One of the most special aspects of the festive season is the opportunity it provides for sharing – games, jokes, activities, cooking – and, of course, books. Ferelith Hordon finds there is a wealth to choose from this year.
Collections for all
With so many fabulous gift books on offer, a collection might be the answer. For the youngest there is My First Nursery Collection from Tony Ross. Here you will find all those really favourite nursery tales and nursery rhymes – The Gingerbread Man, Little Miss Muffet, Three Billy Goats Gruff – retold and illustrated by an illustrator whose graphic skill and humorous, contemporary style is both recognisable and instantly engaging. For older children The Emperor’s Nightingale and other feathery tales beautifully imaged by Jane Ray brings together a number of tales and poems all featuring birds. The Shirley Hughes Collection should catch the eye of grandparents. This is an anthology to last a lifetime since it brings together not only the established favourites – Annie Rose, Alfie, Lucy, Tom – but also the poetry, the folk tales and some stories that are less well known. Perhaps, you are after a real pot pourri? Then there could be nothing better than The Faber Book of Nursery Stories – a very welcome reprint. The contents range from the traditional to offerings from such classic authors as de la Mare, Dorothy Edwards and Donald Bisset, beautifully decorated by Shirley Hughes. If that feels too nostalgic for you, then The Book of Bedtime Stories, a collection brought together through a competition sponsored by Mumsnet, chosen by Michael Rosen ,would be the answer. Ten brand-new stories range from the charmingly cosy Time for bed by Angela Eden to Katharine Latham’s imaginative The Night Thief and the Moon. Each story has been illustrated by a new talent.
Baby’s First Christmas
Rhythm, rhyme, colour – this is what is needed for the youngest member of the family. Nicola Bayley’s Book of Nursery Rhymes is the perfect present for the new baby; traditional rhymes affectionately brought to life in vivid colour and detail. Animal Opposites from Petr Horacek is that ideal – a beautifully illustrated and crafted board book with bold colours and images with pop-ups that work. Bold colours are the hallmark of Lucy Cousins. In Peck, Peck, Peck, little woodpecker pecks his way through the book – colour and lots and lots of holes. There are holes in The Lion and the Mouse, a retelling of the Aesop fable, cleverly and colourfully illustrated by Nahta Noj. Lion peers out at the reader from the cover while Mouse scampers through, over and under the pages. More reflective but completely beguiling is Silver Buttons. Bob Graham uses illustration to take the reader round the world in a minute; it’s a journey to share.
Books for sharing
There is nothing like sharing pictures as well as the story. Mr Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown will be enjoyed by all, as the suave, dapper Mr Tiger complete with top hat and bow tie finds his wild side. Brown is an artist with a sure touch. Another one to go wild about is Jonny Duddle’s new book, The King of Space, full of bold comic strip illustrations for young readers; anarchy and jeopardy rule as Max tries to take over space with predictable results; thank goodness for mum. Beautiful, sumptuous artwork is the hall mark of the following three books. In Winter’s Child Angela McAllister uses a traditional theme while Graham Baker – Smith’s scintillating illustrations conjure a winter world of sparkling whites and electric blues. Here words and picture marry to create a real atmosphere. This is also true of Alex Deacon’s retelling of The Selfish Giant by Wilde; a sensitive retelling married to evocative art. The Song of the Golden Hare is a visual feast from Jackie Morris whose luminous paintings are the perfect foil for an original tale that demands to be read aloud.
But illustration is not just the prerogative of the very young. Chris Riddell’s Goth Girl should feature under every Christmas tree, gift wrapped, in the company of Oliver and the Seawigs. Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre deliver outrageous humour through text and illustration. For a new look at an old favourite Kipling’s Just So Stories with illustrations by Robert Ingpen will delight the whole family.
Christmas activity can be overwhelming but escape is possible. Blackberry Blue and Other Fairy Tales, Jamila Gavin’s new collection, opens the door to a world of reimagined fairy tales, while The River Singers (Moorhouse) will transport young readers to the world of the riverbank. Older siblings can find themselves in the Australian Outback in The Middle of Nowhere (McCaughrean) or maybe Colonial America with All the Truth That’s In Me (Berry) and Ghosthawk (Cooper).
Not everyone wants fiction. Welcome to your Awesome Robot (Schwarz) is an instruction manual designed to inspire hours of fun as every member of the family can join in the activity – and all you need is a cardboard box! Another to provide hours of interest Bugs brings together neatly packaged text attractively presented and stunning pop-up illustrations from the pen of Jim Kay. Older children – especially boys – will be fascinated by Stefan Gates’ Incredible Edibles – it might be best left until after Christmas dinner.
