Mischief and mayhem make magical Christmas reading by various authors – children’s book reviews

The Nutcracker: And the Mouse King’s Christmas Shenanigans  by Alex T SmithThe Nutcracker: And the Mouse King’s Christmas Shenanigans  by Alex T Smith
The Nutcracker: And the Mouse King’s Christmas Shenanigans by Alex T Smith
The countdown to Christmas has well and truly begun and it’s a bumper year for readers both young and old looking for the perfect children’s gift books.

Age 5 plus:

The Nutcracker: And the Mouse King’s Christmas Shenanigans

Alex T. Smith

The key to the Kingdom of Sweets has been stolen and there is much mischief and mayhem afoot!

You know the Christmas season is well and truly moving into top gear when talented writer and illustrator Alex T. Smith peeps his head over the parapet with his latest fantastically festive Christmas adventure.

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And after the success of the Claude series and his much-loved books How Winston Delivered Christmas, How Winston Came Home for Christmas and The Grumpus, Smith brings us another spectacular gift book that offers brilliant storytelling, stunning artwork and some marvellously mirth-making mischief!

This year, Smith treats us all to a spectacular retelling of children’s Christmas classic The Nutcracker... a Christmas story in his trademark twenty-four-and-a-half chapters. The Mouse King is up to some very sneaky shenanigans. The night before Christmas, he steals the key to the Kingdom of Sweets and is determined to cause lots of Christmas chaos! Clara and Fritz Strudel, and their new friend the Nutcracker, are the only ones who can stop him. But when a magical curse is put on Fritz, it’s a race against time to make it to the Kingdom of Sweets and find the Sugar Plum Fairy – the only one who can break the spell! Can the adventurers stop the Mouse King’s naughty plan and save Fritz before it’s too late?

With a brilliantly exuberant story featuring jokes galore and madcap magic, an unforgettable cast of hilarious characters, Smith’s bold and colourful illustrations, a festively foiled cover, a chapter to enjoy each day in December, and all lovingly wrapped in the author’s natural warmth, this wonderful book is destined to become a family favourite in the run-up to Christmas.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £15.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Great Reindeer Rescue

Stephen Mangan and Anita Mangan

Christmas is in danger... all Santa’s reindeers have disappeared! Can a reindeer called Dave and a girl named Holly save the day?

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Hold on to your stockings and prepare for violent explosions of laughter as the sensational sibling team of much-loved actor Stephen Mangan and his talented artist sister Anita roll out their first fun-filled Christmas book.

After the runaway success of joint debut novels, Escape the Rooms, The Unlikely Rise of Harry Sponge, and the hilarious The Fart That Changed the World, the dynamic duo return with a fantastically funny spin on The Night Before Christmas.

It’s Christmas Eve and one of Santa's reindeers, Dave, is fed up. He’s stuck behind boastful Rudolph again and a fart in the face is the last straw. In the commotion, Santa crash lands on the roof of nine-year-old Holly’s home causing an almighty Christmas lights explosion that blasts the reindeers to far-flung corners of the Earth. It’s up to Dave and Holly to fly round the world – from the top of the Empire State Building and the glorious beaches of Tahiti to the icy Tundra of the Arctic – to rescue all the reindeers. Can Holly and Dave get all the reindeesr back to Santa to save Christmas?

Anita Mangan’s quirky and characterful illustrations are the perfect pairing for her brother’s warm, wild and witty story which touches sensitively on the topic of parental bereavement and reminds youngsters that heroes come in all shapes and sizes.

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Add on a celebration of youthful determination and ingenuity, and a brand of naughty humour that will have mischief-makers giggling all the way to the last page, and you have the perfect gift book to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas!

