Myths, magic and mystery with Oxford University Press - book reviews

The wonder of Christmas and the joys of adventure lie at the heart of a sparkling collection of classy children's books from Oxford University Press, a publisher that prides itself on laying the foundation for a lifelong love of reading.

Magical Myths and Legends by Chosen by Michael Morpurgo
Magical Myths and Legends by Chosen by Michael Morpurgo

Age 5 plus:

Magical Myths and Legends by Chosen by Michael Morpurgo

Brave heroes, battling beasts, mighty gods and magic spells… here’s a treasury of epic tales to amaze, bemuse and enchant!

Award-winning children’s writer and former Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo has collected classic tales of heroism and adventure from around the world and put them together in one big beautifully illustrated book that will leave youngsters mesmerised by the marvels of mythology.

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This wonderful treasure trove of myths and legends comes with outstanding, eye-catching 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 children’s authors like Jeanne Willis, Michaela Morgan and Tony Bradman.

There are lots of stories to choose from, including Mulan, Icarus, and Hercules the Hero, plus The Legend of Robin Hood, Thor and the Stolen Hammer, The Giant of Mont Saint-Michel, and a retelling of Gawain and the Green Knight written by Sir Michael himself.

Each story includes a brief summary of the story’s origins, and the underlying message and meaning are explained in the simplest terms to young readers, so whether you are looking for a quick read or a longer story to escape into, something to enjoy alone or a tale to share, there is an enchanting story here to read and relish.

A legendary book that speaks volumes to readers young and old!

(OUP, hardback, £14.99)

Age 2 plus:

A Christmas Story by 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.

Brian Wildsmith’s beautiful and evocative story – in this special cloth-bound edition – features a gallery of gold-themed 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.

Yorkshireman Wildsmith, who died in 2016, was a British painter and children’s book illustrator who won the 1962 Kate Greenaway Medal for British children’s book illustration. Regarded as one of the greatest children’s illustrators, Wildsmith’s artwork was equally as important as the text.

The enchanting A Christmas Story has been in print since 1989 and is an enduring favourite with children. And this sumptuous gift edition is a magical introduction to the birth of Jesus and the wonderful world of Christmas.

(OUP, hardback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

The Twelve Days of Christmas by Brian Wildsmith

Another Brian Wildsmith classic is this magical picture book which brings to vivid and colourful life the favourite Christmas song.

Each verse of the song comes with illustrations on a rainbow selection of colours, making every page an enchanting journey through The Twelve Days of Christmas in this carefully created cloth-bound edition.

Paired up with A Christmas Story, the two books make a gift to treasure and are perfect for sharing with little ones to help them understand and enjoy the Christmas season.

(OUP, hardback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

Super Frozen Magic Forest by Matty Long

Every picture tells a multitude of stories as we revisit the Super Happy Magic Forest for a specially funny and specially entertaining Christmas adventure!

Super Frozen Magic Forest is the third book in author and illustrator Matty Long’s distinctive, quirky and imaginative Super Happy Magic Forest series which features a bold, bustling setting for outsized escapades starring a bunch of happy heroes.

In this latest madcap outing, winter is coming and the residents of the forest do not like it one little bit. The snow is too cold, the ice is too slippery, and the frost is destroying their prize-winning gardens. Five brave heroes (a unicorn, a mushroom, a faun, a fairy, and a gnome) must travel to the Frozen North to overthrow the Snow Queen and save the forest. But will they be able to outwit her army of snowmen?

There is never a dull moment in the zany, all-action world of Long’s books… his stories and multi-faceted illustrations positively crackle with energy and life, and there are plenty of hilarious one-liners for parents to enjoy as well.

Children love exploring the illustrations and getting to know the ill-assorted cast of characters and their irreverent fantasy world and to help youngsters on their way, the inside covers feature a map that allows readers to follow the adventure through the Super Happy Magic Forest.

A Christmas treat for mischief-makers and budding fantasy fans!

(OUP, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Winnie and Wilbur: The Monster Mystery by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

The adventures of Winnie the Witch and her black cat have provided spellbinding, bite-size stories for 31 years and the two madcap stars take centre stage in this super gift edition picture book.

Written by the ever-inventive Valerie Thomas and brilliantly illustrated in Korky Paul’s distinctive and charismatic style, Winnie and Wilbur’s escapades are always mad, bad and dangerously hilarious, and their most puzzling mystery ever comes in a colourful story written for the family’s youngest members.

When Winnie and Wilbur see some unexplained footprints going right across the grass, they want to know who has made them. They think they might find the answer in the deep, dark forest that surrounds their home. But exploring the forest isn’t easy, especially when Winnie and Wilbur get separated, and will it help them untangle the mystery of the monster-sized footprints?

