The ‘Twelve Books of Christmas’ list I compiled last year proved to be so popular that I’ve decided to do it again this year, looking at a completely new set of brilliant children’s Christmas books. To get onto my list, they have to be written by seriously good storytellers, be either a classic Christmas story or a newer book that is likely to stick around and the illustrations must be something I think children will adore and will capture the essence of the season.
Here’s my ‘Twelve Books of Christmas
Michael Morpurgo ‘Christmas Stories’
Michael Morpurgo has, over the years, established himself as an eminent author of children’s fiction. His most famous book, of course, is the internationally acclaimed, 1982 novel ‘War Horse’ which has now also become a massive hit on both stage and screen. However, he has written over 100 books in total, ranging from traditional retelling of young children’s stories like ‘Pinocchio’ and ‘Hansel and Gretel’, to gripping teenager page turners like the brilliant ‘Private Peaceful’.
This collection of Christmas stories shows Morpurgo at his very best. It includes the marvelous, ‘The Best Christmas Present in the World’ which on it’s own made it into my 2013 list. Here is an incredible Christmas story, told by a soldier on the front in WW1, which is found many years later in a secret drawer. ‘On Angel’s Wings’ tells of a heavenly visit. Could it be from the Angel Gabriel himself? ‘The Best of Times’ is a tale of a Prince and Princess. Soon after they marry, joy fades away and a shadow hangs over the royal palace. As Christmas approaches, the Prince, Frederico, has to find a way to warm his new bride’s aching heart. The fourth story, ‘The Goose is Getting Fat’, tells of Gertrude the goose who is getting fatter by the day as Christmas approaches. Can her keeper, little Charlie, save Gertrude from the Christmas dinner table?
In addition to superb storytelling there a brilliant range of illustrators. Each Christmas story is illustrated by a different artist all of whom are among the biggest names in children’s books: Quentin Blake, Michael Foreman, Emma Chichester Clark and Sophie Allsopp.
Enid Blyton ‘Christmas Stories’
Enid Blyton might seem a little old-fashioned these days, but that’s exactly what makes this book perfect for the Christmas list – it’s evocative of that bygone era when you imagine family Christmases were everything they should be and everything they still ought to be.
Originally entitled ‘The Christmas Book’ and published in 1944, the stories follow a family as they prepare for Christmas. What makes this a really interesting read is that each story deals with a different Christmas tradition and as the children in the stories take part in the traditions, they and we learn about the origins of the traditions too.
As we move through the stories we learn about how Christmas began; why Christmas pudding is called plum pudding; how mince pies began; and why we eat turkey. The inquisitive children in the stories ask all the questions about Christmas that your own children want to know: how did Christmas cards originate? Where do we get mistletoe from? What is a Yule log? Why do we have holly and Ivy?
The family in the story show us that the activities leading up to Christmas can be as exciting as the day itself and that ‘family’ itself is what makes Christmas perfect.
Emma Thompson ‘The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit’
Although Emma Thompson is best known as a double Oscar-winning actress, she is also widely respected as a children’s author after taking up the mantle of Beatrix Potter and writing several new Peter Rabbit tales.
The latest in this edition and only published in September 2014 is ‘The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit.’Thompson has gone to great lengths to write in a style that is perfectly in tune with the original Beatrix Potter stories so that this one can fit almost seamlessly into the collection.
It tells the story of Peter Rabbit and his comical little cousin Benjamin Bunny. As Christmas is getting near Peter and Benjamin bump into a turkey called William who tells them that Farmer McGregor is ‘Having him for dinner.’
William, of course, doesn’t fully understand exactly what this means, and its up to the two rabbits to think of a plan to convince William that he’s wrong and find a way to save him.
The book is beautifully illustrated throughout in exactly the style you’d expect from a Peter Rabbit story.
James Mayhew – Katie’s London Christmas
James Mayhew is the creator of the much-loved Katie and Ella Bella Ballerina series and many other books, including Koshka’s Tales, Miranda the Explorer and Boy. He’s been writing and illustrating Katie books for over 25 years and this latest version is ideal for young children this Christmas.
In their latest adventure, Katie and Jack are woken up late on Christmas Eve by a loud sneeze. Little do they realise that they are about to embark on the most amazing evening! Soon they are flying high across London, over snow-dusted landmarks, through the star-scattered sky with the one and only Father Christmas, in his sleigh, with his magical reindeer! But can they help Father Christmas to deliver all his presents and be back in time for Christmas morning?
This is a fabulous story with amazing illustrations and an ideal setting for a Christmas story.
Francesca Simon – Horrid Henry’s Christmas Cracker
You can’t get away from Horrid Henry these days, he’s in book shops, on the TV and has even made films. In the 20 years since he first came out he has become a bit of a phenomenon. One reason for this has to be his appeal to younger kids who love to read him and getting kids to read has to be a good thing.
Interestingly enough, he appeals to both genders. My two daughters, 6 and 7, both love to read his books and even I occasionally sit in on the cartoons. I even confess to having watched the movie too.
For this reason, I suspect that one book that many children will put on their own Christmas list this year is ‘Horrid Henry’s Christmas Cracker’ and for the reason that they are well written and thoroughly enjoyable stories, I’ve put them on mine too.