(Scholastic, hardback, £10.99)

Age 12 plus:

Tiffany Aching’s Guide to Being A Witch

Rhianna Pratchett, Gabrielle Kent and Paul Kidby

‘They say you don't find witchcraft, it finds you...’ Immerse yourself in a beautifully illustrated and practical guide to being a witch in Discworld – the global bestselling series created by the late, great Terry Pratchett – in this gorgeous slip-cased gift book. Tiffany Aching’s Guide to Being A Witch has been co-authored by former graphic artist and now full-time writer Gabrielle Kent, and Terry Pratchett’s daughter Rhianna who says she has enjoyed ‘channelling the wit and wisdom of Discworld’s witches’ on this joint ‘life-affirming and occasionally tear-filled adventure.’ Filled with the rich, colourful and exquisitely detailed illustrations of Paul Kidby, this entertaining and visually exciting guide covers everything you’ve ever wanted to know from working with other witches to dealing with elves, and from tending flocks to fending off forces from other worlds. It has, of course, been lovingly compiled by Tiffany Aching herself, including snippets of remembered wisdom from Granny Aching alongside notes from Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Miss Tick, and Rob Anybody who offer their own unique perspectives on all things witchcraft. So whether you’re a herbologist or a headologist, this brilliant in-world guide – with its stunning gold foiled cover and page edges – will inspire and empower new witches and seasoned practitioners alike, and is the perfect addition to any Discworld collection.

(Penguin, slip-cased hardback, £25)

Age 3 plus:

The Little Prince

Louise Greig and Sarah Massini

Eighty years ago, a novel was published in France which would become a classic across the world. The Little Prince was written by Frenchman Antoine de Saint-Exupéry while he was exiled in the United States from occupied France. A year after the book’s publication in 1943, Saint-Exupéry disappeared over the Mediterranean while flying a reconnaissance mission for his French air squadron. And now this charming story, which features an extraordinary space-traveller on a journey through the stars, has been beautifully adapted for young readers as a picture book by award-winning poet Louise Greig and critically acclaimed illustrator Sarah Massini. So meet the pilot stranded in the desert, and meet the Little Prince who tends his beautiful rose on a planet of his own. Then follow the Little Prince as he embarks on a strange and wonderful journey to strange and magical new planets and finally to Earth where he meets the pilot and together they uncover the secrets of love, friendship and compassion. The tender wisdom of Saint-Exupéry’s story speaks loud and clear in Greig’s exquisite adaptation while Massini’s emotive illustrations capture all the warmth and pathos of the memorable desert meeting. Add on a stunning silver-foiled cover and you have the perfect gift book for all the family to enjoy.

(Farshore, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus:

The Little Prince (Collector’s Edition)

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

And here’s a chance to revel in the visual and verbal beauty of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s timeless classic with this brand new slip-cased Collector’s Edition featuring the original translation by Katherine Woods and full-colour illustrations. Woods (1886–1968) produced the original English translation of The Little Prince in 1943. It was later followed by several other English translations but her classic, poetic translation is treasured by fans and is often considered to be the definitive English translation as it perfectly captures the enchantment and charm of Saint-Exupéry’s storytelling. And what an enchanting fable it is... a story full of wisdom that teaches the secret of what is really important in life and has changed the world forever for its readers both young and old. This stunning collector’s edition also features bonus non-fiction content which explores the history of The Little Prince, the real-life plane crash that inspired the story, and the life of the author. A beautifully created book to read, enjoy and treasure.

(Farshore, slip-cased hardback, £20)

Age 8 plus:

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Stepfather Christmas: A Festive Countdown Story in 25 Chapters

L.D. Lapinski

Enjoy the countdown to Christmas with this thoroughly heartwarming festive story which stars a girl who is convinced her new stepdad is actually... Father Christmas! Written by L.D. Lapinski, author of The Strangeworlds Travel Agency, this hilarious tale is structured like an advent calendar and ideal to read one day at a time in the lead up to Christmas (with an extra special chapter for Christmas Day!) It's 25 days until Christmas and 10-year-old Harper gets a surprise when Mum announces she's bringing her new boyfriend Nick home for the holidays! Nick seems nice enough but why do strange Christmassy things happen whenever he’s around... like snow falling only in the family’s garden and a reindeer suddenly appearing on the roof? Harper is convinced that Nick must be Father Christmas and if her mum and older brother Will won’t believe her, she'll just have to find a way to prove it herself! Stepfather Christmas is a festive treat with lots of fun to enjoy whilst exploring emotive topics like parents launching into new relationships and the effect that it can have on children. With 25 chapters, Stepfather Christmas is ideal to read and share every night in December.

