Book reviews: Gruffalo leads the charge for a glittering Macmillan Christmas

Drawing, doodling, colouring or simply reading… Macmillan Children’s Books have a sackful of brilliant Christmas books to keep active children busy.

Wednesday, 9th December 2015, 9:00 am
Gruffalo leads the charge for a glittering Macmillan Christmas
Gruffalo leads the charge for a glittering Macmillan Christmas

Join the Gruffalo and his woodland friends for their ‘annual’ outing, enter the magical world of Alice in Wonderland, learn to draw with the world’s best-loved artists and illustrators, share Christmas fun with the legendary Just William or laugh along with the brilliantly madcap Moone Boy.

Age 3 plus:

The Gruffalo 2016 Annual by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

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Award-winning Gruffalo creators Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler work some Christmas magic in a fantastic annual packed with more games and puzzles than twisting, turning paths in the Deep Dark Wood!

This is a spectacular gift book offering 64 pages of playful puzzles, amazing activities, jovial jokes, fascinating facts and a bellyful of Gruffalo giggles.

Join the Gruffalo and all the creatures of the Deep Dark Wood and enjoy hours of fun as they take starring roles in a super array of crafts, recipes, quizzes, games, drawing, writing and colouring-in.

Discover a brilliant A to Z of fascinating facts about woodland creatures, countryside activities and other forms of life in the Deep Dark Wood. Enjoy a step-by-step picture gallery of Axel Scheffler drawing the Gruffalo, play a special snakes and ladders game, learn how to make your own Gruffalo snacks, colour by numbers, find the odd one out and make an owl out of simple household items like paper plates, egg boxes and cotton wool balls.

There are also some great Gruffalo games and drawing challenges, and Julia Donaldson talks about her childhood love for putting on shows and encourages children to put on their own Gruffalo show.

A year of fun in one big, beautiful book…

(Macmillan, hardback, £7.99)

Age one plus:

Busy Santa by Ag Jatkowska

Push, pull and slide… Santa needs some little helping hands to make Christmas wishes come true!

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without an inventive board book to let the youngest family members get in on the festive fun so let them push, pull and turn the tabs to help Santa wrap the presents, load up the sleigh, fly through the sky and deliver all those gifts.

Children will love playing with the easy-to-handle mechanisms as they listen to Ag Jatkowska’s gently rhyming text and get busy with Santa as he delivers a sledge full of colourful presents.

With plenty to talk about and things to find on every page, Busy Santa is sure to find plenty of willing helpers!

(Campbell, board book, £4.99)

Age 2 plus:

What the Ladybird Heard Next by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks

Two of the best-known names in children’s books are on top form in the fabulous follow-up to the hugely successful What the Ladybird Heard, which has sold over a million copies worldwide.

The ladybird and her farm animal friends have a clever new plan as crafty crooks Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len get out of jail and head back to the farm with another cunning scheme to cause trouble. They have been stealing eggs from the fat red hen but now they are setting their sights higher and are planning to steal the fat red hen herself! Fortunately the quiet, clever ladybird is on their trail, and she and her farm animal friends have a plan of their own.

Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks deliver another raucous, rhyming, ribald feast of mayhem, muck and misadventure with the feisty farmyard animals, two feckless foes, a mysterious bird and a very clever ladybird. Youngsters will love joining in the fun, and the rhymes, as the hapless thieves meet an animal team that is more than their match.

The book comes complete with a gorgeously glittery eye-catching cover and there’s the added fun of spotting the sparkly ladybird on every page. With slapstick action, animal noises, and a mysterious Snuggly Snerd bird, What the Ladybird Heard Next is destined to become yet another classic in the Donaldson and Monks collection.

(Macmillan, hardback, £11.99)

Age 3 plus:

The Best Christmas Present Ever! by Ben Mantle

What do you do when you forget to get a Christmas present for your best friend?

Author and illustrator Ben Mantle adds extra sparkle to his feelgood Christmas picture story about friendship and giving in true festive style with a glittering book cover and heart-melting messages.

It’s Christmas and Bear has forgotten to give his best friend Squirrel a present. So he decides to make him an extra special gift. Except Bear isn’t very good at making things. Everything he tries is a disaster. He can’t give Squirrel a badly knitted jumper, a terrible painting or a broken rocking chair but maybe if he puts them together, they might turn out to be the best Christmas present ever…

Funny, whimsical, warm and wise, Mantle’s enchanting story proves that sometimes it’s the thought that makes a present so special!

