Fun, fantasy and adventure put magic into Christmas - Book reviews

Disney Princesses: The Castle Collection
Disney Princesses: The Castle Collection
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The countdown to Christmas has started and there are some spectacular children’s books on the shelves that are guaranteed to put an extra sparkle into the festive season.

Age 5 plus:

Disney Princesses: The Castle Collection

There is a right royal invitation awaiting youngsters this Christmas… a chance to step inside the enchanting world of the Disney princesses we all know and love!

Studio Press roll out a giant festive treat in the shape of their Disney Princesses: The Castle Collection which lets youngsters travel to faraway lands to explore the castles of their favourite princesses and meet the characters who live there.

Featuring never-before-seen artwork and spectacular full-colour illustrations of the exteriors, cross sections and sumptuous room details of nine Disney Princess Castles, this book will delight princess fans as they explore the homes of their heroes.

Meet those familiar princesses, including Belle, Ariel and Cinderella, along with their friends and animals, and see the amazing furniture which can all be found in the castles. Little ones will love following the princesses’ stories through the places they live in, whether they are fairy-tale castles perched on top of mountains or shimmering palaces deep under the sea.

The fascinating cross-sections reveal every nook and cranny of extraordinary Disney castles. Enjoy exclusive glimpses behind the tall towers and tiny turrets to see magnificent throne rooms, beautiful bedrooms, busy kitchens and dark dungeons.

From hidden spindles and Jasmine’s pretty gold mirror to the broken furniture of the Beast’s West Wing chamber, this is a magical journey into enchanting homes where dreams come true and where bravery, adventure and a little bit of magic are never far away!

(Studio Press, hardback, £16.99)

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Age 8 plus:

Timelines of Everything

Forget the internet and take a leisurely stroll through 13 billion years of history!

In their trademark spectacularly visual style, DK Children’s fantastic new Timelines of Everything takes curious readers (of every age!) on a mesmerising walk through time from the Big Bang and dinosaurs to the Vikings, the history of cinema, espionage and our own digital age.

Using a chronological structure and over 100 timelines across double page spreads, this giant size, lavishly illustrated extravaganza of a book gives you all the general knowledge you could want, including some surprising trivia you don’t really NEED to know but will love to learn about!

Must-know topics and alternative history are showcased with beautiful, detailed illustrations and a straightforward, easy-to-read text. Whether you want to know key breakthroughs that set the Industrial Revolution in motion or defining moments in the history of fashion, you’ll find it all here.

Travel through the ancient and medieval worlds, and the ages of exploration and revolution, learn about astronomy and empires, meet the most bloodthirsty pirate of all time, discover the first crime to be solved by studying fingerprints and follow the 20th century’s race to the Moon.

Jam-packed with surprising facts and amazing details, this feast of information, maps, photographs, illustrations, tables, charts and graphics is the ultimate guide to history for children, and an unforgettable whirlwind journey through our world, both past and present.

(DK Children, hardback, £20)

Age 9 plus:

Dragon Daughter by Liz Flanagan

Inspired by many of the beautiful places she has visited, Yorkshire author Liz Flanagan takes youngsters on a thrilling fantasy ride in a magic land of dragons and evil deeds.

Teeming with tension, danger, fast-paced action, fiery friendships and dragon riders, this is a thrilling middle grade epic full of heart, hope and themes of migration and tolerance which will strike a chord with youngsters in today’s world.

On the island of Arcosi, a place of dusty stone, orange trees, rotting fish, spice and blossom, dragons and their riders used to rule the skies but now they are only legends, found in bedtime stories, on beautiful murals and ancient jewellery.

When 12-year-old servant girl Milla accidentally witnesses a murder by a mystery assassin, she opens the victim’s pannier and finds herself caring for the last four dragon eggs. Forced to keep them secret amidst the growing tensions in the city, she begins to fear that the island’s ruler, Duke Olvar, isn’t all that he seems.

But how can Milla and her friends keep the eggs safe when it means endangering everything she has ever loved? Friendships, forgotten family and the struggle for power collide as Milla’s fight to save the dragons leads her to discover her own hidden past.

Milla’s extraordinary journey of self-discovery and her epic quest to save both dragons and the people of her land is a thrilling adventure full of conflict, page-turning peril and soaraway fantasy, but it is also a tale of our times which speaks volumes about the importance of peace and unity.

Creative, exciting and beautifully written…

(David Fickling Books, hardback, £10.99)

Age 8 plus:

Hamish and the Terrible Terrible Christmas and Other Stories by Danny Wallace and Jamie Littler

It might be the season to be jolly but for Hamish Ellerby, it can only be triply terrible!

Get ready for three festive adventures in one terrific book as author Danny Wallace and his illustrator partner-in-laughter Jamie Littler dish up a tasty Christmas concoction of comedy, capers and chaos.

