Children’s Christmas Books 2015
Here’s my top twelve children’s books for Christmas 2015. I originally published these over two posts, but have now combined into one bumper list. You’ll find a selection of fresh recommendations here, no ‘A Christmas Carol’ or ‘How The Grinch Stole Christmas’, but hopefully a few delights that are new to the shelves or to you. Happy Christmas reading! Beccy x
1. The Fir Tree by Hans Christian Andersen, Illustrated by Sanna Anukka
The story of a little fir tree who is in a rush to grow up and consequently ends up missing some of the beauty that surrounds him. Not a happily ever after story, but poignant and lovely. Illustrated by Sanna Anukka, a print maker and textile designer and it’s Anukka’s work that really makes this book stand out. Eminently giveable.
2. The Enchanted Horse by Magdalen Nabb
Irina has a hard life and Christmas has never meant much to her. She can’t even think of a single thing she would like as a gift from her parents. But when Irina sees a tatty wooden horse in the window of a junk shop, she is immediately transfixed. She enters the shop and speaks to the owner who tells her a story: this little horse was once real but treated cruelly by her owner. When the owner died, the horse was nowhere to be found. In its place though was the tatty toy horse.
She convinces her parents to buy it for her, despite her mother’s misgivings, and keeps her in the barn. At Christmas time there is usually magic in the air and Irina’s adventures with her pony are just beginning… A heart-warming and unforgettable story.
3. The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith
A gorgeous chunk of a picture book, just a little smaller than A4, this tells the story of a fox who loses his friend the star. It’s very much like a poem and would make a wonderful gift for anyone who likes looking a little deeper into the text. It’s basically about grief so not really a typical picture book- there are no moles here who know it is none of their business- but please don’t be put off by the subject matter. There’s nothing maudlin about it. I guarantee the whole family will be passing this around on Christmas morning and ooohing at the beauty of this instant classic.
4. The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson, Illustrated by Sanna Annukka
“Now then! We will begin. When the story is done you shall know a great deal more than you do now.”
Such a beautiful book. I reviewed its sister The Fir Tree earlier, but if anything this one is even better. One of those clever stories manages to feel Christmassy without actually being about Christmas, The Snow Queen is a breathtaking and wintry adventure. It’s perfect to read aloud as the telling feels so personal, almost like the reader is recalling it from memory. Just add hot chocolate and twinkly lights.
Sanna Annuka’s illustrations are again striking: quite flat and tabular and distinctive- as they need to be to stand out next to such a famous story. Genuinely this would be a thrilling stocking filler for pretty much the whole world.
5. The Snow Sister by Emma Carroll
“Christmas Eve morning wasn’t the best time for a telling off, yet Pearl Granger was about to get one.”
All of Emma Carroll’s books feel like classics, so this would be a welcome addition to any bookshelf. The Snow Sister is mysterious and enchanting, with talk of sugar plums and wise thoughts on the keeping of Christmas. Sadly lacking in dogs (Emma Carroll does write an excellent dog- see The Girl Who Walked On Air) but we can let her off this time as The Snow Sister is only 100 pages long after all. The ideal bedtime reading book for the week up to Christmas- I’ll certainly be reading it again next week!
6. The Empty Stocking by Richard Curtis and Rebecca Cobb
“Anyway- it was Christmas night and as usual the family watched Elf, which was great. Then Dad read them The Night Before Christmas, which was very good, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which was even better.”
Yes, it is by that Richard Curtis, high priest of the British romantic comedy and the man who brought us Bill Nighy, in the nude, strategically hidden behind an electric guitar, in the name of Christmas. The Empty Stocking is a yummy little hardback book, with friendly looking illustrations by Rebecca Cobb: the sort of pictures kids will happily try to copy and make their own.
This is the story of twin girls, Sam and Charlie, one good and one rather badly behaved. Charlie has been particularly naughty this year and not even mum and dad are expecting her to do very well by Santa. I won’t spoil the outcome of this very sweet story, but just to say that this is really all about sisterly love, actually. Could bring a truce to sibling squabbles in your house for a short while this season, and for that reason at least it’s worth the investment.
The best thing Richard Curtis has done for us since he let that nice chubby vicar lady marry Richard Armitage.
7. Snow by Sam Usher
” I was ready to go,
but Grandad wasn’t.
