Glowing trees, festive fun and snow-filled adventures by various authors - book reviews -

Santa has a sleigh simply bulging with Christmas cheer as authors and illustrators work their special magic on a whole host of spectacular children’s books for the season of sharing, loving and giving.

By Pam Norfolk
Thursday, 18th November 2021, 3:45 pm
The Christmas Pine
The Christmas Pine

Age 2 plus:

The Christmas Pine

Julia Donaldson and Victoria Sandøy

Bask in the warm glow of a very special Christmas tree in a beautiful and magical picture book for Christmas from Julia Donaldson, bestselling author of The Gruffalo and Stick Man. Written in Donaldson’s perfect, heartfelt, rhythmic verse, and fabulously illustrated by Norwegian illustrator Victoria Sandøy, this moving and inspirational story celebrates the famous Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square in London which has been presented by the Mayor of Oslo in Norway for 70 years as a symbol of peace and friendship, and to thank you the British people for their support during the Second World War. Deep in a snowy wood stands a little pine tree with a special destiny. When it grows up, it’s going to be the famous Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square and will be watched over by the statue of Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson! This is the perfect picture book to snuggle up with and share at Christmas. Sandøy’s gorgeous, atmospheric illustrations whisk youngsters from frozen forests to the sparkling city square in a tale of festivity, renewal and hope. With its gold-foiled dust jacket and rich illustrative detail, this is the perfect Christmas gift for young children and a classic to treasure for generations.

(‎Alison Green Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 8 plus:

Diary of a Christmas Elf

Ben Miller and Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini

Indulge your youngsters with this gorgeous Christmas gift book – full of fun, festive warmth and comedy capers – from actor, comedian and bestselling author Ben Miller. Diary of a Christmas Elf delivers magic on every page as Miller, who has earned the title King of Christmas, lets loose his imagination on a heartwarming story about the true meaning of gift giving. All Tog Harket wants to do is work in Santa’s workshop and one wonderful day, the letter from Santa arrives. Tog has been selected as an apprentice elf! Making toys is a lot more technical and a lot less fun than Tog had imagined, and even though his new friend Holly tries to help him, he is quickly relegated to cleaning out the reindeer stables. But someone has been stealing the presents from the workshop and a case of mistaken identity finds Tog accused of being the culprit. Can Tog use his special Christmas magic to discover the real thief and save all the presents before Christmas Eve is over? Featuring the beautiful, atmospheric black and white illustrations of Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini, this inspirational, seasonal adventure – laced throughout with Miller’s irrepressible wit – is set to become another Christmas classic for this exciting and inventive storyteller.

(Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, hardback, £9.99)

Age 8 plus:

Gangsta Granny Strikes Again!

David Walliams and Tony Ross

Tuck into the wit and wacky adventures that spill from the pen of multi-million bestselling author David Walliams and the creative genius of illustrator Tony Ross in the uproarious sequel to their mega-hit adventure Gangsta Granny. From laugh-out-loud antics to breathtaking action and suspense-packed mystery, Walliams takes young readers on a thrilling ride through danger, derring-do and comedy… in his inimitable classic style. Ben is getting used to life without his beloved granny. She was a cabbage enthusiast, a Scrabble partner… and an international jewel thief known as The Black Cat. Now, only the memory of their extraordinary adventure to steal the Crown Jewels lives on. Then something inexplicable happens. World-famous treasures are stolen in the dead of night and the clues point to none other than The Black Cat! But that’s impossible… isn’t it? Walliams is on his best storytelling form in this raucous romp as young readers join Ben on his quest to unravel the mystery of the return of The Black Cat. And with a hilarious cast of characters and the gloriously anarchic illustrations of Tony Ross to bring this terrific story to life, this is Christmas heaven for all Walliams fans!

