A winter wonderland, animals galore and dancing delights by various authors – children’s book reviews –

The Snow Girl by Sophie Anderson and Melissa CastrillónThe Snow Girl by Sophie Anderson and Melissa Castrillón
The Snow Girl by Sophie Anderson and Melissa Castrillón
Dive into a gorgeous, glistening story set in wintry world full of adventure, discover a fascinating animal on every day of the year, put on your shiny shoes and waltz into the history of dance, meet a family of siblings who were born to be storytellers and be uplifted by an inspirational friendship with a super section of autumn children’s books.

Age 8 plus:

The Snow Girl

Sophie Anderson and Melissa Castrillón

Are you ready to take a magical journey into a thrilling winter wonderland?

Snuggle down into your favourite armchair and lose yourself in The Snow Girl, a dazzling fairytale adventure about friendship, courage and not being afraid to reach out for help which has been described by one critic as ‘Frozen meets Narnia.’

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This perfect winter and Christmas time story is the work of exciting Lake District author Sophie Anderson who is inspired to write by her grandmother’s Slavic folk tales and is bewitching us all with her sublime and lyrical storytelling, a gift which allows her to sweep readers away to soaring, evocative landscapes where magic, folklore and realism blend together in memorable, mesmerising adventures.

In this gorgeous, glistening story, we meet Tasha who has moved with her parents to Grandpa’s valley to help him run his farm. Tasha is excited to see snow for the first time and when she builds a snow girl, she makes a wish that the snow girl can come to life and be her friend.

Tasha wants to feel less alone because for over a year, since one awful day, she has been scared of everything... especially asking for help. But Tasha’s wish comes true and the snow girl comes to life. Soon they are the best of friends and Tasha is drawn into a wintry world full of adventure and magic.

She begins to feel braver again but the more time Tasha spends with the snow girl, the more snow falls and the deeper winter gets. Tasha’s family and neighbours struggle with the cold weather, and Tasha begins to suspect that the snow girl is linked to the long winter.

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Then a terrible snowstorm envelops the valley and Grandpa becomes ill. Tasha realises she must face the fears of her past and find the snow girl to ask her to end winter. But can she do it without losing her best and only friend?

This breathtaking adventure – with its echoes of the classic fairy tale The Snow Maiden – is brought to vivid, vibrant life by the blue-tone, atmospheric illustrations of award-winning artist Melissa Castrillón and is filled with Anderson’s rich and descriptive detail as the snows falls deeper and deeper, and Tasha learns to face her fears.

Brimming with all those addictive fantasy tropes that young readers love, and with traditional and contemporary themes perfectly blended, this feast of magic, mysticism and wintry wonders is the perfect book to warm everyone’s heart this Christmas.

(Usborne Publishing, hardback, £12.99)

Age 6 plus:

An Animal A Day

Written by Miranda Smith and illustrated by Kaja Kajfež, Santiago Calle, Mateo Markov and Max Rambaldi

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Imagine discovering a fascinating animal on every day of the year!

If you’re hunting down the perfect gift for young animal fans, then look no further than this illustrated gift book which lets them spend a stupendous 365 days in the company of some of the world’s most amazing creatures.

Written by Miranda Smith, stunningly illustrated throughout by a team of talented artists, and packed with key information about each animal, the book enables youngsters to dip in each day to discover a new animal to enjoy sharing with friends or family.

Travel through the incredible ecosystems and habitats of our beautiful planet, and meet some of the most fascinating animals that call them home. Dive into the oceans to find whales and giant squid, journey across the icy Poles with penguins and polar bears, and race across the African savanna with lions and wildebeest.

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Each day’s entry is filled with fascinating facts such as height, weight, length, scientific name and their diet. Children can also learn about completely new animals, and find out some incredible new sides to animals you might see often in everyday life.

With breathtaking illustrations bringing each animal to life, the added bonus of an index, glossary and quiz, and important information about conservation and how we can protect endangered animals and the places they call home, An Animal A Day is guaranteed to be a year-long roaring success with all young wildlife fans!

A gift book to read, enjoy and treasure...

(Red Shed, hardback, £20)

Age 7 plus:

Welcome to the Arts: Dance

Sir Alistair Spalding and Jason Raish

Put on your dancing shoes and waltz, shimmy and tap your way through a spectacular reading journey in the pages of one of this year’s most dazzling books.

Expertly written and curated by Sadler’s Wells Theatre’s CEO Sir Alistair Spalding, and beautifully illustrated by multi-award-winning artist Jason Raish, this book of dancing delights – published in conjunction with Sadler’s Wells – immerses readers in the wonderful, multi-faceted world of dance.

