SALLY MORRIS picks this year's best children's books

Let Santa cast a spell on YOUR little ones: Cheeky monkeys, moles and Arthurian legends, SALLY MORRIS picks this year’s best children’s books

  • Sally Morris has rounded up a selection of this year’s best children’s books
  • Suggests Medusa by Jessie Burton and Fireborn by Aisling Fowler for teens
  • Recommends Kay’s Marvellous Medicine by Adam Kay for non-fiction fans
  • PICTURE BOOKS

    THREE LITTLE MONKEYS AT CHRISTMAS by Quentin Blake , illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark (HarperCollins £12.99)

    THREE LITTLE MONKEYS AT CHRISTMAS by Quentin Blake , illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark (HarperCollins £12.99)

    AN ODD DOG CHRISTMAS

    by Rob Biddulph (HarperCollins £12.99)

    Everyone’s favourite Odd Dog is struggling to find a Christmas present for her friend, but a surprising encounter with a sneezy reindeer provides her with the perfect opportunity to discover what the spirit of Christmas is really about.

    Another soaring success from the Biddulph paintbrush.

    THREE LITTLE MONKEYS AT CHRISTMAS

    by Quentin Blake, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark (HarperCollins £12.99)

    The irrepressibly naughty three little monkeys are taken by ever-optimistic Hilda on a Christmas visit to her wealthy uncle Gilbert, whose luxury flat is full of valuable antiques. Uh Oh . . . Ma, despite the mayhem, the terrible trio turn up trumps when an unwelcome visitor arrives. This series is a mischievous marvel.

    I’M STICKING WITH YOU TOO

    by Smriti Halls, illustrated by Steve Small (Simon & Schuster £6.99)

    I’m a huge fan of the original I’m Sticking With You, and this sequel conjures the same spirit of friendship and generosity.

    Best friends Bear and Squirrel reject Chicken’s attempt to join in because everyone knows ‘two’s company and three’s a crowd’.

    But in a touching change of heart, the endearing animals learn that there’s plenty of love to go around.

    LITTLE BEAR

    by Richard Jones (Simon & Schuster £12.99)

    A delighted young boy finds a tiny polar bear in his garden and befriends him. But as their relationship grows, so too does the bear, until the boy realises that he should take it back to its frozen home. Sailing through splendid seascapes, it’s a moving evocation of loving and letting go, as they both recognise their different needs.

    THE LIGHTS THAT DANCE IN THE NIGHT

    by Yuval Zommer (OUP £12.99)

    The Northern Lights shimmering across the Arctic skies are one of the most elusive but memorable sights in the world. This beautifully lyrical book not only imagines how the phenomenon came from space to earth, but evokes its spellbinding effect on the humans and creatures who bask in its glow.

    STICKY McSTICKSTICK by Michael Rosen , illustrated by Tony Ross (Walker £12.99)

    STICKY McSTICKSTICK by Michael Rosen , illustrated by Tony Ross (Walker £12.99)

    TEN DELICIOUS TEACHERS

    by Ross Montgomery, illustrated by Sarah Warburton (Walker £12.99)

    ‘Ten delicious teachers, skipping home to bed, clueless to the monsters in the forest up ahead . . .’ This glorious rhyming counting book is the perfect combination of hilarious, bold illustration and runaway, bouncing text — with a witty twist at the end

    STICKY McSTICKSTICK

    by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Tony Ross (Walker £12.99)

    scrittore, poet and former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen almost died from Covid and his recovery was slow. In this sensitive and funny book he describes his dependent relationship with his walking stick. He gradually needs it less, but keeps it as a reminder of all the people who helped him.

    LO AND BEHOLD! MOUSE AND MOLE

    by Joyce Dunbar, illustrated by James Mayhew (Graffeg £12.99)

    The long-running Mouse And Mole series is a deceptively simple delight. The warm relationship is delicately handled with dry humour, and the three stories here, about building a snowman, opening an advent calendar and leaving out mince pies for Father Christmas, are the perfect preparation for the Big Day.

    A TALE OF TWO DRAGONS

    by Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrated by Peter Malone (Andersen Press £12.99)

    A powerful message about sharing and cooperation underpins this colourful, old-fashioned fable of two neighbouring kingdoms, one rich in agricultural land, the other in lush forests and rivers.

