Book reviews: The Best Children's Books for Christmas

From fairytales to 'wundrous trials,' these books will delight children and grown-ups during the festive season

An illustration from The Wolf, The Duck and The Mouse, by mac Barnett and Josh Klassen

0-5 Years: Time To Go With Ted (Bloomsbury, £6.99) is part of a series of charming board books by Sophy Henn. Ted is a toddler who is full of energy and imagination – who will he meet on his travels? Will there be a polar bear in the freezer at the shops, or maybe some hungry monkeys to hang out with on the swings? Henn’s sweet illustrations perfectly capture the excitement of a little boy as he prepares for his next adventure.

Full of cosy Christmas cheer, Pick a Pine Tree (Walker, £11.99) is a beautiful rhyming story about the excitement of choosing a tree for the holiday season. Jarvis’ illustrations are warm and engaging, and you can just about smell the fresh pine tree that the family brings home. Patricia Toht’s rhyme glides through the pages and evokes all the joy of traditional Christmas decorating, from putting the star on top of the tree to placing the presents underneath. This is a lovely story for all the family to share at Christmas.

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Celebrating the diversity of life on our planet The Variety of Life (Hodder Children’s Books, £14.99) is a beautifully bright and detailed book for curious young minds by Lorna Scobie and Nicola Davies. Scobie’s expressive animals are a delight and it feels like each one has real personality. Did you know that the sperm whale hunts in water over 1,000m deep, or that the harvest mouse weighs the same as a teaspoon of sugar? Full of intriguing facts, this book is a great way to learn about fragile wildlife habitats and the importance of biodiversity.

In The Wolf, The Duck and The Mouse (Walker, £12.99) by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, things aren’t looking too good for a mouse when he’s swallowed up by a wolf – little does he know there’s already a duck living quite comfortably in its belly! Sometimes when the worst happens, facing your fears isn’t as a bad as you thought. Hilarious and a wee bit dark all at the same time, Barnett’s story reads like a found fairy tale, with Klassen’s trademark illustrations adding his unique charm to the characters. A fantastic modern fable, this is set to become a classic. ED

6-9 Years: Elsie’s ordinary life working in her family’s shop takes an unexpected turn when a witch arrives looking for someone to mind her house for a week. She decides to give it a go – but she won’t be trying any magic. However, when a few problems arise and there’s a love potion to be brewed, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to have a go at some simple spells? Kaye Umansky takes the reader on a charming magical adventure in Witch for a Week (Simon & Schuster, £6.99), with Ashley King’s illustrations bringing the whole world alive.

Kids are the writers and directors of their own stories with Play in a Box (National Theatre & Walker Books, £12.99). Character and setting cards inspire an endless number of possibilities, from astronauts lost in an enchanted forest to a secret agent out to steal an experiment from a laboratory. The plot twist booklet and stagecraft handbook will help children to plan out the details of their show and tickets are included for the big performance. A wonderful gift to encourage imaginative and creative play.

Jo-Jo asks for too many presents, and now Christmas is cancelled and it’s all his fault. Luckily, he has an idea: he will take Father Christmas’ place. With his mum’s coat and a bag full of his old toys, he’s ready to spread Christmas cheer – what could possibly go wrong? I Killed Father Christmas (Barrington Stoke, £6.99) is a heart-warming festive adventure story from Anthony McGowan with a healthy dose of humour from Chris Riddell’s full colour illustrations.

80 Poems (Puffin Poetry, £6.99) is a new collection of some of Roger McGough’s best-loved poems to celebrate his 80th birthday, and it is an absolute joy to read. It includes poems to make you think, like “Give And Take”, poems that make you laugh like “Fruit Bats”, and many more that are fun to read aloud and really bring out the joy of sharing language. There’s a verse for every occasion in this accessible collection. SM

10-12 Years: Christmas Dinner of Souls (Faber & Faber, £8.99) is a festive story with a difference, and definitely not one for the faint-hearted. Lewis is stuck at All Souls College on Christmas Eve, which hosts a gruesome dinner club for people who hate Christmas. One by one, the guests tell the most horrific stories they know in a bid to win a terrible prize, which could bring an end to Christmas forever. This is a spine-chilling read from Ross Montgomery to delight readers who crave a bit of a scare.

Karolina arrives in Poland from the Land of Dolls, which has been torn apart by an evil invader, and it’s not long before her new home suffers the same fate with the arrival of the Nazis. The dollmaker tries to look after her, but they can’t keep a living doll secret forever, and before long they are both in danger. In The Dollmaker of Krakow (Walker, £12.99), RM Romero skilfully combines historical fiction and fantasy to create a visually stunning debut.

The story of Harry Potter isn’t exactly new, but from the opening pages of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stane (Itchy Coo, £7.99), Matthew Fitt’s Scots translation brings new colour to this well-loved adventure. The language of the book is vibrant and readable, from familiar Scots words like muckle and unco, to some less common ones like cantrip – a spell – to the fantastical words which Fitt has made up to match Rowling’s inventions, such as bizzumbaw for Quidditch. This is a humorous translation of a modern classic which is perfect for families to share aloud.

Everyone says Morrigan is cursed because of the date she was born, so she isn’t expecting to live very long until Jupiter North appears. When Jupiter chooses her as a candidate for the Wundrous Trials, it opens up a whole world that she never knew existed, and now she has to fight for her place in it to survive. Jessica Townsend’s gripping Nevermoor (Hachette, £9.99) is a triumph, presenting a fantastical world filled with intriguing characters. Readers will be desperate to move into the magical Deucalion Hotel and be part of the story themselves. SM