A fun and fairy tale Christmas with Usborne - book reviews

Famous for their exciting, innovative and accessible books, independent publishers Usborne have a glittering and gorgeous selection of children's books to steal young hearts and minds this Christmas.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 5th November 2018, 10:16 pm
Updated Wednesday, 7th November 2018, 2:46 am
Fairy Tales for Little Children by Lorena Alvarez and Susanna Davidson
Fairy Tales for Little Children by Lorena Alvarez and Susanna Davidson

From gorgeous peep-through and pop-up extravaganzas for babies and toddlers to stunning activity books to keep little hands busy, and three outstanding middle grade adventure novels, there are books here to delight and entertain youngsters.

Age 3 plus:

Fairy Tales for Little Children by Lorena Alvarez and Susanna Davidson

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Christmas is coming so what better time to enter the wonderful world of fairy tales!

Too often, the traditional stories are hard to understand for little ones so introduce them to the magic, mysteries and marvels of favourites like Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Goldilocks and the Three Bears in this stunning gift edition.

With a simple but engaging retelling of the fabulous fairy tales by Susanna Davidson, and captivating illustrations by Lorena Alvarez throughout, these classic, action-packed stories are perfect for reading aloud to young children or for older children to read by themselves.

Each glossy, beautifully designed page is picture and word perfect as we meet The Princess and the Pea, Jack and the Beanstalk and all those other amazing characters that generations of children have learned to know and love.

Alvarez’s distinctive and endearing illustrations are a riot of colour and detail, bringing the words of each story to vivid life and ensuring this book of fairy tales will be treasured through the years… and through the generations.

(Usborne, hardback, £12.99)

Age 7 plus:

Christmas patterns to colour by Emily Bone and Sveta Dorosheva

Put your own shade of colour into Christmas with this stunningly illustrated festive colouring book.

Christmas patterns to colour is packed with illustrations of baubles, candy canes and stockings, plus a magical toyshop window and a beautiful, busy Christmas Eve scene full of detail and festive delights.

But this is more than just a standard colouring book… there are also helpful colouring tips, and fascinating facts about the traditions and symbols of Christmas like the use of candles, the origins of Santa Claus and Christmas trees, and the meaning of the Nativity.

And if curious kids want to learn more about Christmas, there are Usborne Quicklinks to specially selected websites for extra information on decorations, symbols, stories and the history of Christmas celebrations.

The perfect book to keep children out of mischief in the run-up to Christmas!

(Usborne, board book, £5.99)

Age 7 plus:

Christmas Decorations by Lucy Bowman

Forget buying expensive Christmas decorations and instead give your children hours of creative fun with this super craft pack.

The run-up to the big day will be even more exciting as youngsters learn how to create twelve multi-coloured Christmas decorations with this child-friendly, festive paper crafts kit.

There are 50 sheets of colourful, patterned, specially printed paper to cut, fold and stick into delightful decorations. The pack also contains a step-by-step, easy-to-understand instruction book for making over 40 eye-catching decorations.

So clear the table and get busy with hanging ornaments, paper chains, a paper wreath, snowflake, star garland, Christmas tree and angel, and discover the satisfaction and enjoyment of making your own beautiful decorations.

The perfect way to get the hang of craft skills!

(Usborne, craft pack, £9.99)

Age 5 plus:

Winter Wonderland Sticker Book by Fiona Watt and Stella Baggott

Take an early trip to the wonderful world of Christmas with this big, beautiful sticker book which is packed with festive scenes just waiting for little hands to bring them to life.

The Winter Wonderland Sticker Book is packed with Christmas scenes, including a snowy Christmas market, shopping for presents, throwing snowballs, bears going on a sleigh ride, a forest party, a festive lights display, a trip to the North Pole, and skating on a frozen pond.

With over 400 colourful stickers of animals, presents, snowflakes, elves and snowmen, this fun and beautifully designed book is ideal to keep children occupied in the busy run-up to the big day.

An enchanting celebration of the magic of Christmas, and the perfect way for children to get stuck into the festive spirit!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Woodland Sounds by Sam Taplin and Federica Iossa

If you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise!

