Book review: Animal magic heralds a Christmas season of reading

On your marks, get set, go! Oxford University Press has a sparkling line-up of children's books as the Christmas countdown begins.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 27th October 2016, 4:52 pm
Updated Monday, 31st October 2016, 9:42 am
Greatest Animal Stories
Greatest Animal Stories

Travel the world with a brilliant book featuring the greatest animal stories, jingle all the way with Winnie the Witch and enjoy a musical walk through a Winter Wonderland.

Age 7 plus:

Greatest Animal Stories

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Chosen by Michael Morpurgo

Animals… kids just love them!

Award-winning children’s writer and former Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo has collected the greatest animal stories from around the world and put them together in one big beautifully illustrated book that will have youngsters squeaking, squealing and howling with delight.

This wonderful treasure trove of animal delights comes with outstanding colour illustrations by some of today’s most talented illustrators and each entertaining, easy-to-understand story has been retold by a host of well-known modern children’s authors like Joanna Nadin, Timothy Knapman and Geraldine McCaughrean.

From brave mice to hungry wolves, and mischievous spiders to ingenious cats, a menagerie of amazing animals comes to life before your eyes, creating a timeless collection to treasure forever.

Enjoy perennial favourites like Puss in Boots, The Ugly Duckling, The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing and Peter and the Wolf, or discover less familiar tales like Anansi and The Antelope Baby, The Hungry Hyena and The Tortoise and the Baboon.

Each animal fable includes a brief summary of the story’s origins, whether that is Ancient China, Russia or the heart of Africa, and the underlying message and meaning are explained in the simplest terms to young readers.

This beautifully illustrated, sumptuous gift edition is ideal for shared reading with an adult and an exciting read-alone treat for more confident readers.

Animal magic that will cast a spell over all the family!

(OUP, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

Tom’s Midnight Garden Graphic Novel

Philippa Pearce

Adapted and illustrated by Edith

In 1958, Oxford University Press published a beautiful, moving children’s story about a boy’s enchanting adventures in a secret midnight garden which took the reading world by storm.

Tom’s Midnight Garden, went on to become a timeless classic, winning Philippa Pearce, a scriptwriter, producer, editor and author who died in 2006, the much-coveted Carnegie Medal. Over the decades, it has been reissued in print many times and has also been adapted for radio, television, the cinema and stage.

And now this atmospheric fantasy story gets a stunning and lovingly created adaptation by renowned French illustrator and graphic artist Edith. Faithful to the original story, fully accessible to young readers and offering an exciting new way to discover Tom’s adventures, this gorgeous gift book will win the hearts of grandparents, parents and children everywhere.

When Tom Long’s brother Peter gets measles, Tom is sent to stay with his Uncle Alan and Aunt Gwen to be put under quarantine. They live in the upstairs flat of an old country house with no garden, only a tiny yard for parking. The elderly and reclusive landlady, Mrs Bartholomew, lives above them. Because Tom may be infectious, he is not allowed out to play out and he feels lonely and bored. Without exercise, he is soon restless and lies awake after midnight when he hears the grandfather clock downstairs strike a strange thirteen.

Tom races down the stairs and out of the back door and into a garden everyone told him wasn’t there. In this enchanted thirteenth hour, the magic garden comes alive but Tom is never sure whether the children he meets there are real or ghosts…

Edith’s enchanting and atmospheric illustrations capture all the magic of the original story and bring new life to Tom’s haunting, timeless world where new friends are found and the past and present collide.

The perfect Christmas gift for readers of every age…

(OUP, hardback, £12.99)

Age 7 plus:

Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face and the Great Kerfuffle Christmas Kidnap

John Dougherty and David Tazzyman

Christmas just got crazy! Welcome to an outrageously madcap festive adventure in the company of delightful duo Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face.

Author John Dougherty and illustrator David Tazzyman are pitch perfect in this zany series which is guaranteed to tempt even the most reluctant young reader with its hilarious pictures, appealing, quirky font styles and anarchic plotlines.

The action-packed, fast-paced stories present kids with one of the funniest collection of characters ever known to mankind and their antics are delightfully surprising, witty… and very, very silly.

Christmas is a time of peace and goodwill, and presents, of course! But something’s not right in Great Kerfuffle. Instead of peace there’s mayhem, and instead of goodwill there’s evil and wickedness. And instead of presents, there’s… no presents! Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face have been extra good this year so they know Father Christmas wouldn’t forget them. Something must have happened to him and now it’s up to them to save Christmas (or at least find their presents!).

Strange places, embarrassing jokes, outlandish humour and easy-to-read adventures to share with the family or to read alone… what more could any child want for Christmas?

(OUP, paperback, £6.99)

Age 6 plus:

Lucy’s Winter Rescue

Anne Booth

Anne Booth sprinkles more of her storytelling stardust over Christmas with this curl-up-and-enjoy tale of a lovable little otter in need of help.

Booth’s warm-hearted, festive animal stories, which include Lucy’s Secret Reindeer and Lucy’s Magic Snow Globe, are ideal stocking-fillers for little animal lovers and this Christmas cracker is guaranteed to win hearts and minds.

