Christmas Books: CHILDREN'S
Aliens Love Panta Claus by Claire Freedman and Ben Court (Simon & Schuster)
ZOG BY JULIA DONALDSON, ILLUSTRATED BY AXEL SCHEFFLER (Alison Green Books £10.99)
Zog, the keenest dragon in school, tries every year to win the Gold Star, yet success eludes him. Finally, he succeeds in capturing a princess and confronting the knight who comes to rescue her - with a satisfyingly modern twist.
If ever there were a charmed combination of author and illustrator then this duo, responsible for The Gruffalo, Stick Man and Tiddler, should win the Gold Star.
Donaldson’s rhyme, rhythm and repetition engage children immediately and Scheffler’s imaginative character illustrations are heartwarming and hilarious.
A book to make your heart soar and ‘zigzag through the blue’.
ALIENS LOVE PANTA CLAUS BY CLAIRE FREEDMAN AND BEN COURT (Simon & Schuster £5.99)
The aliens are excited, as tomorrow’s Christmas Day - so, instead of stealing underpants, they’re giving them away.
So begins another exuberant adventure with the underpants-obsessed aliens who seize the opportunity to ‘help’ Father Christmas in his workshop - and end up saving the day.
A guaranteed hit with fans of these lively extraterrestrials, this festive frolic is packed with naughtiness and visual gags.
UP AND DOWN BY OLIVER JEFFERS (HarperCollins £10.99)
Jeffers’ endearing friendship between a small boy and a penguin first appeared in the award-winning Lost And Found, and now the pair are back with new dreams to follow.
Companionable and happy until Penguin discovers a yearning to fly, the book traces how the boy’s attempts to help him result in them being separated and both suffer the agonies of loneliness, even as Penguin achieves his dream.
Jeffers' distinctively illustrated work is deceptively simple but delivers a powerful emotional punch.
THE CHRISTMAS EVE GHOST BY SHIRLEY HUGHES (Walker £12.99)
The cosy, familiar, child-centred homes depicted by Hughes over the years have contained such a depth of genuine feelings - from anxiety to joy - that one yearns to live there oneself. But there’s an added poignancy to this Christmas tale. It’s set in the poor back streets of 1930s Liverpool, the city in which Hughes grew up, where widowed Welsh Mam takes in pram-loads of washing to earn enough to feed her children, Bronwen and Dylan.
She avoids her neighbours until kindly Mrs O’Riley rescues the children from a Christmas ghost...
This is a delightful snapshot of an era of tin baths and washing coppers and would make a great read for elderly grandparents to share with primary age children.
ELMER AND PAPA RED BY DAVID MCKEE (Andersen £10.99)
Elmer, the patchwork elephant, is an established favourite with the two to five age group.
In this seasonal tale, Elmer allows the baby elephants of the forest the ultimate treat - a glimpse of Papa Red as he comes to collect the presents he’ll deliver around the world.
The baby elephants are beside themselves with excitement, and the bright bold illustrations and sense of fun are perfect for very little ones. But beware the message - you could be staying up late with children who want to see their own Papa Red arrive...
The Ugly Duckling, from Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales, as retold by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark (Orchard Books)
BILLIONAIRE BOY BY DAVID WALLIAMS, ILLUSTRATED BY TONY ROSS (HarperCollins £12.99)
Walliams is establishing himself as more than just a celebrity children’s book author, as he masters the balancing act of delivering a moral, emotional message under the guise of a ridiculously silly story.
Twelve-year-old Joe’s Dad is soooo rich that he drops Joe’s homework off at school in a helicopter. Joe has everything he wants, even an orang-utan as a butler - everything, that is, except a real friend.
The simple lesson that money can’t buy loyalty comes alongside massive dollops of comedy, yet there’s something so genuine about Walliams’ appreciation of loneliness that the book speaks volumes about children’s very basic needs for love and affection.
NOAH BARLEYWATER RUNS AWAY BY JOHN BOYNE (David Fickling Books £10.99)
This delightful, bitter sweet ‘fairytale’ is a flight of fantasy with playful use of language - and is a joy from start to finish. Eight-year-old Noah runs away from home - we don’t know why - and arrives in an enchanted village where the trees and animals talk. They show him the toyshop where an old toymaker carves wooden puppets, each of which has a story of its own and as Noah listens, a gentle lesson in love, loss and growing up emerges.
Noah’s heartbreaking emotional journey is lightened by a rich vein of absurd humour and eccentric characters and as the truth of his own life emerges, we understand more about the identity of the toymaker.
An added bonus in this touching tale are the half dozen black and white drawings by Oliver Jeffers.
SLOG’S DAD BY DAVID ALMOND, ILLUSTRATED BY DAVE MCKEAN (Walker Books £8.99)
This extraordinarily beautiful and sensitive book by the award-winning team of Almond and McKean almost defies description - it’s a stand-alone story with stunning graphics that expand the book’s heart-rending message.