    Children sneak across the border at night to steal, as each natural resource needs the other. But when the kings bring in dragons to guard the border, a battle for supremacy threatens the survival of everyone.

    ONCE THERE WAS A BEAR by Jane Riordan , illustrated by Mark Burgess (Farshore £14.99)

    ONCE THERE WAS A BEAR by Jane Riordan , illustrated by Mark Burgess (Farshore £14.99)

    YOUNG FICTION

    ONCE THERE WAS A BEAR

    by Jane Riordan, illustrated by Mark Burgess (Farshore £14.99)

    Inspired by the original A. UN. Milne and Ernest Shepard Winnie-the-Pooh books, this authorised prequel celebrates Pooh’s 95th anniversary. It asks, and answers, the questions: where was Pooh before he met Christopher Robin, and how did he get his name? For those who don’t know the background of the bear bought from Harrods and how he met his friends, it’s a treat. Età 5+

    CLARICE BEAN: THINK LIKE AN ELF

    by Lauren Child (HarperCollins £14.99)

    The perfect combination: Clarice Bean and Christmas — although the one thing you can guarantee is that from the first moment Mum gets out the elf tea towels, things won’t run smoothly!

    From planning the food to choosing the presents, Clarice’s chaotic family (not to mention the hungry dog . . .) and her best friend, Betty, all muddle their way through the mishaps with warmth, wit and festive fun.7+

    EINSTEIN THE PENGUIN

    by Iona Rangeley, illustrated by David Tazzyman (HarperCollins £12.99)

    The Stewart family were rather taken by a little penguin they saw at London Zoo — but didn’t expect him to turn up on their doorstep with a rucksack bearing his name: Einstein.

    Although they make him welcome, Einstein is on a quest, and amateur sleuth Imogen and her younger brother, Arthur, must discover what it is.7+

    GRIMWOOD by Nadia Shireen (Simon & Schuster £12.99)

    GRIMWOOD by Nadia Shireen (Simon & Schuster £12.99)

    GRIMWOOD

    by Nadia Shireen (Simon & Schuster £12.99)

    The award-winning picture book creator Nadia Shireen moves up an age range with this riotous adventure of fox siblings Ted and Nancy, who are forced to flee their city life and head to Grimwood for some peace and quiet.

    But the rural idyll is home to a duplicitous eagle, roadhog badgers, a stage-struck duck and a very loud game called Treebonk . . . Great fun.7+

    SKUNK AND BADGER: EGG MARKS THE SPOT

    by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen (Scholastic £12.99)

    This second volume of adventures featuring odd roommates chaotic cook Skunk and meticulous rock scientist Badger is another mad marvel. When Badger’s Spider Eye Agate is stolen, Skunk takes him camping on an expedition to find a replacement — but what they actually discover is that friendship is worth more than any precious possession. I love these books. 7+

    THE CHRISTMAS CARROLLS

    by Mel Taylor-Bessent, illustrated by Selom Sunu (Farshore £7.99)

    Nine-year-old Holly Carroll and her family celebrate Christmas every day, spreading goodwill to all — but everything changes when they move house. Holly is no longer home-schooled and painfully realises that not every child sees Christmas as a happy time. So can she pull off one seasonal miracle that really will bring people what they wish for? This will put a smile on your face and a lump in your throat.9+

    THE CHIME SEEKERS by Ross Montgomery (Walker £7.99)

    THE CHIME SEEKERS by Ross Montgomery (Walker £7.99)

    THE CHIME SEEKERS

    by Ross Montgomery (Walker £7.99)

    Consumed with jealousy after the arrival of a new baby sister, 12-year-old Yanni wishes she’d never been born.

    But it’s Halloween and an evil faerie steals the baby away, leaving behind a changeling, and Yanni has just one night to win her back.

    Can he outwit the powerful Lorde Renwin by entering into a wager? Cracking adventure from the wildly imaginative Montgomery. 10+

    JULIA AND THE SHARK

    by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, illustrated by Tom de Freston (Orion £12.99)

    After ten-year-old Julia travels to a remote Shetland island with her scientist parents, she befriends a local boy who helps her cope when her mother’s mental health deteriorates. This is a sensitive, beautifully written and illustrated portrait of finding your own identity within a troubled family dynamic. 10+

    THE WEEK AT WORLD’S END

    by Emma Carroll (Faber £12.99)

    Another excellent historical adventure from Carroll set against the tense backdrop of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Stevie and her best friend, Ray, discover a girl hiding — but from whom? And what is the secret behind Stevie’s father’s death?

