Wednesday 13 December 2017

A Christmas list to fill stockings and dreams

From furry friends to bloodsoaked tales of vampires, Alison Walsh compiles a books gift guide for children of all ages

GENTLE RHYMES AND VIVID CHARACTERS: Ahmed Kilinc, 3, pictured with a selection of seasonal books in the children's section of Waterstones bookstore on Dawson Street. Relatively inexpensive, books make an ideal present for children as they provide hours of pleasure. Photo: Gerry Mooney
GENTLE RHYMES AND VIVID CHARACTERS: Ahmed Kilinc, 3, pictured with a selection of seasonal books in the children's section of Waterstones bookstore on Dawson Street. Relatively inexpensive, books make an ideal present for children as they provide hours of pleasure. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Alison Walsh

Books are the perfect gift for Austerity Santa. They are relatively inexpensive, give hours of pleasure and offer the perfect opportunity to share a few hopefully quiet moments with our children.

And you can start them young this Christmas, with sturdy board books, bright illustrations and simple stories. For babies and toddlers, When I Dream of ABC is a beautifully illustrated, soothing book by Henry Fisher (Top That, €9.25), with gentle rhymes and vivid characters, such as chocolate-eating vampires and opera-singing mermaids. Ian Whybrow's Say Hello to the Snowy Animals invites youngsters to learn about polar bears and caribous and other furry friends, in a touchy-feely, sturdy board book (Macmillan, €8.99). Pull-out Pals is a series of indestructible board books with pull-out flaps, and the latest seasonal offering is Santa's Sleigh (Ed Eaves, Campbell Books, €7.99), with a nice verse and a bonus surprise at the end. Baby's First Christmas by Chiara Bordoni, has gentle rhymes about snowmen, angels, Christmas trees and Santa, and comes with a CD, from always reliable Usborne (€9.99).

For toddlers, The Story of Little Mole is a favourite, as little mole tries to find out who did their "business" on his head. Parents will be delighted to find that there's a new version, which comes complete with sound effects (Werner Holzwarth, Pavilion, €17.15) and for slightly older readers, who are tickled pink by the Pants series (Aliens in Underpants etc), the newest addition is Aliens Love Panta Claus, in which the helpful aliens decide to give Santa a hand by donating a pair of pants with each gift to the children (S&S, €6.99). What the Ladybird Heard is the latest from children's powerhouse Julia Donaldson (Macmillan, €7.99), in which the animals on a farm have to foil two robbers, Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len, in their plot to steal the farmer's prize cow, with the help of an observant ladybird... also from Julia Donaldson, with Gruffalo illustrator Axel Scheffler, comes Zog, in which poor Zog the dragon can't seem to master dragon-like skills, such as breathing fire and flying, no matter how hard he tries (Scholastic, €11.99).

Separating from mum and dad is a big theme for preschoolers and A Bit Lost, by Chris Haughton, has gloriously quirky illustrations and a lovely story, in which a little owl falls out of his nest, and with the help of an enthusiastic squirrel has to find his mum, approaching all kinds of unlikely candidates in the process (Walker Books, €12.99). Irish Book Award-winner Niamh Sharkey's On the Road with Mavis and Marge is a Thelma and Louise for younger readers, only with a chicken and a cow (Walker Books, €12.99) -- and a happy ending, by the way -- while Oliver Jeffers' Up and Down, the follow-up to Lost and Found, is a lovely story about friendship and caring as a boy tries to find his penguin friend after he runs away to the circus (HarperCollins, €11.99). Finally, from another Irish writer comes Adam's Pirate Treasure, the latest from Benji Bennett, whose Before You Sleep struck such a chord (and there's also Adam Saves Christmas, Adam's Printing Press, both €9.99).

Gift books for this age group include The Paddington Treasury, for youngsters to rediscover the charm of our Peruvian friend (€15.99, HarperCollins); and How Santa Really Works, by Alan Snow and Maggie Bateson, (S&S, €13.99), a lovely, witty pop-up full of facts about the man himself, such as where he lives, what the R&D department of his grotto looks like -- great to reassure doubtful youngsters.

With many of the five-plus age group just beginning to discover reading, but who still like their bedtime stories, a perennial favourite is Francesca Simon's Horrid Henry, and Horrid Henry Rocks includes four new stories: will Henry succeed in getting to the Killerboy Rats concert when his parents think he should go to the Dancing Daisies? (Orion, €5.99). Oi, Caveboy is the first of a series featuring Iggy the Urk (Alan Macdonald & Mark Beech, Bloomsbury, €6.99). Iggy is a caveboy, but he isn't interested in slaying mammals, but in inventing things, in this thoroughly entertaining lesson in how it's OK to be different. It's Great Being Little, by Nita Fitzgerald (O'Brien, €7.99), is a brightly illustrated paperback in which Susie is reminded by her granny of the joys of being little, such as playing aeroplanes with daddy and having filthy hair.