Little children will love hearing the woods come to life as they press the pages of this delightful sound button story book which features the sounds of animals and birds as well as enchanting nature sounds like the pitter-patter of rain, the gurgling of a rippling river, the splash of an otter at play and the rustling of leaves.

Each beautifully illustrated scene has a simple text and cut-out shapes to discover, touch and feel aspects to enjoy, and a button to press to hear woodland sounds including an owl, cuckoo and woodpecker, rustling leaves and rippling streams.

Watch and enjoy as little ones press the sound buttons to hear the barking of a deer, the hammering of a woodpecker, the hoot of an owl, the buzz of a bee and the cooing of a wood pigeon.

Sam Taplin’s narrative combines perfectly with bold, colourful illustrations by Federica Iossa while Anthony Marks provides the woodland sounds for the perfect interactive introduction to the captivating world of animals and nature.

(Usborne, board book, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Peep Inside a Fairy Tale: The Nutcracker by Anna Milbourne and Karl James Mountford

Long before a child learns to read between the lines, here’s the perfect way to let them peep between the pages.

Usborne’s Peep Inside series has become a firm favourite with pre-schoolers and this classic Christmas story of The Nutcracker is brought to life in an enchanting kaleidoscope of vivid colours and cutaways.

Children can lift the flaps, peer through tiny cutaways and mysterious holes as they join Clara one magical Christmas night as her wooden Nutcracker doll comes to life and takes her on an incredible adventure with tin soldiers and an army of mice, and then on to a snowy forest where sweets hang from trees.

The delicate cutaways and holes are cleverly layered to create a magical filigree effect which draws youngsters into the story and invites them to peep through the pages and follow Clara’s journey of wonder.

With lavish illustrations by Karl James Mountford and plenty to talk about and enjoy, this ingenious peep-inside festive fairy tale guarantees storytelling fun… and all the magic of the Christmas season!

(Usborne, board book, £9.99)

Age 3 plus:

Pop-up ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore and Gaia Bordicchia

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…

All the magic and nostalgia of Christmas springs to life in this gorgeous pop-up book inspired by Clement C. Moore’s classic festive poem which was first published way back in 1823.

Captivating illustrations, words from the traditional rhyme and ingenious pop-ups combine in a riot of colour, words and Jenny Hilborne’s amazing paper engineering which offers surprises on every page.

Marvel at a two-storey house where children are sleeping, a candle-covered tree, magical reindeer, present-filled stockings and Santa’s sleigh as it sweeps across the starlit sky.

An exciting pop-up journey into the heart of Christmas...

(Usborne, board book, £10.99)

Age 6 months plus:

The Twinkly Twinkly Christmas Tree by Sam Taplin and Alison Friend

Light up bedtime for your little ones with this very special book and its spectacular twinkling surprises!

There is so much to enjoy in this illuminated, rhyming story which celebrates the wonder of Christmas and has a sparkly surprise at every turn of the page. Spectacular LED lights shed a special glow as we follow two woodland animals on a journey of discovery which is guaranteed to catch the eye and capture the hearts of the very youngest children.

Mouse is feeling gloomy on Christmas Eve so Mole takes him on a stroll through the woodland to find some twinkly light. And before them is a winter wonderland of lights from Rabbit’s shining front door to the stars in the sky and a colourful Christmas tree laden with twinkly delights.

Children – and adults! – will love the twinkly display that lights up as you turn the pages and follow the story in this beautifully designed and clever package.

A gorgeous gift and a delightful book that will become a family favourite long after the Christmas season is over!

(Usborne, board book, £12.99)

Age 6 months plus:

Are You There Little Reindeer? by Sam Taplin and Essi Kimpimaki

Babies and toddlers will love peeping though the holes in this beautifully illustrated book as they search for an elusive little reindeer!

Are You There Little Reindeer? is a gorgeous snow-packed book in Usborne’s fun and inventive Little Peep-Through series which gives little ones the excitement of making their own story book discoveries.

In this festive edition, a little reindeer is hiding and children will love peeping through the holes and touching the cleverly textured pages as they play hide-and-seek to spot a bear, a squirrel, a snowman and a fluffy old owl before finding the missing little reindeer.