Slog’s Dad was a binman with a flat cap and a Woodbine cigarette dangling from his lips. Through illness he lost both his legs - then died, leaving Slog speechless with grief. Then, one day, he sees his Dad on a bench outside the pork shop, and thinks he’s keeping his promise to come back from Heaven with new legs. His worldly friend, Davie, is suspicious, but hope and humanity triumph over cynicism. Simply stunning.
MY BROTHER’S CHRISTMAS BOTTOM UNWRAPPED BY JEREMY STRONG (Puffin £4.99)
Three Christmas cheers for the unashamed nonsense and silliness that is Jeremy Strong! Although there’s a touch of contemporary realism when Nicholas’s dad loses his job just before Christmas, the family’s bungled attempts to earn money - with interference from their motorbike-riding Granny - will have young readers squealing. And who wouldn’t want to cause mayhem when staying in a ten-star hotel?
All ends happily when someone’s famous bare bottom gets the family out of a hole...Nick Sharratt, as ever, complements the action with energetic illustrations.
SHADOW BY MICHAEL MORPUGO (HarperCollins £12.99)
Morpurgo is renowned for his animal-based stories (War Horse; The Butterfly Lion) and often combines them with real-life situations for greater impact. This is the story of a boy, Aman, and his mother who live in the caves of war-torn Afghanistan. One day, a British army sniffer dog called Shadow turns up at the caves and attaches himself to them, and when they escape the dangers of their home, it is Shadow who leads them to safety.
But Morpurgo adds a further dimension when several years later Aman and his mother find themselves in a British detention centre, sparking a campaign for their release. An intelligent and thoroughly contemporary book that combines tenderness and the harshness of war to great effect.
TRASH BY ANDY MULLIGAN (David Fickling Books £10.99)
In an unnamed Latin American country three young boys scrape a living sifting through the foulest rubbish on the monstrous city dump - part of the poorest community who live beneath this tower of filth.
But one day Raphael finds a bag containing a key, some cash and a code - a bag the corrupt government and police want back.
So begins one of the most exciting and original novels of the year in which the street cunning, hunger and survival instinct of the slum boys takes on the ruthless power of the brutal dictatorship that is destroying the country.
It’s a tight, thrilling story, told from various characters’ perspectives and has a ‘Slumdog’, feel-good pulse beating through it.
A genuine treasure find.
The Tinderbox, from Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales (Orchard Books)
REVOLUTION BY JENNIFER DONNELLY (Bloomsbury £10.99)
If you loved Donnelly’s A Gathering Light, then you’ll be nervous when opening Revolution in case it disappoints. It doesn’t.
Donnelly’s ambition and scope reap rich rewards in this beautifully written story of two young women divided by 200 years, as teenage music prodigy Andi travels from Brooklyn to Paris where she discovers the diaries of a girl street performer in the 1790s.
Against a backdrop of the French Revolution, the diaries take Andi into a parallel world of music, suffering, love and redemption and lead her out of her own private hell of guilt and grief over the death of her young brother.
Donnelly is a remarkable talent and this is a remarkable book.
MATCHED BY ALLY CONDIE (Razorbill/Penguin £9.99)
Well, yes, there’s a lot in this much-hyped book that seems familiar if you’ve read a lot of sci-fi but nevertheless it’s a gripping dystopian novel in which every aspect of the citizens’ lives are controlled, even down to the choice of spouse. So when 17-year-old Cassia discovers she is matched with her childhood friend, the eminently suitable Xander, she is initially thrilled, until the face of a strange and unsuitable local boy pops up on her matching screen. Why would the outcast and rebel Ky be a possible match instead?
Soon Cassia senses elements of resistance to the controlling regime within her own family - not least from her feisty grandfather who secretly gives her a banned Dylan Thomas poem on his appointed Death Day. Anyone who does that must have a rebel heart still beating and will not go gently into that good night.
BOYS DON’T CRY BY MALORIE BLACKMAN (Doubleday £12.99)
There are few writers quite as bold as Blackman in confronting social issues in a way teenagers can relate to, so it’s not surprising that she tackles the issue of teenage parents in this book.
The twist is that it’s brilliant boy student Dante, about to go off to university, who gets dumped with the baby daughter he didn’t know he’d fathered.
When his ex decides she can’t copy any longer, she flits, leaving baby Emma with Dante, his widowed, emotionally unavailable father and his secretly gay brother.
As Dante rails against his fate and watches his dreams and hopes fade, he discovers that the unconditional love a baby demands can unlock many more damaged hearts than his.
Let’s hope this sensitive novel reaches the teenage boys it’s intended for.
SHADOW WAVE BY ROBERT MUCHAMORE (Hodder £12.99)
This is the twelfth and supposedly final instalment in the excellent, if hard-hitting, Cherub spy series - James Adams is now too old for the role of teenage agent.