(Macmillan, hardback, £10.99)

Age 5 plus:

Draw it! Colour it! Creatures

Take over 40 of the world’s best-loved artists and illustrators, ask them to devise a simple but ingenious drawing book for all the family to enjoy… and you get the amazing Draw it! Colour it! spectacular.

Who could resist the chance to draw and colour a gallery of wonderful creatures with the help of award-winning artists and children’s books illustrators like Axel Scheffler, Emily Gravett, Chris Riddell, Benji Davies, Marta Altés, Sara Ogilvie, Rob Biddulph and Tim Hopgood?

The theme of the book is creatures and each page is packed with monkeys and monsters, dinosaurs and dragons, big cats and little cats… and everything in between! Jump from scary to silly to simply stunning with every page you turn, then sharpen your pencils and join in to complete the pictures.

Colour in the pictures, draw your own monstrous monsters, copy the illustrations, use your own imagination to complete pictures and draw a bird by using a real feather!

This is the ideal book for aspiring artists and fans of children’s illustration who want to have a go themselves. With 120 fun-filled pages, there is plenty of room for parents to get stuck in too and there won’t be a dull moment on rainy days and holidays.

An exciting and inspirational book for children who love to draw, made by people who love to draw.

(Macmillan, paperback, £10)

Age 6 plus:

The Macmillan Alice Colouring Book

Lose yourself in a mesmerising maze of words and pictures as Wonderland meets Mindfulness in this dynamic and creative colouring book.

Ideal for all the family, this stunning book brings to life the magical world created 150 years ago by Lewis Carroll and Sir John Tenniel but allows you to put your own special colour into the storylines.

Imaginative and engrossing, the book features the original black line illustrations by Sir John, taken from the original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, but with added decoration and words to stimulate the imagination and soothe the mind.

So lose yourself in a miasma of magical quotes and Wonderland illustrations including everyone’s favourite characters, the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, the Red Queen and Alice herself, as you bring colour to this unique world.

Perfect as a gift for youngsters who love colouring in or simply as an aid to relaxation for all age groups, this beautiful colouring book packs in hours of fun and entertainment.

(Macmillan, paperback, £10)

Age 7 plus:

Chris Riddell’s Doodle-a-Day

Grab your pencils and draw on the inspiration of one of the nation’s best illustrators!

Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell takes kids on an action-packed adventure to explore their own creativity in an ingenious diary format book full of stunning Illustrations and professional tips to inspire everyone from colouring-mad youngsters to paint-curious parents.

There are 366 pages of starters, illustration tips and beautiful artwork ideas, all aimed at promoting the joy of drawing and doodling in a fun and interactive way. Create your own quirky characters, design some outrageous outfits or start your very own comic.

Finish patterns, celebrate seasons, use spaces to draw your lunch, mood, pets, family and friends, draw big pictures and tiny pictures or draw what you are listening to. The possibilities are endless and all you need is a pencil and your imagination.

And in addition to inspiring a love of illustration, 20p from the sale of every copy of Doodle-A-Day in the UK will go to the reading charity Book Trust which manages the Children’s Laureate.

A year of fun and inspiration for doodlers young and old!

(Macmillan, paperback, £9.99)

Age 9 plus:

William at Christmas Written by Richmal Crompton and illustrated by Thomas Henry

Everyone’s favourite troublemaker, William Brown, makes a welcome return in a brilliant collection of Christmas mayhem and mishaps.

With a gorgeous new cover illustrated by David Roberts, William at Christmas features the mischievous schoolboy, better known as Just William, who has been loved (and emulated!) by millions of children since his adventures were first published in 1922.

Wonderful William and his lovable gang of ‘Outlaws’ sprung from the pen of Lancashire-born author Richmal Crompton, daughter of the Rev Edward John Sewell Lamburn, a classics master at Bury Grammar School.

Born in 1890, Crompton wrote 39 William books throughout her life, the last one published posthumously in 1970, a year after her death. The William books sold over twelve million copies in the UK alone and have been adapted for films, plays and numerous radio and television series.

And now her tousle-headed, snub-nosed, incorrigible imp is back to harass his unfortunate family, and delight a new generation of children in ten hilarious Christmas stories. Join in the fun as William visits his relations, prepares for the local pantomime and enjoys the school holidays with his gang of faithful outlaws.

With Crompton’s beautiful, flowing language skills, her innate sense of fun and sarcasm, and more madcap antics than a circus clown act, Just William is as irresistible today as he was 90 years ago.

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

What Would Alice Do?

‘Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’

Take a leaf out of Lewis Carroll’s 19th century masterpiece and learn to look at life with the wisdom of Alice!

This delightful pocket-sized book has some very big ideas and they all come straight from the pages of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its equally famous sequel, Through the Looking-Glass.