A hands-on Christmas for the youngest family members!

(Usborne, board book, £5.99)

From birth:

That’s not my llama... by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells

It’s hard to believe but the adorable, tufty-haired llamas that take star roles in a gorgeous new board book mark 20 years of Usborne’s award-winning That’s not my... series, a much-loved favourite with both parents and children.

The bestselling touchy-feely series has sold over 20 million books worldwide. The simple text, bold, colourful illustrations and tactile patches are irresistible to babies and toddlers who love turning the pages and touching the ‘feely’ patches.

Written by Fiona Watt and illustrated by Rachel Wells, this tufty, tactile new title features different textured patches on every spread as we discover llamas with tufty fur, shiny hooves, fuzzy noses and velvet soft ears.

Touchy-feely board books allow the youngest family members to have a hand in all the fun of reading as they touch the textured patches, follow the story and look for the little white mouse on every page.

Specially designed to develop sensory and language awareness, the distinctive That’s not my… board books really are a vividly visual and hands-on treat for inquisitive babies and toddlers.

Touchy-feely genius at a stroke!

(Usborne, board book, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

A Darkness of Dragons by S.A. Patrick

Every now and then, up pops a children’s fantasy series that really does take your breath away…

And on this occasion, it’s a simply wonderful debut from S.A. Patrick, an author who may be more familiar to adult readers as Seth Patrick, creator of the thrilling paranormal Reviver trilogy which won him an army of fans.

A Darkness of Dragons is the first out-of-this world book in Songs of Magic, a deep, dark and epic adventure series inspired by the medieval German legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelyn, the tale of a terrifying villain who stole the children from a helpless town.

Long haunted by the centuries-old tantalising mystery, Patrick imagines a truly amazing world of dragons, sorcerers and bandits in which the Pied Piper is not a one-off but a rogue member of a larger group of magical but shadowy musicians who are summoned to help towns and villages in times of need.

It’s a fantasy of immense imagination, exciting characters and captivating storytelling, and stars three accidental young heroes fighting not just to survive, but to save the world from a deadly enemy.

In a world of dragons, song spells, Pipers and battles, 13-year-old Patch Brightwater was a trainee Piper at Tiviscan Castle, home of the Pipers’ Council and the Custodian Elite, until he left in disgrace. In the small town of Patterfall, he tries to get rid of their plague of rats by playing the forbidden Dance tune, the spell cast by the evil Pied Piper of Hamelyn ten years ago.

Thrown into the dungeons at Tiviscan, he discovers a deadly truth… the man rotting in jail there is not who everyone thought he was, meaning the Piper of Hamelyn is still on the loose. Freed during the arrival of a flock of marauding dragons, and with the help of his new friends, Wren Cobble, a girl cursed by a sorcerer to live as a rat, and Barver, a fire-breathing dracogriff (a cross between a dragon and a griffin), Patch must stop the Piper sparking the biggest battle of them all…

This is adventure in the true sense of the word and an inspired reimagining of the Pied Piper legend… from thrills, spills and spine-tingling danger to soaring landscapes, awesome friendships, courageous heroes and magic aplenty, Patrick’s modern fairy tale will capture the hearts and minds of readers both young and old.

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Train to Impossible Places by P.G. Bell and Flavia Sorrentino

If it’s full-throttle adventure you are after this autumn, then hop aboard the train to Impossible Places and enjoy a truly magical mystery tour.

And the good news is that you don’t need a ticket to ride… just sit back and let your imagination run wild as you encounter amazing people and fantastical places courtesy of one of this year’s most exciting debut children’s authors.

Starring science-mad girl Suzy Smith, a one thousand-and-ten-year-old grumpy troll, a moody brown bear called Ursel (who dyes her fur blonde!) and an undersized post boy in an oversized uniform, The Train to Impossible Places is a full-steam stunner and the first book in what promises to be a terrific series.

