The wings of imagination take flight in children’s literature

Jane Sandell rounds up the best new bedtime stories to keep young minds warm this winter...

Babies and Toddlers

Yawn (Walker Books, £9.99) is the latest offering from Nick Sharratt with text by Sally Symes. Sean’s yawn is catching. He passes it to the cat who passes it to the bird. On and on it goes until finally the elephant catches it and decides it’s time for bed. The simple text has a gentle rhythm and a repetitive structure that is nicely lulling. Nick Sharratt’s child-friendly illustrations are clear and bold and full of blocks of colour. It’s an ideal book for bedtime reading.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Another bedtime book is Ten Little Babies (Bloomsbury, £5.99) written by Rose Impey and illustrated by Nicola Smee. A variation on “Ten Green Bottles”, the text tells how gradually the little babies playing on the grass disappear until the end of the book sees them all sleeping in their cots. Their fanciful ways of vanishing are charmingly illustrated in soft soothing colours and the babies have great expression. The text is ideal for reading (or singing?) together with its rhyme and rhythm.

Not at all quiet and peaceful is The Boss Baby (Simon and Schuster, £5.99) by Marla Frazee. From the minute the baby arrives in the house it is clear that he is in charge. Mum and Dad have a full schedule with no time off, day or night. All is well until one day his demands stop being met. What can he do to ensure normal service is resumed? This is a very funny book with the quirky illustrations telling most of the story. Young children will love the concept and the wonderfully expressive drawings, while parents will recognise the truth of the story.

Wide-awake children will love Ole Könnecke’s Big Book of Words and Pictures (Gecko Press, £10.99). It is, as it says, a large board book, full of thematic pages of early vocabulary, humorously illustrated. The book is sturdy, the colours are attractive and the vocabulary is extensive. I particularly like the alphabet sequence with its circus theme. Much thought has clearly gone in to making this a distinctive book of its type. Children are sure to enjoy it, and learn from it, over many years.

4-7 Years

At first glance I Want my Hat Back (Walker, £11.99) is a very simple book. Bear has lost his hat and he wants it back. He walks through the woods asking all the animals if they have seen it but none of them has – or so they say. But suddenly Bear realises that he knows where his hat is and that someone has been fibbing to him. Jon Klassen’s story is told completely in cleverly repetitious dialogue; the illustrations are full of subtle humour and the unexpected ending is a stroke of genius.

Accomplished young readers will be delighted with You, Me and Thing: the Curse of the Jelly Babies (Faber and Faber, £4.99). Ruby and Jackson are surprised when they find a Thing at the bottom of their next-door gardens. They’re not quite sure what Thing is – and neither is he. What he does know, though, is that he wants revenge on whoever has destroyed his home in the woods by building houses. And the jelly babies? You’ll have to read the book yourself to find out why they’re a curse! Karen McCombie has written a charming, funny story which is enhanced by Alex T Smith’s clever line drawings that are simply full of character.

Lewis and Harris are brother puffins living on a rock near a very familiar bridge. Harris loves it there but Lewis isn’t happy because he doesn’t think he fits in. So he decides to join the circus and become a clown. And finally he seems to fit in. But after a heroic rescue in the Big Top he somehow has more confidence wherever he is. Written by Lynne Rickards and illustrated by Gabby Grant, Lewis Clowns Around (Picture Kelpies, £5.99) is a heartwarming story of finding one’s place in life. The rhyming text and colourful illustrations make this a very appealing book for young readers.

Another nervous animal is Scaredy Squirrel. He’s worried about his birthday in Scaredy Squirrel has a Birthday Party (Catnip, £10.99). So many things could go wrong if others were involved that Scaredy is planning a party just for him. He’s thought of everything and is sure there are no lurking dangers. But when he receives an unexpected card, everything changes. Will Scaredy cope or is the party off? Melanie Watt’s subtly humorous story is delightful and the brightly coloured illustrations are wonderfully detailed and hilarious. A great book for all scaredys!

