The Best Children’s Books for Christmas

Cinderella - An Art Deco Love Story, by David Roberts and Lynn Roberts
Cinderella - An Art Deco Love Story, by David Roberts and Lynn Roberts
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From prancing princesses and a safety-conscious mouse to a budding rock star and a murder mystery, there is plenty to spark young imaginations this Christmas

0-5 Years

Many years ago I had a much-treasured copy of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. I loved the beautiful underground world where the sisters danced in secret, away from the confines of the palace, and the little hint of mystery. A new version by Alison Jay (Templar, £12.99) is gorgeous. Her crackle-glazed style with sumptuous colours and dynamic characters draws the reader in to the princesses’ private world. I particularly like the forest and lake scenes which contrast so well with the lighted ballroom. This is just as much of a treasure as my well-loved and read older copy.

For Mouse, Christmas is a dangerous time. There are just so many accidents waiting to happen, but fortunately he is there to stop them. The Mouse that Cancelled Christmas (OUP, £6.99) is a hugely entertaining story of Health and Safety gone mad. The illustrations are expressive and full of detail and sure to lead to many conversations. Madeleine Cook and Samara Hardy combine to create a funny picture book with a surprise ending.

Princess Eliza is clever, busy, kind and lonely. She needs a friend but few people make it to her snow-bound kingdom. One day she ventures out alone into the forest where, instead of the bears she’d expected to meet, she finds a reindeer who carries her off to meet his friends. Told in verse, The Princess and the Christmas Rescue by Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton (Nosy Crow, £11.99) is a joyful story with plenty of sly allusions to other fairy tales, and the illustrations bring a Nordic winter to life brilliantly.

It’s Christmas Eve and the Queen is still trying to decide what to buy for some of her great-grandchildren. Although some of the most famous stores in the land are at her disposal she just doesn’t know what to get. Fortunately Santa Claus is on hand to help and he whisks her off around the world to search for gifts. Full of elves, reindeer and quirky details to spot, The Queen’s Present by Steve Antony. (Hodder £11.99) is a welcome and worthy addition to this picture book series.

6-10 Years

Cinderella: an art deco fairy tale (Pavilion, £6.99) is a retelling of the well-known story by Lynn Roberts-Maloney with illustrations by David Roberts. The text gives the tale a gentler feel and makes the stepmother and stepsisters less horrific but still self-centred, demanding and dismissive of Cinderella. The illustrations set the story very firmly in the 1930s and are full of art deco style, from the hairstyles to the shoes and the pictures on the walls. The attention to detail makes this a fabulous book to look at and the tightly-written story is laced with an undercurrent of dry humour.

Darren is desperate to be a rock star. The only problem is that he doesn’t have a guitar. However, his dad offers to give him one for his birthday – if Darren can solve some clues. Read on to discover the answers and join Darren in a huge surprise. Diary of a Trainee Rock God by Jonathan Meres (Barrington Stoke, £5.99) is immediately engaging with its wry humour and well-defined characters – perfect for emerging readers.

Fantastically Great Women who Changed the World (Bloomsbury, £6.99) is exactly what it says: an eclectic mix of short biographies of amazing women by Kate Pankhurst. Along with some of the usual suspects (Jane Austen, Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart for example) there are some less obvious choices including Coco Chanel, palaeontologist Mary Anning and Agent Fifi, an SOE operative. The book is brightly illustrated and the narrative style is chatty and informative. An excellent introduction to some remarkable women.

The Book of the Howlat (BC Books, £12.99) is a reworking of a mediaeval Scots poem set at Darnaway Castle in Moray. In this edition, James Robertson tells the story of a young owl with an inferiority complex who longs to be as beautiful as the peacock who parades in the castle grounds. He appeals to Nature for help with some unexpected results. Robertson’s beautiful prose has a lyrical quality that sweeps the reader along, and the story is sumptuously illustrated by Moray quine Kate Leiper, who perfectly captures the howlat’s transformation.

9-12 Years

Travelling home by bus one day, Maya takes a photo of the Christmas lights as she passes but inadvertently catches something else. Suddenly she is under police protection and living in the remote Welsh mountains with her distracted aunt and surly cousin. Is she really in danger as the police think? And is being cut off by snow a blessing or a curse? Murder in Midwinter (Nosy Crow, £6.99) is a taut and exciting thriller. Fleur Hitchcock beautifully captures Maya’s sense of unreality and fear as she untangles family relationships along with the mystery.

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong return for another unladylike murder mystery in Mistletoe and Murder (Puffin, £6.99). The school friends are spending Christmas in Cambridge with Daisy’s brother and great-aunt. Before they’ve even settled in they are faced with puzzling and unsettling events. And when a fatal accident occurs in Magdalene College, the girls suspect that it might have been planned. Determined to prove that it was indeed a murder, the girls reluctantly accept the help of fellow Cambridge visitors, George and Alexander. Nancy Drew meets the Chalet School in this clever crime novel set in the 1930s. Robin Stevens’ period detail, strong characters and meticulous plotting come together in a satisfying story.

Christmas is just the right time for ETA Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker (Templar, £16.99). Best known as a ballet, this version is a translation from the original German by Anthea Bell and is complete and unabridged. Any time is the right time for illustrations by Robert Ingpen, who has produced more than 70 for this new edition. This will make a beautiful gift – if you can bring yourself to give it away.

Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth (Macmillan, £12.99) is whimsical, heart-wrenching and hilarious. Prez is a boy whose life has been turned upside down, causing him to retreat into silence. But when Sputnik appears, all that changes. For the better? Well, eventually. Frank Cottrell Boyce’s books are always enjoyable and this one, set in and around Dumfries, is no exception. As a very former pupil of Troqueer Primary I was delighted to find myself reading about my old haunts, but wherever you’re from you’ll enjoy walking those streets with Prez, Sputnik and their friends.

New award recognises inspiring people

Scottish Book Trust has created a new award to celebrate outstanding work. The Significant Contribution to Scottish Children’s Literature Award, sponsored by Browns Books for Students, will be awarded annually to an author or illustrator and a learning professional who have inspired young readers in Scotland.

The author or illustrator will have a strong backlist, a long record of engaging with their audience and meaningful engagement within the writing community. The learning professional will be a teacher or librarian who is going above and beyond the call of duty to pass on the Reading for Pleasure message to the next generation and who works tirelessly to inspire children and young people to read and write.

Nominations are open now, with the winners chosen by an independent panel of experts and announced at an evening reception in June 2017.

Commenting on the award, Marc Lambert, CEO of Scottish Book Trust, said: “The projects Scottish Book Trust runs for children would simply not exist without the passion of the teachers and librarians who consistently exceed their remit by embracing each and every reading campaign, award, tour, event and challenge with infectious enthusiasm. And, of course, there would be nothing to get the children excited about were it not for the outrageously talented and hardworking bunch of authors and illustrators that Scotland is lucky enough to lay claim to. This award is intended to celebrate and recognise these people – the ones who bring the magic of books to children and set them on a path to being booklovers for life.”