Wish upon a star: The most magical Christmas stories and perfect books to give children of every age
- Sally Morris rounds up a selection of the best books for children this Christmas
- Teens will love The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
- Children of all ages will appreciate classic, The Restless Girls by Jessie Burton
THE NIGHT BEFORE THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS by Kes Gray, illustrated by Claire Powell (Hodder £6.99, 32 pp)
THE NIGHT BEFORE THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
by Kes Gray, illustrated by Claire Powell (Hodder £6.99, 32 pp)
It’s the night before the night before Christmas and the elves in Santa’s workshop are in a frenzy trying to make ten billion presents: ‘skateboards were oiled, yo-yos were threaded, dollies were dressed, teddies were teddied’ but still Father Christmas can’t relax, rushing to check on his hungry reindeer and forgetting to eat his dinner.
As you would expect from the author of the Oi Frog! series, this is a high-energy, laugh-out-loud delight from start to unexpected finish, with colourful illustrations to make it a must in the build-up to the Big Day.
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THE WAY HOME FOR WOLF by Rachel Bright, illustrated by Jim Field (Orchard £12.99, 32 pp)
THE WAY HOME FOR WOLF
by Rachel Bright, illustrated by Jim Field (Orchard £12.99, 32 pp)
A small wolf cub called Wilf is convinced he can manage everything on his own and doesn’t need the support of his pack — or anyone else. But when he finds himself lost and alone in the icy wastes, he learns a very short, sharp lesson about friendship, cooperation and love that will stand him in good stead for the rest of his life.
Another wonderfully touching and funny collaboration from Bright and Field whose animal adventures (The Lion Inside and The Koala Who Could) are full of wise words and glorious characters.
THE GIRL, THE BEAR AND THE MAGIC SHOES by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Lydia Monks (Macmillan £12.99, 32 pp)
THE GIRL, THE BEAR AND THE MAGIC SHOES
by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Lydia Monks (Macmillan £12.99, 32 pp)
If you buy a pair of shiny new red trainers with a label saying Magic Shoes, you should expect an adventure to follow and, as ever with Julia Donaldson and long term partner-in-crime Lydia Monks, it’s hectic and funny, involving a little girl called Josephine, a fierce polar bear with click-click claws and a vibrantly illustrated chase across snowy mountains and turquoise lakes.
Buzzing with wonderful sound-words, this is perfect for reading aloud and, it’s no surprise that, from the creators of What The Ladybird Heard, every page is sprinkled with magical glitter.
THE BEAR, THE PIANO, THE DOG AND THE FIDDLE by David Litchfield (Lincoln £11.99, 40 pp)
THE BEAR, THE PIANO, THE DOG AND THE FIDDLE
by David Litchfield (Lincoln £11.99, 40 pp)
Loyalty and friendship underpin this touching story from the wonderful David Litchfield.
Ageing Hector the fiddle player can’t compete with the world famous piano-playing Bear so reluctantly hangs up his bow, to the obvious disappointment of his dog, Hugo, who learns to play instead. His talent attracts the attention of Bear, who invites him on tour. Lonely Hector is bereft, but a surprise reunion proves that love overcomes separation.
Litchfield’s captivating rendition of New Orleans’ lights and sombre shadows reflects joy and melancholy to stunning effect.
THE SNOWMAN by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Robin Shaw (Puffin £12.99, 160 pp)
by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Robin Shaw (Puffin £12.99, 160 pp)
Forty years after the original publication of Raymond Brigg’s modern classic, Michael Morpurgo revisits the touching story of the boy and his snowman but adapts the wordless tale by creating the character of James, socially handicapped at school by his stammer, but looking forward to a Christmas with his parents and grandma.
As his snowman comes to life the two develop a mutually rewarding friedship, each giving the other the gift of speech. It’s a joy from start to finish, full of seasonal goodwill. Age 5+
HUBERT HORATIO: HOW TO RAISE YOUR GROWN-UPS by Lauren Child (Harper Collins £12.99, 208 pp)
HUBERT HORATIO: HOW TO RAISE YOUR GROWN-UPS
by Lauren Child (Harper Collins £12.99, 208 pp)
Lauren Child makes a welcome return to her popular ‘responsible child’ Hubert Horatio with this prequel set before the Bobton-Trents had frittered away their family fortune.