The story is based on the 2004 tsunami, when in the aftermath the Cherub agents help Malaysian villagers rebuild their homes, only to see corrupt politicians destroy the villages to build hotels for wealthy tourists.
Years later Cherub agents are asked to protect those same greedy officials and Adams’s loyalty is tested when a former colleague suggests an alternative plan.
Muchamore’s depiction of teenage violence, language and behaviour may shock some parents but the books speak to teenagers and have sustained their narrative quality throughout the series. James Adams will be sorely missed...
CLASSICS / ANTHOLOGIES
THE LITTLE PRINCE BY JOANN SFAR, ADAPTED FROM THE BOOK BY ANTOINE DE SAINT-EXPURY (Walker Books £15)
The classic story of the little Prince who visits earth from his tiny planet and befriends a crashed pilot in the desert, is given a dramatic reinterpretation in this superb graphic novel. Striking a balance between faithfully representing the original story, with its gentle philosophical message, and creating an original narrative is risky but this captivating version breathes fresh life into a story that many young readers may have missed, and many older ones will want to revisit in this new format.
THE IRON MAN BY TED HUGHES (Faber/Walker £15)
Poet Laureate Hughes wrote this fable of the Iron Man who terrorises the people of Earth back in 1968, but this attractive gift book, with its distinctive artwork, gatefolds and peep-hole pages feels very modern and relevant.
The message of co-operation and peace applies to any era and the stark illustration conjures up an atmosphere of suspicion and fear until the red-hot fires of the ultimate contest give way to the beautiful music of the spheres.
HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN FAIRY TALES, RETOLD BY MARTIN WADDELL, ILLUSTRATED BY EMMA CHICHESTER CLARK (Orchard Books £12.99)
If the tragic fate of The Tin Soldier, the death of The Little Match Girl or the self-sacrificial love of The Little Mermaid can still bring a tear to your eye, then this is the book to buy a child for Christmas.
Nine of Andersen’s best-loved stories are faithfully represented here, with lovely modern illustrations that are both touching and funny. And no Disney-fied happy endings either to distort the sadness that life can sometimes bring.
MOTHER GOOSE TREASURY BY RAYMOND BRIGGS (Puffin £14.99)
Released in a revised and updated edition to celebrate Puffin’s 70th anniversary, this nursery rhyme collection illustrated by Raymond Briggs is the perfect Christmas present for a newborn or toddler’s bookshelf.
Packed with over 250 traditional rhymes all illustrated with either black and white sketches or full-colour drawings, it’s a book to be passed down the generations and savoured.
Nursery rhymes are not only part of national history, they are a wonderful introduction to language for even the youngest of children.
Aliens Love Panta Claus by Claire Freedman and Ben Court (Simon & Schuster)
HARRY POTTER FILM WIZARDRY BY BRIAN SIBLEY (Bantam Press £25)
It’s not cheap but this is a must for Potter fans who have flocked to see the movies - and watched them again on DVD.
Not only is it packed with interviews with actors, insider secrets on special effects and directors’ diaries but there are removable facsimile reproductions of programmes, maps and props and previously unpublished photographs of the sets and actors.
It’s a fascinating look into the making of not just a movie, but an entire fantasy world and could inspire children to write, act or become film directors themselves.
A true feast of entertainment.
THE STORY OF BRITAIN BY PATRICK DILLON, ILLUSTRATED BY P.J. LYNCH (Walker Books £18.99)
All children love history if it is introduced to them in an interesting way and the tone of this book, which begins with William the Conquerer’s arrival in England in 1066 and ends with a look ahead to the changing face of Britain, is chatty and light enough not to intimidate.
Events and people are introduced in short, easily accessible chunks and what it might lack in depth it certainly makes up for in breadth.
The differences between Irish, English, Scottish and Welsh histories are acknowledged and there’s lots of timelines to help with school projects.
A really useful book to dip into.
CHILDREN’S BOOK OF MUSIC (Dorling Kindersley £14.99)
Quite how you encompass the history of music in a single volume is a mystery but this attractive book and CD package certainly does its best.
Covering different categories of music through the ages, individual instruments, classical composers and modern musicians, it is a wide ranging overview, although some of the choices - even given its obvious appeal to international sales - are a bit odd.
Did punk not exert an influence? Possibly more than Turkish TV commercials . . .
But a worthwhile attempt and the CD will introduce children to all sorts of musical styles they may be unaware of.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW (Dorling Kindersley £16.99)
Well, it seems I needed to know all of this! It’s the absolutely perfect book for a wintry afternoon when you might be wondering how many eggs are laid worldwide in one day, or how many letters go missing in the UK every year. Subjects covered include politics, industry, technology, media, health and it even solves the mystery of what teenagers do in a day. Suprisingly, it’s not just sleep and eat...
An ideal present for children of all ages, though they might have trouble keeping everyone else in the family from borrowing it.
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