The best children’s books for Christmas

The Sheep That Saved Christmas, by 'Jason and Adrian Reynolds. Picture: Contributed
The Sheep That Saved Christmas, by 'Jason and Adrian Reynolds. Picture: Contributed
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‘TIS the season to get the children reading. But what? Jane E Sandell picks out the best of this year’s books

0-5 years

From Peter Bently and Sarah Massini comes A Recipe for Bedtime (Hodder, £11.99). This is a beautiful book, warm and gentle and soothing, designed for reading at bedtime. Not too big and softly padded it is just right for sharing with a young child. Bently’s rhyming text is lulling and is well complemented by Massini’s illustrations. Full of rounded edges and calming colours they hold the interest without over-stimulating. Together the words and pictures wind down gradually inducing sleep.

How to Hide a Lion from Grandma (Scholastic, £6.99), on the other hand, is full of energy and excitement. Iris is worried about Grandma coming to stay “as grandmas can get anxious if they find a lion in the house”. Iris loves her lion but she decides to hide him so that Grandma won’t get a shock. But it turns out that Grandma has a secret too. Written and illustrated by Helen Stephens, this is a funny and engaging story with expressive pictures.

The Sheep that Saved Christmas (Red Fox £6.99) by Jason Page and Adrian Reynolds is another amusing story for young children. Cynthia (the sheep) loves Christmas and starts looking forward to it in January every year. But Cynthia’s friends find her excitement a bit too much. So they buy her a ticket to the North Pole so that she can go and help Father Christmas. Things don’t work well to start with but, in the end, Cynthia is the only one who can stop Santa cancelling Christmas. This seasonal story is quirky and full of energy, packed with action-filled illustrations.

Richard Curtis and Rebecca Cobb have created a fascinating winter wonderland in Snow Day (Puffin, £10.99).

One night it snows so much that the next day school is closed. All the teachers and all the pupils stay at home and have fun playing in the snow. Well, almost all of them. Somehow Danny and Mr Trapper have both missed hearing that this is Snow Day and are stuck together in the school for a whole day. And they are enemies! But, as the day unfolds, something strange begins to happen. Perhaps this won’t be their worst day ever after all. Cobb’s dynamic and detailed illustrations bring to life a heart-warming and touching story by Curtis.

5-10 years

The Brockenspectre (Random House £12.99) is Linda Newbery’s atmospheric new novel for younger readers. Tomas lives with his family in the Alps where his father is a mountain guide. There is no-one quite like Pappi, Tomas thinks. He is the bravest, most fearless and experienced guide in the area and Tomas wants to be just like him. But one day Pappi disappears and Tomas goes to look for him, learning some difficult lessons along the way. Newbery’s prose has a lyrical style reminiscent of old fables as Tomas’s quest turns out to be about discovering more than his father. With delightful illustrations by Pam Smy this is a charming and life-affirming novel.

The world’s greatest cat detective is back and this time it’s artistic as Atticus Claw Learns to Draw (Faber & Faber £5.99). Jennifer Gray’s new tale of the feline sleuth sees him hot on the trail of art thieves. Everything points to Ricardo Butteredsconi the well-known art collector but things are not always as they appear and it is possible that the criminals are closer to home. This series goes from strength to strength with its well balanced blend of humour, action and memorable characters.

In Love From Paddington (HarperCollins, £12.99) by Michael Bond, the world finally is able to hear the marmalade-eating bear’s own perspective on his life. This collection of letters to his Aunt Lucy back in Peru sheds new light on some of his adventures and readers will almost certainly want to go back to the original stories to compare the action there with Paddington’s own version. Fans of Paddington old and new will enjoy this unusual collection with its illustrations by Peggy Fortnum and RW Alley. Not many bears are writing letters these days after all.

It may be Christmas Eve but there is trouble in Acre Valley. Horace’s friends have disappeared and at their homes the Haggis finds only a V looking like it has been written in blood. Major Mole has bad news: this is the work of Don Volio, leader of the notorious vole gang. Can Horace and the Major rescue their friends in time for a happy Christmas? Horace the Haggis and the Christmas Mystery (Black & White £9.99) has all the answers. Sally Magnusson’s gentle storytelling has just enough tension to hold young readers without scaring them and the adventures are brought to life on the page by Norman Stone’s colourful illustrations.

9-12 years

Voracious readers looking for something new to read could do worse than turn to Hesperus Minor for something old. The imprint continues to offer smartly packaged editions of books from yesteryear. Some of their less well-known titles this year include Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin, Jo’s Boys by Louisa M Alcott and The Wouldbegoods by E Nesbit. Each title (£7.99) contains some extra information about the book or its author and any of them would be an excellent choice for the child who thinks there is nothing new to read.

For the young Doctor Who fan there is an ideal Christmas present this year. Neatly packaged in a presentation box is Doctor Who: 12 Doctors, 12 Stories, 12 Postcards (Puffin, £18.99). As the title suggests the box contains 12 novellas, one for each incarnation of the Doctor, and all written by highly regarded authors including Eoin Colfer, Marcus Sedgwick, Malorie Blackman, Derek Landy and Neil Gaiman. There is great variety in this little box and the whole package will delight young readers.

TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (Faber & Faber £5.99) has delighted generations and this cute little edition with illustrations by Rebecca Ashdown will only win the cats more fans. They’re all there: Macavity, Mr Mistofeles, Old Deuteronomy and my own favourite, Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat. Swishing his tail and with a glint in his eye he keeps watch over the Midnight Mail as it heads ‘off at last for the northern part/Of the Northern Hemisphere!’. Children meeting these cats for the first time will be fortunate indeed as they revel in Eliot’s ridiculous clever poems.

Mountwood School for Ghosts (Macmillan £12.99) is the debut novel from Toby Ibbotson. The style and theme, however, are familiar and the reason is immediately apparent. Toby is the son of the late, much-missed Eva and this book is based on her original idea.

None of this should detract from Toby’s skill, though. This story of injustice and the paranormal, of unlikely allies and ghostly fears is cleverly plotted and smoothly written. Charlotte and Daniel, the human protagonists, are real, rounded people and the ghosts each have a distinct personality. Stepping out of his mother’s shadow may not be easy but Ibbotson has made an assured start.