The best children’s books to buy this Christmas

The Bear Report
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The perfect Christmas gift, there is a wonderful book waiting for children of all ages, writes Jane E Sandell

0-5 Years

School Ship Tobermory

School Ship Tobermory

Is It Christmas Yet? wonders Ted. (Little Tiger £6.99). Big Bear is putting up decorations and wrapping presents; Ted wants to help but he’s just too excited. Finally, though, Christmas does arrive and it is every bit as good as Ted imagined. Jane Chapman’s illustrations are full of joyful exuberance, warmth and love, and complement the simple story. Small children are sure to enjoy this padded, rounded board book with its cosy depiction of a home at Christmas time.

A Scottish Year (EK Books £7.95) by Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling does exactly what the title suggests, looking at life in Scotland through the year. The interesting twist is that the book is Australian and so gives us the chance to see ourselves as others see us. It is informative and fun, expressively and amusingly illustrated. Inevitably there are some choices that will raise eyebrows and start discussions but all in all it’s an enjoyable romp through the year.

For homework, Sophie has to find out about polar bears but she’s bored. But then one turns up in her living room to take her on a journey to his Arctic home. Olafur shows Sophie the beauty of the polar landscape, the variety of the wildlife and the fun to be had in the snow, and finally he shows off the spectacular Northern Lights. The Bear Report (Abrams £10.99) by Thyra Heder is an engaging story of a young child’s growing awareness of her world. The book’s charm lies in its vivacious characters and in the illustrations with their soft, warm tones.

One day, the Pilchard-Browns set off for a picnic at the South Pole but Mr Pilchard-Brown gets the directions wrong, so the family of penguins ends up at the North Pole meeting a polar bear – not something that often happens. Mr White is ready for adventure, however, so he offers to guide his new friends home. Poles Apart (Nosy Crow £6.99) is a delightful story of opposites attracting with a wonderfully quirky edge thanks to the words of Jeanne Willis and pictures by Jarvis. It’s just right for reading together on a winter’s evening.

Skimbleshanks The Railway Cat

Skimbleshanks The Railway Cat

6-10 Years

Of all TS Eliot’s Practical Cats, Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat (Faber & Faber £6.99) is my favourite. From “the whisper down the line…when the Night Mail’s ready to depart” the rhythm, rhyme and pace of the poem draw the reader in to Skimbleshanks’ domain. Arthur Robins brings the word pictures to life with his spirited, dynamic illustrations (even if he is a little confused about which way is east). Those who have read the earlier poems in this series will be delighted to spot Macavity and Mr Mistoffelees on board, heading for “the northern part of the northern hemisphere”. An ideal Christmas present, this is such fun that you’ll probably want to keep it for yourself.

The Most Wonderful Thing in the World (Walker Books £12.99) may also be one of the most beautiful books of the year. In this lovingly crafted fairy tale, the King and Queen decide that they must find a husband for their much-loved daughter. Potential suitors come from near and far to show them the most wonderful thing in the world and thus win the princess’s hand. Vivian French tells an enchanting story of love and happiness, stylishly illustrated by Angela Barrett in soft, muted tones. The whole is a joy sure to be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

The Day the Crayons Came Home (HarperCollins £12.99) is Oliver Jeffers’ and Drew Daywalt’s triumphant sequel to The Day the Crayons Quit. The tale is told through a collection of postcards sent to Duncan by his missing crayons. One by one they tell their sad stories as they prepare to come back, and, full of remorse, Duncan builds them a home. Daywalt and Jeffers collaborate brilliantly to create a funny, strangely heart-warming story. The premise may be simple but this is a sophisticated book in terms of both language and illustration.

Philip Reeve, author of Railhead. Picture: Rex

Philip Reeve, author of Railhead. Picture: Rex

Ben and Fee are looking forward to starting at a new school – a very different kind of school, on board a sailing ship. They quickly make friends but soon they are drawn into rivalries, mysteries and danger. School Ship Tobermory (Birlinn £9.99) is a school story set at sea – that’s two of my favourite things in one book. Added to that it’s written by Alexander McCall Smith, with all that means in terms of style and humour, and illustrated by the brilliant Iain McIntosh. What joy!

9-12 Years

The winner of this year’s Kate Greenaway Medal was Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill, contender for my book of the decade. Now Flying Eye Books has brought out an accompanying Shackleton’s Journey Activity Book (£9.99) written by Zelda Turner and illustrated by William Grill. Containing games, puzzles and drawing ideas alongside experiments and suggestions for creative writing, this book is packed full of entertainment. But it is the illustrations, stark and evocative in their limited colour palette, that continue to enthral and delight as they bring to life the courage and endurance of this hundred year-old expedition.

Robert Ingpen’s illustrations are a continual delight. In Alice Through the Looking Glass (Templar £16.99) the illustrator has plenty of scope for his talent as he, with the reader, enters into Lewis Carroll’s topsy-turvy game of live chess. This edition of the classic novel is a treasure full of sumptuous illustrations, making it an excellent choice of Christmas gift.

Publishing on Hogmanay is Confessions of an Imaginary Friend (Simon & Schuster £6.99) by Michelle Cuevas. As the book opens Jacques lives with his parents and twin sister Fleur, unaware of the fact that he actually only exists in Fleur’s imagination. Then a chance meeting sends his life spinning out of control as he struggles to make sense of his new world. The book might send readers’ minds spinning as they try to cope with the concept but along the way they’ll laugh and maybe even cry as they are carried along by the funny and fast-paced plot.

I can think of few better authors to offer a committed young reader than LM Montgomery. The Canadian is a personal favourite of mine and the Anne of Green Gables Library (Aladdin £16.99) seems like an ideal gift. Containing four of the novels in Montgomery’s best-known series, it takes Anne from her arrival on Prince Edward Island as a 12-year-old orphan through to her marriage to her one-time nemesis, Gilbert Blythe. A much underrated writer, Montgomery’s novels are multi-layered and bear re-reading with their strong characters, descriptive prose and evocative realisation of place.

And finally, in the beginning…

Refuge (Nosy Crow £7.99) is a re-telling of the Nativity focusing on the end of the story as Jesus, Mary and Joseph flee for their lives to Egypt. Simple and evocative, it draws an unspoken parallel with modern refugees. Written by Anne Booth and illustrated by Sam Usher, both the words and pictures call forth strong emotions and demonstrate love in the kindness of strangers. Five pounds from every copy sold will go directly to War Child, a charity caring for Syrian refugee children.