(Orion Children’s Books, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus:

Operation Nativity

Jenny Pearson and Katie Kear

It shouldn’t happen to the Angel Gabriel! The race to save Christmas is on in a sparkling, festive, feel-good adventure from the Costa Award-shortlisted Jenny Pearson whose brilliant books are based on a wonderful mix of all the children she has ever taught. With inside illustrations from the talented Katie Kear, Operation Nativity has everything you could want from a Christmas story... laughter, heartwarming messages about love, hope and togetherness, and the timeless joy of celebrating the season with your family. Oscar, Molly and their parents are spending Christmas with their grandparents, the Cuthbert-Andersons, at their grand home, Barlington Hall, in the pretty village of Chipping Bottom. Mum isn’t keen because of the ordeal of taking part in Barlington’s chaotic annual nativity play but what they don’t yet know is that this year is going to be a Christmas they will never forget! It all starts when Oscar and Molly rush outside to investigate a crash in the night and are shocked to find a dazed Angel Gabriel wandering around their grandparents’ back garden. And they are certainly not expecting to find themselves in a race to save Christmas but if they don’t track down a missing shepherd called Steve, Balthazar the wise man, the donkey and the actual Mary and Joseph, who have all crash-landed in Chipping Bottom, not only will Christmas cease to exist but they will too. Operation Nativity is on! If you love epic adventures, a cast of the quirkiest characters you’ll find this side of Christmas, an extra-large dose of festive vibes, and a story that acts like a warm and cuddly book hug, then Operation Nativity is the Christmas cracker you’ve been looking for!

(Usborne Publishing, paperback, £7.99)

Age 5 plus:

The Nutcracker: An Enchanting Pop-up Classic

Steve Patschke and Zanna Goldhawk

Watch in amazement as E.T.A. Hoffmann’s classic fairy tale of The Nutcracker literally springs to life in this stunning book full of intricate artwork and inventive pop-ups. ‘He was dressed in a handsome red jacket lined down the front with white loops and brass buttons. His painted eyes sparkled a brilliant green, while a kind, good-natured smile hid beneath a snowy cotton beard.’ When Marie is given a nutcracker on Christmas Eve, she immediately loves it. Little does she realise that, when night falls, the Nutcracker will defend her from the monstrous Mouse King and whisk her away to a fantastical kingdom. Magic is the keyword for Hoffmann’s much-loved Christmas-themed tale of defiance, loyalty and wonder as Steve Patschke’s clever adaptation, Zanna Goldhawk’s richly coloured artwork and each fabulously engineered pop-up make every page an exciting adventure!

(Templar Publishing, board book, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

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National Trust: ‘Tis the Season: A Lift-the-Flap Advent Calendar Full of Christmas Poems

Richard Jones

Enjoy the countdown to Christmas with this spectacular advent calendar book filled with festive poems, hidden surprises and a magical fold-out frieze! Brimming with the words and wisdom of well-loved poets like Ogden Nash, Nikki Giovanni, John Agard and Christina Rossetti, and produced in partnership with the National Trust, each poem is brought to life by the joyful artwork of Richard Jones. Peek inside the windows of the house to find a family wrapping presents, take a look behind a holly bush to find a little mouse, and see what’s happening in the town behind a glittering Christmas tree! This classic Christmas collection has a flap to lift alongside a special poem for every day of advent and a fold-out concertina displaying a beautiful snowy landscape. With sturdy flaps, sparkling foil and a ribbon tie closure, this beautiful gift book is designed to be shared together as the days get closer to Christmas and will fill your family with festive cheer, year after year.

(Nosy Crow, board book, £19.99)

Age 3 plus:


Suzy Senior and Lucy Semple

Does Cinderella dream of marrying a charming prince? Certainly not in this brilliantly feminist twist on the traditional fairy tale from the top team of author Suzy Senior and illustrator Lucy Semple! It’s more a case of Santa meets Cinderella in this funny rhyming romp which takes Cinders round the world and back in the twinkling of an eye. Oh no, it’s a chilly, frosty Christmas Eve and Santa’s hurt his back. He cannot fly the sleigh or even lift his sack. Is Christmas ruined? Not if Cinderella has anything to do with it! Leaving her mean step-sisters behind, she offers to give Santa a hand, and – along the way – travels across the world. But Santa has one more gift in his sleigh. Could it be the chance for Cinderella to write her own happy-ever-after? Senior’s addictive, rollicking rhyme and Semple’s richly detailed and comical illustrations are the perfect match for this retelling of the classic fairy tale which challenges stereotypes and is a joy to read aloud. Festive magic on every page!

