a search book and the added thrill of time travel, this entertaining book is an ideal gift.

(Michael O’Mara Books, hardback, £9.99)

Excuses Excuses by Anushka Ravishankar and Gabrielle Manglou

Poetry in motion... from India! Every child breaks the rules sometimes so it’s always useful to have a few good excuses up your sleeve, and here we have some of the most outrageous. Late again! What is it now? Chased by a lion? Kicked by a cow? Meet Neel, who has noble intentions but finds that they all have a funny habit of going wrong! Excuses, Excuses captures the gleeful childhood dilemma of knowing the importance of rules but delighting in breaking them. A deliciously wild and absurd feast of fun from Anushka Ravishankar, India’s best-loved children’s poet, and Gabrielle Manglou, a zany artist from Réunion Island.

(Tara Books, hardback, £10.99)

Age 8 plus:

Horrible Histories Annual 2013 by Terry Deary and Martin Brown

To mark the 20th awesome and awful anniversary of Horrible Histories, here’s a book full of madcap moments and foul facts from days gone by. A new year is on the horizon and there’s plenty of new nasty bits to be enjoyed! Packed with foul facts, gory games, dreadful jokes and putrid puzzles, plus content from Horrible Histories TV, this is every child’s chance to pep up 2013 with jokes, grot and grime from history’s yuckiest moments. A must-have for all Horrible Histories fans, it’s the annual with rat-itude and guaranteed to make you go wow, aargh and yuk!

(Scholastic, hardback, £7.99)

Age 9 plus:

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Race Against Time by Frank Cottrell Boyce

It’s almost 50 years since James Bond author Ian Fleming wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as a bedtime story for his son Caspar and now the little car is flying again thanks to the storytelling talents of scriptwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce. This is his second official sequel and it’s as fast, funny and exciting as you would expect from adventures featuring this fantastic flying car. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is stuck in reverse. Baby Harry’s pressed a button that means she’s reversing through time – with the Tooting family aboard. When they finally come to a stop, it’s at the feet of a very hungry-looking T-rex. How will the Tootings get out of there before they become T-rex takeaway? Fast-paced, entertaining and laced with wry humour, Chitty’s 21st century adventures are just brilliant for a new generation of readers.

(Macmillan, hardback, £10.99)

Age 10 plus:

Guest review: Forget Me Never by Gina Blaxill reviewed by Lancashire reader Hui-Ling Phillips aged 16

An intriguing book set over one summer, drawing together a crime close to home and heart with sympathy for the everyday troubles of the modern teenager. This story draws you into the minds of two teenagers caught up in a dangerous situation with only each other for reassurance.

Sophie, whose cousin Dani has just died, refuses to believe what the authorities have deduced. Suicide in her opinion was not the reason. She and her best friend Reece fight to find out the truth, while fighting to simply stay friends.

This book takes you on a journey from arranging their own undercover work to trying to stay friends throughout all of their hardships which tests their loyalty to instinct or logic. Can Sophie learn to trust before she loses her best friend for good?

Forget Me Never will open your eyes to a world you may have dared not think about. Blaxill has created amazingly complex and believable situations and characters in Forget Me Never that you will never forget.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

North Child by Edith Pattou

How about something completely different this Christmas ... a timeless, beautiful story that has the power to transport children into another world? North Child is the unforgettable unfolding of one girl’s love and destiny, a modern-day classic and a spellbinding story based on the Norwegian fairytale, East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Rose is a North Child, destined to travel far from home and meet a lonely, icy death. Unaware of her fate, she makes a bargain with a mysterious bear and is carried away to a distant castle. When Rose’s actions unleash a terrible curse, she must embark on an epic journey to save the stranger who stole her heart. This luxury, padded hardback edition with its ribbon marker is a gift to treasure and hand down to future generations.

(Usborne, hardback, £12.99)

The Truth about Christmas by Philip Ardagh

So why DO we have sprouts with our Christmas dinner, whose idea was it to kiss under the mistletoe and what on earth has a Yule log to do with the festive season? The truth about Christmas and its often weird traditions are unravelled in this brilliant little book from Philip Ardagh, a man who just can’t stop finding fascinating facts! Here he sets his sights on the cryptic side of Christmas as he reveals who decided to celebrate Jesus’ birthday on December 25, the real Saint Nicholas, the purpose of all that holly and ivy, when the first Christmas card was sent, why we have a fairy at the top of the tree and plenty of other candle-burning questions. A must-have gift for inquisitive children.

(Macmillan, hardback, £7.99)

Silenced by Simon Packham

A 15-year-old grief-stricken schoolboy’s mental conversation with his dead best friend seems a harrowing subject for a young adult novel but Silenced, the story of Chris who is struck dumb when his comedy ‘partner’ Declan dies in a car crash, is one of this year’s best teen reads. Darkly funny, compellingly real, remarkably wise and beautifully written, this is the kind of book that leaves adults convinced that youth fiction is wasted when it’s read only by the young. Using an eclectic and instantly recognisable cast of characters, and a powerful and original narrative voice, Packham deals with highly sensitive and emotive themes with extraordinary warmth, understanding and humour.

(Piccadilly, paperback, £6.99)