Book reviews: A Christmas classic and a feast of festive fun

Quentin Blakes A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Quentin Blakes A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
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Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is brought to glorious life by a favourite children’s illustrator as the countdown to the big day ushers in a sparkling selection of magical new books.

Age 7 plus:

Quentin Blake’s A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Make the season of giving extra special with this gorgeous luxury gift edition of the book that has come to define the spirit of Christmas.

Quentin Blake, one of the best-loved children’s illustrators, has turned his renowned artistic talents to Charles Dickens’ classic winter-warmer, A Christmas Carol, and created a visual extravaganza.

Blake’s books are enjoyed by children all over the world… his distinctive illustrations are packed with wit and originality, and capture all the exuberance of youthful vitality. His work includes Mr Magnolia, Mrs Armitage and, most famously, the illustrations for the many stories of Roald Dahl.

In this unabridged edition of Dickens’ timeless Christmas tale, we meet Ebenezer Scrooge, a mean-spirited miser who is visited by three ghosts one Christmas Eve. The ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come show Scrooge the true value of Christmas, including charity, good humour and love for his fellow man.

Blake’s imaginative illustrations guide the reader through Scrooge’s amazing journey to find the meaning of Christmas. The book includes a foreword by the illustrator explaining the background to the story and is the ideal gift for new readers of chapter books, fans of Blake’s illustrations or as an atmospheric family read-aloud for the Christmas season.

(Pavilion Children’s Books, hardback, £14.99)

Age 5 plus:

Search and Find A Christmas Carol Illustrated by Louise Pigott

And here’s another way to discover the wonderful world of Charles Dickens!

Search and Find A Christmas Carol lets youngsters make their own special journey through the festive classic with a series of search and find scenes beautifully illustrated by Louise Pigott. This is the second superb Search and Find title from Studio Press, continuing on from Pride & Prejudice and with two more classic titles to follow next year.

As well as enjoying this simple retelling of Dickens’ timeless tale, children can search and find the different characters on each page and then follow them through the story. Every spread is full of amazing characters and intriguing details to spot in the busy scenes.

From the map of Victorian London and the long ago party at Mr Fezziwig’s house to the appearance of the three ghosts and Christmas Day celebrations at the Cratchit household, this interactive format allows the reader to decide how they interact with the tale by choosing a character from the illustrations and following their story.

Brimming with Dickens’ spirit of adventure and his inimitable storytelling talents, this is the perfect introduction to his books and a fabulous gift to share with all the family.

(Studio Press, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

The Hippo at the End of the Hall by Helen Cooper

Get ready for witches, magical transformations, dreams, stuffed animals, fantasy and adventure in this stunning story from Cumbria born and raised Helen Cooper.

Filled with her own exquisite pencil drawings, The Hippo at the End of the Hall is Cooper’s debut novel. She is already the twice award-winning CLIP Kate Greenaway author and illustrator for two beautiful picture books, The Baby Who Wouldn’t Go To Bed and Pumpkin Soup.

The invitation was delivered by bees. It wasn’t addressed to anyone at all, but 11-year-old Ben knew it was for him. It would lead him to an old, shambolic museum, full of strange and bewitching creatures, a peculiar world of hidden mysteries and curious family secrets… and some really dangerous magic.

But most importantly, Ben discovers a connection to his lost explorer father and the family he never knew he had. And now he has something to fight for… the survival of the Gee museum and the promise of finding out who he really is.

This is a true classic in the making, an invitation into a charming – and exhilarating – world where the lines of reality are blurred by magic.

An enchanting gift for all young adventure lovers!

(David Fickling Books, hardback, £10.99)

Age 8 plus:

Girls Who Rocked The World by Michelle Roehm McCann and Amelie Welden

‘The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams,’ said Eleanor Roosevelt.

Get ready to meet some incredible young women who made their mark on the world before turning twenty and proved that when it comes to having an impact, there’s no such thing as too young!

