The Best Children's Books for Christmas

From a dastardly, word-scrambling cat to a very personable penguin, this year’s best festive reads for kids are full of memorable characters, write Emma Dunn and Hannah Sycamore

The Little Prince, adapted by Louise Greig and Sarah Massini
The Little Prince, adapted by Louise Greig and Sarah Massini

Ages 0-5

In Nibbles Christmas by Emma Yarlett (Little Tiger Press, £7.99) everyone’s favourite book-eating monster is back for the festive season and some number-munching fun. Join the adorable Nibbles as he chomps his way through the book, toppling toy soldiers, popping balloons and generally causing all kinds of havoc. With a countdown of numbers and rhyming words galore, this is the ideal present for the toddler in your life.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Harper Collins, £10.99) is a story that has captured the hearts of readers for generations, and this new picture book adaptation by Louise Greig and Sarah Massini is both brilliant and beautiful. Retaining the essence of the original story, but pairing it back enough to make it accessible to children makes its key messages shine through. The Little Prince is as charming as ever, and Massini’s artwork superbly captures the surreal world he inhabits. Perfect for curious young readers, it’s a story that will stay with them long after the final page has turned.

Bathe the Cat by Alice B McGinty and David Roberts

Bathe the Cat by Alice B McGinty and David Roberts (Chronicle Books, £12.99) is a glorious celebration of diverse LGBT family life with a riot of colour and rhyme thrown in. When the house needs cleaning before grandma arrives, dad doesn’t realise that the cat has slyly scrambled his list of fridge-magnet letters. The pesky (but adorable) feline will do anything to avoid having a bath and chaos ensues. Sweep the dishes! Vacuum the lawn! And don’t forget to scrub the fishes! Energetic, lively and fun, this is an ingenious picture book.

Christmas Street by Jonathan Emmett and Ingela P Arrhenius (Nosy Crow, £14.99) is a delightful double-sided concertina book. Little ones will be mesmerised by Arrhenius’ distinctive, bright artwork, and the many cute Christmas scenes. With an abundance of festive cheer, this lovely book imagines a street full of nostalgic shop-fronts with the chance to lift the flap and peer behind each window to find part of an alphabet story. A gorgeous, magical book to be treasured. ED

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Ages 6-8

An Amazing Illustrated Atlas of Scotland by David MacPhail and Anders Frang (Floris, £12.99) is the ideal Christmas gift for children hoping to explore more of Scotland next year. Filled with fun facts and gorgeous illustrations by Anders Frang, this book takes you on a whistle-stop tour of the nation’s famous people, places, history and culture.

Einstein the Penguin, by Iona Rangeley and David Tazzyman

Sasha and the Wolf by Ann Jungman (Faber, £7.99) is a delightful combination of two short stories set in the snowy and remote Russian steppe. Beautifully illustrated by Gaia Bordicchia, Sasha and the Wolfcub and Sasha and the Wolfchild will transport you to another time. Atmospheric and heart-warming, these are stories of friendship and overcoming prejudice. Filled with singing, dancing and feasting, they also make cosy winter reads.

Bedtime Stories: Beautiful Black Tales from the Past (Scholastic, £14.99) is a joyful collection of stories written and illustrated by Black creators, with a foreword by Candice Brathwaite. With uplifting and celebratory stories of Black history from around the world, this is the ideal book to share at bedtime. With tales from a range of authors including Ashley Hickson-Lovence and Wendy Shearer, there is something for everyone in this book.

In Einstein the Penguin, written by Iona Rangeley and beautifully illustrated by David Tazzyman (Harper Collins, £12.99), the titular bird is looking for his friend when he comes across the Stewart family in Lonzon Zoo. This meeting sets them all on an unexpected adventure that takes them north to Edinburgh on a Christmas quest. Sure to become a classic, this is delightful story of friendship and helping others, perfect for sharing together as a family. HS

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Ages 9-12

The World Book by Joe Fullman and beautifully illustrated by Rose Blake (Welbeck Publishing Group, £19.99) offers young people a unique journey around the world. Covering every country, it provides the chance to explore different cultures from the comfort of home, learning about the food, art, history and traditions of each place. The ideal gift for those who are keen to explore the world.

Also recommended for those looking for adventure, The Ice Whisperers by Helenka Stachera (Puffin, £7.99) is an engrossing read. Bela from Warsaw is sent to stay with her uncle in deepest Siberia, but when she uncovers a secret – a doorway to an icy spirit land – she finds herself in grave danger. Can she save this place before it is too late?

A collection of crime and mystery stories edited by Serena Patel and Robin Stevens (Farshare, £12.99), The Very Merry Murder Club is an immersive read. Contributors include Elle McNicoll, Patrice Lawrence and Benjamin Dean to name just a few, and each story will keep readers glued to the edge of their seat.

For budding writers, meanwhile, Unleash Your Creative Monster: A Children’s Guide to Writing (Walker Books, £9.99) by Andy Jones and Olaf Falafel is the perfect gift. There are hints, tips and exercises to complete, all wrapped up with humour and monstrously good illustrations by Falafel. Perfect for sharing over Christmas – why not get writing together and create your own story monster? HS

This Christmas will be a difficult one for many families. Scottish Book Trust want to spread some joy and create special moments by gifting books to families who are depending on food banks and community hubs over the festive season. Without books, children are missing out and the impact of this lasts a lifetime. Books bring families together, comfort children and inspire joy. For many families, the books Scottish Book Trust provides will be the only ones in their home. Everyone deserves a little bit of magic at Christmas.

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Scottish Book Trust delivers programmes and outreach work designed to support a love of reading in children, families and adults through all life stages. Your donations will help deliver more life-changing work. This includes creating specialised kits to support families to share stories, songs and rhymes with their children, sending tactile books to children with additional support needs, and gifting books to families who need them most through food banks and community hubs.

Scottish Book Trust gifted more than 100,000 books, activities and resources to children to support home learning during the pandemic. Visit https://www.scottishbooktrust.com/donate for more information about Scottish Book Trust’s work and how to donate.

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