Here's a small selection of our top "non-chart-topping" choices to keep youngsters entertained this Christmas. It was hard to choose... so if we get the time we'll bring you some more of our favourites over the next few weeks. Most of these are at discounted prices at Books & Ink but we've given the recommended retail prices in case you're reading from further afield and wish to shop at your local independent bookshop; there are, of course, no other alternatives for a proper book-shopping experience.... well, ok, if you get really stuck you could check out our friends at Hive... but nowhere else, promise? ♥ We love you ♥
1. The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore – new edition with illustrations by Robert Ingpen (Templar Publishing, £6.99)
To get you in the festive mood, our first choice is a Christmas classic - an enchanting small new edition of The Night Before Christmas to share with children of all ages. The illustrations are magical and Ingpen’s Father Christmas, or Saint Nick, is a lovely, huggable grandfatherly fellow. This is one of the best-loved Christmas poems of all time and young children readily fall in love with it. The author, Clement C. Moore, first read the poem to his own small children on Christmas Eve in 1822 but it’s as beautiful now as it would have been then. Share the magic in the weeks leading up to Christmas with this sweet and special story.
2. The Little Hen and the Great War by Jennifer Beck, with illustrations by Robyn Belton (Scholastic, £6.99)
This year, the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, has seen us flooded with an array of new books about the war, for adults and children. We’ve chosen to share this little gem with you. It is a beautiful picture book and is perfect for sharing with children. It’s the story of a young farm boy, Arthur, who goes off to fight in the trenches in France. When he finds a lone little red hen he takes her under his wing and looks after her in the trenches. He is clearly devoted to the little hen and she brings much joy to his unit. It wasn’t uncommon for soldiers to adopt animals during the war – a touch of humanity in an otherwise inhumane environment – and this little story is very believable. It’s a touching introduction to the First World War and we know you will love it.
3. Adventures in Wild Places – an activity and sticker book by Lonely Planet Kids (£5.99).
Here’s an activity book for the young animal lovers you know. I Love this book! I would have adored this book as a kid and have no trouble recommending it to you. There are colouring-in pages, there are things to spot, appealing drawings, stickers, activity pages such as mazes to follow and a 3D model to make. From the Kruger National Park in South Africa to the Bavarian Forest in Germany, from the Galapagos Islands to Huanglong in China, a number of wild places are explored in a fun and engaging way. If this appeals, there are two other books in the series so far, Adventures in Busy Places and Adventures in Cold Places.
4. The Promise by Nicola Davies, with illustrations by Laura Carlin (Walker Books, £6.99).
Our next choice is a modern fable in picture book format - recommended for the upper end of this age range. The story is set during a very dark and dreary time; everything is grey, the people seem grey, the streets dark and mean; nobody smiles. A young girl snatches a handbag from an older lady but in doing so she is compelled to make a promise which is to change her life and the world she lives in, forever. The handbag is full of little green acorns and she has promised to plant them, transforming the world from a grey and dreary one of misery to a happier place with colour and life and wonder. This is a simple and beautiful tale about looking after our planet, with illustrations which match the story perfectly.
5. Read it Build it Space (Egmont, £9.99).
Budding astronauts will think you are brilliant for finding this great gift. This innovative box set contains a book about space and six cardboard stacking blocks to build, which together make an amazing space tower. You can create five different scenes with the blocks, including a rocket, a spacesuit and the solar system. Genius? Oh yes! It’s a fun new idea and is sure to keep young astronauts and rocket engineers entertained for hours.
6. A Tiger Tale by Holly Webb (Scholastic, £5.99)
I am a tiger fanatic; I just love tigers. But I have chosen this book, not just because of the tigers, but for its simplicity and for the sympathetic and touching way in which it introduces young readers to loss and coping with the death of a loved one. It’s ideal for confident young readers to read themselves but is just as suitable for reading aloud. Not only does the tiger on the cover have the ‘awww’ factor but there are some lovely black and white drawings inside. Kate is about 8 years old and her granddad has recently passed away. She is comforted by a cuddly tiger toy her granddad gave her when she was small… but is there more to her tiger toy than meets the eye…? Holly has written lots of books for children and writes beautifully and sympathetically about this sensitive topic. If you need to approach this subject with younger ones then read it with them instead. Highly recommended.
7. Hug Me by Simona Ciraolo (Flying Eye Books, £11.99)
One of our favourite children’s picture book publishers is Flying Eye Books. If you like books that are a little out of the ordinary and different to the ones you find in big chainstores then look no further. Flying Eye choose their books with care and then produce them beautifully. This is an adorable story of a little cactus, Felipe, who feels very sad that his family don’t like to hug or show their feelings. Felipe feels very sad and lonely until he meets a friend who is also lonely and wants a hug. The pictures are really endearing and we think this one will be a family favourite.
8. Compton Valance: The Most Powerful Boy in the Universe and The Time-Travelling Sandwich Bites Back (Usborne, £5.99)
From an exciting new voice in children’s fiction come these two fun books. When Compton Valance and his best friend Bryan Nylon discover the world’s first time machine (13-week-old cheese and picked egg sandwich turned time machine) they become the most powerful boys in the universe. Cue escapades aplenty including a step back in time with dinosaurs (which may, I have heard rumoured, have been defeated by custard cream biscuits). The books are aimed for 8+ readers but we’ve had great success with it in the bookshop being read to younger children at bedtime so it comes highly recommended from our young customers, both boys and girls.
9. The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook by Joyce Lancaster Brisley (Macmillan Classics, £9.99)
No collection of our top 10 books for 4-7s this year would be complete without including this beautiful new edition of a children’s classic. Milly-Molly-Mandy is a resourceful little girl, who likes to play in the outdoors, with her friend Susan and her dog Toby. She likes to make her pennies stretch further by making and selling little things and she loves to help her large family by running errands for them all. The stories are gentle and fun and are make perfect bedtime stories for this age range. We're not being intentionally sexist here but we think girls in particular - of all ages - will enjoy Milly-Molly-Mandy.
10. Build Your Own Chocolate Factory – inspired by the Roald Dahl story, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Top That Publishing, £7.99)
Last but by no means least; we have something fun to keep everyone entertained over the Christmas holidays. This year is the 50th anniversary of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and it’s one of the best-loved Roald Dahl stories of all time. Now you (and the kids!) have the chance to build your own 3-D chocolate factory model. It looks like splendiferous fun and it should (if you follow the instructions) make a model that’s half a metre tall! Youngsters will need a bit of help with the model but we think it’s a great bit of family fun. We can’t wait to give it a go!