Get ready for a sparkling Christmas with Macmillan Children’s Books by various authors - book reviews -

Rapturous reading, festive fun, and gifts galore are on the cards as Macmillan Children’s Books gear up for the season of goodwill, good food… and good books!

Thursday, 21st November 2019, 3:17 pm
Updated Thursday, 21st November 2019, 3:22 pm
The Night Before Christmas in Wonderland

Age 4 plus:

The Night Before Christmas in Wonderland

Carys Bexington and Kate Hindley

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‘Twas the night before Christmas… with a wonderful Wonderland twist!

Lewis Carroll’s classic Wonderland returns but this time instead of Alice, it’s Santa’s turn for an adventure down the rabbit hole. Join the Cheshire-Cat, the Mad Hatter and the reindeer for a tea party with lots of festive rhyming fun.

The Queen of Hearts hates Christmas… she has banned tinsel, mince pies and even good cheer because when she was a little princess, the White Rabbit was late delivering her letter to Father Christmas and she didn’t receive a present. But one snowy Christmas Eve, Santa finally receives her letter and races to deliver her gift! Will Santa and his reindeer be able to put the Merry back into Christmas in Wonderland?

All the magic, nostalgia and spirit of kindness that mark out Christmas spring to life in this funny, thought-provoking book inspired by Carroll’s famous Wonderland poems and characters, and Clement C. Moore’s classic festive poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.

Written by debut author Carys Bexington, who has a soft spot for characters that don’t always make the best choices, and illustrated by star artist Kate Hindley, The Night Before Christmas in Wonderland embodies the true meaning of Christmas and will bring joy to all the family.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9 plus:

Shadows of Winterspell

Amy Wilson

Inventive author Amy Wilson is proving that she certainly has the magic touch when it comes to children’s adventure stories.

Shadows of Winterspell, a captivating story sparkling with frost and magic, is the extraordinary follow-up to the Branford Boase-longlisted novel A Girl Called Owl starring a girl who discovers her father is Jack Frost, A Far Away Magic which sees two troubled youngsters venture into a world of terrifying monsters, and Snowglobe, featuring a land of enchanted but sinister snowglobes.

In her fourth wild and wonderful wintertime thriller, Wilson’s imagination moves into overdrive as she sweeps us away to a world of friendship and magic to uncover family secrets and find out who you really are.

Stella has been living behind the magic of the forest for most of her life. Lonely and isolated, she enrols at the local school, and as she begins to make friends, she discovers that she is even more different than she thought. But as autumn turns to magical winter, Stella realises that uncovering her own family secret is the only way to release the forest from the grip of a dark and old magic. And it’s a journey that will bring her closer to humanity and the fae folk who live in the shadow-infested forest.

Shadows of Winterspell is an enthralling and action-packed adventure, full of mystery and magic, but also a tender and insightful exploration of self-discovery, growing up and friendship, all perfectly attuned to the realities of modern day life.

A wintertime winner that will capture the hearts and imaginations of middle-grade readers, and the perfect Christmas gift for your young adventurers!

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

Age 9 plus:

Guardians of Magic

Chris Riddell

Step into a dazzling world of fairy tale wonders, intriguing mysteries, lovable heroes, unforgettable villains and skies filled with cloud horses as author and illustrator extraordinaire Chris Riddell works his special magic on a thrilling new children’s series.

Guardians of Magic is the first book in The Cloud Horse Chronicles, a sumptuously presented and action-packed adventure series which sees former Children’s Laureate and Costa award winner Riddell at his imaginative best as three ordinary children discover that they have extraordinary gifts.

The Kingdom of Thrynne is a place where fairy tales don’t behave and magic can be found in unexpected places. But magic also brings danger to three teenagers with special skills – apprentice baker Zam Zephyr, musician Phoebe Limetree, and orphaned daughter of a giant slayer, Bathsheba Greengrass.

The future of magic is under threat from three powerful enemies and unless the three youngsters can fight back and believe in the impossible, soon magic and the cloud horses that nestle in the branches of the giant Forever Tree will be gone forever.

Set against fantastical landscapes, and featuring witty and inventive twists on traditional fairy tales, Guardians of Magic stars an engaging cast of characters and is highly illustrated throughout in Riddell’s unique, rich and intricately detailed style.

The perfect Christmas gift for all adventure-seekers!