    A powerful message about using your voice. 10+

    KAY¿S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE by Adam Kay , illustrated by Henry Parker (Puffin £14.99)

    KAY’S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE by Adam Kay , illustrated by Henry Parker (Puffin £14.99)

    NON-FICTION

    KAY’S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE

    by Adam Kay, illustrated by Henry Parker (Puffin £14.99)

    In this sequel to his bestselling Kay’s Anatomy, Dr Adam Kay goes back to the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans to discover how they ‘treated’ various ailments, and examines the important scientific discoveries we’ve made along the way.

    Despite the jokey tone — there’s lots of hilarious bum and fart facts — this is absolutely packed with information and is a brilliant introduction to the world of high-tech medicine we enjoy today.

    OCEANARIUM

    by Loveday Trinick, illustrated by Teagan White (Big Picture £25)

    Grab your snorkel and dive into the Oceanarium, a fascinating compendium of everything that lives in the sea — from microscopic plankton to the giant blue whale.

    Bubbling with detail about the habitats, eating habits and life cycles of these creatures, this lavishly illustrated book is an immersive treat.

    ROAR LIKE A LION

    ROAR LIKE A LION by Carlie Sorosiak , illustrated by Katie Walker (David Fickling £9.99)

    ROAR LIKE A LION by Carlie Sorosiak , illustrated by Katie Walker (David Fickling £9.99)

    by Carlie Sorosiak, illustrated by Katie Walker (David Fickling £9.99)

    Did you know that otters like juggling? Or that pigeons can tell the difference between a Picasso and a Monet? Or that koalas prefer their own company to socialising? But what makes this fascinating book about animals stand out is that it uses quirks of the natural world to celebrate the power of being true to who you are as a child, and to reassure and inspire in equal measure.

    ADVENTURES IN TIME

    by Dominic Sandbrook (Particular £14.99)

    There are four books so far in this series by acclaimed historian Dominic Sandbrook: Alexander The Great, The Six Wives Of Henry VIII and a volume each on World War I and World War II. All are brimming with facts and rich in detail, but it is the brio of the accounts that will sweep children along on the adventure and introduce them to the way in which history shapes our modern world.

    A HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN 25 CITIES

    by Tracey Turner & Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Libby VanderPloeg (Nosy Crow £16.99)

    From Ancient Athens to seaside Sydney, this fascinating book draws a map of each city in a snapshot of time. Illustrating how people lived and what cultural changes happened, it dazzles with numbers and facts. You are never too old for this book.

    TEEN AND YOUNG ADULT

    MEDUSA by Jessie Burton , illustrated by Olivia Lomenech Gill (Bloomsbury £14.99)

    MEDUSA by Jessie Burton , illustrated by Olivia Lomenech Gill (Bloomsbury £14.99)

    MEDUSA

    by Jessie Burton, illustrated by Olivia Lomenech Gill (Bloomsbury £14.99)

    The myth of snake-haired Medusa, whose gaze could turn people to stone, has a powerful, contemporary, feminist retelling here. Cursed for attracting the attention of Poseidon, the young Medusa is victim-shamed for her beauty and exiled.

    But when Perseus turns up on her island intending to kill her, she summons the force of her identity to take control of her destiny. A thought-provoking and gorgeously illustrated retelling.

    FIREBORN

    by Aisling Fowler (HarperCollins £12.99)

    This remarkable debut pulsates with energy and drama as it introduces the resourceful but troubled young Twelve.

    Leaving behind her past (and name), she becomes a trainee warrior dedicated to protecting the seven clans divided by the Dark War. But when another student, Sette, is snatched by evil goblins, Twelve sets out to rescue her — discovering almost unbearable truths about her own family’s fate en route.

    THE SWALLOWS¿ FLIGHT by Hilary McKay (Macmillan £12.99)

    THE SWALLOWS’ FLIGHT by Hilary McKay (Macmillan £12.99)

    THE SWALLOWS’ FLIGHT

    by Hilary McKay (Macmillan £12.99)

    This companion piece to McKay’s stunning Costa award-winning The Skylarks’ War, moves on a generation to the build-up to World War II in the 1930s. A series of very short chapters told from each character’s viewpoint intricately builds up a nuanced, intelligent and moving study of difficult decisions and tested loyalties. McKay really is in a class of her own.

