Book review: Keep kids on their toes with a Nutcracker Christmas

Vibrant independent publisher Walker Books is putting a sparkle into Christmas with an outstanding selection of fun and festive children’s reads.

By Pam Norfolk
Thursday, 3rd December 2015, 9:00 am

Capture the traditional excitement of the season in an extraordinary pop-up book creation inspired by Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet, meet a blue penguin left out in the cold, get stuck into a Shaun the Sheep activity book and enjoy some of Walker’s best books of 2015.

Age 4 plus:

The Nutcracker Illustrated by Niroot Puttapipat

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Thai-born illustrator Niroot Puttapipat, a burgeoning talent in the art world, performs an amazing act of magic in this spectacular pop-up reimagining of the famous Nutcracker ballet.

The Nutcracker story is a much-loved part of Christmas celebrations around the world and this stunning edition captures the excitement of Christmas Eve and the magic of French choreographer Marius Petipa’s classic ballet.

Tchaikovsky’s ballet, first performed in St Petersburg in December 1892, was based on E. T. A. Hoffmann’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King in which Clara’s favourite Christmas toy, a nutcracker shaped like a prince, turns into a real, handsome prince and, after Clara helps him to defeat the evil Mouse King in battle, he whisks her away to his magical Land of Sweets kingdom filled with fairies.

Inspired by the beautiful sets from Petipa’s original production, Puttapipat puts the words to visual music with exquisitely drawn, evocative illustrations of the enchanting Christmas story and a stunning pop-up finale of the Land of Sweets which will leave youngsters gasping with delight.

This sumptuous book, perfect for reading and sharing with children, is destined to become a Christmas favourite with all the family.

(Walker Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Blue Penguin by Petr Horácek

When you feel you don’t belong, it can leave you feeling blue.

Imagine what it must be like for the little blue penguin who lives in the snowy wastes of Antarctica and has been given the cold shoulder by all the other penguins just because he’s a different colour.

Author and illustrator Petr Horácek knows how to put the fun into storytelling but he also knows how to touch our hearts and create lovable and soulful characters.

‘I feel just like a penguin,’ says Blue Penguin who admittedly is not something you see every day in the far south of the world. ‘But you’re not like us,’ say the other penguins and they leave him all alone. Poor Blue Penguin, he does all the same things that the other penguins do, he’s just not the best at diving or jumping. Left all alone, his days are filled with emptiness. Will he be able to convince the other penguins that he is one of them after all?

Horácek’s moving and gorgeously atmospheric illustrated story about the importance of belonging and the power of friendship cannot fail to warm even the hardest of hearts in the season of goodwill.

Ideal for teaching youngsters the joys of sharing and caring, and promoting tolerance and understanding, Blue Penguin’s icy adventures are also the perfect, gentle story for cuddling up at bedtime.

(Walker Books, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

Baaa Humbug! A Shaun the Sheep Sticker Activity Book Produced by Aardman Animations Ltd

Don’t be sheepish about keeping the kids busy in the run-up to Christmas… Shaun has hours of fun in store at Mossy Bottom Farm!

Shaun the Sheep’s army of young fans will love getting stuck into this action-packed book which is brimming with over 100 stickers and plenty of entertaining puzzles and activities.

It’s Christmas time and snow has covered Mossy Bottom Farm. Help Shaun and his friends to celebrate by pitching in at a snowball fight and running wild in the great outdoors. The Flock also needs a helping hand to decorate the tree, avoid the mistletoe and generally spread holiday cheer with a range of activities including a word search, colouring-in pages, a crossword puzzle, coded messages and, of course, stickers galore.

So avoid the pre-Christmas boredom and mischief, round up your little ones and turn them out to grass with this super, Christmas-themed fun book!

(Walker Books, paperback, £4.99)

Age 3 plus:

Migloo’s Day by William Bee

What better way to hone young skills than dipping into a search-and-find story book which makes learning an exciting and challenging journey of discovery?