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 9-90:

Shakespeare for Every Day of the Year

Edited by Allie Esiri

Treat yourself – and your family – to the inspirational words and verse of the Bard on every day of the year in a beautiful gift anthology.

This enthralling and enlightening collection of 365 sonnets, soliloquies, quotes and extracts from the works of William Shakespeare, the greatest writer in the English language, has been lovingly curated by Allie Esiri, editor of the bestselling A Poem for Every Day of the Year and A Poem for Every Night of the Year.

Shakespeare wrote at least 37 plays, 154 sonnets and a handful of longer poems and you can discover them all in Esiri’s magical and unique collection. Each page contains an extract, which might be a famous poem, quote or scene, matched to the date.

Esiri’s entertaining and insightful introductions give her readers a new window into the work, time and life of Shakespeare, presenting historical context, important dates and performances, and information about the great man’s sources and rivals.

Perfect for reading aloud and sharing with all the family, this superb anthology contains a wealth of wisdom, words and wonder. A verbal feast of Shakespeare not just for Christmas but for every day of the year!

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £18.99)

Age 9 plus:

Poems to Fall in Love With

Chosen and illustrated by Chris Riddell

Love in all its many forms and guises springs to glorious life in a breathtaking new book from award-winning illustrator, political cartoonist and former Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell.

In the follow-up to his emotive collection, Poems to Live Your Life By – one of the Bookseller’s best poetry books of the last 25 years – Riddell works his own brand of special magic on a stunning selection of his very favourite classic and modern poems about love.

Blending his considerable artistic talents and a lifelong love of poetry, Riddell’s thoughtful and lovingly curated anthology reinvents how we read and see poetry on the page with words and exquisite, intricate artwork to portray and capture the heartbreak, joy and love in every poem.

From silent admiration through passion to tearful resignation, these poems speak of the universal experiences of the heart and give meaning to the ordinary, the moving and the celebratory. Classic verses sit alongside modern poetry, and include poems from Neil Gaiman, Nikita Gill, Carol Ann Duffy, E. E. Cummings, Shakespeare, Leonard Cohen, Derek Walcott, Hollie McNish, Kate Tempest, John Betjeman and Roger McGough.

This perfect Christmas gift for poetry lovers… and anyone who wants to celebrate the joy of love.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 7 plus:

The Real Family Christmas: Three Stories in One

Sue Mongredien and Kate Pankhurst

Join in the celebrations with these three funny festive stories about Father Christmas and his bonkers family… because nothing goes to plan when the Christmases are about!

In Uncle Christmas, disaster strikes when Nick (a.k.a. Father Christmas) catches the flu just before Christmas Day, meaning that it’s up to his fun-loving younger brother Harry to save the day.

In Granny Christmas, Nick and Harry’s Granny turns up with her grumpy pet penguin, Percy, to stay for the festive season, causing chaos with her inventions and nearly ruining all the careful preparation the boys have done. Can Granny Christmas prove to her grandsons that her inventions are more helpful than harmful?

And in A Real Family Christmas, pandemonium ensues when the whole extended Christmas family unexpectedly turn up for the festive season. With their parents, Uncle Rufus and Aunty Ruby, three wild cousins, Great Uncle Alf, and seven-year-old Ivy all staying, how can Nick and Harry make sure that Christmas goes smoothly this year?

Perfect for newly confident readers or for the family to enjoy together, Sue Mongredien’s three-in-one Christmas bonanza, featuring gorgeous illustrations from Kate Pankhurst, is guaranteed to put everyone in the festive spirit as the big day approaches!

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

Age 7 plus:

The Treehouse Joke Book

Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton

The ‘wizards of Oz’ – the top Australian writer and illustrator team, Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton, who created the bestselling Treehouse series – are back to put extra fun into the festive season.

Enjoy grimaces and guffaws on every page in this super silly joke book that will have all the family (grown-ups included!) laughing their socks off.

Q: How do monkeys make toast? A: They put it under a gorilla!

Q: What’s grey and powdery? A: Instant elephant mix!

From bears to birds, penguins to pirates, and skeletons to space, The Treehouse Joke Book is packed with gags galore, hilarious jokes and wonderful one-liners, all guaranteed to let youngsters have the last laugh!

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

Age 7 plus:

Beyond Platform 13

Sibéal Pounder and Beatriz Castro

‘That’s the thing about magic… it’s only real if you believe in it.’

Return to the spellbinding wonders of the late much-loved author Eva Ibbotson’s classic book, The Secret of Platform 13, in a new fun, magical adventure inspired by characters from Ibbotson’s original book.