7-10 Years

Olivia Flies High (Nosy Crow, £5.99) is the second in Lyn Gardner’s series about the young tightrope performer. Olivia has adjusted to her new life in London and is making friends at school, finding a place for herself. But her happiness is sabotaged by Kate, a former fellow pupil at the Swan School. However hard Olivia tries to sort things out with Georgia, Tom and Aeysha, Katie is always on hand to cause complications. How Olivia struggles to rebuild relationships and continue her own training makes for a gripping story. Lyn Gardner describes Olivia’s feelings and emotions powerfully and realistically, creating a world to which readers will be glad to return.

A Cat Called Penguin (Scholastic, £4.99) is a story about Alfie, Grace and Penguin the cat. Alfie loves Penguin and he loves to play with him in old Mrs Barratt’s ramshackle garden next door. But then her granddaughter comes to stay and Alfie suspects that Grace is trying to steal Penguin. After fighting about the cat for days, Penguin goes missing. Holly Webb’s gentle story about sharing, friendship and tolerance (and cats) is delightful and Polly Dunbar’s illustrations add to its charm.

Want to know all about the Olympics? Richard Brassey has written just the book for you. The Story of the Olympics (Orion, £7.99) is a romp through the summer games, ancient and modern, in an entertaining cartoon format. The book dips into each games, picking out fascinating facts and following the development of the Olympic movement. Both text and pictures are humorous as well as informative, making this an enjoyable and accessible look at a sporting institution.

According to its front cover The Bumper Book of Bob (Templar, £9.99) contains stickers, stories, puzzles and games but no aliens. To be sure, there are no aliens lurking, young readers should check the book out carefully. If they do, hours of entertainment are guaranteed. Simon Bartram’s immediately recognisable illustrations and funny stories are complemented by the games and puzzles and quirky facts about Bob (the Man on the Moon) and his fellow travellers. All this is contained in an attractively designed book, one to be treasured.

9-12 Years

When the bank his parents own crashes, Oliver’s life starts to spin out of control. Precipitated into responsibility for a grumpy girl, her unpredictable mother, 16 camels and a dog, he has to do some fast thinking, creative planning – and difficult sums. Too Small to Fail (Puffin, £6.99) is the latest book by Morris Gleitzman and it sees him at his clever best. The humorous story has moments of unexpected pathos, a thought-provoking undercurrent and a cliff-hanger ending. Gleitzman’s lightness of touch and awareness of the absurd, not to mention his ability to tell a gripping story, make this a book not to be missed.

From another established author comes The Stolen Sister (Catnip, £6.99). This is the third in Joan Lingard’s series set in Edwardian London. The sister in question is Rosalind Trelawney, a child not equipped to deal with being kidnapped. Fortunately for her, Elfie has no intention of letting things take their course. Helped by her best friend Joe, Elfie sets about rescuing her little sister. Lingard’s storytelling ability is as pronounced as ever. This is a pacy narrative full of engaging believable characters and just enough twists to keep the reader guessing.

James Killgore weaves together fact and fiction in his debut novel, Soldier’s Game (Kelpies, £5.99). Alongside the true story of the 16th Royal Scots of Hearts Battalion, he tells the contemporary tale of Ross. Ross plays for his school football team, a team that suffers regular humiliating defeats, leading to derision from the pupils of nearby schools. Ross feels hopeless but when he is given his great-grandfather’s football boots and discovers that he played for Hearts at a very significant time, Ross is given the catalyst he needs to change things. This simply told story brings to life a small slice of Great War history and puts football into perspective.

The Crimson Shard (Templar, £6.99) is Teresa Flavin’s sequel to The Blackhope Enigma and continues the story of Sunni and Blaise. A seemingly casual visit to a London museum leads the friends back into the 18th century where life is expendable. As they strive to stay a few steps ahead of their would-be captors, they must also attempt to travel forward in time, and home. Flavin is an accomplished writer using an unusual background against which to develop her characters and unfold an intelligent, captivating story.