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Dance is an exciting, large format title in the Welcome to the Arts series which offers all-hours admission to some of the world’s most wondrous performances. From Swan Lake to Riverdance, flamenco to tap, Dance features some of the most iconic performances and popular dances from around the world.

Learn about the history, culture, evolution and technique of each dance, while also discovering the stars of past and present, including Fred Astaire, Carlos Acosta, Martha Graham and many more. Exclusive backstage access also allows readers to see what goes on behind the theatre doors, including the props and costume design departments.

Raish’s intricate, life-like artwork puts colour, life and movement into this spectacular journey which offers facts, figures and inside stories every step of the way and is the perfect gift for any Strictly fan, musical lover or budding dancer.

A book for all the family to treasure!

(Big Picture Press, hardback, £25)

Age 9 plus:


Peter Bunzl and Katarzyna Doszla

An evil queen, a family of siblings who were born to be storytellers, and a hidden key that opens the door to Fairyland!

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If that sounds like the perfect recipe for a thrilling and magical adventure (this time with more than a touch of the Brontës in it!), then you can be sure you’re in the safe hands of visionary storytelling wizard Peter Bunzl.

Bunzl, whose award-winning Victorian steampunk series, Cogheart, won him critical acclaim and an army of young fans, makes a whirlwind return with Glassborn, second book of an epic new dual world series which began with last year’s modern classic, Magicborn.

Inspired by the inventive worlds created by the famous Brontë sisters, who loved to weave stories about imaginary places called Glass Town, Gondal and Angria, and wrote them down in fairy-sized newspapers, Bunzl sprinkles his own special brand of dark and delicious fairy dust on this dazzling tale of magic and mystery.

‘Fairy Tree, tall and grand, open a path to Fairyland...’ The year is 1826, and the four Belle siblings, Acton, Bram, Elle and Cora, arrive at their new home, Fairykeep Cottage, in Tambling Village after the tragedy of losing their mother to influenza. Acton, the youngest member of the Belle family and a lover of old fairy tales, immediately befriends a bright, red robin, leading him to discover a hidden key. That night, when the clock strikes thirteen, Acton is called to Fairyland. For in finding the key, Acton has become the Chosen One and must steal the Glimmerglass Crown for the cruel Fairy Queen. When his siblings realise their brother has been taken, they set out on a quest to rescue him. But Fairyland is full of dangers... and to overcome the Queen, and her deadly curse, they will need courage, cunning and a great deal of hope.

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Starring four charismatic siblings who must harness all their cunning, courage and hope on a perilous quest, Glassborn is filled with BAFTA award-winning animator Bunzl’s seductive, hallmark mix of pulsating action, literary history, gripping mystery, heart-stopping danger and mesmerising fantasy.

Add on the atmospheric illustrations of Katarzyna Doszla and you have soaraway historical fantasy at its very best!

(Usborne Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

`Age 7 plus:

The Frost Goblin

Abi Elphinstone and Fiona Woodcock

‘This is the story of the deepest frost of the year. The one that tiptoes into your garden in the middle of the night and turns your whole world silver. The one that, if scattered in just the right way, sparks magic.’

The magical world of winter – with its chilly thrills and snow-covered delights – springs to glorious life in a beautiful and moving new illustrated story from bestselling author Abi Elphinstone and renowned illustrator Fiona Woodcock that is sure to melt the hearts of readers young and old.

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The deepest frost has the power to rekindle hope in anyone who’s lost it… in Bertie Crash-Wallop's noisy family, it can sometimes feel like there is no room for a quiet boy like him. But when Bertie meets a family of goblins on the night of the deepest frost, is it possible he might make some magic and discover his own place in the world?

Elphinstone, whose childhood was spent amidst the spectacular countryside of Scotland’s highland glens, instils her own passion for the great outdoors into this wild and wonderful story which tingles with magic and mystery and is set against a stunning backdrop of glowing winter colours thanks to Woodcock’s atmospheric illustrations.

With warm and reassuring messages for children who feel they don’t fit in to their families, and an adventure with all the crisp excitement of a frosty night, this is the perfect gift to lift everyone’s spirits.

(Simon & Shuster Children’s Books, paperback, £8.99)

Age 6 plus:

With You Every Step: A Celebration of Friendship

Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield

‘True friends are always there, even when times are tough.’ The words of Rob Burrow – a former professional rugby league footballer who played for Leeds Rhinos in the Super League before retiring in 2017 – ring out loud and clear in this moving celebration of an inspirational friendship.

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Two years after he retired, it was publicly revealed that Burrow had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND), and by his side since then has been his best friend and fellow rugby player Kevin Sinfield.