(HarperCollinsChildren’sBooks, hardback, £14.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Very Merry Murder Club

Edited by Serena Patel and Robin Stevens and illustrations by Harry Woodgate

Hands up if you like a thrilling, chilling mystery story! Youngsters will be racing through the pages and soaking up the vibes when they get their hands on this super, snow-covered, wintertime journey of Christmassy crimes, festive foul play and murderously magnificent mysteries! This coruscating middle grade collection of mystery and crime adventures by thirteen of the most exciting and diverse authors in children’s books today includes contributors from the BAME and LGBT communities, writing about equally diverse characters and stories. Co-edited by Serena Patel, award-winning author of the Anisha: Accidental Detective series, and Robin Stevens, creator of the bestselling Murder Most Unladylike series, and with stunning illustrations by Harry Woodgate, the thirteen winter mysteries invite youngsters to join the Very Merry Murder Club and put their sleuthing skills to the test. And just to make the book even more special, the book’s dust jacket hides a stunning wraparound scene on the hardback cover with an element from each of the thirteen stories to spot in the artwork. The perfect Christmas gift for eagle-eyed, budding detectives!

(Farshore, hardback, £12.99)

Age 7 plus:

Sasha and the Wolf

Ann Jungman and Gaia Bordicchia

Enjoy the chilly thrills of wonderfully atmospheric and snow-filled adventures as Ann Jungman and Gaia Bordicchia sweep us away to the steppes of Russia with a little boy and his wolf cub friend. Long ago and far away, on the great snow-covered steppe of Russia, Sasha has always been taught that wolves are dangerous, but when he finds himself lost in the snow with Ferdy, a wolf cub, he discovers they are not so different. But how can he persuade his village that the wolves can be their friends? Sasha is excited about the railway coming to their village but Ferdy is afraid that it will bring new people who do not know that the wolves and humans have learnt to live together. With winter coming, how will Ferdy’s pack survive if they have to hide away? This beautifully produced chapter book bind-up of Jungman and Bordicchia’s rediscovered classics about Sasha and Ferdy has important messages about conservation, acceptance and friendship for a new generation of youngsters who will delight in sharing fun and adventures with the adorable duo.

(Faber & Faber, paperback, £7.99)

Age 6 plus:

Winter Animal Stories: Sky

Holly Webb

Meet Sky, a rare white snowy owl who takes the starring role in a stunning Winter Animal Story from favourite storyteller Holly Webb. This delightful winter wonderland adventure story comes in a beautiful hardback gift edition with a dazzling cover from award-winning illustrator Britta Teckentrup and the atmospheric black and white illustrations of Jo Anne Davies. Staying with her grandparents in the Scottish Highlands, Lara is fascinated by the snowy owl her grandad has spotted flying nearby. And when she follows the beautiful bird into the woods, it leads her on a magical adventure. Transported to a century back in time, Lara befriends Amelia who confides in Lara about her cruel cousin who she is sure is trying to hurt the baby owls nesting in the woods. When Lara discovers the hatchlings belong to her owl, Sky, she is determined to help. But how can she protect them when she needs to return to her own time? This enchanting and magical time-slip adventure is a heart-melting and evocative winter tale, full of Webb’s beautiful storytelling and imbued with a special seasonal warmth that will make the book a favourite with both children and adults.

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £8.99)

Age 6 plus:

A Puppy’s First Christmas

Holly Webb and Sophy Williams

And Holly Webb is also enchanting young readers with the incredible 50th heartwarming adventure in her adorable Animal Stories series which has sold hundreds of thousands of copies since the first book hit the shelves in 2006. Webb is one of the UK’s best-loved children’s authors and has written over 100 books for youngsters. In this new Christmas story, we meet Aria who is excited to celebrate her puppy Jackson’s first Christmas… they’ll make snowmen, eat lots of food, and she has bought him a special present with her pocket money! But when Aria’s family come to stay, Jackson becomes over-excited and scares Aria’s younger cousin. On Christmas morning things get worse. Jackson is shut out of the living room while gifts are being opened, Aria can’t find his present, and then the puppy eats Grandma’s fluffy winter boots! With her parents refusing to take her side, will Aria and Jackson get their perfect Christmas after all? Sophy Williams provides the gorgeous black and white illustrations for this beautifully created adventure which is guaranteed to capture the heart of any child who can’t resist the magic of animals!