Wallace, an award-winning writer and presenter who by his own admission has done lots of silly things, can’t put a foot wrong in this irresistibly laugh-out-loud children’s series – starring a boy fated to save the Earth time and time again – which goes from strength to strength.

Starkley used to be one of the most boring towns in Britain but thanks to the efforts of ten-year-old Hamish Ellerby and his friends, the place has been well and truly put on the map. Hamish and his gang, the Pause Defence Force (PDF), have become local celebrities after saving the town from evil beasts called the WorldStoppers.

But saving the world doesn’t stop just because it’s Christmas! Can Hamish and the gang stop a whole horde of rampaging Terribles hoping to ruin Christmas? How will Elliot deal with a sneaky sweet salesman determined to give Starkley a sugar-crash to remember? And what will Alice do when faced with an unexpected Christmas Eve visitor? Will this turn out to be a terrible Christmas for Starkley?

Filled with Wallace’s trademark humour, natural warmth and imagination, and the talented Jamie Littler’s quirky and suitably anarchic illustrations, this pitch-perfect Christmas bonanza is tailor-made for young revellers who like their stories to be funny, visually exciting and brimming with mischief!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 9 plus:

Amazing People: Young Heroes by Lula Bridgeport

Discover over 100 extraordinary children from across the world… and learn how anything is possible if you have passion and belief!

Editor and children’s author Lula Bridgeport brings together an international selection of inspirational young people who have achieved extraordinary things in this big, colourful book of heroes which aims to help everyone achieve their potential.

The eclectic assortment of names from across the world highlights the stories of musical talents, environmental activists, engineers, artists and authors, as well as political voices, providing an empowering and remarkable read.

Divided into seven areas of interest including STEM (science, tech, engineering and mathematics), film and music, the environment, sports, business, art and literature, and politics, the book includes timelines of notable children across history as well as today.

There are entertainers such as Taylor Swift and Daniel Radcliffe, sporting heroes like Pele and Michelle Kwarn, and business entrepreneurs Tavi Gevinson and Jordan Casey. Their absorbing stories are enhanced by practical sections on Ways to be Amazing, Ways to Make a Difference to the Environment, and Ideas for Starting Your Own Business, so children are inspired to find ways they too can be a hero in their day-to-day lives.

With beautiful, eye-catching illustrations by Frederica Frenna, Isabel Muňoz and Julianna Swaney, this colourful book is a bold celebration of young people’s awe-inspiring achievements and the one thing they all have in common… passion.

(Stripes, hardback, £12.99)

Age 8 plus:

The Dog that Saved Christmas by Nicola Davies and Mike Byrne

A lost dog turns Christmas into a time of new-found joy in a beautiful, heart-warming novella from award-winning author and zoologist Nicola Davies.

The Dog that Saved Christmas, which stars a boy on the autism spectrum, comes from innovative publisher Barrington Stoke and has been specially created in a super readable format for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers.

This inclusive, festive-themed book – illustrated throughout by artist Mike Byrne’s enchanting gallery of pictures – celebrates animal friends and the therapeutic effect these special companions can have on somebody’s life.

Jake is different from the other kids at school. He struggles when routines change and people's emotions are so hard to understand. And Christmas can be a nightmare for Jake because he hates the bright lights, all the noise and the disruption to his normal, everyday life. But everything changes when Jake finds a little dog lost in the street. He names her Susan and adopts her as his own, and soon the dog is unlocking a connection he has never had before.

Together Jake and Susan form a special bond that helps him to cope with the things that usually stress him out and to understand the world around him. Maybe there’s a chance that this Christmas will be one that the whole family can enjoy.

A dog isn’t just for Christmas…

(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £6.99)

Age 8 plus:

Boys Who Made A Difference by Michelle Roehm McCann

In what has been dubbed The Year of the Woman, let’s not forget about the boys!

Children’s book editor and award-winning author Michelle Roehm McCann has put together this inspirational and life-affirming collection of male role models to show a new generation of boys how they can make a real difference to the world.

Also author of Girls Who Rocked the World, McCann proves that when it comes to making a difference, there is no such thing as too young as she introduces us to some incredible young men who followed their dreams and changed the world for the better, often by taking the path less travelled and staying true to themselves.

From Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Nelson Mandela to Vidal Sassoon, Bob Dylan, Tony Hawk and Matt Groening, this superb collection features extraordinary young men from across history and around the globe who have all achieved remarkable things.

Meet the US athlete Jesse Owens who, from a very early age, ran every race flat out as if he was running the 100-yard sprint and on one day in 1935 smashed three world records. And marvel at the young Albert Einstein who wrote his first scientific paper aged just sixteen.