Written by Sibéal Pounder, and beautifully illustrated by Beatriz Castro, this super new story recreates a dazzling world of hags, harpies, mistaken identities, and the beloved Island of Mist.

The island is under siege and Prince Ben and his best friend Odge Gribble (a hag!) are in hiding. Desperate to find out why the island’s protective mist is disappearing, Odge travels through the gump to Vienna, to find a mistmaker expert.

But in yet another case of mistaken identity, Odge finds Lina, a nine-year-old girl looking for adventure. With the help of friends old and new, and some very interesting magic, Odge and Lina must discover the secret of the mist, before they lose their beloved island completely.

An exciting and action-packed adventure which pays warm tribute to the spirit, imagination and vitality of Ibbotson’s work.

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

Age 5 plus:

How Winston Delivered Christmas: An Advent Story in Twenty-Four-and-a-Half Chapters

Alex T. Smith

Here’s a gift book that offers both brilliant storytelling and a sackful of creative Christmas activities!

Writer and illustrator Alex T. Smith invites everyone to join Winston the mouse for storytelling, adventure and creative fun in an innovative and entertaining book that is perfect for sharing in the run-up to Christmas.

How Winston Delivered Christmas is written in 24½ chapters… one to share every day leading up to Christmas, and with each chapter featuring its own Christmas activities for families and friends to make together.

On Christmas Eve, Winston the mouse finds a letter to Father Christmas that didn’t make it to the post box. Follow Winston as he sets out through the festive city to deliver Oliver’s letter to Father Christmas on Christmas Eve. He has a lot of Very Exciting Adventures on this Very Important Mission and makes some wonderful friends along the way. He also learns that a good deed can lead to a very happy ending!

Like an advent calendar counting down to Christmas, each day also features festive things to make and do… you can go on a Christmas scavenger hunt, write a letter to Father Christmas, make mince pies and stained-glass window biscuits, and make your own Christmas cards, presents, decorations and crackers.

Filled with bright and bold illustrations, and the author’s natural warmth and insight into what makes Christmas exciting for children, this wonderful book is destined to become a family favourite that will be returned to every year in the run up to Christmas.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, paperback, £9.99)

Age 5 plus:

The Misadventures of Frederick

Ben Manley and Emma Chichester Clark

The joys and freedom of the great outdoors take the starring role in an exquisitely written and wrought picture book from exciting debut author Ben Manley and much-loved illustrator Emma Chichester Clark.

The Misadventures of Frederick, which has garnered acclaim from the highest quarters, combines a touch of timeless Gothic with a free-spirited, modern and youthful zest to deliver a picture book of delightful contrasts and heartfelt messages.

In a large, gated mansion surrounded by lakes and forests, Frederick is bored. He leads a very sheltered life and when Emily invites him to play outside, he has no choice but to refuse… what if he hurts himself? Frederick thinks it would be much better to stay safely indoors. But determined Emily is not one to take no for an answer and soon a series of letters are flying between them that will eventually open up a new world for lonely Frederick.

Friendship, adventure and discovery all play a part in this playful and appealing story which has been carefully created in shades of dark and light, is a vibrant and timely reminder that youth is there to be enjoyed and not endured.

(Two Hoots, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Snail and the Whale Festive Edition

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Youngsters will love sailing off on the high seas for a special festive edition of top team Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s classic, multi-award-winning tale of The Snail and the Whale.

The inspirational, rhyming story of the unlikely friendship and life-changing adventures shared by a huge whale and a tiny snail will be brought to life on BBC One this Christmas in a new animated production starring Sally Hawkins, Rob Brydon, Cariad Lloyd and Dame Diana Rigg.

And now readers young and not-so-young can first read and enjoy the classic story with a gorgeous wintry cover design, perfect as a Christmas gift and sharing together with the whole family.

‘This is the tale of a tiny snail And a great big grey-blue humpback whale…’

When a little snail longs to see the big wide world, she hitches a lift on the tail of an enormous whale. Together, they set sail on an amazing journey, past icebergs and volcanoes, sharks and penguins, and the little snail feels so small in the vastness of the world. But when disaster strikes and the whale is beached in a bay, it’s up to the tiny snail to save the day.

Brimming with Donaldson’s genius rhymes and Scheffler’s outstandingly bright and colourful gallery of pictures, this is storytelling and illustration in perfect harmony.