We’re Having a Party, a lively collection featuring stories by authors such as Jan Mark, Jacqueline Wilson and Robert Swindells, will fit nicely into a stocking. Stuffed with a selection of stories all firmly rooted in the everyday but designed to raise a smile, this is fun. Equally suitable for stockings are the latest poetry collections from Frances Lincoln: Cosmic Disco or Sun Time Snow Time by Grace Nichols, Here Come the Creatures by Wes Magee and The Dragon with a Big Nose by Kathy Henderson. However, it would be difficult to match the reissues of Beowulf, The Lady of Shallot and The Highwayman featuring Charles Keeping’s evocative illustrations. Newly available as stylish paperback editions, these are true classics, marriage between text and illustration. Whether they accompany Crossley-Holland’s sensitive retelling of the Grendel story or Tennyson’s or Noyes’ poems, the images created by Keeping are unforgettable . These are gifts that will go on giving.
My First Nursery Collection Tony Ross, Andersen Press, 978-1849395007, 176pp, £12.99 hbk
The Emperor’s Nightingale and Other Feathery Tales, Jane Ray, Boxer Books, 978-1907152597, £12.99 hbk
The Faber Book of Nursery Stories illustrated by Shirley Hughes, Faber & Faber, 978-0571307593, 208pp. £20.00 hbk
The Book of Bedtime Stories chosen by Michael Rosen, Walker, 978-1406347173, 112pp. £14.99 hbk
Nicola Bayley’s Book of Nursery Rhymes Jonathan Cape, 978-1780080383, 32pp, £6.99 pbk
Animal Opposites Petr Horacek, Walker, 978-1406342338, 20pp, £10.99
Peck, Peck, Peck Lucy Cousins, Walker, 978-1406345100, 32pp, £11.99 hbk
The Lion and the Mouse illustrated by Nahta Noj, 978-1848779983, 32pp, £10.99 hbk
Silver Buttons Bob Graham, Walker, 978-1406342246, 32pp, £11.99 hbk
Mr Tiger Goes Wild Pete Brown, Macmillan, 978-1447253259, 48pp, £11.99 hbk
The King of Space Jonny Duddle, Templar, 978-1848772274, 32pp, £6.99 pbk
Winter’s Child Angela McAllister, illustrated by Graham Baker-Smith, Templar, 978-1848775459, £12.99hbk
The Selfish Giant Oscar Wilde illustrated by Alexis Deacon, Hutchinson, 978-0091893644, 32pp, £11.99 hbk
The Song of the Golden Hare Jackie Morris, Frances Lincoln, 978-1847804501, 40pp, £12.99 hbk
Goth Girl Chris Riddell, Macmillan, 978-0230759800, 224pp, £9.99 hbk
Oliver and the Seawigs Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre, Oxford, 978-0192734556, 208pp, £8.99 hbk
Just So Stories Rudyard Kipling illustrated by Robert Ingpen, Palazzo Editions, 978-0957148314, 191pp, £12.34
The River Singers Tom Moorhouse, Oxford, 978-0192734808, 256pp, £10.99 hbk
The Middle of Nowhere Geraldine McCaughrean, Usborne, 978-1409522003, 304pp, £9.99 hbk
All the Truth That’s In Me Julie Berry, Templar, 978-1848779143, 272pp, £10.99 hbk
Welcome to your Awesome Robot Viviane Schwartz, Flying Eye Books, 978-1909263000, 32pp, £8.99 hbk
Bugs Dr George McGavin illus Jim Kay, Walker, 978-1406328738, 12pp, £14.99 hbk
Incredible Edibles Stefan Gates, Walker, 978-1406339062, 128pp, £9.99 pbk
Cosmic Disco Grace Nichols, Frances Lincoln, 978-1847803986, 80pp, £6.99 pbk
We’re Having a Party various Piccadilly Press, 978-1848123298, 224pp, £5.99 pbk
Sun Time Snow Time Grace Nichols, Frances Lincoln, 978-1408193006, 96pp, £6.99 pbk
Here Come the Creatures Wes Magee, Frances Lincoln, 978-1847803672, 96pp, £6.99 pbk
The Dragon with a Big Nose Kathy Henderson, Frances Lincoln, 978-1847803658, 96pp, £6.99pbk
Beowulf Kevin Crossley Holland illus Charles Keeping, Oxford, 978-0192794444, 48pp, £7.99 pbk
The Lady of Shallot Tennyson illus Charles Keeping, Oxford, 978-0192794437, 32pp, £7.99 pbk
The Highwayman Alfred Noyes illus Charles Keeping, Oxford, 978-0192794420, £7.99 pbk
Ferelith Hordon is editor of Books for Keeps