And it comes from the pen of Welshman P.G. Bell whose thrilling and inventive story was created from his young son’s demand for a new, made-up bedtime story from his dad. Having requested a new instalment every night for a week, the story of Suzy’s journey began to evolve and Bell started writing it down.

The result is a tale destined to become a classic; a rip-roaring adventure full of mystery, magic, goodies, baddies, laughs, thrills, spills… oh, and a science called fuzzics (that’s physics, only fuzzier).

Eleven-year-old Suzy Smith loves science… to be more precise, she loves physics because that’s where the action is. You know where you are with physics even if her classmates look at her as if she is the victim of some terrible affliction.

But knowing about physics doesn’t explain the strange rattling noise that wakes Suzy in the middle of the night. And it certainly has no answer to the gigantic steam train that she finds has crashed in the hallway of her house.

But this is no ordinary train… it’s the Impossible Postal Express, the magical delivery service of the Union of Impossible Places, run by an assortment of droll trolls, including rail engineer Fletch, Stonker the driver with his enormous moustache, and irrepressible hereditary young Postmaster Wilmot.

The exciting news is that the train is now leaving Trollville for the five corners of reality and ‘come rain, shine or meteor shower, the Impossible Postal Express will deliver!’ The not-so-good news is that this is a confusing world where Suzy’s knowledge of the law of physics is turned upside down and trains are powered by exploding fusion bananas.

The really bad news is that Suzy’s first job is to deliver a cursed package to fearsome sorceress Lady Crepuscula. And when the mysterious package begs not to be delivered, Suzy discovers the fate of the Impossible Places might just be in her hands…

Bell delivers an extraordinary, exhilarating and inventive story beautifully illustrated by Flavia Sorrentino… a whistle-stop, action-packed journey in which the spirit of adventure and a spirited girl are the driving forces, and where the impossible really does become possible.

Come rain, shine or meteor shower, don’t miss the ride!

(Usborne, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

Skycircus by Peter Bunzl

Author and BAFTA award-winning animator Peter Bunzl is on a roll with his outstanding Cogheart novels.

The powerful Victorian steampunk thriller series, which has included Cogheart and Moonlocket, moves into top gear in this soaraway new adventure set in a spellbinding dark and atmospheric Victorian landscape full of strange inventions, amazing automata, scintillating science and dastardly plots.

The hallmark of these stories – featuring an extraordinary cast of humans and mechanimals – is Bunzl’s magical mix of pulsating action, gripping mystery, heart-stopping danger and some mind-boggling fantasy.

And Skycircus plunges us straight back into the perilous lives of inventor’s daughter Lily Hartman, the girl with a clockwork heart, her cantankerous pet mechanical fox Malkin, and her best friend Robert, the orphaned son of the local clockmaker.

When Lily receives a package containing a mysterious invitation to Slimwood’s Stupendous Travelling Sky Circus and a red notebook that once belonged to her dead mother, she is sure that it could answer questions that have burned in her heart for years.

But the package also contains a cryptic message that indicates the writer knows her greatest secret, and that knowledge could place her in great danger but, lured by the promise of seeing and meeting Angelique Airhart, the circus’s amazing winged hybrid flying girl, Lily is determined to go.

She persuades Robert and Malkin to come along for the ride but little does she know that she is about to lead her friends into a sinister trap in which they will find themselves caught up in the most perilous adventure of their lives.

The seeds of the sensational Cogheart series grew from a non-fiction book called Living Dolls by Gaby Wood, a popular history of automatons, and Bunzl used these fictional Frankenstein-style tales of early androids – full of lies, mysteries and what-ifs – as the key to building Lily and Robert’s world.

And these remarkable, atmospheric stories have become standout modern classics… exhilarating epics as Bunzl, a lyrical and visionary writer, creates a truly remarkable and intricately detailed world peopled by humans, mechanicals, hybrids, heroes and villains.

Skycircus takes readers to an even higher level with a mesmerising and imaginative adventure that delivers wall-to-wall thrills as well as exploring a fragile society deliberately torn apart by suspicion, exploitation and an over-weaning lust for power.

There is real emotion here and a thoughtful meditation on contemporary society but most of all this is a rip-roaring adventure that grips from first page to last.

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)