Whether designing famous monuments, fighting for the freedom of their country or becoming political pioneers, these gutsy girls have changed the way we view the world and ourselves. From Florence Nightingale to Anna Pavlova, Coco Chanel to Eva Perón, and the Brontë Sisters to Indira Gandhi, this book features women from across history and around the globe who have all achieved remarkable things.

Interspersed with the amazing accounts of girls throughout history, there are stories of powerful young women who are changing the world right now… girls like Winter Vinecki, the creator of the non-profit organisation Team Winter, and Jazmin Whitley, the youngest designer to show at Los Angeles Fashion Week.

It can never be too soon to start making a difference and to be inspired and empowered to try to change the world, so pack this wonderfully fun collection into your kids’ Christmas stockings this year and show them that girls really can rock the world!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

It’s Christmas! by Tracey Corderoy and Tim Warnes

Everyone’s favourite rhino is back for a marvellously madcap festive romp featuring a wibbly wobbly Christmas tree, a home-made jumper plan that starts to unravel and an unexpected snowstorm!

It’s Christmas! is the latest addition to an award-winning series starring lovable rhino Archie from popular author Tracey Corderoy and the ever-inventive illustrator Tim Warnes, and is the perfect book for little ones who just can’t wait for Christmas.

Archie loves Christmas and this year he is determined to make his celebrations better than ever. He makes Dad’s Christmas cookies look even more tempting by adding globs of icing and LOTS of sprinkles. When Mum uses new ornaments to decorate the Christmas tree, Archie decides that they need all of the old ornaments too, especially the star that never stops flashing! Uh-oh, look out, the Christmas tree has fallen over! And still Archie isn’t done… he’s determined to make this holiday the most Christmassy Christmas ever. It’s going to take Mum to put everything right!

Anarchic Archie’s adventures are instantly recognisable to every curious child and every (occasionally exasperated!) parent and this Christmas cracker captures all the excitement, impatience and merriment that Christmas brings for children.

Written with warmth, affection and insight, and brought to glorious life with Warnes’ lively and appealing illustrations, this festive caper is a gorgeous book to read aloud with youngsters and everyone will adore the beautiful, uplifting ending as Archie and his family show us the true meaning of Christmas.

(Little Tiger, hardback, £10.99)

Age 2 plus:

Snow by Sam Usher

‘When I woke up this morning, it was snowing!’

Welcome to a magical journey through the snow with a little boy and his grandad in this beautifully produced mini gift edition of Sam Usher’s bestselling book Snow.

Author and illustrator Usher’s much-loved seasonal books feature warm-hearted, original and inspirational adventures which celebrate the special bond between children and their grandparents, and are must-reading for pre-schoolers.

Here we join Sam and his grandfather as they enjoy a snowy day in the park. Every child loves a day when the world is covered in snow, particularly if it means no school and snowball fights galore! But Sam has to wait for Grandad who is taking SO long to get ready. All the other kids have already gone to the park… and all the dogs, and all the zoo animals. It’s only when the two of them finally arrive at the park that Grandad sees why Sam was in such a hurry. Some very surprising adventures are waiting for them all!

Snow is a wonderfully warm, wise and whimsical tale celebrating winter fun and the powerful relationship between the older and younger generations. Usher’s quirky and charmingly atmospheric story is complemented by a palette of gloriously funny watercolour illustrations which add extra character and texture to an enchanting and life-affirming adventure.

(Templar, hardback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

Don’t Leap Larry! by John Briggs and Nicolas Slater

Lemmings aren’t normally known for their ability to stand out from the crowd… so take a bow Larry Lemming!

Larry is quite unlike all the other cliff-jumping lemmings, but can he teach the others to be more like him?

Welcome to long-time reporter and editor John Briggs’ wonderfully funny, quirky tale about staying true to yourself and finding the confidence to stand out from the crowd.

