Book review: Christmas crackers for children

Forget gadgets and gizmos this Christmas and give your child the gift of reading.

Monday, 22nd November 2010, 6:00 am

There’s never been a better time to take a trip to your local bookshop and discover the new generation of children’s authors who are tempting youngsters to switch off their tellies and computers and enjoy a good story.

Whether it’s picture books, activity books, information books, history books or books for those who are nearly grown up, there are Christmas crackers for every young taste.

Here are some of the best...

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Usborne’s touchy-feely board books provide some of the best early reading material on the market, perfect for tiny tots who want to get their hands on a book just as much as they like looking at the pictures.

That’s not my Donkey, written by Fiona Watt and illustrated by Rachel Wells (Usborne, £5.99) has bright, colourful pictures with patches of different textures designed to develop sensory and language awareness.

The tiniest tots cannot fail to be enchanted by the vivid and colourful pictures in Night, Light, Sleep Tight written by Janet Bingham and illustrated by the talented Rosalind Beardshaw (Scholastic, paperback, £6.99).

The gentle bedtime story of Jack the duck who is afraid of the dark and Olivia the owl who is afraid of the light offers reassuring messages about friendship and respecting other people’s views.

In Pocket’s Christmas Wish by Ann Bonwill and Russell Julian (OUP, paperback, £5.99), we meet the adorable bunny Pocket who is eager to find the real meaning of Christmas.

His wonder-filled journey of discovery captures the season at its best and provides little ones with their first gentle lesson on the joys of giving.

And what child could resist Father Christmas Needs A Wee! by Nicholas Allen (Red Fox, paperback, £6.99) which comes with a hilarious CD read by Bernard Cribbins and brings to life the painful dilemma that Santa faces every Christmas Eve.

All those snacks and drinks are playing havoc and before long, Father Christmas really, really needs a wee, but what can he do about it? Guaranteed to get everyone chuckling!

Early years readers will find the adventures of the fun-loving Railway Rabbits a gentle ride. In Berry goes to Winterland (Orion, paperback, £4.99), we follow a baby rabbit’s exciting travels through a mysterious tunnel in the snow and a meeting with the Red Dragon - and Father Christmas himself.

With heart-tugging illustrations by Anna Currey and warm, reassuring, easy-to-read stories that are both accessible and fun, The Railway Rabbits’ escapades look to set to run and run.

Animals are also the stars of the show in Brian Wildsmith’s enchanting and timeless retelling of the Nativity Story which has rightly become a children’s classic.

A Christmas Journey (OUP, paperback, £5.99) features Mary’s cat and dog as they set out to find their mistress when she leaves for Bethlehem. The amazing illustrations make this book a real delight.

Stick Man Book and CD (Scholastic, paperback, £7.99) is the brilliant creation of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. Stick Man lives in a family tree with his Stick Lady and their three children and their madcap adventures will bring a smile to the face of children aged two and over.

With eye-catching illustrations, a story told in appealing rhyming couplets and performed on the CD by Imelda Staunton, Stick Man is a walking, talking feast of fun.

Three and over children will love the fun of the Pull-Back Busy Bug Book written by Fiona Watt and illustrated by Ben Mantle (Usborne, boardbook, £14.99) which has four embedded tracks and a toy ladybird to pull back on its wheels and send speeding around the garden scenes.

Every page is full of fascinating insects and flowers to set young tongues wagging, and the busy bug will keep little hands busy and provide hours of entertainment.

Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a sticker book and they don’t come better than 1000 Christmas Stickers written by Fiona Watt and designed by Stella Baggott (Usborne, paperback, £9.99)

There is a winter wonderland of scenes for children aged over three to design their own pictures or to use for their own cards, letters, envelopes and drawings. From skiing and snowboarding to street markets, let your kids create their own festive fun.

And why not join in the adventures of Megamind, the hot new film from DreamWorks, with the fun-packed Megamind: Born to be Bad Activity Book and the Megamind: Sticker Storybook (both Random House, paperback, £3.99).

Megamind is mega evil and the only thing standing in his way from controlling Metro City and total world domination is the super-cool, super-handsome Metro Man. Will evil triumph over virtue or will Megamind realise that sometimes it feels great to be good?

The activity book is packed with puzzles, games and quizzes, including trendy door hangers for kids’ bedrooms, and the sticker book provides four pages of stickers so young readers can create their own comic strips. Bad and totally brilliant!

Find Chaffy by Jamie Smart (Scholastic,paperback, £5.99) provides hours of fun for children aged six and over who want a book with some added excitement.

Ten fluffy, white chaffies have wandered off into the big wide world and the quest is to spot them among crowds of scaredy ghosts, angry robots and stompy dinosaurs. A new challenge on every page.

And if you want to beat the holiday boredom, look no further than the Seriously Silly Christmas Activity Book by Nikalas Catlow and Tim Wesson (Scholastic, paperback, £6.99). This really is an awesome collection of daring doodles and puzzle madness.

Suitable for age five and over, the book includes mazes, word searches, comic strips, dot-to-dots, crosswords, Sudoku and some seriously silly stories. Hours of fun for kids and hours of peace for mums and dads!

Snowy’s Story, care of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home (Red Fox, paperback, £4.99) puts the ‘aaah’ factor into Christmas for children aged five and over.