The millionaires live mainly in a fabulous mansion, Sweeping Acres, where Hubert perfects his many skills (though not baking) and saves up to buy the plot of land next door.
Inspired by the Nigel Molesworth books, Child has created an episodic, highly illustrated adventure that can be dipped into and is clearly the first in what promises to be a wildly enjoyable series. Age 6+
THE CLOCKWORK CROW by Catherine Fisher (Firefly Press £6.99, 200 pp)
THE CLOCKWORK CROW
by Catherine Fisher (Firefly Press £6.99, 200 pp)
Perfect for a snowy winter this is the story of orphaned Seren, sent at Christmas to stay with her godfather’s family, who she’s never met, in a remote house in Wales.
Waiting at the station, a terrified stranger presses a parcel on her, then disappears. Seren arrives at Plas-Y Fran to find her godfather, his wife and son, Tomos, have gone missing and only the servants remain.
To pass the time she opens the parcel and finds a clockwork crow that comes to life when she winds it up. Together they embark on a quest to discover what has happened to Tomos a year ago, and where his parents have now gone.
Magical, atmospheric, funny — this is a slice of Victorian creepiness and a seasonal treat. Age 9-12
STORM WITCH by Ellen Renner (Nosy Crow £6.99, 256 pp)
by Ellen Renner (Nosy Crow £6.99, 256 pp)
As she turns 13, Storm, like the other children on the island of Yanlin, must offer herself up to the Elementals of Earth, Wind, Water and Fire to be chosen by one of them.
But Storm, with her boy’s name, has always been different and is claimed by three of the forces. Is she cursed? Why does she have special powers? And will she use them when the island comes under attack from The Drowned Ones, a band of violent pirates? Or will her chosen status destroy them all?
Packed full of wildly imaginative action, this first in a series explores moral dilemmas with great skill. This is one Storm we’ll look forward to returning.
Age 9 -12
THE SKYLARKS’ WAR by Hilary McKay (Macmillan £12.99, 320 pp)
THE SKYLARKS’ WAR
by Hilary McKay (Macmillan £12.99, 320 pp)
This Costa Award-nominated book is a perfect combination of humour and poignancy, a story woven by one of our finest writers that traces a group of children through 16 years of social, physical and emotional change, culminating in the tragedy of WWI.
It begins in 1902, when Clarry’s mother dies three days after she was born and her distant father effectively abandons her and her older brother, Peter, to be raised by a combination of relatives and servants. Each summer they are sent to Cornwall to stay with their charismatic older cousin, Rupert. The children all follow different paths, with Clarry demanding the sort of education normally reserved for boys, Peter and Rupert enlisting for war — with the readers only too aware of the consequences.
McKay is a superb writer, stitching historical details into a family drama of emotional neglect, shameful secrets, unrequited love, loss and, finally, a bittersweet triumph over their past. Read it.
THE WAY PAST WINTER by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (Chicken House £10.99, 256 pp)
THE WAY PAST WINTER
by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (Chicken House £10.99, 256 pp)
There’s an icy menace that chills to the bone in this beautifully written mystical adventure from award-winning Millwood Hargrave. After their grief-stricken father disappears following his wife’s death in childbirth, Mila, her two sisters and brother, Oskar, scrape out a spartan living in a forest frozen by an endless winter.
One night an intimidating traveller arrives demanding food, but by the morning he and Oskar have gone missing.
Loyal Mila is convinced her brother has been kidnapped by the stranger who, she learns from a mysterious boy-mage, is a mythical figure known as The Bear.
She and the mage set out to rescue Oskar, battling unnatural forces en route, but the resourceful heroine is sustained by the overwhelming power of sibling love.
MUD by Emily Thomas (Andersen Press £7.99, 416 pp)
by Emily Thomas (Andersen Press £7.99, 416 pp)
This is a very accomplished debut that, despite being set in 1979, will resonate powerfully with today’s teenagers who struggle with adolescent insecurities and fractured families.