Christmas miracles come in all sizes! When Lucy finds a lost baby otter she makes a Christmas wish to find him a special new home. But little does Lucy know that it is just the start of the Christmas magic, and that by helping the otter she will help lots of other people, and animals too. He may only be small but Lucy’s little otter is about to make a big impact…

Brought to life by Sophy Williams’ beautifully atmospheric black-and-white illustrations, the story’s simple language and short chapters make it perfect for youngsters who are starting to read independently.

And with its sparkly cover, warm message about caring for others and the environment, and pages of fascinating facts, activities and pet care information, this new Lucy story will prove simply irresistible!

(OUP, paperback, £4.99)

Age 2 plus:

Winnie and Wilbur Meet Santa

Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

Get ready to jingle all the way as Winnie and Wilbur prepare for Christmas!

The madcap adventures of Winnie the Witch and her black cat have provided spellbinding, bite-size stories for nearly three decades and now the two madcap stars are centre stage again for a fantastic festive picture book.

Brilliantly illustrated in Korky Paul’s distinctive and charismatic style, Winnie and Wilbur’s escapades are always mad, bad and dangerously hilarious but scatterbrained Winnie is not as simple as she seems with her comic capers and special brand of frantic fun often conjuring up some important life lessons for young readers.

Here we find Winnie and Wilbur super excited on Christmas Eve. They have posted their letters to the North Pole and made everything festive but they never imagined that they are actually going to meet him on Christmas Eve!

Poor old Santa gets stuck in their chimney and by the time Winnie and Wilbur have rescued him, he needs yet more help to get all the presents delivered before Christmas Day. Winnie and Wilbur don’t need much persuading to join him on his sleigh in a desperate race against time to make sure children everywhere wake up to stockings filled with presents. What a magical, memorable night.

Little children will love Korky Paul’s highly detailed and playful illustrations while Valerie Thomas’ sparkling festive story comes complete with a spectacular pop-up ending!

Guaranteed to cast a spell…

(OUP, hardback, £12.99)

Age 2 plus:

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Richard Smith, Felix Bernard and Tim Hopgood

Music maestro, please!

Let your little ones get into the swing of the Christmas season with this musical story and singalong CD extravaganza.

Based on the much-loved song Winter Wonderland, this gorgeous picture book takes you on an enchanting journey through a glistening winter landscape with Tim Hopgood’s bold and evocative illustrations, and the words of the song by Peggy Lee ringing in everyone’s ears.

This ideal Christmas gift, with lavish illustrations featuring winter scenery, dancing snowflakes and woodland animals, encapsulates the joy of spending time with family and friends during the holiday season.

There is amazing wildlife to spot on every page, fun antics to share with a family enjoying the thrills of sledging and snowballing, and a recording of the song that is just perfect for singing along to.

‘Winter Wonderland is one of my favourite songs and one that’s played over and over again in our house throughout the winter months,’ Hopgood tells us. ‘Hearing it conjures up happy memories of winter walks in the woods with my family and friends. No matter how old you are, I think the wonder and excitement of waking up to a world under a blanket of snow still remains.’

An exciting book just made for sharing – and with a poignant message that encourages children to appreciate the wonders of nature, the joy of sharing and the warmth of love and family.

(OUP, hardback and CD, £12.99)

Age 2 plus:

The Mouse that Cancelled Christmas

Madeleine Cook and Samara Hardy

Christmas ‘elf and safety’ fears threaten to wreck the celebrations… and it’s all because of one little ‘danger’ mouse!

Fortunately the festive spirit triumphs over petty rules and box-ticking in Madeleine Cook’s funny, feel-good picture story which comes packed with adventure, mishaps, perilously spiky pine needles and brazenly bright lights.

After a traumatic bauble-related incident when he was a baby, Mouse has decided that getting in the festive spirit is far too dangerous. From sharp pine needles on the tree and paper cuts from wrapping paper to sneeze-inducing clouds of icing sugar for decorating the gingerbread biscuits, Christmas is a minefield of hazards and will have to be cancelled. How on earth will the other animals in Jingle Bell Forest persuade Mouse to loosen up?

Children will love the sheer silliness of this comical, cautionary story while parents will relish the satirical dig at the health-and-safety obsessions of modern life as the power of Christmas finally triumphs.

Cuddle up and enjoy!

(OUP, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

A Dot in the Snow

Corrinne Averiss and Fiona Woodcock

Friendships are special… and especially so at Christmas time.

This exquisite, heart-warming picture book story, set in a challenging and ever-changing polar landscape, is guaranteed to melt even the hardest of hearts.

Little polar bear Miki wanders away while his mother is diving for fish when he sees a dot in the snow and rushes towards it. The dot turns out to be a little girl but Miki has never seen a human before and the little girl has never seen a polar bear.

The two new friends start to discover more about each other as they play in the snow but when the ice cracks and the snow falls, Miki has to take the little girl home before beginning the long journey to find his own mother. Although one is a polar bear and one is a little girl, Miki and Dot share a common experience and their bond of friendship gives them the strength to support each other during the course of a day that will last with them both forever…

This poignant story, simply told and set amidst gorgeous, atmospheric snowscapes created with printmaking techniques by illustrator Fiona Woodcock, is the perfect accompaniment to the season of goodwill.

Empathy, kindness, courage, and the concept of humans co-existing with nature, form the bedrock of a magical, moving Christmas odyssey.

(OUP, hardback, £11.99)