Lemmings look alike, sound alike and act alike, right? So if one jumps off a cliff, the others follow… all except Larry. Larry’s a lemming with a mind of his own. Unlike the rest of the crew, he goes sledging with the puffins, eats pepperoni pizza with extra cheese and hot sauce, and likes to wear a top hat. But can Larry the oddball teach his fellow lemmings to finally think for themselves?

This clever, comical and inspirational adventure is brought to life by Nicola Slater’s witty illustrations which succeed beautifully in capturing the humour and pathos of Larry’s rather tricky situation.

Laughter all the way with a very special lemming!

(Pavilion Children’s Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

Beware the Mighty Bitey by Heather Pindar and Susan Batori

There’s fish pie all round when a cunning plan by a school of scheming piranhas hits the wrong note!

Get ready to join in the fun and frolics with a fishy, fang-filled new picture book from exciting author and illustrator team Heather Pindar and Susan Batori who reunite after their success with Strictly No Crocs for more jungle fun.

Beware the Mighty Bitey, an exhilarating adventure for little ones, comes from the Maverick Arts stable, a lively and innovative children’s publisher which was launched in 2009 by Steve Bicknell and has been gaining momentum over the last few years. Maverick specialise in bright, colourful picture books and have a strong ethos of championing new authors and emerging illustrators.

Here we head off deep in the jungle to find the still waters of the Nippy Pool because listening, lurking and waiting are the Mighty Bitey Piranhas! Mouse, Goat and Bear, who are on their way to Cougar’s party, are their unsuspecting victims. The Mighty Bitey Piranhas want them to stand on a fraying, swaying rope bridge and play some music for them but, of course, they have other, more scrumptious things on their mind. Can the party animals escape the jaws of death?

Batori provides the wonderfully bright, busy and colourful illustrations while Pindar, who has over twenty years’ experience as a teacher, delivers an offbeat, comical adventure that proves to be more than an open-and-shut adventure as the piranhas’ devilish plot is well and truly sunk.

Jingle, jungle laughs for Christmas!

(Maverick, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

Game of Stones by Rebecca Lisle and Richard Watson

Necessity is definitely the brother of invention in this ingeniously clever picture book from top team Rebecca Lisle and Richard Watson.

The Stone Age is just so boring and Pod’s little brother Hinge needs some whizzy games to make life more fun. So the ingenious Pod, with a little help from Hinge, is determined to make the best game ever. But all his inventions – including an out-of-control Yow-Yow and a destructive bat-and-ball game called Crackit – just end up making their dad cross and leaving mum in a mess. Will Pod ever be able to bring some rock and roll excitement to the Stone Age?

Game of Stones – another brilliant book from Maverick – is the sparkling sequel to the hilarious Stone Underpants and sees Lisle and Watson on top form. Their entertaining and innovative story, packed with wonderful inventions and wild and wacky illustrations, ends on a hilarious high note at a playground called… Stonehinge!

Christmas just got creative!

(Maverick, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

Bears Don’t Eat Egg Sandwiches by Julie Fulton and Rachel Suzanne

Another much-loved Maverick author is Julie Fulton whose very special way with words has made the Ever So rhyming stories a favourite with all the family.

In Bears Don’t Eat Egg Sandwiches, Fulton – along with illustrator Rachel Suzanne – serves up a feast of a story featuring a hungry bear who is left scrambled and poached by a little boy’s love of egg sandwiches!

When Jack’s rather grizzly visitor arrives for lunch, he can’t understand why the big, brown bear doesn’t want to eat any of his delicious egg sandwiches. All the ravenous bear wants is a big plate, a very big spoon and a little boy to sit on the plate. So what DO bears eat for lunch, and can Jack persuade his visitor that he won’t taste absolutely delicious?

Fulton has fun with this action-packed story which uses repetition, comedy and the art of surprise in a most delightful way. Suzanne captures the humour of the story with her bold, colourful illustrations making this a delicious treat for all the family to enjoy.

(Maverick, paperback, £7.99)