Book review: Christmas is coming at OUP children’s books

Christmas is coming and the games, gadgets and gizmos wish list is growing… so why not give your child a sparkling book in the true spirit of the season?
A Christmas StoryA Christmas Story
A Christmas Story

Oxford University Press have a dazzling selection of books for children this year from a traditional Christmas story with a make-your-own Nativity scene to a stunning gift edition of perennial favourite The Wind in the Willows, complete with a set of tie-in game cards.

With stories old and new and some of OUP’s best books of the year to choose from, there will be miles of smiles when the big day dawns.

Age 2 plus:

A Christmas Story with Nativity Set by Brian Wildsmith

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Christmas is all about sharing and there can be no better way to celebrate the true meaning of the season than with this classic and charming retelling of the birth of Jesus.

Brian Wildsmith’s beautiful and evocative story features magnificent illuminated gold pictures which add extra depth and meaning as we travel to Bethlehem with a little girl and her faithful donkey. While the wonderful events of the Nativity unfold, the adventures of Rebecca, Mary and Joseph’s next door neighbour, provide an intimate, innocent, and child-centred perspective on the Christmas story.

Wildsmith’s enchanting book has been in print since 1989 and is an enduring favourite with children. And this sumptuous gift edition includes a sturdy and reusable nativity scene to make and display in the exciting run-up to the festive season.

A magical introduction to the birth of Jesus and the wonderful world of Christmas…

(OUP, hardback, £11.99)

You Make Me Smile by Layn Marlow

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Of course, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without snow… so if the white stuff fails to make an appearance, let your child get lost in the winter wonderland of Layn Marlow’s cuddly, comfortable story.

You Make Me Smile is a snow-filled story guaranteed to melt the stoniest of hearts and enrapture young readers.

It’s the first snowfall of winter and a little girl is filled with that sense of wonder we all experience when the world turns white. She builds a snowman and gives him a twig smile so that they may share a moment of happiness and know the promise of a friendship that will be renewed each year. Marlow’s story focuses on the bonds of love and friendship, hopes of renewal and the pleasure we can give to each other with just a smile, ideal messages for the Christmas season.

With illustrations, stunning in their simplicity and overflowing with warmth, we experience a whole gamut of sensations and emotions from cold hands to warm smiles.

A warm-hearted story to banish the cold…

(OUP, hardback, £11.99)

Little Owl’s Orange Scarf by Tatyana Feeney

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An outsize orange scarf proves to be the ideal material for a warm and witty Christmas yarn when it is spun by the very talented Tatyana Feeney.

Knit together the scarf and a charismatic little owl with a big, big personality and your perfect picture book gift is all wrapped up.

Little Owl loves doing his favourite things… working out sums, eating ice-cream and riding his scooter. He has his favourite colours too and orange definitely isn’t one of them. So when Mummy knits a scarf as a surprise, Little Owl knows for sure that he doesn’t like it. It’s itchy, long and far too orange. After losing his scarf at the zoo, Mummy realises that perhaps Little Owl should be involved in the choice and creation of a replacement. Her instincts are proved absolutely right, but whatever did happen to that orange scarf?

Simple, effective artwork and a funny, whimsical story with themes of honesty and outspokenness that will appeal to younger children make this a true winter warmer.

(OUP, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6 plus:

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The Wind in the Willows with Game Cards by Kenneth Grahame and David Roberts

Make this a special Christmas for your favourite little someone with a luxury, gift edition of The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame’s classic adventure story which has been stunningly re-imagined through the charismatic illustrations of David Roberts.

And youngsters will be counting their double blessings when they discover that Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad also feature in a set of colourful game cards included in this irresistible package.

The timeless story opens with Mole leaving his spring-cleaning and going above ground to explore the world beyond his burrow. Making friends with Ratty, the two become inseparable and together they spend long summer days enjoying the delights of the river and its banks. Then they meet the impetuous Toad and the distinguished, though slightly stern, Mr Badger and find themselves caught up in a series of adventures to rescue Toad from his own reckless behaviour and return him safely to Toad Hall.

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Stolen cars, prison sentences, daring escapes, and dastardly villains all feature in this classic tale of fun, action, friendship and loyalty. The Wind in the Willows has been cherished from one generation to the next and makes a perfect choice for a gift book as it will be enjoyed in equal measure by those tucked up in bed hearing the story for the first time and those who remember many of its lines from their own childhood. And the 32 beautifully illustrated character cards are perfect for playing family favourite games such as snap or pairs.