(Little Tiger Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 2 plus:

Pip and Posy: Snow Coaches

Whoosh! Join best friends Pip and Posy as they head off for some snowy adventures... and learn a few life lessons along the way. Snow Coaches is the latest picture book in a series based on the award-winning, animated TV series, produced by Magic Light Pictures, which follows the mouse and rabbit pals in their wonderful world of play. Pip and Posy are excited to spend the day sledging as fast as they can down the snowy slopes. They both think their way is the best way to sledge as fast as possible! Jamila wants to join in their fun but who should she listen to when it comes to learning how to sledge? Will Pip and Posy learn to work together to help their friend sledge down the hill? Youngsters will love this seasonal, snow-sprinkled story which offers fun and frolics as well as important lessons about the benefits of listening to other people’s ideas. And don’t forget to access the free Stories Aloud smartphone audio book. Simply scan in the code inside the front cover.

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Bizzy Bear: My First Sticker Book: Christmas Time

Benji Davies

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Toys and elves and Santa’s sleigh, Bizzy Bear can’t wait for Christmas Day! Toddlers and pre-schoolers will love getting stuck into this fun and festive first sticker book which has over 40 BIG stickers and features charming artwork from Benji Davies, illustrator of bestselling picture book The Storm Whale. Join Bizzy Bear as he has lots of adventures this Christmas, playing in the snow, visiting Santa and delivering presents to children all around the world. Every page includes a panel with objects to spot in the picture and there are colourful stickers to complete the Christmas scenes. The perfect interactive book to keep little hands out of mischief!

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £5.99)

Age one plus:

Peekaboo Santa

Camilla Reid and Ingela P Arrhenius

Let your little ones enjoy the fun of Christmas time with a sparkling new festive title in Nosy Crow’s hit novelty series featuring multiple sliders. The books are created by the award-winning team of author Camilla Reid and illustrator Ingela P Arrhenius and feature easy-to-use peekaboo sliders, a funny rhyming text and a surprise mirror ending. With ten smooth mechanisms to push, pull or turn on every spread, this beautiful book for babies and toddlers is packed full of seasonal fun. Connecting with faces and playing peekaboo is one of the first games that babies play and tiny tots will love this cute Christmas-themed book. Guaranteed to be read time and time again!

(Nosy Crow, board book, £7.99)

Age one plus:

National Trust: The Great Big Christmas Tree Hunt

Ekaterina Trukhan

Today is an exciting day... it’s time for a great big Christmas tree hunt! Little ones’ eyes are guaranteed to light up when they get their hands on this charming interactive Christmas board book from Nosy Crow in partnership with the National Trust. Follow Polar Bear as he sets off on an exciting lift-the-flap adventure. But all is not quite as it seems... will Polar Bear ever find any decorations to put on his tree or will he find something even better along the way? With lots of sturdy flaps to lift on every page, the bold illustrations of Ekaterina Trukhan to enjoy, and a simple story introducing cute animal characters, this delightful Christmas board book is full of surprises and perfect for sharing this festive season!

(Nosy Crow, board book, £6.99)

Age from birth:

Pip and Posy at Christmas

Axel Scheffler

Award-winning author and illustrator Axel Scheffler returns with a fun and festive new title in his much-loved Pip and Posy felt flap series for babies. This beautiful board book, with colourful, soft felt flaps throughout, is based on Scheffler’s bestselling picture book series which stars the delightful Pip and Posy and features all those familiar dramas of pre-schoolers .With five colourful felt flaps and rich artwork, toddlers will love joining in this snowy game of hide-and-seek and exploring (and tugging on the felt flaps!) while they look for little mouse and rabbit friends Pip and Posy on every page. The perfect gift to keep little hands busy this Christmas!

(Nosy Crow, board book, £6.99)

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