They first met playing rugby as young boys and now share a special bond that has grown over the decades. Through good times and bad, their friendship has remained a constant both on and off the rugby field and they inspired the nation when the pair completed the Leeds Marathon earlier this year, crossing the finish line together.

Together, the friends have campaigned to raise money for and awareness of motor neurone disease, and while Burrow applied the same determined attitude to his fight against MND and for those affected by the disease as he did to his rugby, Sinfield has been undertaking epic fund-raising challenges for the MND community which have gained him national recognition, raising nearly £10million in three years.

With You Every Step is a celebration of friendship, in their own words, and in this truly special, pocket-sized gift book for all ages, the heartfelt words of Rob and Kevin are brought to life with artwork from leading illustrators Rob Biddulph, Reggie Brown, David Litchfield, Gill Smith and Sam Usher to create an inspiring and hopeful celebration of love, support and connection.

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Exploring universal truths and celebrating kindness, empathy and the joy of friendship, and with heartfelt messages of strength and resilience through love rather than physicality, With You Every Step is the perfect way to show the special people in your life, young and old, just how cherished they are.

And for every copy sold, Macmillan Children’s Books will donate 50p to be split equally between the Motor Neurone Disease Association and Leeds Hospitals Charity.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £10)

Age 12 plus:

Explodapedia: Evolution

Ben Martynoga and Moose Allain

Science certainly isn’t boring when you take lessons from the fun-filled pages of an amazing exploding encyclopedia!

Explodapedia is a unique non-fiction science series from David Fickling Books which delivers everything you need to know... one book at a time. This exciting, innovative approach takes key scientific subjects and presents them in a way that is hugely entertaining and readable, whilst still providing reliable, serious, in-depth information that will help readers gain a true and lasting understanding of crucial topics.

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Packed with accessible and funny cartoon illustrations, and superb double-page spreads which seamlessly integrate facts and art, these touchstone books are the work of Dr Ben Martynoga, a neuroscientist and science writer, and artist and cartoonist Moose Allain.

In Explodapedia: Evolution, this dynamic author and illustrator team explore evolution in an approachable, compelling way, celebrating the ground-breaking work of Charles Darwin, the myriad other thinkers who inspired his work, and those who have developed his discoveries into today’s cutting-edge science. Along the way, young readers meet some surprising ancient relatives and wonder how our past will shape our future.

These richly detailed and thought-provoking books offer an appealing and fully accessible way to learn about fascinating discoveries as well as inspiring young readers to enjoy a lifelong love of science.

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 5 plus:

The Night Train

Matilda Woods and Penny Neville-Lee

When picture books are too babyish and middle grade books too hard, just what can a young in-betweenie read? The answer is a highly illustrated, full-colour fiction range from the creative book boffins at Little Tiger Press. With their enchanting stories and highly illustrated glossy pages, these books are ideal for bridging the gap between picture books and chapter books for newly independent young readers. In The Night Train, we set off with a shrill whistle as the special train leaves the station to deliver its passengers to children’s dreams. The yeti, the ballet dancer, the friendly monster and the princess all have starring roles but then the train comes to an unexpected halt. A tree has fallen across the track and there’s no way the guard can move it on his own. It’s a race against time and the passengers will need to use all their talents to get the train moving again. Can they reach their dreams before midnight? Matilda Woods, Australian author of The Boy, The Bird and The Coffin Maker, delivers an uplifting and magical story celebrating the power of teamwork, and all brought to vivid life by debut artist Penny Neville-Lee’s vibrant, colourful and beautiful illustrations. An enchanting book to read alone or share with the family.

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5 plus:

Max and Chaffy: Search for the Ice Chaffy

Jamie Smart

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If you’re searching for a book that pleases the eye and keeps your little ones on their toes, Chaffy could be just the special kind of ‘beast’ to stretch them to the limit!

But don’t be alarmed... because Chaffy is a fluffy, white and lovable little creature who sports only one-and-a-half ears, has a habit of getting lost and is joint star of Max and Chaffy, a heartwarming, interactive graphic novel series from much-loved author and illustrator Jamie Smart.

Smart, the genius behind the bestselling Bunny vs Monkey comic books series, works his special magic on these gorgeous books for younger readers, filling them with his trademark blend of fun, friendship and the biggest, brightest and boldest illustrations.

In their third outing, Max and Chaffy are excited to look for more chaffies on a special snowy day and YOU can help. A surprise visitor soon joins them to look for one of the rarest chaffies of all and frosty fun abounds! There’s a journey up a mountain, a kind and friendly yeti, and a slippery, slidey adventure all the way down the mountain!