Also included are profiles of teenagers who are changing the world right now… boys like John Collinson, the youngest person to climb the Seven Summits, and Alec Loorz who founded the non-profit organisation Kids vs. Global Warming.

Whatever their passion in life, boys will find an amazing real-life story to inspire, motivate and encourage them to start making a difference right now!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Age 7 plus:

Lavinia and the Magic Ring by Bianca Pitzorno and Quentin Blake

The sparkling partnership of author Bianca Pitzorno and illustrator Quentin Blake is set to create a stink this Christmas with the extraordinary tale of a girl with a highly unusual special power.

You might want to look away when you learn that the bottom line of this classic Italian adventure is that the wearer of a magic ring can turn anything into… poo!

Brimming with mischief, misadventures and muck, of course, Lavinia and the Magic Ring first appeared in the 1980s and has been translated into English for the first time. It’s just one of many books from the pen of award-winning, multi-million selling author Bianca Pitzorno who is considered to be Italy’s answer to Roald Dahl.

Lavinia is a modern-day little match girl facing a freezing cold and hungry Christmas in Milan. But then a fairy steps out of a taxi and in exchange for a match gives Lavinia a ring with peculiar magic powers. It allows the wearer to turn anything into poo… and back again!

The ring can transform Lavinia’s fortunes for good but will she be able to use her new powers wisely? At first, she uses the ring carefully to her own advantage and ends up with beautiful clothes to wear and a fabulous hotel suite to live in. But then she gets too big for her boots and eventually makes a mistake. Will she get herself out of trouble and learn to use the magic power only for the good of everyone?

With its charming, original illustrations by Quentin Blake, this hilarious modern fairy tale is set to become a classic over here… but it’s certainly not for the squeamish!

(Catnip Books, paperback, £5.99)

Age 6 plus:

Winter Animal Stories: Frost by Holly Webb

‘For everyone who has written to me asking for a fox book!’ declares bestselling author Holly Webb on the first page of this magical, wintry animal adventure.

Frost, a special fox with a white-tipped tail, is the star of a Winter Animal Story and part of a stunning, winter warmer series by Webb who has written over 100 books for children. This delightful adventure story has been reissued and redesigned with a dazzling new cover from award-winning illustrator Britta Teckentrup.

The neighbours all complain about the foxes hanging around the flat where Cassie lives close to the River Thames, but Cassie thinks they are beautiful. Her favourite is a small fox with a white tail-tip who she names Frost. One night she catches sight of him out in the snow, looking cold and thin, and decides to sneak him some food. But Frost seems to want her to follow him.

As he leads Cassie towards the river, she feels the world change around her and finds herself back in the 17th century – at the time of the Frost Fair on the frozen Thames. At first she is thrilled by the sights and sounds of the famous fair, but then it appears that Frost wants her to follow him again. Can she find a way to return the fox to his countryside home?

Cassie’s friendship with the magical fox is a heart-melting and evocative winter tale full of Webb’s beautiful storytelling and is imbued with a special seasonal warmth that will make the book a favourite with both children and adults.

(Stripes, hardback, £8.99)

Age 5 plus:

Animal Anthologies: One Snowy Night by By various authors

Christmas is coming… and time to cosy up with a heart-melting book full of magical animal stories.

Packed with the enchanting black-and-white illustrations of Alison Edgson, these touching, winter-themed tales from some favourite children’s authors are perfect bedtime reading in the run-up to the big day.

Get lost in a snowy night as a cat learns to believe in Christmas magic, enjoy the fun as a boy befriends a yeti, meet a squirrel who is hosting the perfect winter party for his friends, join a rabbit who is helping Jack Frost sprinkle ice and snow, and follow a girl who ventures to the mountain world of the secretive snow leopard.

Featuring much-loved authors, including Sita Brahmachari, Michael Broad, Katy Cannon, Candy Gourlay, Swapna Haddow, Lisa Norton, Leila Rasheed, Holly Webb, Jeanne Willis and Linda Chapman, One Snowy Night is guaranteed to add an extra glow to the winter season.

(Stripes, paperback, £5.99)

Age 5 plus: by The Elf on the Shelf Bumper Activity Book

Children won’t get left on the shelf when it comes to keeping busy this Christmas with this super The Elf on the Shelf® bumper sticker activity book!

The enchanting tale of The Elf on the Shelf, featuring the hidden role of Santa’s little helpers, is a phenomenally successful US brand with rapidly increasing popularity in in the UK.

Based on the tradition Carol Aebersold began with her family in the 1970s, Scout Elves are sent out to be Santa’s eyes and ears at the homes of children around the world. When a family adopts a scout elf and gives it a name, the scout elf receives his or her Christmas magic and can fly to the North Pole each night to tell Santa Claus about all of the day’s adventures. And that’s how Santa knows who has been naughty and who has been nice!

