Book review: Christmas children’s books 2011

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Christmas is almost here... and the page is turning on another year of awe-inspiring children’s books. Picture stories, laugh-out-loud fun, and adventures to make you hair stand on end are all part and parcel of the festive fare so come on mums and dads, start reading between the lines and take your pick of the very best of the books.

Early years:

Christmas: Baby’s Very First Noisy Book by Stella Baggott

Even babies love the sights and sounds of Christmas ... fluttering snowflakes, happy snowmen, a jolly Santa and some sparkling festive music! This colourful and enchanting board book with a range of sounds to match the pictures is ideal for little ones aged ten months and over.

Little hands will love pressing the buttons on the sound panel and simple board tabs help them to find their favourite pictures. Babies can focus on the beautifully designed, high-contrast images while interacting with an exciting range of sounds which bring the pictures to life. The perfect ‘action’ gift for baby’s first Christmas.

(Usborne, hardback, £9.99)

Jingle Bell Reindeer by Julie Fletcher

Let the bells ring out for baby’s first Christmas with this beautifully illustrated book which has lovely chunky pages for little fingers and a jingly bell in the centre that tinkles at every touch. Santa is snoozing before his big night but the elves are noisily packing toys, Tigger the cat is chasing his ball and nosy Roly Reindeer’s bell is much too loud. Will the noise wake up Santa?

With rhyming lines on each page, flaps to lift and look under, a fantastic foiled finale and a special present to open in Santa’s sleigh, this is an entertaining and fun-filled read full of the Christmas spirit.

(Campbell Books, hardback, £9.99)

Pip & Posy: The Super Scooter by Axel Scheffler

The delightful Pip and Posy picture books deal with the dramas of toddler life. The two are best friends and have fun but sometimes, just like any other toddler, they get cross and sad. It takes friendship, sharing and understanding – and a cuddle – to make things better.

In this story, Posy snatches Pip’s scooter and tries to ride it, but she falls off and hurts her knee. Though Pip was very cross, he comes running to help her. Posy says sorry and Pip forgives her. Children aged two to five, and their parents, will recognise their own emotional roller-coasters in these stories.

(Nosy Crow, hardback, £7.99)

Again! by Emily Gravett

Join in the fun and frolics of a stubborn little dragon who has a favourite book – and a fiery temper! It’s nearly Cedric the dragon’s bedtime! He’s brushed his teeth and had his bath. Now there’s just enough time for his mum to read him his favourite book but like most little dragons, he loves his bedtime story so much that he wants to hear it again… and again… and again!

This is an irresistible, magical and whimsical tale for little ones aged two and over with its adorable illustrations and inventive story. Gravett has produced the perfect picture book for all those little ‘dragons’ who cherish their bedtime story.

(Macmillan, hardback, £10.99)

Zoe and Beans: Zoe’s Christmas List by Chloë and Mick Inkpen

The Inkpens, a talented father and daughter duo, deliver a stunning picture book in the Zoe and Beans series for tots aged two and over. Zoe knows exactly what she wants for Christmas and to make sure Father Christmas does too, she and Beans take a trip across the Arctic all the way to the North Pole. But with a baby polar bear to rescue and a swirling snowstorm to contend with, will they ever make it?

With adorable characters, intricately illustrated and set against a pastel white backdrop, this is set to be the perfect Christmas story for little ones. Don’t miss the amazing pull-out page for even more story-telling fun!

(Macmillan, hardback, £10.99)

Age three to six:

The Highway Rat by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

‘Give me your buns and your biscuits! Give me your chocolate éclairs! For I am the Rat of the highway, and the Rat Thief never shares!’

From the superstar creators of The Gruffalo comes a rollicking read-aloud rhyming story inspired by a famous Alfred Noyes poem. Accompanied by Scheffler’s big, bold and humorous illustrations, The Highway Rat’s daredevil adventures are set to become a bedtime favourite. Hours of fun for children aged three to six.

(Scholastic, hardback, £10.99)

Just Right by Birdie Black and Rosalind Beardshaw

Here’s a Christmas story that really is ‘just right’ for kids aged three and over. It’s funny, kind and so full of Christmas cheer that it brings out the goosebumps. Beardshaw’s vibrant pictures ooze wit and warmth and the rhythmical writing helps little ones understand that giving to your loved ones is just as much fun as receiving.

The king finds the perfect red cloth to make the princess a cloak for Christmas. Once the cloak is made, the leftover cloth is put outside where, in turn, it is found by someone and made into a different present. Each gift gets smaller as the leftover cloth diminishes, but it’s still ‘just right.’

(Nosy Crow, hardback, £9.99)

Pull-back Busy Santa Book by Fiona Watt and Simona Sanfilippo

How about a book and toy combined? Little ones aged over three will have hours of enjoyment with this exciting Christmas storybook that has four embedded tracks and a pull-back Santa in a toy sleigh. They can follow Santa as he leaves his workshop and zooms above a busy city teeming with shoppers and skaters, over a snowy village and delivers his present to sleeping boys and girls.

Just watch the delight on little faces as the pull-back Santa whizzes around the tracks and take time to spot all the colourful objects in the beautifully detailed festive scenes.

(Usborne, hardback, £14.99)

Muddle Mountain by Ag Jatkowska

There’s never a dull moment on Muddle Mountain where children can make up a new story every time they turn a page! This innovative magnetic play book includes 16 adorable figures which can learn to ski and skate, whizz down the slopes on a sledge or snowboard over the hills.