With intrigue and drama from the start, this story has all the hallmarks of a classic Winnie and Wilbur adventure, but scatterbrained Winnie is not as simple as she seems and always conjures up some important life lessons amidst all the frantic fun and chaotic capers.

Little children love Paul’s highly detailed and playful illustrations, and Thomas’ madcap story is guaranteed to cast a spell this Christmas!

(OUP, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus:

This Book Just Stole My Cat by Richard Byrne

Warm up your tickling fingers because the extraordinarily creative author and illustrator Richard Byrne is back to perform his storytelling conjuring tricks!

Ben and Bella, Byrne’s playful picture book stars, are up to their eyes in page-turning troubles again when Ben not only loses his cat but also a rescue helicopter, a rescue dog, and poor old Bella who was only trying to help.

Just as Ben is tempting his cat across the page with a fluffy mouse, his cat disappears! Then Bella disappears too and sniffer dogs and rescue teams can’t help either. Before you know it, Ben has also vanished and now there’s only one person left to help… the reader. Can you release Ben, Bella and the cat from the mischievous book? It’s a ticklish problem that will require some nifty little fingers!

Byrne is such a versatile author and illustrator, performing creative magic tricks for kids with his off-the-wall, visually entertaining stories and artwork. This delightfully playful, interactive and innovative story is comedy slapstick in a picture book as little ones are invited to join in the mischief by tickling and turning the pages.

Original, simple, fun to read and fun to look at, this is another book destined for the favourites pile!

(OUP, hardback, £11.99)

Age 2 plus:

Moon River by Tim Hopgood

Music maestro, please! Let your little ones get ready for bedtime with this musical story and singalong CD extravaganza.

This gorgeous picture book from exciting illustrator Tim Hopgood centres on the beautiful song Moon River, composed by Henry Mancini with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, which won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for its performance by Audrey Hepburn in the iconic 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Through words and music, we follow a little girl on a magical, dream-like journey along the Moon River. It flows from her bedroom and out into the big wide world just waiting to be discovered. And she’s soon to be joined by other children who are all excited to be exploring the beautiful world together. There is such a lot of world to see!

Hopgood’s bold and evocative illustrations offer magic and the spirit of discovery, while the song, here performed by Andy Williams, rings in everyone’s ears. There is also an exclusive reading with page-turn signals.

So join the drifters off to see the world and watch as your own little ones drift off to sleep!

(OUP, hardback and CD, £12.99)

Age 2 plus:

Santa’s Wonderful Workshop by Elys Dolan

The run-up to Christmas just got deliciously silly with a brilliant festive feast of anarchy from Elys Dolan, the queen of picture book comedy.

The talented young author and illustrator, who brought us the much-loved Steven Seagull Action Hero and Mr Bunny’s Chocolate Factory, has won lots of awards with her distinctive style and hilarious stories that tickle the ribs of readers young and old.

In this Christmas outing, we step inside Santa's workshop to experience Christmas like never before! With more toys to make than ever it’s going to be the busiest Christmas yet, but luckily Santa and his elves have everything under control… well, everything except for the rampaging polar bear, ballet dancing reindeer, a toy factory that will only make toasters, and some very pesky visitors from the South Pole!

Dolan’s eye for exquisite small detail and wry comedy wins the day again in this riotous Christmas romp packed with chaotic capers, terrible teamwork, party poopers, and lots of presents.

Expect laughs galore, brilliant one-liners for mums and dads, and many re-readings for kids who can’t get enough of the action!

(OUP, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5 plus:

Speed Birds by Alan Snow

If you’re looking for a book that’s highly original and stylishly educational, then this spectacular flight of fancy could be the answer!

Rev up your Christmas gift list and give youngsters a high-flying peep under the bonnet to see how cars work.

Speed Birds comes from Alan Snow, an English artist, working with books, animation, film and computers. He has written and illustrated over 160 books for children, including How Dogs Really Work, The Truth About Cats, and How Santa Really Works.

He has also been involved in a very diverse range of other projects, including work on the design of a children’s science museum in Japan and the design of a project robot currently on sale worldwide, and it is this spirit of invention which inspired him to take youngsters on a speedy tour of the mystery of car mechanics.

When a young crow witnesses the amazing speed of the world’s fastest bird, the peregrine falcon, he is entranced and dreams of travelling just as fast. Fuelled by his imagination and self-belief, he works with his fellow crows to build an incredible car, the Speed Bird, and attempts to go faster than any bird has gone before.

Speed Birds – a tour through pumps, pistons, pipes and cylinders – will delight, amuse and inspire young inventors as well as extolling the value of working as a team and pursuing your dreams while Snow’s highly detailed and atmospheric illustrations bring life and colour to the entertaining story.

Perfect for budding mechanics and any child (or adult) who loves adventure, invention, engineering… and breathtaking speed!

(OUP, hardback, £14.99)