It’s been a choc-a-bloc year for children’s books and there’s no better time to enjoy them than over the Christmas break, when a good bedtime story serves a dual purpose as both a great stocking-filler and a clever way to calm down over-excited kids who’ve had one too many Quality Street.
Read on for a round-up of our favourite picture books for everyone in the family to enjoy, from the best new releases of 2018 to an oldie-but-a-goodie that makes the perfect curtain-raiser for Christmas Eve.
Emily Brown and Father Christmas, Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton, Hodder, £12.99
Cressida Cowell (of ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ fame) is a bona fide superstar of the children’s books circuit and this is the latest of her Emily Brown adventures with illustrator Neal Layton, out just in time for the big day. Father Christmas is facing a festive emergency after a technological glitch (we’ve all been there), so it’s just as well that Emily and her stalwart sidekick, Stanley the rabbit, are on hand to help out on the night. As Emily puts it: “The old ways are the best.” Isn’t that the truth.
Once Upon A Star, James Carter and Mar Hernandez, Caterpillar Books, £11.99
From the title, you’d think this book was another retelling of the Nativity, but it’s actually a hugely inventive take on The Big Bang, ideal for little astronomers in training. “Once upon a star, there were no stars to shine, no sun to rise, no sun to set,” the story begins. James Carter’s words and Mar Hernadez’s illustrations get your pint-sized Galileos gazing out of the bedroom window to catch a glimpse not just of Father Christmas, but of distant planets and galaxies, too.
The King Who Banned The Dark, Emily Hayworth-Booth, Pavilion Books, £6.99
Admit it, we’ve all had our moments of feeling scared in the dark. Not all of us grow up to be kings, though, so this story of a little boy who did will get your imagination going. Talented writer-illustrator Emily Hayworth-Booth uses just three colours to paint this powerful picture of fear and hope, and the moral of the story will stay with you long after the lights get switched back on.
Young, Gifted and Black, Jamia Wilson and Andrea Pippins, Wide Eyes Editions, £14.99
A brilliant edition to the new wave of inspirational anthologies for girls and boys, this catalogue of 52 black heroes past and present is well worth a read. Written by Jamia Wilson (a feminist icon in her own right) and stylishly illustrated by Andrea Pippins, the snappy design will ensure even older kids take this one seriously. And from Michelle Obama to Mo Farah, the real-life characters are brought to life with fun and facts – no fake news here!
I Am The Seed That Grew The Tree, Fiona Waters and Frann Preston-Gannon, National Trust / Nosy Crow, £25
Getting kids started early on poetry is a good idea, before they find a reason to be scared of it. And this bumper anthology of nature poems from the National Trust – one for each day of the year – is the bee’s knees. Fiona Waters hasn’t skimped on the greats: there’s verse here from Emily Bronte, Carol Ann Duffy, Christina Rossetti and all the Williams (Wordsworth, Blake and Shakespeare). But Frann Preston-Gannon’s gorgeous pictures really do make it accessible.
Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, Maya Angelou and Jean Michel Basquiat, Abrams £14.99
It’s been 25 years since this children’s anthem by the legendary writer Maya Angelou was paired with pictures by the late, great artist Jean Michel Basquiat and this special anniversary re-release packs just as much punch as the original. It’s a lesson in being brave and bold; a guide to booing and shooing the baddies away. Plus, show us the kid who doesn’t love the dino on the cover.
The Day War Came, Nicola Davies and Rebecca Cobb, Walker Books, £10
Bear with us here. This might not look like a festive tale but, truly, it’s one of the year’s most powerful picture books from one of the best children’s writers in the business. It’s also a story of kindness and refuge, themes that resonate particularly strongly at Christmas. What’s more, £1 from every copy sold goes directly to Help Refugees, a charity helping keep others looked after this winter.
Christmas In Exeter Street, Diana Hendry and John Lawrence, Walker Books, £7.99
A classic spin on the ‘no room at the inn’ yarn, except on Exeter Street, there’s always space for one more (even if means squeezing an auntie on to your mantlepiece). This is Christmas hospitality at its most heartwarming, all the more so when you realise the story’s hostess-with-the-mostest is a single mum. By the time Father Christmas arrives, he has to count on his toes to check he hasn’t missed anybody out. Your little ones will be counting along with him.
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