David Roberts’ lively, atmospheric and crystal clear illustrations capture all the eccentric and wistful charm of Grahame’s story making this one of the most delightful books of the Christmas season and a book to keep and treasure.

(OUP, hardback, £14.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Thirteen Days of Christmas by Jenny Overton and Shirley Hughes

Author Jenny Overton and illustrator Shirley Hughes are on song in a new edition of their classic story which blends a favourite festive tune with the timeless feel of a Dickensian Christmas.

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On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree... we all know this classic Christmas song, but what if someone really did send you all of those gifts? Where would you put all the geese a-laying, not to mention the lords a-leaping!

Annaple Kitson dreams of romance and being swept off her feet so her family hatch an elaborate plan to help her sweetheart, Francis Vere, win her hand in marriage.

When Francis arrives on Christmas Day with a partridge in a pear tree, Annaple is delighted, but it is only the first day of Christmas! As the house fills up with an endless stream of doves, dairymaids and more, will Annaple be charmed or alarmed?

Funny, moving, absurd and yet beautiful, this is seasonal storytelling at its best and ideal for getting all the family – young and old – into the spirit of Christmas.

(OUP, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Moon Bear by Gill Lewis

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Gill Lewis has got into the rather enviable habit of writing future classics and Moon Bear, the moving story of a boy and his bear, is no exception. Lewis’s trademark is handling serious wildlife and conservation topics with a light touch and here she shows how the efforts of one small boy can make a big difference in a world ruled by greed.

When 12-year-old Tam is sent to work at a bear farm in the city, he has never felt so alone. He hates seeing the cruel way the bears are treated, but speaking up will mean losing his job. And if he can’t send money home, how will his family survive? When a sick cub arrives at the farm, Tam secretly nurses it back to health and they develop an unbreakable bond. Tam swears to return his beloved cub to the wild, but how will they ever find a way to be free?

Emotionally powerful, savagely truthful and unforgettably beautiful, Moon Bear is a lesson in compassion, hope and bravery against overwhelming odds which will touch the hearts of readers young and old.

(OUP, paperback, £8.99)

The River Singers by Tom Moorhouse

Meet a family of adorable water voles, stars of this stunning debut novel – already being hailed as a new children’s classic – from the pen of Dr Tom Moorhouse, a water vole expert in the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford’s zoology department.

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The River Singers, a lyrical, emotion-packed story charting the trials and tribulations of a group of orphaned water voles, pays homage to the fragile beauty of the natural world as well as delivering a thrilling, action-packed adventure.

Yorkshire-born Moorhouse puts to work all his ecological knowledge, scientific magic and newly-discovered literary flair to conjure up an enchanting family of four feisty young water voles who must chart unknown waters when their mother is killed by one of their many vicious predators.

Sylvan and his three water vole siblings, Orris, Fern and Aven, are all River Singers, water folk who live by the ways of the Great River but when their mother is killed, they have no choice but to abandon their burrow and they set out on an epic and dangerous journey.

With its hundreds of beautiful black and white illustrations by Simon Mendez, a plot that combines pathos, peril and punchy dialogue in perfect harmony and with a message that sings out loud about the urgent need to protect our wildlife, this is an extra special book to read and treasure now and for years to come.

(OUP, hardback, £10.99)

Age 14 plus:

The Rachel Riley Diaries: Back to Life by Joanna Nadin

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Joanna Nadin is back with the fifth book in her laugh-out-loud Rachel Riley Diaries series and the saucy fun, madcap frolics and dry humour show no signs of flagging.

These are definitely books for the ‘grown-up’ variety of teenager who will revel in Rachel’s eagle-eyed and hilariously unworldly wise observations on family life and relationships.

In her latest diary entries, we discover that Rachel is seizing the day. She has decided that enough is enough and that if she’s ever going to meet The One, she must take every opportunity that comes her way. If she keeps her cool, her One might be just around the corner. She will need to kiss a few frogs before she meets her prince and she needs to be open-minded. She may also need to be open-armed…

A sparkling, subversive and sexy new chapter in Rachel’s ‘so-called life.’

(OUP, paperback, £6.99)