I said ‘Don’t forget
And he said,
‘Don’t forget your scarf.’ “
Now this is a proper picture book: gorgeous illustrations, big enough for two to share and not too wordy. Another book with no mention of Christmas, and so it won’t lose its appeal come January 1st, but very seasonal all the same and perfect for anyone with a Grandad or a grandchild.
It’s snowed and our little boy is desperate to get out and play. The snow is untouched and enticing, too much to resist! Grandad however is not so quick to get ready and the little boy watches and waits while the whole neighbourhood seem to be getting out there first. In the end though, they make it to the park and agree that some things are worth waiting for. Grandad also proves himself to be something of a snowballing champ in the process. My pictures don’t do this book any justice. It’s simply lovely, very heart-warming and bound to give precious moments wherever it is found.
8. Snow by Walter de la Mare, Illustrated by Carolina Rabei
“It heaps its powdery crystal flakes,
Of every tree
A mountain makes;
Till pale and faint
At shut of day,
Stoops from the West
One wintry ray.”
It’s good to remember the glory of a snow-covered world, when I mostly think of it in terms of stopping distances and slippy pavements. This year I want to recapture some of that love and think that’s best done by remembering how I saw it as a child through Sam Usher’s book, but also in a way that everyone can find beauty, here with good old Walter de la Mare. It’s a poem, but some pages are entirely devoted to Carolina Rabei’s artwork. Believe me, you wouldn’t have it any other way.
9. Northern Lights The Graphic Novel by Philip Pullman
The world is made up of those who’ve read His Dark Materials and those who should have, of this I am sure. It’s the one series I recommend time after time that no-one takes me up on. I lose count of the times I’ve tried to tempt kids into reading His Dark Materials, only to see them to be put off by the length of the series. It’s so frustrating.
That’s why I think this book is brilliant. Kids will read it and enjoy it, remember it and return to the original stories when they’re ready. To dismiss it would be snobby and a bit pointless. It’s no coffee table book and there are no full-page pictures, it’s completely all about the story. A genuine bringer of joy this Christmas to readers aged nine up.
10. Winterfrost by Michelle Houts
“From the outside looking in, it might have appeared to be an ordinary Christmas on the Larsen family farm, nestled among the flat, snowy fields of an island called Lolland in the south of Denmark. The scent of kringle fresh from Mor’s oven mingled with the woodsy smell of the wispy white pine that Far had brought indoors just hours before. “
I’ve waited a year to tell you about this book, having missed last year’s festive blogging window. I so love it, and in honesty it’s not that Christmassy but rather more wintry in feel, making it just as good in January as it is in December.
Poor Bettina. Christmas without her Grandfather, Farfar, is painful and hard to manage. But when her parents are called away urgently on Christmas Eve, she is left home alone looking after the farm and her baby sister Pia. In the confusion, she forgets to put out the traditional bowl of Christmas rice pudding for the nisse that help with the farm. What’s that you say? Oh, nisse? Well, they’re a bit like pixies or brownies: little people who help out whilst remaining unseen. You have to have great strength of character to believe in things you can’t see, but Farfar always believed in them and so Bettina tries to as well.
Now, there was a nisse helping out at the farm and that nisse missed his rice pudding very much. Bettina realises just how much when baby Pia disappears during her afternoon nap. Now Bettina has to rescue her sister before her parents return, and that means finding the unseeable nisse that she hardly believes in. As the winterfrost descents and a stillness settles on the island, she enters the forest she has known all her life and a new world unfolds.
Best read under the covers, with a torch, on the coldest nights of the year. Brrr!
11. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K Rowling, Illustrated by Jim Kay
You must have heard of this one. Just when you thought Harry Potter couldn’t get any better, Jim Kay only goes and illustrates it. It’s ace: the majestic behemoth of Christmas bookish presents. That’s all really.
Oh go on then, here’s another picture.
And book twelve? Well, that has to be the outstanding A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig, which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. If you haven’t already checked it out, then do. It is quite simply brilliant.
Merry Christmas-a-go-go-go-go-go folks!
(Update: Not enough for you here? I’ve just finished reading Rover Saves Christmas by Roddy Doyle and it’s fantastic- very funny of course and worth sneaking under the Christmas tree. Good, silly fun for anyone with a sense of humour from seven up.)