The 12 best children’s books to give this Christmas
With great illustrations and engaging storylines, these books from bestselling authors will make great stocking fillers and gifts for children of all ages
With Christmas on the horizon, book publishers and authors are busy promoting their latest titles.
Yet choosing books – particularly children’s picture books, where fine illustrations may hide a dull story – often requires a bit of time and effort.
So in keeping with the 12-days-of-Christmas theme, we have selected a dozen children’s books from the past year to help you find something suitable to stuff into a youngster’s stocking.
Five and under
First Day at Skeleton School, by Sam Lloyd, follows new pupils – zombies, ghosts, werewolves and witches – as they go to class and learn how to howl in assembly, float through walls and fly broomsticks under the guidance of schoolmaster Mr Skeleton. The simple story, packed with quirky, colourful characters, will certainly not scare young readers.
Dragons Love Tacos 2: The Sequel, by Adam Rubin with illustrations by Daniel Salmieri, is the zany time-travelling follow-up to the hit original, about a party for taco-loving dragons that turns into a fiery disaster after they accidentally eat hot-and-spicy salsa on their tacos.
This time the hungry dragons board a time machine, after discovering there are no more tacos left on Earth, and travel back to the days before tacos vanished, which is easier said than done. Not as fresh as the original, but will still engage youngsters.
What George Forgot, is a lovely picture book by author Kathy Wolff and illustrator Richard Byrne, focusing on little George’s efforts to try to remember to complete his morning routine, such as brushing his teeth and washing his hands with soap, before going to school. But what has he forgotten? Byrne’s charming drawings elevate Wolff’s amusing tale to a winning level.
The Ugly Five, the latest book by writer Julia Donaldson and her frequent illustrator Axel Scheffler, is a heartwarmer about Africa’s less appealing animals, the wildebeest, hyena, vulture, warthog and stork. Scheffler’s illustrations are as beautifully detailed as ever, but the story, while enjoyable and charming – and sure to be a bestseller – is less inspired and absorbing than her best efforts, The Smartest Giant in Town, Room on the Broom and her most famous book, The Gruffalo.
Six to nine
Malala’s Magic Pencil, the charming autobiographical picture book by Malala Yousafzai, who found global fame as a schoolgirl blogger while living under Taliban rule in Pakistan, and later survived an assassination attempt, was published in October. It starts with the line, “Do you believe in magic”, suggesting a traditional fairy tale awaits. But her fantasy is to imagine what she would do with such a pencil, such as stop time and have an extra hour’s sleep every morning, or erase the smell of a rubbish dump near her home.
Her confident prose never ducks the seriousness of her life, and the beautiful images of Sebastien Cosset and Marie Pommepuy combine to tell an enchanting and inspiring story.
Guinness World Records Amazing Animals is the first book from the famed reference-book publishers to focus just on animals. It is colourful, packed full of photographs and information about record-breaking animals, peculiar pets, and notable animals, including heroic dogs, surfing pigs and a rabbit that plays basketball. It will appeal to new readers.
The 91-Storey Treehouse, by Andy Griffiths, with illustrations by Terry Denton, is the seventh in the duo’s hit series, which has sold 2.8 million copies. The wacky stories focus on Andy and Terry, who live in the treehouse and write children’s stories for Mr Big Nose.
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Each year the treehouse adds another 13-storeys and the tales get – literally – taller and taller, too. This year’s book sees them take a spin in the world’s most powerful whirlpool and ride in a submarine sandwich. Regular fans should love it.
Nine and over
The inspiring non-fiction book, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, first published in 2016, presents profiles of 100 extraordinary women from around the world, including modern sports stars, philosophers, queens and ballerinas, alongside stunning portraits drawn by female artists. British entries include Jane Austen and Elizabeth I. This year’s sequel, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2, has 100 new women’s profiles. Pre-orders began in November, so you may just get a copy before Christmas. But if not, fear not and read the tremendous first one, er, first.
The Land of Stories: Worlds Collide, is the frantic-paced conclusion to the bestselling series of updated fairy tales and folklore, written by Glee actor Chris Colfer. His New York City-set fantasy, deftly mixing humour and heart-stopping action, focuses on the battle between good and evil fictional characters, including Captain Hook and the Queen of Hearts. Twins Conner and Alex, from the earlier stories, struggle to restore order between the human and fairy tale worlds. Will there be a happy ending? Sure to please fans.
The Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy was released by bestselling Rick Riordan (of Percy Jackson fame) in May as a sequel to the Trials series’ debut, The Hidden Oracle. Once again it focuses on the god Apollo, banished from Olympus to New York, and turned into a spotty-faced teenager named Lester, as a punishment by his father, Zeus. Riordan’s mythological-based narrative sticks with his trademark humorous touches amid moments of sadness, as Lester treks across North America to gain control of five oracles from Ancient Greece – and his father’s forgiveness. One for Riordan’s fan base.
Bad Dad, the latest inventive humorous tale by award-winning author-comedian David Walliams is sure to be on many children’s “Dear Santa” lists. Once again it includes great illustrations by Tony Ross; his drawings are pleasingly similar to those of Quentin Blake in Roald Dahl’s classic children’s books. Young Frank’s Dad is in jail for driving the getaway car during a bank robbery. Will villain “Mr Big” stop him freeing his father for one night to return the stolen money? The usual wacky humour found in Walliams’ best books, Gangsta Granny and Mr Stink, ensures Bad Dad is a good read.
The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell – featuring a boy wizard, Xar, and Wish, a warrior princess is sure to be among this year’s bestsellers. Set in a fantasy world in which warriors and wizards are at war, the two youngsters find themselves battling the magic of evil witches, who were thought to have died out. This action-packed adventure, full of sure-footed, inventive prose by Cowell, best known for her hit How to Train Your Dragon books and film franchise, has had glowing reviews, and the film rights reportedly have been snapped up, too. Recommended.
Special thanks go to Arti Mirchandani of Bookazine in Central, and Ursula Huber of Kidnapped in Sai Kung for their help in compiling this list.