    LIONHEART GIRL

    by Yaba Badoe (Zephyr £12.99)

    I love Badoe’s tales of myth and magic, and this Ghanaian-based adventure summons dark forces among a community of witches.

    Sheba lives with her unloving, malevolent mother who can shape-shift into a crow. Desperate for love and affection, Sheba forms a friendship with a young boy, but must also rebel against her mother’s influence.

    Discovering her internal spirit voice — a lion — Sheba’s journey to independence is at the heart of this fabulous tale of family and friendship.

    CLASSICS & COLLECTIONS

    JOURNEY TO THE RIVER SEA by Eva Ibbotson , illustrated by Katie Hickey (Macmillan £20)

    JOURNEY TO THE RIVER SEA by Eva Ibbotson , illustrated by Katie Hickey (Macmillan £20)

    JOURNEY TO THE RIVER SEA

    by Eva Ibbotson, illustrated by Katie Hickey (Macmillan £20)

    Ibbotson’s superb story of orphaned Maia, travelling along the Amazon to stay with ghastly relatives but finding adventure with a young boy who lives on the river shore, has mesmerised children since it was first published 20 anni fa. Adesso, this large-format illustrated edition brings to life the teeming beauty of the rainforest and makes it even more of a must for every bookshelf. Età 9+

    THE WILD SWANS

    by Jackie Morris (Unbound £16.99)

    This extended retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale is stunningly illustrated by the Kate Greenaway Medal-winner Jackie Morris. The dark, magical story of a girl whose 11 brothers are turned into swans by their stepmother’s curse and can only be saved by her silent spinning and knitting of nettle shirts is lyrically retold — and the book is an object of beauty itself.

    EVERYONE SANG: A POEM FOR EVERY FEELING

    edited by William Sieghart, illustrated by Emily Sutton (Walker £20)

    With contributions from poets such as Wordsworth, T. S. Eliot and Thomas Hardy, as well as contemporary voices, including Lemn Sissay and Kae Tempest, this comprehensive volume offers poems to Inspire, Mossa, Calma, Connect You and Make You Smile. And they will.

    THE GIRL WHO TALKED TO TREES

    by Natasha Farrant, illustrated by Lydia Corry (Zephyr £12.99)

    Tree-loving Olive’s attempt to save her beloved ancient oak takes her on an imaginative journey across centuries and continents, as inter-linked stories emphasise the vital role trees play in our lives.

    ARTHUR: THE ALWAYS KING by Kevin Crossley-Holland , illustrated by Chris Riddell (Walker £20)

    ARTHUR: THE ALWAYS KING by Kevin Crossley-Holland , illustrated by Chris Riddell (Walker £20)

    ARTHUR: THE ALWAYS KING

    by Kevin Crossley-Holland, illustrated by Chris Riddell (Walker £20)

    The legends surrounding King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table have fascinated people worldwide for hundreds of years. This stunningly illustrated volume conjures the timeless magic, mystery, myths and romance of the ancient court, and is an absolute treasure for any age.

    THE SECRET GARDEN

    by Frances Hodgson Burnett, illustrated by Margarita Kukhtina (Nosy Crow £14.99)

    This story of spoilt, orphaned Mary Lennox, brought from India to stay with her grieving uncle and sickly cousin but transformed by the discovery of a secret garden, is a true classic. It’s faithfully retold and abridged by Carnegie Medal-winning Geraldine McCaughrean and brought to life by rich colour illustrations.

    CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS

    by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Michael Foreman (HarperCollins £14.99)

    Delicate colour-wash artwork enhances this book of poems, narrated by birds and animals, which was inspired by composer Saint-Saens’ musical suite. The dream team.

    ROBINSON CRUSOE

    by Daniel Defoe, illustrated by Robert Ingpen (Welbeck £20)

    It’s Robert Ingpen’s evocative illustrations that refresh this 300-year-old story of a man washed up on an island who discovers an inner strength to survive. The book raises difficult subjects in modern life, but for anyone who has craved company during the pandemic it’s still a superb look at isolation and connection.

    To buy any book on these pages con un 10 per cent discount, visit mailshop.co.uk/Christmas oppure chiama 020 3176 2937.

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