From William Bee, creator of the brilliant cautionary tale Whatever, comes this brand new series which takes search-and-find to a whole new level with its charismatic canine, jam-packed pages, fun-filled story and mind-boggling detail.

Migloo is everyone’s favourite dog and he’s off to Sunnytown where he follows his nose for delicious treats, meets all his friends along the way and even manages to save the day. Busy scenes of work, school and play provide an amazing backdrop for the adventures of Sunnytown’s residents. Follow Milo the Monkey who has run away with Zebedee’s hat, spot the little rubber ducks that have escaped from the plastics factory, find the town’s fire engines, tractors, ice-cream vans, racing cars and fork-lift tricks on the eye-watering fold-out pages.

There are hours of interactive fun within this wonderful book… guaranteed to keep minds active and boredom at bay.

(Walker, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton

Get ready to be blown away by a teeny-tiny, roly-poly pony who causes quite a stink when he turns up at the court of precocious Princess Pinecone.

This terrific picture book tale of a funny, flatulent pony, from Kate Beaton, the artist behind the comic phenomenon Hark! A Vagrant, is guaranteed to have your little ones giggling out loud.

Princess Pinecone from a kingdom of warriors knows exactly what she wants for her birthday this year. She doesn’t want yet another cosy sweater, just a horse, and not any old horse. She wants a big horse, a strong horse, a horse fit for a Warrior Princess! But when the day arrives, Pinecone doesn’t quite get the horse of her dreams...

Using her trademark deadpan humour, a cast of anarchic characters and some deliciously madcap misadventures, Beaton’s warm-hearted story has real family-wide appeal.

(Walker, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Hoot Owl Written by Sean Taylor and illustrated by Jean Jullien

Out of the darkness comes… Hoot Owl!

He’s the funny, flyaway star of masterful storyteller Sean Taylor and exciting, celebrated graphic artist Jean Jullien’s inventive new picture book… the only problem is that he keeps his fluffing his lines.

Hoot Owl is no ordinary owl… oh no! He’s a master of disguise and he will use his expert camouflage powers to trick his unsuspecting prey into succumbing to him. Tiny animals of the night, beware! But, somehow, Hoot Owl’s prey keeps escaping... perhaps he isn’t quite as masterful as he believes. Will he ever succeed in catching himself some dinner or is he just a twit twoo?

Hilarity, ridiculousness and very bad costume changes abound in this wildly inventive new title. Bold, quirky illustrations are the perfect complement to this outrageously funny story about an owl with big aspirations but poor execution.

A feathered friend guaranteed to make little ones hoot with laughter…

(Walker, hardback, £11.99)

Age 12 plus:

Lottery Boy by Michael Byrne

Begging on the streets of London is heartbreakingly tough, particularly when you are only twelve.

Former English teacher and now debut author Michael Byrne touches a raw nerve in this hard-hitting, fast-moving and gripping contemporary thriller with a powerful emotional intensity.

A young boy’s tale of loss, unbearable hope and an amazing stroke luck as he struggles to survive on London’s mean streets has shades of hit film Slumdog Millionaire.

Since his mother’s death, Bully has lost his old life. Living rough with his Staffordshire bull terrier Jack, he finds it difficult to imagine his future. But one day, in the last birthday card his mum ever gave him, he finds a winning lottery ticket, a final gift that suddenly offers such hope. But only if only he can get to his prize on time because just five days remain to claim his prize from Camelot. Bully’s struggle to survive has just got a whole lot harder. Word of his win has spread on the streets and ruthless thugs are after him. Everyone wants a piece of him and even if he does claim all that money, will he really be winning what he needs the most?

Packed with villains and heroes, Lottery Boy is a tale of our times, a tense and exciting rollercoaster adventure high on emotion and drama, and portraying an eye-opening side of our capital city that many youngsters will not even know about.

(Walker, paperback, £6.99)