Every modern miss (and her mum!) will find good advice, humorous truisms and some entertaining left field thinking from one of the most famous female characters in literary history and her amazing array of Wonderland friends.

Marvel at pithy quotations from the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts and, of course, the irrepressible Alice, every one of them still relevant today . . . and guaranteed to put a Cheshire grin on your face!

However unreasonable, demanding and downright confusing a situation may be, Alice will help you to navigate life by being just like she is… forthright, polite and always true to herself.

Sir John Tenniel's original engravings, which have defined our image of Alice ever since the story was first published in 1865, are reproduced to the highest quality, making the book a delight for long-time fans and those new to Alice’s adventures.

As Alice herself remarked, ‘There ought to be a book written about me, that there ought!’ And here it is… the perfect Christmas gift!

(Macmillan, hardback, £5.99)

Age 9 plus:

Moone Boy: The Fish Detective by Chris O’Dowd and Nick V. Murphy

Christmas is coming in the little Irish town of Boyle but Martin Moone must pay his own way to keep the festive spirit alive and kicking…

What do you get when you put together Irish actor Chris O’Dowd and his screenwriter pal Nick Vincent Murphy? A madcap 11-year-old boy with a wicked wit and an outrageously overactive imagination!

If you haven’t already met Martin Moone, he’s the star of an award-winning hit TV sitcom co-written by O’Dowd and Murphy, and also co-starring O’Dowd. The story of Martin is based on O’Dowd’s own family life as he grew up in Boyle, County Roscommon, in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Moone Boy: The Fish Detective is the second book in this hilarious illustrated-fiction series which acts as a prequel to the television programmes and serves up laugh-out-loud, standalone stories.

Martin Moone loves Christmas but this year his parents are strapped for cash so his gift list has had to be downsized. If he wants any decent presents, he’s going to have to pay for them himself.

His imaginary friend, Sean ‘Caution’ Murphy, suggests he gets a job but after failing to find work as a stable boy (allergic to horses) and refusing to be a paper boy (starting work at 6am is out of the question), things aren’t looking good.

Padraic puts in a word for him with his Auntie Bridget, who runs the local butcher’s shop. But her shop is struggling as the fish shop across the road undercuts her and Bridget just can’t compete.

No one knows how the owner, Francie Feeley, does it… especially since he doesn’t seem to employ anyone at his fish factory. No one goes in, no one goes out, it’s a mystery. Intrigued,

Martin decides to go undercover and find out the truth, like a fish mole, or is that a fish detective?

Martin infiltrates the factory and discovers that Francie is illegally employing a gang of Brazilian fish-gutters. They’re a lot of fun and one of them, Fabio, becomes Martin’s good friend.

But when Martin is exposed as a spy, he has to choose which side he’s on. Will Christmas be ruined for the whole of Boyle?

Brought to life by zany illustrations and featuring irrepressible (and sometimes naughty!) Irish humour, Martin’s adventures in his amazingly imaginative world are ideal for youngsters who enjoy reading alone… though they may want to share the occasional joke with an adult!

(Macmillan, hardback, £10.99)


A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

Queen of storytellers Scheherazade lives again!

Forensic archaeologist Emily Kate Johnston weaves an evocative tale of love, mystery and magic in her stunning reimagining of the legendary tales of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights.

A Thousand Nights is a moving, atmospheric story of family love and friendship, set against a harsh desert backdrop and told in language outstanding in its beauty, fluency and sheer power.

Johnston has lived on four continents, including summers spent in Jordan experiencing the desert first-hand. Her inspiration for this compelling Eastern odyssey comes from her love of storytelling and her work, travels and university studies in Biblical Hebrew and Arabic.

‘Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to my village looking for a wife. She that he chose of us would be a hero,’ we are told by our unnamed narrator.

When Lo-Melkhiin, a formidable king, arrives at her desert home, the girl knows that he will take her beautiful sister for a wife. Desperate to save her sister from certain death, she makes the ultimate sacrifice, leaving behind home and family to live with a fearful man.

But it seems that a strange magic flows between her and Lo-Melkhiin and, night after night, she survives. Finding power in storytelling, the words she speaks are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first… a dress from home, a vision of her sister. But she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic, power enough to save a king. If only she can stop her heart from falling for a monster…

Although based on the famous Arabian Nights, Johnston’s bewitching and seductive story has a life of its own, bringing new meaning and new understanding to the world of the desert people.

Intriguing and entrancing, this is a tale to remember long after the last page has turned…

(Macmillan, hardback, £12.99)