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Smart brings his zany wit and joyful charm to this ultra-cute and cuddly story which lets children actively join in the fun of searching and finding, celebrates the joy that comes from having a best friend, and shows that there’s a place for everyone. Full of charm and fun, these beautiful books are perfectly pitched for children who are just starting to read independently.

(David Fickling Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 4 plus:

Little, Brown Nut

Mary Auld and Dawn Cooper

When a large, round fruit falls from the tallest tree in the rainforest, it’s just the start of a journey that will have a giant impact on both the forest and the world. Little, Brown Nut is the second book in a thrilling and innovative series from exciting, young and independent children’s publisher Mama Makes Books. The Start Small, Think Big series unfolds a world of discovery, beginning from the small and familiar to new areas of knowledge where they really have to think big! From the moment a child opens the textured cover with the peep-through hole, they will be transported to the Amazon rainforest to see a huge fruit falling from the tallest tree. Inside is a little brown Brazil nut, surrounded by twenty others. It sits and waits for an agouti, a rodent with teeth so strong that it can free the nut from its hard casing. The story of the Brazil nut tree and the agouti is told clearly and carefully, with facts about germination, photosynthesis, seed dispersal, food production and the role of rainforests in maintaining a healthy planet. With the help of Dawn Cooper’s stunning illustrations, which bring the narrative and the science to life, Mary Auld’s easy-to-follow story builds understanding about the important relationship between the little nut and the small, furry animal. By thinking big, and through science-based words and pictures full of information and wonder, the book shows why the rainforest is important to local people and the wider world. And to make Little, Brown Nut truly special, there is a big fold-out at the back, with a world map, a picture lifecycle, and an I-Spy game to take children back into in the book to find the rainforest animals in the scenes. A dazzling addition to any home, school or library.

(Mama Makes Books, hardback, £10.99)

Age 3 plus:

Hello Winter

Jo Lindley

Autumn is over and it’s time for Winter with the promise of exciting snowmen, snow angels and snowball fights! Enjoy the chills and thrills of the winter season in the fourth and final title of a magical picture book series from debut author and illustrator Jo Lindley. Best Friends with Big Feelings features stories about friendship, feelings and the seasons, and each is set in an enchanting natural world that little readers will love to return to again and again. So say hello to Winter who is SO excited to share her special season... but her friends don’t like her chilly games. And instead of passing the weather crown to Winter, Autumn gives it to Spring. As Winter stomps off to play snow games on her own, it isn’t long before her friends start feeling bad. Can they find their way through the ice and snow to tell their friend how much she means to them? Through pictures and words, Lindley’s four charismatic friends, who control the seasons, gently explore key social and emotional themes, and here they learn about empathy and the need to take turns. With its sparkling foil cover and a gallery of colourful and eclectic illustrations, this beautifully created series is an entertaining teaching tool for talking about both emotions and the seasons.

(Farshore, paperback, £7.99)

Age 3 plus:

Eight Nights, Eight Lights

Natalie Barnes and Andrea Stegmaier

As the December celebration of Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, draws ever nearer, discover how this special time of year brings people together and light to the darkness in a beautiful, atmospheric picture book from Hertfordshire writer Natalie Barnes and German illustrator Andrea Stegmaier. Eight Nights, Eight Lights is a story celebrating Chanukah, told across eight nights, and exploring the much-loved time for songs and prayer, delicious food and friendship, and fun and family. Celebrate each night of Chanukah, known to some as Hanukkah, with eight different families and learn about the rituals and traditions which make up this wonderful holiday. With Stegmaier’s rich, emotive and colourful illustrations and Barnes’ lyrical, rhythmic text, this lovingly created book is the ideal gift to share with children. With its comforting and cosy ethos, the book is also perfect for any child who wants to learn more about The Festival of Lights which this year will start on the evening of Thursday, December 7 and end on the evening of Friday, December 15.

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

Percy the Post-Penguin

Genevieve Aspinall

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Here’s a beautiful picture story to melt your heart as we edge closer to the chilly winter months. Percy the Post-Penguin is the work of Genevieve Aspinall who recently graduated with a first class honours degree in illustration at UCLan and loves making stories come to life with her playful and charming artwork. In the cold and icy South Pole, a hardworking little penguin named Percy lives next to his post office in the glistening snow. But not many residents of the South Pole seem to know it’s there. With determination and confidence, Percy sets off on a mission to make himself known. Will he be able to make his dream come true and create a successful business? Aspinall has a passion for creating characters through animals and Percy and his crowd of new-found friends are guaranteed to enchant young readers. Ideal for reading as the nights draw in, and with resonant messages about resilience and determination, Percy the Post-Penguin has the stamp of a bedtime winner!

(UCLan Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

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