Saturday 20 January 2018

Terrific tales to enthrall and inspire the children

From a ride through the solar system to a boy on a polar bear, Lorraine Courtney looks at the top buys

Lorraine Courtney

They don't beep, they don't need batteries and they won't break. Books are a can't-fail present, full of fun.

At the younger end of the spectrum, Christmas books should be beautiful and Miki and the Wishing Star (Hodder, £6.99) is stunning, with its sumptuous jacket and decoration by Stephen Mackey. It is also an exquisite tale of friendship and hope.

Rosie's Magic Horse by Russell Hoban (Walker, £12.99) sets Quentin Blake's prancing lolly-stick horses galloping across cities and jungles and over oceans and deserts on a quest for pirate gold.

Then have your tiaras and tutus at the ready for Ella Bella Ballerina and the Nutcracker by James Mayhew (Hodder, £6.99). It has a gloriously Christmassy theme with dancing snowflakes and, of course, the sugar plum fairy.

Richard Collingridge's When it Snows (David Fickling, £10.99) is unabashedly escapist. It's about a little boy, in bobble hat and wellington boots, who sets out across snowy wastes, rides a polar bear and meets a crowd of snowmen. The ending is all about the power of the imagination: "And I can go there every day... because my favourite book takes me there."

Editions of The Night before Christmas, with Clement C Moore's quaint and persistent verse, pop up every year. A likeable new version, satisfyingly large and splendidly packaged, with images of a nostalgic, snow-covered world is illustrated by Angela Barrett (Hodder, £36.99). This is something for families to share – preferably on Christmas Eve. Another timeless treasure is Oscar Wilde's Stories for Children (O'Brien, €14.99) using Charles Robinson's original evocative watercolour and line drawings.

Spiddal-based author Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin has just written a new book as gaeilge for young people, rather bizarrely inspired by Vincent Browne. The author nodded off while watching Browne's nightly TV3 programme and found himself dreaming about a big brown bear, that speaks Irish and is called Uinseann Donn (Futa Fata, €9.95). The result is a picture book with watercolours by Hungarian artist Irisz Agocs.

Lisin – Scoil na bPáistí Deasa by Patricia Forde (Futa Fata, €7.95) is suitable for the slightly older seven to eight-year-old readers. It's about a feisty little pirate girl, with humorous illustrations by French illustrator Joelle Dreidemy. And if you want them to learn some French, Danny Cool Bonjour by Grainne Ryan Schaeken (Coco Publications €9.99) is a gentle and pleasing introduction to this beautiful language, delightfully illustrated by Deborah McCann.

For six or seven-year-olds to read to themselves Alex T Smith's Claude at the Circus (Hodder £7.99) is a more than usually rewarding first reader, with simple everyday language, about a dog who has adventures when his owners are away. Here he causes an all out avalanche. Oops.

Pinocchio by Michael Morpurgo has beautiful illustrations by Emma Chichester Clark. We get Pinnochio's point of view in this surprising adaptation of the tale.

The Moomins and the Great Flood (Sort of Books, £9.99) by Tove Jansson is a joy. The illustrations are captivating – sepia watercolours and adorable line drawings – and very funny. Laugh at Moominmamma endeavouring to climb a rope ladder while hanging on to her handbag.

Colm's Lambs: Stories From Glenmore Valley by Anna McQuinn (O'Brien, €7.99) is a very personal account of life down the farm, inspired by the author's own childhood in County Kerry.

What does a footballer with an IQ of 150 and a new contract with Chelsea do in his spare time? He writes children's books, of course. Frank Lampard's Frankie's Magic Football (Little, Brown Books, £4.99) is pacey and full of adventure where our hero must use his wits, football skills and teamwork to triumph against the most dastardly of opponents.

For children who like their reading to be packed with bite-sized information, The Wonderful World of Simon Abbott: Journey Through the Solar System (Ticktock, £5.99) takes you on a ride through the Solar System. It's all space words, fun facts and dazzling cartoon illustrations.

The Big Body Book (Ticktock, £5.99) will teach you how your body works. Divided into discrete spreads dealing with different functions such as moving about, eating and using food, and senses, the book explains what each bit does in super simple sentences.

Wimpy Kid is hard to avoid, the series that delights in clueless parents, scheming siblings and excruciating moments at school when you're not one of the cool kids. In the newest book Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck writer and cartoonist Jeff Kinney doesn't disappoint.

Also for the eight-plus child, Spider Sandwiches by Claire Freedman and Sue Hendra (Bloomsbury, £8.30) is full of creepy crawlies and all things ick.

The choices broaden hugely for nine year-olds and upwards. Eva and the Hidden Diary, by best-selling Judi Curtin (O'Brien, €7.99), is all about setting past wrongs right. Eva and BF Kate find an old diary, written long ago by a girl their own age. With such a premise, you can guess the rest, but if you can't have a happy ending at Christmas, then when?

Brian Gallagher's Stormclouds (O'Brien, €7.99) tackles much darker territory. Twins Emma and Dylan move from Washington to Belfast in the late 1960s when their journalist father is sent to cover the civil rights movement. Just beautiful writing and ideal for age ten and up.

Darragh Martin's The Keeper (Little Island, €10.99) is a fantasy adventure that will thrill any Artemis Fowl fan.

If you buy only one, my children's book of the year is The Twistrose Key, a dazzling debut by Norwegian writer, Tone Almhjell (Little Brown, £10.99). She has created the stunning wintery world of Sylver, peopled by human-sized creatures who were all formerly pets. Our heroine, Lin, manages to get into the world using a key marked "Twistrose", and is reunited with her much missed pet vole, Rufus. The book has a Narnia-esque feel and possesses the plot, pace and dash of a classic.

Finally, a mention for The Hobbit (Harper Collins, €8.95), possibly the greatest children's story ever told and in cinemas too this December. Books like this are what turn us into readers, and in doing so, change our lives.

Sunday Independent

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