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

Age 3 plus:

Meerkat Christmas

Emily Gravett

What do you need for the perfect Christmas?

A meerkat who lives in the hot sunshine of the Kalahari desert goes on the hunt for the perfect tree, the perfect snowy weather, the perfect presents, the perfect dinner and the perfect music in an outrageously witty and clever picture book from Emily Gravett.

A multi-talented author and illustrator, and winner of two CILIP Kate Greenaway Medals, Gravett works her trademark animal magic on a beautifully imagined, cautionary tale that celebrates festive fun and family love.

Gravett, author and illustrator of the modern classic Meerkat Mail, once again she uses her artistic skills, creative imagination and these appealing little animals to deliver a tasty treat full of exquisitely detailed artwork, storytelling surprises and Christmas card flaps to lift as Sunny the meerkat travels the world in the search of the perfect Christmas.

Sunny wants a white Christmas, with a decorated tree, carols and sprouts for dinner… and none of those can be found at home in the Kalahari. So off he heads to find the perfect Christmas elsewhere, only to discover that maybe the season of love and family isn’t all about the trimmings after all.

Proof that Christmas can be whatever you want it to be!

(Two Hoots, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Oh, Christmas Tree

Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet

Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet, the formidable duo who created the bestselling Supertato and Snowball picture books, have spruced up their imaginative powers once more for the madcap tale of a misbehaving Christmas tree!

Destined to be a runaway Christmas special, Oh, Christmas Tree combines cleverly comical and creative illustrations with a festively funny romp of a story that combines pictures and words in a fantastic fusion of larks and laughter.

It’s Christmas time and every tree on Sidney Street is beautifully decorated – except for one! This rebellious tree would rather sit at the table and pull crackers on Christmas Day than stand in a corner wearing glittery decorations! Bauble, Belle and the Tinsel Snake need the tree to behave, so they can fulfil their decorating destinies, but the argumentative tree just won’t stand still and be decorated. Then Belle has a crafty idea…

Full of warmth and wit, with brilliant characters and a bouncy rhyming text, this is the perfect warm-up for the season of trees and treats.

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

Age 3 plus:


Sharon King-Chai

Enjoy a picture book brimming with magical storytelling and mesmerising artwork from talented Australian-born illustrator Sharon King-Chai.

Intricate silver foiling shimmers across every page of this stunning book, an original and beautiful fable about freedom and love featuring the legendary Starbird who must battle to escape the clutches of the angry Moon King.

Starbird’s songs weave the richest dreams and delight all who hear him, but when the Moon King traps him in a cage as gift for his daughter, the colour and life in his voice begin to drain away through sadness. But when the Starbird is freed by the little princess, her father vows to search the globe and bring him back.

King-Chai’s heartfelt fable, filled with lyrical storytelling and intricate illustrations of plants and animals, has the feel of a timeless myth with its resonant message that captivity dims even the brightest star.

(Two Hoots, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Return of Sproutzilla

Tom Jamieson and Mike Byrne

A paarping good Christmas is guaranteed when youngsters get stuck into another hilarious picture book starring mean, green Sproutzilla!

The villainous veggie was cooked up by author Tom Jamieson and illustrator Mike Byrne in the much-loved Sproutzilla vs. Christmas and now he’s back, ready to ruin Christmas… and this time he isn’t alone.

Jack and Ruby are getting ready for Christmas when suddenly, Santa’s little elves arrive with terrible news… poor Santa has been kidnapped! Can Jack and Ruby rescue Santa from stinky Sproutzilla and his menacing sidekicks Broccolisaurus and Tyrannoparsnip rex, before the vicious vegetables ruin Christmas for everyone? And can Sproutzilla ever be shown the true joy of Christmas?

With Jamieson’s comical story providing the giggles and Byrne’s illustrations turning Sproutzilla into a raucous, rampaging sprout, there’s just an outside chance that this wonderful book might convince even the most reluctant eaters to gobble down their greens this Christmas!

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

Age 3 plus:

Adventures in Moomin Valley

Tove Jansson and Amanda Li

It’s over 70 years since the first book featuring The Moomins was published but Tove Jansson’s globally treasured stories continue to delight generations of children.

The Moomins are a lovable family of roundish fairy tale characters with large snouts that make them resemble hippopotami and were created by Jansson, a celebrated Swedish-speaking Finnish illustrator artist, political cartoonist and author who died in 2001.