Children aged three and over will love using the sparkly magnets to create their very own winter wonderland, and with lots to spot on every page they’ll be kept busy for hours. Read the story to them and do the activities, or let them use the magnets to invent their own snowy stories. It comes with a handy magnet storage compartment, a carry-handle and clasp and gives a whole new dimension to active play.

(Campbell Books, hardback, £9.99)

Jesus’ Christmas Party by Nicholas Allen

The classic Christmas story gets a heart-warming and yet hilarious retelling in this superbly produced book which puts the grumpy innkeeper at centre stage. There is nothing the innkeeper likes more than a good night’s sleep but that’s the last thing he’ll be getting on a night full of angels, shepherds, bright stars... and a very special baby! Is there anything that will cheer him up?

This endearing, moving and witty story, charmingly illustrated with a host of lively characters, is set to be a big hit with children aged three and over.

(Red Fox, paperback, £5.99)

Big Book of My World by Kali Stileman

What a clever way to get your tiny tots interested in words, sounds and shapes! This stunning compendium contains everything the pre-school child needs to know to encourage learning, naming, spotting and matching by bringing together their familiar and favourite things.

The bright, clear, fun pictures provides basic information and answers to the questions every child aged three and over will want to ask. There are great games to reinforce learning and plenty of pictures and stories that will make a child return time and time again. A perfect one-stop fun shop.

(Doubleday, hardback, £9.99)

Age four and over:

Lots of things to find and colour at Christmas by Fiona Watt and Stella Baggott

When the gizmos and gadgets have lost their novelty, get out the activity books! This big, brilliant, bustling book is full of Christmas-themed pictures to colour and will go down a real treat with any child aged four and over. There are lots of hidden things to spot and colour, including skating penguins, dancing elves, presents, snowflakes, decorations and, of course, Santa.

An ideal book for keeping children busy in the exciting run-up to Christmas, there are mazes, matching pairs and odd-ones-out, all with simple easy-to-follow directions and so useful for developing reading skills and concentration. Just the thing for putting back the fun into learning!

(Usborne, paperback, £9.99)

Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp by Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman’s wry wit and award-winning talent brings an extra dimension to this rich, dark and uplifting rendition of the classic tale of Aladdin. With magic and mischief in equal measure, the amazing story and Ian Beck’s colourful illustrations will enchant boys and girls aged between five and 12.

This truly sumptuous edition has lashings of humour, a smooth-talking Moor, an entertaining Jinnee and a beautiful Princess bringing to glorious life a riveting fairytale that all the family can enjoy.

(Scholastic, hardback, £12.99)

Mega Mash-Up: Pirates v Ancient Egyptians in a Haunted Museum by Nikalas Catlow and Tim Wesson

The brilliant Mega Mash-up books take great subjects for boys and turn them into short, whacky stories that are incredibly easy and quick to read. The illustrations are bold and crazy and there’s plenty of space left on each page, together with some suggestions, so kids can add their own drawings. The books read as hilarious, zippy stories, ideal for engaging reluctant readers aged between six and nine.

Here, some ancient Egyptians, together with their spooky mummies, take on a crew of bloodthirsty pirates in a haunted museum! The result, not surprisingly, is chaos among the exhibits!

(Nosy Crow, paperback, £5.99)

The Adventures of the New Cut Gang by Philip Pullman

Meet the New Cut Gang, a motley group of urchins who are solving crimes in late Victorian London and providing some fantastic adventures for young readers aged seven and over.

These two action-packed stories from Philip Pullman, one of Britain’s best-known children’s authors, are the nearest thing you’ll find today to a Dickens thriller, particularly with some brilliant pictures by Horrible Histories illustrator Martin Brown. Thunderbolt, Benny, Bridie and Sharky Bob are a mixed bunch of vagabonds and urchins who come together to form the New Cut Gang in comic tales of stolen silver, skulduggery and desperadoes.

(David Fickling, hardback, £10.99)

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

What a piece of work is artist Brian Selznick’s unique and truly brilliant Wonderstruck... a marvellous medley of words and pictures that creates a story to surprise, challenge and captivate. It’s a dual narrative which is told through prose and images so enthralling that no child aged eight and over will be able to resist reading until the very last page has turned.

Ben’s story takes place in 1977 and is told in words while Rose’s story set in 1927 unfolds entirely in pictures. Both wish their lives were different and will risk everything to find what they are missing. Rich, complex, affecting and beautiful, Wonderstruck is a staggering achievement.

(Scholastic, hardback, £14.99)

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again by Frank Cottrell Boyce

It’s almost 50 years since James Bond author Ian Fleming wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as a bedtime story for his son Caspar and now the little car is ready to fly again thanks to the trademark wit, warmth and storytelling talents of scriptwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce.

When the Tooting family find a vast abandoned engine and fit it to their old camper van, they have no idea it used to belong to an extraordinary magical flying car and it wants to get back on the road again... fast! The Tootings can tug the steering wheel and pull the handbrake as hard as they like, but their camper van now has a mind of its own. Fast-paced, entertaining, fun-filled and laced with wry humour, Chitty’s 21st century adventures are ideal for readers aged nine and over.

(Macmillan, hardback, £10.99)