As you would expect, things never go to plan when Henry’s involved and in these four funny stories we find every family’s worst Christmas nightmares, as Horrid Henry sabotages the school play, tries to do his Christmas shopping without spending his pocket money, attempts to ambush Father Christmas and endures Christmas dinner with the guests from hell. Kids will love it.
Julia Donaldson ‘The Stick Man’
Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler are the Lennon and McCartney of the picture book world. Their collaborations are fabulous examples of what children’s books should be. She creates magical stories using fabulouss rhyme and he brings them to life in a way that truly evokes childhood.
‘The Stick Man’ tells the story of a stick-like creature who gets mistaken for a real stick. We see him thrown to a dog, used as a Pooh-stick, put on a sandcastle as a flag pole, and each time he is forced further away from his family tree.
When winter begins and we see him sad and shivering on the snowy pages, we begin to wonder whether he will ever make it back to the safety of family tree. But Santa comes to the rescue and there’s a perfect Christmas ending.
AA Milne ‘Winnie the Pooh Christmas Stories’
Winnie the Pooh has had somewhat of a revival over the last few years, especially since he made his film debut. This year, however, sees the release of a new book in which some of AA Milne‘s incredible Christmas stories are put together into one fabulous collection. Now we can join Pooh and his entourage of friends building a house in the snow, constructing the perfect snowman and receiving some mysterious Christmas letters. You’ll find kids will love these three stories set in the enchanting Hundred Acre Wood.
As usual, you will find all the stories wonderfully illustrated in the traditional Winnie the Pooh style. Perfect to read to your little ones in front of the Christmas fire.
Walter de la Mare ‘Snow’
Walter de la Mare was a renowned British poet writing mainly in the first half of the 20th century. This beautifully illustrated book brings to life one of his most evocative poems, ‘Snow’.
As the day draws to a close, a family prepares for Christmas – decorating the tree, hanging stockings by the fire, putting out a plate of mince pies, whilst outside winter rolls in and the world turns to white.
Perfect for a winter and Christmas read for younger children.
If you have young children you will no doubt have come across the very funny books ‘Aliens Love Underpants’, ‘Dinosaurs Love Underpants’ and ‘Pirates Love Underpants’. These are tremendous fun for kids as they are full of silly rhymes all dealing with the even sillier subject of underwear being stolen, played with and fought over by pirates, dinosaurs and aliens – the perfect recipe for a good giggle, especially as the books are as humorously illustrated as they are written.
Now it seems Claire Freedman has taken her underwear fetish one step further and created the amazing ‘Aliens Love Panta Claus’. I bought this when it first came out last Christmas for my then 5 year old daughter to add to her collection. She loved it and still does and because of it’s sheer joy it gives my little girl, I’m going to add it to this year’s list – it’s a real winner.
Susan Cooper ‘The Dark is Rising’
I first read this Susan Cooper story many years ago as a 9 year old and loved it. It’s not a typical Christmas story but it is ideal for older children who want something less traditional that is, at the same time, dark and mysterious.
It’s Christmas-time in the Stanton family house: presents, carol singing, good cheer. But for eleven-year-old Will Stanton something sinister has begun, inching round his subconscious, shouting silent warnings he can’t decipher. Then on Midwinter Day Will wakes up to a different world – silent, covered in snow and ancient forest, a world of another time. A world where evil lurks.
Because Will is not the ordinary boy he always thought he was. He is the last of the Old Ones and the power to vanquish the evil magic of the Dark lies within him.
Jonathan Emmett ‘The Santa Trap’
This seriously wicked story introduces us to Bradley Bartleby. Bradley is bad, exceedingly bad. He’s greedy and naughty and selfish and spoilt: and Santa Claus knows it!
So, when beastly Bradley empties his Christmas stocking to find nothing but a pair of socks, he does quite the baddest thing he has ever tried to do. He builds a trap, a SANTA TRAP! With guillotines, dynamite and a tiger or two.
This Christmas it looks like Santa doesn’t stand a chance. Or does he?
This is a really fun read for youngsters that has an interesting Tim Burton-esque feel to it. It’s not your usual sweetened Christmas story, but it is a morality tale for all those children on the naughty list. Imaginatively and brilliantly illustrated by Poly Bernatene, this is an excellent book for younger children.
Steve Smallman ‘Santa is Coming to …( your town)’
Before I explain how good this book is, I first of all want to talk about the fact that there are hundreds of versions of this book available, each of them personalised to a place near you. For those of us in the UK , USA or Canada, you can get titles such as ‘Santa is coming to Halifax’ and ‘Santa is coming to New Jersey’. If you can’t find your town, you’ll certainly find a version in which Santa travels through your county, state or province.
Last year we bought the ‘Santa is coming to Yorkshire’ version and my daughters loved not just reading about local towns and villages that Santa went to, but seeing illustrations of those places as well.
The plot of the story is good too. It’s Christmas Eve. Santa’s packed up all the presents and set the Santa-nav to your house. So what could possibly go wrong? Discover how Santa dashes from here to there, visiting all the places in between, while you are safely tucked up in bed and fast asleep! Then the snow begins to fall and the Santa-nav stops working. How will Santa get his presents delivered?
Well written and very attractively illustrated, kids will love these, wherever they are from.