All the stories in this in this lavish gift book, featuring nine exciting adventures, are closely based on the warm and whimsical Moomin world and characters created by the celebrated writer, artist and illustrator Tove Jansson.

Presented in chronological order, and reworked by Amanda Li, each story is taken from an animation episode and set in the idyllic and peaceful valley where the round blue Moominhouse stands, and where everyone is welcome.

So join nine-year-old Moomintroll, his parents, Moominmamma and Moominpappa, and their eclectic and happy band of friends – Little My, Snufkin, Snorkmaiden, the hattifatteners and other famous characters from the classic stories.

A wonderfully whimsical Christmas gift for Moomin fans of all ages.

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 3 plus:

Christmas Comes to Moominvalley

Tove Jansson, Alex Haridi, Cecilia Davidsson and Filippa Widlund

Christmas Comes to Moominvalley is another exquisitely illustrated re-telling of one of Jansson’s classic stories, The Fir Tree.

The Moomin family are woken up from their deep winter sleep by a cross Hemulen to be told that ‘Christmas’ is coming and they can’t possibly sleep through it. The only trouble is, the Moomins have never heard of Christmas and have no idea what all the fuss is about. They are just going to have to learn what Christmas is and what it means…

This beautiful classic picture book, sensitively adapted by Alex Haridi and Cecilia Davidsson, captures Jansson’s uniquely wise, perceptive and original voice, is perfectly paired with Filippa Widlund’s eye-catching illustrations, full of character and detail and based on Jansson’s original drawings and colour plates.

A new generation of readers will love the adorable Moomin family and friends, and their special values of tolerance, kindness and integrity, as they prepare for their first Christmas.

A delightful reworking of a classic tale…

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

Age one plus:

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without an inventive board book to let the youngest family members get in on the fun, so let them push, pull and slide the tabs in two gorgeous interactive board books.

Busy Reindeer

Samantha Meredith

There’s lots to see and do in Busy Reindeer. Inquisitive little hands can push and pull the tabs and turn the wheel as they read about Ruby Reindeer’s magical Christmas Eve journey with Santa.

Join Ruby Reindeer as she leads Santa’s sleigh and flies through the sky and helps to deliver Christmas presents in the latest book in the popular Busy Books series. Tiny tots will love playing with this bright and colourful board book which has a gentle rhyming text and wonderful illustrations by Samantha Meredith.

With plenty to talk about and things to spot on every page, Santa is sure to find lots more willing helpers to delivers his presents!

First Stories: A Christmas Carol

Jean Claude

And watch little faces light up as they enjoy a bright and colourful interactive introduction to Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale. Push, pull, slide and turn the mechanisms to bring the story of A Christmas Carol to life and introduce the familiar figure of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Grumpy old Scrooge finds Christmas a bore, declaring the festivities a load of ‘bah humbug.’ Can a visit by three ghosts persuade him to learn to love the season of joy again, and celebrate with lots of good cheer?

This well-loved story is beautifully imagined and brought to vivid life for a new generation by illustrator Jean Claude.

(Campbell Books, board books, £5.99 each)

Age 2 plus:

Kiki and Jax: The Life-Changing Magic of Friendship

Marie Kondo and Salina Yoon

Renowned ‘tidying’ expert Marie Kondo brings her unique magic and neatness to Kiki and Jax, an enchanting picture book story about how tidying up can spark joy in the lives of young children.

Kondo, star of Netflix’s hit show, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, began her tidying consultant business as a nineteen-year-old university student in Tokyo and now she is an expert helping people around the world to transform their cluttered homes into spaces of serenity and inspiration.

Kiki the squirrel and Jax the owl are best friends… Jax enjoys sorting but Kiki enjoys collecting and gathers a lot of stuff. Soon her home is full of things all over the place. Where is Kiki's ball, what did she do with her swimsuit? Her home has become an obstacle course and it’s hard for Kiki and Jax to play together. But Jax has a plan. He teaches Kiki how to sort everything and to keep only those things that spark joy. Once she and Jax have tidied up, Kiki has room in her life for those things that matter the most… especially her good friend Jax!

Charmingly illustrated by the award-winning Salina Yoon, this entertaining and informative picture book is an easy-to-understand and accessible introduction to Kondo’s concept of tidying and includes a special, step-by-step folding activity to try out at home.

Tidying away Christmas presents might prove to be fun for even the youngest of children this festive season!

(Macmillan Children’s Books, hardback, £11.99)