The illustrated tale of Snowy, a St Bernard puppy, is based on a real- life dog which turned up at the home and his adventures will win the hearts of animal lovers young and old.

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a Terry Deary book somewhere in the stocking. The Horrible History of Britain and Ireland with illustrations by Martin Brown (Scholastic, hardback, £12.99) has colourful accounts of all those dreadful deeds that made Britain not-so-great.

Any child aged eight or over will revel in Deary’s hilarious tales of battling Welsh mums, scary Scottish games, revolting English peasants and the dreadful door poster on the reverse of the book jacket.

And if all things ‘yukky’ are your child’s idea of fun, why not introduce him or her to The Slime Squad, Steve Cole’s army of lovable monsters who live in a rubbish dump called Trashland.

In The Slime Squad vs The Cyber-Poos (Red Fox, paperback, £4.99), important computer components go missing and the gang is forced once again to fight crime with slime.

With a selection of collectable cards and plenty of madcap, mucky missions to enjoy, The Slime Squad is a down-to-earth winner.

Some storybook characters never age...take Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking, the eccentric girl whose adventures have been thrilling children since 1945.

In a sumptuous new gift edition (OUP, paperback, £9.99), Lauren Child’s illustrations bring to life Pippi’s mischievous escapades and the joie- de-vivre that enchants youngsters of every age.

Lauren St John packs in a great detective story in her exciting Dead Man’s Cove (Orion, hardback, £9.99), which features orphan Laura Marlin as she moves from a children’s home to her uncle’s spooky house in Cornwall.

There’s a real-life adventure waiting for her and who better to solve the strange goings-on than ace detective Laura. Goodies, baddies and a cracking mystery.

Return to The Lost World from top writing team Steve Barlow and Steve Skidmore (Usborne, paperback, £5.99) introduces Luke Challenger, a new and exciting teenage hero.

Constantly in mortal danger, Luke does what every teen dreams of ... he has ‘ripping’ adventures which involve taking to the skies in gliders, rowing through the rainforest and entering a lost world of dinosaurs. Superb boys’ own adventure.

Make a splash with the perfectly packaged box-set Emily Windsnap’s Four Swishy Tales by Liz Kessler (Orion, hardback, £19.99) which features the undersea adventures of Emily, part girl and part mermaid.

Pre-teens have fallen in love with the enchanting Emily and her friends who meet sea monsters, visit mystery castles and discover strange sirens, all part of a fabulous underwater world.

Or how about a bit of time-travelling with the incomparable Bill Bryson? A Really Short History Of Nearly Everything (Corgi, paperback, £9.99) puts the fun into scientific discovery.

This specially adapted children’s edition of his global bestseller is packed with illustrations and Bryson’s trademark wit and wisdom. The perfect gift for enquiring minds.

Girls with stars in their eyes will love Polly Plays her Part by Anne- Marie Conway (Usborne, paperback, £5.99), part of the sparkling Star Makers Club series.

Polly is the star of the school play but at home she is creating a new identity for herself on an internet networking site and becoming lost in a virtual world. Polly’s gripping journey from real life to fantasy is a must-read.

Bartimaeus: The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud (Doubleday, hardback, £14.99) is another cracking read for older children.

Bartimaeus is a demon with attitude and it’s a devil of a job keeping him in his place. Fortunately, Stroud’s anti-hero is not all bad – well, not quite! For a start he has a wicked sense of humour which helps us to forgive all his deadly designs and dastardly deeds.

Fast-paced, sizzling with sarcasm and fizzing with fun, The Ring of Solomon is a thrill-a-minute ride.

Teens can get to grips with the stunning novel, The Last Summer Of The Death Warriors by Francisco X.Stork (Scholastic, hardback, £10.99), the moving story of two boys – one battling cancer and the other intent on murder.

As one comes to terms with his imminent death, the other learns that there is more to life than revenge. A story that is as uplifting as it is heartbreaking.

With breathtaking action, characters ‘to die for’ and devilish twists and turns that keep you reading well past the witching hour, William Hussey’s Witchfinder: Dawn of the Demontide (OUP, paperback, £6.99) is the closest thing you’ll find to horror heaven.

Tales of demons, witches, vampires and devils are stock in trade these days but rarely is a book – and certainly a children’s book – written with such ferocious realism and descriptive intensity.

Angel by L.A.Weatherly (Usborne, paperback, £7.99) is the first of a thrilling teen trilogy and a celestial stunner, clipping the wings of the angel cult and delivering something deliciously devilish.

Forget about angels being all sweetness and light and instead picture them as terrifying vestal vampires feeding on the human energy of misguided mortals. Out of this world!

White Crow by top children’s writer Marcus Sedgwick (Orion, hardback, £9.99) is a sizzling modern gothic thriller about what awaits us after death – angels or the devil?

Ostensibly the tale of a friendship between two girls during a hot summer, Sedgwick weaves in a spooky rector whose bizarre experiments into the afterlife add a thrilling dimension.

Another simmering teen read is Finding Sky by Joss Sterling (OUP, paperback, £8.99) which offers a refreshing and exciting slant on the current crop of paranormal novels.

Mysterious English girl Sky falls for bad boy Zed Benedict at her new American high school. He reads her mind and she’ll love him forever.

But Zed is a savant on the hunt for a soulfinder and their relationship will be intense and dangerous. Brilliantly different and incredibly romantic!