Thirteen-year-old Lydia’s widower father is in a financial mess so moves her and her three siblings onto a barge on the Thames — inviting his new girlfriend and her three children to join them.
Lydia copes with this fraught domestic set up by confiding in her diary about her family, her hilariously supportive friend Kay, boys she may or may not fancy and her stresses at school.
Written with a deftly light touch and humour, this is nevertheless a painful and moving portrait of a family overwhelmed by grief with the shadows of alcoholism and emotional neglect, based partly on the author’s own experience.
CLASSICS AND COLLECTIONS
THE RESTLESS GIRLS by Jessie Burton, illustrated by Angela Barrett (Bloomsbury £14.99, 160 pp)
THE RESTLESS GIRLS
by Jessie Burton, illustrated by Angela Barrett (Bloomsbury £14.99, 160 pp)
This is a modern feminist re-imagining of the old fairy tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses. It retains the central storyline of twelve sisters who are shut up at night by their protective father, the King, after his wife dies, but find a secret escape route to a place where they wear out their shoes by dancing all night.
But in this story the princesses, inspired by the memory of their feisty mother, all yearn to be engineers and pilots, artists and vets. They are appalled when their father offers the choice of one of his daughters in marriage to any man who can discover where they go each night, and cleverly turn the tables on him in a thoroughly satisfying way.
BETWEEN WORLDS: FOLKTALES OF BRITAIN AND IRELAND by Kevin Crossley Holland, illustrated by Frances Castle (Walker £15, 352 pp)
BETWEEN WORLDS: FOLKTALES OF BRITAIN AND IRELAND
by Kevin Crossley Holland, illustrated by Frances Castle (Walker £15, 352 pp)
No one conjures up the dark mystery and traditional roots of British folklore better than poet and Carnegie Medal-winning writer Crossley Holland.
Here he collates 50 tales told across the generations from every corner of the United Kingdom and Ireland, with dire warnings and funny characters, moral lessons and outrageous storylines. With shadowy, evocative illustrations this is a wonderful volume for the whole family to curl up with on a cold winter’s evening.
HOW TO HELP A HEDGEHOG AND PROTECT A POLAR BEAR by Jess French, illustrated by Angela Keoghan (Nosy Crow £12.99, 64 pp)
HOW TO HELP A HEDGEHOG AND PROTECT A POLAR BEAR
by Jess French, illustrated by Angela Keoghan (Nosy Crow £12.99, 64 pp)
It’s never too soon to encourage children to protect the environment and this practical guide to cleaning up the way we live, written by vet, zoologist and TV presenter Jess French, is accessible enough for very young children and examines habitats as different as a back garden and the savannahs of the southern hemisphere. The message is essentially simple: cut back on waste (especially plastic) build insect hotels, don’t use wet wipes, put a bell on your cat’s collar and nag your parents about how to shop ethically.
Lovely illustrations drive home the message of what we stand to lose if we don’t all do our bit.
SECRET SCIENCE by Dara O’Briain, illustrated by Dan Bramall (Scholastic £12.99, 304 pp)
by Dara O’Briain, illustrated by Dan Bramall (Scholastic £12.99, 304 pp)
Stand-up comedian and TV star O’Briain studied theoretical physics at university and the combination of his presenting skills and scientific knowledge proves a winning formula in this lively, fact-filled book.
The format follows a day in the life of a human but, in addition to information about sleeping and eating, he weaves in fascinating snippets: residents of Brazil and Colombia shower more than anyone else in the world, how to make the perfect sandcastle or the real reason that buses arrive in twos.
But what he’s really passionate about is igniting curiosity and gives readers permission to skip bits they find less interesting, in the sure knowledge that other parts will prove absorbing.
LETTERBOX CHRISTMAS APPEAL
Literacy charity Book Trust runs The Letterbox Club that sends packs of books to inspire vulnerable children and those in care aged 3-13.
If you would like to help fund reading for these children take a look at the project by visiting book trust.org.uk where you can donate.
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