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £5.99)

Age 6 plus:

Usborne Countdown to Christmas Activity Book

James Maclaine and Abigail Wheatley

If you need a crafty way to keep the kids busy in the countdown to Christmas, look no further than this brilliant activity book packed with fun and festive things to make and do. Every day in December, right up to Christmas Eve, is covered with this clever countdown selection of activities which includes making everything from garlands and gift tags to reindeer snacks and wrapping paper. Bright, colourful, engaging and inspiring, the book also has simple cooking recipes… delicious breadstick reindeer, star sandwiches and a tasty dish for the reindeer. Using items you will easily find around the house, this cracking Christmas countdown guarantees hours of fun for busy little hands!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 4 plus:

Winter Wonderland: Little Sticker Dolly Dressing

Fiona Watt, Stella Baggott and Non Figg

So what DOES a dolly wear as the season of winter and Christmas draws near? Usborne has the answer all stitched up in this enchanting sticker book! Little children won’t be stuck for something to do with this beautiful activity book full of dolls to dress and scenes to decorate. Join the dolls as they choose and decorate a Christmas tree, have a walk in a snowy forest, go ice skating, and watch as twinkly Christmas lights are switched on. And have fun choosing their outfits and adding lots of other fashion accessories. With hundreds of reusable stickers of colourful outfits and winter accessories to choose from, this is a festive show no young fashionista will want to miss!

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam: Santa’s Stolen Sleigh

Tracey Corderoy and Steve Lenton

Get your skates on… Christmas will have to be put on ice unless reformed robbers Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam can stop someone stealing Santa’s flying sleigh! Welcome back to another slice of baking adventures with the two adorable bungling robbers who gave up a life of crime to become the best – and bravest – bakers in town. Favourite author Tracey Corderoy and star illustrator Steve Lenton cook up a storm as their two delightfully dogged detectives set off for Lapland to bake a festive feast for Santa and his elves. But there’s a Christmas crisis… the elves are ill and can’t finish the toys. Does mysterious stranger and gadget queen, Flo Frost, really want to help or could she have her eyes on the most magical gadget of all… Santa’s flying sleigh? It’s up to Shifty and Sam to race across the snowy slopes and save Christmas for everyone! With Corderoy’s trademark warmth, wit and charm radiating from every page, Lenton’s busy, bold and fun-filled illustrations and an eye-catching, gold-foiled cover, this is the perfect Christmas morning stocking-filler.

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Little Bear

Richard Jones

Discover what happens when a boy meets a bear in this magical story about friendship and growing up, up and away. Little Bear is a tender and stunningly illustrated fable about letting go of love and is the work of talented author and illustrator Richard Jones. On Monday, a boy finds a polar bear in his garden... only, this polar bear is so small he can fit in the palm of the boy’s hand. ‘Are you lost, Little Bear?’ the boy asks. ‘Can I help you?’ Day by day the bear grows, and so does their friendship, until the boy realises that it’s time for the bear to go home. This is a story that grows in stature with each page, just as the bear grows from a tiny handful to a giant presence. The pathos of growing older is gently explored… accepting that distance, departure and change are inevitable without losing sight of the memories of love and friendship that last a lifetime. Add on the ethereal magic of Jones’ illustrations, with their enchanting palette of colours and simple but powerful charm, and you have a picture book classic that will be loved by all generations of readers.

(Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Christmas Department Store

Maudie Powell-Tuck and Hoang Giang

Gifts at Christmas don’t all come wrapped in festive paper… there’s often more joy to be found in love, laughter and family. That is the resonant message in this warm, gentle and inspirational picture book from the expert team of author Maudie Powell-Tuck and illustrator Hoang Giang. Christmas for Benji has lost its magic. This year, his family can’t afford a tree, or even a turkey. But then he stumbles upon the most extraordinary department store where polar bears talk, a leopard likes storytelling and the presents are out of this world. Can he make the magic last through the Christmas season? Powell-Tuck’s gentle story speaks loudly and reassuringly to children about celebrating Christmas with family, and the heartwarming delights of sharing and giving while Giang’s atmospheric and richly detailed illustrations brings extra emotional power to the action. With its perfect blend of real life and magic, this festive tale is perfect for reading together in the run-up to Christmas and will be loved, treasured and enjoyed every year.

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £8.99)

Age 3 plus:

First Magic Painting Christmas

Matthew Oldman and Emily Beevers

Usborne brings the magic of Christmas to life with the sweep of a brush in this painting book just made for tiny tots. All you need for First Magic Painting Christmas is the paint brush provided and a jar of water and hey presto, youngsters can transform black and white illustrations into pictures bursting with colour. Watch as a carol-singing mouse, a well-filled stocking and even Santa himself spring to life. The perfect way to help young children develop their brush control skills, and to keep little hands busy in the run-up to Christmas.