The Lost Fairy by Marian Broderick will entertain those just beginning to read, as the little fairy must find her way back to the top of the Christmas tree (O'Brien, €5.99) as will the Little Witch Who Can't Spell, by Marie Burlington (O'Brien, €5.99). Alfie Green and the Chocolate Cosmos, is the latest in Joe O'Brien's charming, quirky series in which young Alfie tries to save Budsville's chocolate fair (€7.99, O'Brien) and a favourite to read aloud in my house.

Slightly older readers in this age group will revel in The Adventures of Oook and Gluk, Kung-fu Cavemen from the Future, part of a new series by Dav Pilkey, inventor of Captain Underpants (Scholastic, €9.99) and full of the same zany humour and madcap illustrations; other popular children's characters are Judy Moody and her brother Stink, whose latest is the Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt (Megan MacDonald, Walker Books, €6.60); and a new series which promises to entertain both boys and girls from seven upwards is Letters from an Alien Schoolboy, in which Flowkwee is beamed down to Earth for the purposes of espionage, and sends his alien friends back puzzled letters detailing his life there, disguised as a schoolboy (Ros Asquith, Picadilly Press, €7.90). Also for this age group, Bink and Gollie introduces the appealing odd couple of the title, two forthright girls, one tall, one small, who take off on peanut-butter-and-pancake-fuelled adventures, which will inspire young readers with its tale of friendship (Kate DiCamillo, Walker, €10.99).

Good stocking fillers for this age group include Mini Scientist in the Kitchen, by Lisa Burke, perfect for the sleepy post-Christmas period, when dad or mum can busy themselves helping junior to make a structure with spaghetti and marshmallows, or other interesting experiments (DK, €8.99). Duncan Crosbie's Viking Raiders, a lavish pop-up, will thrill and inform those who love our friendly Northern invaders, (Gill & Macmillan, €15.99). Those of us who grew up reading the wonderful tales of Patricia Lynch will be delighted to see Tales of Irish Enchantment (€19.99, Mercier) republished, with lovely illustrations by Sara Baker. The Big Ideas that Changed the World (DK, €17.99) is a carefully thought out encyclopaedia of everything from the X-ray, to helicopters, to the discovery of DNA, which will fascinate seven to nine-year-olds.

Eight to 10-year-olds can really take off into the worlds of their imaginations, and, in this age group, fiction really comes into its own. An author with a huge following is, of course, Judi Curtin, whose Eva's Journey, her first book after the Alice and Megan series, takes her heroine from "spoilt princess to pretty cool girl" in a story told with her trademark wit and warmth (O'Brien, €7.99). Another Irish author with a huge fan base is Darren Shan, and readers will flock to Birth of a Killer (HarperCollins, €11.99), the beginning of a whole new saga and an "epic, bloodsoaked tale of a vampire who started out a nobody ... and ended up changing the world forever". On an entirely different note, a new generation will get the chance to know Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking, thanks to the new edition, beautifully illustrated by Lauren Childs, and out in trade paperback (OUP, €10.99).

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney is, of course, a proper brand now and The Ugly Truth is the latest (€11.99, Penguin), but if girls are looking for a wimp to call their own, Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell (S&S, €7.99) certainly delivers, with anti-heroine Nikki revelling in her dorkdom. On a more... magical note, Noah Barleywater Runs Away (David Fickling Books, €11.99) is the new children's novel from John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, in which nine-year-old Noah comes across a strange and unusual toyshop in the middle of a forest, with an even more unusual owner.

For older readers, 10 and upwards, Dubliner Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick has set her novel Timecatcher (Orion, €7.99) in Dublin's old Button Factory in a sparkling ghostly tale; and another ghostly tale, full of exuberant wit, vivid characters and a dash of gleeful horror is Derek Landy's Mortal Coil, the latest in the Skulduggery Pleasant series, one of the few books to pass from son to daughter in my house, and recent winner of the Book of the Decade Award (€10.99, HarperCollins).

Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines series has attracted breathless praise for its creation of a fantastical world which recalls the past, while being set in his unique vision of the future, and which will appeal to fans of Philip Pullman. A Web of Air (Scholastic, €12.99) is the latest. Children pitting themselves against a hostile world is a common theme for this age group and The Pasta Detectives, by Andreas Steinhofel, will resonate, as two misfit boys use their special gifts to try to solve a mystery, set in modern Berlin (Chicken House, €6.99). From Irish writer Garret Carr comes Lost Dogs, featuring oddball heroes Ewan, Andrew and May, and set in the sinister Irish town of Ballydog, the follow-up to The Badness of Ballydog (S&S, €9.25); also popular with older readers in this age group is Pseudonymous Bosch, author of fantastical adventures involving Aztec tuning forks and a Symphony of Smells, in the bestselling The Name of this Book is Secret and the latest This Book is Not Good for You (Usborne, €7.90).

And finally, if you'd like to keep things Irish this Christmas, try Aubrey Flegg's Fugitives, a fictional re-imagining of the Flight of the Earls (O'Brien, €9.25) which guarantees thrills aplenty and a dash of history to boot, and Gill and Macmillan's pop-up Easter Rising, handsomely illustrated and with lots of attractively packaged information to bring the events of 1916 alive for children (€18.99).

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