And now children can prepare for the Christmas season with Santa’s special Scout Elves as they get stuck into a host of games, puzzles, word searches, colouring and over 150 super festive stickers. Write a letter to Father Christmas, decode a message from Santa’s helpers, design your own Christmas cards, and complete a Christmas quiz.

Children can also use the special chart to record where their own Scout Elf has been hiding each day in the run-up to the big day, and make a list of their New Year’s Resolutions.

The ‘elfie’ way to kickstart Christmas…

(Orchard Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 3 plus:

Alphabet Street by Jonathan Emmett and Ingela P Arrhenius

Book yourself into Alphabet Street… and follow the road from A to Z!

Inventive publisher Nosy Crow has the perfect Christmas gift for parents looking for a three-in-one gift for their little pre-schoolers. This spectacular lift-the-flap story, written by Jonathan Emmett and illustrated by Ingela P Arrhenius, is a book, a giant fold-out play-scene, and a beautiful frieze to decorate a child’s bedroom or playroom.

Life is very busy on Alphabet Street. Open each page to see the shop fronts and then lift the large, easy-to-handle flaps to peek inside the shop and the rooms above. Who is buying a new suit, who is painting a fox, and who has splashed himself with a hose?

Children will get hours of fun out of this sturdy, creative, house-shaped book. They can read the story, lift the flaps, enjoy the funny, rhyming text, learn the letters of the alphabet, and then turn the book over for imaginative play with the park scene on the reverse.

With Emmett’s clever, rhyming text and Arrhenius’ bold, graphic artwork, this is a brilliant multi-purpose book with a secret store of learning, education and all-round entertainment!

(Nosy Crow, board book, £12.99)

Age 2 plus:

The Night Before the Night Before Christmas by Kes Gray and Claire Powell

Make Christmas extra special for your little ones with this utterly bewitching picture book from top team Kes Gray and Claire Powell.

Brilliant wordsmith Gray, the bestselling author of Oi Frog!, weaves his trademark magic on a rhyming romp in which Santa builds up a head of steam for Christmas but has a nagging worry that he has forgotten something important!

‘Twas the night before the night before Christmas (That’s Christmas Eve Eve),

And Santa was wiping his brow on his sleeve.

Green elves were sewing,

Blue elves were counting.

Red elves were carving,

The pressure was mounting!

Santa is ever so busy ... he’s got presents to wrap, reindeer to wake and a sleigh to start. But has he forgotten something? And, more importantly, will he be ready in time? It’s going to be a close shave… but he might just make it!

Inspired by Clement C. Moore’s classic festive poem, this hilarious feast of delicious rhymes and Powell’s wonderful Christmassy, toy-filled illustrations has a clever, comical twist in the tail that will leave children laughing all the way to the big day!

(Hodder Children’s Books, paperback, £6.99)

Age 2 plus:

The Big Race by David Barrow

Forget cats, dogs and rabbits… and meet an aardvark, a warthog, a cheetah, a buffalo and an African hoopoe bird!

This extraordinary cast of animals are the stars of a big, bright and beautiful picture book from award-wining author and illustrator David Barrow.

Can little Aardvark beat the bigger animals in the Big Race, a competition for only the fastest, biggest and strongest animals? She’s certainly going to try even if that means charging across the dusty desert, cycling up the hill, plunging down a waterfall, swimming under water and wobbling over the valley on a tightrope. She might even have fun along the way!

Gorgeous watercolour illustrations combine with a heart-warming and delightfully eccentric celebration of the diverse animal world… and the importance of taking part rather than winning.

A sure-fire winner with your own little cubs!

(Hodder Children's Books, hardback, £12.99)

Age 2 plus:

There’s a Spider in This Book! by Claire Freedman and Mike Byrne

There’s a spider on the loose and he’s a master of disguise!

Crawl your way through this super, interactive picture book and you will be rewarded with giggles and guffaws.

Eric the spider, with his long hairy legs and big, googly eyes, can’t understand why people scream and run away from him. He only wants to say hello!

The friendly spider lives in a cottage that he shares with a little old lady and her black cat Fluffy. But Fluffy the cat wants to eat Eric so he’s hiding around the cottage. It’s up to the reader to find Eric on every spread and maybe finally catch a glimpse of him with the surprise lift-the-flap ending!

Claire Freedman, author of the award-winning Aliens Love Underpants, weaves a clever, comical web of mischief, madcap antics and laugh-out-loud fun in a search-and-find story that will send shivers down the spines of arachnophobes and delight all spider fans.

Mike Byrne’s big, bold and vividly colourful illustrations complete a perfect picture book package…

(Macmillan, paperback, £6.99)