(Usborne, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

A Christmas Story

Brian Wildsmith

Christmas is all about sharing and there can be no better way to celebrate the true meaning of the season than with this classic and charming retelling of the birth of Jesus. Internationally acclaimed author and artist Brian Wildsmith’s beautiful and evocative story features magnificent illuminated gold pictures which add extra depth and meaning as we travel to Bethlehem with a little girl and her faithful donkey. While the wonderful events of the Nativity unfold, the adventures of Rebecca, Mary and Joseph’s next door neighbour, provide an intimate, innocent, and child-centred perspective on the Christmas story. Wildsmith’s enchanting book has been in print since 1989 and is an enduring favourite with children, and this beautiful edition, with its stunning new cover design, will delight a whole new generation of young readers. A magical introduction to the birth of Jesus and the wonderful world of Christmas.

(OUP, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

Santa’s New Sleigh

Caroline Crowe and Jess Pauwels

It’s green for go when Santa’s sleigh stops working in a fun and festive picture book from the top team who brought us Santa’s New Beard. Author Caroline Crowe and illustrator Jess Pauwels deliver sackfuls of guffaws and giggles in this adorable new Christmas adventure which sees Santa’s big night saved by a very special – and very eco-friendly – solution. On Christmas Eve, the countdown clock is ticking fast but when Santa turns the key on his sleigh, nothing happens! The elves rally round to help. They could use a slingshot, the owls could help, or how about polar bears? Will they be able to sort out the sleigh out before it’s too late? Things are not looking good until one small elf has a bright, eco idea! With Crowe’s jolly, bouncing rhyme and Pauwels’ cheeky, accident-prone elves and reindeer, this story has Christmas written all over it!

(Faber & Faber, paperback, £6.99)

Age one plus:

Time to… picture books

Penny Tassoni and Mel Four

All children need a helping hand when it comes to learning life skills so here is a set of picture perfect books to teach them the important basics of everyday tasks and play. Ideal for home bookshelves or any Early Years setting, these sturdy Time to… are written by education consultant Penny Tassoni and beautifully illustrated by Mel Four. The series includes Time to Go to Bed, Time to Go to Nursery, Time to Care and Time to Get Dressed, and each comes with a simple-to-read text and delightful full-colour illustrations to help children follow everyday routines and understand the important personal skills. Explain to children why everyone needs sleep, encourage them to feel confident about going to nursery, explore empathy, kindness and caring for others, and help them understand what they should wear and how to get dressed. Featuring practical advice and tips for practitioners, carers and parents, these books are invaluable as they explore positive behaviour and a whole range of emotions in a fun and friendly way. The ideal way to make learning fun!

(Featherstone, hardback, £5.99 each)

Age one plus:

Nibbles Christmas

Emma Yarlett

Nibbles, the adorable yellow monster who stole our hearts with his munching antics in Emma Yarlett’s bestselling The Book Monster series, is back for some jolly, holly, jingles madness! Multi-talented author and illustrator Yarlett goes into her special brand of imaginative overdrive again as naughty Nibbles chomps and gnaws his way through a clever, Christmas-themed introduction to counting. Packed with objects to spot and count, and with a fun-filled, bouncy rhyme, this ingenious Nibbles book is brimming with the kind of multi-coloured, lively illustrations that children love, and with the cheeky monster as their guide, you can expect mischief right up to the last page!

(Little Tiger Press, board book, £7.99)

Age six months plus:

Don’t tickle the Polar Bear!

Sam Taplin and Ana Martin Larrañaga

Little ones will go barking mad to get their hands on this super soft and fabulously ‘feely’ novelty gift book. There’s a whole host of cute sea creatures just waiting to croak, bark, growl and grunt when you give them a tickle. Tots and toddlers won’t be able to resist pressing the fluffy touchy-feely patches to hear the different sounds in this delightful novelty book. And after the polar bear, seal, puffin and walrus have been tickled, there’s a surprise on the last page as they all join together for a hilarious animal and music finale guaranteed to get everyone dancing! With Sam Taplin’s fun narrative and the wonderfully vivid artwork of Ana Martin Larrañaga bringing the animals to life, expect winter gales of giggles and tons of touchy-feely encores!

(Usborne, board book, £12.99)